History of the rise of the huguenots

An alleged admission of disloyal intentions by La Renaudie

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An alleged admission of disloyal intentions by La Renaudie.
It is well known that the Huguenots were accused by their enemies

of intending to remodel the government of France. According to

some, the king was to be retained, but shorn of his authority;

according to others, he was to be dispensed with altogether. Under

any circumstances, the Swiss confederation was to be imitated or

reproduced in France. That which gave the pretended scheme most of

its air of probability, in the eyes of the unreflecting, and compensated

1 La Planche, 268, 269; La Place, 36; Hist. ecclés., i.

171; De Thou, ii. 773, 774; Mém. de Castelnau, liv. i., c. 11. The

Cardinal of Lorraine, however, was deeply mortified and vexed. "El

cardenal estava presente teniendo los ojos en tierra, sin hablar

palabra, mostrando solamente descontentemiento de lo que passava." MSS.

Simancas, apud Mignet, Journal des Savants, 1857, 479.

for the entire absence of proof of its substantial

reality, was the familiarity of many of the Huguenots--both

religious and political--with Geneva, Basle, Berne, and other small

republican states. These were fountains of Protestant doctrine;

these had afforded many a refugee shelter from persecution in

France. It was notorious that the free institutions of these cities

were the object of admiration on the part of the Calvinists.[845]

I believe that no contemporary writer has brought forward a

particle of evidence in support of this view, and impartial men

have rejected it as incredible. But a history of the Parliament of

Bordeaux, lately published,[846] contains an extract from the

records of that court, which, if trustworthy, would go far to

establish the reality of treasonable designs entertained by the

Huguenots. Under date of Sept. 4, 1561, the following entry appears:

"Ledit jour, M. Géraut Faure, official de Périgueux, a dit: qu'il y

a deux ans que le feu Sieur de La Renaudie fust à la maison dudit

official, à Nontron, lui dire que c'estoit grande folie qu'un tel

royaume fust gouverné par un roi seul, et que si l'official

vouloit l'entendre, qu'il lui feroit un grand avantage; car on

délibéroit de faire un canton à Périgueux, et un autre a Bordeaux

dont il espéroit avoir la superintendance. Et lors luy tenant de

tels propos, retira à part ledit official sans qu'autre l'entendist. Ainsi signé: Faure."

The late M. Boscheron des Portes, giving full credit to the

assertion of the "official" of Périgueux, believed that the party

of which La Renaudie was a prominent leader contemplated, in

1559-1560, the formation of "a federative republic broken up into

cantons, the number and situation of which were already, it would

appear, determined upon by the authors of the project." And he

deplores the blind sectarian spirit which could induce Frenchmen to

acquiesce in a plan designed to destroy the unity and consequent

power of a realm whose consolidation every successive king since

the origin of the monarchy had unceasingly pursued.

I imagine that few unbiassed minds will follow this usually

judicious historian in his singularly precipitate acceptance of the

"official's" statement. It is in patent contradiction with

well-known facts respecting the constitution of the Huguenot party.

The noblemen who gave this party their support had everything to

lose, and nothing to gain, by the change from a monarchical to a

republican form of government. Condé, the "chef muet," was a prince

of the blood, not so far removed from the throne as to regard it altogether

1 The accusation referred to occurs, for instance, in a

private diary, part of which has recently come to light, begun by one

Friar Symeon Vinot, Sept. 10, 1563. He notes: "L'an 1561 "--an error for

1560--"commença à, s'elever en France la secte des Hugguenotz, ou (a

mieulx dire) Eygnossen, pour ce qu'il [ils] vouloient fayre les villes franches, et s'allier
ensemble, comme les villes des Schwysses, qu'on dict en allemand Egnossen,
cest a dire Aliez," etc. Bulletin de l'hist. du prot. fr., xxv. (1876) 380.

2 Histoire du parlement de Bordeaux, depuis sa creation jusqu'à sa suppression (1541-1790),
œuvre posthume de C. B. F. Boscheron des Portes, président honoraire de la cour d'appel de
Bordeaux, etc. (Bordeaux, 1877), i. 130.

impossible that he or his children might yet succeed to

the crown. The main body of the party had had no reason to

entertain hostility to regal authority. The prevailing discontent

was not directed against the young king, but against the persons

surrounding him who had illegally usurped his name and the real

functions of royalty. If persecution for religion's sake had long

raged, the victims had never uttered a syllable smacking of

disloyalty, and continued to hope, not without some apparent

reason, that the truth might yet reach the heart of kings.

But, independently of the gross inconsistency between the design

ascribed to La Renaudie and the known sentiments of the Huguenots

at this time, there are other marks of improbability connected with

the statement of Géraut Faure. It was not made at the time of the

pretended disclosure, or shortly after, when, if genuine, it would

have insured the informer favor and reward; but, after the lapse of

"two years," when Francis the Second had been dead nine months, and

when under a new king fresh political issues had arisen. In fact,

if the term of two years be construed strictly, it carries us back

to September, 1559, when Francis the Second had been barely three

months on the throne, and the plans of the Huguenots had, to all

appearance, by no means had time to assume the completeness implied

in Faure's statement. Not to speak of the great vagueness and the

utter absence of circumstantial details in the announcement of the

conspiracy and in the promised advantages, it should be remarked

that the confidant selected by La Renaudie was a very unlikely

person to be chosen. The "official," an ecclesiastical judge

deputed by the Bishop of Périgueux to take charge of spiritual

jurisdiction in his diocese, could scarcely be regarded by La

Renaudie as the safest depositary of so valuable a trust.




Rise of the name "Huguenots." Various explanations given.

The tempest which had threatened to overwhelm the Guises at Amboise

had been successfully withstood; but quiet had not returned to the minds of

those whose vices were its principal cause. The air was still thick with

noxious vapors, and none could tell how soon or in what quarter the

elements of a new and more terrible convulsion would gather.1 The

recent commotion had disclosed the existence of a body of malcontents,

in part religious, in part also political, scattered over the whole

kingdom and of unascertained numbers. To its adherents the name of

Huguenots was now for the first time given.2 What the origin of

this celebrated appellation was, it is now perhaps impossible to

discover. Although a number of plausible derivations have been given, it

is not unlikely that all are equally far removed from the truth, and

that the word arose from some trivial circumstance that has completely

passed into oblivion. It has been traced back to the name of the

Eidgenossen or confederates, under which the party of freedom

figured in Geneva when the authority of the bishop

1 Reaching Paris early in May, 1560, Hubert Languet wrote

that suspicion was everywhere rife; men of any standing scarcely dared

to converse with each other; some great calamity seemed on the point of

breaking forth. The king's ministers evidently feared the great cities;

so the court proceeded from one provincial town to another. Disturbances

in Rouen and Dieppe had frightened the Guises away from Normandy,

whither they had intended leading their royal nephew. Letter from Paris,

May 15th, Epistolæ secr., ii. 50.

2 "En ce temps (Mars, 1560) furent appellés Huguenots."

Journal d'un curé ligueur (Jehan de la Fosse), 36.

and duke was overthrown;1 or to the Roy Huguet, or Huguon, a
hobgoblin supposed to haunt the vicinity of Tours, to whom the superstitious

attributed the nocturnal assemblies of the Protestants;1 or to the

gate du roy Huguon of the same city, near which those gatherings were

wont to be made.2 Some of their enemies maintained the former

existence of a diminutive coin known as a huguenot, and asserted that

the appellation, as applied to the reformed, arose from their "not being

worth a huguenot" or farthing.3 And some of their friends, with

equal confidence and no less improbability, declared that it was

invented because the adherents of the house of Guise secretly put

forward claims upon the crown of France in behalf of that house as

descended from Charlemagne, whereas the Protestants loyally upheld the

rights of the Valois sprung from Hugh Capet.4 In the diversity of

1 Soldan, Geschichte des Prot. in Frankreich, who, in an

appendix, has very fully discussed the whole matter (i. 608-625). There

is some force in the objection that has been urged against this view,

that, were it correct, Beza, himself a resident of Geneva, could not

have been ignorant of the derivation, and would not, in the Histoire

ecclésiastique, prepared under his supervision, if not by him, have

given his sanction to another explanation.

2 La Planche, 262; Hist. ecclés., i. 169, 170; De Thou, ii.

(liv. xxiv.) 766. This is also Étienne Pasquier's view, who is positive

that he heard the Protestants called Huguenots by some friends of his

from Tours full eight or nine years before the tumult of Amboise; that

is, about 1551 or 1552: "Car je vous puis dire que huict ou neuf ans

auparavant l'entreprise d'Amboise je les avois ainsi ouy appeller par

quelques miens amis Tourengeaux." Recherches de France, 770. This is

certainly pretty strong proof.

3 La Place, 34; Davila, i. 20; Agrippa d'Aubigné, i. 96. See also Pasquier, ubi supra.

4 Mém. de Castelnau, liv. ii., c. 7. A somewhat similar

reason had, in Poitou, caused them, for a time, to be called Fribours,

the designation casually given to a counterfeit coin of debased metal. Pasquier, 770.

5 Advertissement au Peuple de France, apud Recueil des

choses mémorables (1565), 7. Also in the Complainte au Peuple François,

ibid., p. 10. Both of these papers were published immediately after the

Tumulte d'Amboise. The eminent Pierre Jurieu--"le Goliath des

Protestants"--tells us that, having at one time accepted the derivation

from "eidgenossen" as the most plausible, he subsequently returned to

that which connects the word Huguenot with Hugues or Hugh Capet. The

nickname confessedly arose, so far as France was concerned, first in

Touraine, and became general at the time of the tumult of Amboise,

nearly thirty years after the reformation of Geneva. "Qui est-ce qui

auroit transporté en Touraine ce nom trente ans après sa naissance, de

Genève où il n'avoit jamais esté cognu?" Histoire du calvinisme et celle

du papisme, etc. Rotterdam, 1683, i. 424, 425.

contradictory statements, we may perhaps be excused if we suspend our

judgment of their respective merits, and prefer to look upon this

partisan name as one with whose original import not a score of persons

in France besides its fortuitous inventor may have been acquainted, and

which may have had nothing to recommend it to those who so readily

adopted it, save novelty and the recognized need of some more convenient

name than "Lutherans," "Christaudins," or the awkward circumlocution,

"those of the religion." Be this as it may, not a week had passed after

the conspiracy of Amboise before the word was in everybody's mouth. Few

knew or cared whence it arose.1
Its sudden rise.

A powerful party, whatever name it might bear, had sprung up, as it

were, in a night. There was sober truth conveyed in the jesting letter

of some fugitives to the Cardinal of Lorraine. Twenty or thirty

Huguenots succeeded in breaking the bars of their prison at Blois, and,

letting themselves down by cords, escaped. Some others at Tours, a few

days later, were equally fortunate. Scarcely had the latter regained

their liberty when they wrote a letter to the prelate who was supposed

to take so deep an interest in their concerns, informing him that,

having heard of the escape of his prisoners at Blois, they had been so

grieved, that, for the love they bore him, they had immediately started

out in search. And they begged him not to distress himself on account of

their absence; for they assured him that they would all soon return to

see him, and would bring with them not only these, but all the rest of

those that had conspired to take his life.2
How to be accounted for.

No feature of the rise of the Reformation in France is more

1 J. de Serres, i. 67; Pasquier, 771: "Mot qui en peu de

temps s'espandit par toute la France."

2 La Planche, 270. At Amboise, too, so soon as the court

had departed, the prisons were broken open, and the prisoners--both

those confined for religion and for insurrection--released. The gallows

in various parts of the place were torn down, and the ghastly

decorations of the castle, in the way of heads and mutilated members,

disappeared. Languet, letter of May 15th, Epist. secr., ii. 51.

remarkable than the sudden impulse which it received during the last year or
two of Henry the Second's life, and especially within the brief limits of the

reign of his eldest son. The seed had been sown assiduously for nearly

forty years; but the fruit of so much labor had been comparatively

slight and unsatisfactory. Much of the return proved to be of a literary

and philosophical, rather than of a religious character, and tended to

intellectual development instead of the purification of religions belief

and practice. Much of the seed was choked by relentless persecution.

Bishops and preachers, the gay poet, and the time-serving courtier, fell

away with alarming facility, when the blight of the royal displeasure

fell upon those who professed a desire to abolish the superstitious

observances of the established church.
A sudden harvest.

But now, within a few brief months, the harvest seemed, as by a miracle,

to be approaching simultaneously over the whole surface of the extended

field. The grains of truth long since lodged in an arid soil, and

apparently destitute of all vitality, had suddenly developed all the

energy of life. France to the reformers, whose longing eyes were at

length permitted to see this day, was "white unto the harvest," and only

the reapers were needed to put forth the sickle and gather the wheat

into the garner. There was not a corner of the kingdom where the number

of incipient Protestant churches was not considerable. Provence alone

contained sixty, whose delegates this year met in a synod at the

blood-stained village of Mérindol. In large tracts of country the

Huguenots had become so numerous that they were no longer able or

disposed to conceal their religious sentiments, nor content to celebrate

their rites in private or nocturnal assemblies. This was particularly

the case in Normandy, in Languedoc, and on the banks of the Rhône.

The progress of letters and of intelligence.

It may be worth while to pause here, and inquire into some of the causes

of this rapid spread of the doctrines of the Reformation after the long

period of comparative stagnation preceding. One of these was undoubtedly

the astonishing progress of letters in France during the last forty

years. From being neglected and rough, the French language, during

the first half of the sixteenth century, became the most polite of the

tongues spoken in Western Europe--thanks to a series of eminent prose

writers and poets who graced the royal court. The generation reaching

manhood in the latter years of the reign of Henry the Second were far

better educated than the contemporaries of Francis the First. The public

mind, through the elevating tendencies of schools fostered by royal

bounty, was to a considerable degree emancipated from the thraldom of

superstition. It repudiated the silly romanese, passing for the lives of

the saints, with which the public had formerly been satisfied. It

scrutinized minutely every pretended miracle of the papal churches and

convents, and exposed the trickery by which a corrupt clergy sought to

maintain itself in popular esteem. Thus the growing intelligence and

widening information of the people prepared them to appreciate the

merits of the great doctrinal controversy now occupying the attention of

enlightened minds. Interest in the discussion of the most important

themes that can occupy the human contemplation was both stimulated and

gratified by a constant influx of religious works from the teeming

presses of Strasbourg, Basle, Lausanne, Neufchâtel, and especially

Geneva. And the verdict of the great majority of readers and thinkers

was favorable to the Swiss and German controversialists.

Calvin's Institutes. Marot and Beza's Psalms.

Next to the Bible, translated originally by Olivetanus, and in its

successive editions rendered more conformable to the Hebrew and Greek

texts, the "Christian Institutes" exerted the most powerful influence.

The close logic of Calvin's treatises, speaking in a style clear,

concise and nervous, and touching a chord of sympathy in each French

reader, made its deep impress upon the intellect and heart, while

captivating the ear. Calvin's commentaries on the sacred volume rendered

its pages luminous and familiar. Other works exerted an influence

scarcely inferior. The "Actions and Monuments" of the martyrs, by Jean

Crespin, printer and scholar, not only perpetuated the memory of the

witnesses for the truth, but stimulated others to copy their fidelity.

Marot and Beza's metrical versions of the Psalms, wafted into

popularity, even among those

who at first little sympathized with the piety of the words, by the
novelty and beauty of the music to which they were sung, were
powerful auxiliaries to the arguments of the theologian. They
entered the house of the peasant and invested its homely scenes

with a calm derived from the contemplation of the bliss of a heaven

where the fleeting distinctions of the present shall melt away. They

nerved the humble artisan to patience and to the cheerful endurance of

obloquy and reproach. They attracted to the gathering of persecuted

reformers in the by-street, in the retired barn, or on the open heath or

mountain side, the youth who preferred their melody and intelligible

words to the jargon of a service conducted in a tongue understood only

by the learned. In the royal court, or rising in loud chorus from a

thousand voices on the crowded Pré-aux-Clercs, they were winged

messengers of the truth, where no other messengers could have found

utterance with impunity.

Morals and martyrdom.

The blameless purity of life of the men and women whom, for religion's

sake, the officers of the law put to death with every species of

indignity and with inhuman cruelty, when contrasted with the flagrant

corruption of the clergy and the shameless dissoluteness of the court,

openly fostered for their own base ends by cardinals themselves accused

of every species of immorality and suspected of atheism, deeply affected

the minds of the reflecting. One Anne Du Bourg put to death by a Charles

of Lorraine made more converts in a day than all the executioners could

burn in a year.

Character of the ministers from Geneva.

But, if the rapid spread of Protestant doctrines at this precise date is

due to any one cause more than to another, that cause may probably be

found in the character and numbers of the religious teachers. Converts

from the Papal Church, principally priests and monks, were the first

apostles of the Reformation. Few of them had received systematic

training of any kind, none had a thorough acquaintance with biblical

learning. Many embraced the truth only in part; some professed it from

improper motives. The Lenten preachers whose leaning towards

"Lutheranism" was sufficiently marked to attract the hatred of the

Sorbonne, were generally orators,

more solicitous of popularity than jealous for the truth--fickle

and inconstant men whose apostasy inflicted deep wounds
upon the cause with which they had been identified, and more
than neutralized all the good done by their previous exertions.
But now a brotherhood of theologians took their place, not
less zealous for the faith than disciplined in intellect. Geneva1
was the nursery from which a vigorous stock was transplanted

to French soil. The theological school in which Calvin and Beza taught,

moulded the destinies of France. The youths who came from the shores of

Lake Leman were no neophytes, nor had they to unlearn the casuistry of

the schools or to throw off a monastic indolence which habit had made a

second nature. They embraced a vocation to which nothing but a stern

sense of duty, or the more powerful attraction of Divine love, could

prompt. They entered an arena where poverty, fatigue, and almost

inevitable death stared them in the face. But they entered it

intelligently and resolutely, with the training of mind and of soul

which an athlete might receive from such instructors, and their

prayerful, trustful and unselfish endeavor met an ample recompense.2

1 M. Archinard, conservator of the archives of the

Venerable Company of Pastors of Geneva, has compiled from the records a

list of 121 pastors sent by the Church of Geneva to the Reformed

Churches of France within eleven years--1555 to 1566. Many others have,

doubtless, escaped notice. Bulletin de la Soc. de l'hist. du prot. fr.,

viii. (1859) 72-76. Cf. also Ib., ix. 294 seq., for an incomplete list of Protestant

pastors in France, probably in 1567, from an old MS. in the Genevan library.

2 The high moral and intellectual qualifications of the

Protestant ministers were eulogized by the Bishop of Valence, Montluc,

in his speech before the king at Fontainebleau, to which I shall soon

have occasion to refer again. "The doctrine, sire," he said, "which

interests your subjects, was sown for thirty years; not in one, or two,

or three days. It was introduced by three or four hundred ministers,

diligent and practised in letters; men of great modesty, gravity, and

appearance of sanctity; professing to detest every vice, and,

particularly, avarice; fearless of losing their lives in confirmation of

their preaching; who always had Jesus Christ upon their lips--a name so

sweet that it gives an entrance into ears the most carefully closed, and

easily glides into the heart of the most hardened." "Harangue de

l'Evesque de Vallence," apud Recueil des choses mémorables (1565), i.

290; Mém. de Condé, i. 558; La Place, 55. The eloquent Bishop of Valence

must be regarded as a better authority than those persons who, according

to Castelnau, accused the Calvinist ministers of Geneva of "having more

zeal and ignorance than religion." Mém. de Castelnau, liv. iii., c. 3.

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