« AnteriorContinuar »
faith, and whose conduct was withont reproach, bringmg np their children in the fear of God, and instructing them in the tenets of the true religion, and avoidance.of the papal errors.'
It was in the year 1699, that the Duke de la Force, a renegade from the principles of the reformed faith, which his ancestors had nobly upheld and suffered for, obtained a commission from the King to go down to Perigord, in which province he had large estates, 'to convert the Hugonots.' The instruments which he employed for this service were of two kinds—they were four Jesuit fathers and a regiment of dragoons. The keen blades of the latter were found even more efficacious in subduing heresy than the arguments of the former. There were no cruelties which these booted missionaries did not put in force to compel their miserable victims to attend the mass, and to abjure the Protestant religion with the most dreadful forms of imprecation. Xo less than twenty-two of these ruthless dragoons were quartered in the house of the Marteilhe family. The father was consigned to prison; two sons and daughters, who were but children, were sent into a convent. The mother alone was left in the house with this gang of ruffians, who inflicted shocking cruelties upon her. Having destroyed or plundered all that was in the house, and left only the four walls standing, they dragged the unhappy woman before the Duke, who compelled her by violence and menaces to sign the formulary of conversion, protesting as she did so against the force which was put upon her will Jean Marteilhe, then but sixteen years of age, managed to effect his escape from Bergerac by night, in company with a young friend and fellow-townsman of about his own age; they eatered into a compact together, while they implored the Divine protection, to remain firm and constant to the reformed faith, even at the peril of death or the galleys. How nobly this vow was kept will appear by the sequel.
Provided with a small sum of money for their journey, the fugitives reached Paris without hindrance, and there procured directions for a route by which they hoped to evade the vigilance of the guards at the frontiers, and make their way to Charleroi, at which place they would be outside of the French pale, and under the protection of a Dutch garrison. Great caution and presence of mind were necessary as they approached the confines of their land of refuge, but they had escaped some imminent perils, and were actually out of France, when a sudden alarm caused them to deviate a little from the prescribed route, and to re-enter French territory at the town of Marienbourg. A spy, however, had watched their movements and suspected their
intentions, intentions, and hoping to get a reward for his information, lie had them arrested at a tavern in Marienbourg and brought before the Governor of that town. After a brief examination, in which they avowed their religious profession, but denied their intention to quit France (a breach of truth for which the writer afterwards warmly reproached himself), they were committed to prison, and the governor sent a courier to Paris for instructions how to deal with his captives. The rescript directed that the fugitives should be put upon their trial for the offence of being at the frontier without a passport, but that, meanwhile, the curate of Marienbourg should use his efforts to bring them back to the fold of the Church, and that in the event of his succeeding and abjuration being made, they should receive a free pardon and be taken back to their homes. The officer in whose charge they were, himself a concealed Protestant, and full of sympathy for his prisoners, reported to them this answer:—' I give you no advice,' he said, 'as to what you ought to do, your own faith and conscience will best direct you. All that I have to tell you is that your abjuration will open your prison-doors; without it you will certainly bl5 sent to the galleys.' Thanking him for his kind intentions, the prisoners declared that, placing their trust in God's mercy and support, they would never betray ihe faith that was dearer to them than their lives. The curate then proceeded to try his polemical skill, but finding them well primed on the usual topics of controversy, and being himself but indifferently skilled in arguing, he soon desisted from the attempt to convince their minds, and tried to sap their resolution with another kind of weapon. Having a young and pretty niece with a fair dowry, he proposed to bestow the damsel in marriage on Marteilhe, as the reward of his conformity, but met with so peremptory a refusal that he at once reported to the authorities that the conversion of the prisoners was hopeless, and that they were 'reprobates under the dominion of the devil.' Thereupon a process of trial was instituted, and a sentence passed by the local judge, which recited that the prisoners being of the reformed religion, and convicted of an attempt to leave the kingdom, were condemned to the galleys for life, with confiscation of their goods and other consequences. This judgment, however, required to be confirmed before it could be put in execution, by the Parliament of Tournay, and to that city the prisoners were marched, bound together with cords, lodged in vile prisons in the towns at which they halted, and treated as criminals of the worst class.
At Tournay they were again consigned to a dungeon, and the
hearing Hearing of their cause was postponed at the instance of the carate, who desired to have time allowed for their conversion. This process, however, it was sought to effect rather by temporal than by spiritual arguments. With the latter he troubled them but little, contenting himself with inquiring when he paid his visits at intervals whether they were not tired of suffering, and reminding them that their liberation rested with themselves, 'if thev would only renounce the errors of Calvin.' The trial to which their faith was now exposed was a very painful one. For many weeks they lay in this dungeon, their only food being a portion of bread per day, so insufficient as to reduce them almost to starvation. 'We became so weak and emaciated,* says Marteilhe, 'that it was well for us that a little rotten straw filled with vermin, on which we lay, was close to the door of our cell, through the grating of which our bread was thrown to us. as if we had been dogs, for had we been farther from the door we should not have had strength to get at it.' In this extremity they were surprised one day by having two other prisoners placed in the same cell with them, who turned out to be acquaintances and school-fellows of their own, and who had been apprehended for the same cause as Hugonot refugees. The new comers had money with them, which enabled their halfstarved friends to gain some relief from the pangs of hunger. Bat their arrival introduced a new temptation and trial of faith. Less stern in their principles, these men had been prepared to leave their country for their religion, and once out of France would doubtless have remained good Protestants, but they had ao stomach for the galleys, and when the alternative was placed before them of a life of misery and bondage with adhesion to '-heir principles, or pardon and freedom on making abjuration, their resolution broke down. They avowed their weakness, and wept over it to their companions, who earnestly remonstrated gainst such a betrayal of the cause of truth, and strove to inspire them with a fortitude like their own, but to no purpose. The Romish Church recovered back the two pretended converts, who having after some trouble obtained their pardon, received commissions in the King's service, and were not long after killed in action.
At length after several fruitless attempts to procure their abjuration, Marteilhe and his companion were summoned before the court of the parliament of Tournay. The evidence of their intention to quit the kingdom was by no means clear, for the accused, who showed much intelligence in their defence, made a ikilful use of the fact that they had actually crossed the French frontier, and had voluntarily re-entered it, added to which one of
the the judges had for some reason, which does not appear, been biassed in their favour. The result was that they were actually acquitted by the court of the charge of attempting to escape, and they expected nothing less than immediate liberation. But in this hope they were cruelly disappointed. Being prisoners of State, their discharge could not be decreed without the sanction of the Government. Reference was made to Paris, and after a fortnight's delay arrived the fatal rescript from the Marquis de la Yrilllere, Minister of State, conveying the king's order, that 'Jean Marteilhe and Daniel le Gras having been found at the frontier without a passport, should be condemned to the galleys.' This decree, though contrary to its own finding, the Parliament of Tournay was obliged to register, and the sentence was accordingly pronounced, that the prisoners having been duly convicted of professing the reformed religion, and having attempted to leave the kingdom with a view to the free profession of the same, were condemned to serve for life as convicts in the king's galleys.
Under this sentence the prisoners were at once removed to Lille, where the gang, or 'chain,' of galley slaves was formed previously to their being sent to their destination. At Lille they were cast into a dark and filthy dungeon, into which no light was admitted night or day, and which was already tenanted by about thirty ruffians, who had been convicted of every kind of crime, and who were allowed to exercise outrageous license against their fellow prisoners. Here also the poor Protestants endured cruel treatment from the gaoler and his mvrmidons, who grossly abused their authority, but after a time they found a friend and protector in one of the chief officials of the prison, who, having some Protestant connexions settled near Bergerac. had been interested by them on behalf of these young men. From him they received much kind treatment, and were relieved as far as possible from the rigours of the prison; he procured for them also a respite of some months on the plea of sickness when the other prisoners were sent off to the galleys. Such mitigations, however, could be but temporary; the time came at last for another gang to be removed to Dunkirk, and being advised that their condition at that place would be one of less suffering than if they waited till the departure of the next body destined for Marseilles, they submitted to their fate. On arriving at Dunkirk Marteilhe was separated from his companion, and put on board a galley called, in cruel mockery, 'La Heureuse,' being one of a squadron of six which were stationed at that port.
The French galleys, of which the principal stations were at Calais, Marseilles, and Dunkirk, were vessels of about 150
feet feet in length, and 40 in- width. On either side of each •alley were twenty-five tiers or benches, to each of which was attached a long and heavy oar, pulled by six convicts, who *ere chained by one leg to their bench. The complement of rowers to each galley was 300, of whom about a sixth part were Turks, who had been purchased as prisoners by the French government. In addition to these there were about fifty free mariners, who worked the sails and otherwise helped in the management of the vessel; there were also about a hundred soldiers, and a considerable body of officers, who were required both for the command of the soldiers and mariners, and for the custody and supervision of the slaves. Each galley had at her bow five guns carrying from eighteen to thirty-six pounds each, and the mode of warfare adopted by them in attacking another vessel was to bear down with all the force of their oars, so as to drive the prow of the galley into the enemy's stern, then, firing all their guns into him, to board with their soldiers and marines. In this warfare there were some advantages on the side of the galleys; while, on the other hand, there were considerable drawbacks. In the first place, their great force of oarsmen gave them much advantage of speed and facility of manoeuvring. In a time of dead calm, when a frigate would be powerless to move, the galley had it all her own way, and with her numerous armed force on board was a rery formidable adversary. On the other hand, the structure irf the galley, lightly built, and very low in the water, made it impossible for her to venture out to sea, except with great caution, and in settled fine weather. It was impossible to navirate such vessels in a heavy sea, and to encounter a ship of war it a time when the latter could use her sails would have been almost certain destruction, for at such times it was in the power of the enemy, bearing down full upon the galley, to run her down, and send her to the bottom. Another element of weakness which almost disqualified these vessels for hostile action was the danger to which they were exposed from their own slave crews taking part with the enemy. A considerable proportion of the soldiers on board were kept in reserve to prevent mutiny, and guns were kept always ready charged and pointed against the rowers; ret the remedy in such a case would have been as bad as the disease, for to destroy the rowers would have been to paralyse the ship, and leave her helpless at the mercy of the enemy. The result was that the galleys were but little used except for coasting service, to make a descent upon an enemy's shores, or to cut off a becalmed straggler. Sometimes, too, they were employed on State occasions to convey persons of eminence, or in the service of the Government, to some port in the Mediterranean.