previous sub-section
12 The Rebellion against the Crown in the Reign of Henri III, May 1588 to August 1, 1589
next sub-section

Valois Revenge

The League had won the first round, but the long-range outcome was far from certain. Much depended on the alliance between the Guises and Spain. The League needed Spanish force if the gains of May and July were to endure, and Philip, in turn, chose a moment when France was paralyzed by internal troubles to strike at England. If he had won his great gamble, England would have been regained for the faith, and at the same time the only possible support for either the Dutch rebels or the anti-League party in France would be knocked out. The isolated Low Countries could then be subdued, and France controlled through Philip's clients in the house of Guise-Lorraine.[12] Henri III well understood that this alliance could seal his doom, so the Armada's failure seemed to offer a miraculous opportunity.

On September 1 Henri III dismissed his principal advisers, Cheverny, the chancellor, three secretaries of state, Villeroy, Brulart, and Pinart, and Pomponne de Bellièvre, all of whom were tainted with the failure of his policies and thus partially responsible for his current predicament.[13] He


gave the seals, though only with the title garde des sceaux , to François de Monthelon, who had never held high office. L'Estoile calls him "a simple lawyer in the Parlement, but one of the oldest, most learned, most honest and wholehearted Catholics of the Palais, though little versed in affairs of state and still less in those of finance" (Brunet 3:186; Roelker 159). De Thou says that he was like his father (we noted that the elder Monthelon was strong in parlementaire virtues), who had been "used by François I after the disgrace of Poyet . . . an eventuality which was very lucky for him, enabling him to pass for a very honest man who had absolutely no talent for public affairs. . . . Similarly with the son, who accepted the office at the urging of his friends . . . and showed great docility in obeying the king's orders and mighty little aptitude for a task of such importance."[14]

Pasquier's opinion is identical. In the letter previously cited to Sainte-Marthe assessing Henri III at the Barricades, he includes a fairly lengthy passage about the duties of advisers to a prince. Warning against the temptations (and evils) of flattery, he says,

For my part, I shall never agree with the opinion . . . that he who would live with princes should never tell the truth. . . . I prefer that of Solon, that, on the contrary, . . . we owe everything to the prince, who is given us by God, but above all, the truth. . . . It avails little to be morally upright if this virtue is not accompanied by force . . . a good man will, in all modesty, maintain what he thinks is right and condemn the contrary. . . . I know that following this advice one might not last long, but which is better, to bow to the corruptions of the court, or to take the consequences [of speaking out] and take an honest retirement in your own home, as did Chancellor L'Hôpital?[15]

Henri III's speech at the opening of the Estates on October 16 displayed his unappeased anger at the humiliation suffered at the hands of the duc de Guise. L'Estoile, de Thou, and Pasquier all refer to his remark that "some nobles of my kingdom formed leagues and associations that prevented me from stamping out heresy in the kingdom." The duke changed color and his brother, the cardinal, "so menaced His Majesty, that he allowed him to change the speech and have it printed quite otherwise." "The cardinal was


even presumptuous enough to scold his brother, saying that he [himself] never did things by halves, and that if [the duke] had taken his advice he would not be in the present fix" (Brunet 3:189; Roelker 159).

As all three orders were dominated by the League, the speeches of their orators did not lessen the antagonism between the king and the duke. Then, the seizure of the marquisate of Saluces by the duke of Savoy, allied to the Guises, exacerbated it still more. "While delighting the Barricaders, it marvelously embittered the king against the duke, knowing well that his ambition was behind this enterprise too. . . . This was the final straw," says L'Estoile, "in determining him to get rid of the duke and the domination of all these mayors of the palace" (Brunet 3:192-193; Roelker 161). Henri III's response to each new thrust of League pressure was to yield in fact, while asserting his authority verbally, so it is not surprising that a new League thrust always followed. A clear example occurred in the first week in December, when he was coerced into dismissing several of his personal officers, including his personal physician, François de Miron, because "they were devoted to the king." The next day there was a public "reconciliation" between the two men, but each was planning the next move. There were rumors that the duke planned to force the king back to Paris, as a captive, and the duke began to receive warnings of impending assassination (Brunet 3:194; Roelker 161).

In the meanwhile, there were two matters of the highest importance that lay, like unsheathed knives, between them. One was the ongoing problem of the Trent decrees, which were on the agenda of the Estates, and the other, more recent but even more sensitive, the proposed condemnation of Navarre. Both were taken up at the insistence of Guise and his close collaborators, with the rationale that if they passed, they would add to his power and influence, and if they failed, the blame could be laid on the king. A special commission was established to consider the Trent decrees; it heard testimony from a large number of clergy—all favoring in one degree or another the incorporation of the Trent decrees in a royal edict. Only two people, both laymen and gens du roi appeared for the other side. They were two mainstream spokesmen, Jacques Faye d'Espesses, avocat du roi, and Jacques de La Guesle, procureur général du roi. Faye was the one who took the floor. He based his opposition to the proposal on a succinct and accurate summary of exactly what the Gallican liberties were and why they would be annulled by the Trent decrees. He was interrupted, rudely, by the cardinal-archbishop of Lyon, Pierre d'Épinac, a fanatical ligueur , who insinuated that Faye's own religious beliefs were of questionable orthodoxy. Faye, angry, proclaimed his consistent loyalty to the Roman faith and said


that nobody could accuse him of deserting to heresy and then changing his mind when he found he would lose out in material ways. The details he gave in this hypothetical case were unmistakable references to a youthful Huguenot period in the archbishop's career, when the reform movement was at its height. In de Thou's words, "this effectively shut the archbishop's mouth." Then Louis de Saint-Gelais, sieur de Lansac, who had been a member of the French delegation to the third session of the Council, testified in glowing terms to the virtues of the decrees (de Thou calls it un magnifique éloge , with evident pleasure in his mockery). Faye then asked him, in the best cross-examining style, whether his opinion of the Council was still what it was in 1563? Lansac having affirmed that it was, in a very positive manner, Faye then "closed his mouth" by reading aloud Lansac's own written report at the time, in which he mocked the pretensions of the prelates to be instructed by the Holy Ghost, remarking that the latter seemed to live in Rome. Once more the Trent issue was won by the Gallicans, and de Thou reports that the meeting "broke up in general confusion, some full of indignation and others joking and enjoying the discomfort of the League."[16]

The proposal to bar Navarre from the succession, which L'Estoile entitles "The Vain project of the condemnation of the King of Navarre and the true execution of the condemner instead, work of God, not man," was opposed by Henri III, who declared that Navarre should be given another chance to convert and sign the articles of union, and that "it was wrong to condemn him without a hearing. . . . But the League, which could not accomplish its aims unless the line of Saint Louis was first degraded, decided that the king of Navarre was incapable of all succession, crowns, and royal dignity, as the chief of heretics and personally apostate" (Brunet 3:194-195; Roelker 161-162).

De Thou, in his Mémoires , cites an opinion expressed at this time by Montaigne, that only the death of either Guise or Navarre would resolve the problem, that "neither the duke nor any of his house would feel safe as long as the king of Navarre lived; and that the latter, for his part, was convinced that he could not make good his claim to the throne while Guise lived. Personally," he told de Thou,

They both make a show of religion, it is a good way to hold the loyalty of their followers, but religion does not concern either of them seriously. Only the fear of losing Huguenot support keeps Navarre from reentering


the church of his fathers, and the duke would not be averse to the Confession of Augsburg, which he tasted under the influence of his uncle, the cardinal of Lorraine, if he could do so without compromising his interests. [Montaigne] added that these were the sentiments of princes concerning religion, that he had observed whenever he had any dealings with them.[17]

There is food for thought in this comment, for those concerned with the Wars of Religion in France, and/or with the mentalité of Michel de Montaigne. One thing is certain: fear of and opposition to heresy was a bond strong enough to hold Catholics of very different views together against it—as had been evident since the 1520s—but sharing the "one true faith" was not a strong enough bond to bring about French Catholic unity or to prevail against Gallican national feeling. Afterwards, Pasquier wrote a long letter to Harlay—imprisoned in the Bastille—commenting at length on the Estates. He expresses satisfaction with Faye's performance ("he defended our rights virtuously"), sees through the stratagems of the League, is irritated at the lack of common sense and logic shown by the deputies, pushed around by the League leaders ("to demand the continuing prosecution of a war to the death against the Huguenots and at the same time a reduction of taxes—these things are simply incompatible"), and shows his despair of finding any solutions under Henri III, "if the kingdom has been stricken by the faults of the past, the future remedies bid fair to be worse," and he tells a bitter joke going the rounds in Blois, "the late King Charles was declared to have attained his majority at the age of ten and four, that is, 14; and some desire to make our present [king] a minor at four times ten, that is at the age of forty."[18]

L'Estoile summarizes the king's new resolve. "This prince, filled with a just wrath, determined to kill the duc de Guise, but the great God, lighted the king's heart (which he holds in His hand) with a new force, and armed him with a new courage, to attack Guise, believing that [the duke's] longer life would mean his own death" (Brunet 3:196; Roelker 162). The melodramatic, but absolutely true, story of the murder, first of the duc de Guise, and then of the cardinal, by the king's orders, and the subsequent arrest of other members of the house of Lorraine as well as leaders of the ligueur estates, including La Chapelle-Marteau, prévôt des marchands of Paris, and Compans and Cotteblanche, two other "founders" of the Sixteen who had been elected échevins after the Barricades, has been told many times. What


concerns us here is the judgment that parlementaire spokesmen held of the two Henris.[19]

There is no doubt that the resort to murder by their king in order to execute "justice" posed a dilemma for our royalist parlementaires, who were also self-proclaimed believers in Christianity. They could not really approve it, yet there seemed to be "extenuating circumstances" and we find de Thou and Pasquier going to considerable lengths to formulate a kind of apologia, but not so far as to give clear-cut approval. De Thou's opinion does not occur in the chronological sequence; his narrative account of the events of December 1588 omits the actual murders and concentrates on the arrests, the comings and goings, placed in time by phrases such as, "on the day before the duke died." He includes the question, but only indirectly, in his overall assessment of Henri III after the king's assassination, eight months later. Apropos of the king's violent changes of mood, Chancellor Cheverny (de Thou's brother-in-law) told him:

In winter he was prey to a black bilious humor, perceived only by officers under the same roof. Although he was an easy master at other times, he then became impossible. One could not mention any amusements; he hardly slept . . . exhausted the chancellor and secretaries of state by driving them hard in overlong hours of work. In this mood he expressed a zeal for discipline and issued severe edicts. . . . Shortly before the death of the duc de Guise, [Cheverny] told me about these royal humors and predicted that if the duke continued to press him, he was capable of having him assassinated in his chamber with no fuss (sans bruit ), because it was the season when he was easily aroused and when his anger became fury.[20]

Pasquier's apologia is much more explicit. He follows a letter of December 27, to Pierre Ayrault (lieutenant criminel in Angers) merely giving him the news, with a second, much longer one, with his reflections and interpretations. There is a metaphor in the earlier letter suggesting that the king believed every outrage to his authority, from whatever apparent source, stemmed from the Guise princes, "and the more flexibly he responded, the more they stiffened in their attacks, so that [the League] was really a hydra, if one head was cut off, seven new ones were born." In the longer letter he lists and analyzes, in chronological order, all the actions of the duke from the Day of the Barricades to the days just before the end that explained the


king's decision to get rid of him, filling eight pages. Then he says, "Therefore, to sum up this long discourse, I do not doubt that the king had several major reasons for anger at the duke, and especially what has happened in Paris . . . otherwise he would not be human."

Pasquier then expresses the belief that notwithstanding, the king had no intention of having the duke executed as recently as the opening of the Estates, and that the duke's ambitions were also not so démesurées until the deputies kept urging him to "finish what he had begun." "There is nothing more worthy of a great soul than moderate ambition, nor more detestable than ambition that passes reasonable bounds. Thus it is these deputies that are responsible for the duke's death; he based his greatness on them and they were the unique cause of his misfortune. " Pasquier manages to exculpate the king and the duke, laying the blame on the "hydra" of the League as manifested in the Estates, whose leaders, of course, included the spokesmen of the Paris Sixteen.

The remaining six pages of this letter contain Pasquier's interesting historical observations on morts d'état . "I have never found that the success of such a coup advanced the solution of the troubles of the state."

There follows a list of important morts d'état , Caesar's, Florentine history, English history, and past events in French history, such as the assassination of Louis d'Orléans by the duke of Burgundy, with astute analysis of the causes and results of each. "As for the present case, the king had two or three days of happy relief, having removed the thorn from his foot, but we have had no news from Paris, which makes me fear that our [allies] there are the weaker side. . . . Some thought that with the beast dead the poison would drain away, but I fear that the tail will be long."[21]

Pierre de L'Estoile, while an astute observer and a serious man and citizen, was far from the equal of Étienne Pasquier in historical interpretation or philosophical vision. He is content to lay the responsibility on God, whose ways are not our ways:

The news of these murders and imprisonments arrived in Paris, Saturday, December 24, Christmas Eve, and "disturbed the feast day," as it was said. The people were strangely moved; they seized arms at once and began to keep a stringent guard night and day. The Sixteen unfurled their flags and began to shout, "Murder! Fire! Blood! Vengeance!" as usually happens in revolts and seditions—the most wicked make the most of the mutiny. . . . Everyone said that for vengeance on the tyrant—for thus was Paris beginning to describe the king—the last bit of money and the last drop of blood


ought to be spent. Although many good men were of the opposite opinion . . . even including those of the courts, who still had force on their side if they had cared to use it, [but] they were seized with apprehension and fear, their hearts failing them in their need, as the saying goes, and they allowed themselves to be carried along with the mutinous and wicked . These latter, seeing that the others were afraid, jumped at their throats, having seized arms while the others were debating . . . took the advantage and so the victory, which in all revolts and seditions goes to those who act first (Brunet 3:202-203; Roelker 164-165 [my italics]).

At one point near the end of Pasquier's long letter cited above, he remarks, "I cannot conceive that the people of Paris, who idolized the deceased, would easily forget him." Indeed, the news of the Guise murders, especially that of the cardinal, raised the tempo of the rebellion and the oratory of the prédicateurs to new heights. The murder of the cardinal made it possible to declare Henri III a tyrant, who had attacked the sacred person of a ranking prelate and thus forfeited all claims to loyalty, to the title of the king, and, even, his right to live. Parisians would be preoccupied with revenge until it was accomplished, eight months later.

The king was out of reach, but the Parlement of Paris, which traditionally claimed to be pars corporis regis , was a vulnerable target. For the first time the rebels went beyond rhetorical attack to use physical force against the court, whose great ordeal began in January 1589.

The first day of the year 1589, at the end of his sermon at St-Barthélemy, Lincestre extracted from all of his listeners (making them raise their hand as a sign of consent) an oath that they would employ all means to avenge the two Catholic princes, even to the last sou in their purses and their last drop of blood. . . . And he extracted a particular oath from premier président de Harlay, seated right in front of him . . . interpolating at various times, "Raise your hand, M. le président, raise it good and high, still higher, if you please, so that the people can see it." [Harlay] was forced to do it, but not without some scandalized murmurs from the people, who had been given to understand that [he] had . . . given his consent to the death of the two Lorraine princes whom Paris adored like tutelary gods (Brunet 3:230-231; Roelker 167).

This episode presaged the planned attack to take prisoner the leaders, who were all known politiques , and substitute members of the court who were somewhat in sympathy with the League—or at least, not conspicuously opposed to it. It took place on the same day that the unlamented Estates of Blois came to an end.


Monday, the 16th of January, Master Jean Leclerc, formerly procureur , now captain of his quarter and governor of the Bastille, accompanied by twenty-five or thirty scoundrels like himself, armed with cuirasses and pistols in their hands . . . went to the Palais, and into the Grand' Chambre with a list, and said loudly (the chambers being assembled), "You, so and so" (he named them), "we have something to say to you." And to the question of the premier président . . . as to by what authority he was acting, he replied "that they should hurry up and follow him, and that if they forced him to use his authority it might be too bad for them." So the premier président and présidents Potier and de Thou got ready to follow him. After them went voluntarily fifty or sixty conseillers . . . many who were not on the list . . . saying that they could not do less than to follow their leaders. Walking ahead [Bussy] led them, at six in the morning, as if in triumph, to the Place de Grève via the Pont-au-Change . . . to the Bastille . . . with the streets full of people with drawn arms (their shops closed) to watch them pass and cover them with a thousand taunts and villainies (Brunet 3:235; Roelker 169).

De Thou's account is similar, but as a close relative of one of the victims his version has a special interest.

Monday, January 16, when all chambers were assembled, the Parlement was attacked by the ligueurs , who guarded all the doors, so that nobody could leave. Then Bussy-Leclerc, in armor, escorted by Jean-Baptiste Machault, Michel de Marillac, and de Baston, entered the Grand' Chambre [which] after deliberation of several days, was about to name deputies to be sent to the king. Addressing those present, Bussy, in an insulting, mocking manner, said that he was much mortified to be obliged to imprison so many respectable persons. Thereupon he began to read aloud the list of those he was ordered to arrest, starting with the premier président Achille de Harlay and président Augustin de Thou. Président Barnabé Brisson, who is believed to have been informed in advance, had not gone to the Palais that day, nor had président Nicolas Potier, while président Pierre Séguier, sensing what was afoot, had left Paris the day before, with his brother, avocat général with [the help of a tavernkeeper]. Leclerc was continuing to read the list when président de Thou rose and said that it was not necessary to continue because there was nobody in the company who was not ready to follow him. All the others cried out that they would follow their leaders, regardless of the consequences, and, rising in a body, they abandoned the sanctuary of Justice.

It was a spectacle truly deserving of pity, to see so many persons, respected for their authority, their knowledge and their honorable behavior, arrested like criminals by a man of no worth (homme de néant ), led past the tribunal where they had so often performed their rightful functions, and triumphantly conducted through the streets of the city. It was notable, however, that traditional behavior was not yet suppressed, when the major-


ity of townsmen, although already infected with the poison of rebellion, could not contain their tears at this sight.[22]

There follows in the Histoire universelle a summary of the League's charges against Parlement. The Sixteen claimed that members had "plotted with the enemies of God" to turn over the city to the troops of Navarre, who had resolved to put Paris "to fire and sword." De Thou comments, "in thus trampling on the magistracy itself and holding good men in captivity, they were declaring themselves above the law."[23]

The court continued to meet, "notwithstanding the absence of the best and sanest part," says L'Estoile, adding that Brisson was presiding in the Grand' Chambre, "by some ruse and promise of the Sixteen." On January 21, the gens du roi were replaced. Édouard Molé was obliged to accept the office of procureur général, which he had tried hard to refuse, "overcome by the excited cries of 'Molé! Molé!' and also because he feared death otherwise, or at least to be rearrested and sent to the Bastille, from which he had just emerged." Jean Le Maistre and Louis d'Orléans became avocats du roi. It is worth noting in passing that all these men, headed by Brisson, were later to be found among those condemned as politiques by the Sixteen, after the extremists gained the upper hand, in 1591. Brisson tried to prepare for the day when the entire movement would be over and discredited by composing a disavowal, which he had notarized, but as L'Estoile—and others-do not fail to point out, in the end this forethought did him no good (Brunet 3:239-241; Roelker 170).

The other matter needing immediate attention was how to persuade the king to release the prisoners in Blois, especially those of the Third Estate. A plan was suggested to offer in exchange the members of Parlement in the Bastille, because they were as important to the king as the ligueurs of the Bureau de Ville were to the Paris League. Nothing came of this at the time, and the actual release of Harlay and some of the others did not come about until mid-March, when the duc de Mayenne—brother of the murdered princes and heir to the League leadership—had arrived in the capital and achieved some degree of authority.

The plan was nevertheless pursued, by Guillaume Du Vair, who hoped that this occasion would enable him to play a prominent mediating role in contrast to his attempts after the Barricades and the flight of the king. Once


more we have a "speech" that was never delivered, but only written; once more we do not know the exact date of composition. The supplication au roi , moreover, enlarges the subject beyond the question of the prisoners; it is an appeal to the king to "crack down" on the illegal actions and assemblies, so that even if the kingdom is still torn by civil war, the capital can be safe and orderly. Radouant believes that it was composed after the arrival of Mayenne in mid-February and that it reflects an agreement between the duke and Du Vair. He feels compelled to admire the feat by which Du Vair manages to make an apology for the League in a declaration ostensibly on behalf of the king's officers, by suggesting that since the king had the greatest responsibilities, he had committed the greatest wrongs in the events of recent months, so he should be the first to pardon—and release—his prisoners. As the biographer notes, it is remarkable that Du Vair was still trying to hold a neutral stance, but the increasing polarization of opinion would soon make it untenable.[24]

The mystique of the Guises as martyrs was being carried to its greatest extremes in these weeks after the Blois murders.

In the following days and months, solemn and devout services . . . were held in all the churches and monasteries of Paris, with great lamentations of the people who attended. And it can be said that since France was France, no kings nor princes, however great and powerful they were, have ever been so honored, mourned and cried over after their death as these two Lorraine princes. The son of the murdered duke was baptized as the Dauphin.

He was held at the font by the governor of the city of Paris, who christened him François, for his grandfather. . . . There was magnificent ceremony in this baptism, most of the captains of the dixaines marching in pairs carrying white, lighted candles, followed by archers. . . . A great banquet was given in the Hôtel de Ville following the ceremony . . . and the artillery was fired as a sign of joy. The people of Paris gathered in great numbers in the streets, blessing the child and mourning the father with great sorrow and lamentations. . . .

On Mardi gras, all day long fine devout processions were held in Paris, in one about 600 scholars of all the colleges of the university (most of them ten to twelve years old) marched naked or in shirts, with bare feet, carrying lighted candles, and singing devoutly, though sometimes discordantly, in the streets as well as in the churches (Brunet 3:247; Roelker 172-174).

The duc de Mayenne, meanwhile, was attempting to gather the various elements of the League under his control. A General Council of the Union was established, and he took an oath as lieutenant général of the Royal State


and Crown of France, a title on which L'Estoile pours scorn. "Monday, March 13, the duc de Mayenne took the oath, in court, as Lieutenant-General of the Royal State and Crown of France. This ambitious and ridiculous title was accorded him by fifteen or sixteen good-for-nothings, and confirmed by this imaginary Parlement, the real Parlement being miserable in the various prisons of the city" (Brunet 3:258; Roelker 175). The duke's power, even at this early date, was more apparent than real. The Sixteen often defied him; especially was this true of Pierre Senault, acknowledged by ligueurs themselves to be among the toughest of the "hard-liners" (Brunet 3:257; Roelker 174-175).[25]

previous sub-section
12 The Rebellion against the Crown in the Reign of Henri III, May 1588 to August 1, 1589
next sub-section