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9 The Road to Civil War (2): 1561-1562
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The Failure of Toleration

If religious policy was the most important single problem facing Catherine de Médicis in December 1560 when the wheel of fortune finally put the reins of government in her hands, entangling it were several others; any measure regarding one could not fail to affect the others. The prince de Condé's life could now be spared, but the sentence hanging over his head would have to be legally revoked by Parlement before he could be fully reinstated in all his offices and titles. The Estates General were demanding that the princes of the blood be entrusted with the regency, and so were the Protestants. Antoine de Bourbon's religious position was so ambiguous that neither party could count on him. He was supposedly the chief protector of the reformed (Calvin kept urging him to assert leadership and his wife, Jeanne d'Albret, announced her conversion on Christmas Day 1560) yet he continued to attend mass, alternately with the reformed culte , and the Catholic party used all its ingenuity to keep him in the fold. A year later it would succeed and the reformed would turn to Condé, because only a prince of the blood had the political stature required for their purposes.

As traditionalists, magistrates shared the preference for the princes of the blood but were disturbed by their heretical leanings, while Catherine, although she welcomed the pressures in behalf of the Bourbons in opposition to the Guise party, was obliged to move cautiously because of their growing association with the Protestants. Conflicts, fears, and uncertainties thus made impossible a clear-cut correlation of political with religious position, except for the two extremes, the Huguenots on the one hand and the ultras on the other. Catherine could not risk increasing Parlement's opposition to her religious policy because she needed its cooperation in the


rehabilitation of Condé, and she tried to use that leverage to minimize the risk of a head-on collision by modifying royal religious policy.

Hemmed in as she was, the queen nevertheless held the initiative, and she quickly took small steps to reduce the religious pressures, paving the way for greater ones to follow. Avoiding the leaders of both factions, she depended chiefly on the advice of cardinal de Tournon and Chancellor L'Hôpital. Royal orders issued in January and February 1561 modified the Edict of Romorantin, suspending prosecution against suspects, except those who had conspired against the king. Heretics who had been freed were allowed a period of time within which to leave the country. A letter from Catherine to procureur général Gilles Bourdin interprets the royal intentions clearly, by saying that the authorities should not be "too curious" about what went on in private houses. This would indicate a sort of unacknowledged toleration, analogous to that of Queen Elizabeth toward English Roman Catholics at the same period.[1] Parlement made its own modification, allowing appeal from ecclesiastical to lay judges, and the schism in the court was to some extent bridged by the readmission of Paul de Foix and the assignment of Du Ferrier as ambassador to Rome. Catherine's policy of reconciliation brought Condé into the Conseil Privé after his release, along with Coligny, and made Antoine lieutenant général of the kingdom, successfully circumventing a move by his Huguenot followers to "purge" the council and, in Lucien Romier's phrase, "send [Catherine] back to the nursery."[2]

The regent did not gain a breathing spell by these moves, however, because aggressive new thrusts from both sides overpowered "raison, douceur et moderation," as Catherine described the desirable method. During the Lenten season, dubbed by Parisians la carême huguenotte , some adherents of the reform mistook the amnesty of the new edicts as preparation for true toleration, an interpretation encouraged by the first visible steps toward conversion to Protestantism by Coligny and Odet, cardinal de Châtillon: the admiral had his son baptized according to the Reformed rite; the cardinal met with known Protestants and permitted them to hold services


in his diocese of Beauvais.[3] At the same time, several very large Huguenot assemblies in Paris fueled the invective of the Lenten preachers. One particularly inflammatory sermon specifically incited the populace to violence against the persons of the Châtillons.[4]

Les grands in the Catholic party were also alarmed by the religious activities of the royal family, which seemed similarly to presage convergence with the Huguenots. Jean de Monluc, bishop of Valence, was the Lenten preacher in the royal chapel; Charles IX's tutors were of the same liberal stripe, and subsequently the young king and his companions were rumored to have been heard singing the psalms of Marot and mocking the Mass.[5] On Easter Sunday the chief Catholics at court expressed their protest by absenting themselves from the royal chapel and attending mass with the palace servants. This was the origin of the Triumvirate, comprising Constable Montmorency, the duc de Guise, and Marshal Saint-André. Montmorency's separation from his Châtillon nephews created a new political configuration, with important long-range consequences in the following decades. Philip of Spain began openly voicing his threats to "exterminate heresy in France" in these same weeks of the Easter season. Catholic and Protestant parties had crystallized since the start of the new reign and faced each other across a widening abyss.[6]

The polarization of les grands was matched by the rising tempo of disorder in the streets of the capital. In mid-April Parlement deputed président de Thou and procureur général Bourdin to request the king to restore order.[7] Catherine was thus obliged to take further steps on religious policy. L'Hôpital's speech of April 18 introduced a new edict with an earnest plea


for its main point: the elimination of the epithets "papiste" and "huguenot," and of all reciprocal recrimination du faict de la religion .

The edict's second and third points were designed to reduce the incidence of intrusion into private houses on pretext of religion by guaranteeing the inviolability of one's person and property and limiting the right to search for illicit assemblies to authorized officials. The release of prisoners, proclaimed in January, was reaffirmed. In the broadest provision, heretics in exile were offered the option of returning to France and retaining the full possession of their property on condition of living as Catholics, or of selling their goods and going into permanent exile. Parlement's opposition was certain, and it was not lessened when the edict was sent directly to royal administrators (baillis and sénéschaux ) so as to bypass the sovereign courts.[8]

Parlement's remonstrances were drawn up in early May by three prominent representatives of the moderate-conservative mainstream: président René Baillet and conseillers Eustache Chambon and Bartholomé Faye. They merit our detailed analysis because they constitute a valuable revelation of parlementaire mentalité at this crucial juncture, the spring of 1561.[9]

Predictably, violation of the court's own prerogatives takes first place. Six paragraphs are devoted to spelling out—several times—that it was unconstitutional to send to administrators royal orders that had not been registered by Parlement. When this has been done in the past "such orders have not been regarded as laws" and any subsequent action such as appeals, based on the judgment of baillis or sénéschaux , "would be of doubtful legality" because "[they] had not been read, published, and registered [by Parlement] according to usage, [of which] the memory of man knoweth not the contrary (de tout temps gardée )."

Turning from form to substance, the remonstrances restate the opening clause of the edict: "By these presents we again forbid all our subjects of whatever station, to insult or provoke one another on the subject of religion (de s'entr'injurier n'y provoquer pour le faict de la religion ), and to do, procure, encourage or speak in such a way, in public or in private, as to invite blame or fault in regard to religion." The court's objection is boldly stated: "These words seem to approve diversity of religion in this kingdom, which has never been the case from King Clovis I to this day." Here the Parlement sees through the indirect, allusive language to the ultimate intent


and future impact of the edict. There is no mention of two religious establishments, merely of arguments and hostility concerning religion, but the words seem to approve of the existence of more than one religion.

The third point spells out the historical argument. While kings and even popes have been declared heretics in the course of the centuries, "by the grace of God no king of France has fallen into this misfortune, and when error surfaced in any part of the kingdom, as in the time of the Albigensians, it was resisted in such a way as to be totally exterminated and the kings of France have continued to hold the title 'Most Christian,' by which all Christendom honors them."

The next two points make the contrast between the historic situation and the new edict, "which provides an excuse to adopt new religions and to separate oneself from the unity of the old religion . . . something condemned (damnée et reprouvée ) by all the ancient laws . . . and which has been the cause of the subversion of kingdoms and empires." Thus, although the intention is laudable, that is, an end to sedition, it is to be feared that, on the contrary, "instead of putting out the fire greater ones would be lighted, because people would follow whatever religion they chose without fear of penalty." The only way to calm sedition is "for the king to declare that he will live and die in the faith in which he was baptized . . . in which his predecessors lived . . . and [to declare] that he understands that his subjects will make similar profession, on pain of punishment. "

In point six the document then addresses the specific epithets, papiste and huguenot . Parlement finds it strange that the latter word, "an invention unused (inusite ) in France," should be used in an official document and that "the word papiste should be used as a term of opprobrium, when it has always described those who live as Catholics, that is, according to the church of which the pope has always been held to be the Head and Vicar of God on earth, in spiritual matters. "

Moving on to the "police" aspects of point seven on the inviolability of private houses, Parlement finds that they contradict all the former edicts, "which forbid all assemblies or conventicles, by day or by night, in any places not approved by the diocesan authorities." The court believes the old rules should prevail and that its duty is to enforce them.

Point eight takes up the new options for heretics. The court foresees "scandals and other difficulties" if ex-religious who fled to Geneva and are now married return to France with spouses and children and make claims on property against their relatives. If they do not wish to live as Catholics (vivre catholiquement ), the new edict says they may take their goods with them or sell them and take the profit: yet according to the law, it is forbidden


to transport money out of France for the purpose of aiding the king's enemies. Moreover, the phrase vivre catholiquement itself creates difficulties: those who follow the new religion claim to do so, though this is denied by those who follow the old. The king should declare that he understands it as "those who obey the unique Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church in which [the king] intends to live, as did his predecessors." Point nine is a corollary: earlier edicts specified that prisoners for religion be released on condition of leaving the country within a certain period of time, but some are still resident in the kingdom. The court begs the king to enforce the earlier laws.

The tenth and final point constitutes a reprise of the song parlementaires never tired of singing:

Furthermore, to put an end to all seditions and troubles . . . may it please the king to bring about a reformation of the ministers [sic ] of the church, to [assure] the provision of benefices to worthy and capable persons, because, since publication of the Concordat and suspension of elections, the disorder and diminution of the ecclesiastical estate has steadily increased.

In January 1562 L'Hôpital would bring to Parlement a carefully worded edict, hammered out in long negotiations by which religious coexistence was to be explicitly established. Parlement's forced acceptance (de expresso mandato regis ) should not have come as a surprise, since the principle had been rejected a year in advance.

In the circumstances of the spring of 1561, however, Catherine and her chancellor either overlooked or pretended not to read the omens, and the tensions continued to mount. The Protestant flood tide, which would reach its height between October and Christmas, was the most conspicuous phenomenon of the year. In Paris, even as Parlement was responding to the Edict of April 19, public opinion was scandalized by Protestant services at the residence of Michel Gaillard, seigneur de Longjumeau, in the Pré-aux-Clercs. Gaillard was the son of one of the noblewomen arrested in l'affaire de la rue St-Jacques three and one-half years earlier, and he was also distantly related to the royal family. Others who attended regularly included the duc de Longueville, affianced to a daughter of the duc de Guise, Filippo Strozzi, a cousin of Catherine de Médicis, and Pierre Ruzé, a prominent lawyer well connected in parlementaire circles. It was natural for enemies of the Huguenots to interpret the April edict as favorable to heretics under the circumstances: on April 22, Philip's ambassador Perrenot de Chantonnay described the Catholic faction as "thrown into despair."[10]


Yet the authorities took actions that were not reassuring to the Huguenots. When students attacked Longjumeau's house, some of the Protestant seigneurs sprang to the defense, resulting in two days of riot and a number of casualties. On April 28, all chambers assembled, Parlement ordered Gail-lard to leave the Paris region on pain of being declared a rebel and forfeiting all his property. Linda Taber points out that the two members sent to notify him (Jean Burdelot and Étienne Charlet) figured among the suspects themselves a year later. One cannot help wondering if they were already under suspicion and assigned the task in order to embarrass them (and Gaillard) or, whether the episode was a factor in their attraction to the reform (these are both only speculations, of course).[11]

At the coronation of Charles IX on May 15, further gossip was stimulated by the presence of Élisabeth de Hauteville, whom the cardinal-bishop of Beauvais, Odet de Châtillon, called his wife, and Condé's release encouraged the Huguenots, who counted strongly on an opportunity to defend their faith in public. Catherine had decided to hold a "national council" without waiting for Trent to resume. A petition from deputies of all the reformed churches in France (June 11) went so far as to ask for temples to be granted where their services could be held openly. They believed that all the libelous accusations against them would disappear if royal officials witnessed the actuality of their culte .[12]

Under intense pressure from both sides, Catherine decided to hold at once the so-called pourparlers de Paris , a special assembly including all the grands seigneurs of the royal council, and leaders of the Parlement, between 120 and 140 persons in all. The purpose was explicitly stated by Chancellor L'Hôpital: to advise the king, not on religion, but on "means of pacifying troubles arising from divisions in religion." We are fortunate to have Étienne Pasquier's interpretation of this assembly, to which Catherine submitted the petition for temples.

Opinions were freely expressed on both sides . . . the [conservative] Catholics carried the day by three votes. The decision was that one must either adhere to the Roman church, like our ancestors, or leave the kingdom, with permission to sell one's goods. When the vote count was known there was considerable muttering, because the others claimed that in so important a


matter it was not reasonable that all France should be thrown into uproar by only three votes, and because such banishment would be impossible to carry out.

There were sharp exchanges between Coligny (advocating suspension of all persecution) and Guise (advocating the death penalty for heresy) and the differences of opinion were such that les choses se sont passées sans conclusion . Pasquier then pays tribute to Catherine's statesmanship, comparing it to Constantine's after the Council of Nicaea:

The action of the queen mother is greatly to be praised; she had the ballots brought to her and burned in her presence, not wishing to know who had voted for which solution, so that the liberty with which some had expressed themselves could not be prejudicial to them in another reign.[13]

Twenty-three sessions of confused deliberations (June 23-July 11) produced the Edict of July, a tissue of compromises. Concessions to the moderates caused the overall results to be generally regarded as favorable to the reformers and a setback for the ultras.[14] The most militant Protestants were disgruntled because all their meetings, public or private, were prohibited, and they placed their hopes in the approaching colloquy; but others were confident that the restrictions against their assemblies would not be enforced.

How little the Edict of July held back the rising tide of Calvinism is illustrated by the triumphal progress of Jeanne d'Albret, queen of Navarre, from her domains in the Pyrenees to court. Chantonnay wrote to Philip in mid-August, "Everywhere the heretics await her coming as if she were the Messiah, because they are certain that she will perform miracles in their behalf," and Throckmorton, commenting on the outbreaks of unrest in her wake, wrote to Cecil, after she had passed through the Orléanais, "At the convent of Ste. Madeleine, twenty-five religious ladies, the fairest of sixty, threw aside their habits and scaled the walls . . . such was their abhorrence


of the superstitions of the cloister, or rather, so much did they prefer profane company."[15]

Parlement had registered the Edict of July provisionally, reserving the right to remonstrate later, but a few days afterward the court stubbornly refused to be pressured into registering the Ordinances of Orléans, embodying the conclusions of the Estates General of the past winter. In addition to the constitutional grounds—challenging the crown's argument that they did not need to scrutinize and deliberate since Parlement was a subordinate part of the Estates General—they refused on procedural grounds. The ordinances had been sent just before the summer vacation and the time left was inadequate for serious consideration. Parlement also objected to the fact that the assembly of bishops was simultaneously deliberating on the question of church reform, which was one topic of the ordinances. Parlement contended that it was indécente for two assemblies to debate the same issue at the same time. A consequence was that at the opening of the new parlementaire season in November Chancellor L'Hôpital reproved the court for these actions as illegal usurpations of legislative power. He elaborated in some detail the "proper place" of Parlement, as the crown saw it. These constitutional issues (mentioned in chapter 2, elaborated in chapter 5) added to the tension between the crown and the court as the confrontation over religious policy entered its final phase.[16]

The "national council," in which Protestant ministers disputed with Catholic prelates in the presence of the king and leaders of the court, took place in Poissy in September 1561. Parlementaires had no occasion to address this event officially, but we are not in doubt about their attitude, expressed in the remonstrances of the past April and again in those of February and March 1562 against the Edict of January. Although a failure in terms of the stated objectives, the Colloquy of Poissy acknowledged by its mere existence that there were in fact two religions, or, more accurately, two different Christian sects, in France and this was an affront to the tradition of un roi, une foi that could not be accepted or overlooked. The intervention of non-French Counter-Reformation leaders only made parlementaires more frustrated and uncomfortable; before long they would conclude that the Roman medicine was worse than the Genevan disease.[17]


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