History of the rise of the huguenots

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New and tolerant order.

The only salvation of France lay in putting an end to such alarming

exhibitions of discord, from the frequent recurrence of which it was to

be feared that the country stood upon the verge of civil war. For this

reason, Catharine de' Medici yielded to the persuasions of Chancellor

L'Hospital, and, on the nineteenth of April, caused a royal letter to be

addressed to all the judges, in which the practice of self-control and

tolerance was enjoined. Insulting expressions based on differences of

religion were strictly forbidden. The very use of

1 "Car, de toutes les choses, la plus incompatible en ung

estat, ce sont deux religions contraires."

2 Journal de Bruslart, Mémoires de Condé, i. 26, etc.;

Registers of Parliament, ibid., ii. 341, etc., and apud Félibien,

Hist. de Paris, Preuves, iv. 798, Arrêt of April 28th and 29th.

According to the information that had reached Calvin, twelve had been

killed and forty wounded by Longjumeau and his friends (Calvin to

Bullinger, ubi supra). The parliamentary registers do not give the

precise number. The good curate of S. Barthélemi makes no allusion to

any attack, but sets down the loss of the Roman Catholics at three

killed and nine wounded. Journal de Jehan de la Fosse, 41. Hubert

Languet says seven were killed. Epist. secr., ii. 117.

the hateful epithets of "Papist" and "Huguenot" was proscribed. Far from
offering a reward for denunciation, the king proclaimed it criminal to violate
the sanctity of the home for the alleged purpose of ferreting out unlawful

assemblages. He again ordered the release of all imprisoned for

religion's sake, and extended an invitation to exiles to return to their

homes, if they would live in a Catholic manner, granting them

permission, if they were otherwise disposed, to sell their property and

leave the kingdom.1

Opposition of the Parliament of Paris.

It would have been not a little surprising if so tolerant an edict, even

though it did little more than repeat the provisions of the last royal

letters on the same subject (of the twenty-eighth of January), had been

accepted without opposition by the Romish party.2 Still more

strange if parliamentary jealousy had not taken umbrage at the neglect

of immemorial usage, when the letter was sent to the lower courts before

having received the honor of a formal registry at the hands of the

Parisian judges. It is difficult to say which offence was most resented.

Toleration, parliament remonstrated, was a tacit approval of a diversity

of religion--a thing unheard of from Clovis's reign down to the present

day. Kings and emperors--nay, even popes--had

1 Letters patent of Fontainebleau, April 19, 1561, Mém. De Condé, ii. 334,
335; La Place; and Hist. ecclés., ubi supra; De Thou, iii. (liv. xxviii.) 52.

2 How the devoted adherents of the Roman church received

this edict and its predecessor appears from the Mémoires of Claude

Haton. In the city of Provins, a short distance from Paris, one or two

preachers reluctantly consented to read it in the churches; but "maistre

Barrier," a Franciscan and curate of Sainte Croix, instead of the

required proclamation, made these remarks to the people at the

commencement of his sermon: "On m'a cejourd'-huy apporté ung mémoire et

papier escript, qu'on m'a dict estre la coppie d'un édict du roy, pour

vous le publier; et veult-on que je vous dye que les chatz et les ratz

doibvent vivre en paix les ungs avec les aultres, sans se rien faire de

mal l'ung à l'autre, et que nous aultres Françoys, e'est assavoir les

hérétiques et les catholicques, fassions ainsi, et que le roy le veult.

Je ne suis crieur ni trompette de la ville pour faire telles

publications. Dieu veuille par sa miséricorde avoir pitié de son église

et du royaume de France, les deux ensemble sont prestz de tomber en

grande ruyne; Dieu veuille bailler bon conseil à nostre jeune roy et

inspirer ses gouverneurs à bien faire; ils entrent à leur gouvernement

par ung pauvre commencement, mais ce est en punition de noz pechez."

Mémoires de Claude Haton, i. 123, 124.

fallen into error and been proclaimed heretical or schismatic, but never had

such calamity befallen a king of France. It were better for Charles to make
open profession of his intention to live and die in his religion, and to

enforce conformity on the part of his subjects, than to open the door

wide to sedition by tolerating dissent. Better to renew the prohibition

of heretical conventicles, and to reiterate the ancient penalties.

Particularly ill-advised was it that Charles should be made to pronounce

seditious those who applied the names "Papist" and "Huguenot" to their

opponents, for it seemed to establish side by side two rival sects,

although the name of the one was so novel as never to have found a place

in any former missives of the crown.1
Popular cry for Protestant pastors.

The refusal of the Parisian parliament to verify the edict in the

customary manner prevented its universal observance; but,

notwithstanding this untoward circumstance, it proved exceedingly

favorable to the development of the Huguenot movement.2 Scarcely a

month after its publication, Calvin, in a letter to which we have more

than once had occasion to refer, expressed his astonishment at the ardor

with which the French Protestants were pressing forward to still greater

achievements. The cry from all parts of Charles the Ninth's dominions

was for ministers of the Gospel.3 "The eagerness with which pastors

1 La Place, 124-126; Histoire ecclés., i. 288, etc.; De Thou, iii. (liv. xxviii.) 52, 53. The
remonstrance of parliament was, in point of fact, little more than an echo of the strenuous
protest of the Spanish ambassador to the queen mother. See Chantonnay to Catharine
de' Medici, April 22, 1561, Mémoires de Condé, ii. 6-10.

2 According to Claude Haton, the edict was received with ineffable delight, especially
in those cities of the kingdom where there were Huguenot judges. The Catholics were
despised. The Huguenots became bold: "En toutes compagnies, assemblées et lieux
publicz, ilz huguenotz avoient le hault parler." Despite the prohibition of the employment of

insulting terms, they called their adversaries "papaux, idolâtres,

pauvres abusez." and "tisons du purgatoire du pape." Mémoires, i. 122.

Doubtless a smaller measure of free speech than this would have sufficed

to stir up the bile of the curate of Mériot.

3 Already, on the 6th of March, Claude Boissière had

written to the Genevan reformer from Saintes: "God has so augmented His

church that we number to-day by the grace of God thirty-eight pastors in

this province" (Saintonge in Western France), "each of us having the

care of so many towns and parishes, that, had we fifty more, we should

scarcely be able to satisfy half the charges that present themselves."

Geneva MSS., apud Bulletin, xiv. (1855) 320, and Crottet, Hist. des

égl. réf. de Pons, Gémozac, etc., 57.

are sought for on all hands from us is not less than that with

which sacerdotal offices are wont to be solicited among the papists.

Those who are in quest of them besiege my doors, as if I must be

entreated after the fashion of the court; and vie with each other, as if

the possession of Christ's kingdom were a quiet one. And, on our part,

we desire to fulfil their earnest prayers to the extent of our ability;

but we are thoroughly exhausted; nay, we have for some time been

compelled to drag from the book-stores every workman that could be found

possessed even of a slight tincture of literature and religious


The letters that reached Calvin and his colleagues by every messenger

from Southern France--many of which have recently come to light in the

libraries of Paris and Geneva--present a vivid picture of the condition

of whole districts and provinces. From Milhau comes the intelligence

that the mass has for some time been banished from the place, but that a

single pastor is by no means sufficient; he must have a colleague, that

one minister may take exclusive care of the neighboring country, "where

there is an infinite number of churches," while the other remains in the

city. Everywhere there is an abundance of hot-headed persons who, by

their breaking of crosses and images, and even plundering of churches,

give the adversary an opportunity for calumniating. "May the Lord, of

His goodness, be pleased to purge His church of them!"2

Moderation of the Huguenot ministers.

In these most difficult circumstances--while, on the one hand, the

demand for ministers was largely in excess of the supply, and, on the

other, the folly of certain inconsiderate enthusiasts seemed likely to

draw upon the great body of Protestants the unwarranted charge of

disorder and insubordination to law--the Huguenot ministers fearlessly

took a position that strikingly exhibits their excellent judgment, as

1 Letter to Bullinger, May 24, 1561, apud Baum, ii.,

App., 32, and Bonnet, Eng. tr., iv. 190.

2 Letter of Gilbert de Vaux, April 5, 1561. MS. in Nat.

Lib. of Paris, apud Bulletin, xiv. 321, 322.

well as their high moral principle. They declined to countenance a

policy which offered, to say the least, bright temporary advantages.

They refused to trust the vessel freighted with their best hopes for the

future of France, to be carried into port on the treacherous waves of

popular excitement. They preferred to abate somewhat of the proper

demands which they might have exacted with success, that they might

deprive their enemies of the slightest ground for maligning their

loyalty to their native land and its legitimate king. When the

Protestants of Montauban--a town then beginning to assume a religious

character which it has never since lost--learned that they had been

falsely accused of having revolted from the king, and of having elected

a governor of their own, established a polity similar to that of the

Swiss cantons, and coined money as an independent state, they not only

refuted the charges to the satisfaction of the royal lieutenant sent to

investigate the truth,1 but they discontinued the public

celebration of the Lord's Supper, in order to avoid even the appearance

of unwillingness to obey the king's commands. At the same time they

wrote to Geneva an earnest request that, notwithstanding the need of

teachers in France, no persons that had been monks or chaplains should

be admitted to the ministry unless after long and careful scrutiny. They

did more harm, they disquieted the churches more, they said, than the

most violent persecutions that had befallen the Protestants. For they

refused to submit to discipline, made light of the decisions of their

brethren, and, while seeking only their own pleasure, drew odium upon

the ministers who endeavored to uphold good order among the people.2
Inconsistent laws and practice. Judicial perplexity.

The position of the Huguenots was certainly anomalous, and presented the

strangest inconsistencies. The royal letters enjoined that no inquiries

should be made with the view of disturbing

1 After having examined the churches, convents, etc., the

lieutenant, though a Roman Catholic, reported to the Toulouse parliament

"qu'il avoit trouvé une telle obéissance en ceste ville que le roy

demande à tous ses subjects, de sorte qu'il n'y avoit eu jamais un coup

frappé, ne injure dicte aux papistes par ceux de l'Evangile."

2 Letter of Du Vignault to M. d'Espeville (Calvin), May

26, 1561, in Geneva MSS., Bulletin, xiv. (1865) 322-324.

any one for religion's sake; the Parliament of Paris refused to register
these letters and obey the provisions; the still more fanatical counsellors
of the Parliament of Toulouse rather increased than diminished their severities, and daily consigned fresh victims to the flames.1 It was natural that
the clergy should take advantage of these circumstances to renew their

remonstrances against the continuance of the existing toleration. The

Cardinal of Lorraine seized the opportunity afforded him by the solemn

ceremonial of Charles's anointing at Rheims (on the thirteenth of June,

1561) to present to the queen mother the collective complaints of the

prelates, because, so far from witnessing the rigid enforcement of the

royal edicts, they beheld the heretical conventicles held with more and

more publicity from day to day, and the judges excusing themselves from

the performance of their duty by alleging the number of conflicting

laws, in the midst of which their course was by no means easy. He

therefore recommended the convocation of the parliament with the princes

and members of the council, that, by their advice, some permanent and

proper settlement of this vexed question might be reached.2

Catharine, who, in the publication of the letters-patent of April, had

followed the advice of Chancellor L'Hospital, and seemed to lean to the

side of toleration, now yielded to the cardinal's persuasions--whether

from a belief that the mixed assembly which he proposed to convene would

pursue the path of conciliation already pointed out by the government,

or from a fear of alienating a powerful party in the state.
The "Mercuriale" of 1561.

On the twenty-third of June, Charles, accompanied by his mother, by the

King of Navarre, and the other princes of the blood, and by the council

of state, came to the chamber of parliament, and the chancellor announced

to the assembled members the object of this extraordinary visit.

1 "Ceux de Tholoze sont du tout enragés, car ils ne

cessent de brusler les paoures fidèles de jour à aultre. Le trouppeau

est fort désolé, et croy qu'est sans pasteur." Letter of La Chasse,

Montpellier, June 14, 1561, to M. d'Espeville, Geneva MSS., ubi supra,

p. 325.

2 La Place, 127, 128; De Thou, iii., liv. xxviii. 53.

It was to obtain advice not respecting religion itself--that

was reserved for the deliberation of the national council, and its

merits could not be discussed here--but respecting the best method of

appeasing the commotions daily on the increase, caused by a diversity of

religious tenets. He therefore begged all present to express in brief

terms their opinions on this important topic. It is not surprising that

the answers given should have been of the most varied import. Ever since

the time of Henry the Second, the Parliament of Paris had contained a

considerable number of friends, more or less open, of Protestantism, and

among the princes and noblemen who came to join in the deliberation, the

number of its warm advocates was proportionately still greater. At the

same time, the Roman Catholic party was largely represented in the ranks

of the members of the parliament proper, as recent events had indicated;

while, among the high nobility and the dignitaries of the church, the

weight of the constable and the Duke of Guise, the cardinals of Bourbon,

Tournon, Lorraine, and Guise, and the Bishop of Paris, counterbalanced

the influence of the King of Navarre, the Prince of Condé, the

Châtillons, and the chancellor. Five or six different opinions were

announced by the successive speakers;1 but they could all be

reduced to three. The more tolerant advocated the suspension of all

punishments until the determination of the questions in dispute by a

council. A second class, on the contrary, maintained the propriety and

expediency of enforcing the laws which made death the penalty of heretical

1 Mémoires de Castelnau, 1. iii., c. 3. The discussion was

long, and would have been tedious, had it not turned upon so important a

topic. There were 140 members of parliament, and according to its

regulations no one was allowed to concur simply in the views of another,

but each counsellor was compelled to express his own sentiments, which

were then committed to writing. As some of the high dignitaries of state

also gave their opinions, there were altogether more than 150 speakers,

and parliament met twice a day to listen to them. The Bishop of Paris,

after harshly advocating the rekindling of the extinct fires of the

estrapade, was compelled to hear in return some plain words from Admiral

Coligny, who boldly accused the bishops and priests of being the cause

of all the evils from which the Christian world was suffering, while at

the same time they instigated a cruel persecution of those who exposed

their crimes. The letters of Hubert Languet, who was in Paris at the

time, are exceedingly instructive. Epist. secr., ii. 122, 125, etc.

belief. The rest--and they mustered in the end a majority of

three1 over the advocates of toleration, while they were much

more numerous than the champions of bloody persecution--advised the king

to give to the ecclesiastical courts exclusive cognizance of heresy,

according to the provisions of the Edict of Romorantin, and to forbid

the holding of public or private conventicles, whether with or without

arms, in which sermons should be preached or the sacraments administered

otherwise than according to the customs of the Romish Church.2 Such

was the result of the deliberations of the Mercuriale of June and July,

1561,3 in the course of which opinions had been freely expressed

far more radical than those of Anne Du Bourg in the Mercuriale of 1559.

The "Edict of July." Disappointment at its severity.

The edict for which the direction had been thus marked out was published

on the eleventh of July, 1561.4 It has become celebrated in history

as the "Edict of July." After reiterating the injunctions of previous

royal letters, and forbidding all insults and breaches of the peace, on

pain of the halter, Charles was made to prohibit "all enrollings,

signatures, or other things tending to sedition." Preachers in the

churches were strictly commanded to abstain from uttering words

calculated to excite the popular passions or prejudice. The most

important portion of the law, however, was that which punished, by

confiscation of body and goods, all who attended, whether with or

without arms, conventicles in which preaching was held or the holy

sacraments administered. Of simple heresy the cognizance was still

restricted, as by the edict of Romorantin in the previous year, to the church

courts; but no higher penalty could be imposed on the guilty, when handed

1 Or seven, according to Languet, Epist. sec., ii. 130.

2 Journal de Bruslart, Mémoires de Condé, i. 40, etc.;

Despatches of Chantonnay, Mém. de Condé, ii. 12-15; La Place, 130; Hist.

ecclés., i. 293, 294; De Thou, iii. (liv. xxviii.) 54. Cf. Martin, Hist.

de France, x. 82, Baum, Theod. Beza, ii. 172, etc., and Soldan,

Geschichte des Prot. in Frankreich, i. 428.

3 It is styled a "mercuriale" in a contemporary letter

of Du Pasquier (Augustin Marlorat), Rouen, July 11, 1561, Bulletin, xiv.

(1865) 364: "On dit que la mercuriale est achevée, mais la conclusion

n'est pas encores publiée."

4 H. Martin, Hist. de France, x. 83.

over to the secular arm, than banishment from the kingdom.

The punishment of all offences in which public disorder or sedition was

mingled with heresy, remained in the hands of the presidial

judges.1 These were the leading features of this severe ordinance.

It is true that the edict was expressly stated to be only

provisional--to last no longer than until the Universal or National

Council, whichever might be held--that pardon was offered to those who

would live in a Catholic manner for the future, that calumny was

threatened with exemplary punishment. Yet it was clear that the law was

framed in the interest of the Roman Catholics, and in their interest

alone. The Duke of Guise openly exulted. He exclaimed in the hearing of

many, "that his sword would never rest in its scabbard when the

execution of this decision was in question."2 The disappointment of

the Protestants was not less extreme. At court, Admiral Coligny did not

hesitate to declare that its provisions could never be executed.3

The farther they were removed from St. Germain, the more loudly the

Huguenots murmured, the greater was their indisposition to submit to the

harsh conditions imposed upon them. In Guyenne and Gascony, and in

Languedoc, where whole towns were to be found containing scarcely one

avowed partisan of the papacy, the discontent was open and threatening.

How long did the bigots of Paris intend to keep their eyes closed and

refuse to recognize the altered aspect of affairs? Until what future day

was the simplest of rights--the right of the social and public worship

of God--to be proscribed? Must the inhabitants of entire districts

continue, month after month, and year after year, to stand in the eye of

the law as culprits, with the halter around their necks, and beg mercy

of a despised priesthood and a dissolute court, for the crime of assembling

in the open field, in the school-houses, or even in the parish churches,

1 The text of the Edict of July is given in Isambert,

Recueil gén. des anc. lois fr., xiv. 109-111; Histoire ecclés., i.

294-296; Mém. de Condé, i. 42-45. Cf. La Place, 130, 131; De Thou, iii.

54, 55; Mém. de Castelnau, 1. iii., c. 3.

2 "Que son épée ne tiendrait jamais au fourreau quand il

serait question da faire sortir effet à cet arrêté." Martin, x. 83.

3 Ibid., ubi supra.

where their fathers had worshipped before them, to

listen to the preaching of God's word?
Iconoclasm at Montauban.

With the rising excitement the power of the ministers to control the

ardor of their flocks steadily declined. How could the people be

moderate, or even prudent, when their rights were so thoroughly ignored?

The events of Montauban during August and the succeeding months, may

serve to illustrate the growing impatience of the laity. Until now, as

we have seen, the earnest warnings of their pastors had generally been

successful in restraining the Huguenots from touching the symbols of a

hated system so temptingly exhibited before their eyes. But, a few weeks

after the unofficial intelligence of the enactment of the edict of July

had reached the city, the work of destruction commenced. On the night of

the fourteenth of August the Church of St. Jacques received the first

bands of iconoclasts. The pictures and images were torn down or hurled

from their niches and destroyed; but the chalices, the silver crosses,

and other precious articles, were left untouched. The object was neither

robbery nor plunder. A week later, the same fate befel the paintings in

the church of the Augustinians. After another and a shorter interval,

the chapels of St. Antoine, St. Michel, St. Roch, St. Barthélemi, and

Notre Dame de Baquet, witnessed similar scenes of destruction. It was at

this juncture that the edict of July was brought to Montauban and

publicly proclaimed. Nothing could have been more inopportune. The

raging fever of the popular pulse had been mistaken for a transient

excitement, and the specific now administered, far from quenching the

patient's burning thirst, only stimulated it to a more irrepressible

craving. That very evening (Tuesday, the twenty-sixth of August), the

people, irritated beyond endurance, gathered around the Dominican

church. The monks, forewarned of their danger, had taken the precaution

to fortify themselves. They now rang the tocsin, but no one came to

their rescue, and the stronghold was speedily taken. The assailants,

however, cherished no enmity toward God's image in human flesh and

bones. So, after effectually destroying all man's efforts to represent

the Divine likeness in stone or on canvas, the Huguenots proceeded to

the Carmelite Church.

Here rich trophies awaited them--a "Saint Suaire"

and relics, which, on close inspection, were found to be the bones of

horses instead of belonging to the saintly personages whose names they

had borne. The reader will scarcely feel surprise to learn that the

monks--with the single exception of the Franciscans--now judged that the

time for them to leave the city had arrived.

Instructed by the somewhat suggestive example of the fate that had

befallen their brethren, the black and white friars, and, doubtless

considering discretion the better part of valor, the priests of the

collegiate church of St. Stephen abandoned their preparations for

defence, and, stipulating only for their own safety, gave up their

paintings to be consigned to the flames. A bonfire was kindled on one of

the public squares; and while the sacred pictures and images thrown upon

it were being slowly consumed, bands of children looked on and chanted

in chorus the metrical paraphrase of the ten commandments. The city

being thus cleared of its public objects of superstitious

devotion,1 the people next turned their attention to those of a

more private character. As the crowds moved along the streets they

earnestly appealed to the inmates of the houses to follow the noble

example the churches had set them. We are informed by a contemporary

record that the iconoclasts carefully abstained from trespassing, and

confined themselves to an exhibition of those passages of Sacred Writ in

which an idolatrous worship was prohibited. But, if the brief

argumentation for which the rapidity of the transaction allowed time was

not in all cases sufficient to produce entire conviction, it may be

presumed that any remaining scruples were removed by the contagion of

the popular enthusiasm. Montauban was purged of image-worship as in a

day, and without the injury of man, woman, or child.2

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