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11 The Buildup, 1585 to May 1588
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The Buildup, 1585 to May 1588

The rebellion of the Paris League against the crown was the climax of the thirty-six-year Wars of Religion in France. Beginning in 1585 as a secret conspiracy, it grew into a mass movement in 1588-89, became irreparably fragmented in 1590-93, and disintegrated in the first three months of 1594.[1] During these nine and one-fourth years the Parlement suffered its greatest ordeal. At the turn of 1591-92 it seemed on the brink of extinction as an organ of political power, yet by the summer of 1593 it had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and then achieved its greatest authority and prestige in its then three-hundred-year history.

Parlement's story is a play-within-a-play of the larger drama, and it generally draws the attention of historians only when it temporarily occupies center stage. For the student of parlementaire mentalité , of course, the perspective is reversed. The radical revolutionaries (the Sixteen), the Guise-Lorraine nobles who attempted to manipulate the situation for their own ends—overthrow the Valois line, prevent the succession of a heretic, and substitute one of their own faction—the monarchs, even Henri IV, and their ministers, appear as distant, symbolic figures, a sort of Grand Guignol in the background, while the important scene is the Palais de Justice, and the major actors, heroes and villains alike, are its occupants, members of the last of our generations.

The leadership was sharply divided, differently in each successive period; after the fairly straightforward ligueur -royalist split of the early years,


subdivisions proliferated as both the League and the royalist party broke into reciprocally antagonistic factions. The most consistent figure (despite several changes in his effective status) was premier président Achille de Harlay, who had succeeded his father-in-law, Christophe de Thou, in 1582.

There were four major phases (acts) to the concentric dramas of the Paris League's rebellion and the fate of the Parlement: the buildup from 1585 to May 1588 (act 1), when the Guises, the papacy, and the conspirators exploited the weaknesses of Henri III and undermined his authority; then the open rebellion against him, from May 1588 to August 1589 (act 2), when the League drove him from his capital and eventually assassinated him; followed by the reign of terror, from August 1589 to November 1591 (act 3), which focused on the elimination of the heretic Henri IV on the national level and of the politiques in the Parlement. The murder of premier président Brisson (the moderate ligueurs ' replacement for Harlay) by the extremists (in November 1591) marked the greatest audacity of the Sixteen and brought about a precipitous fall in their power; finally, the decline and collapse from 1592 to March 1594 (act 4), with the total defeat of the League, not with a bang but a whimper, and the concurrent triumph of the Parlement, as the politique vanguard and savior of the royalist cause and of the nation.

We shall follow selected events of the League rebellion through the eyes and the words of leading spokesmen of the mainstream, principally, Pierre de L'Estoile, Guillaume Du Vair, Étienne Pasquier, and Jacques-Auguste de Thou, because of their comprehensive and continuous coverage, with significant interpolations by others; notably Harlay and Jacques Faye. The grass-roots aspects of the story will be drawn primarily from the testimony of L'Estoile in his Mémoires-Journaux . His is the most detailed account, especially of reactions to the activities of the Sixteen and to the inflammatory sermons of the ligueur curés, to which others make only occasional, and usually brief, allusion. The opinions of Guillaume Du Vair, when they are available, are valuable because he too remained in the city, and his speeches were influential in the critical months of 1593, strengthening the moderate position by favoring negotiations with the royalists, encouraging the king's conversion, and strongly opposing the Spanish-papal maneuvers to set aside the Salic law and "elect" a monarch from their own camp. Étienne Pasquier and Jacques-Auguste de Thou, both eyewitnesses of the buildup, chose to leave the capital with Henri III and were known as leading and articulate supporters of Henri de Navarre. De Thou was an active royalist agent from the summer of 1588 through to the end of the crisis.[2]


All four were politiques —or we could not use them as spokesmen of the mainstream—but they had significant differences on some issues, in their assessments of responsibility for the successive crises, and in their opinions of particular individuals. L'Estoile and Du Vair had in common the risks—and ultimately the rewards—of remaining on the ship after the mutineers had seized control, but unlike Du Vair, L'Estoile never became a public figure—though his views were well enough known to place him on the League's proscription list. Du Vair, however, seems to have been more accommodating than other politiques to certain ligueur actions, in the early stages. The evolution of his own position together with his standing as a philosopher give his views special interest.

Pasquier and de Thou bring a historian's perspective to their interpretations. Both were serious scholars, steeped in classical studies and in the ancient (medieval) history of France. We have seen that Pasquier was prominent among its sixteenth-century "revisionists." The breadth of de Thou's perspective has no parallel among our spokesmen, nor indeed in the entire range of his contemporaries. The Histoire universelle deals with some aspects of the history of Scandinavia, Poland, and the Ottoman empire in addition to that of France, the Netherlands, the British isles, Italy, and the Germanies. De Thou had traveled widely and had greater worldly sophistication, but Pasquier's mind was subtler and more original. Both survived the settlement of the wars long enough to develop a long-term overview;[3] both were unusually objective in their capacity to present contrary opinions fairly and to recognize mistakes and defects in their own party. Both men were obviously writing for the ages and for four hundred years posterity has respected the results, albeit with some reservations.

Origins of the Movement

L'Estoile, Pasquier, and de Thou each recognized not long after the death of François, duc d'Alençon, in June 1584 that a corollary to its momentous consequence—Henri de Navarre's becoming the immediate successor—was the origin of what historians call "the second League," and that it was a much greater and more direct threat to the established order than that of the earlier League of the mid-1570s. Given the virtual certainty that Henri III would have no heirs, Navarre's changed status provided an urgent incentive for several interested parties to join forces in order to block his


eventual accession. The Guises, the Spanish and papal leaders, and the local clergy had long grasped every opportunity to prepare for the eventuality, and in the new situation they closed ranks in a firm coalition and encouraged the rise of a new ally—the Parisian radical organization known as the Sixteen.

Other components in the program of the second League were in fact carried over from the first one, religious and financial issues in a special mix: the persistence of a Protestant movement and successive edicts that could be construed as royal encouragement of heresy, joined with Henri III's highly visible religiosity, ever-escalating fiscal demands—allegedly to combat heresy—whose fruits were lavished on the mignons and an extravagant life-style. As long as there was another Valois king in the immediate future, however, it was difficult to mobilize popular opinion and whip up a frenzy over the dangers that would threaten the Holy Land and the Chosen People if the Most Christian King were a heretic. Faced with that prospect at any moment, the Paris League stepped up both organization and propaganda.

In March 1585, after a description of the king's pre-Lenten festivities, with overtones of disapproval but nothing like the indignation of later years, Pierre de L'Estoile heads a section of his Mémoires-Journaux "La Ligue à Cheval, qui est une autre espèce de masquerade, mais mal plaisante": "At this time the enterprise of the Holy League began to reveal itself, of which those [of the houses of Guise and Lorraine] were the chiefs, supported and assisted by the pope, the king of Spain and the duke of Savoy, his son-in-law." The diarist then lists a series of motives having to do with various titles and fiefs for the Guise-Lorrainers, that were at first thought to be their purpose,

But soon it was discovered that the undertaking was to be a Holy League . . . with the pretext that they were designated [by themselves] protectors and proclaimers of the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Religion, against those who professed the Religion claimed to be reformed . . . introduced into this kingdom by those who are called Huguenots, who practice it with the king's permission. Holy League, I say, invented by the late Charles, cardinal de Lorraine, [who,] seeing the Valois line nearing its end, seized the occasion, under this fine mask and holy pretext of religion, to eliminate the members of the house of Bourbon and others close to the crown, because they openly professed the said RPR [religion prétendue réformée ], and by this means to take over the crown of France, that they say was usurped from Lothair, last king of France in the Carolingian line, and from


his successors (their ancestors) by Hugh Capet, who could claim no right to it except by violent usurpation.[4]

Three months later, L'Estoile records the first of Henri III's capitulations to the League, the Épernay Accord of June 20, 1585, by which the king promised to exterminate the reform, with the comment, "The worst of this is, that the king is on foot and the League on horseback, as the penitent's sack he wore and their armor clearly demonstrated" (Brunet 2:199).

In a letter to Scévole de Sainte-Marthe about the same time, Étienne Pasquier asserts that the death of Alençon had set off the present evils, "which, I feel certain, would not have dared to raise their heads if he had lived." "Suddenly, after [Alençon's] death, the king, thinking he had a favorable wind, and wishing to assure the general tranquillity of the kingdom, sent the duc d'Épernon to summon the king of Navarre to court, as first prince of the blood and the nearest claimant to succeed to the crown." The fact that the Guise-Lorraine nobles were not included in Épernon's suite and that they took offense at the omission is noted, as is Épernon's bad fall off his horse on his way to rejoin the king in Lyon, "a sure omen that this affair would be a fatal precipice for our France." Then follows Pasquier's analysis of the origins of the League:

At first appearance there was never wiser counsel than to recall the king of Navarre, who, as much with the expectation of the crown as in order to be near the king could easily have been reconciled to our church. . . . Nevertheless, contrary to the opinion of all the worldly wise, this advice produced two opposite effects. On the one hand, the Lorraine princes, considering themselves abused, left court, very discontent, and on the other, the king of Navarre, . . . thinking that he was being lured to another trap, refused to come [to court], . . . with the result that the two parties we have today took form, especially that of the League.

Pasquier started to say that no man "of understanding" could avoid seeing what was happening but yet none had. Then he corrected himself: "What am I saying, nobody saw it? On the contrary, everyone put a bandage over his eyes so as to avoid recognizing it."[5] He tells how all winter long there were balls and masquerades. "This debauch ended only on the first day of


Lent, . . . as the monks were intoning their early morning prayers. . . . God saw to it that two days later the king learned . . . that the duc de Guise had seized the town of Châlons in Champagne in the name of the League. . . . When God wishes to execute an admirable stroke of vengeance on us, he bandages our eyes, stops our ears and blocks all our senses so that his blow will be felt rather than foreseen."[6]

Pasquier succinctly outlines the three grievances of the Guises, the fiscal excesses of the crown, the advancement of private gentlemen to the disadvantage of the princes, and finally, toleration of the new religion, which they demand be banished from France. As a result a state of war prevails,

In short, we have all become warriors in Paris. By day we guard the gates, by night we make regular patrols. . . . The Spaniard supplies the provisions for this war . . . saying that we troubled the Low Countries, like foxes, and he will now not hesitate to pay us back like a lion. As the king is arming, so is the League . . . [one cannot] judge whether the state is the real target, or the new religion. Some think it is a mixture of the two. As for me, I don't believe it, although I can well see that each of the [Guise] propositions has an appeal: the menu peuple is very happy that someone is fighting for its liberty; the princes likewise for their privileges and titles, . . . and everybody in general is not displeased to have the new religion exterminated. In any case, the king considers himself infinitely offended and takes all sorts of advice [in the attempt] to get the upper hand.[7]

In his treatment of the first League, in 1576, Jacques-Auguste de Thou makes a point of denying the ligueur insinuation that his father, premier président Christophe, secretly favored the League, with the connivance of the king himself.

Some who did not believe this went to consult président de Thou, and informed him of what was happening in the secret assemblies, begging him to say whether he approved and if it were true that the Court authorized them and that he himself gave it support?

This news startled M. de Thou into extreme astonishment. He replied at once, with his natural directness, that he had not heard of these enterprises, that he doubted they had His Majesty's approval, that he thought [those who asked his opinion] would be wise to renounce any such association, as it could not help but be contrary to the king's service and the state's tranquillity.


Knowing that he could obstruct their designs, "those of the League" were careful to keep any further information from de Thou. After his death in 1582, they did everything possible to blacken his name and cast doubt on his high reputation.[8] Christophe de Thou is alleged to have said:

All faction in a state leads necessarily to its ruin. . . . The real danger was not foreseen by those who advised the king to declare himself head of the dissident party [League]; on the contrary, by that move he deprived himself of . . . the right that the throne bestows, to have no equal, and lowered himself to the level of the meanest of his subjects, and divested himself of that supreme authority bestowed by God and his birth. . . . What other result can there be . . . if not to teach the French by this funereal example that another authority may exist, quite distinct from the king's, powerful enough to raise troops, pay them, demand an oath of loyalty, make war, and with impunity create in the heart of the kingdom that monstrous thing, a new state. . . . For myself, consulted only when the evil is beyond remedy, I would add only that I foresee that these troops enlisted under the banner of religion will inevitably turn their arms against the very person of the monarch. . . . Once the people have arms without the authorization of their sovereign . . . [they] will no longer obey his orders to lay them down.

In a peroration, the premier président calls on the Almighty to avert the disaster and to falsify his fears. Coming down to earth again, he opines that the wisest course for the king under the present circumstances is to try to make peace, to issue a new edict, plus raisonnable (than the Peace of Monsieur, which was widely disregarded). He believes that Protestants would welcome a letup in the fighting. As for the League, the sovereign should "arrest some of the less powerful, and punish them with the utmost rigor, to make them an example . . . at the same time all assemblies and associations without royal authorization should be forbidden under pain of the severest penalties." Henri III is said to have expressed regret that he did not consult the premier président sooner, and to have resolved to follow his concluding advice, which was to be kept secret even from the queen mother.[9]

When historian de Thou comes to the second League in 1585, he announces to the reader that it is the beginning of a new, and dreadful epoch. "Ce fut alors qu'on vit allumer dans le coeur de l'état un nouvel incendie, qui, après avoir desolé un des plus florrisants royaumes, après avoir causé la perte du Prince infortuné qui le gouvernait, devint presque également fatal aux vainqueurs et aux vaincus, et qui ne put enfin être éteint que par un coup du Ciel." He sees the veil that had covered the conspiracy earlier,


torn aside. "On les vit alors marcher la tête levée . . . et soutenir hautement leurs prétensions, surtout étant appuyés de l'autorité des papes." The initiative he attributes squarely to Henri, duc de Guise, who had inherited his father's valor and prestige and his uncle's "designs," and whose ambition and "naturally troublemaking spirit" inspired him to "thrust the kingdom into renewed turmoil."[10]

Origins of the Parisian League, as distinct from the Guisard League, de Thou attributes to Pierre Hennequin, président in the Parlement, and to Étienne de Neuilly, who then chose men "burdened with debts and crimes, who needed a civil war to reestablish themselves," the first of whom was Charles Hotman, sieur de la Rocheblond—who is generally acknowledged to be the real founder of the Sixteen. The mismanagement of the kingdom he cites as a cause, but especially the defense of the Catholic religion, which was endangered by the "indolence and indulgence" of the king, who was dominated by his favorites. Jean Prévost, celebrated theologian of the Sorbonne and high priest of St-Séverin, was said to have been the first to sign, followed by Jean Boucher, curé of St-Benoît, a man "of good birth and great learning, but seditious to the point of fury," and Matthieu de Launay, an apostate from Calvinism. The roll of the Sixteen is then given, factually matching League sources and the account of Nicolas Poulain, the double spy, but with unabashed politique characterizations.[11] Recent scholarship has added depth and awareness of complexity to our understanding of the radical Parisian group known as the Sixteen, especially with regard to its social composition, the motivations of its members, and its changes over time. The fundamental fact for our purposes—that members of Parlement were strikingly few—has not been modified, as the well known and reliable primary sources leave no doubt on the matter.[12] Of the forty-eight identified ligueurs in the early, clandestine phase, only six were members of the sovereign courts, two from the Parlement itself, an infinitesimal minority. Five were merchants, five middle-echelon officers, ten avocats and procureurs, five lower clergy, eleven minor functionaries, two artisans and shop-


keepers, the rest undetermined. The question is, what socioeconomic, political, and ideological factors brought about this situation?

In complementary studies, Élie Barnavi and Robert Descimon have recently established the following points.[13] First, there was a greater differentiation of levels within the Parisian bourgeoisie than previously recognized, and the bourgeoisie première , officers who constituted the upper crust of the urban oligarchy through their service to the crown, was more distant from the others both in their own eyes and those of others.[14] Second, the League had "social equilibrium," that is, every group (except the very lowest) was represented, de haut en bas , as Barnavi says. Third, the League ideal was urban unity, but the tensions and conflicts among and within the various component elements increasingly functioned as disintegrating forces as one crisis followed another. Fourth, the basic division in the League, as in the city itself, separated those whose prime loyalty lay with the state, the ever more powerful monarchy, from those whose loyalty or interest was attached to the city alone. This cleavage clearly cuts off the sovereign courts from the others. Their interests, institutionally and individually, were tied to the crown. A fifth conclusion is that as the unity of the state became the overriding concern, and unity in religion had proved to be unattainable, une foi was overshadowed by un roi, une loi , and the traditional harmony between religious and secular elements destroyed. The founders of the League then appropriated the—in their eyes abandoned—religious factor and declared it to be the essential cement of the nation. According to these authors, it follows that religion was not a cover or "mask" for political motives but rather the true motivating force of the League, with the corollary that the ultramontane position was a logical one, also sincere, and not deliberately antinational. Philip of Spain was not chosen, he volunteered, and he was the only available secular and armed ally. (Nothing in the new studies challenges the obvious and long-recognized fact that intervention in France served Spain's national purposes well.)

Furthermore, while certain traditional political ideas—such as the Ar-


istotelian contrast between the true king and the tyrant, and the claim of the Estates General to be the successor of the curia regis —were easily adaptable to League purposes, in down-to-earth terms the Sixteen extremists sought to turn the established criteria of leadership, that is, birth and royal service, upside down. Barnavi cites Bussy-Leclerc's career as the paradigm.[15]

A final important point is the gradual emergence of a class struggle, with the lower levels embracing more extreme positions and the upper levels feeling increasingly threatened. Ligueurs used the word peuple in a laudatory tone to mean Catholics united in the League, whereas the politique use became sharply pejorative. One of many examples from L'Estoile is a heading at the end of December 1585: "Le peuple, au lieu de murmurer contre la Ligue, murmure contre son Roy, tant il est sot" (Brunet 2:221). Members of the second bourgeoisie became uncomfortable and formed the backbone of the moderate or Mayenniste faction after the parlementaire murders. This antagonism toward the extremists, and toward social inferiors, contributed to forging a bond between moderate ligueurs and politiques that proved to be decisive in 1593, when despite many differences, both approved negotiations with the king, favored his conversion, and rallied to the defense of the Salic law and legal succession even of a heretic king. This differed sharply from opinion among the lower-level robins , the stronghold of jusqu'au-boutisme .[16] We have already remarked on the belief of Denis Richet that the elites, across confessional and political lines, were agreed on the necessity of promoting purer and more moral ideas in the lower orders and cooperated implicitly in attempting to impose them.

Descimon has a few reservations vis-à-vis Barnavi, who, he believes, tends to equate ligueur accomplishments with their desires. He finds the takeover on the municipal level less complete and slower than Barnavi would have it and believes that there were many neutrals, or undecideds, throughout the League years who served as a brake on the operations of the Sixteen. He does not agree that the evolution was from a secret conspiracy to a "party," but rather from uncoordinated intrigue to institution-alization.[17] In my opinion, Descimon's less clear-cut description is more


convincing, although (or perhaps because) it allows for nonideological factors.

The position of Parlement under the League as pictured in the cool analysis of these twentieth-century scholars is the same as in the indignant prose of the parlementaires themselves; purged, humiliated, helpless until 1593, "which testified even more to the desolation of the state than [to the desolation] of the influence of Parlement." This judgment by de Thou is cited by Barnavi as a pithy summary of the situation.[18]

In an astute analysis of the influence of their financial status on the political choices of the dukes of Nevers, Denis Crouzet has made another significant point. Louis de Gonzague, duc de Nevers, incurred crushing debts in the early League years and temporarily strayed from allegiance to the crown to collaborate with the Guises. The excessive fiscal demands of Henri III, his policy of concessions to the Huguenots, and the prominence of the mignons all played a part in this change. But he was "bailed out" by Catherine de Médicis—at considerable cost—and then "returned to his obedience." Later years found him supporting the "heretic king," even though Nevers was an activist in the cause some called "a Catholic reconquest" of France. The most important of Nevers's creditors were associated with the Parlement, from ranking présidents like the Séguiers, down to avocats de la cour . Crouzet poses a leading question: "Dans quelle mesure la modération du Parlement dans le Paris ligueur ne s'explique-t-elle pas par la structure d'une fortune placée dans les rentes?"[19]

La Fronde De La Justice

These new studies, which bring twentieth-century tools as well as hindsight to the problem, explicate robin attitudes toward the origins and motivations of the League. It is noteworthy also that unlike some historians for whom the Sixteen were either nineteenth-century liberal democrats or twentieth-century Marxists before their time, these scholars confirm the interpretation of our mainstream spokesmen, that the League was a rebellion, seeking to exploit the general discontent to the advantage of its members, and to raise their status at the expense of the première bourgeoisie . In short, it was a political rebellion and not a social revolution.

Between the autumn of 1585 and the spring of 1588 most events favored the League cause and prepared the way to the Day of the Barricades. The


negative image of the king and popular resentment of his fiscal policies were exacerbated by new edicts. In October 1585, L'Estoile reports on new edicts caused by the League. These were issued by the king because of the pressing need of money for war. Offices that had lapsed after the death of recent holders were revived—for a fee. "This shows that all war is a devouring monster, but especially civil war, which ever creates new expenses for kings and new burdens for the people" (Brunet 2:212-214). A few days later another edict against the Huguenots was issued, commanding them either to abjure or to leave the kingdom. It was a regular tactic of Henri III to accompany unpopular exactions with some gesture of appeasement. Six months later the bishop of Paris, Pierre de Gondi, was the subject of libelous attack for asking permission from the pope, at the king's behest, to raise twice as much money for the crown as had been authorized by the clergy by alienating church lands. In 1586, a bad year for Henri III, L'Estoile reports on dévotions du Roy, agréables à ceux de la Ligue: a sharp rise in the price of bread and an increase of beggars in the streets coincided with a three-month visit of Henri, duc de Guise. Pierre says of this last that the artisans and peddlers of the city benefited more in honor than in profit; the duke spent little but made himself popular by saluting and flattering them constantly (Brunet 2:327, 333).

The real crunch came with twenty-seven new fiscal edicts in mid-June. The Parlement was opposed to them—as to many previous ones,

because of the great misery, affliction and suffering of the people, who protested and demonstrated vigorously, and like the crow that screamed at Jupiter's eagle, blamed the king, tearing him apart with all sorts of calumny, whereas the truth was that ceux de la Ligue et de Lorraine were the inventors of these villainous edicts . . . which confuse justice, order and finance. The money raised passes into the hands of the Guisards, for their war (Brunet 2:339).[20]

Almost at once there was a strike by the procureurs of the Parlement and the Châtelet, which lasted from June 18 to July 12, precipitated by an edict requiring them to pay a (new) fee for the right to exercise the office. They took counsel and agreed not to resume their offices, in fact to resign from them entirely, unless the edict was revoked. The premier président promised that they would shortly be reimbursed if they would call off the strike, and it looked as if they would comply at the next meeting, after some


of the older procureurs advocated compromise, but the next day they changed their minds, at least the younger ones did, and used force to prevent three or four of the older ones from returning to the Palais. They held another meeting that afternoon and voted to continue the strike and to punish any dissenters who broke rank. The same occurred at the Châtelet, where the older procureurs were harassed and prevented from exercising their offices (Brunet 2:341-342). This is an interesting bit of evidence of generational conflict aligned with political opinion. But one cannot assume that the younger generation would consistently favor resistance to the royal will and their elders exemplify loyal obedience. In certain other situations, crown policy favored more rapid advancement and/or greater profit for newer—usually also younger—officers, at the expense of those with seniority.[21]

We are fortunate in having written reactions to these edicts from two eminent spokesmen, premier président Achille de Harlay and Étienne Pasquier, then avocat du roi in the Chambre des Comptes. By a curious circumstance, we possess also the opinion of Guillaume Du Vair, conseiller in the Parlement and maître des requêtes de l'Hôtel du Roi since 1584. Every case raises the constitutional issue, because the king was attempting to implement these edicts without the approval (registration) of the court. Members of Parlement were opposed to the fiscal policy in itself, but they were alarmed by the constitutional implications.

Harlay's discours (addressed to the king) makes four main points, of which the first is an assertion of the traditional idea that rendering justice is the king's main duty and unfailing obligation. C'est par la justice que regnent les rois rant en la paix qu'en la guerre . It follows that justice can only be administered by men chosen for their high integrity, whereas at present judicial offices are sold to the highest bidder. "The situation is already so far deteriorated that I almost dare say that only the shadow of justice remains. Although we [Parlement] are often blamed for the disorder, confusion, and threatened ruin that result," Harlay goes on, "it is you who will be accountable to God's inescapable judgment. We would be failing in our duty if we did not protest. " He then takes up the two kinds of law, those of the king and those of the kingdom. The latter are inviolable, and although God gave kings the right to exercise the former freely, à Dieu ne plaise . . . que vous soyez Roy par violence et par force . Such methods are those of barbarians and pirates—or of tyrannical kings, "but yours is a realm of loyalty and justice . . . your subjects give you more out of goodwill than


those of the Turks through force." Finally, and most crucial, "the kings of France have very carefully refrained from publishing any law or ordinance that had not been deliberated on in this company . They considered that to violate this form would be to violate that which made them kings. . . . By upholding the authority of this company they confirmed their own . . . in saving us you save yourself." He closes by appealing to the king, as the image of God: "We raise our eyes and pray that He will inspire you to do what is good and just, and in the accustomed form, and to reject pernicious innovations which are often proposed."[22]

No procès-verbal of this session was recorded in the registers. We have Harlay's speech in his own words, in manuscript, and also as written down by Du Vair, who also wrote up speeches of the king, the chancellor (Cheverny), and Jacques Faye, avocat du roi, pronounced on the same day, and published them some years later, in the first edition of his works. Du Vair's biographer, René Radouant, makes a careful comparison of the two versions of Harlay's speech, in his pursuit of Du Vair's personal opinions. (It is well to remind ourselves that Du Vair's first appearance on the political stage was in his discours sur les barricades , two years later.) For the historian of parlementaire mentalité the comparison is important because Harlay himself took umbrage at Du Vair's version: "[he] has damaged me by bringing to the public under my name chose non seulement defectueuse, mais mal disposée, et conçue en forme que je n'approuve point. " It is true that it is not completely faithful to the original and that both the organization and the emphasis are somewhat different, but Harlay's four points are all there, anyway. As Radouant points out, it is the spirit and the tone that are different. Harlay's reflects l'esprit de corps of the court, Du Vair's version the fears of absolutism; Harlay alludes discreetly to the edicts that have precipitated the crisis, Du Vair attacks the subject head on, spells out what he believes to be the disastrous outcome, and places the blame very much more directly on the king. In Harlay's version, devotion to the king, the pain it causes him to have to reproach his sovereign, and his fear of providing the king's enemies with a further weapon set the tone, while Du Vair's is cold, unsympathetic, and strong in theoretical and abstract points. Radouant concludes, as anyone must who makes a line-by-line comparison, that Du Vair did indeed alter the overall effect of the speech, yet I feel that the biographer goes too far when he speaks of the transformation of a remon-


strance paternelle et tremblante into a réquisitoire glacé, hautain, impitoyable .[23]

Some of Du Vair's points are close to those of some ligueur orators of this period, notably a demand for the Estates General to "reform" the crown's policies. This resemblance troubles Radouant, who then asks, do we have sufficient evidence to conclude that Du Vair was himself a member of the League, or as we might say today liguisant? This question comes up more dramatically in his funeral oration for Mary Stuart the following year, but Radouant's own conclusion is given in the chapter on the Harlay discours : Du Vair shared with ligueurs opposition to absolutist doctrine and methods, and he also agreed with some of the remedies they proposed. But it does not seem that he—like many others in the same situation—became an authentic member, and when he came to believe that the ligueurs , "sacrificing the public welfare to their own interests, passed from liberty to anarchy" and put the national independence in jeopardy, he became a militant politique . That was in 1593. In the interval, however, his position was somewhat equivocal, and certainly not that of a mainstream magistrate. It is probable that Du Vair was himself uncomfortable in his stance; his name did not appear on the several discours (of which Harlay's is one); they are presented as historic documents. Nor did the oraison funèbre of 1587 bear his name. Furthermore, Du Vair withdrew entirely from public view for more than two years after the assassination of Henri III.[24]

The cardinal de Bourbon was assigned to persuade the Chambre des Comptes to accept the ill-fated edicts on June 25, 1586. Pasquier was not persuaded. The sovereign courts, he argued, are to the kingdom what the "noble organs" (the brain and the heart) are to the human body—and should never be touched. The law is "the soul, without which the republic must die." And those laws that have their source in the royal prerogative must pass through the alambic of the sovereign courts. The grandeur of France in the past arose from this sharing of power between the king and the court. In his famous, informal style that was a major factor in his great popularity, Pasquier confided to the Chambre, and to the king through the cardinal, that in order to merit their designation of gens du roi they must sometimes tell the king the truth, "even if it is unpleasant."[25]

This "Fronde de la justice" ended with the king's capitulation. On July


12, 1586, he withdrew the edict taxing the procureurs, saying that if they had come to him directly sooner, the course of justice would not have been interrupted. He bade them pray for him. This outcome appeared to confirm the widespread protests against royal policy—and, in L'Estoile's opinion, to encourage the ligueurs (Brunet 2:345).

Counter-Reformation Offensive and Gallican Response

In these same years, on the ideological level, a new Counter-Reformation offensive was even more effective in fueling the growth of the League. The recurring issue of the Trent decrees had arisen over registration of the Ordinances of Blois, in 1579, in which acceptance of some of the Trent decrees was slated—by Henri III—to be included. An assembly of the clergy at Melun, in June, had agreed to accept the Council ("with certain reservations"), but the Parlement, led by premier président de Thou and procureur général La Guesle, had passed an arrêt that added sans préjudice des droits du Roi, ni des arrêts de la Cour . This meant that to the requirement of royal approval was added the maintenance of l'appel comme d'abus and of the plurality of benefices. Defense of these two privileges was very important to the Parlement. Victor Martin believes that this was the chief motivation of the Gallican furor unleashed, which lasted for four years. He claims that Parlement was trying to revive the Pragmatic Sanction, et ils y arrivaient par un détour . The papal nuncio, Dandino, described the relevant text in the Ordinances of Blois as bel et bien un document schismatique . Gregory XIII felt that Dandino had bungled his assignment and replaced him by Giambattista Castelli, bishop of Rimini in 1581, with the specific task to procure the revocation of the Parlement's arrêt and the suppression of the offending section of the ordinances, or at least, its modification. The pope's own characterization of the text was "diabolical" and sufficient "to damn the king and the entire kingdom of France."[26]

Both the pope and the king appointed commissions to negotiate the matter, procureur général La Guesle and président Barnabé Brisson representing the crown. For about a year negotiations were carried on, sporadically, and at times it seemed as if some accommodation might be reached, but political factors, delays, and especially acrimonious feuding within each camp prevented it. Among the issues was a "schism" among the Paris Cordeliers. It began as a simple division over the election of a new prior,


but the losing faction refused to accept defeat, and within a short time the royal court, the papal court, the ambassadors of Rome to Paris and Paris to Rome—and the leading parlementaires—were all actively involved. The affair dragged on for two years, and it is hard to say that anybody won, except that the papacy and the Trent decrees clearly lost, because the ordinances stood, despite threatened excommunications and the best efforts of a series of papal agents. The Gallican liberties were involved. La Guesle instigated procedures to cite an appel comme d'abus against the pope, and Christophe de Thou demanded that Castelli appear in person before the bar of Parlement.[27]

The extreme language and immoderate behavior of Christophe de Thou in this affair was quite out of character, and he so far abandoned his usual dignity as to lose his temper in a conversation with Catherine de Médicis (whose help as a mediator had been sought by the king), by indulging in a tirade against the Italians who had "invaded" France "in order to enrich themselves and overturn the customs and laws of the country." As Martin remarks, he undoubtedly had in mind such families as the Gondi, the Sardini, and the Birague, but the daughter of the grand dukes of Tuscany took it as a personal insult. Parenthetically, we may assume that this must have been a painful occasion for all concerned. We recall that the queen mother had been influential in de Thou's selection for the high office, and they had on many occasions joined forces against extremists who threatened the frail equilibrium of the past twenty years. We should probably also bear in mind that de Thou had less than six months to live at the time. It is surprising, perhaps, that historian de Thou does not refer to this quarrel of the Cordeliers at all, since he went to such pains to clear his father's name from the accusation that he had approved the massacre, for instance. Victor Martin, by the way, either did not know what Jacques-Auguste has to say about this or did not believe it, as he recalls to his reader Christophe's opposition to the edicts of toleration—and adds, "the Catholicism of this politique is not suspect; his excess should be attributed only to his Gallican passions."[28]

Meanwhile, Henri III's policy had taken an ultra turn. At one point he authorized the burning of the parlementaire arrêt in Castelli's presence, but this was never implemented. More importantly, he took as his confessor one of the cleverest of the "Jesuit politicians," Edmond Auger, and we recall


that this was the very time when his exaggerated religious practices became conspicuous.[29]

After the death of Christophe de Thou, the problem did not disappear. The Gallican torch was picked up by Jacques Faye, avocat du roi in the Parlement. Victor Martin shows some compassion for de Thou as an opponent of the papacy and the Council decrees; his attitude toward Faye is unreservedly hostile, though he reluctantly admires his effectiveness. "Fierce Gallican, jurist and historian of the second rank, but an able and eloquent orator, Jacques Faye d'Espesses seems to have gathered in his heart all the hatred that a small number of French political figures ever had against the papacy." His speech to the commissioners, an "adroit mixture of old objections, regularly trotted out since 1564 . . . and outrageous insults to the pope and his government, in all, the boldest, most brutal, most unjust, but also the most complete and most effective indictment of all those in the [more than thirty] years of this controversy."[30]

Faye's substantive points are indeed not new. Many of them go back to the lawyers of Philip the Fair, but they were fired like cannonballs at the advocates of the Trent decrees: the encroachments of the papacy in recent centuries on the secular powers in general and the Gallican liberties especially, and the resulting contrast to the former days when the king was obeyed in both temporal and spiritual matters and the kingdom was at peace, the people devout, and the bishops "learned and conscientious." Acceptance of the Trent decrees would make things even worse: "bit by bit we would become subjects of the pope." The specter of the Inquisition was again raised, with the prospect that not only the Huguenots but many good Catholics would burn. "If we search our consciences, how many of us would burn for Purgatory? for the intercession of saints? for communion in one kind? for images? . . . How much less for the primacy of the pope and his indulgences?"[31]

It is interesting that in the heat of his oratory, Faye should choose examples that hint at personal liberal religious views, in explicitly spiritual matters. Gallican orations generally stuck very closely to the rights of the king, the independence of French bishops, the role of Parlement, with scrupulous avoidance of anything that was not legal or administrative.

Faye's concluding point is a patriotic appeal. He dwells at length on the


collaboration between the papacy and Philip of Spain, accord machiavellique . . . pour abaisser la France en la divisant . Victor Martin comments, "The Gallican who slumbers in the heart of every parlementaire, even the most Catholic and the most favorably disposed [to the Council and the papacy] was aroused, listening to Faye, and the fear of the ancient enemy was reinforced."[32] Indeed, Faye's fusillade was fatal to Castelli's mission. He died, bitter and worn out, in Paris, after permission had been granted to return to Milan.

The partisan heat of these events had not cooled two years later, when a new pope entered the fray more directly. Sixtus V, who had made his reputation as the reformer of his Franciscan order, was also an astute politician. He wished to stamp out heresy in France and to promulgate the Trent decrees, like every other pontiff, but he did not wish credit for Catholic victories to be preempted by Spain. He specifically wished to strengthen France as a Catholic power in Europe , to offset Spanish predominance. By historical coincidence his reign began just when the new situation in France, with the death of Alençon and Navarre's becoming the immediate heir, opened a new era in the wars of religion, with the rise of the second League.[33]

On September 9, 1585, Sixtus V issued a Bill of Excommunication against Henri de Navarre and Henri de Condé, declaring them incapable of succeeding to the throne of France and threatening excommunication of any Catholics who recognized their claims. "Another expression of opposition . . . written by the author of the present memoirs [L'Estoile], was sent to Rome from the Palais in Paris, and was included in the recueils of our times printed in La Rochelle, so great is the vanity and curiosity of our times."[34]

If the pope and his ambassadors were the general staff of the clerical offensive, the privates of their army were the Parisian curés, who fought the battle in the front line. All the sources testify to their fanatical harassment of the king, royal favorites, those who supported him (politiques ), and anybody they could accuse of being lukewarm in defense of the faith, blackening them as fauteurs d'hérésie . The Parlement was a prime target. The fullest chronicle of this local-level clerical attack is L'Estoile's; his almost word-by-word record is valuable historically but often tiresomely repetitive


to read. From it we learn not only the common features of the party line, but some of the individual variations on the theme. Two entries of July 1587 are significant of the gathering storm:

Thursday, July 9, a picture was removed from the cemetery of St-Séverin, which the politiques call "the tableau of Madame de Montpensier," because it was put there by M. Jean Prévost, curé, at her request, so they say . . . and at the urging . . . of some of the asses of the Sorbonne. . . . This picture depicted with graphic detail the cruel and inhuman tortures of the Catholics by the queen of England. . . . It had been put there for the purpose of stirring up the people more and more to make war on the Huguenots . . . and even against the king, who the people (led by the preachers) say favors them secretly. And, in fact, the stupid people of Paris went in great numbers every day to see this beautiful picture and were moved by it, crying out that all politiques and heretics must be exterminated. For this reason the king had commanded the Parlement to have it removed, but as quietly as possible . . . to avoid a disturbance. . . .

We are not provided with good religious leaders in Paris this season . . . with the exception of seven or eight . . . they are all in the pay of the League, to take advantage of the gullibility of the people and stir up rebellion. . . . Instead of the word of God they preach I don't know what bigotry and hypocrisy . . . following the catechism of the League, which has produced more atheists than Catholics, and instilled superstition and rebellion instead of religion.

In September occurred one of the days that presaged the Barricades, nicknamed "La Journée de St-Séverin."

Wednesday, September 2, at six in the evening, great rumors spread through the quarter of the rue St-Jacques, and men rushed into the streets shouting "To arms! To arms! It is time for all good Catholics to show that they know the Huguenots are planning to kill the preachers!" [the curés of St-Séverin and St-Benoît, whom the king thought too insolent in their sermons]. And in truth, these two and most of the preachers of Paris admitted themselves that they preached only what was in the bulletins sent them by Madame de Montpensier.[35]

De Thou's account has all the main facts, but, as usual, it lacks the color and personal opinion, predictable in the pages of a history as compared to


a diary.[36] Pasquier gives an analysis of the phenomenon in a letter to Sainte-Marthe, written about two months before the explosion of the Barricades:

The preachers denounce from their pulpits [the king's conduct of affairs] and, because they see that he favors peace, they cry out against those who would restore public order as it was before the rise of the League, calling them sometimes politiques , sometimes machiavellians, that is, without any religion. Catholics thus are now divided into two camps; the ones that are called Leaguers are tightly embraced by the preachers, and the others politiques , whom they detest. . . . [They disagree as to whether the heretics should be exterminated, and both groups think the other's policy would be the ruin of the state.] In short, the politique shares the king's opinion, which is for peace, the ligueur that of M. de Guise, which is for war.[37]

Pasquier goes on to say that he disapproves of members of the clergy, especially monks, who overreach themselves in presuming to pronounce on matters of state and to judge princes, a theme that appears frequently in the entries of the Mémoires-Journaux . These accounts are obviously examples of royalist/politique propaganda, but they are also accurate expressions of parlementaire opinion.

Both the king and the duke went to war in the autumn of 1587, as did the king of Navarre, who won his first great victory at the battle of Coutras, in which one of the king's two chief mignons , Joyeuse, leading the royalist forces, was killed. Joyeuse had deserted to the League and was mourned accordingly. The duc de Guise and Henri III himself were fighting the German mercenaries engaged in the Protestant cause. They were victorious, but

all the honor and credit was given to the duc de Guise throughout France and especially in Paris, where it caused great rejoicing (and to tell the truth he deserved a large part of the glory).

The king was nevertheless much put out by this, and even more when he heard that the preachers in Paris were saying from the pulpits that Saul had killed his thousands and David his ten thousands. . . .

Thus the victory of Auneau was the theme song of the League, the joy of the clergy . . . and the cause of the king's jealousy. He knew that these laurels were heaped on Guise to diminish his own. A truly miserable thing, for a great king to be jealous of his vassal.[38]


All the politique commentators agree that the combined effect of these two victories was to spur the League into the active phase of the rebellion. Navarre's victory was a warning of impending doom should he become king—echoing the Tableau of Madame de Montpensier; and Guise's victory put the last Valois king at the greatest possible disadvantage in his subjects' eyes. Within a few days of the arrival of the news of Auneau in the capital, it set off a new and even bolder clerical offensive.[39]

Exaltation of Guises: Denigration of King

The Counter-Reformation cause and the political claims of the house of Guise-Lorraine had, of course, been deliberately intertwined since the days of Charles, cardinal de Lorraine, and the first League. A continuing problem for royalist moderate Catholics was to find a way to separate the one true church from the grasp of the League and heal the breach between it and the crown. Unfortunately for the politique cause in the late 1580s, in addition to virtually every act of the unlucky Henri III, other events—which might in different circumstances have seemed unrelated—kept aggravating the problem. Some of these took place beyond the borders of the kingdom, such as the conflict between Queen Elizabeth and Mary Stuart, culminating in the execution of the Scottish queen. Mary's mother, Marie de Guise, was the sister of François, duc de Guise, and the cardinal de Lorraine, so it was not mere anti-League paranoia for the politiques , in whose footsteps we are following, to see the death of Mary Stuart as one more blow to their cause, because it depicted her as a martyr to that of the League, their nemesis.

On Sunday, the first day of March of the present year, 1587, news came to Paris of the execution of the queen of Scots, whose head was cut off by the executioner on the 18th day of February, following the death sentence against the said queen by the Parliament of England several months before, for the crime of lèse-majesté, and for conspiracy against the state and queen of England. . . .

Her death was infinitely regretted and mourned by the Catholics, principally by the League, who cried aloud that she was a martyr to the Roman, Catholic, and Apostolic religion, and that the queen had put her to death on this account . . . no matter what the pretext was. In this opinion they were carefully and cleverly supported by the preachers, who canonized her every day in their sermons.[40]


Thus L'Estoile. De Thou's twenty-page account is factually complete and analytically astute.[41] The accounts of these two politiques are exactly what one would expect, both in the similarity of the substance and in the individual differences of style.

Pasquier did not make Mary Stuart the subject of one of his special letters. His habit was to concentrate on reporting events that had taken place in Paris, of which he had firsthand experience, which enabled him also to give the entire range of local opinion. Parisian information about this dramatic event across the channel was funneled exclusively through the propaganda of the League, though royalist Catholic robins rejected it.

The case of Du Vair's oration is altogether different. It is of considerable interest, not about Mary Stuart—in this respect his is just one more item of pro-Guise rhetoric—but about the attitude of Du Vair himself in 1587. He disavowed the authorship and attributed it to Renaud de Beaune, archbishop of Bourges.[42] The text is described by Radouant as tiresome: after a lengthy and exaggerated listing of the Scottish queen's virtues and tribulations, there are some high-flown rhetorical passages, embodying Stoic ideas in Ciceronian phrasing (allegedly pronounced by the heroine at dramatic intervals but, Radouant says, "pure Du Vair"), climaxed by an offensively graphic account of her last moments, with emphasis on the physical details. It is tailor-made for the Guise cause. The question is, why?

There are several versions of this oration, and one hypothesis is that one or more, but especially that of 1641, was "edited" by somebody in the employ of the Guise family. But as Radouant says, from internal evidence it is indubitably from the pen of Du Vair and it is a "party manifesto . . . breathing the spirit of vengeance. His words recall the tableau [of Montpensier] that Jean Prévost, curé of St-Séverin, exhibited in the cemetery next to the church, to provoke passersby to rage against the English and the Huguenots."[43]

Du Vair's biographer asks again, but more insistently than in the case of Harlay's speech, whether this was a sign of adherence to the League, or only "a step in the direction of the Lorraine princes"? Did Du Vair perhaps


harbor the ambition and the hope of being able to serve as mediator between the factions? Whatever the truth in this matter—and certainty is impossible—"even the most lenient view does not clear him of calculation, and perhaps dissimulation." It is indisputable that in 1593 Du Vair took an unequivocal stand (and considerable personal risk) for the politique cause, which canceled out for contemporaries any doubts that these earlier liguisant works might have raised. Radouant remarks philosophically, "He is one of those men whose character can only be judged at the end [of his life]." We are familiar with this point of view as that of the Greeks, seen in the exchange between the Athenian Solon and Croesus, according to Herodotus and constantly echoed by Pierre de L'Estoile.[44]

The counterpart of exalting the Guises was denigration of the last Valois king. Moving beyond the denunciation of his policies and his personal habits, which we have seen escalate steadily for a dozen years, in the months following the death of Joyeuse and Guise's triumph at Auneau, League spokesmen intensified their attacks on the duc d'Épernon, now the only strong person at the king's side. Typically, Henri III made it easier for his enemies. Even much earlier (April 1587), L'Estoile reported that the duke had "returned to Paris from Provence . . . in great magnificence, accompanied by 300 mounted men. The League took a dim view of his warm welcome from the king, saying that he was the only one who put courage in the monarch's heart." In truth, adds the diarist, "he was the only servant His Majesty could really trust." In August 1587 the king had given a very luxurious wedding feast for the duke and "seemed to enjoy himself hugely, although his death's head was hanging all the while from his belt. He gave the bride a necklace of too pearls, said to be worth 100,000 écus. " Significantly, within a few months the king gave in to League pressures and sent Épernon out of the city. He left on Tuesday, April 26, 1588, to take up the gouvernement of Normandy, which Henri III had recently bestowed upon him. "He was accompanied by four companies of armed men . . . to prevent the violence that seemed likely, because he was so hated by the lesser folk and envied by the greater, to whom nothing is given (they think), but all to him."[45]

Pasquier remarks that Épernon's departure and escort robbed the king of force, both personal and military. De Thou emphasizes the tactic of the


League curés, who skillfully exploited the duke's departure in conjunction with repetition of the claim that except for the duc de Guise, the city—and the state—would have fallen to the heretics and their partisans, "profiting from the hatred of the people against Nogaret de la Valette, duc d'Épernon, whom Henri made all the more odious by heaping new honors on him each day."[46]

On Friday, April 29, 1588, Henri III retired to the château of Vincennes, announcing that he wished to spend seven entire days in penance and that no one was to disturb him for any reason.[47]


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