History of the rise of the huguenots

Francis I. and his sister. The portrait of the king

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Francis I. and his sister. The portrait of the king.

Francis the First and his sister, Margaret of Angoulême, were destined

to exercise so important an influence in shaping the history of the

French Reformation during the first half of the sixteenth century, that

a glance at their personal history and character seems indispensable.

Francis Was in his twenty-first year when, by the extinction of the

elder line of the house of Orleans, the crown came to him as the nearest

heir of Louis the Twelfth.[212] He was tall, but well proportioned, of a

fair complexion, with a body capable of enduring without difficulty

great exposure and fatigue. In an extant portrait, taken five years

later, he is delineated with long hair and scanty beard. The drooping

lids give to his eyes a languid expression, while the length of his

nose, which earned him the sobriquet of "le roi au long nez," redeems

his physiognomy from any approach to heaviness.[213] On the other hand,

the Venetian Marino Cavalli, writing shortly before the close of his

reign, eulogizes the personal appearance of Francis, at that time more

than fifty years old. His mien was so right royal, we are assured, that

even a foreigner, never having seen him before, would single him out

from any company and instinctively exclaim, "This is the king!" No ruler

of the day surpassed him in gravity and nobility of bearing. Well did he

deserve to succeed that long line of monarchs upon each of whom the

sacred oil, applied at his coronation in the cathedral

1 He was born at Cognac, Sept. 12, 1494.

2 See the fac-simile in the magnificent work of M. Niel,

Portraits des personnages français les plus illustres du 16me siècle,

Paris, 1848, 2 vols. fol.

of Rheims, had conferred the marvellous property of healing the king's-evil by

a simple touch.1
His character and tastes.

At his accession, the lively imagination of Francis, fed upon the

romances of chivalry that constituted his favorite reading, called up

the picture of a brilliant future, wherein gallant deeds in arms should

place him among the most renowned knights of Christendom. The ideal

character he proposed for himself involving a certain regard for his

word, Francis's mind revolted from imitating the plebeian duplicity of

his wily predecessor, Louis the Eleventh--a king who enjoyed the

undesirable reputation of never having made a promise which he intended

in good faith to keep. The memory of the disingenuous manner in which

Louis, by winking at the opposition of the Parliament of Paris, had

suffered the revocation of the Pragmatic Sanction to fail, in spite of

his own solemn engagements to carry it into execution, was, undoubtedly,

one of the leading motives inducing the young prince, at the very

beginning of his reign, to adopt the arbitrary measures already spoken

of in a preceding chapter, respecting the papal concordat. Not for half

his kingdom, he repeatedly declared, would he break the pledge he had

given his Holiness. It is not difficult, however, to reconcile the

pertinacity of Francis, on this occasion, with the frequent and well

authenticated instances of bad faith in his dealings with other monarchs.

1 The envoy's description of Francis's curative power is

interesting. "Ha una proprietà, o vero dono da Dio, come han tutti li

rè di Francia, di far guarire li amalati di scrofule.... E questo lo fa

in giorno solenne, come Pasqua, Natale e Nostra Donna. Si confessa e

communica; dipoi tocca li amalati in croce al volto, dicendo: 'Il Rè ti

tocca, e Iddio ti guarisca!'" Cavalli thinks there can be no doubt of

the reality of the cures effected; otherwise, why should continually

increasing numbers of sick folk come from the most distant countries, if

they received no benefit? Relazioni Venete (Albèri), ser. i., i. 237. It

must not be imagined, however, that the kings of France engrossed all

virtue of this kind. The monarchs of England were wont to hallow on Good

Friday certain rings which thenceforth guaranteed the wearer against

epilepsy. These cramp-rings, as they were called, were no less in

demand abroad than at home. Sir John Mason wrote from Brussels, April

25, 1555, that many persons had expressed the desire to obtain them, and

begged Sir W. Petrie to interest himself in procuring him some of this

year's blessing by Queen Mary. MSS. State Paper Office.

If his literary abilities were slender and his acquirements meagre, this

king had at least the faculty of appreciating excellence in others. The

scholars and wits whom, as we have seen, he succeeded in gathering about

him, repaid his munificence with lavish praise, couched in all manner of

verse, and in every language employed in the civilized world. Even later

historians have not hesitated to rate him much higher than his very

moderate abilities would seem to warrant.[215] The portrait drawn by the

biographer of his imperial rival is, perhaps, full as advantageous as a

regard for truth will permit us to accept. "Francis," says Robertson,

"notwithstanding the many errors conspicuous in his foreign policy and

domestic administration, was nevertheless humane, beneficent, generous.

He possessed dignity without pride, affability free from meanness, and

courtesy exempt from deceit. All who had access to him, and no man of

merit was ever denied that privilege, respected and loved him.

Captivated with his personal qualities, his subjects forgot his defects

as a monarch, and, admiring him as the most accomplished and amiable

gentleman in his dominions, they hardly murmured at acts of

maladministration, which, in a prince of less engaging dispositions,

would have seemed unpardonable."[216]

Contrast between Francis I. and Charles V.

Two monarchs could scarcely be more dissimilar than were Francis and the

Emperor Charles. "So great is the difference between these two princes,"

says the Venetian Giustiniano, "that, as her most serene majesty the

Queen of Navarre, the king's sister, remarked to me when talking on the

subject, one of the two must needs be created anew by God after the

pattern of the other, before they could agree. For, whilst the most

Christian king is reluctant to assume the burden of great thoughts or

undertakings, and devotes himself much to the chase or to his own

pleasures, the emperor never thinks of anything but business and aggrandizement;

1 The small size of the brain and the depression of the

forehead indicated in all the different contemporary portraits of

Francis have been noticed by M. Niel (Portraits, i. 10), who dryly adds

that in view of them he might have been inclined to withhold the

eulogies he has inserted in his notice of the monarch, "had he not

recollected in time that the laws of phrenology are not infallible."

2 Robertson, Charles V., iii. 396.

and, whereas the most Christian king is simple, open,

and very liberal, and quite sufficiently inclined to defer to the

judgment and counsel of others, the emperor is reserved, parsimonious,

and obstinate in his opinions, governing by himself, rather than through

any one else."1

This diversity of temperament and disposition had ample scope for

manifestation during the protracted wars waged by the two monarchs with

each other. Fit representative of the race to which he belonged, Francis

was bold, adventurous, and almost resistless in the impetuosity of a

first assault. But he soon tired of his undertakings, and relinquished

to the cooler and more calculating Charles the solid fruits of victory.2

Francis's religious convictions.

Of the possession of deep religious convictions I do not know that

Francis has left any satisfactory evidence. That he was not strongly

attached to the Roman church, that he thoroughly despised the ignorant

monks, whose dissolute lives he well knew, that he had no extraordinary

esteem for the Pope, all this is clear enough from many incidents of his

life. It would even appear that, at one or two points, he might have

been pleased to witness such a reformation of the church as could be

effected without disturbing the existing order. To this he was the more

inclined, that he found almost all the men distinguished for their

learning arrayed on the side of the "new doctrines," as they were

styled, while the pretorian legion of the papacy was headed by the

opponents of letters.

His fear of innovation.

It will be found, however, that several circumstances tended to

counteract or reverse the king's favorable prepossessions. Not least

influential was a pernicious sentiment studiously instilled in his mind

by those whose material interests were all on the side of the

maintenance of the existing

1 Relazione di Francia (1538), Albèri, i. 203, 204. It will be noticed that Giustiniano wrote at
a period when the youthful ardor of Francis had somewhat cooled down.

2 The French king's proverbial ill-success gave rise to the taunt that his was "un esser savio
in bocca e non in mente," but Marino Cavalli is charitably inclined to ascribe his misfortune
rather to the lack of the right men to execute his designs, than to any fault of his

own. Rel. des Amb. Vén., Tommaseo, i. 282.

system--that a change of religion necessarily involves a change of government.
We shall hear much during the century of this lying political axiom. When
Francis, in his irritation at the Pope, suggested, on one occasion, to the Nuncio,
that he might be compelled to follow the example Henry the Eighth, of

England, had set him, and permit the spread of the "Lutheran" religion

in France, the astute prelate replied: "Sire, to speak with all

frankness, you would be the first to repent your rash step. Your loss

would be greater than the Pope's; for a new religion established in the

midst of a people involves nothing short of a change of prince."1

And the same author that records this incident tells us that Francis

hated the Lutheran "heresy," and used to say that this, like every other

new sect, tended more to the destruction of kingdoms than to the

edification of souls.2 Nor must it be overlooked that Francis

doubtless felt strongly confirmed in his persuasion, by the rash and

disorderly acts of some restless and inconsiderate spirits such as are

wont eagerly to embrace any new belief. Not the peasants' insurrections

in Germany alone, but as well the excesses of the iconoclasts, and the

imprudence of the authors of the famous placards of 1534, although their

acts were distinctly repudiated by the vast majority of the French

reformers, inflicted irretrievable damage, by furnishing plausible

arguments to those who accused the Protestants of being authors or

abettors of riot and confusion.
His loose morals.

A second reason of the early estrangement of Francis from the "new

doctrines" has more frequently been overlooked. The rigid code of morals

which the reformers established, and which John Calvin attempted to make

in Geneva the law of the state, repelled a prince who, though twice

married and both times to women devoted to his interests and faithful to

their vows, treated his lawful wives with open neglect, and preferred to

consort with perfidious mistresses, who

1 "Sire, vous en seriez marri le premier, et vous en

prendroit très mal, et y perdriez plus que le pape; car une nouvelle

religion, mise parmi un peuple, ne demande après que changement du

prince." Brantôme, M. l'Admiral de Chastillon, Œuvres, ix. 202.

2 Brantôme, Femmes illustres: Marguerite, reine de Navarre.

Also Homines ill.: François premier (Œuvres, vii. 256, 257).

sold to the enemy for money his confidential disclosures--a prince who, not
satisfied with introducing excesses until then unheard of among his nobles,
was not ashamed to bestow the royal bounty upon the professed head of the degraded womenwhom he allowed to accompany the court from place to
His anxiety to obtain the support of the Pope.

If to these two motives we add a third--the desire of the king to avail

himself of the important influence of the Roman pontiff upon the

politics of Europe--we shall be at no loss to account for the singular

fact that the brother of Margaret of Angoulême, in spite of his sister's

entreaties and the promptings of his own better feeling--at times in

defiance of his own manifest advantage--became during the later part of

his reign the first of that long line of persecutors of whom the

Huguenots were the unhappy victims.
Studious disposition of Margaret.

Margaret was two years older than her brother. Born April 11, 1492, in

the city of Angoulême, she enjoyed, in common with Francis, all the

opportunities of liberal culture afforded by her exalted station. These

opportunities her keener intellect enabled her to improve far better

than the future king. While Francis was indulging his passion for the

chase, in company with Robert de la Marck, "the Boar of the Ardennes,"

Margaret was patiently applying herself to study. It is not always easy

to determine how much is to be set down as truth, and how much belongs

to the category of fiction, in the current stories of the scholarly

attainments of princely personages. But there is good reason in the

present case to believe that, unlike most of the ladies of her age that

were reputed prodigies of learning, Margaret of Angoulême did not

confine herself to the modern languages, but became proficient

1 The Bulletin de la Soc. de l'hist. du prot. franç., v.

380, 381, publishes from a MS. in the library of the Louvre, an order

from Francis I., countersigned by Bayard, directing his treasurer to pay

to "Cecille de Viefville, dame des filles de joye suivans nostre

court," the sum of forty-five livres tournois. This gift is to be

shared with "les autres femmes de sa voccation," as she and they shall

see fit, and to be received as "a New-Year's present for the first of

January past, such as it has been customary from all time to make." The

last clause may have been inserted for the purpose of palliating the

disgraceful usage. This precious document is followed by Cecile's

receipt, dated, like the order, Hesdin, February 18, 1539 (1540 New


in Latin, besides acquiring some notion of Greek and Hebrew. By extensive

reading, and through intercourse with the best living masters of the

French language, she made herself a graceful writer. She was, moreover,

a poet of no mean pretensions, as her verses, often comparing favorably

with those of Clément Marot, abundantly testify. It was, however, to the

higher walks of philosophical and religious thought that Margaret felt

most strongly drawn. Could implicit credit be given to the partial

praises of her professed eulogist, Charles de Sainte-Marthe, who owed

his escape from the stake to her powerful intercession, we might affirm

that the contemplation of the sublime truths of Revelation early

influenced her entire character, and that "the Spirit of God began then

to manifest His presence in her eyes, her expression, her walk, her

conversation--in a word, in all her actions."1
Her personal appearance.

But, whatever may have been the precocious virtues of Margaret at the

age of fifteen, it is certain that when, by her brother's elevation to

the throne, she was introduced to the foremost place at court, it was

her remarkable qualities of heart, quite as much as her recognized

mental abilities, that called forth universal admiration. Her personal

appearance, it is true, was a favorite subject for the encomium of

poets; but her portraits fail to justify their panegyrics, and convey no

impression of beauty. The features are large, the nose as conspicuously

long as her brother's; yet the sweetness of expression, upon which Marot

is careful chiefly to dwell in one of his elegant poetical epistles, is

not less noticeable.2

1 Ch. de Sainte-Marthe, Oraison funèbre, 1550, apud Génin, i. 3.

2 Une doulceur assise en belle face,

Qui la beaulté des plus belles efface;

D'un regard chaste où n'habite nul vice;

Tons ces beaulx dons et mille davantaige

Sont en ung corps né de hault parentaige,

Et de grandeur tant droicte et bien formée,

Que faicte semble exprès pour estre aymée

D'hommes et dieux.

--Ined. Epistle of Marot to Margaret, prefixed to Génin, Notice, xiii.,

xiv. One of the two crayons of Margaret by contemporary artists,

reproduced by Niel, Portraits des personnages illustres, etc., tome ii.,

was taken in early life; the other represents her as wearing the sombre

dress she preferred in her last years.

Her political Influence.

In the conduct of public affairs Margaret took no insignificant part.

Francis was accustomed so uniformly to entrust his mother and sister

with important state secrets, that to the powerful council thus firmly

united by filial and fraternal ties the term "Trinity" was applied, not

only by the courtiers, but by the royal family itself.1 Foreign

diplomatists extolled Margaret's intelligent statesmanship, and asserted

that she was consulted on every occasion.2 It is a substantial claim

of Margaret to the respect of posterity, that the influence thus enjoyed

was, apparently, never prostituted to the advancement of selfish ends,

but constantly exerted in the interest of learning, humanity, and

religious liberty.

Margaret was first married, in 1509, to the Duke of Alençon, a prince

whose cowardice on the battle-field of Pavia (1525), where he commanded

the French left wing, is said to have been the principal cause of the

defeat and capture of his royal brother-in-law. He made good his own

escape, only to die, at Lyons, of disease induced by exposure and

aggravated by bitter mortification. The next two years were spent by

Margaret in unremitting efforts to secure her brother's release. With

this object in view she obtained from the emperor a safe-conduct

enabling her to visit and console Francis in his imprisonment at Madrid,

and endeavor to settle with his captor the terms of his ransom. But,

while admiring her sisterly devotion, Charles showed little disposition

to yield to her solicitations. In fact, he even issued an order to seize

her person the moment the term of her safe-conduct should expire--a

peril avoided by the duchess only by forced marches. As it was, she

crossed the frontier, it is said, a single hour before the critical

time. The motive of this signal breach of imperial courtesy

1 Vie politique de Marg. d' Angoulême, by Leroux de Lincy,

prefixed to the Heptaméron (Ed. of the Soc. des bibliophiles), i. p.


2 "La serenissima regina di Navarra ... è donna di molto

valore, e spirito grande, e che intervienne in tutti i consigli." Relaz.

di Francesco Giustiniano, 1538, Albèri, i. 203.

was, doubtless, the well-founded belief that Margaret was bearing home to

France a royal abdication in favor of the Dauphin.1
Margaret marries Henry of Navarre.

Early in 1527, Margaret was married with great pomp to Henri d'Albret,

King of Navarre.2 The match would seem to have been prompted by love

and admiration on her side; for the groom had performed a romantic

exploit in effecting his escape from prison after his capture at

Pavia.3 In spite of the great disparity between the ages of Margaret

and her husband,4 the union was congenial, and added greatly to the

power and resources of the latter. The duchies of Alençon and Berry more

than equalled in extent the actual domain of the King of Navarre; for,

from the time when Ferdinand the Catholic (in July, 1512) wrested from

brave Catharine of Foix and her inefficient husband John5 all their

possessions on the southern slope of the Pyrenees,6 the authority

1 The document contained a proviso that, should Francis be

liberated, the Dauphin was to restore to him the sovereignty for the

term of his natural life. It was dated Madrid, November, 1525. Isambert,

Recueil des anciennes lois, etc., xii. 237-244.

2 "Le mercredy penultiesme jour de janvier, au dict an,

ils furent espousez an diet lieu de Saint Germain (en Laye). Après

furent faictes jouxtes et tournois et gros triomphes par l'espace de

huict jours ou environ." Journal d'un bourgeois, 302. Olhagaray states

the date differently, viz., January 24th; ubi infra, 488.

3 See Olhagaray, Histoire de Foix, Béarn, et Navarre (Paris, 1609), 487.

4 He was born April, 1503, and was consequently eleven years younger than Margaret.

5 Catharine's bitter reproach addressed to her husband has

become famous: "Had I been king, and you queen, we had been reigning in

Navarre at this moment." Prescott, Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, iii.

353. Olhagaray gives another of her speeches: "O Roy vous demeurés Jean

d'Albret, et ne pensés plus au Royaume de Navarre que vous avez perdu

par vostre nonchalance." Ubi supra, 455.

6 The Spanish conquest of Navarre is narrated at length by

Prescott, Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, iii. 347-367. See also

Olhagaray, 454, etc., and Moncaut, Histoire des Pyrénées, iv. 233-271.

It will be borne in mind that the great crime of John d'Albret was his

adhesion to Louis XII. of France, in his determined struggle with Julius

II.; and that Ferdinand's title was justified by a pretended bull of

this Pope giving the kingdoms of his enemies to be a prey to the first

invader that might seize them in behalf of the Pontifical See. The bull,

however, is now generally admitted to be a Spanish forgery. See

Prescott, ubi supra. Baron A. de Ruble observes (Mém. de La Huguerye,

1, note): "On sait aujourd'hui que cette bulle est apocryphe."

of the titular monarch was respected only in the mountainous district of

which Pau was the capital, and to which the names of Béarn or French

Navarre are indifferently applied. The union thus auspiciously begun

lasted, unbroken by domestic contention, until the death of Margaret, in

1549;1 and the pompous ceremonial attending the queen's obsequies is

said to have been a sincere attestation of the universal sorrow

affecting the King of Navarre and his subjects alike.

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