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The Reformation In France During The Reign Of Henry II. (1547-1559)

The Reformation In France During The Reign Of Henry II. (1547-1559).


Henry II., who succeeded Francis I., was more distinguished for skill in bodily exercises than for strength either of intellect or character. His lack of ability, and his surroundings, made it apparent from the first that the sceptre would be held for him rather than by him. The only question was, who among the crowd of aggressive favorites should gain the most influential and controlling positions. A short time only was needed to supply an unmistakable answer. Those at all acquainted with the course of events were made aware that the elect instruments for ruling France were an avaricious harlot and an unprincipled ecclesiastic. Diana of Poitiers, who completely eclipsed the Queen (Catharine de Medici), and the Cardinal of Lorraine were foremost in influence at the unhallowed court of Henry II. 1 Menzray says, "Almost all the vices which ruin great states, and which draw down the wrath of Heaven, reigned in his court, -- luxury, unchastity, libertinism, blasphemy, and a curiosity as foolish as impious, which prompted a search into the secrets of the future by the detestable illusions of magic arts " (iii. 227). The Constable Montmorency and the Marshal Saint-André held also a conspicuous place.


The Cardinal of Lorraine represented the house of Guise. In the preceding reign, great favors had been bestowed upon this house. Claude, Duke of Guise, had been made lieutenant of the provinces of Champagne and Burgundy, and his brother John had been loaded with ecclesiastical benefices in scandalous profusion. 2 "Even an age well accustomed to the abuse of the plurality of offices was amazed to see John of Lorraine at one and the same time Archbishop of Lyons, Rheims, and Narbonne, Bishop of Metz, Toul, Verdun, Theronenne, Luçon, Alby, and Valence, and Abbot of Gorze, Fécamp, Clugny, and Marmoutier. To gratify the French monarch, Pope Leo X. added to the dignity of the young ecclesiastic by conferring upon him the cardinal's hat a year or two before he had attained his majority" (Baird, i. 267). Claude left six sons. Francis, who succeeded as Duke of Guise, was a man of bold and martial temper. Though ambitious, he was but moderately inclined to tortuous arts, and doubtless would have made a better record, had it not been for the influence of his brother Charles, who undertook the part of chief engineer in the project of aggrandizing the house of Guise. Charles, who was made Archbishop of Rheims at an early age, and bore the title of Cardinal of Lorraine after the year 1550, was no doubt a man of exceptional talents, shrewd, ready in address, affluent in expedients. As respects morals, he would not in general rank as a man of scandalous life, at least before the standard of that age. He was rather punctilious in his attention to the outward observances of religion. But of religion as the enthronement of truth and conscience he knew nothing. He abased himself to pay court to Diana of Poitiers. In one and another instance he practised the most brazen hypocrisy. According to the ample testimony of contemporaries, he was untrustworthy in his promises, slow to reward favors, quick to resent injuries. While the insinuating arts of the Cardinal were employed to advance the house of Guise, it was greatly exalted by flattering alliances. Connection with royalty was established by the marriage of Mary, the eldest daughter of Claude, with James V. of Scotland, and later by the marriage of her daughter, the famous Queen of Scots, to the heir of Henry II. It was also a gratification to the vanity of the Guise family, if without substantial benefit, that the crown of England was claimed for the Queen of Scots. On the death of Mary Tudor, the right of Elizabeth was called in question; and Mary Stuart, with her husband Francis II., openly bore the ensigns of English royalty.


The reign of Henry II. witnessed the accession to Protestantism of some distinguished names. In Anthony of the house of Bourbon, the husband of Jeanne d'Albret and titular king of Navarre, 1 Spain under the grasping Ferdinand had absorbed most of the kingdom of Navarre. and his brother Louis, Prince of Condé, it gained adherents of royal lineage. As respects Anthony, however, his espousal of Protestantism was of little moment. He proved to be a weak and wavering convert, and shamefully deserted the cause in the hour of need. Louis was a much more decided adherent. He was not indeed a faithful exponent of the temper of French Protestantism in the heroic age. The charge is not wholly groundless, that he was a Calvinist in faith rather than in morals. 2 Mezeray, iii. 234. He was capable, nevertheless, of the noblest impulses. If he was accessible to temptation in the time of prosperity, his spirit rose in adversity and danger to the height of a splendid daring and hardihood.


Another house, less in rank than the preceding, but not less in honor, made an invaluable contribution to the Reform. Rarely has it been the good fortune of a single family to supply to any cause such a combination of virtues as appeared in the three brothers, Odet, D'Andelot, and the Admiral Coligny, of the house of Châtillon. Odet was a man of exemplary life, who broke through the restraints naturally imposed by the high office of cardinal, and openly indicated his favor toward the Protestant faith. D'Andelot combined with the traits of the brave and competent soldier a good degree of moral intrepidity and steadfastness. An indication of his spirit was given when Henry II. asked him, in consideration of the honors which had been conferred upon him, and of his own welfare, to renew his allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church. D'Andelot replied that his body, his earthly dignity, and his wealth were at the disposal of the King; but that in a question of religion, it was necessary to obey God, the superior Lord, to whom alone the soul is properly subject. 1 De Thou, Hist. Sui Temporia, Llb. XX., anno 1558. D'Andelot, it is true, was afterwards induced to render a partial acquiescence to the demands of the king; but it was a compliance which was speedily repented of, and never repeated. The Admiral Coligny ranks, by common consent, as the noblest pillar of the Protestant cause in the era of the civil wars. In him the seriousness and energy of the Calvinistic faith were finely tempered by a natural breadth and magnanimity of spirit. He was unbending in principle, without being harsh or intolerant as a general, he evinced his staunchness and ability by the unconquered resolution with which he rose above defeat, and prepared for new conflicts. As a disciplinarian, he brought into the ranks of the Huguenots a sobriety, and an attention to the claims of religion, which a Cromwell or a Gustavus Adolphus might have cited as models for their armies. As a patriot, he abhorred civil conflict, and entered upon it with great reluctance, under the pressure of what he considered to be the claims of the truest loyalty. As a Christian, he followed the dictates of simple-hearted devotion, the path of honesty, of candor, and of unswerving adherence to his convictions. With the praise of Coligny should ever be associated the name of his noble wife, a woman who combined with the tenderness befitting her sex the heroic spirit of a Deborah. 1 Referring to the scene in which she urged her husband to gird on the sword in behalf of the oppressed children of God, Martin remarks, "Never did the ideal of Corneille himself surpass this reality"(Livre LII.).


While there was no excess of religious ardor in the King or his courtiers, to stimulate to persecution, they still felt the impulsion of adequate motives. Possibly, oblivious of the distinction between God and Moloch, they thought by the sacrifice of the heretic to atone in some measure for the vileness of their own lives. Certainly they were urged on by lust after the confiscated goods of the proscribed. Unimpeachable evidence makes it plain that this motive lay back of much of the inquisition after blood in the reign of Henry II. 2 Baird, I. 383, 283; Martin, xlix.


Several attempts were made, under this sovereign, to improve the already ample facilities for the detection and punishment of dissenters. In 1547 a special chamber was established in the Parliament of Paris, to try the accused. That the new tribunal was not idle, may be judged from the name which it came to bear, -- la chambre ardente. 3 Histoire Eccl., i. 87. Edicts were passed in 1549 and 1551, enlarging the prerogatives of ecclesiastical judges in cases of heresy, and limiting the privilege of appeal. In the following years, attempts were made, under the advice of the Cardinal of Lorraine, to introduce the Inquisition after the Spanish model. Inquisitors-general were finally appointed in 1557; but happily, the Parliament of Paris had enough of independence and patriotic feeling to neutralize, in a measure, the effort to set this engine of despotism into efficient activity.


Martyrdoms followed plentifully in the wake of the intolerant edicts. Near the beginning of Henry's reign, Paris was diverted with a renewal of the spectacle of 1535. The King himself was led by zeal or curiosity to take part in the scene, and attempted to question one of the victims, a poor tailor. He met, however, with a bitter reward for his pains; for such answers were given as put both him and his mistress to shame. Moreover, the martyr, as he was subjected to the fiery ordeal, gazed with such a steadfast look upon the King, that the latter for a long time was most unpleasantly haunted by his image, and resolved never again to be present at such a spectacle. Many other places imitated the example of the metropolis, and were edified beyond their expectation or desire by the bearing of the victims. A peculiarly intense impression was made by the victorious faith and joyful constancy of the "Five Scholars" from Lausanne, who were burned at Lyons in 1553.


The peace which Henry II. concluded with Philip II. of Spain in 1559 was commonly interpreted by the Protestants as an omen of attack. Nor were they at fault in this surmise. The rumor of secret articles, in which the two sovereigns pledged each other to extirpate heresy, may have been unfounded. But it is an undoubted fact, that with either sovereign, one motive for consummating peace was the desire for a more complete opportunity to destroy Protestantism, root and branch. As in Spain, so also in France, the first-fruits were soon reaped. Several members of Parliament, who had the courage to tell the King to his face that the government would be quite as well occupied in correcting the enormous abuses in the Church as in punishing loyal and upright men who died with the Saviour's name upon their lips, were cast into prison. The most distinguished of these, Anne du Bourg, was finally sent to the scaffold. His death was in effect as that of Samson, though in spirit more after the pattern of the new dispensation. The high rank of the man, his reputation for exceptional probity, and the heroic fortitude with which he met his fate, produced in many minds an extraordinary recoil against the sanguinary methods of the persecutor. 1 Florimond de Raemond, who wrote as a bitter foe of Protestantism, has left this record of the impression made by Du Bourg's death: "I remember when Anne du Bourg, counselor in the Parliament of Paris, was burned, that all Paris was astonished at the constancy of the man. As we returned to our colleges from the execution, we were melted in tears; and we pleaded his cause after his death, anathematizing those unjust judges who had justly condemned him. His sermon at the gallows end upon the funeral pile did more harm than a hundred ministers could have done " (Baird, i. 373). De Thou speaks in high terms of Du Bourg, and says that his ashes may be regarded as the soil from which sprang the ample crop of civil disturbances in the following years (Lib. XXIII.).


The King, notwithstanding the resolution which he had formed in 1549, promised himself the gratification of beholding with his own eyes the execution of Du Bourg. He also had it in mind, to make an extended tour through his kingdom to superintend in person the work of exterminating his Protestant subjects. But neither part of his plan was fulfilled. His own summons came before that of Du Bourg. In the midst of the glitter and rejoicings of a marriage fête, he was stricken down. The festival torches were suddenly turned into funeral tapers. Henry II. died on the 10th of July, 1559, from a wound received in a tournament.


Besides the testimony respecting the effect of Du Bourg's death, there are many other indications that the sensibilities of the people had not been hardened by the repeated sight of tortured victims. In the reign of Henry II., no less than in that of Francis I., martyrdom was a fruitful source of expansion to Protestantism. Again and again the triumph was with the victim rather than with the executioner. Many expired in ecstasy, insensible to the refined cruelties of the feasters upon human flesh, who invented tortures to prolong their agony. More than one judge died of consternation or remorse. Others embraced the faith of those whom they sent to the scaffold." 1 Martin, Livre L. Protestantism was beginning to include no inconsiderable fraction of the nation. In 1558 it is said to have counted no less than four hundred thousand adherents. The next year, provision was made for its consolidation and continued growth, in the work of the first national synod, which met at Paris, and adopted, along with a Presbyterian scheme of church government, the "French Confession."


Up to the end of the reign of Henry II., the record of French Protestantism was, for the most part, that of suffering patience. The political and martial elements which entered into its later history had not yet appeared. Its adherents were an elect band who lived purely, and were prepared to die heroically. A Roman Catholic historian of the time says of them, "They comported themselves as the pronounced enemies of luxury, of public festivities, and of the follies of the world, which were all too prevalent among the Catholics. In their societies and at their banquets, one found neither music nor dancing, but discourses from the Bible, which lay upon the table, and spiritual songs, especially the Psalms as soon as they were brought into rhyme. The women, with their modest apparel and bearing, seemed like sorrowing Eves or penitent Magdalens, repeating in their lives the description which Tertullian gave of the women of his age. The men appeared dead to the world, and filled with the Holy Spirit. Each was a John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness. The outward demeanor expressed only humility and obedience. They sought to gain a place for themselves, not by cruelty but by patience, not by killing but by dying, so that in them Christianity in its primitive innocence seemed to be restored." 1 Florimond de Raemond; quoted by Soldan, Geschichte des Protestantismus in Frankreich, I. 206. We may add here, in connection with the reference to the Psalms, that the versions of Marot and Beza were at once efficient means of religious inspiration in adherents, and incitements to the attention of outsiders. We have accounts of large crowds upon certain public grounds at Paris being diverted from other forms of recreation, and gathering about those who sang in French verse the noble lyrics of the Psalter. So apparent was the effect, that the government was called upon to put a stop to the singing (De Thou, Lib. XX., anno 1558; Histoire Ecclésiastique, i 167).

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