History of the rise of the huguenots

Assembly of notables at St. Germain

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Assembly of notables at St. Germain.

About a week after the occurrence of the seditious disturbance just

narrated, the assembly of notables was convened at St. Germain (January,

1562). To this body it was proposed to refer the religious condition of

the realm, with the view of reaching some more definite and satisfactory

settlement than the "Edict of July," whose provisions had become a dead

letter before the ink with which they were written was dry.
Chancellor L'Hospital's opening address. Diversity of sentiment.
The nuncio's alarm and activity.

The chancellor, who, according to custom, set forth at considerable

length the circumstances constraining the king, by his mother's advice,

to summon the representatives of his trusty parliaments, with the

highest lords of the kingdom, to give him their counsel, dwelt upon the

signal failure of all the measures of repression hitherto adopted, and

upon the necessity of finding other remedies for the public ills. He

disclaimed any intention on the king's part to introduce a discussion

respecting the two religions in order to settle their respective merits.

It was not to establish the faith, but to regulate the state, that they

were assembled. Those who were in no sense Christians might yet be

citizens; and, in leaving the Church, a man did not cease to be a good

subject of the king. "We can live in peace," he added, "with those who

do not observe the same ceremonies and usages, and we can apply to

ourselves the current saying: A wife's faults ought either to be cured

or to be endured."1 When the opinions of the members of the

assembly were successively given, the apprehensions entertained by the

Romish party, from the very initiation of the plan of the conference,

were seen to be well grounded.2 The

superfluous to add that the Roman Catholic and Protestant authorities

differ widely in the coloring given to the event. If any reader should

be inclined to think that I have given undue weight to the Huguenot

representations, let him examine the Roman Catholic De Thou--here, as

everywhere, candid and impartial.

1 De Thou, iii. (liv. xxix.) 118-123; Eecueil des choses

mém., 686-695; Mémoires de Condé, ii. 606, etc.

2 Abbé Bruslart accuses Chancellor L'Hospital of packing

the convention with delegates of the parliaments who were his creatures;

"La pluspart desquels avoient esté éleus et choisis par monsieur le

Chancelier De l'Hospital, qui n'estoit sans grande suspition." Journal

de Bruslart, Mém. de Condé, i. 70.

orthodoxy of the sentiments of the majority was by no means above

suspicion. The nuncio, Santa Croce, chronicles with alarm the preponderance
of those who openly advocated the adoption of lenient measures. It was
evident that the Edict of July, with its bloody policy, could command the
votes of only a small minority. The pontifical ambassador trembled lest
the Protestants should, after all, obtain the largest concessions. He was, consequently, as despondent as ever his predecessor had been.1
But, more prudent than the Bishop of Viterbo, he took pains to conceal his
fears from the eyes of the courtiers, lest he should furnish the Huguenots
with fresh means of influencing the wavering government. Accordingly,
instead of giving up everything as lost, he spared neither time nor money,

besieging the doors of the grandees who were believed to be true friends

of the Holy See, and entreating them to dismiss all intention of leaving

the court, and thus abandoning the field to their enemies.2 He even

sought an interview with Catharine de' Medici, and, in company with the

Spanish ambassador, offered her the united forces of the Pope and of

Philip to repress any disturbances that might arise from the adoption of

a course unpalatable to the Huguenots; and he returned from the audience

persuaded that "these preachers would obtain no churches, and would gain

nothing from the conference."3

In this conclusion, however, the nuncio was but partially correct. It is

true that the small faction favoring an adherence to the old persecuting

policy succeeded, by uniting with the advocates

1 Strange to say, Santa Croce employs, in his letters to

Cardinal Carlo Borromeo, the very same despairing expressions as those

for the use of which in his Latin commentaries he condemns Gualtieri. He

wishes to be recalled; he declares: "Che questo regno è nell' estrema

ruina, che non vi è speranza alcuna, che si vede cascar a occhiate, che

tutto è infetto, in capite et in membris," and that he does not want to

be present at the funeral of this wretched kingdom. Letter of January 7,

1562, Aymon, i. 21, 22; Cimber et Danjou, vi. 16,17.

2 Ibid., ubi supra.

3 Letter of Santa Croce, Jan. 15, 1562, Aymon, i. 35-40.

of a limited toleration, in defeating the project of the more liberal party;1

but, as will be seen, it was by no means true that Protestantism gained

nothing by the results of the deliberations.

The Edict of January.

These results were embodied in the famous law which, from the

circumstance that it was signed on the seventeenth of January. 1562, is

known in history as the "Edict of January." It began by repealing the

provisional edict of the preceding July, because, in consequence of its

sweeping prohibition of all public and private assemblies, it had failed

of accomplishing the objects intended, as was clear from the more

aggravated seditions ensuing. It ordained that "those of the new

religion" should give up all the churches they had seized, and

prohibited them from building others, whether inside or outside of the

cities. But the cardinal prescription was that, while all assemblages

for the purpose of listening to preaching, either by day or by night,

were forbidden within the walled cities, the penalties should be

suspended "provisionally and until the determination of a general

council" in the case of unarmed gatherings for religious worship held by

day outside these limits. The Protestants, both on their way to their

services and on their return, were to be exempt from molestation on the

part of the royal magistrates, who were enjoined to punish all seditious

persons, whatever might be their religion. The ministers were commanded

to inquire carefully into the life and morals of those whom they

admitted to their communion, to permit royal officers to be present at

all their religious exercises, and to take a solemn oath before the

local magistrates to observe this ordinance, promising, at the same

time, to teach no

1 Of forty-nine opinions, twenty-two were given in

favor of an unconditional grant of the Protestant demand for churches,

sixteen for a simple toleration of their religious assemblies and

worship, such as had been informally practised for the last two months,

while eleven stood out boldly for the continued hanging and burning of

heretics. Among the most determined of these last were the Constable and

Cardinal Tournon. Much to their regret, they saw themselves compelled to

acquiesce in a liberal policy which they detested, in order to avoid

opening the doors wide to the establishment of Protestantism in France.

See Baum, Theodor Beza, ii. 499. Compare, on the course of the

proceedings, Beza's letters and those of Santa Croce, ubi supra.
doctrines at variance with the true word of God as

contained in the Nicene Creed and in the canonical books of the Old and

New Testaments. Inflammatory and insulting harangues were forbidden

alike to the Romish and the Protestant preachers. All seditious

combinations, the enrolment of troops, and the levy of money, were

prohibited; nor could even an ecclesiastical synod or consistory be held

without the previous consent of the royal officers and in their


The Huguenots no longer outlaws.

Such were the most important features of a law the promulgation of which

marks the termination of the first great period in the history of the

Huguenots of France--the period of persecution inflicted mainly

according to cruel legal ordinances and under the forms of judicial

procedure. From the moment of the publication of this charter--imperfect

and inadequate as it manifestly was--the Huguenots ceased to be outlaws,

and became, in the eye of the law, at least, a class entitled within

certain limits to the protection of the ministers of justice. Unhappily

for France, the solemn recognition of Protestant rights was scarcely

conceded by representatives of the entire nation before an attempt was

made by a desperate faction to annul and overturn it by intrigue and

violence. The next act in this remarkable drama is, therefore, the

inauguration of the period of Civil War, or of oppression exercised in

defiance of acknowledged rights and of the accepted principles of

equity--a lamentable period, in which every bloody contest originated in

the determination of the one party to circumscribe or destroy, and of

the other to maintain in its integrity the fundamental basis of

toleration laid down in the Edict of January.
1 See the text of the Edict of January, in Du Mont, Corps

diplomatique, v. 89-91; Mém. de Condé, iii. 8-15; Agrippa d'Aubigné,

liv. ii., t. i. 124-128; J. de Serres, etc.


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