History of the rise of the huguenots

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The Mercuriale.

In order to discover the truth of the charges, a convocation of the

members of all the chambers was ordered for the last Wednesday of April,

Such a gathering for inquiry into the sentiments and morals of the

judges was called, from the day of the week on which it was held, a

Mercuriale.4 The object of the convocation was announced by the

1 Hist. ecclés. des égl. réf., i. 106.

2 When President Séguier was defending himself and his

colleagues from the charge made by the Cardinal of Lorraine that they

did not punish the heretics, and alleged as proof the fact that only

three accused of "Lutheranism" remained in their prison, the cardinal

rejoined: "Voire, vous les avez expédiez en les renvoyant devant leurs

évesques! Vrayement voylà une belle expédition, à ceux mesmes qui out

faict profession de leur foy devant vous, tout au contraire de la

saincte église de Rome!" Pierre de la Place, Commentaires de l'estat de

la rel. et rép., p. 11.

3 "Non, non, dict-il, monsieur le président; mais vous

estes cause que non seulement Poictiers, mais tout Poictou jusques au

pays de Bordeaux, Tholouse, Provence, et généralement France est toute

remplie de ceste vermine, qui s'augmente et pullule soubs espérance de

vous." Ib., ubi supra.

4 Ib., ubi supra, Hist. ecclés., i. 107, 108.

royal procureur-general, Bourdin, to be the establishment of an

understanding between the "Grand' chambre" and the "Tournelle"--the

former of which relentlessly condemned the "Lutherans" to the flames,

while the latter, to the great scandal of justice, had let off several

with simple banishment. The wily adversary of the "new doctrines,"

therefore, called upon the judges to express their opinions respecting

the best method of effecting a return to uniformity. The snare was not

laid in vain. For in the free declaration of sentiment, in which the

members according to custom indulged, several judges were bold enough to

call for the assembling of the Œcumenical Council promised by the

lately ratified treaty of peace, as the sole method of extirpating

error, and to propose meanwhile the suspension of the capital penalties

ordained by the royal edicts.1

At his admission into parliament each judge had taken an oath to

maintain inviolable secrecy in reference to the deliberations of the

court. This was rightly supposed to relate in particular to the

expressions of opinion before any formal decision. Nevertheless, the

king was at once acquainted by the First President, Le Maistre, and by

Minard, one of the presidents à mortier, with the entire proceedings

of the Mercuriale. He was told that the "Lutheranism" of certain

judges was now manifest. They had spoken in abominable terms of the

mass, of the ecclesiastical ordinances, and of prevailing abuses. It

would be the ruin of the church if such daring were suffered to pass by


The representation of these enormities inflamed Henry's anger. His

courtiers took good care not to suffer it to cool. What if, emboldened

by impunity, the Protestants, of whose rapid growth in all parts of

France such startling reports were brought to him, should attempt to

carry out the plan that was talked of among them, and seize the

opportunity of the wedding festivities solemnly to present to his Majesty, by
the hands of one of the nobles, the confession of faith of their churches?
What punishment of the audacious agent employed would remove

1 La Place, Comm. de l'estat de la rel. et rép., p 12.

2 Idem. Serranus, de statu, etc., i., fol. 14.

from the minds of the orthodox foreign princes present at court the sinister

impression that heresy had struck deep root in the realm of the Very Christian King?1
Henry goes in person to listen to the deliberations, June 10, 1559.

If a candid gentleman of the bed-chamber, like Vieilleville, privately

urged Henry to reject the advice of prelates in secular matters, and

respectfully decline the assumption of the post of theologian or

inquisitor-general of the faith, his remonstrances were overborne by the

suggestions of Diana and the Guises, who hoped to reap a rich harvest

from new confiscations.2 The king was entreated to go in person to listen to the
discussions in parliament. Early on the morning of the tenth of June, his
chamber was visited by a host of ecclesiastics—among them four cardinals,
two archbishops, two bishops, and several doctors of the Sorbonne, with De
Mouchy, the inquisitor, at their head. They urged him to follow out their suggestion, and were so successful in overcoming his reluctance that, as a contemporary wrote, he thought himself consigned to perdition if he failed to go.3

1 "There is another consideration of the proceadings of

these maters, whiche (savyng your Majestie's correction) in myne

opinion, is as great as the rest: ... that forasmuch as the multitude of

Protestantes, being spred abrode in sundry partes of this realme in

diverse congregations, ment now amiddes of all these triumphes to use

the meane of somme nobleman to exhibit to the King their confession

(wherof your Majesté shall receive a copie herwithal) to th' intent the

same mighte have bene openly notified to the world; the King being

lothe, that at the arrivall here of the Duke of Savoy, the Duke of Alva,

and others, these maters shuld have appeared so farre forward, hathe

thought good before hande, for the daunting of suche as might have semed

to be doers therin, to prevent their purpose by handeling of these

counsaillors in this sorte." Throkmorton to Queen Elizabeth, June 13,

1559, Forbes, State Papers, i. 128.

2 Vieilleville, ii. 401-404; De Thou, ii. 667; Forbes, State Papers, i. 127.

3 Mém. de Vieilleville, ii. 405. The date of Henry's visit

to parliament is not free from the same contradictory statements that affect many of the

most important events of history. De Thou, and, following him, Félibien, Browning, and
others, place it five days later than I have done in the text. La Place, the anonymous
"Discours de la mort du Roy Henry II." (in the Recueil des choses mémorables,
published in 1565, and later in the Mémoires de Condé), Castelnau, the Histoire

ecclés., etc., are our best authorities. As Sir Nicholas Throkmorton

gave an account of the Mercuriale in his despatch to the queen of June

13th (Forbes, State Papers, i. 126-130), I am surprised that Dr. White,

who refers, to this interesting paper (although by an oversight

ascribing it to June 19th) should, while correcting M. de Félice's

error, have preferred the date of June 15th. "Massacre of St. Bartholomew," Am. ed., p. 51.

Parliament meets in the Augustinian monastery.

The magnificent hall of the royal palace on the island of the "Cité," in

which parliament was accustomed to meet, was in course of preparation

for the festivities that were to accompany the marriages of Elizabeth,

Henry's daughter, with Philip the Second of Spain, and of his only

sister, Margaret, with the Duke of Savoy. Parliament was consequently

sitting in the monastery of the Augustinian friars on the southern bank

of the Seine.1 Thither Henry proceeded in state with a retinue of

noblemen, and accompanied by the archers of his body-guard. Taking his

seat upon the elevated throne prepared for him, with the constable, the

Guises, and the princes that had attended him, on his right and left,

Henry made to the judges a short address indicative of his purpose to

take advantage of the peace in order to labor for the re-establishment

of the faith, and of his desire to obtain the advice of his supreme

court.2 When the king had concluded, Bertrand, Cardinal Archbishop

of Sens and Keeper of the Seals, announced the command of his Majesty

that the consideration of the religious questions undertaken in the

Mercuriale should be resumed.

Fearlessness of the counsellors. Anne du Bourg.

The counsellors could be in no doubt respecting the motives of this

solemn and unusual audience; yet they entered upon the

1 Discours de la mort du Roy Henry II. (Recueil des choses

mémorables, 1565.) Dulaure, Hist. de Paris, ii. 434-437. Cf. also the

maps accompanying that work.

2 The Discours de la mort du Roy Henry II. add that Henry

demanded the reason of the Parliament's delay to register an edict they

had received from him against the "Lutherans"--doubtless the

last--establishing the inquisitorial commission of three cardinals.

"Cest édict estoit sorti de l'oracle dudict cardinal de Lorreine." Baum,

Theodore Beza, ii. 31, note, etc., has already called attention to the

gross inaccuracies of Browning, in his description of the incidents of

the Mercuriale, as well as of the king's visit to parliament. (Hist.

of the Huguenots, i. 54, etc.). Among other assertions altogether

unwarranted by the evidence, he states that Henry, in order to entrap

the unwary, "declared himself free from every kind of angry feeling

against those counsellors who had adopted the new religion, and begged

them all to speak their opinions freely," etc. (p. 55). If true, this

would rob Du Bourg's course of half its heroism.

discussion with the utmost fearlessness.1 Claude Viole boldly
recommended the convocation of an œcumenical council. Du Faur
declaimed against the flagrant abuses of the church. While admitting
that the trouble of the kingdom arose from diversity in religion, he pointed
out the necessity of a careful scrutiny into the true authors of those troubles,
lest the accuser of others should himself be met with a retort similar to that of

the ancient prophet to King Ahab--"It is thou that troublest

Israel."2 But Anne du Bourg, a nephew of a late Chancellor of

France, and a learned and eloquent speaker, committed himself still

further to the cause of liberty and truth. He gave thanks to Almighty

God for having brought Henry to listen to the decision of so worthy a

matter, and entreated the monarch to give it his attention, as the cause

of our Lord Jesus Christ, which ought to be upheld by kings. He

advocated a suspension of all persecution against those who were

stigmatized as heretics, until the assembling of a council; and warned

his hearers that it was a thing of no slight importance to condemn to

death those who, in the midst of the flames, called on the name of the

Saviour of men.3 Another counsellor advocated the granting to all

the "Lutherans" of the kingdom a term of six months, within which they

might recant their errors, and at its close might withdraw from France.

But there were others who recommended the employment of severe measures;

and the first president recalled with approval the example of Philip

Augustus, who, in one day, had burned six hundred heretics, and the fate

of the Waldenses, suffocated in the houses and caves in which they had

taken refuge.4

1 "Whereas," wrote Throkmorton to Queen Elizabeth, "the

Kinge's presence is very rare, and hathe seldome happened but upon somme

great occasion; so I endevored myself (as much as I could) to learne the

cause of their assemblé." Forbes, State Papers, i. 126.

2 Strangely enough, Mr. Smedley, History of the Reformed

Religion in France, i. 87, note, following a careless annotator of De

Thou, discovers an inaccuracy in the allusion where no inaccuracy

exists. It was not to Ahab's question, but to Elijah's retort, that

Du Faur made reference. See La Place, p. 13.

3 La Place, Comm. de l'estat, etc., p. 13; Hist. ecclés.,

i. 122; (Crespin, Gal. chrét., ii. 303); De Thou, ii. 670. Félibien,

Hist. de Paris, ii. 1066.

4 La Place, ubi supra.

Henry is displeased, and orders the arrest of two of the counsellors.

At the conclusion of the deliberation, Henry summoned to him the

noblemen who had accompanied him, and, after having consulted them,

angrily declared his great displeasure at the discovery that many of his

judges had departed from the faith, and his determination to inflict

upon them an exemplary punishment. Then turning to Montmorency, he

ordered him to arrest two of the counsellors that had spoken in his

presence--Louis du Faur and Anne du Bourg. The constable at once obeyed,

and gave them over into the custody of Gabriel, Count Montgomery,

captain of the Scottish body-guard. Three other judges soon shared their

rigorous imprisonment in the Bastile,1 and as many more escaped only

by flight. It was, however, with the boldness of Du Bourg that Henry was

chiefly enraged. He swore that he would see him burned with his own


The first National Synod, May, 1559.

But, whilst the enemies of the Reformation were devising new schemes of

persecution, and were preparing to strike a blow at the more tolerant

sentiments which had stolen into the breasts of the very judges of

parliament, its friends took a step that was at once indicative of its

progress and dictated by its necessities. A few days before Henry was

persuaded to call for a continuation of the discussion commenced at the

"Mercuriale"--on the twenty-sixth of May3--the first National Synod

of the French Protestants convened in the city of Paris. It was a small

assemblage in comparison with some others on the list of these national

councils extending down for about a century, and its sessions were held

with the utmost secrecy in a house in the Faubourg St. Germain. But it

performed for French Protestantism the two important

1 Among them Paul de Foix, "who is cousin to the King of

Navarre." Throkmorton to Queen Elizabeth, June 23, 1559, Forbes i. 126.

2 La Place, Com. de l'estat, etc., p. 14; Discours de la

mort du Roy Henry II.; De Thou, ii. 671; Félibien, Hist. de Paris, ii.

1067; Vieilleville, ii. 405-406; Hist. ecclés. i., 122-123. Even Anne de

Montmorency was struck with Du Bourg's boldness, and exclaimed, "Vous

faictes la bravade." Forbes, State Papers, i. 126.

3 The date is variously given as the 25th or 26th of May.

The latter, adopted by the Histoire ecclésiastique, is probably correct.

See Triqueti, Premiers jours du protestantisme en France (Paris, 1859),

253, 254.

services of giving an authoritative statement of its system of doctrine,
and of establishing the principles of its form of government. The confession
of faith was full and explicit, as well on the points in which the

Protestant and the Roman churches agreed, as respecting the distinctive

tenets of the reformed. The "diabolical imaginations" of Servetus were

equally condemned with the gross abuses of monastic vows, pilgrimages,

celibacy, auricular confession, and indulgences. The pure observance of

the sacraments was established, as well against their corrupt and

superstitious use in the papal church, as against the "fantastic

sacramentarians" who rejected them entirely. Nor need we be surprised to

find the warrant of magistrates to interfere in behalf of the truth

formally recognized. The right of the individual conscience was a right

for the most part ignored by thinking men on both sides during the

sixteenth century--covered and hidden by the fallacious application of

the principle of universal obligation to the inflexible law of right and

of God. The lesson of liberty based upon order was learned only in the

school of long and severe persecution. Even after thirty-seven or eight

years of violent suffering, the Protestant church of France admitted as

an article in her creed, that "God has placed the sword in the hand of

magistrates to repress the sins committed not only against the second

table of God's commandments, but also against the first!"1
Ecclesiastical discipline adopted.

The "Ecclesiastical Discipline" laid the foundation of the organization

of the Protestants in France. Thoroughly democratic and representative

in its character, it instituted, or rather recognized, a court--the

consistory--in each particular congregation, with its popular element in

the superintendents (surveillants) or elders, who sat with the

pastors to adjudicate upon the inferior and local concerns of the

members. It provided for the more direct participation of the people in

the control of affairs by making the offices of elder and deacon

elective, and not perpetual. It provided a court of

1 "Confession de Foy faite d'un commun accord par les

Françoys, qui desirent vivre selon la purité de l'Evangile," etc. In the

Recueil des choses mémorables (1565) this document is published with the

preface and the supplicatory letter addressed to the king (Francis II.)

after the "Tumulte d'Amboise."

appeal in the provincial colloques or synods, to be held at least twice a year,

in which each church was to be represented by its pastor and elder. Above

all stood the National Synod, the ultimate ecclesiastical authority.

The constitution strove to preclude the establishment of a hierarchy, by

declaring all churches and ministers equal, and to secure correctness of

teaching, not only by requiring the ministers to sign the confession,

but by providing for the deposition of those who had lapsed from the faith.

Thus it was that, in the midst of a monarchy surpassed by none for its

arbitrary and tyrannical administration, and not many hundred paces from

the squares where for a generation the eyes of the public had been

periodically feasted with the sight of human sacrifices offered up in

the name of religion, the founders of the Huguenot church framed the

plan of an ecclesiastical republic, in which the elements of popular

representation and decisive authority in an ultimate tribunal, the

embodiment of the judgment of the entire church, were perhaps more

completely realized than they had ever before been since the times of

the early Christians.1 The few ministers that had met in an upper

room, at the hazard of their lives, to vindicate the profession of faith

of their persecuted co-religionists, and to sketch the plan of their

churchly edifice, as noiselessly retraced their steps to the

congregations committed to their charge. But they had planted the seed

of a mighty tree which would stand the blasts of many a tempest--always

buffeted by the winds, and bearing the scars of many a conflict with the

elements--but proudly pre-eminent, and firm as the rock around which its

sturdy roots were wound.

Marriages and festivities of the court.

Henry had sworn to behold with his own eyes the punishment of Anne du

Bourg. But the grateful sight was not in store for him. From the

Mercuriale and the persecution of

1 The proceedings of the first French National Synod are

best given in Aymon, Tous les synodes nationaux des églises réf. de

France (La Haye, 1710), i. 1-12; Hist. univ. du sieur d'Aubigné, liv.

ii., c. iii., t. i., pp. 56-64. They are faithfully, although not always

literally, translated in Quick's Synodicon in Gallia Reformata (London,

1692), i., viii.-xv., 2-7. See also Histoire ecclésiastique, i. 108-121;

La Place, Com. de l'estat de la religion, et république soubs les roys

Henry et François Seconds, etc., 14-16.

heretics he turned his attention to the celebration of the marriages which were
to cement the indissoluble peace that had at length been concluded between
the kingdoms of France and Spain. The most splendid preparations were made
for the entertainment of the brilliant train of noblemen who came to represent

the dignity of the crown of Spain, and to claim the destined bride of

Philip. The "Hôtel des Tournelles"--a favorite palace of more than one

king of France--was magnificently decorated; for in its great hall the

nuptials were appointed to be celebrated. In the broad street of Saint

Antoine, in front of this palace, the lists were erected, and the beauty

and nobility of France viewed, from the windows on either side, the

contest of the most distinguished knights, and applauded their feats of

daring and skill. A few paces farther, and just inside the moat, stood a

frowning pile, whose sombre and repulsive front might have struck a

beholder as being as much out of place as the skeleton at the feast--the

ill-omened Bastile.1 Five prisoners, immured for their conscientious

boldness in its gloomy dungeons, and awaiting a terrible fate,

distinctly heard, day after day, as the tourney continued, the inspiriting notes

of the clarion and hautboy, deepening by contrast the horrors of their
situation.2 There was the same incongruity between the king's pursuit of
pleasure and his ferocity. From the festivities, it is said, he turned aside to
order Montgomery to proceed, the very moment the tourney was over, to the
Pays de Caux--a hot-bed of the "Lutheran" heresy--to destroy with the sword
the resisting, to put out the eyes of the suspected, and to torture and burn
the guilty.3 It was believed, moreover, that he himself would then proceed
to the southern parts of France, and set on foot a rigorous persecution of the

Protestants, with whom those regions swarmed.4

1 See the history of the Hôtel des Tournelles and the plan of Paris in the reign of Francis I.,
in Dulaure, Hist. de Paris, iii. 355-357, and Atlas.

2 "Duquel lieu tous les prisonniers de léans pouvoyent ouir

les clairons, hault-bois et trompettes dudict tournoy." Discours de la

mort du Roy Henry II., Recueil des choses mémorables, p. 5; Mémoires de Condé, i. 216.

3 Ibid., ubi supra.

4 "I am credibly enformed, that the Frenche King, after the

perfection of the ceremonies toching his doughter and King Philip, and

his suster to the Duke of Savoy, myndeth himself to make a journey to

the countreis of Poictou, Gascoigne, Guyon, and other places, for the

repressing of religion; and to use th' extremest persecution he may

against the protestants in his countreys, and the like in Scotlande; and

that with celerité, ymediatly after the finishing of the same

ceremonies." Throkmorton to Cecil, May 23, 1559, Forbes, State Papers, i. 101.

The nuptial torches burned not less bright for the gloom overhanging the

despised and abominated Lutherans. But in an instant, as by the touch of

a magician's wand, they were turned into the funereal tapers of Henry

the Second.1

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