The edict of amnesty March, 1560. It is promptly registered.
The privy council, if not persuaded of the propriety of initiating a
policy of toleration, were at least convinced of the necessity of
yielding temporarily to the storm; and even the Guises deemed it
advisable to make concessions, which could easily be revoked on the
advent of more peaceful times.
1 See the synopsis of Coligny's speech in La Planche, 247,
248. Tavannes ascribes Coligny's impunity throughout this reign to
Catharine's interposition, revealing the plans of his enemies, etc.
(Mémoires, ii. 264). It was much more probably owing to his powerful
family alliances, and particularly to the fear of throwing the weight of
the enormous influence of his uncle, Constable Montmorency, into the
opposite scale. Yet it must be confessed that Catharine displayed for
the admiral, on more than one occasion, that respect which integrity
always exacts from vice, and which is most likely to be manifested in
the hour of danger. Early in this reign the court faction had endeavored
to sow discord between the two principal men of the Protestant party, by
intimating to Coligny that Condé was seeking to obtain the governorship
of Picardy, which the former held. The calumny, however, failed of its object.
Accordingly, an edict of pretended amnesty was hastily drawn up, and as
expeditiously published. The king was moved to take this step--so
the edict made him say--by compassion for the number of
persons who, from motives of curiosity or simplicity, had
attended the conventicles of the preachers from Geneva--for the most
part mechanical folk and of no literary attainments--as well as by
reluctance to render the first year of his reign notable in after times
for the effusion of the blood of his poor subjects. By the provisions of
this important instrument the royal judges were forbidden to make
inquisition into, or inflict punishment for any past crime concerning
the faith: and all delinquents were pardoned on condition that they
should hereafter live as good Catholics and obedient sons of Mother Holy
Church. But from the benefits of the amnesty were expressly excluded
all preachers and those who had conspired against the person of the king
or his ministers.1 The edict--much to the surprise of those who knew
the sanguinary disposition of the judges--was promptly registered by
parliament; whether it was that the judges were reconciled to the step
by a secret article with which, it was said, they accompanied it, to
guide in the future interpretation of the law, or that the majority
regarded it as a piece of deceit.2
In spite of its insincerity, however, the edict, wrung from the
unwilling hands of the cardinal and the privy council, marks an
important epoch in the history of the Reformed Church in France. Barely
nine months had elapsed since five members of the Parisian Parliament
had been thrown into the Bastile for daring to advocate a mitigation of
the penalties pronounced against the Protestants, until the assembling
1 Recueil des anc. lois franç, xiv. 22-24; La Planche, 248;
La Place, 37; Hist. ecclés., i. 166, 167; De Thou, ii. 764; Forbes, i.
877. A Latin version, but out of its chronological position in Languet,
Epist. sec., ii. p. 15. The date of the publication of this important
document at Paris is indicated in a letter of Hubert Languet: "Certum
est undecima Martii Lutetiæ propositum esse edictum, in quo Rex
condonat suis subditis quidquid hactenus peccatum est in religione."
Epist. sec., ii. 44.
2 "Car aucuns conseillers disoyent que c'estoit un
attrape-minault." La Planche, 248.
of the long-promised Œcumenical Council. Little more than two months
had passed since one of their number, and the most virtuous judge on the
bench, had been ignominiously executed. And now the King of France, with
the approval and almost at the instigation of the chief persecutor,
proclaimed an oblivion of all offences against religion, and the
liberation of all persons imprisoned for heresy. The reformers, who had
rarely succeeded by their most strenuous exertions in obtaining the
release of a few of their co-religionists, could scarcely restrain a
smile when they discovered what a potent auxiliary they had obtained
unawares--in the fears of their antagonists. "Would that you could
read and understand the number of contradictory edicts they have written
in a single month!" wrote one who took a deep interest in French
affairs. "You would assuredly be amazed at their incredible fright, when
no one is pursuing them, except Him whom they least fear! What you could
not succeed in obtaining by any of your embassies in former years, they
have given of their own accord to those who sought it not--the
liberation of the entire number of prisoners on all sides. Most have
been released in spite of their open profession of their faith. The
injustice of the judges has, however, led to the retention of a few in
chains up to this moment."1
A powerful party had arisen.
Notwithstanding its incompleteness and insincerity, however, "the Edict
of Forgiveness," as it was termed, is a significant landmark in the
history of French Protestantism. It is the point where begins the
transition from the period of persecution to the period of civil war. By
this concession, reluctantly granted and faithlessly executed, the first
recognition was made of the existence of a large and powerful body of
dissidents from the Roman Catholic Church. No longer were there a few
scattered sectaries whose heretical views might be suppressed by their
individual extermination. But a compact and wide-spread and rapidly
growing party had assumed dimensions that defied any such paltry
measures. It had outgrown persecution. The time for its eradication
1 Beza to Bullinger, June 26, 1560; in Baum, ii., App. 13.
by open war or by secret massacre might yet come. Meanwhile, it was
important to avert present disaster by partial concessions.
Dismay of the court. New alarms.
The treachery of Des Avenelles had warned the Guises of their danger,
but had left them in dismay and doubt. They knew not whom to trust, nor
whence to expect the impending blow. Sir Nicholas Throkmorton's
correspondence is full of interesting details throwing light upon the
confusion and embarrassment of the Guises. "You shall understand," he
writes on the seventh of March, "that the Duke of Guise and the Cardinal
of Lorraine have discovered a conspiracy wrought against themselves and
their authority, which they have bruited (to make the matter more
odious) to be meant only against the king: whereupon they are in such
fear as themselves do wear privy coats, and are in the night guarded
with pistoliers and men in arms. They have apprehended eight or nine,
and have put some to the torture." "Being ready to seal up this letter,"
he adds in a postscript, "I do understand that the fear of this
commotion is so great, as the sixth of this present, the Duke of Guise,
the Cardinal of Lorraine, the Grand Prior, and all the knights of the
Order which were here, watched all night long in the court, and the
gates of this town were all shut and kept." On the fifteenth of March he
writes: "These men here have their hands full, and are so busied to
provide for surety at home, that they cannot intend to answer
foreigners. This night a new hot alarm is offered, and our town doth
begin again to be guarded. It is a marvel to see how they be daunted,
that have not at other times been afraid of great armies of horsemen,
footmen, and the fury of shot of artillery: I never saw state more
amazed than this at some time, and by and by more reckless; they know
not whom to mistrust, nor to trust.... He hath all the trust this daye,
that to-morrow is least trusted. You can imagine your advantage." A few
days later he writes again: "And now it was thought that this was but a
popular commotion, without order, and not to be feared; when, unlooked
for, the 17th, in the morning, about four of the clock, there arrived a company
of 150 horsemen well appointed, who approached the court gates, and
shot off their pistolets at the church of the Bonhommes, whereupon
there was such an alarm and running up and down in the court, as if the
enemies being encamped about them had sought to make an entry into the
castle: and there was crying, To horse, to horse.... This continued an
hour and a half,"1 etc.
La Renaudie had actually established himself within six leagues of
Amboise on the second of March, and had made his arrangements for the
vigorous execution of his plans a fortnight later. The Guises were to be
seized by a party that counted upon gaining secret admission to the
castle, and opening the gates to comrades concealed in the neighborhood.
But another act of treachery on the part of a confederate enabled the
cardinal and his brother to frustrate a project so sagaciously laid and
offering fair promise of success. The parties of cavaliers, who had
succeeded, as by a miracle, in eluding the spies and agents of their
enemies, posted in every important city of France, and had reached the
very vicinity of the court without discovery, were caught in detail at
their rendezvous. Companies of fifteen or twenty men thus fell into the
hands of the troops hastily assembled by the urgent commands of the
Treacherous capture of Castelnau. Death of La Renaudie.
A more powerful detachment of malcontents could not be so easily
stopped, and threw itself into the castle of Noizay. It seemed more
feasible to overcome them by stratagem than by open assault. The Duke of
Nemours, having been sent to reduce the place, allowed Baron de
Castelnau, commander of the insurgents, a personal interview. Here the
Huguenot defended his adherents against the imputation of having
revolted against their lawful monarch, and maintained that, on the
contrary, they had come to uphold his honor and free him from the
intrigues of the Guises. Seeing, however, the hopelessness of resisting
the superior force of his enemy, Castelnau consented to capitulate,
after exacting from the Duke of Nemours his princely word that he and
his followers should receive no injury, and be permitted to have free
access to the king, in order to lay before him their grievances.
1 Throkmorton's Correspondence in Forbes, State Papers, i. 353, 354, 374-378.
The pledge thus given was redeemed in no chivalrous manner. No account was
made of the terms accepted. Castelnau and his companions-in-arms were at
once thrown into the dungeons of Amboise, and steps were taken for their
trial on a charge of treason.1 Much larger numbers, arriving in the
vicinity of Amboise ignorant of what had happened, were surrounded by
cavalry and brought in tied to the horses' tails. Many a knight, better
accoutred than his fellows, was despatched in a more summary manner and
stripped of his armor, after which his body was carelessly thrown into a
ditch by the roadside.2 La Renaudie was so fortunate as to escape
this fate and the yet more cruel doom that awaited him at Amboise, by
meeting a soldier's death, while courageously fighting against a party
of Guisards who fell in with him. He had just slain his antagonist--one
Pardaillan, his own relative--when (on the nineteenth of March) he was
himself instantly killed by the ball from an arquebuse fired by his
Plenary powers given to the Duke of Guise.
While the alarm arising from the "tumult" was yet at its height, the
Guises took advantage of it to obtain yet larger powers, at the same
time securing their position against future assaults. The king, in his
terror, was readily induced to accept the warlike uncle of his wife as
the only person on whose military prowess and faithfulness he could
rely. He regarded the interest of the Guises and his own as identical;
for he had been told, and he firmly believed it, that the enmity of the
insurgents was directed no less against the crown than against its
unpopular ministers.4 On the seventeenth
1 Hist. du tumulte d'Amboise, ubi supra; La Planche, 251, 252; La Place, 34, 35; De Thou,
ii. 767, 768; Mém. de Castelnau, liv. i., c. 8; Throkmorton to the queen, March 21, 1560,
Forbes, State Papers, i. 376, 377. Vieilleville, if we may credit Carloix, foresaw the
impossibility of keeping his honor in this mission, and refused to take it. Mém. de
Vielleville, ii. 420, etc.
2 La Planche, ubi supra.
3 La Planche, 254; La Place, 35; De Thou, ii. 769; Davila, 25. Sir Nich. Throkmorton,
March 21, 1560, Forbes, State Papers, i. 380. M. Mignet has shown (Journal des Savants,
1857, 477, note) that the death of La Renaudie cannot have taken place before the evening
of the 19th, or the morning of the 20th.
4 Even in their letter to their sister, the Queen Dowager of Scotland (April 9, 1560), the
Cardinal of Lorraine and the Duke of Guise had the assurance to speak of the affair of
Amboise as "a conspiracy made to kill the king, in which we were not forgotten."
Forbes, State Papers, i. 400.
of March he therefore gave a commission to "Francis of Lorraine, Duke of
Guise, peer, grand master, and grand chamberlain," to be his lieutenant-general
with absolute powers, promising to approve of all his acts, and authorizing him
to impose the customary punishment upon the seditious, without form or
figure of process.1
Chancellor Olivier opposes. Forgiveness to the submissive.
There were those about the monarch who could not but look with concern
upon the unlimited authority thus accorded to an ambitious prince.
Chancellor Olivier was of this number. He at first refused to affix the
seal of state to a paper which falsely purported to have been made by
advice of the council. It was, however, at length decided that another
edict should be published contemporaneously, extending forgiveness to
all that had assembled in arms in the neighborhood of the city of
Amboise, under color of desiring to present to the king a confession of
their faith. To avail themselves of the benefits of this pardon, they
must, within "twice twenty-four hours," return to their homes, in
companies of two, or, at the most, three together. The disobedient were
to be hung without process of law, and the tocsin might be rung to
gather a force for the purpose of capturing them. The king, however,
invited all that desired to present him their requests to depute one of
their number to lay them before his council, promising, on the pledge of
his royal word, redress and security.2
Explained away by a new edict.
The acts of the court little agreed with these words of clemency. Many
of those who, in obedience to the edict, turned their steps homeward,
found that edict to be only a snare for their simplicity. Indeed, five
days only had elapsed when, on the twenty-second of March, a fresh
1 Cf. the commission in the Recueil des choses mémorables
(1565), 19-24; La Planche, 252, 253; De Thou, ii. 768; Davila, 24.;
Agrippa d'Aubigné, liv. ii., c. 15.
2 Recueil des anc. lois fr., xiv., 24-26; La Planche, 253,
254; Languet, ii. 48, 49; De Thou, ii. 769. It need scarcely be added
that the aim of the insurgents is misrepresented to be, "under veil of
religion, to ravage all the rich cities and houses of the kingdom."
edict, explanatory of the former, excluded from the amnesty all that had
taken part in the conspiracy!1
Carnival of blood. The young king visibly affected.
But it was at Amboise that the vengeance of the Guises found its widest
scope. Day and night the execution of the prisoners stayed not. Their
punishment was ingeniously diversified. Some were decapitated, others
hung; still others were drowned in the waters of the Loire.2 The
streets of Amboise ran with blood, and the stench of the unburied
corpses threatened a pestilence. Ten or twelve dead bodies, in full
clothing and tied to a single pole, floated down from time to time
toward the sea, and carried tidings of the wholesale massacre to the
cities on the lower Loire. Neither trial nor publication of the charge
preceded the summary execution. Most frequently the victims were placed
in the hangman's hand immediately after the hour for dinner, that their
dying agonies might furnish an agreeable diversion to the ladies of the
court, who watched the gibbet from the royal drawing-rooms. Few, besides
the Duchess of Guise, daughter of Renée of Ferrara, manifested any
disgust at the repulsive spectacle. Some of the prisoners who
importunately insisted on seeing the king, and making before him a
profession of their faith, were summarily hanged from the castle
windows. One intrepid reformer had been so fortunate as to be admitted
to the queen mother's presence, and there, by his ready and cogent
reasoning, had well-nigh brought the Cardinal of Lorraine to admit that
his view of the Lord's Supper was correct. Catharine's attention having
been for a moment withdrawn, when she returned to the discussion the man
had disappeared. Actuated by curiosity or by a desire to spare his life,
she requested him to be sent for. It was too late; he had already been
despatched.3 For the most part, the victims displayed great
constancy and courage. Many died with the words of the psalms
1 La Planche, 257, 262.
2 "The 17th of this present there were twenty-two of these
rebellis drowned in sacks, and the 18th of the same at night twenty-five
more. Among all these which be taken, there be eighteen of the bravest
captains of France." Throkmorton to the queen, March 21st, Forbes, i. 378.
3 La Planche, 257, 263.
of Marot and Beza on their lips.1 Castelnau, after having in his
interrogatory made patent to all the hypocrisy of the cardinal and the
cowardice of the chancellor, died maintaining that, before he was
pronounced guilty of treason, the Guises ought to be declared kings of
France. Villemongys, upon the scaffold, dipped his hands in the blood of
his companions, and, raising them toward heaven, exclaimed in a loud
voice: "Lord, this is the blood of Thy children, unjustly shed. Thou
wilt avenge it!"2 The body of La Renaudie was first hung upon one of
the bridges of Amboise, with the superscription: "La Renaudie, styling
himself Laforest, author of the conspiracy, chief and leader of the
rebels." Afterward it was quartered, and his head, in company with the
heads of others, was exposed upon a pole on a public square.3 The
sight of these continually recurring executions, succeeding a fearful
struggle in which so many of his subjects had taken part, is said to
have affected even the young king, who asked, with tears, what he had
done to his people to animate them thus against him. It is even reported
that, catching for an instant, through the mist with which his advisers
sought to keep his mind enshrouded, a glimpse of the true cause of the
discontent, he made a feeble suggestion, which was easily parried, that
the Guises should for a time retire from the court, in order that he
might find out whether the popular enmity was in reality directed
against him, or against his uncles.4 Their fertile invention,
however, was not slow in concocting a story that turned his short-lived
pity into settled hatred of the "Huguenot heretics."
The elder D'Aubigné and his son.
On others, and especially upon those whose hearts throbbed with
patriotic devotion, a less transient impression was made. Some months
after, the young Agrippa d'Aubigné, then a mere child of ten years, was
traversing the city of Amboise with his
1 Throkmorton, ubi supra.
2 La Planche, 263, 265; La Place, 34, 35; Hist. du tumulte
d'Amboise, apud Mém. de Condé, i. 327; D'Aubigné, ubi supra.
3 Ibid., 254-258; La Place, 35; Hist. du tumulte, ubi
supra; Throkmorton, ubi supra, i. 380.
4 La Planche, 258.
father. The impaled heads of the victims were still to be recognized.
The barbarous sight moved the elder D'Aubigné's soul to its very
depths. "They have beheaded France, hangmen that they are!"
he cried out in the hearing of the hundreds that were present
at the fair. Then, spurring his horse, he scarcely escaped the hands
of the rabble who had caught his words. Afterward, when his
young son had rejoined him, he placed his hand on Agrippa's head, and
exclaimed, full of emotion: "My child, you must not spare your head
after mine, to avenge these chieftains full of honor, whose heads you
have just seen! If you spare yourself in this matter, you will have my
Peril of the Prince of Condé. He is summoned by the king.
Condé's defiance. Guise's offer.
The Prince of Condé had set out for the court about the time of the
discovery of the conspiracy. If the coldness of the courtiers whom he
met on the way did not convince him that he was suspected, the position
in which he soon found himself at Amboise left him no doubts. Surrounded
by spies, he was viewed more as a prisoner than as a guest. The Guises
even counselled Francis to stab him with his dagger while pretending to
sport with him. The crime was averted both by the caution of the prince
and by a reluctance on the part of the young king to imbrue his hands in
the blood of his kinsman--a sentiment which the Guises interpreted as
cowardice.2 But, unable to resist the urgency of those who accused
Condé of being the true head of the conspiracy, and maintained that the
testimony of many of the prisoners rendered the fact indubitable,
Francis at length summoned the young Bourbon to his presence. He
informed him of the accusations, and assured him that, should they prove
true, he would make him feel the difficulty and the danger of attacking
a king of France. At Condé's request an assembly of all the princes, and
of the members of the Privy Council and of the Order of St. Michael, was
summoned, that he might return his answer to the charges laid against him.3
1 Mémoires de Théodore Agrippa d'Aubigné (Ed. Panthéon lit.), 472.
2 La Planche, 267.
3 I have followed in the text the account of La Planche. La Place, 36, represents Condé
as voluntarily making his appearance and declaration before the king and the princes
and knights that were present, on hearing that the ambassadors of several foreign
princes had named him in their despatches as the author of the enterprise.
In the midst of the august gathering, Louis of Bourbon arose
and recited the conversation which he had had with the king. He knew, he
said, that he had enemies about him who sought his entire ruin and that
of his house. He had, therefore, solicited to be heard in this company,
and his answer was: that, excepting the person of the king, his
brothers, and the queens, his mother and wife--and he said it with all
respect to their presence--whoever had asserted to the king that Condé
was the chief of certain seditious individuals who were said to have
conspired against his person and estate, had "falsely and miserably
lied." To prove his innocence he offered to waive for the time the
privileges of his rank as prince of the blood, and in single combat
force his accuser at the point of the sword to confess himself a
poltroon and a calumniator. As Condé looked proudly around, no one
ventured to accept the gauntlet he had thrown down. On the contrary, the
Duke of Guise, his most bitter enemy, promptly stepped forward to offer
him his services as second in the single combat proposed! Hereupon Condé
begged the king to esteem him hereafter a faithful and honorable man,
and entreated his Majesty to lend no ear to the authors of such
calumnies, but to regard them as common enemies of the crown and of the
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