History of the rise of the huguenots

Francis promises to prove himself "Very Christian."

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Francis promises to prove himself "Very Christian."

The gratified monarch, delighted with the complaisance of his clerical

subjects, did not hesitate to accede to all the petitions the Cardinal

offered, and declared that, "so far as concerned heresies, he was determined not

to endure them, but would cause them to be wholly extirpated and driven from
his kingdom," inflicting on any found tainted therewith such exemplary
punishment as to demonstrate his right to the honorable title he bore.1

It was a rash promise that Francis had made. Like many other absolute

monarchs, he expected without trouble to bring the religious convictions

of his subjects into conformity with the standard he was pleased to set

up.2 He had yet to learn

1 The declaration is significant and noteworthy as the

first of many similar assurances. Among the documents in Isambert,

Recueil des anc. lois françaises, is a full account of the proceedings

of the notables, xii. 292-301.

2 If Francis was sanguine of success in suppressing the

Reformation in his kingdom, there were others who went farther still.

Barthélemi de Chassanée this very year (1527) chronicles the destruction

of "Lutheranism" in France as an accomplished fact! The passage is not

unworthy of notice. After explaining the significance of the

fleurs-de-lis on the royal escutcheon by the wonderful efficacy of the

lily as the antidote of the serpent's poison, and remarking that the

kings of France had thrice extracted the mortal virus from the bite of

Mohammed, "serpentis venenosi," the writer adds: "Et, his temporibus,

videmus nostram fidem et religionem Christianam sanatam esse a morsu

pestiferi serpentis Lutheri, qui infinitas hæreses in fide Christiana

seminavit, quæ fuerunt extirpatæ a Rege nostro Francisco

Christianissimo, qui non cessat insudare, ut Clemens summus Pontifex a

sua Sede ejectus restituatur, quem Carolus Borbonius dux exercitus

Caroli Austriaci electi in Imperatorem, in urbe obsederat hoc anno

Domini 1527 die 6 Maii." Catalogus Gloriæ Mundi, fol. 143.

that there are beliefs which, when they take root in the hearts of

humble and illiterate peasants or artisans, are too firmly fixed

to be eradicated by the most excruciating tortures man's

ingenuity has been able to contrive. Through fire and sword, the

victim now of persecution, again of open war, the faith denominated

heresy was yet to survive, not only the last lineal descendant of the

king then sitting on the throne of France, but the rule of the dynasty

which was destined to succeed to the power, and reproduce not a few of

the mistakes, of the Valois race.
The provincial council of Sens.

In accordance with the suggestion of the Cardinal of Bourbon, three

provincial councils were held early in the ensuing year (1528). The most

important was the council of the ecclesiastical province of Sens,

which met, however, in the Augustinian monastery at Paris. It was

scarcely to be expected that a synod presided over by Antoine Duprat,

who, to the dignity of cardinal and the office of Chancellor of France,

added the Bishopric of Albi and the Archbishopric of Sens, with the

claim to be Primate of the Gauls and of Germany, should discuss with

severity the morals of the clergy, or issue stringent canons against the

abuse of the plurality of benefices. As an offset, however, the Council

of Sens had much to say respecting the new reformation. The good fathers

saw in the discordant views of Luther and Carlstadt, of Melanchthon and

Zwingle, proof positive that the new doctrines the reformers advanced

were devoid of any basis of truth. They ridiculed the claim of the

Protestants to the presence of the Spirit of God. But they reserved

their severest censures for the practice of holding secret conventicles,

and, with an irony best appreciated by those who understand the

penalties inflicted by the law on the discovered heretics, they gently

reminded the men and women to whom the celebration of a single religious

service according to the dictates of their conscience would have insured

instantaneous condemnation and a death at the stake, that God hates the

deeds of darkness, and that Christ himself said, "What I tell you in

darkness, that speak ye in light."1

1 Labbei Concilia, xix. fol. 1160.

The punishment of heretics.

More practical were the prescriptions of the council's decrees

respecting the punishment of offenders against the unity of the faith.

Heretics who, after conviction, refused to be "united to the church,"

were to be consigned to prison for life, priests to be degraded, the

relapsed to be given over to the secular arm without a hearing.

Heretical books, including translations of the Bible, were to be

surrendered to the bishop. Indeed, it was stipulated that every book

treating of the faith, and printed within the past twenty years, should

be submitted to him for examination. Nor was the council satisfied to

leave the discovery of heresy to accident. It was particularly enjoined

upon every bishop that he, or some competent person appointed by him,

should visit any portion of his diocese in which the taint of unsound

doctrine was reported to exist, and compel three or more persons of good

standing, or even the entire body of the inhabitants of a neighborhood,

to denounce under oath those who entertained heretical views, the

frequenters of secret conventicles, and even those who merely held aloof

from the conversation of the faithful. Lest this stimulus to informers

should prove insufficient to extract the desired knowledge, the threat

was added that persons refusing to testify would be treated as

suspected, and themselves proceeded against.1

The councils of Bourges and Lyons.

Not less severe toward the "Lutheran" doctrines did the other two

provincial councils show themselves. At the Council of Bourges, the

Cardinal of Tournon presided as archbishop--a prelate who was to attain

unenviable notoriety as the prime instigator of the massacre of Mérindol

and Cabrières, of which an account will be given in a subsequent

chapter. Besides the usual regulations for the censure of heretical

books and the denunciation of "Lutherans," the decrees contain the

significant direction that the professors in the University of Bourges

shall employ in their instructions no authors

1 The reader may, if his patience will hold out, wade

through the prolix decrees of the Council of Sens as published by

Cardinal Duprat in 1529, and printed in Labbei Concilia (Venice, 1732),

xix. 1149-1202. It is worthy of remark that the confiscation of the

property of condemned heretics, if laymen, to the state, is ordered,

"tanquam reorum læsæ majestatis." Fol. 1159.

calculated to divert the students from the ceremonies of the church--a
caution deriving its importance from the circumstance that the university,
under the patronage of Margaret of Angoulême, now Duchess of Berry as
well as Queen of Navarre, had become a centre of reformatory activity.

The letter in which the king had called upon the Archbishop of Lyons to

convene the clergy of his province, declared that Francis had ever held

the accursed sect of the "Lutherans" in hatred, horror, and abomination,

and that its extirpation was an object very near his heart, for the

accomplishment of which he would employ all possible means;1 and the

Council of Lyons responded by cordial approval and by the enactment of

fresh regulations to suppress conventicles, to prevent the farther

dissemination of Luther's writings, and, indeed, to forbid all

discussion of matters of faith by the laity. At the same time the

council unconsciously revealed the necessity imposed on the private

Christian to investigate for himself the nature and grounds of his

belief, by strongly reprobating the disastrous custom of admitting into

sacred orders a host of illiterate, uncultivated persons of low

antecedents--beardless youths--and by confessing that this wretched

practice had justly excited the contempt of the world.2

Financial help bought by persecution.

Everywhere the clergy conceded the subsidy required by the exigencies of

the kingdom. But they left Francis in no doubt respecting the price of

their complaisance. This was nothing less than the extermination of the

new sect that had made its appearance in France. And the king

comprehended and fell in with the terms upon which the church agreed to

loosen its purse-strings. No doubtful policy must now prevail! No more

Berquins can be permitted to make their boast that they have been able,

protected by the king's panoply, to beard the lion in his den!
1 Labbei Concilia, xix. fol. 1139.

2 The words of the decree are sufficiently distinct: "Illam

plurimum gravem et onerosam ecclesiis, laicis vero contemtibilem,

sacerdotum multitudinem, qui solent plerumque illiterati, moribus

inculti, servilibus operibus addicti, imberbes, inopes, fictitiis

titulis ad sacros ordines obrepere, non sine magno status clericalis

opprobrio." Ibid., xix. fol. 1128. The decrees of the councils of

Bourges and Lyons are given in Labbei Concilia, xix. 1041-1048, and 1095 etc.

Insult to an image.

An incident occurring in Paris, before the adjournment of the Council of

Sens, gave Francis a specious excuse for inaugurating the more cruel

system of persecution now demanded of him, and tended somewhat to

conceal from the king himself, as well as from others, the mercenary

motive of the change. Just after the solemnities of Whitsunday, an

unheard of act of impiety startled the inhabitants of the capital, and

fully persuaded them that no object of their devotions was safe from

iconoclastic violence. One of those numerous statues of the Virgin Mary,

with the infant Jesus in her arms, that graced the streets of Paris, was

found to have been shockingly mutilated. The body had been pierced, and

the head-dress trampled under foot. The heads of the mother and child

had been broken off and ignominiously thrown in the rubbish.1 A more

flagrant act of contempt for the religious sentiment of the country had

perhaps never been committed. The indignation it awakened must not be

judged by the standard of a calmer age.2 In the desire to ascertain

the perpetrators of the outrage, the king offered a reward of a thousand

crowns. But no ingenuity could ferret them out. A vague rumor, indeed,

prevailed, that a similar excess had been witnessed in a village four or

five leagues distant, and that the culprits when detected had confessed

that they had been prompted to its commission by the promise of a paltry

recompense of one hundred sous for every image destroyed. But, since

no one seems ever to have been punished, it is probable that this report

was a fabrication; and the question whether the mutilation of the Virgin

of the Rue des Rosiers was the deliberate act of a religious

enthusiast, or a freak of drunken revellers, or, as some imagined, a

cunning device of good Catholics to inflame the popular passions against

1 The image was affixed to the house of the Sieur de

Beaumont, at the corner of the Rue des Hosiers and the Rue des Juifs.

Félibien, Hist. de Paris, iv. 676.

2 The strong language of the author of the "Cronique du Roi

Françoys I^er" (edited by G. Guiffrey, Paris, 1860) may serve as an

index of the popular feeling: "La nuict du dimenche, dernier jour de

may, ... par quelque ung pire que ung chien mauldict de Dieu, fut

rompue et couppée la teste à une ymaige de la vierge Marie ... qui fut

une grosse horreur à la crestienté." Page 66.

the "Lutherans," must, for the present, at least, remain a

subject of profound doubt.

Expiatory processions.

But, whoever may have been the author, pains were taken to expiate the

sacrilege. Successive processions visited the spot. In one of these,

five hundred students of the university, chosen from different colleges

and belonging to the first families, bore lighted tapers, which they

placed on the temporary altar erected in front of the image. The clergy,

both secular and regular, came repeatedly with all that was most

precious in attire and relics. To add still more to the pomp of the

propitiatory pilgrimages, Francis himself took part in a magnificent

display, made on the Fête-Dieu, or Corpus Christi (the eleventh of

June). He was preceded by heralds and by the Dukes of Cleves and Ferrara

and other noblemen of high rank, while behind him walked the King of

Navarre, the Cardinal of Lorraine, the Ambassadors of England, Venice,

Florence, and other foreign states, the officers of parliament, and a

crowd of gentlemen of the king's house, archers and persons of all

conditions bringing up the rear. On reaching the spot where the

mutilated statue still occupied its niche, Francis, after appropriate

religious exercises, ascended the richly carpeted steps, and reverently

substituted an effigy in solid silver, of similar size, in place of the

image which had been the object of insult.1

1 The silver image, though protected by an iron grating,

fared no better than its predecessor. Stolen before the death of

Francis, it was succeeded by a wooden statue, and, when this was

destroyed by "heretics," by one of marble! The detailed accounts of the

expiatory processions in Félibien, ii. 982, 983, in the Régistres du

parlement, ibid., iv. 677-679, in G. Guiffrey, appendix to "Cronique du

Roy Françoys I^er," 446-459, from MSS. Nat. Lib., in Gaillard, vi.

434, 435, and in the Journal d'un bourgeois, 348-351, give a vivid view

of the picturesque ceremonial of the times. It must have been a very

substantial compensation for the trouble to which the unknown author of

the outrage of the Rue des Rosiers put the clergy, that the mutilated

statue of the Virgin, having been placed above the altar in the church

of St. Gervais, was said to have wrought notable miracles, and even to

have raised two children from the dead! Journal d'un bourgeois, ubi

supra. See also "Cronique du Roy Françoys I^er," 67, and especially

the poem (Ibid., appendix, 459-464), in twenty-five stanzas of eight

lines each, which, I fear, has nothing to recommend it, unless it be length!

Other icoconoclastic excesses.

From this time forward, iconoclastic demonstrations became more common.

Paintings, also, when exposed to the public view, shared the perils to

which unprotected statues were subjected. The Virgin, and such reputable

saints as St. Roch and St. Fiacre, depicted on the walls of the Rue St.

Martin, were wantonly disfigured, some two years later; so that at last,

the Parliament of Paris, in despair of preventing the repetition of the

act, or of discovering its authors, adopted the prudent course of

forbidding that any sacred representation should be placed on the

exterior walls of a house within ten feet of the ground!1

Berquin's third arrest. He disregards the cautions of Erasmus.

The repeated assurances whereby Francis had conciliated the clergy, and

secured their contributions to the exchequer, embarrassed him in the

exercise of leniency toward Louis de Berquin, now for the third time

arraigned for heresy. Moreover, the audacity and violence of the

iconoclasts, characteristics assumed by him to be indicative of a

disposition to overturn all government, probably took away any

inclination he would otherwise have had to interfere in the intrepid

nobleman's behalf. De Berquin had no sooner been released from his

former imprisonment than he set himself to prepare for new conflicts

with his bigoted antagonists. He even resolved to assume the offensive.

In vain did Erasmus entreat him to be prudent, suggest the propriety of

his temporarily going abroad, and propose that he should apply for some

diplomatic commission as a plausible excuse for absenting himself. Beda,

he told him, was a monster with many heads, each breathing out poison,

while in the "Faculty" he had to do with an immortal antagonist. The

monks would secure his ruin were his cause more righteous than that of

Jesus Christ. Finally, the tremulous scholar begged him, if no

consideration of personal safety moved him, at least not to involve so

ardent a lover of peace as Erasmus in a conflict for which he had no

taste. But his reasoning had no weight with a man of high resolve and

inflexible principle, who could see no honorable course but openly

meeting and overthrowing error. "Do

1 May, 1530. Félibien, ii 988, 989; Journal d'un bourgeois, 410.

you ask," wrote Erasmus to a correspondent interested in learning De

Berquin's fate, "what I accomplished? By every means I employed to deter
him I only added to his courage."1 If we may believe Erasmus's strong
expressions--for his own writings have very nearly disappeared--De Berquin
assailed the monks with a freedom almost equal to that employed by the Old
Comedy in holding up to merited derision the foibles of Athenian generals
and statesmen. He even extracted twelve blasphemous propositions from
Beda's utterances, and obtained a letter from the king enjoining the Sorbonne

either to pass sentence of condemnation on their syndic's assertions, or

to prove their truth from the Holy Scriptures.2 The Dutch

philosopher, aghast at his friend's incredible temerity, besought him

instantly to seek safety in flight; and, when this last appeal proved as

ineffectual as all his frequent efforts in the past, he confessed that

he almost regretted that a friendship had ever arisen which had

occasioned him so much trouble and disquiet.3

A third time Louis de Berquin was arrested, on application of the

officer known as the Promoteur de la foi. His trial was committed to

twelve judges selected by parliament, among whom figured not only the

first president and the vicar-general of the Bishop of Paris, but,

strange to say, even so well-disposed and liberal a jurist as Guillaume

Budé, the foremost French scholar of the age for broad and accurate

learning.4 The case advanced too slowly to meet De Berquin's

impatience. In the assurance of ultimate success, he is even accused by

a contemporary chronicler of having offered the court two hundred crowns

to expedite the trial.5 It soon became evident,

1 "Quæris, quid profecerim? Tot modis deterrens, addidi animum."

2 Erasmus to Utenhoven, ubi supra; also his letter to

Vergara, Sept. 2, 1527, and Beda's Apology, Herminjard, ii. 38, 39, 40.

3 Erasmus to Utenhoven, ubi supra.

4 It was one of the great merits of Francis I., in the eyes

of De Thou, the historian, that he had drawn Budé from comparative

obscurity, and, following his wise counsels, founded the Collége Royale.

Erasmus styled him "The Wonder of France" (De Thou, liv. iii., i. 233),

and Scævole de Ste. Marthe, "omnium, qui hoc patrumque sæculo vixere,

sine controversia doctissimus" (Elog. 3). He was at this time one of the

maîtres de requêtes. Crespin, fol. 58.

5 Journal d'un bourgeois, 378.

however, from, the withdrawal of the liberties at first accorded, that Be Berquin would scarcely escape unless the king again interposed--a contingency less

likely to occur in view of the incessant appeals with which Francis was

plied, addressed at once to his interest, his conscience, and his pride.

But the more desperate the cause of Berquin, and the more uncertain the

king's disposition, the more urgent the intercessions of Margaret of

Angoulême, whose character is nowhere seen to better advantage than in

her repeated letters to her brother about this time.1

Berquin sentenced to public penance, branding, and imprisonment.

The sentence was rendered on the sixteenth of April, 1529. De Berquin,

being found guilty of heresy, was condemned to do public penance in

front of Notre Dame, with lighted taper in hand, and crying for mercy to

God and the blessed Virgin. Next, on the Place de Grève, he was to be

ignominiously exhibited upon a scaffold, while his books were burned

before his eyes. Taken thence in a cart to the pillory, and again

exposed to popular derision on a revolving stage, he was to have his

tongue pierced and his forehead branded with the ineffaceable

fleur-de-lis. His public disgrace over, De Berquin was to be

imprisoned for life in the episcopal jail.2
He appeals, is sentenced to death, and is executed.

More than twenty thousand persons--so intense a hatred had been stirred

up against the reformers--assembled to witness the execution of a

sentence malignantly cruel.3 But, for that day, their expectation

was disappointed. Louis de Berquin gave notice that he appealed to the

absent king and to the Pope himself. It was no part of the programme,

however, that the thrice-convicted heresiarch should gain a fresh

respite and enlist powerful friends in effecting his

1 The series of letters ends with a prayer which it would

have been difficult, we must suppose, for a brother to resist: "Il vous

plera (plaira), Monseigneur, faire en sorte que l'on ne die (dise) point

que l'eslongnement vous ait fait oblier vostre très-humble et

très-obéissante subjette et seur MARGUERITE." Génin, 2de Coll., No. 52.

2 A MS. of the Bibliothèque Nationale, printed by M. Génin

(i. 218, etc.), and G. Guiffrey, Cronique, etc., 76, note, gives these

and other interesting details, which are in part confirmed by Erasmus.

3 Ibid., ubi supra.

release. No sooner were the judges satisfied that he persisted in his appeal,

in spite of the secret and urgent advice of Budé and others, than they
rendered a new and more severe sentence (on the seventeenth of April): he
must pay the forfeit of his obstinacy with his life, and that, too, within a few


The cause of this intemperate haste is clearly set forth by a

contemporary--doubtless an eye-witness of the execution--all whose

sympathies were on the side of the prosecution. It was "lest recourse be

had to the king, or to the regent then at Blois;"2 for the delay of

even a few days might have brought from the banks of the Loire another

order removing De Berquin's case from the commission to the royal


The historian must leave to the professed martyrologist the details of

the constant death of Louis de Berquin, as of the deaths of many other

less distinguished victims of the intolerant zeal of the Sorbonne.

Suffice it to say that although, when he undertook to address the

people, his voice was purposely drowned by the din of the attendants,

though the very children filled the air with shouts that De Berquin was

a heretic, though not a person was found in the vast concourse to

encourage him by the name of "Jesus"--an accustomed cry even at the

execution of parricides--the brave nobleman of Artois met his fate with

such composure as to be likened by a by-stander to a student immersed in

his favorite occupations, or a worshipper whose devout mind was

engrossed by the contemplation of heavenly things.3 There were

indeed blind rumors, as usual in such cases; to the effect that De

Berquin recanted at the last moment; and Merlin, the Penitentiary of

Notre Dame, who attended him, is reported to have exclaimed that

"perhaps no one for a hundred years had died a better Christian."4

But the "Lutherans"

1 It was a slight suggestion of mercy that prompted the

judges to permit him to be strangled before his body was consigned to

the flames.

2 "Ce qui fut faict et expédié ce mesme jour en grande

diligence, affin qu'il ne fût recourru du Roy ne de madame la Regente,

qui estoit lors à Bloys, etc." Journal d'un bourgeois, 383.

3 For De Berquin's history, see Erasmus, ubi supra;

Journal d'un bourgeois, 378, etc.; Crespin, Actiones et Monimenta (ed.

of 1560), fol. 57-59; Histoire ecclés., i. 5; Félibien, ii. 985; Haag, s. v.

4 Journal d'un bourgeois, and Hist. ecclés., ubi supra.

of Paris had good reason to deny the truth of the former statement, and to

interpret the latter to the advantage of De Berquin's consistent faith--so
great was the rejoicing over the final success attained in crushing the most
distinguished, in silencing the boldest and most outspoken advocate of the
reformation of the church. For, in the eyes of the theological faculty and of
the clergy of France, Louis de Berquin merited to be styled, by way of pre-eminence, a heresiarch.1

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