History of the rise of the huguenots

Extent of France at the accession of Francis the First

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Extent of France at the accession of Francis the First.
When, on the first day of the year 1515, the young Count of Angoulême

succeeded to the throne left vacant by the death of his kinsman and

father-in-law, Louis the Twelfth, the country of which he became monarch

was already an extensive, flourishing, and well-consolidated kingdom.

The territorial development of France was, it is true, far from

complete. On the north, the whole province of Hainault belonged to the

Spanish Netherlands, whose boundary line was less than one hundred miles

distant from Paris. Alsace and Lorraine had not yet been wrested from

the German Empire. The "Duchy" of Burgundy, seized by Louis the Eleventh

immediately after the death of Charles the Bold, had, indeed, been

incorporated into the French realm; but the "Free County" of

Burgundy--la Franche Comté, as it was briefly designated--had been

imprudently suffered to fall into other hands, and Besançon was the

residence of a governor appointed by princes of the House of Hapsburg.

Lyons was a frontier town; for the little districts of Bresse and Bugey,

lying between the Saône and Rhône, belonged to the Dukes of Savoy.

Further to the south, two fragments of foreign territory were completely

enveloped by the domain of the French king.

The first was the sovereign principality of Orange, which,
after having been for over a century in the possession of the
noble House of Châlons, was shortly to pass into that of
Nassau, and to furnish the title of William the Silent, the

future deliverer of Holland. The other and larger one was the Comtât

Venaissin, a fief directly dependent upon the Pope. Of irregular shape,

and touching the Rhone both above and below Orange, the Comtât Venaissin nearly enclosed the diminutive principality in its folds. Its capital,

Avignon, having forfeited the distinction enjoyed in the fourteenth

century as the residence of the Roman Pontiffs, still boasted the

presence of a Legate of the Papal See, a poor compensation for the loss

of its past splendor. On the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, the

Spanish dominions still extended north of the principal chain of the

Pyrenees, and included the former County of Roussillon.

Territorial development.

But, although its area was somewhat smaller than that of the modern

republic, France in the sixteenth century had nearly attained the

general dimensions marked out for it by great natural boundaries. Four

hundred years had been engrossed in the pursuit of territorial

enlargement. At the close of the tenth century the Carlovingian dynasty,

essentially foreign in tastes and language, was supplanted by a dynasty

of native character and capable of gathering to its support all those

elements of strength which had been misunderstood or neglected by the

feeble descendants of Charlemagne. But it found the royal authority

reduced to insignificance and treated with open contempt. By permitting

those dignities which had once been conferred as a reward for

pre-eminent personal merit to become hereditary in certain families, the

crown had laid the foundation of the feudal system; while, by neglecting

to enforce its sovereign claims, it had enabled the great feudatories to

make themselves princes independent in reality, if not in name. So low

had the consideration of the throne fallen, that when Hugh Capet, Count

of Paris, in 987 assumed the title of king of France, basing his act

partly on an election by nobles, partly on force of arms, the

transaction elicited little opposition from the rival lords who might

have been expected to resent his usurpation.

Excessive subdivision in the tenth century.

France contained at this time six principal fiefs--four in the north and

two in the south--each nearly or fully as powerful as the hereditary

dominions of Hugh, while probably more than one excelled them in extent.

These limited dominions, on the resources of which the new dynasty was

wholly dependent in the struggle for supremacy, embraced the important

cities of Paris and Orleans, but barely stretched from the Somme to the

Loire, and were excluded from the ocean by the broad possessions of the

dukes of Normandy on both sides of the lower Seine. The great fiefs had

each in turn yielded to the same irresistible tendency to subdivision.

The great feudatory was himself the superior of the tenants of several

subordinate, yet considerable, fiefs. The possessors of these again

ranked above the viscounts of cities and the provincial barons. A long

series of gradations in dignity ended at the simple owners of castles,

with their subject peasants or serfs. In no country of Europe had the

feudal system borne a more abundant harvest of disintegration and

consequent loss of power.1

Decline of the feudal system.

The reduction of the insubordinate nobles on the patrimonial estates of

the crown was the first problem engaging the attention of the early

Capetian kings. When this had at length been solved, with the assistance

of the scanty forces lent by the cities--never amounting, it is said, to

more than five hundred men-at-arms2--Louis the Fat, a prince of

resplendent ability, early in the twelfth century addressed himself to

the task of making good the royal title to supremacy over the

neighboring provinces. Before death compelled him to forego the

prosecution of his ambitious designs, the influence of the monarchy had

been extended over eastern and central France--from Flanders, on the

north, to the volcanic mountains of Auvergne, on the south. Meanwhile

the oppressed subjects of the petty tyrants, whether within or around

his domains, had learned to look for redress to the sovereign

1 Mignet, Essai sur la formation territoriale et politique de

la France depuis la fin du onzième siècle jusqu'à la fin du quiinzième.

Notices et Mémoires Historiques, ii. 154.

2 Mignet, 157, 158.

lord who prided himself upon his ability and readiness to succor the

defenceless. His grandson, the more illustrious Philip Augustus (1180-
1223), by marriage, inheritance, and conquest added to previous acquisitions

several extensive provinces, of which Normandy, Maine, and Poitou had

been subject to English rule, while Vermandois and Yalois had enjoyed a

form of approximate independence under collateral branches of the

Capetian family.

The conquests of Louis the Fat and of Philip Augustus were consolidated

by Louis the Ninth--Saint Louis, as succeeding generations were wont to

style him--an upright monarch, who scrupled to accept new territory

without remunerating the former owners, and even alienated the affection

of provinces which he might with apparent justice have retained, by

ceding them to the English, in the vain hope of cementing a lasting

peace between the rival states.1

France the foremost kingdom of Christendom.

The same pursuit of territorial aggrandizement under successive kings

extended the domain of the crown, in spite of disaster and temporary

losses, until in the sixteenth century France was second to no other

country in Europe for power and material resources. United under a

single head, and no longer disturbed by the insubordination of the

turbulent nobles, lately humbled by the craft of Louis the Eleventh,

this kingdom awakened the warm admiration of political judges so shrewd

as the diplomatic envoys of the Venetian Republic. "All these

provinces," exclaimed one of these agents, in a report made to the Doge

and Senate soon after his return, "are so well situated, so liberally

provided with river-courses, harbors, and mountain ranges, that it may

with safety be asserted that this realm is not only the most noble in

Christendom, rivalling in antiquity our own most illustrious

A manuscript chronicle of the time of Charles the Sixth,

quoted by Guizot, Histoire de la Civilisation en France, iv. 144, states

the interesting fact that the inhabitants of Périgord and the adjoining

districts, thus surrendered to Henry the Third of England, for centuries

bore so hearty a grudge against the French king, of whom the rest of

France was justly proud, and whose name the church had enrolled in the

calendar, that they never would consent to regard him as a saint or to

celebrate his feast day!

commonwealth, but excels all other states in natural advantages and

security."1 Another of the same distinguished school of statesmen,

taking a more deliberate survey of the country, gives utterance to the

universal estimate of his age, when averring that France is to be

regarded as the foremost kingdom of Christendom, whether viewed in

respect to its dignity and power, or the rank of the prince who governs

it.2 In proof of the first of these claims he alleges the fact that,

whereas England had once been, and Naples was at that moment dependent

upon the Church, and Bohemia and Poland sustained similar relations to

the Empire, France had always been a sovereign state. "It is also the

oldest of European kingdoms, and the first that was converted to

Christianity," remarks the same writer; adding, with a touch of

patriotic pride, the proviso, "if we except the Pope, who is the

universal head of religion, and the State of Venice, which, as it first

sprang into existence a Christian commonwealth, has always continued


France contrasted with England.

Other diplomatists took the same view of the power and resources of this

favored country. "The kingdom of France," said Chancellor Bacon, in a

speech against the policy of rendering open aid to Scotland, and thus

becoming involved in a war with the French, "is four times as large as

the realm of England, the men four times as many, and the revenue four

times as much, and it has better credit. France is full of expert

captains and old soldiers, and besides its own troops it may entertain

as many Almains as it is able to hire."4
1 "Le quali tutte provincie sono così bene poste," etc.

Relazione di Francia dell' Amb. Marino Cavalli, in Relations des

Ambassadeurs Vénitiens (Tommaseo, Paris), i. 220.

2 "Dico che il regno di Francia per universal consenso del


ondo fu riputato il primo regno di cristianità," etc. Commentario del

regno di Francia del clarissimo sig. Michel Suriano, Rel. des Amb. Vén.,

i. 470.

3 "Dopo il papa che è universal capo della religione, e la

signoria di Venezia, che, come è nata, s'è conservata sempre cristiana."

Suriano, ubi supra, i. 472.

4 This was in the early part of Queen Elizabeth's reign, Dec.

15, 1559, MSS. British Museum. I use the summary in the Calendar of

State Papers (Stevenson), p. 197, note.

Assimilation of language and manners.

Meantime France was fast becoming more homogeneous than it had ever been

since the fall of the Roman power. As often as the lines of the great

feudal families became extinct, or these families were induced or

compelled to renounce their pretensions, their fiefs were given in

appanage to younger branches of the royal house, or were more closely

united to the domains of the crown, and entrusted to governors of the

king's appointment.1 In either case the actual control of affairs was

placed in the hands of officers whose highest ambition was to reproduce

in the provincial capital the growing elegance of the great city on the

Seine where the royal court had fixed its ordinary abode. The provinces,

consequently, began to assimilate more and more to Paris, and this not

merely in manners, but in forms of speech and even in pronunciation. The

rude patois, since it grated upon the cultivated ear, was banished

from polite society, and, if not consigned to oblivion, was relegated to

the more ignorant and remoter districts. Learning held its seat in

Paris, and the scholars who returned to their homes after a sojourn in

its academic halls were careful to avoid creating doubts respecting the

thoroughness of their training by the use of any dialect but that spoken

in the neighborhood of the university. As the idiom of Paris asserted

its supremacy over the rest of France, a new tie was constituted,

binding together provinces diverse in origin and history.

The nobles flock to Paris.

The spirit of obedience pervading all classes of the population

contributed much to the national strength. The great nobles had lost

their excessive privileges. They no longer attempted, in the seclusion

of their ancestral estates, to rival the magnificence or defy the

authority of the king. They began to prefer the capital to the freer

retreat of their

1 Marino Cavalli stated, in 1546, that this systematic

policy of continually incorporating and never alienating had been

pursued for eighty years. So successful had it proved, that everything

had been absorbed by confiscation, succession, or purchase. There was,

perhaps, no longer a single prince in the kingdom with an income of

20,000 crowns; while even their scanty resources and straitened estates

the princes possessed simply as ordinary proprietors, from whose actions

an appeal was open to the king. Relazioni Venete (Albèri, Firenze),

serie 1, i. 234, 235.

castles. During the reign of Francis the First, and

still more during the reign of his immediate successors, costly palaces

for the accommodation of princely and ducal families were reared in the

neighborhood of the Louvre.1 It was currently reported that more than

one fortune had been squandered in the hazardous experiment of

maintaining a pomp befitting the courtier. Ultimately the poorer

grandees were driven to the adoption of the wise precaution of spending

only a quarter of the year in the enticing but dangerous vicinity of the throne.2

The cities.

The cities, also, whose extensive privileges had constituted one of the

most striking features of the political system of mediæval Europe, had

been shorn of their exorbitant claims founded upon royal charters or

prescriptive usage. The kings of France, in particular, had favored the

growth of the municipalities, in order to secure their assistance in the

reduction of refractory vassals. Flourishing trading communities had

sprung up on the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea and of the ocean, and

on the banks of the navigable rivers emptying into them. These

corporations had secured a degree of independence proportioned, for the

most part, to the weakness of their neighbors. The policy of the crown

had been, while generously conferring privileges of great importance

upon the cities lying within the royal domain, to make still more lavish

concessions in favor of the municipalities upon or contiguous to the

lands of the great feudatories.3

The capital.

No sooner, however, did the humiliation of the landed nobility render it

superfluous to conciliate the good-will of the proud and opulent

citizens, than the readiest means were sought for reducing them to the

level of ordinary subjects. Paris especially, once almost a republic, had of
late learned submission and docility.4 By the change, however,the capital
1 Yet the old prejudice against city life had not fully died

out. So late as in 1527, Chassanée wrote: "Galliæ omnis una est nobilium

norma. Nam rura et prædia sua (dicam potius castra) incolentes urbes

fugiunt, in quibus habitare nobilem turpe ducitur. Qui in illis degunt,

ignobiles habentur a nobilibus." Catalogus Gloriæ Mundi, fol. 200.

2 Michel Suriano, Rel. des Amb. Vén., i. 488.

3 Mignet, ubi supra, ii. 160, etc.

4 Rel. dell' Amb. Marino Cavalli (1546), ubi supra, i.229.

had lost neither wealth nor inhabitants, being described as very rich and

populous, covering a vast area, and wholly given up to trade.1 In the
absence of an accurate census, the number of its inhabitants was variously
stated at from 300,000 souls to nearly thrice as many; but all accounts
agreed in placing Paris among the foremost cities of the civilized world.2

Military resources.

With the military resources at his command, the king had the means of

rendering himself formidable abroad and secure at home. The French

cavalry, consisting of gentlemen whose duty and honorable distinction it

was to follow the monarch in every expedition, still sustained the

reputation for the impetuous ardor and the irresistible weight of its

charges which it had won during the Middle Ages. If it had encountered

unexpected rebuffs on the fields of Crécy, Poitiers and Agincourt, the

chivalry of France had been too successful in other engagements to lose

courage and enthusiasm. The nobles, both old and young, were still ready

at any time to flock to their prince's standard when unfurled for an

incursion into Naples or the Milanese. Never had they displayed more

alacrity or self-sacrificing devotion than when young Francis the First

set out upon his campaigns in Italy.3 The

1 It would seem that the Venetian ambassadors were never

free from apprehension lest their admiration of what they had seen

abroad might be construed as disparagement of their own island city.

Hence, Marino Giustiniano (A. D. 1535), after making the statement which

we have given in the text, is careful to add: "Pur non arriva di

richezza ad una gran gionta quanto Venezia; nè anco ha maggior popolo,

per mio giudizio, di che loro si gloriano." Rel. Venete (Albèri,

Firenze), serie 1, i. 148.

2 The lowest estimate, which is that of Guicciardini (Belgiæ

Descriptio, apud Prescott, Philip II., i. 367), is probably nearest the

mark; the highest, 800,000, is that of Davila, Storia delle Guerre

Civili, 1. iii. (Eng. trans., p. 79). Marino Cavalli, in 1546, says

500,000; Michel Suriano, in 1561, between 400,000 and 500,000. M.

Dulaure is even more parsimonious than Guicciardini, for he will allow

Paris, in the sixteenth century, not more than 200,000 to 210,000 souls!

Histoire de Paris, iv. 384. Some of the exaggerated estimates may be

errors of transcription. At least Ranke asserts that this is the case

with the 500,000 of Fran. Giustiniani in 1537, where the original

manuscript gives only 300,000. Französische Geschichte, v. (Abschn. 1),76.

3 See, for example, the MS. receipt, from which it appears

that, in 1516, Sieur Imbert de Baternay pledged his entire service of

plate to help defray the expenses of the war. Capefigue, François

Premier et la Renaissance, i. 141.

French infantry was less trustworthy. The troops raised in Normandy,
Brittany, and Languedoc were reported to be but poorly trained to military exercises; but the foot-soldiers supplied by some of the frontier provinces
were sturdy and efficient, and the gallant conduct of the Gascons at the
disastrous battle of St. Quentin was the subject of universal admiration.1
Foreign mercenary troops.

What France lacked in cavalry was customarily supplied by the Reiters,

whose services were easily purchased in Germany. The same country stood

ready to furnish an abundance of Lansquenets (Lanzknechten), or pikemen,

who, together with the Swiss, in a great measure replaced the native

infantry. A Venetian envoy reported, in 1535, that the French king

could, in six weeks at longest, set on foot a force of forty-eight

thousand men, of whom twenty-one thousand, or nearly one-half, would be

foreign mercenaries. His navy, besides his great ship of sixty guns

lying in the harbor of Havre, numbered thirty galleys, and a few other

vessels of no great importance.2
The rights of the people overlooked.

The States General an object of suspicion.

The power gained by the crown through the consolidation of the monarchy

had been acquired at the expense of the popular liberties. In the

prolonged struggle between the king, as lord paramount, and his

insubordinate vassals, the rights of inferior subjects had received

little consideration. From the strife the former issued triumphant, with

an asserted claim to unlimited power. The voice of the masses was but

feebly heard in the States General--a convocation of all three orders

called at irregular intervals. Upon the ordinary policy of government,

this, the only representative body, exercised no permanent control. If,

in its occasional sessions, the deputies of the Tiers État exhibited a

disposition to intermeddle in those political concerns which the crown

claimed as its exclusive prerogative, the king and his advisers found in

their audacity an additional motive for postponing as long as possible a

resort to an expedient so disagreeable

1 Marino Giustiniano (1535), Rel. Venete (Albèri), i, 185,

François de Rabutin, Guerres de Belgique (Ed. Panthéon), 697.

2 Marino Giustiniano, ubi supra.

as the assembling of the States General. Already had monarchs begun to

look with suspicion upon the growing intelligence of untitled subjects,
who might sooner or later come to demand a share in the public administration.
And rarely convoked.

It was, therefore, only when the succession to the throne was contested,

or when the perils attending the minority of the prince demanded the

popular sanction of the choice of a regent, or when the flames of civil

war seemed about to burst forth and involve the whole country in one

general conflagration, that the royal consent could be obtained for

convening the States General. During the first half of the sixteenth

century the States General were not once summoned, unless the

designation of States be accorded to one or two convocations partaking

rather of the character of "Assemblies of Notables," and intended merely

to assist in extricating the monarch from temporary embarrassment.1

The repeated wars of Louis the Twelfth, of Francis the First, and of

Henry the Second were waged without any reference of the questions of

their expediency and of the mode of conducting them to the tribunal of

popular opinion. Thousands of brave Frenchmen found bloody graves beyond

the Alps; Francis the First fell into the hands of his enemies, and

after a weary captivity with difficulty regained his freedom; a new

faith arose in France, threatening to subvert existing ecclesiastical

institutions; yet in the midst of all this bloodshed, confusion and perplexity
the people were left unconsulted.2 From the accession of Charles

1 M. A. Boullée (in his Histoire complète des

États-Généraux, i. 181, etc.) and other writers give the character of

States General to the gathering of princes, clergy, etc., at Tours, in

May, 1506. This was the assembly from which Louis XII. obtained the

welcome advice to break an engagement to give his daughter Claude,

heiress of Brittany, in marriage to Charles, the future emperor of

Germany, in order that he might be free to bestow her hand on Francis of

Angoulême. M. Boullée is also inclined to call the assembly after the

battle of St. Quentin, January 5, 1558, a meeting of the States General.

But Michel Suriano is correct in stating (Rel. des Amb. Vén., Tommaseo,

i. 512-514) that between Louis XI.'s time and 1560 the only States

General were those of 1483. Chancellor L'Hospital's words cited below

are conclusive.

2 Some of Louis XI.'s successors imbibed his aversion for

these popular assemblies, and would, like Louis, have treated any one as

a rebel who dared to talk of calling them. Michel Suriano, Rel. des Amb.

Vén. (Tommaseo), i. 512-514.

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