History of the rise of the huguenots

Intercession of the Germans

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Intercession of the Germans.

The Mérindol confession is said to have found its way even to Paris, and

to have been read to the king by Châtellain, Bishop of Maçon, and a

favorite of the monarch. And it is added that, astonished at the purity

of its doctrine, Francis asked, but in vain, that any erroneous teaching

in it should be pointed out to him.4 It is not, indeed, impossible

that the king's interest in his Waldensian subjects may have been

deepened by the receipt of a respectful remonstrance against the

persecutions now raging in France, drawn up by Melanchthon in the name

of the Protestant princes and states of Germany.5

1 Given in full by Crespin, ubi supra, fols. 104-110, and

by Gerdes., Hist. Reform., iv. 87-99; in its brief form, as originally

composed in French to be laid before the Parliament of Provence, in

Bulletin de l'hist. du prot. français, viii. 508, 509. Several articles

were added when it was laid before Sadolet. Crespin, fol. 110.

2 De Thou, i. 540; Crespin, fol. 110.

3 Crespin, fols. 110, 111.

4 Ibid., fol. 110.

5 May 23, 1541. Bretschneider, Corpus Reform., iv. 325-328;

Gerdes., iv. (Doc). 100,101. But when the Germans intervened later in

behalf of the few remnants of the dispersed Waldenses, they received a

decided rebuff: "Il leur répondit assez brusquement, qu'il ne se mêloit

pas de leurs affaires, et qu'ils ne devoient pas entrer non plus dans

les siennes, ni s'embarrasser de ce qu'il faisoit dans ses États, et de

quelle manière il jugeoit à propos de châtier ses sujets coupables." De

Thou, i. 541.

Death of President Chassanée, who is succeeded by Baron d'Oppède.

Military preparations stopped by a second royal order.

The Arrêt de Mérindol yet remained unexecuted when, Chassanée having

died, he was succeeded, in the office of First President of the

Parliament of Provence, by Jean Meynier, Baron d'Oppède. The latter was

an impetuous and unscrupulous man. Even before his elevation to his new

judicial position, Meynier had looked with envious eye upon the

prosperity of Cabrières, situated but a few miles from his barony; and

scarcely had he taken his place on the bench, before, at his bidding,

the first notes of preparation for a great military assault upon the

villages of the Durance were heard. The affrighted peasants again had

recourse to the mercy of their distant sovereign. A second time Francis

(on the twenty-fifth of October, 1544) interfered, evoking the case from

parliament, and assuming cognizance of it until such time as he might

have instituted an examination upon the spot by a "Maître de requêtes"

and a theologian sent by him.1
Calumnious accusations.

The interruption was little relished. A fresh investigation was likely

to disclose nothing more unfavorable to the Waldenses than had been

elicited by the inquiries of Du Bellay, or than the report which had led

Louis the Twelfth, on an earlier occasion (1501), to exclaim with an

oath: "They are better Christians than we are!"2 and, what was

worse, the poor relations, both of the prelates and of the judges, had

only a sorry prospect of enriching themselves through the confiscation

of the property of the lawful owners.3 It was time to venture something

1 Hist. ecclés., i. 27, 28; Crespin, fol. 114.

2 Vesembec, apud Perrin, History of the Old Waldenses

(1712), xii. 59; Garnier, xxvi. 23.

3 Henry II.'s letters of March 17, 1549, summoning Meynier

and his accomplices to the bar of the Parliament of Paris, state

distinctly the motives of the perpetrators of the massacre, as alleged

by the Waldenses in their appeal to Francis I.: "Auquel ils firent

entendre, qu'ils étaient journellement travaillés et molestés par les

évêques du pays et par les présidens et conseillers de notre

parlement de Provence, qui avaient demandé leurs confiscations et

terres pour leurs parens," etc. Hist. ecclés., ubi supra.

for the purpose of obtaining the coveted prize. Accordingly,

the Parliament of Aix, at this juncture, despatched to Paris one of its

official servants, with a special message to the king. He was to beg

Francis to recall his previous order. He was to tell him that Mérindol

and the neighboring villages had broken out into open rebellion; that

fifteen thousand armed insurgents had met in a single body. They had captured

towns and castles, liberated prisoners, and hindered the course of justice.
They were intending to march against Marseilles, and when successful would establish a republic fashioned on the model of the Swiss cantons.1
Francis, misinformed, revokes his last orders.

Thus reinforced, Cardinal Tournon found no great difficulty in exciting

the animosity of a king both jealous of any infringement upon his

prerogative, and credulous respecting movements tending to the

encouragement of rebellion. On the first of January, 1545, Francis sent

a new letter to the Parliament of Aix. He revoked his last order,

enjoined the execution of the former decrees of parliament, so far as

they concerned those who had failed to abjure, and commanded the

governor of Provence, or his lieutenant, to employ all his forces to

exterminate any found guilty of the Waldensian heresy.2

1 "Sur ce que l'on auroit fait entendre audit feu Seigneur Roi, qu'ils étaient en armes
en grande assemblée, forçant villes et châteaux, eximant les prisonniers des prisons,"
etc. Letters Patent of Henry II., ubi supra, i. 46; also, i. 28; De Thou, i. 541.

Notwithstanding the evident falsity of these assertions of Courtain, the parliament's

messenger, writers of such easy consciences as Maimbourg (Hist. du calvinisme, liv. ii. 83)
and Freschot (Origine, progressi e ruina del Calvinismo nella Francia, di D. Casimiro
Freschot, Parma, 1693, p. 34) are not ashamed to endorse them. Freschot says: "Nello

stesso tempo che mandavano à Parigi le loro proposizioni, travagliavano

ad accrescere le loro forze, non che ad assicurare il proprio Stato. Per

il che conseguire avendo praticato alcune intelligenze nella città di

Marsiglia, s'avanzarono sin' al numero di sedici mila per

impossessarsene," etc. The assertions of so ignorant a writer as

Freschot shows himself to be, scarcely require refutation. See, however,

Le Courrayer, following Bayle, note to Sleidan, ii. 256. The impartial

Roman Catholic continuation of the Eccles. Hist. of the Abbé Fleury,

xxviii. 540, gives no credit to these calumnies.

2 The substance of the royal order of January 1, 1545, is

given in the Letters-Patent of Henry II., dated Montereau, March 17,

1549 (1550, New Style), which constitute our best authority: "Le feu dit

Seigneur permit d'exécuter les arrêts donnés contre eux, révoquant

lesdites lettres d'évocation, pour le regard des récidifs non ayant

abjuré, et ordonna que tous ceux qui se trouveraient chargés et coupables

d'hérésie et secte Vaudoise, fussent exterminés," etc. Hist. ecclés., i. 46.

His letter construed as authorizing a new crusade.

The new order had been skilfully drawn. The "Arrêt de Mérindol,"

although not alluded to by name, might naturally be understood as

included under the general designation of the parliament's decrees

against heretics; while the direction to employ the governor's troops

against those who had not abjured could be construed as authorizing a

local crusade, in which innocent and guilty were equally likely to

suffer. Such were the pretexts behind which the first president and his

friends prepared for a carnage which, for causelessness and atrocity,

finds few parallels on the page of history.

An expedition stealthily organized.

Three months passed, and yet no attempt was made to disturb the peaceful

villages on the Durance. Then the looked-for opportunity came. Count De

Grignan, Governor of Provence, was summoned by the king and sent on a

diplomatic mission to Germany. The civil and military administration

fell into the Baron d'Oppède's hands as lieutenant. The favorable

conjuncture was instantly improved. On a single day--the twelfth of

April--the royal letter, hitherto kept secret, that the intended victims

might receive no intimations of the impending blow, was read and

judicially confirmed, and four commissioners were appointed to

superintend the execution.1 Troops were hastily levied. All men

capable of bearing arms in the cities of Aix, Arles, and Marseilles were

commanded, under severe penalties, to join the expedition;3 and some

companies of veteran troops, which happened to be on their way from

Piedmont to the scene of the English war, were impressed into the

service by D'Oppède, in the king's name.2

1 The names are preserved: they were the second president,

François de la Fond; two counsellors, Honoré de Tributiis and Bernard

Badet; and an advocate, Guérin, acting in the absence of the "Procureur

géneral." Letters-Patent of Henry II., ubi supra; De Thou, i. 541; Hist. ecclés., i. 28.

2 De Thou, ubi supra; Sleidan, Hist. de la réformation

(Fr. trans. of Le Courrayer), ii. 252.

3 The fleet carrying these troops, consisting of

twenty-five galleys, was under the joint command of Poulin, Poulain, or

Polin--afterward prominent in military affairs, under the name of Baron

de la Garde--and of the Chevalier d'Aulps. Bouche, ii. 601. The Baron de

la Garde is made the object of a special notice by Brantôme.
Villages burned and their inhabitants butchered.

On the thirteenth of April, the commissioners, leaving Aix, proceeded to

Pertuis, on the northern bank of the Durance. Thence, following the

course of the river, they reached Cadenet. Here they were joined by the

Baron d'Oppède, his sons-in-law, De Pouriez and De Lauris, and a

considerable force of men. A deliberation having been held, on the

sixteenth, Poulain, to whom the chief command had been assigned by

D'Oppède, directed his course northward, and burned Cabrièrette, Peypin,

La Motte and Saint-Martin, villages built on the lands of De Cental, a

Roman Catholic nobleman, at this time a minor. The wretched inhabitants,

who had not until the very last moment credited the strange story of the

disaster in reserve for them, hurriedly fled on the approach of the

soldiery, some to the woods, others to Mérindol. Unable to defend them

against a force so greatly superior in number and equipment, a part of

the men are said to have left their wives, old men, and children in

their forest retreat, confident that if discovered, feminine weakness

and the helplessness of infancy or of extreme old age would secure

better terms for them than could be hoped for in case of a brave, but

ineffectual defence by unarmed men.1 It was a confidence misplaced.

Unresisting, gray-headed men were despatched with the sword, while the

women were reserved for the grossest outrage, or suffered the mutilation

of their breasts, or, if with child, were butchered with their unborn

offspring. Of all the property spared them by previous oppressors, nothing
was left to sustain the miserable survivors. For weeks they wandered homeless

1 Crespin, fol. 115. Sleidan and De Thou give a similar

incident as befalling fugitives from Mérindol. Garnier, alluding to the

absence of any attempt at self-defence on the part of the Waldenses,

pertinently remarks: "On put connoître alors la fausseté et la noirceur

des bruits que l'on avoit affecté de répandre sur leurs préparatifs de

guerre: pas un ne songea à se mettre en défense: des cris aigus et

lamentables portés dans un moment de villages en villages, avertirent

ceux qui vouloient sauver leur vie de fuir promptement du côté des

montagnes." Hist. de France, xxvi. 33.

and penniless in the vicinity of their once flourishing settlements; and there

one might not unfrequently see the infant lying on the road-side, by the corpse
of the mother dead of hunger and exposure. For even the ordinary charity of
the humane had been checked by an order of D'Oppède, savagely forbidding
that shelter or food be afforded to heretics, on pain of the halter.1

Lourmarin, Villelaure, and Treizemines were next burned on the way to

Mérindol. On the opposite side of the Durance, La Rocque and St. Étienne

de Janson suffered the same fate, at the hands of volunteers coming from

Arles. Happily they were found deserted, the villagers having had timely

notice of the approaching storm.

The destruction of Mérindol.

Early on the eighteenth of April, D'Oppède reached Mérindol, the

ostensible object of the expedition. But a single person was found

within its circuit, and he a young man reputed possessed of less than

ordinary intellect. His captor had promised him freedom, on his pledging

himself to pay two crowns for his ransom. But D'Oppède, finding no other

human being upon whom to vent his rage, paid the soldier the two crowns

from his own pocket, and ordered the youth to be tied to an olive-tree

and shot. The touching words uttered by the simple victim, as he turned

his eyes heavenward and breathed out his life, have been preserved:

"Lord God, these men are snatching from me a life full of wretchedness

and misery, but Thou wilt give me eternal life through Jesus Thy

The village razed.

Meantime the work of persecution was thoroughly done. The houses were

plundered and burned; the trees, whether intended for shade or for

fruit, were cut down to the distance of two hundred paces from the

place. The very site of Mérindol was levelled, and crowds of laborers

industriously strove to destroy every trace of human habitation. Two hundred

1 So say the Letters-Patent of Henry II.: "Furent faites

défenses à son de trompe tant par autorité dudit Menier, que dudit de la

Fond, de non bailler à boire et manger aux Vaudois, sans savoir qui ils

étaient; et ce sur peine de la corde." Hist. ecclés., i. 47; Crespin,

fol. 115.

2 Crespin, and Hist. ecclês., ubi supra.

dwellings, the former abode of thrift and contentment, had

disappeared from the earth, and their occupants wandered,

poverty-stricken, to other regions.[493]

Treacherous capture of Cabrières.

Leaving the desolate spot, D'Oppède next presented himself, on the

nineteenth of April, before the town of Cabrières. Behind some weak

entrenchments a small body of brave men had posted themselves,

determined to defend the lives and honor of their wives and children to

their last drop of blood. D'Oppède hesitated to order an assault until a

breach had first been made by cannon. Then the Waldenses were plied with

solicitations to spare needless effusion of blood by voluntary

surrender. They were offered immunity of life and property, and a

judicial trial. When by these promises the assailants had, on the

morrow, gained the interior of the works, they found them guarded by

Étienne de Marroul and an insignificant force of sixty men, supported by

a courageous band of about forty women. The remainder of the population,

overcome by natural terror at the strange sight of war, had taken

refuge--the men in the cellars of the castle, the women and children in

the church.

Men butchered and women burned.

The slender garrison left their entrenchments without arms, trusting in

the good faith of their enemies. It was a vain and delusive reliance.

They had to do with men who held, and carried into practice, the

doctrine that no faith is to be observed with heretics. Scarcely had the

Waldenses placed themselves in their power, when twenty-five or more of

their number were seized, and, being dragged to a meadow near by, were

butchered in cold blood, in the presence of the Baron d'Oppède. The rest

were taken to Aix and Marseilles. The women were treated with even

greater cruelty. Having been thrust into a barn, they were there burned

alive. When a soldier, more compassionate than his comrades, opened to

them a way of escape, D'Oppède ordered them to be driven back at the

point of the pike. Nor were those taken within the town more fortunate.

The men, drawn from their subterranean

retreats, were either killed on the spot, or bound in couples and hurried to the
castle hall, where two captains stood ready to kill them as they successively
arrived. It was, however, for the sacred precincts of the church that the crowning orgies of these bloody revels were reserved. The fitting actors were a motley

rabble from the neighboring city of Avignon, who converted the place

consecrated to the worship of the Almighty into a charnel-house, in

which eight hundred bodies lay slain, without respect of age or


In the blood of a thousand human beings D'Oppède had washed out a

fancied affront received at the hands of the inhabitants of Cabrières.

The private rancor of a relative induced him to visit a similar revenge

on La Coste, where a fresh field was opened for the perfidy, lust, and

greed of the soldiery. The peasants were promised by their feudal lord

perfect security, on condition that they brought their arms into the

castle and broke down four portions of their wall. Too implicit reliance

was placed in a nobleman's word, and the terms were accepted. But when

D'Oppède arrived, a murderous work began. The suburbs were burned, the

town was taken, the citizens for the most part were butchered, the

married women and girls were alike surrendered to the brutality of the

The results.

For more than seven weeks the pillage continued.3 Twenty-two towns

and villages were utterly destroyed. The soldiers, glutted with blood

and rapine, were withdrawn from the scene of their infamous excesses.

Most of the Waldenses who had escaped sword, famine, and exposure, gradually

1 Many, overtaken in their flight, were slain by the sword, or sent to the galleys, and
about twenty-five, having taken refuge in a cavern near Mus, were stifled by a fire
purposely kindled at its mouth. Sleidan, ii. 255.

2 Hist. ecclés., i. 29; Crespin, fol. 116; De Thou, ubi

supra; Sleidan, ii. 254. The deposition of Antoine d'Alagonia, Sieur de

Vaucler, a Roman Catholic who was present and took an active part in the

enterprise (Bouche, ii. 616-619), is evidently framed expressly to exculpate D'Oppède

and his companions, and conflicts too much with well-established facts to contribute
anything to the true history of the capture of Cabrières.

3 De Thou, i. 543; Sleidan, ii. 255. Of the affair at La

Coste, the Letters-Patent of Henry II. say: "Au lieu de La Coste y

auroit eu plusieurs hommes tués, femmes et filles forcées jusques au

nombre de vingt-cinq dedans une grange." Ubi supra, i. 47.

4 "Et infinis pillages étaient faits par l'espace de plus de sept semaines." Ibid, ubi supra.

returned to the familiar sites, and established themselves

anew, maintaining their ancient faith.1 But multitudes had perished

of hunger,2 while others, rejoicing that they had found abroad a

toleration denied them at home, renounced their native land, and settled

upon the territory generously conceded to them in Switzerland.3 In

one way or another, France had become poorer by the loss of several

thousands persons of its most industrious class.4

The king led to give his approval.

The very agents in the massacre were appalled at the havoc they had

made. Fearing, with reason, the punishment of their crime, if viewed in

its proper light,5 they endeavored to veil it with the forms of a

judicial proceeding. A commission was appointed to try the heretics whom

the sword had spared. A part were sentenced to the galleys, others to

heavy fines. A few of the tenants of M. de Cental are said to have

purchased reconciliation by abjuring their faith.6 But, to conceal

the truth still more effectually, President De la Fond was sent to

Paris. He assured Francis that the sufferers had been guilty of the

basest crimes, that they had been judicially tried and found guilty, and

that their punishment was really below the desert of their

offences.7 Upon these representations, the king

1 Hist. ecclés., i. 30.

2 Letters-Patent of Henry II., ubi sup.

3 At Geneva the fugitives were treated with great kindness. Calvin was deputed by the Council
of the Republic, in company with Farel, to raise contributions for them throughout Switzerland.
Reg. of Council, May, 1545, apud Gaberel, Hist. de l'église de Genève, i. 439. Nine years later
the council granted a lease of some uncultivated lands near Geneva to 700 of these Waldenses. The descendants of the former residents of Mérindol and Cabrières are to be found among the

inhabitants of Peney and Jussy. Reg. of Council, May, 10, 1554, Gaberel, i. 440.

4 Bouche, ii. 620, states, as the results of the

investigations of Auberi, advocate for the Waldenses, that about 3,000

men, women and children were killed, 666 sent to the galleys, of whom

200 shortly died, and 900 houses burned in 24 villages of Provence.

5 Francis I., on complaint of Madame De Cental, whose son

had lost an annual revenue of 12,000 florins by the ruin of his

villages, had, June 10, 1545, called upon the Parliament of Aix to send

full minutes of its proceedings. Bouche, ii. 620, 621.

6 De Thou, i. 544.

7 "Et sachant que la plainte en était venue jusqu'à [notre]

dit feu père, auraient envoyé ledit De la Fond devers lui, lequel ...

aurait obtenu lettres données à Arques, le 18me jour d'août 1545,

approuvant paisiblement ladite exécution; n'ayant toutefois fait

entendre à notre dit feu père la vérité du fait; mais supposé par icelles lettres que
tous les habitane des villes brûlées étaient connus et jugés hérétiques et Vaudois."
Letters-Patent of Henry II., ubi supra, i. 47; De Thou, i. 544.

was induced--it was supposed by the solicitation of Cardinal Tournon--to

grant letters (at Arques, on the eighteenth of August, 1545) approving the execution of the Waldenses, but recommending to mercy all that repented
and abjured.1

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