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SKETCHES OF THE RELIGIOUS WARS OF FRANCE.
The sixteenth century is one of the most glorious in the annals of history. It is one of the grand epochs of progress, in which truth and civilization achieved decisive victories. In the grand struggle between the principles of the Reformation and the ecclesiastical supremacy of Rome, France played a distinguished part; and though she failed to emancipate herself from the tyranny of the Vatican, she retired from the conquest without dishonour. Nearly forty years of resistance proved the sincerity of the Protestant party; on the scaffold and on the field they perished with the heroism of martyrs. Of this obstinate and sanguinary contest we propose to give some account, and of the most prominent actors on the scene. Battles, popular tumults, intrigues, of state, and diplomatic negotiations, will be indicated, rather than narrated ; our object is to make historical events subservient to the unfolding of the inner life of the people, and the spirit of the age in which they lived. They who seek minuteness of details, may consult the pages of Davila ; the student who aims at a comprehensive and severe criticism of the epoch, will take De Thou for his guide. These writers differ little as to their facts, but seldom agree in tracing results to the same cause ; for both had a strong bias.
At the commencement of the sixteenth century, under the reign of Francis I., the doctrines of the Reformation were introduced into France. In 1519, two years after Luther had openly denied the infallibility of the church of Rome, the College of Theology at Paris denounced the new opinions; and in 1521, the Sorbonne published their famous condemnation of the Lutheran neresy. Francis was not a tolerant prince, but careless or indifferent as to modes of faith. He hated his rival Charles V. of Spain, and on that account favoured the Protestants of Germany: this was a matter of policy not of religion. He also overlooked the tendency manifested by his own subjects to secede from Rome, for he was warlike and ambitious, and wily enough to know the value of a sword wielded by a Lutheran arm. However, he was an occasional persecutor of consciences, and is reported to have said
“ If he thought the blood in his own arm was tainted with the Lutheran heresy, he would order it to be cut off'; and further that he would not spare his own children, if they entertained sentiments contrary to those of the church of Rome.*
In the case of Louis Berquin, a private gentleman at Artois, he acted on this principle, for the king ordered him to be burned alive on the Place de Grêve at Paris : still justice requires it to be stated that Berquin had been frequently admonished, and even pardoned ; but the strength of his convictions impelled him to continue preaching the prohibited doctrines. However, though it was notorious that his sister Margaret de Valois, Queen of Navarre, openly avowed Protestantism, he steadily refused to interfere with her creed or conduct, though strongly and repeatedly urged to drag her within the pale of the law. Brantome relates that the Constable, Anne de Montmorenci, conversing with the king on the most effectual method of extirpating heresy, made no scruple of saying “ that his Majesty should begin with the court and his own relations,” naming the queen his sister, as one of the most dangerous enemies of the orthodox faith ; to which Francis replied “Speak of her no more; she loves me too well, not to believe as I
* Histoire de la Naissance et du Progrès de l'Hérésie, par Flor de Remenard, cited by Mosheim, vol. iv., p. 89, in cotes. VOL. II.
believe, nor will she ever adopt a creed incompatible with the dignity and safety of my crown.
The court of Francis was not celebrated for its morality. The courtiers of both sexes were dissolute, intriguing, and avaricious. Many outraged public decency by their scandals. Bishops even were noted for profligacy, and brought discredit on their order. On the other hand the Lutherans were austere, self-denying, rigid in precept and in practice; their preachers denounced the prelates from their pulpits; they taunted them with living at the court instead of at their dioceses. With these denunciations and upbraidings, the people sympathized, and the Huguenot party (for so the reformers were styled) increased in numbers and influence.
The courtier prelates, conscious of the decline of their authority, determined to intimidate Francis by the threat of eternal perdition, if he did not exterminate the heretics ; at the same time assuring him that if he did, all his past and future sins would assuredly be pardoned. What influence these counsellors had on the mind of Francis, may be judged of from the following estimate of his character, painted by the historian Père Daniel :
“Notwithstanding the passion of love, to which this prince too greatly abandoned himself, he always preserved a great fund of religion, as well as from true piety as a wise policy ; he took all the precautions possible to prevent novelties in religion being introduced into the kingdom ; he gave terrible examples of severity."
On this curious encomium the Abbé de Condillac makes the following just remarks :
“ If there be no religion without faith in dogmas, faith in dogmas does not constitute the whole of religion; the complete fulfilment of the duties of our station is an essential part of it. Consequently, to praise the piety of sovereigns who violate their duties, is to prostitute religion in order to flatter the vices of the great. Now, wit speaking of the amours of Francis-of those amours which, according to Père Daniel, did not prevent him from being truly pious—he may be reproached with devoting to pleasure the time that he owed to the cares of government. His want of economy, his magnificence, and his festivals, impoverished his finances ; for so little order was observed, that no account was kept of the expenditure. He was then reduced to the necessity of surcharging the people with taxes to carry on his wars; and what wars ! were they undertaken for the advantage or protection of the STATE ? No; it is a false glory which takes up arms without any combination for success, or any foresight of the result. What remained to him? victories and defeats, conquests quickly lost, a prison, a disgraceful treaty, a ruined kingdom. Such is the account which this religious prince might have given of his reign. He believed in certain dogmas, and burned those who did not believe in them ; such is the sum total of his great fund of religion ; such was his true piety. It is not said that he fulfilled the duties of a king ; it is only said, 'that he gave terrible examples of severity ;' and yet this writer (Daniel) has the assurance to say that he took all the precautions possible to prevent the introduction of heresy into his dominions. Saint Louis would have found others in the purity of his morals. Such, however, is the morality with which the minds of princes are poisoned.”
We must now speak of John Calvin, a Frenchman by birth, being a native of Noyou in Picardy, where he was born on the 10th July, 1509. The Queen of Navarre warmly espoused his view of the Eucharist. In 1536 he boldly dedicated his " Christian Institutions” to Francis I., from which time his popularity spread far and near. His book was answered by the College of Theology, but the triumph remained with the reformer. Then Francis, urged by the prelates, gave permission to murder those whom they could not retain within their fold. This was in 1545. The Baron D'Oppeda was charged to execute this sanguinary mission. It was he who slaughtered the Waldenses assembled in the valleys of the Alps on the side of Provence. His conduct is thus described by De Thou :
“ All was horrible and cruel in the sentence pronounced against them; and all was still more horrible and more cruel in its execution. Twentytwo villages were burned or plundered, with an inhumanity of which the history of the most barbarous people scarcely affords an example. The unfortunate inhabitants, surprised during the night, and pursued from rock to rock by the light of the fires which consumed their dwellings, only avoided one ambuscade to fall into another; the piteous cries of old men, of women and children, far from softening the hearts of the soldiery, as mad with rage as their chiefs, only served to indicate the track of the fugitives, and marked the hiding-places to which the assassins carried their
This is a sad recital. It sickens the soul of a Christian, but it teaches a lesson, and that lesson is the sinfulness of persecutionand also the folly of its wickedness. It is foolish to attempt the coercion of conscience ; if the gentle arts of persuasion do not succeed, violence only widens the breach. True religion breathes the Samaritan spirit. It admonishes, never drives; its weapon is persuasion, not brutal force ; it appeals to the heart, not to the muscles. And under mere prudential views history and experience teach us that persecution never made a convert, though it has created hosts of enemies. The policy of Francis failed. Reformers multiplied. The new opinions gained formidable adherents, as the sequel will show, and armed men sprung up from the blood-stained valleys of the Alps. But let us be just to the king. All the historians agree that his orders were most cruelly
exceeded ; and many affirm that on his bed of death hư commanded his son to inflict the severest punishment on the perpetrators of those merciless atrocities.
Henry II., who succeeded his father, Francis I., burnt the heretics in Paris, Lyons, Angers, Blois, and Bordeaux. The Jesuits commenced their machinations in France during his reign. The Cardinal of Lorraine was their protector, and had obtained letters patent from the king, to allow their building an establishment in Paris ; but he met with opponents both in the parliament and in the Bishop of Paris. The Procureur-General opposed the registration of the letters patent, and of the papal bulls which the Jesuits had obtained, until the Bishop, Eustace de Bellay, and the Dean of the College of Theology had examined and reported on their contents. The prelate declared-“That the bulls of Paul III., and of Julius III., contained several articles which were contrary to reason, and which could not be tolerated or received in the Christian religion ; that they in whose favour they were made---arrogating to themselves the title of Company of Jesus,'—which could only be applied with propriety to the universal church of which Christ was the head, seemed to wish to constitute themselves that church. Moreover, as the principal object they proposed to themselves was the conversion of the Mahometans, it would be better to give them a house on the frontier of the Turkish Empire than in Paris, which was so distant from Constantinople.”
The College of Theology, by a unanimous vote, declared “the new society dangerous to the holy faith, calculated to disturb the peace of the Church, and more fitted to destroy than to edify." Thus were the Jesuits defeated for a time. However, they did not quit Paris, but retired to the Fauxbourg St. Germain, where the Abbot of that district protected them.
In 1557 the numerical strength of the Reformers displayed itself in a tumult; and in the following year one of those memorable events occurred which foreshadowed the stormy period that was soon to follow. Francis de Coligny, Lord of Andelot, and of the illustrious house of the Chatillons, a colonel in the Guards, and of high military reputation, was denounced to the king as a disciple of Calvin. Interrogated as to his creed, he fearlessly made this noble answer :
“ Sire, in matters of religion I can use no disguise, nor vainly attempt to deceive God. Dispose as you please of my life, my property, and my appointments ; but my soul, independent of every other sovereign, is only subject to the Creator from whom I received it, and whom alone I ought to obey under present circumstances, as my most powerful master: in a word, I will die rather than go to mass !