History of the rise of the huguenots

Memorable speech of the king

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Memorable speech of the king.

At the conclusion of the mass--the most brilliant that had ever been

celebrated within the walls of the cathedral, Francis proceeded to the

episcopal palace, to dine in public, with the princes his children, the

high nobility, cardinals, ambassadors, privy counsellors, and some of

the judges of the Parliament of Paris. Here it was that he delivered a

speech memorable in the history of the great religious movement of the

time. Addressing parliament and representatives of the lower judiciary,

Francis plainly disclaimed all sympathy with the Reformation. "The

errors," he said, "which have multiplied, and are even now multiplying,

are but of our own days. Our fathers have shown us how to live in

accordance with the word of God and of our mother Holy Church. In that

church I am resolved to live and die, and I am determined to prove that

I am entitled to be called Very Christian. I notify you that it is my

will that these errors be driven from my kingdom. Nor shall I excuse any

from the task. Were one of my arms infected with this poison, I should

cut it off! Were my own children contaminated, I should immolate them!2
I therefore now impose this duty upon you, and relieve myself of

1 Registres de l'hôtel de ville. Félibien, pièces justif.,

v. 345. In the preceding account these records, together with those of

parliament (ibid., iv. 686-688), the narrative of Félibien himself (ii.

997-999), and the Soissons MS. (Bulletin, xi. 254, 255), have been

chiefly relied upon. See also Cronique du Roy Françoys I^er, 113-121.

2 "En sorte que si un des bras de mon corps estoit infecté

de cette farine, je le vouldrois coupper; et si mes enfans en estoient

entachez, je les vouldrois immoler." Voltaire (Hist. du parlement de

Paris, i. 118), citing the substance of this atrocious sentiment from

Maimbourg and Daniel, who themselves take it from Mézeray, says

incredulously: "Je ne sais où ces auteurs ont trouvé que François

premier avait prononcé ce discours abominable." M. Poirson answers by

giving as authority Théodore de Bèze (Hist. ecclés., i. 13). But on

referring to the documentary records from the Hôtel de Ville, among the

pièces justificatives collected by Félibien, v. 346, the reader will

find the speech of Francis inserted at considerable length, and

apparently in very nearly the exact words employed. The contemporary

Cronique du Roy Françoys I^er, giving the fullest version of the speech

(pp. 121-12), attributes to the king about the same expressions.

responsibility." Turning to the doctors of the university,

the king reminded them that the care of the faith was entrusted to them,

and he therefore appealed to them to watch over the orthodoxy of all

teachers and report all defections to the secular courts.

Constancy of the sufferers.

Francis had spoken in the heat of passion, but, in the words of a

contemporary, "if his fury was great, still greater was the constancy of

the martyrs."1 Of this, indeed, the king did not have to wait long

for a proof. For, after having witnessed, in company with the queen, the

amende honorable of six condemned "Lutherans" or "Christaudins," which

took place on the square in front of the cathedral, Francis, as he

returned to the Louvre, passed the places where these unfortunates were

undergoing their supreme torments--three near the Croix du Tiroir, in

the Rue St. Honoré, and three at the Halles. The first were men of some

note--Simon Fouhet, of Auvergne, one of the royal choristers, supposed

to have been the person who posted the placard in the castle of Amboise,

Audebert Valleton, of Nantes, and Nicholas L'Huillier, from the Châtelet

of Paris. The others were of an inferior station in life--a fruitster, a

maker of wire-baskets, and a joiner. All, however, with almost equal

composure, submitted to their fate as to the will of Heaven, rather than

the sentence of human judges; scarcely seeming, in their firm

anticipation of an immortal crown, to notice the tumultuous outcries of

an infuriated mob which nearly succeeded in snatching them from the

officers of the law, in order to have the satisfaction of tearing their

bodies to pieces.2
Ingenious contrivance for protracting torture.

It would seem, however, that the most relentless enemy could scarcely

have complained that any womanish indulgence had been shown to the

persons singled out to expiate the crime of posting the placard against

the mass. To delay the advent of death, the sole term of their

excruciating sufferings, an ingeniously contrived instrument of torture

was put in play, which if not altogether novel, had at least been but

seldom employed up to this time. Instead of

1 Histoire ecclés., i. 13.

2 Histoire ecclés., ubi supra.

being bound to the stake and simply roasted to death by means of the fagots
heaped up around him, the victim was now suspended by chains over a blazing
fire, and was alternately lowered into it and drawn out--a refinement of cruelty
whose principal recommendation to favor lay in the fact that the diversion it

afforded the spectators could be made to last until they were fully

satisfied, and the executioner chose to allow the writhing sufferer to

be suffocated in the flames.1 So satisfactory were the results of

the Estrapade, that it came to be universally employed as the

instrument for executing "Lutherans," with the exception of a favored

few, to whom the privilege was accorded of being hung or strangled

before their bodies were thrown into the fire. Such was, soon after this

time, the fate of a woman, a school-teacher by profession, found guilty

of heresy. In any case, the judges took effectual measures to forestall

the deplorable consequences that might ensue from permitting the

"Lutherans" to address the by-standers, and so pervert them from the

orthodox faith. The hangman was instructed to pierce their tongue with a

hot iron, or to cut it out altogether; just as, at a later date, the

sound of the drum was employed to drown the last utterances of the

victims of despotism.2

Flight of Marot.

The flames of persecution were not extinguished with the conclusion of

the solemn expiatory pageant. For months strangers sojourning in Paris

shuddered at the horrible sights almost daily meeting their eyes.3

The lingering hope that a prince naturally clement and averse to

needless bloodshed, would at length tire of countenancing these

continuous scenes of atrocity,

1 "Une espèce d'estrapade où l'on attachoit les

criminels, que les bourreaux, par le moyen d'une corde, guindoient en

haut, et les laissoient ensuite tomber dans le feu à diverses reprises,

pour faire durer leur supplice plus longtems." Félibien, ii. 999.

2 Gerdes, Hist. Evang. renov., iv. 109. For the nature of

the penalty, see Bastard D'Estang, Les parlements de France, i. 425,

note on punishments.

3 When John Sturm wrote, March 4th, eighteen--when

Latomus wrote, somewhat later, twenty-four--adherents of the

Reformation had suffered capitally. Bretschneider, Corp. Reform., ii.

855, etc. "Plusieurs aultres héréticques en grant nombre furent après

bruslez à divers jours," says the Cronique du Roy Françoys I^er, p. 129,

"en sorte que dedans Paris on ne véoit que potences dressées en divers lieux," etc.

seemed gradually to fade away. Great numbers of the most intelligent and scholarly consulted their safety in flight; the friendly court of Renée of France, Duchess of Ferrara, affording, for a time, asylum to Clément Marot, the poet,
and to many others. Meantime the suspected "Lutherans" that could not be found
were summoned by the town-crier to appear before the proper courts for trial.

A list of many such has escaped destruction of time.1 Fortunately,

most of them had gotten beyond the reach of the officers of the law, and

the sentence could, at most, effect only the confiscation of their property.

Royal declaration of Coucy, July 16, 1535.

As summer advanced, however, the rigor of the persecution was perceived

to be somewhat abating. Finally, on the sixteenth of July, the king so

far yielded to the urgency of open or secret friends of progress among

the courtiers, as to issue a "Declaration" to facilitate the return of

the fugitives. "Forasmuch," said Francis, "as the heresies, which, to

our great displeasure, had greatly multiplied in our kingdom, have

ceased, as well by the Divine clemency and goodness, as by the diligence

we have used in the exemplary punishment of many of their

adherents--who, nevertheless, were not in their last hours abandoned by

the hand of our Lord, but, turning to Him, have repented, and made

public confession of their errors, and died like good Christians and

Catholics--no further prosecution of persons suspected of heresy shall

be made, but they will be discharged from imprisonment, and their goods

restored. For the same reason, all fugitives who return and abjure

their errors within six months will receive pardon. But

Sacramentarians2 and the relapsed are excluded from this offer.

Furthermore, all men are forbidden, under

1 G. Guiffrey, Cronique du Roy Françoys I^er, 130-132;

Soissons MS. in Bulletin, etc., xi. 253-254. We may recognize, among the

misspelt names, those, for example, of Pierre Caroli, doctor of

theology and parish priest of Alençon, already introduced to our notice;

Jean Retif, a preacher; François Berthault and Jean Courault,

lately associated in preaching the Gospel under the patronage of the

Queen of Navarre; besides the scholar Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples, and

Guillaume Féret, who brought the placards from Switzerland.

2 Under the head of Sacramentarians were included all

who, like Zwingle, denied the bodily presence of Christ in or with the

elements of the eucharist.

pain of the gallows, and of being held rebels and disturbers of the public

peace, to read, teach, translate or print, whether publicly or in private, any
doctrine contrary to the Christian faith."1 The concession, it must be

confessed, was not a very liberal one; for the exiles could return only

on condition of recanting. Yet the new regulations were mild in

comparison with the previous practice, which consigned all the guilty

alike to death, and left no room for repentance. Consequently, there

were not a few, especially of the learned who had been suspected of

heresy, that were found ready to avail themselves of the permission,

even on the prescribed terms.

Alleged intercession of Pope Paul III.

In explanation of this change in the policy of Francis, the most

remarkable rumors circulated among the people. Not the least strange was

one that has been preserved for us by a contemporary.2 It was

reported in the month of June, 1535, that Pope Paul the Third, having

been informed of "the horrible and execrable" punishments inflicted by

the king upon the "Lutherans," wrote to Francis and begged him to

moderate his severity. The pontiff did, indeed, express his conviction

that the French monarch had acted with the best intentions, and in

accordance with his claim to be called the Very Christian King. But he

added, that when God, our Creator, was on earth, He employed mercy

rather than strict justice. Rigor ought not always to be resorted to;

and this burning of men alive was a cruel death, and better calculated

to lead to rejection of the faith than to conversion.3 He therefore

prayed the king to appease his anger, to abate the severity of justice,

and grant pardon to the guilty. Francis, consequently, because of his

desire to please his Holiness, became more moderate, and enjoined upon

parliament to practise

1 "De ne lire, dogmatiser, translater, composer ni

imprimer, soit en public ou en privé, aucune doctrine contrariant à la

foy chrétionne." Declaration of Coucy, July 16, 1535, Isambert, Recueil

des anc. lois franç., xii. 405-407. See also a similar declaration, May

31, 1536, ibid., xii. 504.

2 Journal d'un bourgeois de Paris, 458, 459.

3 Neantmoins Dieu le créateur, luy estant en ce monde, a plus usé de miséricorde
que de rigueur, et qu'il ne faut aucunes fois user de rigueur, et que c'est une cruelle
mort de faire brusler vif un homme, dont parce il pourroit plus qu'autrement
renoncer la foy et la loy. Ibid., ubi supra.

less harshness. For this reason the judges ceased from criminal proceedings against the "Lutherans," and many prisoners were discharged both from the Conciergerie and from the Châtelet.

That this extraordinary rumor was in general circulation appears from

the circumstance that it is alluded to by a Paris correspondent of

Melanchthon; while another account that has recently come to light

states it not as a flying report, but as a well-ascertained fact.1

Its singularity is shown from its apparent inconsistency with the

well-known history and sentiments of the Farnese Paul. It is difficult

to conceive how the pontiff who approved of the Society of Jesus and

instituted the Inquisition in the kingdom of Naples, could have been

touched with compassion at the recital of the suffering of French

heretics. Yet the paradoxes of history are too numerous to permit us to

reject as apocryphal a story so widely current, or to explain it away by

making it only a popular echo of the convictions of the more enlightened

as to the views that were most befitting the claimant to a universal


Clemency again dictated by policy.

Francis himself, however, made no such statement to the Venetian

ambassador at his court. Marino Giustiniano, who gave in his report to

the doge and senate this very year, was informed by the French king

that, on hearing of the suspension by the Emperor Charles the Fifth of

all sentences of death against the Flemish heretics, he had also himself

ordered that against every species of heretics, except the

Sacramentarians, proceedings should indeed be held as before, but not

to the extremity of death.2 It is evident,

1 "Et le très-crestien et bon roy François premier du nom,

à la prière du pape, pardonna à tous, excepté a ceulx qui avoient

touché à l'honneur du saint sacrement de l'autel." Soissons MS.,

Bulletin, xi. 254. Sturm to Melanchthon, July 6, 1535, says: "Pontificem

etiam aiunt æquiorem esse, et haud paulo meliorem quam fuerunt cæteri.

Omnino improbat illam suppliciorum crudelitatem, et de hac re dicitur

misisse [literas ad Regem]." Herminjard, iii. 311. Cf. Erasmus Op.,


2 "Sapendo, come sua Maestà m'ha detto, che Cesare in

Fiandra aveva sospeso ogni esecuzione di morte contro questi eretici, ha

anche egli concesso che contra ogni sorte di eretici si proceda come

avanti, ma citra mortem, eccetto i sacramentarii." Relazione del

clarissimo Marino Giustiniano (1535), Relaz. Venete, i. 155.

therefore, that the suppression of the most cruel features of the persecution had

no higher motive than political considerations. Francis had worked himself into
a frenzy, and counterfeited the sincerity of a bigot, when it was

necessary to make the Pope a friend, and a show of sanguinary ardor

seemed most adapted to accomplish his object. He now became tolerant, on

discovering that the course he had entered upon was alienating the

Protestant princes of Germany, upon whose support he relied in his

contest with Charles the Fifth. The turning-point appears to have been

coincident with the time when he found that the emperor was endeavoring

to outbid him by offering a short-lived toleration to the Netherlanders.

Francis writes to the German princes.

Only eleven days after the solemn propitiatory procession, and while the

trial and execution of the French reformers were still in progress,

Francis had written to his allies beyond the Rhine, in explanation of

the severe punishment of which such shocking accounts had been

circulated in their dominions. He justified his course by alleging the

disorderly and rebellious character of the culprits, and laid great

stress upon the care he had taken to secure German Protestants from

danger and annoyance.1
Melanchthon entreated to come to France.

A month later, Voré de la Fosse was on his way to Wittemberg, on a

private mission to Melanchthon. He was bearer of a long and important

letter from John Sturm. The learned writer, a German scholar of eminence

and a friend of the reformed doctrines, was at this time lecturing in

Paris, and after his departure from Francis's dominions, became rector

of the infant university of Strasbourg. He contrasted the hopeful strain

in which he had described to his correspondent the prospects of

religion, a year since, with the terrors of the present situation.

Crediting the king with the best intentions, he cast the blame of so

disastrous a change upon the insane authors of the placards, who had

drawn on themselves a punishment that would have been well deserved, had

it been moderate in degree. But, unhappily, the innocent had

1 Francis I. to the German Princes, February 1, 1535,

Bretschneider, Corpus Reform., ii. 828, etc.

been involved with the guilty, and informers had gratified private malice by

magnifying the offence. Francis had, it was true, been led, at the

intercession of Guillaume du Bellay and his brother, the Bishop of

Paris, to interpose his authority and protect the Germans residing in

his realm. But, none the less, he begged Melanchthon to fly to his

succor, and to exert an influence over the king which was the result of

Voré's continual praise, in putting an end to this unfortunate state of

things. Francis, he added, was willing to give pledges for the

reformer's safety, and would send him back in great honor to his native

land, after the conclusion of the proposed conference. "Lay aside,

therefore," wrote Sturm, "the consideration of kings and emperors, and

believe that the voice that calls you is the voice of God and of

Christ."[365] Voré followed up this invitation with great earnestness

both in personal interviews and by letter.[366]

His perplexity.

What answer should the reformer give to so pressing an invitation? In

his acknowledgment of Sturm's letter, Melanchthon confessed that no

deliberation had ever occasioned him so much perplexity. It was not that

domestic ties retained him or dangers deterred him. But he was harassed

by the fear that he would be unable to accomplish any good. If only this

doubt--amounting almost to despair--could be removed, he would fly to

France without delay. He approved--so he assured his correspondent--of

checking those fanatics who were engaged in sowing absurd and vile

doctrines, or created unnecessary tumults. But there were others against

whom no such charge could be brought, but who modestly professed the

Gospel. If through his exertions some slight concessions were obtained,

while points of greater importance were sacrificed, he would benefit

neither church nor state. What if he secured immunity from punishment

for such as had laid aside the monk's cowl? Must he then consent to the

execution of those conscientious men who disapproved of the evident

abuses of the mass and of the worship of the saints? Now, as it was

1 Sturm to Melanchthon, March 4, 1535, Bretschneider,

Corpus Reform., ii. 855, etc.

2 A letter of Voré is found in Bretschneider, ubi supra, ii, 859.

precisely the expression of this disapprobation that had caused the

present massacres, he trembled with fear lest he should be put in the

position of one that justified these atrocious severities. In short, it

was his advice, he said, in view of the cunning devices by which the

"phalanxes" of monks were wont to play upon the hopes and fears of the

high-born, that Francis, if honestly desirous of consulting the glory of

Christ, and the tranquillity of the church, be rather exhorted to

assemble a general council. Other measures appeared to him, not only

useless, but fraught with peril.1

Formal invitation from the king.

At this point the king himself took a direct part in the correspondence.

On the twenty-third of June, 1535, he sent Melanchthon a formal request

to visit his court, and there dispute, in his presence, with a select

company of doctors, concerning the restoration of doctrinal unity and

ecclesiastical harmony. He assured the reformer that he had been

prompted by his own great zeal to despatch Voré with this letter--itself

a pledge of the public faith--and besought him to suffer no one to

persuade him to turn a deaf ear to the summons.2 Sturm, Cardinal du

Bellay, and his brother, all wrote successively, and urged Melanchthon

to come to a conference from which they hoped for every advantage.3
Melanchthon consents.

No wonder that, after receiving so complimentary an invitation,

Melanchthon concluded to go to France, and applied (on the eighteenth of

August) to the Elector John Frederick for the necessary leave of

absence. He briefly sketched the history of the affair, and set forth

his own reluctance to enter upon his delicate mission, until provided

with the elector's permission and a safe conduct from the French

monarch. Two or three months only would be consumed, and he had made

arrangements for supplying his chair at Jena during this short

absence.4 It appears, however, that Melanchthon felt

1 Melanchthon to Sturm, May 5, 1535, ibid., ii. 873.

2 Ibid., ii. 879. The address was, "Dilecto nostro Philippo Melanchthoni."

3 "Nihil est quod de vestro congressu non sperem," are

Cardinal du Bellay's words, June 27th. Ibid., ii. 880, 881.

4 Ibid., ii. 904, 905. The university had been temporarily

removed from Wittemberg to Jena, on account of the prevalence of the plague.

less confident of obtaining a gracious reply to his request than his words would seem to indicate. Consequently, he deemed it prudent to ask Luther to write

first and urge his suit. The latter did not refuse his aid. "I am moved

to make this prayer," said Luther in his letter to the elector, "by the

piteous entreaty of worthy and pious persons who, having themselves

scarcely escaped the flames, have by great efforts prevailed upon the

king to suspend the carnage and extinguish the fires until Melanchthon's

arrival. Should the hopes of these good people be disappointed, the

bloodhounds may succeed in creating even greater bitterness, and proceed

with burning and strangling. So that I think that Master Philip cannot

with a clear conscience abandon them in such straits, and defraud them

of their hearty encouragement."1

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