History of the rise of the huguenots

The Edict cannot be executed. Impatience with "public idols."

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The Edict cannot be executed. Impatience with "public idols."

Coligny was right. The Edict of July could not be carried into execution

in those parts of France where, as in Montauban, the mass of the

population had openly adopted Protestantism.

1 The cathedral alone persisted in holding out a day or

two longer, and then made an unwilling sacrifice of its pictures,

protesting at the same time that it only wanted peace and friendship.

2 Hist. ecclés. des égl. réf., i. 530-532.

If the resistance encountered was often accompanied by an earnestness that

disdained to be trammelled by the customary forms of civil law, it was almost always exercised in accordance with the dictates of natural justice. If the

people, emancipated from the service of images, believed themselves to

possess an indisputable right to dash in pieces or burn the curiously

wrought saints sculptured in marble or portrayed by the painter's

pencil, this fact is less wonderful than that they scrupulously spared

the lives of the priests and monks to whose pecuniary advantage their

former worship had principally redounded. The plain Huguenot, like the

plain Christian in the primitive age, was fully persuaded that he had an

owner's title in the public idol, which not only justified him in

destroying it when he had discovered its vanity, but rendered it his

imperative duty to execute the natural impulse. As for the obligation of

nine-tenths of the population to use the idol tenderly, because of any

rightful claim of the remaining tithe, this was a consideration that

scarcely occurred to them.

Calvin endeavors to repress it.

Nor were they very solicitous respecting the dangers that might arise

from over-precipitancy. Not so with Calvin, from whose closely logical

intellect the influence of a thorough training in the principles of

French law had not been obliterated. Never was disapprobation more

clearly expressed than in the reformer's letter to the church of

Sauve--a small town in the Cevennes mountains, a score of miles from

Nismes--where a Huguenot minister, in his inconsiderate zeal, had taken

an active part in the "mad exploit" of burning images and overturning a

cross. This conduct Calvin regarded as the more reprehensible in one

"whose duty it was to moderate others and hold them in check." He denied

that "God ever enjoined on any persons to destroy idols, save on every

man in his own house, or in public on those placed in authority," and he

demanded that this "fire-brand" should exhibit his title to be lord of

the territory in which he had undertaken to exercise so distinct a

function of royalty. "In thus speaking," he added, "we are not become

the advocates of the idols. Would to God that idolatry might be

exterminated, even at the cost of our

lives! But since obedience is better than all sacrifice, we must look to what is
lawful for us to do, and must keep within our bounds." "Have pity, very dear brethren," he wrote in conclusion, "on the poor churches, and do not wittingly expose them to butchery. Disavow this act, and openly declare to the people

whom he has misled, that you have separated yourselves from him who was

its chief author, and that, for his rebellion, you have cut him off from

your communion."1 Calvin's advice was that of the whole body of

Protestant divines in France and its neighborhood. Even an idolatrous

worship must not be overturned by violent means.

Re-assembling of the States at Pontoise. Able harangue of the "Vierg"
of Autun.

The States General, after having been first summoned to meet at Melun on

the first of May, and then prorogued, when it was found that some of the

particular States had introduced the consideration of the public affairs

of the kingdom, instead of devising means for the payment of the royal

debt,2 finally met at Pontoise on the first of August. It does not

come within the scope of this history to dwell at great length upon the

proceedings of this important political assembly. The States were bold

and decided in tone. It was only after finding that those who had a

clear right to the regency were unwilling to assert it, that they

consented, in deference to the request of Du Mortier, Admiral Coligny,

and Antoine himself, to ratify the contract between Catharine de' Medici

and the King of Navarre.3 Nearly four weeks were spent in the

discussion of the subjects that were to be incorporated in the

"cahiers," or bills of remonstrance to be presented to the king. It

was at the solemn reception of the three orders in the great hall of the

neighboring castle of St. Germain-en-

1 Letter to the church of Sauve, July, 1561, Bonnet,

Lettres franç., ii. 415-418. It is instructive to note that the

Provincial Synod of Sommières took the decisive step of deposing the

pastor of Sauve; nor was he pardoned until he had been convinced of his

error, and had declared that he had done nothing except through

righteous zeal, and in order to preclude many scandals. Geneva MS.,

apud Bonnet, ubi supra.

2 See the royal letters of prorogation of March 25th, Mém.

de Condé, ii. 281-284.

3 La Place, Commentaires, 140; De Thou, iii. 57; Mém. de

Castelnau, 1. iii., c. 4.

Laye,1 on the twenty-seventh of August, that the "tiers état"
expressed with greatest distinctness its sentiments respecting
the present condition of the realm. Jacques Bretagne,
vierg2 of the city of Autun, a townsman of the clerical

orator of the first of January, whose arrogance had inspired such

universal disgust, was their spokesman. After reflecting with

considerable severity upon the deficiency of the clergy in sound

learning and spirituality--qualities for which they ought to be

pre-eminently distinguished--he took an impressive survey of the

excessive burdens of the people--burdens by which it had been reduced to

such deep poverty as to be altogether unable to do anything to relieve

the crown until it had obtained time to recruit its exhausted

resources.3 He declared it to be utterly inconceivable how such

enormous debts had been incurred, while the purses of the "third estate"

had been drained by unheard-of subsidies. As he had before exhibited the

obligations of the clergy by biblical example, so the orator next

proved, by reference to the Holy Scriptures, that it was the duty of

Charles to cause his subjects to be instructed by the preaching of God's

word, as the surest foundation of his regal authority. Then, approaching

the vexed question of toleration, he declared that never had monarch

more reason to study the Word of Life than the youthful King of France

amid the growing divisions and discords of his realm. The different opinions

1 The famous chateau of St. Germain-en-Laye, a favorite

residence of the monarchs of the later Valois branch, is situated on the

river Seine, a few miles below Paris. Poissy, where the assembly of the

prelates convened, was selected on account of its proximity to the

court. It is also on the Seine, which, between Poissy and St. Germain,

makes a great bend toward the north; across the neck of the peninsula

the distance from place to place is only about three miles. Pontoise,

deriving its name from its bridge over the river Oise, a tributary of

the Seine, lies about eight miles north of St. Germain.]

2 The origin of the singular designation of this

officer--a designation quite unique--is discussed con amore by

Chassanée, in that remarkable book, Catalogus Gloriæ Mundi (edition of

1586), lib. xi., c. 5, fol. 239. Chassanée, who was himself of Autun,

traces the title and office of vierg back to the Vergobretus of

ancient Gallic times. Cæsar, Bell. Gallic, i. 16.]

3 The curious may find an instructive paragraph in his

speech, devoted to a list of onerous taxes bearing in great part, or

exclusively, on the people. La Place, 145.]

held by Charles's subjects, he said, arose only from their

great solicitude for the salvation of their souls. Both parties were

sincere in their profession of faith. Let persecution, therefore, cease.

Let a free national council be convened, under the presidency of the

king in person, and let sure access be given to it. In fine, let places

be conceded to the advocates of the new doctrines for the worship of

Almighty God in the open day, and in the presence of royal officers; for

the voluntary service of the heart, which cannot be constrained, is

alone acceptable to heaven. From such toleration, not sedition, but

public tranquillity, must necessarily result. And lest the ordinary

allegation of the necessary truth of the Papal Church, on account of its

antiquity, should be employed to corroborate the existing system of

persecution, the deputy of the people reminded the king and court that

the same argument might be rendered effective in hardening Jews and

Turks in their ancient unbelief. "We need not busy ourselves in

examining the length of time, with a view to determining thereby the

truth or falsity of any religion. Time is God's creature, subject to

Himself, in such a manner that ten thousand years are not a minute in

reference to the power of our God!"1

Written demands of the tiers état.

If the harangue of the orator of the third estate was alarming to the

clergy, its written demands were little calculated to reassure them. For

of several propositions made for the payment of the public debts from

the ecclesiastical property, none were very satisfactory to the priests.

According to one, all benefices were to be laid under contribution. The

holders of the lowest in valuation were to give up one-fourth of their

revenues; the holders of more valuable benefices a larger proportion;

while the high dignitaries of the church were to be limited to a yearly

stipend of six thousand livres for

1 "Le temps est une créature de Dieu à luy subjecte, de

manière que dix mille ans ne sont une minute en la puissance de nostre

Dieu." The long speech of M. Bretagne, certainly one of the noblest

pleas for freedom of religious worship to be found within the limits of

the sixteenth century, is inserted in full in the Recueil des choses

mémorables (1565), 620-645, in La Place, liv. vi. 141-150, and in the

Hist. ecclés. des églises réformées, i. 298-305. Summary in De Thou, iii. 57, 58.
bishops, eight thousand for archbishops, and twelve thousand for cardinals. But
the most obnoxious scheme was one proposing an innovation of a very radical character. The aggregate revenues of the temporalities of the Gallican Church
were estimated at four million livres; the temporalities themselves were

worth one hundred and twenty millions. It was gravely proposed to

dispose of all this property by sale. Forty-eight millions might be

reserved, which, if invested at the usual rate of one-twelfth, or eight

and a-third per cent., would secure to the clergy the revenue they now

enjoyed. Forty-two millions would be required to pay off the debts of

the crown. The remaining thirty millions might be deposited with the

chief cities of the kingdom, to be loaned out to foster the development

of commerce; while the moderate interest thus obtained would suffice to

fortify the frontiers and support the soldiery.1

Representative government demanded.

The constitutional changes proposed by the formal cahier of the third

estate were of an equally radical character. They looked to nothing

short of a representative government, protected by suitable guarantees,

and a complete religious liberty.

1 Projects somewhat similar had been made, early in the

year, in some of the provincial estates. In those of Languedoc, held at

Montpellier in March, 1561, Terlon, a "capitoul" of Toulouse, speaking

for the "tiers état," advocated the sale of all the secular possessions

of the clergy, reserving only a residence for the incumbent, and

assigning him a pension equal to his present income, to be paid by the

cities of the kingdom. Chabot, a lawyer of Nismes, went further, and,

when the clamor of the people had secured the hearing at first denied

him, did not hesitate to say that the burdens of the province should be

placed upon the shoulders of the priests and monks--whom he stigmatized

as ignorant and corrupt--because of the evils they had inflicted upon

the people. He even wanted a petition to this effect, signed by thirty

syndicates favorable to the reformed religion, to be inserted in the

cahier of Languedoc. Mémoires d'Achille Gamon--advocate and consul of

Annonay--apud Collection de Mémoires, Michaud et Poujoulat, 611. Some

such wholesale confiscation seems even to have entered into the plans of

the cabinet. In May, 1561, royal letters were sent to the Bishop of

Paris, to the provost, and indeed, throughout France, demanding a return

of the true value of all episcopal and other revenues (Mémoires de

Condé, i. 27). The object was plain enough. The clergy remonstrated

energetically, as may be imagined (Ib., i. 29-39). The Paris clergy had

especial recourse to the Cardinal of Lorraine, in a letter of June 3d.

Honest Abbé Bruslart, touched to the quick by the suggestion, notes in

his quaint journal: "Voilà les incommoditez de la nouvelle religion," etc. (Ib., i. 28).

On the one hand, the monarch was to be guided in the administration by a
council of noblemen and learned and loyal subjects. Except in the case of
princes of the blood, no two near relatives, as father and son, or two brothers,
should sit at the same time in the council; while ecclesiastics of every grade
were to be utterly excluded, both because they had taken an oath of fealty to
the Pope, and because their very profession demanded a residence in their

respective dioceses. On the other hand, the States General were to be

convened at least once in two years, and no offensive war was to be

undertaken, no new impost or tax to be raised, without consulting them.

Happy would it have been for France, had its people obtained, by some

such reasonable concessions as these, the inestimable advantage of

regular representation in the government! At the price of a certain

amount of political discussion, a bloody revolution might, perhaps, have

been avoided.

In the matter of religion, the third estate recommended, first of all,

the absolute cessation of persecution and the repeal of all intolerant

legislation, even of the edict of July past; grounding the

recommendation partly on the failure of all the rigorous laws hitherto

enacted to accomplish their design, partly on the greater propriety and

suitableness of milder measures. And they judiciously added, with a

charitable discernment so rare in that age as to be almost startling:

"The diversity of opinions entertained by the king's subjects proceeds

from nothing else than the strong zeal and solicitude they have for the

salvation of their souls."[1061] Strange that so sensible an

observation should be immediately followed by a disclaimer of any

intention to ask for pardon for seditious persons, libertines,

anabaptists, and atheists, the enemies of God and of the public peace!

An impartial national council.

It was natural that, in accordance with these views, the third estate

should call for the convocation of a national council to settle

religious questions, to be presided over by the king himself, in which

no one having an interest in retarding a reformation should sit, and

where the word of God should be the sole guide in the decision of doubtful

1 "La diversité d'opinion soubstenues par vos subjects ne

provient que d'ung grand zelle et affection qu'ils ont au salut de leurs


points. Meanwhile, the third estate proposed, that in every

city a church or other place should be assigned for the worship of those

who were now forced to hold their meetings by night because of their

inability to join with a good conscience in the ceremonies of the

"Romish Church"--for so the document somewhat curtly designated the

The French prelates at Poissy.

While the States General were occupied at Pontoise in considering the

means of relieving the king's pecuniary embarrassments, Catharine had

assembled at Poissy all the bishops of France to take into consideration

the religious reformation which the times imperatively demanded. The

Pope as yet delayed the long-promised œcumenical council, and there

was little hope of obtaining its actual convocation on fair and

practical terms unless, indeed, he should be frightened into it by the

superior terrors of a French national council, which might throw France

into the arms of the Reformation. Tired of the duplicity of the pontiff,

alarmed by the rapid progress of religious dissensions at home, not

unwilling, perhaps, to make an attempt at reconciliation, which, if

successful, would confirm her own authority and remove the anxieties to

which she was daily exposed--now from the side of the Guises, and again

from that of the Huguenots--the queen mother had yielded to the

suggestion frequently made to her, and had consented to a discussion

between the French prelates and the most learned Protestant


1 La Place, 152; De Thou, iii. 58, 59; Hist. ecclés., i. 306; Garnier, H. de
France, xxix. 308, etc., who gives a very full abstract; but Ranke, v. 93-97,
publishes from the MS. the hitherto inedited cahier.

2 Catharine's own account is given in an important letter

to the Bishop of Rennes, written September 14, 1561--five days after the

colloquy commenced: "Ayant esté requise, y a déja quelques mois, de la

pluspart de la noblesse et des gens du tiers estat de ce Royaume, de

faire ouïr lea ministres, qui sont départis en plusieurs villes de cedit

Royaume, sur leur Confession de Foy; je fus conseillée par mon frere le

Roy de Navarre, les autres Princes du sang, et les Gens du Conseil du

Roy Monsieur mon fils, de ce faire; ayant avisé après avoir longuement

et meurement délibéré là-dessus, que aux grands troubles ... il n'y

avoit meilleur moyen ny plus fructueux pour faire abandonner les dits

Ministres et retirer ceux qui leur adherent, que en faissant confondre

leur doctrine et montrant et découvrant ce qu'il y a d'erreur et

d'hérésie." Le Laboureur, Add. to Castelnau, i. 732, 733.

Invitation to all Frenchmen, and particularly to Beza.

The couriers of Rome stripped.

Accordingly, on the twenty-fifth of July an invitation had everywhere

been extended by proclamation at the sound of the trumpet, to all

Frenchmen who had any correction of religious affairs at heart, to

appear with perfect safety and be heard before the approaching assembly

at Poissy.1 Even before this public announcement, however, steps

had been taken to secure the presence of the most distinguished orator

among the reformed, and, next to Calvin, their most celebrated

theologian. On the fourteenth of July, the Parisian pastors, and, on the

succeeding days, the Prince of Condé, the Admiral, and the King of

Navarre, had written to Theodore Beza, begging him to come and thus take

advantage of the opportunity offered by the favorable disposition of the

royal court.2 Similar invitations were sent to Pietro Vermigli--the

celebrated reformer of Zurich, better known by the name of Peter

Martyr--a native of Florence, now just sixty-one years of age, whose

eloquence, it was hoped, might exercise a deep influence upon his

countrywoman, the queen mother.3 So earnest,

1 Baum, Theod. Beza, ii. 175; Martin, Hist. de France, x. 84. The restriction of the
invitation to Frenchmen is referred to by Catharine in a letter of September 14
(Le Laboureur, Add., i. 733): "Ayant ... accordé à ceux desdits Ministres qui
seroient nez en France, de comparoittre à Poissy."

2 The letters of La Rivière, Condé, Châtillon, and Antoine of Navarre, are printed in Baum,
App., 34, 35. The question naturally arises, Why did not Calvin himself, who had been
specially invited by the Protestant princes, receive permission from the magistrates of
Geneva to go to Poissy? The truth is, that the Protestants of Paris "did not see the
possibility of his being present without grave peril, in view of the rage conceived against
him by the enemies of the Gospel, and the disturbances his name alone would excite
in the country were he known to be in it." "In fact," they say in a letter but recently
brought to light, "the Admiral by no means favors your undertaking the journey,

and we have learned with certainty that the queen would not relish

seeing you there, frankly saying that she cannot pledge herself for your

safety in these parts, as she can for that of the rest. Meanwhile, the

enemies of the Gospel, on the other hand, say that they would be glad to

hear all the rest [of the reformers], but that, as for you, they could

not bring themselves to listen to you or look at you. You see, sir, in

what esteem you are held by these venerable prelates. I suspect that you

will not be very much grieved by it, nor consider yourself dishonored by

being thus regarded by such gentry!" La Rivière, in the name of all the

ministers of Paris, to Calvin, July 31, 1561, Bulletin, xvi. (1867), 602-604.

3 Letter of the Syndics and Council of Geneva to the Lords

of Zurich, July 21, 1561, and Charles IX.'s safe-conduct for Peter

Martyr, July 30, Baum, ii., App., 36, 37.

indeed, was the court in its desire to bring about the conference, that

Catharine, well aware that, should tidings of the project reach the ears of
the Pope, he would leave no stone unturned to frustrate her design, gave
secret orders that all the couriers that left France for Rome about this time
should be stripped of their despatches on the Italian borders! This daring
step was actually executed by means of the governors of cities in Piedmont,

who were devoted to her interests.1

French sincerity doubted.

In spite of this flattering invitation, however, there was much in the

condition of French affairs, especially in view of the edict of July

just published, that made the two Swiss reformers and their colleagues

hesitate before undertaking a mission which might possibly prove

productive of less benefit than injury to the cause they had at heart.

Well might they suspect the sincerity of a court from which so unfair an

ordinance as that of July had but just emanated. What good results could

flow from an interview for which the blood-stained persecutor of their

brethren, Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine, professed his eagerness,

promising himself and his friends an easy victory over the Huguenot


1 Le Laboureur, Add. to Castelnau, i. 724; cf. letter of

Card. de la Bourdaisière to the Bishop of Rennes, Rome, August 23, 1561,

ibid., and of Chantonnay to Tisnacq, September 6, Mém. de Condé, ii. 18.

2 The papal nuncio, Prospero di Santa Croce, indeed,

represents the Cardinal of Lorraine as the originator of the perilous

scheme. When Lorraine and Tournon, whom the Pope had constituted his

legates, with the commission to put forth their most strenuous exertions

to uphold the Roman Church in France, found advice, exhortation, and

persuasion all in vain, Lorraine, in an evil hour, advised the holding

of a colloquy: "Lotharingius audaci potius quam prudenti consilio reginæ

persuasit, ut Possiaci conventus haberetur episcoporum Galliæ, in quo de

religione ac moribus tractaretur: simulque copia fieret Hugonottorum

principibus, Ministros illi vocant, si vellent, veniendi, neque iis

solum qui erant in Gallia, sed ex finitimis etiam provinciis vocarentur,

ut quæ erant de religione controversa proponerentur; futurum sperans, ut

ne respondere quidem ad sua postulata auderent. Confidebat enim

Lotharingius et doctrinæ et eloquentiæ suæ, et plurimum, ut debebat,

ipsius causæ bonitati." Cardinal Tournon was opposed to this course:

"Non probabat hoc factum Turnonius, ut qui disputationem omnem cum

hæreticis fugiendam noverat." P. Santacrucii de civilibus Galliæ

dissensionibus commentarii, Martene et Durand, tom. v. 1462.

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