History of the rise of the huguenots

The popular excitement in Paris

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The popular excitement in Paris.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the effect produced upon the

populace of Paris by this intemperate handbill. If any part of the

ceremonial of the church was deeply rooted in the devotion of the common

people, it was the service of the mass. And in attacking the doctrine of

the Real Presence, the authors of this libel, distributed under cover of

the darkness, had, in the estimation of the rabble, proved themselves

more impious and deserving a more signal punishment than that

sacrilegious Jew whose knife had drawn drops of miraculous blood from

the transubstantiated wafer. Not the parish priests, nor the doctors of

the Sorbonne, could surpass the infuriated populace in loud execrations

of the wretch for whom burning alive seemed too mild a punishment.

Anger of the king.

But a second act of ill-timed rashness accomplished a result even more

disastrous for Protestantism than the kindling of the fanatical zeal of

the people; for it inflamed the anger of the king, and made him, what

all the persuasions of the Roman court had hitherto failed to make him,

a determined enemy and persecutor of the "new doctrines." A copy of the

placard was secretly affixed by night to the very door of the royal

bedchamber in the castle of Amboise,2 where Francis and his court

were at the time sojourning. If the contents of the tract offended the

religious principles carefully inculcated upon the king by his spiritual

instructors, the audacity of the person who, disregarding bars, bolts

and guards, had presumed to invade the privacy of the royal abode and

obtrude his unwelcome message, could not but be regarded in the light of

a direct personal insult. Francis had not been in the habit of troubling

himself about the private opinions of the learned on vexed points of

theology; nor had he been inclined to permit his

1 This singular placard is given in extenso by Gerdesius,

Hist. Evang. Renov., iv. (Doc.) 60-67; Haag, France prot., x. pièces

justif., 1-6; G. Guiffrey, Cronique du Roy Françoys I^er, Appendix,


2 Journal d'un bourgeois, 442. Not Blois, as the Hist.

ecclésiastique, i. 10, and, following it, Soldan, Merle d'Aubigné, etc.,

state. Francis had left Blois as early as in September for the castle of

Amboise, see Herminjard, Corresp. des réformateurs, iii. 231, 226, 236.

more fanatical subjects to harass any of those eminent scholars whose literary

attainments added lustre to his brilliant court. Yet his claim to the

right of enforcing uniformity of belief--and that uniformity a complete

conformity to his own creed--had rather been held in abeyance than

relinquished. Louis de Berquin had, at his cost, discovered that the

royal protection could not be expected even by a personal favorite and a

scholar of large acquisitions, when, not content with holding doctrines

deemed heretical, he strove to promulgate them. The interposition of

Margaret of Angoulême had proved unavailing in his behalf. The heretics

who had now ventured to nail an exposé of their dogmas on his bedchamber

door could scarcely anticipate greater clemency.
Political considerations.

To personal motives were added political considerations. Indulgence to

the perpetrators of an act so insulting to the Roman Catholic religion

might drive the pontiff, whose friendship was an essential requisite of

success in Francis's ambitious projects, to become the fast friend of

the emperor, his rival. Pope Clement the Seventh had been succeeded by

Paul the Third. The alliance cemented by the marriage of the Duke of

Orleans to Catharine de' Medici had been dissolved by the death of the

bride's uncle. The favor of the new Pope must be conciliated. Under such

circumstances, what were the sufferings of a few poor reformers, when

weighed in the balance against the triple crown of his Holiness?
Fruitless intercession of Margaret.

Francis determined to return to Paris for the purpose of superintending

in person a search for the culprits. It is true that the Queen of

Navarre attempted to moderate his anger by suggesting that it was not

unlikely that the placard, far from being composed by the "Lutherans,"

was the cunning device of their enemies, who thus sought to insure the

ruin of the innocent. But the king appears not unreasonably to have

rejected the suggestion as improbable; although, seven years later,

Margaret reminded him of her surmise, and maintained that the sequel had

strongly confirmed its accuracy.1

"Ne me puis garder de vous dire qu'il vous souviengne de

l'opinion que j'avois que les vilains placars estoient fait par ceux

guiles cherchent aux aultres." Marg. de Navarre to Francis I., Nérac,

Dec., 1541, Génin, ii. No. 114. Although Margaret's supposition proved

Francis abolishes the art of printing.

Far, indeed, from yielding to his sister's persuasions, Francis in his

anger took a step which he would certainly have been glad himself, a few

months later, to be able to forget, and of which his panegyrists have

fruitlessly striven to obliterate the memory. On the thirteenth of

January, 1535, after the lapse of nearly three months from the date of

the publication of the placards--an interval that might surely be

regarded as sufficiently long to permit his overheated passions to cool

down--the king sent to the Parliament of Paris an Edict absolutely

prohibiting any exercise of the Art of Printing in France, on pain of

the halter! It was no secret from whom the ignoble suggestion had come.

A year and a half earlier (on the seventh of June, 1533), the

theologians of the Sorbonne had presented Francis an urgent petition, in

view of the multiplication of heretical books, wherein they set forth

the absolute necessity of suppressing forever by a severe law the

pestilent art which had been the parent of so dangerous a progeny.1

The king was now acting upon the advice of his ghostly counsellors!
He suspends the disgraceful edict.

Happily for Francis, however, whose ambition it had hitherto been to

figure as a modern Mæcenas, even a subservient parliament declined the

customary registration. The king, too, coming to his senses after the

lapse of six weeks, so far yielded to

to be unfounded, it was by no means so absurd as the reader might

imagine. At least, we have the testimony of Pithou, Seigneur de

Chamgobert, that a clergyman of Champagne confessed that he had

committed, from pious motives, a somewhat similar act. The head of a

stone image of the Virgin, known as "Our Lady of Pity," standing in one

of the streets of Troyes, was found, on the morning of a great feast-day

in September, 1555, to have been wantonly broken off. There was the

usual indignation against the sacrilegious perpetrators of the deed.

There were the customary procession and masses by way of atonement for

the insult offered to high Heaven. But Friar Fiacre, of the

Hôtel-Dieu, finding himself some time later at the point of death, and

feeling disturbed in conscience, revealed the fact that from religious

considerations he had himself decapitated the image, "in order to have

the Huguenots accused of it, and thus lead to their complete

extermination!" Recordon, Protestantisme en Champagne, ou récits

extraits d'un MS. de N. Pithou (Paris, 1863), 28-30.

1 A. F. Didot, Essai sur la typographie, in Encyclop.

moderne, xxvi. 760, apud Herminjard, iii. 60.

the remonstrances of his more sensible courtiers as to recall his rash edict,
or, rather, suspend its operation until he could give the matter more careful
consideration. Meanwhile he undertook to institute a censorship. The king was
to select twelve persons of quality and pecuniary responsibility, from a list of

twice that number of names submitted by parliament; and this commission

was to receive the exclusive right to print--and that, in the city of

Paris alone--such books as might be approved by the proper authorities

and be found necessary to the public weal. Until the appointment of the

twelve censors the press was to remain idle! Nor was the suspension of

the prohibitory ordinance to continue a day longer than the term

required by the monarch to decide whether he preferred to modify its

provisions or leave them unchanged. "Albeit on the thirteenth day of

January, 1534,"1 wrote this much lauded patron of letters, "by other

letters-patent of ours, and for the causes and reasons therein

contained, we prohibited and forbade any one from thenceforth printing,

or causing to be printed, any books in our kingdom, on pain of the

halter: nevertheless, we have willed and ordained that the execution

and accomplishment of our said letters, prohibitions and injunctions, be

and continue suspended and surcease until we shall otherwise

Vigorous proceedings of parliament.

Meantime, parliament had not been slack in obeying the command to

search diligently for the authors and publishers of

1 That is, 1535 New Style. For it will remembered that,

until 1566, the year in France began with Easter, instead of with the

first day of January. Leber, Coll. de pièces rel. à l'hist. de France, viii. 505, etc.

2 "Combien que ... nous eussions prohibé et défendu que nul

n'eust dès lors en avant à imprimer ou faire imprimer aulcuns livres en

nostre royaulme, sur peine de la hart." As neither of these disgraceful

edicts was formally registered by parliament, they are both of them

wanting in the ordinary records of that body, and in all collections of

French laws. The first seems, indeed, to have disappeared altogether.

M. Crapelet, Études sur la typographie, 34-37, reproduces the second,

dated St. Germain-en-Laye, February 23, 1534/5, from a volume of

parliamentary papers labelled "Conseil." Happily, the preamble recites

the cardinal prescription of the previous and lost edict, as given above

in the text. M. Merle d'Aubigné carelessly places the edict abolishing

printing after, instead of before, the great expiatory procession.

Hist. of the Reformation in the Time of Calvin, iii. 140.

the placards. Many reputed "Lutherans" had been arrested, some of whom, it

was given out, pretended to reveal the existence of a plot of the reformers to
fall upon the good Christians of the metropolis while assembled in their
churches for divine worship, and assassinate them in the midst of their
devotions! The credulous populace made no difficulty in accepting the tale.
Paris shuddered at the thought of its narrow escape, and some hundreds of

thousands of men and women reverently crossed themselves and thanked

heaven they had not fallen a prey to the blood-thirsty designs of a

handful of peaceable and unarmed adherents of the "new doctrines!" As

for Francis himself, a grave historian tells us that his apprehensions

were inflamed by the very mention of the word "conspiracy."1

Abundance of victims.

The investigation had been committed to practised hands. The prosecuting

officer, or lieutenant-criminel, Morin, was as famous for his cunning

as he was notorious for his profligacy. Moreover, the judicious addition

of six hundred livres parisis to his salary afforded him a fresh

stimulus and prevented his zeal from flagging.2 The timidity or

treachery of one of the prisoners facilitated the inquest. Terrified by

the prospect of torture and death, or induced by hope of reward, a

person, obscurely designated as le Guainier, or Gueynier,3 made

an ample disclosure of the names and residences of his former

fellow-believers. The pursuit was no longer confined to those who had

been concerned in the distribution of the placards. All reputed heretics

were apprehended, and, as rapidly as their trials could be prosecuted,

condemned to death. There was a rare harvest of falsehood and

misrepresentation. No wonder that innocent and guilty were involved in

one common fate.4

1 Félibien, Hist. de la ville de Paris, ii. 997.

2 Soissons MS., Bulletin, xi. 255.

3 I. e., gaînier, sheath-or scabbard-maker. Hist.

ecclésiastique, i. 10; Journal d'un bourgeois, 444; see Varillas, Hist.

des révol. arrivées dans l'Eur. en matière de rel., ii. 222.

4 "Qui ad se ea pericula spectare non putabant, qui non

contaminati erant eo scelere, hi etiam in partem pœnarum veniunt.

Delatores et quadruplatores publice comparantur. Cuilibet simul et

testi et accusatori in hac causa esse licet." J. Sturm to Melanchthon,

Paris, March 4, 1535, Bretschneider, Corpus Reformatorum, ii. 855, etc.

It does not come within the scope of this history to give an edifying

account of the courage displayed by the victims of the frenzy consequent

upon the placards. The very names of many are unknown. Among the first

to be committed to the flames was a young man, Barthélemi Milon, whom

paralysis had deprived of the use of the lower half of his body.1

His unpardonable offence was that copies of the placard against the mass

had been found in his possession. A wealthy draper, Jean du Bourg, had

been guilty of the still more heinous crime of having posted some of the

bills on the walls. For this he was compelled before execution to go

through that solemn mockery of penitence, the amende honorable, in

front of the church of Notre Dame, with but a shirt to conceal his

nakedness, and holding a lighted taper in his hand; afterward to be

conducted to the Fontaine des Innocents, and there have the hand that

had done the impious deed cut off at the wrist, in token of the public

detestation of his "high treason against God and the king." A printer, a

bookseller, a mason, a young man in orders, were subjected to the same

cruel death. But these were only the first fruits of the

prosecution.2 However opinions may differ respecting the merits of

the cause for which they suffered, there can be but one view taken of

their deportment in the trying hour of execution. In the presence of the

horrible preparatives for torture, the most clownish displayed a

1 The name and the affliction of this first victim give

Martin Theodoric of Beauvais an opportunity, which he cannot neglect, to

compare him with a pagan malefactor and contrast him with a biblical

personage. "Hunc gladium ultorem persenserunt quam plurimi degeneres et

alienigenæ in flexilibus perversarum doctrinarum semitis obambulantes;

inter alios, paralyticus Lutheranus Neroniano Milone perniciosior. Cui

malesano opus erat salutifer Christus, ut sublato erroris grabato, viam

Veritatis insequutus fuisset. At vero elatus, in funesto sacrilegi

cordis desiderio perseverans, flammis combustus cum suis participibus

seditiosis Gracchis, exemplum sui cunctis hæreticis relinquens deperiit.

Et peribunt omnes sive plebeii, sive primates," etc. Paraclesis Franciæ

(Par. 1539), 5.

2 The Journal d'un bourgeois, 444-452, gives an account, in

the briefest terms and without comment, of the sentences pronounced and

executed. See also G. Guiffrey, Cronique du Roy François I^er, 111-113.

fortitude and a noble consciousness of honest purpose, contrasted with

which the pusillanimous dejection, the unworthy concessions, and the

premeditated perjury of Francis, during his captivity at Madrid not ten

years before, appear in no enviable light. The monarch who bartered away

his honor to regain his liberty1 might have sat at the feet of

these, his obscure subjects, to learn the true secret of greatness.
The great expiatory procession.

The punishment of the persons who had taken part in the preparation and

dissemination of the placards was deemed an insufficient atonement for a

crime in the guilt of which they had involved the city, and, indeed, the

whole kingdom. As the offence excelled in enormity any other within the

memory of man, so it was determined to expiate it by a solemn procession

unparalleled for magnificence. Thursday, the twenty-first of January,

1535, was chosen for the pageant. Along the line of march the streets

had been carefully cleaned. A public proclamation had bidden every

householder display from his windows the most beautiful and costly

tapestries he possessed. At the doors of all private mansions large

waxen tapers burned, and, at the intersection of all side streets,

wooden barriers, guarded by soldiers, precluded the possibility of


Early on the appointed morning, the entire body of the clergy of Paris,

decked out in their most splendid robes and bearing the insignia of

their respective ranks, assembled in Notre Dame, and thence in solemn

state marched to the church of St. Germain l'Auxerrois, to meet the

king. Sixteen dignitaries bore

1 The real message sent by Francis I. to his mother, after

the disaster of Pavia, was quite another thing from the traditional

sentence: "Tout est perdu sauf l'honneur." What he wrote was: "Madame,

pour vous avertir comme je porte le ressort de mon infortune, de toutes

choses ne m'est demeuré que l'honneur et la vie sauve," etc. Papiers

d'État du Card, de Granvelle, i. 258. It is to be feared that, if saved

in Italy, his honor was certainly lost in Spain, where, after vain

attempts to secure release by plighting his faith, he deliberately

took an oath which he never meant to observe. So, at least, he himself

informed the notables of France on the 16th of December, 1527: "Et

voulurent qu'il jurast; ce qu'il fist, sachant ledict serment n'estre

valable, au moyen de la garde qui luy fust baillée, et qu'il n'estoit en

sa liberté." Isambert, Recueil des anc. lois franç., xii. 292.

aloft the precious reliquary of Sainte Geneviève; others in similar honor

supported the no less venerated reliquary of Saint Marcel. Those skilled in
local antiquities averred that never before had the sacred remains of either
saint been known to be brought across the Seine to grace any similar display.

At Saint Germain l'Auxerrois--that notable church under the very shadow

of the Louvre, whose bell, a generation later, gave the first signal for

the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day--the royal court and the civil and

municipal bodies that had been permitted to appear on so august an

occasion, were in waiting. At length the magnificent column began its

progress, and threading the crowded streets of St. Honoré and St. Denis,

made its way, over the bridge of Notre Dame, to the island upon which

stood and still stands the stately cathedral dedicated to Our Lady. Far

on in the van rode Éléonore, Francis's second queen, sister to the

emperor, conspicuous for her dignified bearing, dressed in black velvet

and mounted on a palfrey with housings of cloth of gold. In her company

were the king's daughters by his former wife, the "good Queen Claude,"

all in dresses of crimson satin embroidered with gold; while a large

number of princesses and noble ladies, with attendant gentlemen and

guards, constituted their escort.

The monastic orders came next. Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians,

Carmelites, all were there, with burning tapers and highly prized

relics. The parish churches were represented in like manner by their

clergy; and these were followed by the chapter of the cathedral and by

the multitudinous professors and scholars of the university. Between

this part of the procession and the next, came a detachment of the Swiss

guards of the king, armed with halberds, and a band of skilled musicians

performing, on trumpets, hautboys, and other instruments, the airs of

the solemn hymns of the church.

An honorable place was held by the ecclesiastics of the "Sainte

Chapelle," originally built by Louis the Ninth, in the precincts of his

own palace, for the reception of the marvellous relics he brought home

from Holy Land. Those relics were all here, together with the other costly
possessions of the chapel--the crown of thorns, the true cross, Aaron's rod that

budded, the great crown of St. Louis, the head of the

holy lance, one of the nails used in our Lord's crucifixion, the tables

of stone, some of the blood of Christ, the purple robe, and the milk of

the Virgin Mary--all borne in jewelled reliquaries by bishops.

Four cardinals in scarlet robes followed--Givri, Tournon, Le Veneur, and

Châtillon--an uncongenial group, in which the violent persecutor and the

future partisan of the Reformation walked side by side. But the central

point in the entire procession was occupied not by these, but by Jean du

Bellay, Bishop of Paris, bearing aloft a silver cross in which was

enclosed the consecrated wafer of the eucharist, whose title to

adoration it was the grand object of the celebration to vindicate. The

king's three sons--the dauphin, and the Dukes of Orleans and

Angoulême--with a fourth prince of the blood--the Duke of Bourbon

Vendôme--held the supports of a magnificent canopy of velvet, sprinkled

with golden fleurs-de-lis, above the bishop and his sacred charge.

Francis himself walked behind him, with a retinue of nobles, officers of

government, judges of parliament, and other civilians closing the line.

The king was naturally the object of universal observation.

Dressed in robes of black velvet lined with costly furs, he devoutly

followed the elevated host, with uncovered head, and with a large waxen

taper in his hands. Several stations had, at great expense, been erected

along the designated route. At each of these the procession halted, and

the Bishop of Paris placed the silver cross with its precious contents

in a niche made to receive it. Then the king, having handed his taper to

the Cardinal of Lorraine at his side, knelt down and reverently

worshipped with joined hands, until a grand anthem in honor of the

sacrament had been intoned. The scene had been well studied, and it made

the desired impression upon the by-standers. "There was no one among the

people," say the registers of the Hôtel de Ville in unctuous phrase, "be

he small or great, that did not shed warm tears and pray God in behalf

of the king, whom he beheld performing so devout an act and worthy of

long remembrance. And it is to be believed that there lives not a Jew

nor an infidel who, had he witnessed the example of

the prince and his people, would not have been converted to the faith."1

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