THE Reformation in France never developed into a national movement. Though the Protestants under the stress of persecution consolidated themselves into a powerful and well-organized party, they never formed more than a minority of the nation. The majority, whose attachment to the Catholic Church was stronger than their desire for her reformation, detested the Reformers as schismatics and separatists even more than as heretics. When the Protestant ranks were recruited by the accession of numerous political malcontents, a more worldly leaven pervaded the whole cause; the principle of passive resistance was abandoned, and an appeal to armed force became inevitable. The result was a succession of religious wars, which lasted, though not continuously, for more than thirty years. It was not till the beginning of the seventeenth century that France, once more at peace with herself, was able to work out on her own lines a Counter-Reformation.
Yet at the beginning of the sixteenth century nearly all enlightened men were agreed as to the necessity for Reform. The evils under which the Church in France labored were those which prevailed elsewhere; rapacity and worldliness among the Bishops and abbots, ignorance in the inferior clergy, great relaxation of discipline, and, in some cases, positive immorality in the monasteries and nunneries; and as the result an ever-widening separation between religion and morality. The first of these evils was a favorite topic with the popular preachers of Paris, the Franciscans, Michel Menot and Olivier Maillard, and the Dominican, Guillaume Pépin. On the other hand, the everyday story of the period has more to say about the ignorance of the parish priests and the immorality of the friars. The Franciscans seem to have been especially unpopular. All ranks of the Church alike fell under the lash of Sebastian Brant’s Ship of Fools and Erasmus’ Praise of Folly, both of which were translated into French and widely read.
But Frenchmen can relish satire even of what they love, and the people were none the less sincere in their attachment to the Church because they applauded the sallies of the jester. This attachment was all the stronger because it sprang as much from a national as from a religious feeling. Ever since the days of Philip the Fair France had maintained an independent attitude towards the Papacy. During the Avignon Captivity the Popes had been her obedient servants. At the Council of Constance it was two Frenchmen, Jean Gerson and Pierre d'Ailly, who were chiefly instrumental in bringing about the declaration that Councils are superior to Popes. The Pragmatic Sanction (1438), as has been related in the first volume, gave definite shape to the liberties of the Gallican Church, and, though during the reigns of Louis XI and Charles VIII it was more or less in abeyance, the position of the French Church towards the Papacy remained practically unaltered. Louis XII formally restored the Pragmatic; and in his contest with Pope Julius II skillfully made use of the popular poet, Pierre Gringore, to influence public opinion. In his famous tetralogy of Le Jeu du Prince des Sots et Mère Sotte, played at Paris on Shrove-Tuesday, 1511, the Pope was held up to open ridicule. Thus in France there were no motives of personal interest at work to make a revolt from Rome desirable. The effect of the Concordat, the substitution of which for the Pragmatic (1516) was the only reform that the Fifth Lateran Council gave to France, was to put the French Church under the authority, not of the Pope, but of the King.
But the change in the method of appointing Bishops and Abbots from canonical election to nomination by the Crown, which was the chief feature of the Concordat, while it put an end to the noisier forms of scandal in the elections, greatly increased what many regarded as the root of the whole evil, the non-residence and worldly character of the superior clergy. For Francis I found that the patronage of some six hundred bishoprics and abbeys furnished him with a convenient and inexpensive method of providing for his diplomatic service, and of rewarding literary merit. A large number of abbeys were held by laymen, and even Bishops were not always in orders; pluralism in an aggravated form was common; the case of Cardinal Jean of Lorraine has been noticed in an earlier chapter; his brother Cardinal, Jean du Bellay, at one time enjoyed the revenues of five sees and fourteen abbeys. Italians shared largely in the royal patronage, and in 1560 it was estimated that they held one-third of all the benefices in the kingdom. It was this new method of patronage which more than anything paralyzed all attempts at reform. It was idle to talk of reform at the bottom when at the top every personal interest was bound up with the existing corruption.
An impulse to reform was clearly needed from without. This was furnished by the Renaissance. For it was inevitable that the spirit of free enquiry, which was the main characteristic of that movement, should also invade the domain of religious dogma and Church institutions, and that, penetrating here as elsewhere to the sources, it should apply itself to the first-hand study of the book upon which dogma and institutions were ultimately based. It was inevitable also that the spirit of individualism which was another marked characteristic of the Renaissance should end in questioning the right of the Church to be the sole interpreter of that book, and in asserting boldly that the final test of all religion is its power to satisfy the needs of the individual soul.
The connection between the two movements, the Renaissance and the Reformation, was especially close in France. In both alike the same man occupied an almost identical position, standing on a threshold which he never actually crossed. This was Jacques Lefèvre, a native of Étaples in Picardy (Faber Stapulensis). After taking his degree in Arts in the University of Paris, he studied for some time in Italy and then devoted himself to the teaching of Aristotle and mathematics. He was also a busy writer and edited various works, including Latin translations of most of Aristotle's works. Though his Latin was somewhat barbarous and his knowledge of Greek imperfect, his services were warmly recognized by younger scholars, many of whom were his pupils. In the year 1507, when he was about fifty, he abandoned secular learning entirely for theology, and in 1512 published a Latin translation of St Paul's Epistles, with a commentary. The book was remarkable in two ways; first because a revised version of the Vulgate was printed by the side of the traditional text, and secondly because it anticipated two of the cardinal doctrines of the Lutheran theology. Thus in the commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians Lefèvre asserts that there is no merit in human works without the grace of God; in that on the Epistle to the Hebrews he denies, though in somewhat less precise language, the doctrine of Transubstantiation, while admitting the Real Presence.
Lefèvre remained for some years after the publication of this book in the seclusion of the abbey of St Germain-des-Près at Paris, where his former pupil, Guillaume Briçonnet, was Abbot. His book, though it attracted the attention of the learned, passed otherwise unnoticed. It was not till 1519 that the spark which he had kindled was fanned into a flame by the dissemination of Luther's Latin writings, which were read eagerly at Paris. But it was Briçonnet who first put his hand to the practical work of reforming the Church in France. Appointed to the see of Meaux in 1516 he had, after an absence of two years at Rome on a special mission, returned full of zeal for the reformation of his diocese. It was in the prosecution of this design that towards the close of the year 1520 he summoned to Meaux his old tutor Lefèvre and certain of his friends and pupils, all noted for their learning and piety, and all sharing more or less in his theological views. Among them were François Vatable, eminent as an Hebrew scholar, Guillaume Farel, and Gérard Roussel. Another member of the group, Michel d'Arande, was already at Meaux. They met with great favor from the Bishop, and throughout his diocese carried on the work of “preaching Christ from the sources” with vigor and success. The movement was watched with eager sympathy by the King’s sister, Margaret, Duchess of Alençon, who had chosen the Bishop for her spiritual director and was at this time carrying on with him a voluminous correspondence.
In June, 1523, Lefèvre published a revised French translation of the four Gospels, the first installment of a new translation of the whole Bible, which he had been urged to undertake by Margaret and her mother. The rest of the New Testament followed before the end of the year. Except in a few passages it was nothing more than a revision of Jean de Rély’s Bible, itself almost an exact reproduction of the old thirteenth century translation; but its publication did much to spread the knowledge of the New Testament. Though the effect of Luther's writings in France was considerable, the French Reformers showed almost from the first a tendency to base their theology rather on the literary interpretation of the Scriptures than on the specially Lutheran doctrine of Justification by Faith. Moreover, the geographical position of France brought them naturally into closer relations with Bucer and Capito at Strasburg, and with Oecolampadius at Basel, than with Luther at Wittenberg.
1520-5] The Meaux preachers and the Sorbonne
For two and a half years the preaching at Meaux went on without molestation and then the storm-clouds began to gather. Already on April 15, 1521, the Faculty of Theology of the Paris University, commonly called the Sorbonne, had formally condemned Luther’s writings, and on August 3 of the same year the Parliament of Paris had issued a proclamation that all those who had any of these writings in their possession should deliver them up under penalty of a fine or imprisonment. It was by virtue of this order that on June 16, 1523, the books of Louis de Berquin, a gentleman of Picardy, noted for his learning, were seized, examined, and censured as heretical. On October 15 the Bishop of Meaux, whose sole desire was to reform the Church from within, and who consequently had no sympathy with Luther's attitude of open revolt, issued two synodal decrees : one against the doctrines and books of Luther, and the other against certain heretical opinions which had been preached in his diocese touching prayers for the dead and the invocation of the Saints. The latter decree was probably aimed at Farel, whose fiery and logical mind had carried him further than his companions, and who had left Meaux after only a short sojourn to become the leader of an advanced section of the movement which denied the Real Presence and showed generally an iconoclastic and uncompromising spirit. The other preachers were still protected by the Bishop in spite of the Paris Parliament. However, in March, 1525, an example was made in the person of a wool-carder, named Jean Leclerc, who having committed a fanatical outrage was whipped and branded, first at Paris and then at Meaux. A few months later he was burnt at Metz for a similar offence.
While Francis was a prisoner at Madrid the Queen-Mother, urged by her first minister, Cardinal Antoine Duprat, and by her own anxiety to gain the support of the Pope, induced the Parliament to appoint a commission for the trial of Lutherans. Many persons were imprisoned; Lefèvre’s translation of the New Testament was condemned to be burned; and proceedings were instituted against the Meaux preachers. They saved themselves by flight, finding a refuge at Strasburg in the house of Capito (October, 1525). In January, 1526, Berquin was imprisoned, and on February 17 a young bachelor of arts named Joubert was burnt at Paris for holding Lutheran doctrines.
On March 17 Francis returned from captivity; and on the very day of his arrival in France he sent an order for the Parliament to suspend all action against Berquin, who after considerable delay was set at liberty. Lefèvre, Roussel, and Arande, who still called themselves members of the Catholic Church, were recalled from exile, and Lefèvre was appointed tutor to the King's third son. In spite of the execution of Jacques Pauvan, one of the Meaux preachers against whom proceedings had been taken with the full approval of the King (August 28, 1526), the hopes of the Reformers began to rise; and, on the whole, up to the end of 1527 things seemed to be taking a turn in their favor. But on December 16 of that year the King, being in straits for money for the ransom of his sons, summoned an Assembly of Notables; and, when the representatives of the clergy accompanied their vote of 1,300,000 livres with a request that he would take measures for the repression of Lutheranism, he gave a ready assent.
An outrage on a statue of the Virgin at Paris (May 31, 1528) furnished him with an opportunity of proving his sincerity, and he took part in a magnificent expiatory procession. Not long afterwards Berquin was again brought to trial and found guilty of heresy. Francis left him to his fate, and he was burnt on April 17, 1529. “He might have been the Luther of France”, says Theodore Beza, “had Francis been a Frederick of Saxony”. Meanwhile an important provincial synod, that of Sens, had been sitting at Paris from February to October of 1528 under the presidency of Cardinal Duprat, the Archbishop of Sens, for the purpose of devising measures for the repression of heresy. Similar synods were held for the provinces of Bourges and Lyons.
For two and a half years after Berquin’s death the King showed no favor to the Reformers. But in the autumn of 1532 another change in his religious policy began to make itself felt. The ever shifting course of his diplomacy had now brought him into a close alliance with Henry VIII and into relations with the Protestant Princes of Germany. It was perhaps significant of this change that Jean du Bellay who, like his brother Guillaume, was in favor of a moderate reform of the Church, was at this time appointed Bishop of Paris. During the whole of Lent, 1533, Gérard Roussel, at the instigation of Margaret, now Queen of Navarre, and of her husband, preached daily in the Louvre to large congregations; and when Noel Beda and some other doctors of the Sorbonne ventured to accuse the King and Queen of heresy, and to stir up the people to sedition, Francis, on the matter being reported to him, issued from Melun an edict banishing the doctors from the city. The Queen of Navarre became in consequence highly unpopular with the orthodox, and, in a comedy played by the students of the College of Navarre on October 1, 1533, was with Roussel held up to ridicule under a thin disguise.
The desire of the King for the Pope’s friendship led however to a fresh change of religious policy; and, as the result of the conference with Clement at Marseilles (October 1-November 12, 1533), Francis, while declining to join in a general crusade against the followers of Luther and Zwingli, agreed to take steps for the suppression of heresy in his own kingdom and received from the Pope a Bull for that purpose. An opportunity at once occurred for putting it into force. On November 1 the new Rector of the University of Paris, Nicolas Cop, in his customary Latin oration, enveloped in unmistakable terms the doctrine of Justification by Faith. It soon became known that this discourse had been written for him by a young scholar of Picardy, named Jean Cauvin, or, as he called himself, Calvin. The scandal was great; and the King on hearing of it immediately wrote to the Parliament enjoining it to proceed diligently against the “accursed heretic Lutheran sect”. Within a week fifty Lutherans were in prison; and an edict was issued that anyone convicted by two witnesses of being a Lutheran should be burned forthwith, “It will be like the Spanish Inquisition” wrote Martin Bucer,
But the King’s Catholic fever quickly cooled down. On January 24, 1534, he entered into a secret treaty with the German Protestant Princes; and when he returned to Paris in the first week of February the persecutions ceased. Evangelical doctrines were again preached in the Louvre. “I see no one round me but old women”, was the complaint of a Sorbonne doctor from his pulpit; “all the men go to the Louvre”. In the spring Guillaume du Bellay was sent for the second time on a mission to Germany, with the object of concerting with the German theologians some via media which should effect a reconciliation between the two religious parties. Accordingly he sent a request to Melanchthon to draw up a paper embodying suggestions which might serve as the basis for an oral conference. Melanchthon complied, and du Bellay returned to France with a paper, dated August 1, 1534, in which the various points in dispute were separately discussed and means of arranging them were suggested.
The Placards. [1534-5
But these hopes of reconciliation were suddenly scattered to the winds by the rash act of some of the more fanatical Reformers. On the morning of October 18, 1534, the inhabitants of Paris awoke to find the walls of all the principal thoroughfares placarded with a broadside in which the Mass and its celebrants were attacked in the coarsest and most offensive terms. Copies were also pasted up in Orleans and other towns, and one was even affixed to the door of the royal bedchamber at Amboise, where Francis was at the time residing. The people of Paris were thoroughly roused and frightened by what seemed to them a blasphemous outrage. The King was furious. A persecution began in Paris which far exceeded all its predecessors in rigor.
By the middle of November two hundred heretics were said to be in prison; before the end of the year this number was nearly doubled. By Christmas eight persons had been burned. Early in the following year (1535) the King returned to Paris, and on January 21 took part in a grand expiatory procession. This was followed by a public banquet, at which he made a long speech announcing once more his intention of exterminating heresy from his kingdom. The day of expiation closed with the burning of six more heretics. On January 25 seventy-three Lutherans, who had fled from Paris, were summoned by the town crier to appear before the Courts, or in default to suffer attainder and confiscation of their goods. Among these was the educational reformer, Mathurin Cordier, and the poet, Clément Marot. By May 5 there were nine more executions, making in all twenty-three. But the King was beginning to relent. On the death of the Chancellor, Cardinal Duprat (July 9), Francis appointed in his place Antoine du Bourg, who was favorable to the Reformers. On July 16 he issued an Edict from Coucy announcing that there were to be no further prosecutions except in the case of Sacramentarians and relapsed persons, and that all fugitives who returned and abjured their errors within six months should receive pardon. The reason for this milder attitude was that Francis was still angling for an alliance with the German Protestant Princes, and had renewed the negotiations with Melanchthon. By the direction of Guillaume du Bellay, John Sturm, who held at this time a professorship at Paris, wrote both to Melanchthon and Bucer urging them to come to France for the purpose of a conference with the Paris theologians. Melanchthon consented; but the Elector John Frederick of Saxony refused to let him go, and the proposed conference had to be abandoned (August, 1535). At the same time the Sorbonne, to whom Melanchthon's paper of the preceding year had been submitted, expressed its entire disapproval of the project.
Bucer, however, still worked indefatigably on behalf of a reconciliation; and at the close of the year du Bellay was again in Germany, first assuring the diet of Protestant Princes assembled at Schmalkalden that his royal master had not burnt his Lutheran subjects from any dislike of their religious opinions, and then holding interviews with Melanchthon, Sturm, and others, in which he represented his master’s theological views as differing not greatly from their own. It was all to no purpose. Princes and theologians alike had ceased to believe in the French King’s sincerity.
Neither the Edict of Coucy, nor a similar Edict, somewhat more liberal, which was issued in May, 1536, had much effect in bringing back the exiles to France. The great majority preferred exile to abjuration. Thus while the cause of Protestantism in France lost in this way many of its most ardent supporters, on the other hand there fell away from it the timid and the interested, those who had no wish “to be burned like red herrings”, and those who basked in the sunshine of the royal favor. Moreover the sympathies of moderate men, of men like Guillaume and Jean du Bellay, of Guillaume Budé and François Rabelais, were alienated by the iconoclastic outbursts of the Reformers. They were favorable to a reform of the Church by moderate means, but they were statesmen or humanists, and not theologians. Rabelais’ Gargantua, which he must have finished just before the affair of the placards, contains several passages of a distinctly evangelical character. But in his later books we find him “throwing stones into the Protestant garden”. Lastly, there was a small group who followed the example of the Queen of Navarre and her ally Gérard Roussel, now Bishop of Oloron, and, while still holding the chief evangelical doctrines, continued members of the Catholic Church and conformed to most of its ceremonial. Though this seemed to Calvin an unworthy compromise, it fairly represented the half-practical, half-mystical character of Margaret’s religion and her adherence to a certain phase of the Renaissance.
1536] The Christianae religionis institutio.
Thus the affair of the placards and the resulting persecution had made too wide a breach between the two religious parties to admit of its being healed. Partly from the timidity of the leaders and partly from the rashness of the rank and file, the first or Evangelical phase of Protestantism in France had failed to bring about a reform of the Church. In the early part of the year 1536 the man, who had initiated the movement, the aged Lefèvre d'Etaples, died at Nérac. Almost simultaneously there appeared a work which was to inaugurate the second or Calvinistic phase of French Protestantism, Calvin’s Christianae religionis institutio (March, 1536). Though little more than a sketch as compared with the form which it finally took, it was in essential points complete. It gave the French Reformers what they so greatly needed, a definite theological system in place of the undogmatic and mainly practical teaching of Lefèvre and Roussel. It gave them a profession of faith which might serve at once to unite their own forces and to prove to their persecutors the righteousness of their cause.
It is true that French Protestantism, in thus becoming Calvinistic, in a large measure abandoned the two leading principles of the movement out of which it had sprung, the spirit of free enquiry, and the spirit of individualism. But without this surrender it must in the long run have yielded to persecution. It was only by cohesion that it could build up the necessary strength for resistance. Thus the French Protestants hailed the author of the Institutio as their natural leader, as the organizer of their scattered forces. Little wonder if during the next twenty-five years of their direst need they looked for consolation and support to the free city among the Alps and to the strong man who ruled it.
The new war with Charles V, which broke out in April, 1536, left the French King no leisure for the suppression of heresy. But after the truce at Nice and the interview with the Emperor at Aiguës-Mortes (July 14, 1538) Francis began to address himself in earnest to his task. After two partial Edicts, the first addressed to the Parliament of Toulouse (December 16, 1538), and the second to the Parliaments of Toulouse, Bordeaux, and Rouen (June 24, 1539), he issued from Fontainebleau on June 1, 1540, a general Edict of great severity. It introduced a more efficient and rapid procedure for the trial of heretics, which, with a slight modification made by the Edict of Paris (July 23,1543), enlarging the powers of the ecclesiastical Courts, remained in force for the next nine years. On August 29, 1542, another Edict was addressed to the Parliament of Toulouse, followed on the next day by a mandamus to those of Paris, Bordeaux, Dijon, Grenoble, and Rouen. The Parliament of Aix required no such stimulus. Meanwhile the Sorbonne had been engaged in drawing up twenty-six articles in which the true Catholic faith on all the disputed points was set forth. It was their answer to the French translation of the Institutio which Calvin had completed in 1541 from the second and greatly enlarged Latin edition. The articles were ratified by a royal Ordinance of July 23, 1543. The answer of the Parliament of Paris had been of a more material character. On July 1, 1542, it issued a long Edict concerning the supervision of the press, of which the first clause ordered all copies of the Institutio to be given up within twenty-four hours. On February 14, 1544, these were solemnly burnt, with other books, including several printed by Étienne Dolet. This was shortly followed by the publication of the first Index Expurgatorius issued by the Sorbonne, which was registered by the Parliament ten months later.
In this policy of repression the King had the active support of four men; the Inquisitor-General, Matthieu Ory; the first President of the Parliament of Paris, Pierre Lizet, soon to become even more notorious as the President of the Chambre Ardente; the Chancellor, Guillaume Poyet, who had succeeded the moderate Antoine du Bourg on November 12, 1538; and foremost among them, the Cardinal de Tournon, now all powerful with the King, and practically his first minister. Though the Cardinal was a liberal patron of learning and letters, he was a relentless and untiring foe to the new religious doctrines. “He is worth to France an Inquisition in himself”, said a contemporary. It is significant also that just at this time Francis lost one of his ablest and most enlightened ministers, and the French Reformers one of their best friends in Guillaume du Bellay, who died in January, 1543.
With such a man in power as the Cardinal de Tournon there was not likely to be any slackness in the execution of the Edicts. The earlier half of the year 1541 was a period of special distress for the French Reformers; and throughout the years 1540 to 1544 constant additions were made to the roll of their martyrs. It is chiefly of isolated cases that we hear, at most of three or four at a time; there were no autos-de-fé. The stress of persecution had compelled the Reformers to practice prudence and secrecy, but each fresh execution added strength to the cause. One martyr made many converts.
1544-5] The Massacre of the Waldenses
The Peace of Crépy, September 18, 1544, with its vague provisions for the reunion of religion, and “for the prevention of the extreme danger” which threatened it, boded evil to the Reformers. The next year, 1545, memorable as the year in which the Council of Trent held its first sitting, is also memorable for an act which has left a dark stain on the history of France and the Church, the massacre of the Waldenses of Provence. In 1530 these peaceful followers of Peter Waldo, who dwelt in about thirty villages along the Durance, having heard of the religious doctrines that were being preached in Germany and Switzerland, sent two envoys to some of the leading Reformers to lay before them their own tenets, and to submit to them forty-seven questions on which they were desirous of instruction. They received long answers from Oecolampadius and Bucer, and in consequence held in September, 1532, a conference of their ministers at Angrogne in Piedmont, at which they drew up a confession of faith chiefly based on the replies of the two Reformers. They also agreed to contribute five hundred gold crowns to the printing of the new French translation of the Scriptures which was in contemplation. This affiliation of their sect to the Lutheran heresy naturally attracted the attention of the ecclesiastical authorities. Accordingly Jean de Roma, the Inquisitor of the Faith for Provence, who had already begun to exhort the Waldenses to abjure their heresy, set on foot a cruel persecution.
The unfortunate Waldenses appealed to the King, who sent commissioners to investigate the matter. Roma was condemned, but escaped punishment by flight to Avignon (1533); and the Waldenses, profiting by the comparative favor that was shown to the Reformers at this time, considerably increased in number. But in 1535 the Archbishop and Parliament of Aix renewed the persecution, and on November 18, 1540, the Parliament issued an order, afterwards known as the Arrêt de Mérindol, by which seventeen inhabitants of Merindol and the neighborhood, who had been summoned before the bar of Parliament and had failed to appear, were sentenced to be burned. Owing however to the action of the First President the order was not put into immediate execution; and, the matter having come to the King's ears, he ordered Guillaume du Bellay, his Lieutenant-General in Piedmont, to make an enquiry into the character and religious opinions of the Waldenses. As the result of this enquiry the King granted a pardon to the condemned, provided that they abjured their errors within three months (February 8,1541). The order was still suspended over their heads when at the close of 1543 Jean Meynier, Seigneur d'Oppède, a man of brutal ferocity, succeeded to the office of First President of the Parliament of Aix. The Waldenses again appealed to the King and were again protected (1544). Accordingly the Parliament despatched a messenger to the King with the false statement that the people of Mérindol were in open rebellion and were even threatening Marseilles. With the help of the Cardinal de Tournon they obtained upon this statement new letters-patent from the King revoking his former letters, and ordering that all who were found guilty of the Waldensian heresy should be exterminated (January 1,1545) The decree was kept secret until an army had been collected; and then, on April 12, Oppède, who, in the absence of the Governor of Provence was acting as his deputy, called together the Parliament, read the decree, and appointed four commissioners to carry it into execution. Within a week Mérindol, Cabrières, and other villages were in ashes; and at Cabrières alone eight hundred persons, including women and children, are said to have been put to death. The work of destruction continued for nearly two months, and in the end it was computed that three thousand men, women, and children had been killed, and twenty-two villages burned, while the flower of the men were sent to the galleys. Many of the survivors fled the country to find a refuge in Switzerland.
If the execution of the “Fourteen of Meaux” falls far short of the massacre of the Vaudois as regards the number of its victims, its strictly judicial character makes it more instructive as an example of the treatment of heretics. In the year 1546 the Reformers of Meaux organized themselves into a Church after the pattern of that set up by the French refugees at Strasburg eight years before. They chose as their first pastor, a wool-carder, named Pierre Leclerc, a brother of the man who was burnt at Metz. Their number increased under his ministry, and the matter soon came to the ear of the authorities. On September 8 a sudden descent was made on the congregation, and sixty persons were arrested and sent to Paris to be tried by the Parliament. Their greatest crime was that they had celebrated the Holy Communion. On October 4 sentence was pronounced. Fourteen were sentenced to be tortured and burned, five to be flogged and banished; ten, all women, were set free, while the remainder were to undergo graduated forms of penance. The sentences were carried out at Meaux on October 7. Etienne Mangin, in whose house the services had always been held, and Leclerc, were carried to the stake on hurdles, the rest on tumbrils. They had all previously undergone what was known as “extraordinary” torture, and all had refused to reveal the names of other Reformers at Meaux. At the stake six yielded so far as to confess to a priest, thereby escaping the penalty of having their tongues cut out; the others who remained firm suffered this additional barbarity, which it was the custom to inflict on those who died impenitent. The congregation at Meaux was thus broken up, but the survivors carried the evangelical seeds to other towns in France.
The “Fourteen of Meaux” were not the only victims of the year 1546. Five others had already been burned at Paris, including the scholar and printer Etienne Dolet. Others were burned in the provinces. The next year, 1547, opened with fresh executions; and on January 14 the mutilation of a statue of the Virgin was expiated by a solemn procession at Paris.
Results of the policy of Francis I.
Such was the policy which Francis I began definitely to adopt towards Protestantism after the affair of the placards, and which he put into active execution during the last seven years of his life. How far was it successful? As we have seen, it drove a large number of persons into exile; and these consisted chiefly of the better-born and better-educated among the Reformers. It intimidated many into outward conformity with the Church. It prevented all public exercise of the Reformed religion, and all open propaganda. Religious meetings were held by night or in cellars; doctrines were spread by secret house-to-house teaching, or by treatises concealed amongst the wares of pretended pedlars. On the other hand the frequent executions helped to spread the evil they were meant to repress. The firm courage with which the victims faced death did as much as the purity of their lives to convert others to their faith. Moreover, the influence of the exiles reacted on their old homes. From Geneva and the other Swiss centres of Protestantism missionaries came to evangelize France.
The result was that there was no longer a province in France, except Britanny, in which Protestantism had not acquired a foothold. In all the large towns it had been established at an early date. In Lyons, the most enlightened town of France, the Lutherans were already described in 1524 as “swarming”. At Bordeaux, where the first seed had been sown by Farel, the preaching of a Franciscan, Thomas Illyricus, in 1526, had produced a rich harvest; and the revival in 1532 of the old College of Arts under the name of the College of Guyenne had done much to foster the movement. Rouen was deeply infected in 1531 and thence the contagion spread to other parts of Normandy and to Amiens in Picardy. Orleans became an important centre, partly through the influence of Melchior Wolmar, who lived there from 1528 to the end of 1530. Even at Toulouse, where the University had been founded as a bulwark of orthodoxy, and on the whole had fully maintained its reputation, the new doctrines could not be kept out, and in 1532 Jean de Caturce, a young licentiate of laws, was burned at the stake.
Other Universities contributed to the spread of Evangelical teaching; Poitiers, Angers, Bourges, and especially Nimes, the new foundation of Margaret of Navarre, the rector of which was the well-known humanist Claude Baduel, an avowed Protestant. At Poitiers one of the professors of theology, Charles de Sainte Marthe, openly taught the new doctrines till, a persecution breaking out in 1537, he had to fly for his life. Protestantism was also rife at Loudun and Fontenay, and before long spread to Niort and La Rochelle. Poitou became the stronghold of French Protestantism. Other provinces to which it gained admission at an early date were Dauphiné, where Farel had preached in 1522, and the Vivarais, in which Annonay near the Rhone became an important centre.
As was natural, the water-ways of the great rivers helped to spread the movement. On the Loire there was hardly a town from Le Puy to Angers which it did not reach, while between Orleans and Tours it took a firm hold. It worked up the Sarthe to Le Mans and Alençon, and up the Allier to Moulins and Issoire. It penetrated the Limousin by the Vienne and La Marche by the Creuse. It made its way along the Seine from Rouen to Troyes and along the Yonne to Sens and Auxerre. From Lyons it travelled down the Rhone to Tournon, and up the Saône to Mâcon and Châlons. At Dijon, the old capital of the duchy of Burgundy, a Lutheran was executed in 1530, and soon afterwards a pastor was sent there from Geneva. Agen on the Garonne formed a connecting link between Bordeaux and Toulouse; Sainte Foy and Bergerac were reached by the Dordogne, and Villeneuve by the Lot. The preaching of Philibert Hamelin at Saintes has been described in a well-known passage by his fellow-Protestant Bernard Palissy; thence it spread up the Charente to Cognac and Angoulême.
This then was the result of the repressive policy which Francis I had carried out with more or less consistency for ten years. The outward manifestation of Protestantism was indeed kept under, though not without difficulty; but the work of propagandism went on in secret, until nearly the whole of France was covered with a network of posts which, insignificant enough at present, were ready at a favorable opportunity and with proper organization to become active centres of a militant Protestantism. But a change was now impending in the government of France. At the end of January, 1547, Francis I was seized with a serious illness, which terminated fatally on the 31st of March. He was succeeded by his only surviving son, under the title of Henry II.
Henry II. La Chambre Ardente. [1547-58]
Henry’s policy towards the Protestants from the first was far more uniformly rigorous than his father's. It was not biassed either by sympathy with humanism, or by the necessity of conciliating his Protestant allies. Moreover it was the one point of policy upon which all his advisers were agreed. Here the opposing influences of Montmorency and Guise united in a common aim. In the very first year of his reign a second criminal Court of the Parliament of Paris was created for the trial of heretics (October 8, 1547). It became known as la Chambre Ardente, and fully deserved its name. From the beginning of December, 1547, to January 10, 1550, it must have condemned to death at least a hundred persons, belonging for the most part to the class of smaller shopkeepers and artisans, and that although its jurisdiction was confined to a quarter of France. The provincial Parliaments, especially those of Rouen, Toulouse, and Aix, were no less active. Owing to the jealousy of the ecclesiastical Courts the sole right of trying cases of heresy was restored to them by an Edict of November 19, 1549, and the Chambre Ardente was temporarily suppressed. But the ecclesiastical Courts continued to show remissness; and a new Edict was issued from Chateaubriand on June 27, 1551. It transferred to the civil Courts the cognizance of heretical acts which involved a public scandal or disturbance, and encouraged informers by the promise of a third of the accused's property. Fresh executions in various parts of France showed that the judges were more to be relied on than the Bishops. In March, 1553, the Chambre Ardente was revived, and soon afterwards an execution took place at Lyons which made a deep impression on the public mind. It was that of the “Five Scholars of Lausanne”. Natives of different places in the south-west of France, they had gone to Lausanne to prepare themselves by study for the work of evangelization. One had lodged with Beza, another with Viret. On their return home they were arrested at Lyons (May 1, 1552) and condemned to death for heresy by the ecclesiastical judge. Having appealed to the Parliament of Paris, they were kept for a whole year in prison awaiting its decision. Beza, Pierre Viret, the Cantons of Zurich and Bern, interceded in vain with the King and with the Cardinal of Tournon. The scholars were burnt on May 16, 1553. They had been guilty of no crime except that of heretical opinions; they had committed no act which could possibly be construed as dangerous to the public peace or to the orthodox religion. Their execution made a deep impression, and the account of it fills a large space in Crespin’s Martyrology which appeared in the following year (1554), and immediately took rank with the Protestant Bible and the Protestant Psalter as a cherished source of inspiration and support in persecution.
In the year 1555 French Protestantism took a definite step forwards. It began to organise its Churches. It is true that before this date Churches had been established at Meaux (1546) and Nimes (1547), but they had both been broken up by persecution. Now Paris set the example. The Church was organized, as that of Meaux had been, on the model of that of Strasburg, founded by Calvin in 1538. Jean le Maçon, surnamed Le Rivière, was chosen as pastor, and he was assisted in the work of government by a consistory of elders and deacons. In the same year Churches were organized after the same pattern at Angers, Poitiers, and Loudun, and in the little peninsula of Arvert, between the Gironde and the Seudre. In the following year (1556) were added Blois and Montoire in the Orléanais; Bourges, Issoudun, and Aubigny in Berry; and Tours; while the Church of Meaux was refounded in the same year. The Churches of Orleans and Rouen date from 1557, and as many as twenty were established in 1558, including Dieppe, Troyes, Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Toulouse, and Rennes. This important work was due largely to the instigation of Calvin, and was carried out under his supervision. During the eleven years from 1555 to 1566 no less than 120 pastors were sent from Geneva to France. Geneva was in fact now regarded as the capital of French Protestantism; French refugees had gone there in increasing numbers, and had contributed to Calvin’s definite triumph over his opponents in the very year, 1555, in which the French Churches began to be organized.
Meanwhile the French government was devising a more powerful engine for the suppression of Protestantism. At the instance of the Cardinal of Lorraine Edicts were drawn up establishing an Inquisition after the Spanish pattern. They were submitted to the Parliament of Paris early in the year 1555, but the Parliament refused to register them, and when Pierre Séguier, one of the presidents à mortier, appeared before the King to justify its action (October 22, 1555) he spoke with such convincing eloquence that the matter was dropped for a time. But in 1557 Henry, finding the existing machinery for the suppression of heresy still insufficient, obtained a papal brief authorizing the proposed step. To this was joined a diploma appointing the Cardinals of Lorraine, Bourbon, and Châtillon as Inquisitors-General (April 25,1557). As, however, the Parliament refused to recognize it, the brief remained inoperative, and the King had to content himself with a new Edict against heresy which was issued from Compiègne on July 24.
Before it was registered (January 15,1558) a fresh persecution broke out. The defeat of St Quentin (August 10) had thrown Paris into a paroxysm of unreasoning terror, which was repeated on the news of the surrender of the town (August 27). On the evening of September 4 a congregation of three or four hundred Protestants, which had assembled for worship in a large house in the Rue St Jacques, was attacked by a furious mob. The majority of the men, many of whom were armed, forced their way out, but the rest remained in the building till the arrival of a magistrate and an armed force, when they were carried off to prison. As a result of the investigations which followed, seven persons, including a young married lady of rank, were burned. There were also some high-born ladies among those prisoners who were eventually released. The fact is significant. During the last few years Protestantism, which at first affected mainly the artisan class, had begun to spread among the higher ranks of society, and it now received some notable accessions. François d'Andelot, the youngest of the Châtillon brothers, became a Protestant during his imprisonment at Melun (1551-6), and the imprisonment of Gaspard de Coligny after the fall of St Quentin had the same result. About the same time Antoine de Bourbon, the titular King of Navarre, who was the next in succession to King Henry II and his sons, joined the ranks of the Reformers. He was followed by his brother Louis, Prince of Condé.
The most active of these converts was d'Andelot. In April, 1558, he visited his wife's large estates in Britanny together with one of the Paris pastors, Gaspard Carmel, and thus helped to spread Protestantism in that remote and conservative province. But soon after his return to Paris he was arrested by the King's order, and confined at Melun for two months. The immediate cause of his arrest was his alleged presence in the Pré-aux-Clercs, where, for five successive evenings (May 13-17), a large concourse of persons of all ranks had assembled to take part in the singing of Marot's Psalms. The psalm-singing was stopped, but it made a considerable stir, for as many as five or six thousand were said to have taken part in it. The Protestants, it was evident, were increasing rapidly in numbers as well as in importance. Calvin, writing on February 24 in this year, says that he had been told by a good authority that there were 300,000 Protestants in France.
In the following year, 1559, another important step was taken. On May 26 the first Synod of the French Protestant Church was opened at Paris. We do not know how many deputies were present, but apparently there were representatives of a considerable proportion of the forty to fifty Churches then constituted, though doubtless in some cases the same deputy represented several Churches. There was also a lay element consisting of elders. The pastor of the Paris Church, François Morel, was chosen as president. The outcome of the Synod, which transacted its business in haste and secrecy, was a scheme of Church government or “Discipline”, and a Confession of Faith. The “Discipline”, which was based on the principle of the equality of the individual Churches, recognized the already prevailing organization in each Church, namely the pastor and the consistory of elders and deacons. The election to the consistory being by co-optation, the government was practically an oligarchy. It remained to weld together the various Churches into a united whole. This was done by instituting first an assembly called a Colloquy, which bound together a group of neighboring Churches, then above this a Provincial Synod, and finally, to crown the edifice, a National Synod.
The Confession of Faith was based on one drawn up by Calvin and sent to the King of France towards the close of 1557. Though Calvin was opposed to any Confession being issued by the Synod, in case they should persist in their intention, he sent to them an enlarged form of his former Confession, and this with a few alterations and some additions was adopted. The language of it is singularly clear and noble, and is doubtless Calvin’s own.
A few days after the close of the Synod the King attended a meeting of the whole Parliament of Paris. It was an unusual proceeding on his part, but the occasion was a special one, namely the adjourned consideration of the whole religious question, which had been recently discussed in a Mercuriale, or Wednesday sitting, held at the end of April. Many speakers opposed the repressive policy of the government, the boldest being Anne du Bourg, nephew of the former Chancellor, Antoine du Bourg, who advocated the suspension of all persecution of “those who were called heretics”. Henry was highly incensed at the plain speaking of the counselors, and had du Bourg and three others arrested. He vowed that he would see du Bourg burned with his own eyes. But on the last day of June, at the jousts in the Tournelles held in honor of the approaching marriage between Philip of Spain and Elizabeth of France, Henry was mortally wounded above the right eye by the broken lance of his antagonist, Gabriel de Montgomery, the captain of his Scottish guard. He died on July 10, 1559.
Francis II and the Guises. The Tumult of Amboise [1559
The accession to the throne of a sickly boy, Francis II, threw all the power into the hands of his wife's uncles, the Guises.The Queen-Mother made common cause with them, and the Constable and Diane de Poitiers were driven from the Court. “The Cardinal”, wrote the Florentine ambassador, “is Pope and King”. There was a widespread feeling of discontent. Though the King, being fifteen, had attained his legal majority, it was urged that his weak understanding made a Council of Government necessary, and that this Council ought to consist, according to custom, of the Princes of the Blood. The Guises were unpopular as foreigners, and the Cardinal of Lorraine was hated on his own account. Even the measures which he took for the much -needed improvement of the finances - the public debt amounted to over forty million livres and there was an annual deficit - added to his unpopularity. An active element of discontent was furnished by the younger sons of the nobility, whose only trade was war, and who were pressing in vain for their arrears of pay. To the Protestants the Cardinal's rule was a natural source of apprehension. He was known to be a thoroughgoing opponent of heresy and an advocate of the severest measures of repression. At first the Reformers had hopes in Catharine, but these were soon disappointed. She had no power apart from the Cardinal. Severe persecutions were set on foot, and Paris began to have the air of a captured city. In September Calvin was consulted as to whether persecution might be resisted by force. His answer was unfavorable, but, whatever effect it may have had on his co-religionists as a body, the political agitation continued. The execution of Anne du Bourg (December 23, 1559), his speech on the scaffold, his resolute bearing, made a profound impression, not only on Protestants but on Catholics. “His one speech”, wrote Florimond de Raemond, who was an eyewitness of his execution, “did more harm to the Catholic Church than a hundred ministers could have done”. The malcontents increased in number, but they lacked a leader. Their natural leader, the King of Navarre, was too unstable and irresolute. His brother Condé promised them his secret support provided their enterprise was limited to the capture of the Guises. When that was effected he could come forward. Meanwhile an acting leader was found in a Protestant gentleman of Périgord, Godefroy de Barry, Seigneur de la Renaudie, whose brother-in-law, Gaspard de Heu, a patriotic citizen of Metz, had recently been strangled by order of the Guises without form of trial in the castle of Vincennes. A large meeting of noblemen and others was held secretly at Nantes on February 1, 1560, and it was agreed that the arrest of the Guises should take place at Blois on March 6. Finding however before this date that the Court had already left Blois for Amboise the conspirators altered it to the 16th. Already on February 12 the Cardinal had been informed, in somewhat vague terms, of the existence of the plot. On his arrival at Amboise ten days later he received more precise information. "The Duke of Guise took measures accordingly; several small bands of conspirators were captured; Jacques de la Mothe, Baron de Castelnau, a Gascon nobleman, who had seized the castle of Noizay near Amboise, capitulated on a promise of pardon; and finally la Renaudie himself was killed in a skirmish (March 19). Summary vengeance was taken on the prisoners; some were hanged, some beheaded, some flung into the Loire in sacks. Castelnau, who was honored with a form of trial, was executed on March 29. The Chancellor, François Olivier, who had presided at his trial, died on the following day.
The Tumult of Amboise, as it was contemptuously called, had been rashly designed and feebly executed. But its barbarous suppression increased the unpopularity of the government and the disorder in the state of the kingdom. In April and May there were frequent disturbances in Dauphiné and Provence. In Dauphiné, where the Bishop of Valence, Jean de Montluc, and the Archbishop of Vienne, Charles de Marillac, were in favor of toleration, the Protestants had an able leader in Montbrun. In Provence Protestantism was spreading rapidly, and, at a conference held at Mérindol on February 15, 1560, sixty Churches were represented. Here also there was an active and resolute leader in the person of Antoine de Mouvans. Meanwhile the hatred of the Guises found vent in numerous pamphlets, one of which has become almost a classic. It was entitled a “Letter sent to the Tiger of France”, and was written by the distinguished jurist, François Hotman.
It was evident that some change must be made in the policy of the government. Catharine saw her opportunity of checking the power of the Guises. By her influence Michel de l'Hôpital was made Chancellor, and, though the formal decree of his appointment was not drawn up till June 30, he assumed the duties of his office on his arrival at Paris early in May. His first step was to secure the passing of the Edict of Romorantin (May 18, 1560), which restored to the Bishops the sole cognizance of cases of simple heresy, and imposed penalties on false accusers. In spite of its apparent severity it was in reality milder than that of Compiègne, for it allowed several stages of appeal. Moreover it obviated the introduction of the Inquisition. It was also by the advice of the Chancellor, supported by that of Coligny, that Catharine called together an Assembly of Notables, which met at Fontainebleau on August 21. Among the speakers were the two prelates, Montluc and Marillac. They both deprecated extreme measures of repression and warmly advocated two remedies, the reformation of the morals and discipline of the clergy, and either a General or a National Council.
Still more important was the attitude of Coligny. At the very opening of the second session he presented a petition from the Protestants, in which, after protesting their loyalty to the King, they begged that the prosecutions might cease and that "temples" might be assigned to them for worship. There were no signatures, but Coligny, when it came to his turn to speak, declared that he could have obtained 50,000 names in Normandy alone. He went on to advocate warmly the proposals of Montluc and Marillac. Thus the wisest statesman in France stood boldly forward as the champion of the Protestants. The assembly broke up on August 25, and on the following day the Estates were summoned for December 10 and an assembly of the clergy for January 20. Meanwhile all prosecutions for simple heresy, apart from sedition, were to cease.
Hardly had this decision been announced when information was received of a fresh plot, in which not only Navarre and Condé but the Constable and other Catholic nobles were implicated. Its exact nature remains a mystery, but it seems clear that a general rising in the South of France under the leadership of the Bourbon Princes was contemplated. Calvin knew of it, but apparently hoped that if a sufficiently imposing demonstration were made bloodshed would be averted. With this object Beza had gone to Nérac to urge the King of Navarre to put himself at the head of the movement. A relative of Condé's, Jean de Maligny, did actually seize part of Lyons, but from want of proper support had to retire (September 5). Throughout the months of September and October the Court was agitated with news of disturbances in the provinces, especially in Languedoc. As the result of Catharine’s fears the Guises regained their ascendancy, and made it their first object to get possession of the persons of Navarre and Condé, both of whom had declined an invitation to the assembly of Fontainebleau. They were peremptorily summoned to Court, and towards the end of September set out to obey the summons. Rejecting the urgent invitations which they received on the way to put themselves at the head of an armed force they arrived at Orleans, where the Court now was, on October 30. Condé was immediately arrested, and Navarre, though left at liberty, was closely watched. On November 26 Condé was condemned to death and his execution was fixed for December 10. More than one attempt was made to assassinate the King of Navarre; and there were vague rumors that the Cardinal intended to remove by death or imprisonment all the leaders of the opposition. But his scheme, whatever it was, was frustrated by the young King's death, after a brief illness, on December 5.
During the short reign of Francis II a great change had been wrought in the character of French Protestantism. Though still purely religious in its aims it had become imbued with a political element. The fact that the natural leaders of the opposition to the Guises were Protestants made this inevitable. It was both an evil and a gain; an evil because it brought into the Protestant ranks men whose only Protestantism consisted in offering the grossest insults to forms of religion consecrated by long usage and deep-rooted in the affections of the people; a gain, because henceforth Protestantism, powerful in the numbers, quality and organization of its adherents, and led by men of the highest rank in the kingdom, became a force in the State. To this new condition of things corresponded a new name, that of Huguenot. Its precise origin is uncertain, but recent research has shown that it is at any rate purely French.
1561] Charles IX. Estates of Orleans.
The death of Francis II brought the Guise domination to an end. His successor, Charles IX, was only ten years old, and therefore unquestionably a minor. There was no longer the influence of a wife to overshadow that of the mother, and the right to the Regency belonged by custom to the King of Navarre. But just before the late King’s death Navarre had renounced, so far as he legally could, this right in favor of Catharine, on condition that his position in the kingdom should be inferior only to hers. It was to Navarre therefore and the Constable, who was at once recalled to Court, that Catharine gave the chief place in her counsels ; and it was upon Navarre that the hopes of the Huguenots were now centered.
The first event of the new reign was the meeting of the Estates at Orleans on December 13. The Chancellor in his opening speech deprecated persecution for religious opinions, and urged mutual toleration and the abandonment of offensive nicknames such as Papist and Huguenot. On January 1, 1561, the representatives of the three Estates made their speeches; and in the course of the next ten days the various cahiers, or written statements of grievances, were presented. Both the nobles and the Third Estate insisted strongly on the need for a reformation of the Church. As regards Protestantism the Third Estate pressed for complete toleration, while the clergy demanded vigorous measures of repression. The nobles, being divided in their opinions, presented three cahiers representing three groups of provinces. One group, consisting of the central provinces, were in favor of rigid repression; another, formed by the western provinces and the towns of Rouen and Toulouse, demanded toleration; while the third group, composed of the Eastern provinces with Normandy and Languedoc, urged that both parties should be ordered to keep the peace and that only preachers and pastors should be punished. All three Estates alike demanded the abolition of the Concordat. On January 28 a royal Edict was issued ordering Parliament to stop all prosecutions for religion and to release all prisoners. On the 31st the Estates were prorogued till May 1 for the purpose of considering the financial question. The meeting of the clergy fixed for January 20 was dropped, in view of the General Council which the Pope had ordered to reassemble at Trent on Easter-Day. Meanwhile the answer of the government to the demands of the Estates was being embodied in a, statute known as the Ordinance of Orleans which, though dated January 31, 1561, was not completed till the following August. The Concordat was abolished, and the election of the Bishops was transferred to a mixed body of laymen and ecclesiastics who were to submit three names to the King. Residence was imposed on all holders of benefices.
The Edict of January 28 and the general attitude of the government gave a considerable impulse to the Protestant movement. On March 2 their second national synod was held at Poitiers. At Fontainebleau during Lent Protestant ministers preached openly in the apartments of Coligny and of Condé; fasting was ostentatiously neglected; and the Queen-Mother and the King listened to sermons from Bishop Montluc in one of the state rooms of the palace. The mere fact of a Bishop preaching marked him as a Lutheran in the eyes of old-fashioned Catholics. The Constable, who went to hear Montluc once, came away in high dudgeon. His orthodoxy took alarm at this general encouragement of heretical doctrine and practice; and at a supper party at his house on Easter-Day (April 6) he formed with the Duc de Guise and St André a union which was afterwards known as the Triumvirate. As the result of success the Protestants became insolent and defiant. At Agen and Montauban they seized unused Catholic places of worship. In many towns the mob rose against them and the disturbances ended in bloodshed. At Beauvais, where the Cardinal de Châtillon was Bishop, there was a dangerous riot on Easter Monday, in consequence of which an Edict was issued on April 19 forbidding all provocation to disturbance. It remained a dead letter. At the end of the month a Paris mob having attacked the house of a Protestant nobleman was fired on by the defenders. The assailants fled, leaving several dead, and more wounded. On May 2 there were fresh disturbances. It was not till the middle of the month that the condition of the capital began to grow quieter. On May 28 the clergy of Paris presented a remonstrance on the conduct of the Protestants; and on June 11 the Protestants presented a petition asking for churches to be assigned to them or for permission to build them.
In their perplexity the government determined on a conference between the Council and the Parliament of Paris, to consider the means of putting an end to these disturbances. On June 18 the Chancellor opened the proceedings in a clear and impartial speech. The deliberations dragged on from June 23 to July 11. As the result a new Edict, known as the “Edict of July”, was issued (registered July 31). All acts and words tending to faction or disturbance were forbidden. Attendance at any assembly at which worship was celebrated otherwise than according to the forms of the Catholic Church was to be punished by imprisonment and confiscation of property. The cognizance of cases of simple heresy was left to the ecclesiastical Courts. If the accused was handed over to the secular arm no penalty higher than banishment could be imposed. Finally it was stated that the Edict was only provisional, pending the decision of either a General or a National Council. In spite of this provisional character the Edict found no favor with either party. Both alike abused and ignored it.
On August 1 the prorogued meeting of the Estates, fixed originally for May, was opened at Pontoise. Only twenty-six deputies were present, thirteen for each of the two lay Estates; the deputies of the clergy were already in session at Poissy, where the ecclesiastical synod had begun to sit on July 28. It was not till August 27 that the cahiers were presented at a session held at St Germain at which the clerical deputies were also1 present. Both cahiers were remarkable for the boldness of their proposals. They included a total reform of the judicial system, and a transference of a share in the sovereignty to the Estates by making their consent requisite for war or for any new taxation. To meet the financial difficulties three proposals were made. The most thoroughgoing was one made by the Third Estate, that the whole ecclesiastical property of the kingdom should be nationalized, that the clergy should be paid by the State, and that out of the surplus of 72,000,000 livres thus obtained 42,000,000 should be devoted to the liquidation of the public debt. However enlightened this proposal may have been it was neither practical nor opportune. It completed the alienation of the Paris Parliament from civil and religious reform; and it led to an arrangement between the clergy and the Crown. Alarmed by the proposals for their spoliation the clergy offered the Crown a sum of 16,600,000 livres, to be paid in installments spread over ten years. The offer was accepted.
With regard to the religious question the nobles and the Third Estate alike advocated complete toleration and the calling together of a National Council. Already on July 25 a proclamation had been issued inviting the Protestant ministers to the assembly at Poissy. It was to be a National Council in everything but the name. So much concession was made to the Pope and the King of Spain. Accordingly on September 9 the village of Poissy, three miles west of St Germain, celebrated as the birthplace of St Louis, was the scene of unusual splendor. The Protestants were represented at the "Colloquy" (as it came to be called) by twelve ministers, including Beza, François de Morel, the president of the first National Synod, and Nicolas des Gallars, the minister of the French Protestant Church in London, and by twenty laymen. Six Cardinals, forty Archbishops and Bishops, twelve doctors of the Sorbonne, and as many canonists, represented the French Catholic Church. The King and the Queen-Mother, the rest of the royal family, the Princes of the Blood, and the members of the Council of State, completed the imposing assemblage.
The chief event of the first day was Beza’s speech, which, both in matter and manner, made a deep impression. The Cardinal of Lorraine replied to it on September 16. Though his speech was contemptuously criticized by his theological opponents, it was skillfully adapted to his purpose of making a favorable impression on the unlearned majority of his audience. Both Coligny and Condé praised it. But even more than Beza’s it was the speech of an advocate, and it concluded with a fervid appeal to the young King to remain in the faith of his ancestors. On September 19 Ippolito d'Este, the Cardinal of Ferrara, who enjoyed the revenues of three French archbishoprics, one bishopric, and eight abbeys, arrived at St Germain in the capacity of legate a latere from Pius IV, with instructions to use his influence to stop the conference. In his numerous suite was Laynez, the successor of Loyola as General of the Jesuit Order, whose college at Paris had been formally legalized by the assembly at Poissy four days before. Whether owing to the efforts of the legate or not, the last two meetings of the Colloquy, which were held on September 24 and 26 with greatly diminished numbers, were wasted in angry and useless discussion. The speech of Laynez on the 26th was especially uncompromising. Catharine however did not despair. She arranged a conference between five of the Protestant ministers and five of the Catholic clergy who favored reform. Among the Protestants was the famous Peter Martyr, who had arrived at Poissy on the evening of September 9. The delegates met on September 30 and the following day. Having drawn up a formula relating to the sacrament of Holy Communion, they submitted it to the assembly of Bishops, by whom it was straightway rejected (October 9).
From Catharine’s point of view the Colloquy had, as she said, borne no fruit. It had failed to bring about the religious unity which seemed to her essential to the pacification of the kingdom. On Sunday, October 12, there was a fresh tumult at Paris outside the gate of St Antoine; and several Protestants were killed or wounded. Moreover the outlook abroad was threatening. The Spanish ambassador, Thomas Perrenot de Chantonnay, told Catharine in his usual bullying tone that his master was ready to come to the assistance of her Catholic subjects. But the Queen-regent put on a bold front, and showed a determination to be mistress in her own house. The Guises now left the Court (October 20), and were shortly followed by the Constable and the Maréchal de Saint André. The principal management of affairs passed into the hands of Coligny and the Chancellor. Never had the Protestants been so sanguine of success. Though the Colloquy had failed to produce the result which Catharine, and perhaps a few liberal Bishops, like Montluc, had expected, from the Protestant point of view it had been singularly successful. It had enabled the Reformers to publish urbi et orbi by the mouth of one of their ablest and most eloquent representatives a clear statement of their doctrines. It is true that by the so-called Edict of Restitution, issued on October 20, as an equivalent for the sixteen millions voted by the clergy, the Protestants were ordered to restore all the churches of which they had taken possession; but almost at the same time Beza persuaded the government to send letters to the provincial magistrates enjoining them to allow the Protestants to meet in security, and to interpret the Edict in a lenient spirit, pending a more definite settlement. Even in Catholic Paris the numbers attending the meetings reached 15,000. The demand for ministers was greater than Geneva could satisfy. On Michaelmas-day Beza had celebrated, according to the Protestant rite, the marriage of a young Rohan with the niece of Madame d'Étampes. There were rumors that several Bishops would shortly declare themselves Protestants; there were even hopes of the King.
Meanwhile the country was in a more disturbed state than ever. On November 16 there was a massacre at Cahors; every Sunday produced a disturbance at Paris, and the Feast of St John (December 27) was signalized by one of more than ordinary violence round the Church of St Médard. Partly in consequence of these outbreaks Catharine summoned a fresh conference to meet at St Germain on January 3, 1562. On the 7th the actual business began with a remarkable speech by the Chancellor in which, far in advance of his time, he enunciated modern principles of religious toleration. The question before them, he said, was a political, not a religious one; “a man may be a citizen without being a Christian”. Those who had been summoned to the conference, thirty Presidents and Councilors chosen from the eight Parliaments and twenty members of the Privy Council including the Princes of the Blood, then gave their opinions in order. The King of Navarre’s speech showed that he had virtually abandoned the Protestant cause. This step, to which his position rather than his character gave importance, had for some time been skillfully maneuvered by the Cardinal of Ferrara, who had dangled before the King various suggestions of compensation for the territory of Spanish Navarre, of which his wife’s ancestor had been deprived by Ferdinand the Catholic. In the final voting the party of repression coalesced with the middle party, which thus obtained a small majority; and it was in the sense of their views that an Edict was drawn up (January 17). By this Edict, known as the “Edict of January”, which was declared to be provisional pending the decision of a General Council, the Protestants were ordered to give up all the churches and other ecclesiastical buildings in their possession, and were forbidden to assemble in any building, or to assemble at all within the walls of any city. With these limitations the right of assemblage free of molestation was granted to them. Thus Protestantism for the first time in France obtained legal recognition. The Protestants were far from satisfied, but, acting on the advice of their leaders, they accepted the compromise. The Catholics were less submissive. It was not till after a long and obstinate resistance that the Parliament of Paris registered the Edict on March 6. By that date the issue to which events had been inevitably tending had already declared itself. The religious war had begun.