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13 Terrorism and Reaction, August 1589 to December 1591; 1592
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L'affaire Brisson

The predicament of early recruits to the League who found themselves out on a limb about to be cut off can be illustrated by many individuals (the lawyer Louis d'Orléans is often cited as an example because he is well known to posterity) but the key case is that of Jean Brigard, which provoked the most daring and dramatic attack yet of the Sixteen on the Parlement—Barnavi calls it le détonateur .[8] The facts are quickly summarized. Brigard had been "the courier of the Union" in the period of the buildup and was a regular bearer of messages between the duc de Guise and his Parisian partisans. As a reward, he had been elected procureur du roi at the Hôtel de Ville in the initial reshuffle of the Bureau de Ville after the Barricades. Yet in April 1591 he was arrested by Bussy-Leclerc (his cousin, who had recruited him originally), on the charge of communicating with the enemy. Six months later he was still in the Bastille and Parlement showed no signs of intending to bring him to trial. During the late summer the extremist


curés had repeatedly demanded that he be "brought to justice," but in October he was acquitted.[9]

On the first day of November, after the Sixteen had tried in vain to regain control of the municipal government, one of their leaders, Morin de Cromé,[10] declared "that the judges of Brigard must die." Premier président Barnabé Brisson had been receiving warnings that his life was in danger for a month. The radical faction then set up a secret "Committee of Ten" to plan and carry out a purge of the court. They met every day for two weeks at a different place. Bussy produced a blank paper, allegedly destined to contain a new formulation of the oath of loyalty to the union, pressuring his co-conspirators to sign, which most did, though some complained at being obliged to do so when they could not see the contents, which were described as "of utmost importance for the conservation of the faith." There are several quite detailed contemporary accounts of these meetings and the roles of particular individuals on specific days, with some slight variations. L'Estoile's is, as usual, very colorful, and agrees to a remarkable extent with some of those written by participants, although his information was entirely secondhand, of course.[11]

On Friday, November 15 (1591), Bussy and an armed troop invaded the Palais de Justice in the morning, seized Brisson and two known politiques ,[12] dragged them off to prison, where, after a summary "kangaroo" trial, they strangled and hanged them in the afternoon. Their bodies were strung up in the Place de Grève in the night, and by morning a large crowd had gathered. Bussy and his followers,

when they saw the crowd . . . began to cry "Get the traitors! Get the politiques who have sold the city to the heretic . . ." He and his friends shouted these things to move the mob to blood and pillage. Bussy shouted that if they would follow him, by evening . . . Paris would be cleansed of traitors . . . [of whom] he had a list . . . "If not," he cried, seeing that no one was showing any interest, "I warn you they will cut your throats . . . we would have all been dead if we hadn't taken their chiefs, whom you see here, and hadn't prevented them [from acting] today."


To these words the populace, instead of being moved to arm, as Bussy intended . . . said no word . . . regarding the poor bodies with pity; they pressed close together, being more filled with mercy than with sedition (Brunet 5:126-127; Roelker 210-211).

But the moderates managed to keep the upper hand in the Bureau de Ville and the Spanish and Neapolitan commanders refused to intervene, although the Sixteen had written a special plea to Philip II on November 20. In fact, there was a rapid decline in the radical following at once, which was never to be arrested, though the pace was slowed somewhat. Parlement made its contribution by refusing to convene for two weeks. The lawyer Louis d'Orléans, often called by contemporaries the "best pen of the League," said that "he found the deed so wicked and reprehensible that it could be expiated only by the death of the perpetrators." Barnavi divides the defectors into three categories, the moderate ligueurs who had never been comfortable with the Sixteen, those who felt it was "bad for business," and disillusioned idealists.[13]

While deploring the crime, our politique spokesmen thought that Brisson's "irresolution and ambition" were factors in his tragic fate. "He tried to keep in the good graces of the Sixteen on the one hand, and at the same time to work for the royalists. But he fell between the two, as usually happens to those . . . who, in great civil troubles like ours, try to be neutral or to get advantage from each side for themselves." This is L'Estoile's opinion. Du Vair's, embodied in his most famous oration a year and a half later, was "he had nourished the tigers who drank his blood. . . . He feared too much and thus suffered what he feared . . . and the worst of it is, that he had been warned loud and often." Then Du Vair draws a moral for his audience—the Parlement of Paris itself—"Messieurs, may the Grace of God, which saved you that day also open your eyes to a thousand other evils which will surely befall you if you do not act now [to preserve the constitutional succession, of Henri IV].[14] Ten days later L'Estoile reports,

Monday, November 25, [1591], I was shown the list of the politiques of our quarter, called "the red paper," in which I was much interested because my name was on it, and most of those I know. This . . . was a roll which the Sixteen had prepared for each quarter . . . of all the politiques of Paris, as


they are called, of all those held to be for the king in their hearts, adherents of his party, or who do not approve of the robbery, brigandage, and cruelty which they call the zeal of God. . . . On this list they put all those (however devout Catholics they are) who, as true Frenchmen, refuse to submit to Spanish domination.

They had resolved to hang or stab some and exile others of these . . . and it was designated which fate was in store by the letters P.D.C. [by their names], meaning pendu, dagué , or chassé . I found myself under the letter D . . . Monsieur Cotton, my father-in-law, under P . . . Monsieur le président Le Maistre likewise . . . Monsieur Désiré, my neighbor, under C . . . and so forth (Brunet 5:131-132; Roelker 206).[15]

Many Parisians were crying out for the duc de Mayenne to return to the city and restore order. Having ascertained that the Spaniards would not oppose him, he did so on November 28, and within a few days made a series of changes: he hanged four of the murderers and banished two others (Bussy was one, after the duke forced him to yield the Bastille); he arrested half a dozen others (but did not prosecute the radical curés at all); he made four appointments to the court, Matthieu Chartier as (temporary) premier président, Étienne Neuilly, André de Hacqueville, and Jean Le Maistre, as présidents, prominent ligueurs from the outset but Mayennistes, and Antoine Hotman as second avocat général (replacing Le Maistre).[16] Barnavi sees in this Thermidor mayenniste the real turning point in the League movement and the "writing on the wall" for the radicals—which is also the judgment of the mainstream magistrates and most historians throughout the centuries.[17] While their former adherents were changing sides, many of the Sixteen fled the city, fearing reprisals, though some later returned to take part in the last gamble—at the Estates of 1593.

The dilemma of Mayenne is strikingly clear: how to retain as much control as possible in Paris for the League as such, while disciplining the radicals, in Barnavi's words, casser le parti mais garder la faction , so as not to be at the mercy of the politiques . Simultaneously on the national level,


he was waging a diplomatic struggle on two separate fronts. The Third Party, which consisted principally of high-ranking ecclesiastics, wished to back any other (Catholic) candidate for king except Mayenne. The duke tried hard to change the minds of some—they were not in agreement with each other—but he never succeeded. At the same time, he was in frequent contact with the important Catholics, laymen as well as prelates, among the supporters of Henri IV. In the end it was with the king that he compromised, partly out of pique but chiefly, it would seem, because it was the only course that would enable him to keep important titles, lands, and offices. Salmon echoes the Dialogue d'entre le Maheustre et le Manant when he reminds us that "Mayenne's politics were those of a pragmatist."[18]

Social analysis by the most recent historians of the movement brings out the noticeable shift in composition that had occurred among the League activists since the original conspiracy of 1585-88.

Magistrates, merchants and senior officers of justice and finance are less important; avocats and procureurs dominate the movement [in 1591]. Whereas members of the upper three categories composed 34 percent of the leadership in 1588, they were a mere 11 percent in 1591 [whereas avocats and procureurs ] who had made up 21 percent of the revolutionary elite before the Barricades, comprised 37 percent of the group that executed the coup.

In view of these changes, Salmon concedes that "frustrations . . . of the ambitious, articulate, and well-educated" in the lower ranks of the legal profession were probably operative, as Henri Drouot has maintained for the ligueurs of Dijon, though this does not exclude an element of religious sincerity, nor the role played by minor functionaries, such as sergeants, ushers, clerks.[19]

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