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12 The Rebellion against the Crown in the Reign of Henri III, May 1588 to August 1, 1589
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Royalist Counteroffensive

The League held the initiative, indisputably, but a royalist counteroffensive was gradually gathering strength in the early months of 1589. Président Jean de La Guesle and ten conseillers had left to join the king immediately after learning of the Guise murders; in mid-February La Guesle proclaimed publicly that Navarre was the only true and legal heir to the crown of France.[26] In response to the king's call, a stream of officers left Paris and joined their master, who had moved from Blois to Tours, where he established a loyal, royalist Parlement, disowning the "rump," that is, the ligueur court in Paris.[27]

The goal of all these activities was reached in April. At the beginning of the month, Henri III announced that Navarre was his true and only successor, and a treaty was drawn up whereby they made an alliance, each declaring that the other's enemies were also his own. Navarre was very suspicious of a trap and hesitated for some weeks. Many influential politiques , including de Thou, were doing everything possible to overcome his hesitation. "Finally . . . deciding that the war [against the League] was really his own," Navarre agreed to go to the side of Henri III.

Having taken this resolution, he crossed the river [Loire] Sunday, the last day of April, and went to His Majesty at Plessis-les-Tours. It was incredible with what joy this interview was received. . . . The press was so great and the voices of the people resounding exultantly, Vive le Roi! Vive le Roi de Navarre! Vivent les Rois! Finally meeting, they embraced very


affectionately with tears, especially the king of Navarre, from whose eyes they fell as big as peas from the great joy he had in seeing the king. He said that evening, "I'll die content with today, whatever death I die, because God has granted me to see the face of my king" (Brunet 3:277-278).

L'Estoile drew the moral in one of his most eloquent passages.

It came about that the king, who had fought him for so long, and even furnished the League the means to do so, was the one who took him by the hand to install him, so that he would get his great heritage, promised him by God . . . so also it was the Pope, it was the Spaniard, it was the Lorrainer, it was the Savoyard, it was the League, it was the Sixteen—in brief it was by his greatest enemies that he was carried, on their shoulders, to the royal throne. Miracle of miracles in truth, which we have seen with our own eyes (Brunet 3:278; Roelker 176-177).

Pasquier shared the joyous relief with his friend Nicolas de Harlay, sieur de Sancy, and pointed out how different the atmosphere was from the artificial, insincere "reconciliations" of Henri de Valois with Henri de Guise: "[Navarre] came to greet the king with so open and frank an expression, that there was not one among us witnesses to this meeting whose soul was not filled with incredible joy. We looked upon him, and even though he does not share our religion, we forgot all the prejudice we formerly had against him."[28]

But the end of the struggle was still a long way off, and ligueur Paris greeted the news in a paroxysm of fury and invective.

The preachers of Madame de Montpensier preached that the mask was now off, the tyrant had lifted the veil of hypocrisy and openly declared himself the partisan of the heretic. . . . There was no doubt that by this war he hoped to exterminate and banish the Catholic religion from France. . . . No other gospel was preached in Paris at this time . . . and it was better received than the true Gospel of peace. . . . The preachers called the king a dog, tiger, heretic, tyrant . . . and wouldn't allow him to be spoken of otherwise. There was no little preacher who couldn't find a place in his sermon for a list of injuries against the king, no pedant so obscure that he didn't write a couple of sonnets on the subject, no minor printer who couldn't find a way to roll some new libelous and defamatory discourse off the press every day. . . . I was curious enough about these to acquire about 300 different ones, all published in Paris and peddled in the streets; they fill four large volumes . . . besides a great folio of pictures and placards . . . which I should have thrown in the fire, as they deserved, except that they may serve in some way to show and expose the abuses, impostures, vanities, and


furies of this great monster of the League (Brunet 3:177-180; Roelker 177).[29]

The League retained control of the city and would for nearly five more years, but on the fighting fronts the tide had turned. Senlis fell to royalist troops in mid-May, Pontoise in late July. A factor that was to become increasingly influential in the (eventual) shift of opinion was already evident. Navarre's negotiated treaty with Pontoise

left gentlemen mounted on their horses, soldiers with their swords, bourgeois houses not looted . . . and [people were saying] as much good of this Prince as formerly of bad, even the Sixteen of Paris and Boucher, who said aloud that if it were ever necessary to make a deal, he would always recommend treating with the king of Navarre, because he would do what he said he would do, unlike the tyrant (Brunet 3:301-302; Roelker 176-180).

These sentiments and the victories that inspired them had the effect of rendering the masters of Paris desperate. When the joint armies of the king and Navarre were camped near the capital, they feared a move by Parisian politiques that would prove the League's downfall. Under the heading "Politiques imprisoned as the wages of a Jacobin," L'Estoile describes the precautions taken even as preparations had been completed to remove the "tyrant" from the scene once and for all.

[July 31] The Sixteen had about 300 bourgeois locked up in the various prisons, including the most notable and prominent, whom they suspected of favoring the king in their hearts. They called them Huguenots and politiques . . . . They did this, they said, so that when the armies of the two kings tried to come into the city these alleged royalists would find themselves unable to move, (and so [the royalist party] would find itself blocked within and without) (Brunet 3:303; Roelker 180).

Henri III was assassinated the next day by Jacques Clement, a Dominican monk who had been incited or hired (or both) to do the deed. The event is graphically described by L'Estoile and in many politique tracts, in terms similar to those of the League about the Guise brothers. There was now a royal martyr as well as Catholic martyrs. But our politique spokesmen, while expressing pious regrets, have their eyes turned to the future, with hope and expectation.

De Thou received the news in Venice on August 14. When the courier


reported that "the armies of France and all the nobility had recognized the king of Navarre, the general consternation was converted to unexpected joy," he says in his Mémoires . (The event was to show that this was a considerable exaggeration, however.) De Thou goes on to give a full account of the arguments for recognizing the new king of France presented to the Venetian Senate by Marc'Antonio Barbaro, whose family had produced distinguished politicians and diplomats, including ambassadors to the French court.[30]

Pasquier wrote another of his detailed analyses, this time in a letter to Jean Tamboneau, sieur de Bouchet, président in the Chambre des Comptes and conseiller d'état, a friend and colleague of many years. For fourteen pages he set forth the balance sheet of virtues and defects of the late king (in which the latter far outweigh the former) and then concludes,

I have witnessed all these events with my own eyes, and they forecast nothing pleasant to come, nevertheless, in spite of all, it has never entered my head to abandon the obedience I owed him, and to follow another party, because it pleased God to make him my king. Therefore I have resolved to live and die under the one who will now rule over us, without undertaking any examination of his conscience; for whatever God has given us, we must accept . God knows better what we need than we ourselves.[31]

No period in the century was more highly charged than this late summer of 1589, when the "heretic" had just actually become king. We hazard only speculation about the distribution of high-ranking robins along a spectrum of attitudes toward religious dissent comparable to those of earlier decades, because those who remained in Paris were keeping a very low profile if they were in the royalist-politique camp. L'Estoile is a paradigm of this group, and the evidence of 1592-94 would suggest that it was sizable, probably a plurality of the population, and almost certainly a majority in the sovereign courts. And yet a great many things occurred in the five years between the accession of Henri IV and the "reduction of Paris to its obedience," which changed many minds—Du Vair being a paradigm here—so we shall never really know. What we do know is significant, however, although it does not form a complete pattern. Magistrates who were frankly politiques , like de Thou, Pasquier, Harlay, La Guesle, and all those who obeyed the king's command to leave the city by April 15, were willing to give wholehearted support to Navarre in spite of his "heresy"; Pasquier's formulation is clear


and convincing. But this did not imply that they had changed their lifelong opposition to division of religion in the state,[32] as we know from their unremitting efforts to bring about the king's abjuration and their constant emphasis on the expectation that he would convert when "recruiting" for the royalist cause, as they were obliged to do until July 1593, when they finally won the day. In addition to this expectation, we find two other motives for their making an exception for the king: the first is precisely because he was king. One could argue that the legal fact outweighed the religious factor—this is the essence of the politique position in 1589-91[33] —or, that since God had willed it, a good Christian should accept it (Pasquier), and/or that it was part of God's punishment for the sins of France, like the civil wars themselves (L'Estoile). The other motive is strictly pragmatic, Henri IV was better than the alternative, which meant the Lorraine princes nationally and the Sixteen in the capital. Religion, in other words, had truly been subordinated to political (eventually, also national) considerations. This position is at the extreme opposite pole to that of the League, whose leaders both moderate and radical had, on the contrary, declared that religion was the only cement of the state and that the defense of religious uniformity must have top priority. The work of Barnavi and Descimon has provided us with a deeper and more complete understanding of this than was previously the case. Between the two poles was a fluid, ill-defined, uncomfortable position, which we assume was that of members of the sovereign courts who stayed in Paris, unless they were secret politiques .

As usual (before 1593), Du Vair does not conform to the politique model. Another of his undelivered discours , but this one dated, was forthcoming upon the accession of Henri IV, known simply as le discours du 5 août . He was appalled at the violence that broke out in the city—even greater than after the Guise assassinations—and called upon the Parlement to intervene on behalf of order and security. He urged the court to declare a general amnesty, in order to cool the atmosphere and mitigate the hostility of the populace toward the court. (Radouant comments on how revealing this is of the court's vulnerability.)[34] He makes a strong plea for the maintenance of legal procedures and duly constituted officers—as in the supplication au


roi , only more so. He also strongly disapproves of the admission of armed forces into the capital, even those of Mayenne, with whom he was still collaborating. It is noteworthy that religion is not mentioned.

Of particular relevance for our study are passages in some of Du Vair's writings, other than orations, in the next two years, when he was withdrawn from public view, among them La Constance and Anecdotes , where he presents forceful arguments for remaining in Paris when to do so was to disobey an explicit royal command and, to the extent that one collaborated with the League, could be considered lesè-majesté. In ascending order of importance, he mentions protection of one's property, a legitimate concern, and of elderly parents, even more justifiable, but puts forth what Radouant calls "la véritable raison" almost between the lines: "Celuy qui par necessité, ou par un honneste dessein de secourir son pays, se sera laissé enveloper dans un party illegitime, tout ce qu'il peut faire, c'est d'observer toutes les occasions qui se presentent de flechir doucement les volontez de ses concitoyens à recognoistre leur bien et à le desirer."[35]

Furthermore, in his philosophical works he emphasizes prudence, "le commencement de toutes les vertus." Heroism that proves futile is "maladroit et coupable," because no matter how low the condition of our country has fallen, she will always need good men, who will be respected and trusted. In politics, the wise man will use means appropriate to the desired end. And because one has more often to choose between two evils than between good and evil, the good citizen will not be "too scrupulous," and if "the conventional way" will not lead to the desired goal, one may take "the most useful." Most striking of all—in ligueur Paris—is the condemnation of the error of those who, "starting from a fixed principle, are determined to deduce from it a mode of action applicable in all circumstances ." Radouant thinks that here Du Vair has in mind "those who repeat at every instant, 'This serves the preservation of the faith, therefore one must do it.'" This is responsible for "the blind confidence of fanatics."[36] Politics is "the application of what is appropriate to the desired goal, and this depends upon the circumstances, the person exercising the means, and those with whom he must deal; it excludes all considerations except utility, immediate or distant; it is the domain of the relative, not the absolute; it has only one criterion, success."[37]


Even if some other members of the court reasoned in the same way, they neither knew of Du Vair's arguments (published long afterward) nor drew much comfort from them in 1589, or for nearly five years thereafter. Indeed, the ordeal endured in 1589 would be surpassed by the one that lay ahead, in 1591.


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12 The Rebellion against the Crown in the Reign of Henri III, May 1588 to August 1, 1589
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