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13 Terrorism and Reaction, August 1589 to December 1591; 1592
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The Parlement Versus the Papacy

L'Affaire Brisson was a melodramatic episode of in-fighting in which feuds and personalities played an important part, at a moment in the course of the local Parisian movement that can be described with equal accuracy as its apogee or the beginning of its decline. It overlapped with a drama of a very different kind, involving one of the fundamental issues of French history from the fourteenth century to the Revolution. The Gallican con-


troversy of 1591 was to the conspiracy and murders of the same year as a deep groundswell at sea is to a surface chop.

During a brief pontificate (1590-91) Pope Gregory XIV tried to exploit the schism in Catholic France by excommunicating all those (but especially ecclesiastics) who were supporting Henri IV. The Bull in question, issued in March 1591, also contained warnings (monitoires ) to all French Catholics to avoid the sin—and punishments—of associating with the "heretic and apostate" king in any way. This was a radical departure from the strategy of the late Pope Sixtus V, which, we recall, was rather to encourage a reconciliation of the parties. The reactions of the two royalist parlements, of the king, of the Parlement of Paris, and of the French clergy in official convocation constitute as striking a spectrum of opinion on this basic issue as ever occurred in French history, and they highlight for us the nuances of parlementaire attitudes toward heresy, and toward the various issues with which it had become entangled in the sixty-some years since the emergence of religious dissent on the French scene.

The Bull's text arrived in Paris (it was delivered to the cathedral chapter of Notre-Dame) at the very end of May 1591. The first public reaction was that of the clergy. The Bull was read aloud in the cathedral on June 3, and posted on all four doors. Guillaume Rose, bishop of Senlis, one of the radical curés, preached a sermon "exalting papal majesty even above the ninth Heaven, while lowering and abasing that of the king to the lowest levels of Hell," L'Estoile reports (Brunet 5:101). A week later, the first salvo on the Gallican side came from the small Parlement the king had recently established at Châlons,[20] of which Augustin de Thou was premier président; that ordered the Bull to be torn in shreds in the court and burned, a procedure later followed by all the courts loyal to the king.[21]

Henri IV had matched the conciliatory diplomacy of Sixtus V by a corresponding open-mindedness and had hopes of reaching some accommodation; and he reacted strongly in opposition to the onslaught of Gregory XIV. As de Thou says, he thought the Châlons actions (and condemnations) worthy of Parlement and of French liberties and wished to confirm and support them with his own authority. To this end he made two speeches on July 4, the first a "Declaration," addressed to Rome and Catholics in general,


which began with a repetition of his statement on the day of his accession, that he wished to receive instruction in the Catholic faith, calling for a General Council to adjudicate points of dispute, promising that in the meantime he would maintain it in France and would not attempt to introduce any changes. In de Thou's opinion, "This should have satisfied those who claim to have taken arms only to defend their religion, and would have if those who wished to dismember the kingdom and divide it up among them, that is, the Spaniards and the dukes of Savoy and Lorraine, had not given them arms, while masking their criminal ambitions under the pretext of religion."[22] Sixtus V had understood this, but the new pope, it seemed, did not. In Henri's words,

Blinded by our enemies, he sent a nuncio into our kingdom with rigorous orders to detach from our service princes, cardinals, archbishops, and bishops, and leading magistrates who had remained faithful to us. This nuncio entered France without our consent and without notifying us and joined forces with our rebellious subjects. . . . These actions [on the part of the papacy] infringe on our royal authority, on the laws of the kingdom and on the liberties of the Gallican church.

He concludes by saying that he is asking all the parlements "in whose competence the matter lies . . . to consider and take action."[23]

Later in the day, the king addressed his council on the subject of the Protestants of France. In this second speech he takes the councillors to task for violating the edicts granting civil rights to his subjects who held dissident views because their action makes it necessary to issue a new edict, both to ensure the rights of the reformed and so that "finally you yourselves can render us the obedience you owe and live in peace with the Protestants." He reminds them of the early civil wars, in which the Châtillons felt obliged to take arms as the "protectors" of the reformed and warns that it could happen again. He also warns that outside Protestant powers, especially the England of Queen Elizabeth, may intervene, and states forcefully that he will not permit that to happen, nor will he tolerate "several kings, which is what happens when there are parties with armed leaders."

De Thou's restrained comment on this speaks volumes.

The Assembly showed by its silence its support for the prudence and equity of the king. Only the cardinal de Bourbon, who wished to provoke the Third Party to come into the open, rose from his place and started to leave


the chamber, after stuttering a few words. But when the king noted that [other ranking prelates, suspected of belonging to the cardinal's faction] made no move to follow, he ordered him to sit down again, in a commanding tone.

Henri IV then proceeded to issue a new edict in favor of the Protestants with a proviso: "it would not take effect until peace had been restored to the kingdom and all would have returned to their obedience," with "differences in religion settled with the consent of all the orders of the kingdom."[24] It would be another eight years before these conditions would prevail.

The Parlement of Paris took its (predictably contrary) stand within a few days. Denouncing the decision of the so-called Parlement in Châlons, the Paris court ordained that the Châlons arrêt be burned on the marble table, which was done on July 18, 1591. This action stimulated a new rash of clerical rhetoric from the pulpits:

Sunday, July 21, the preachers of Paris declared unanimously against the decision of the Châlons Parlement, praising and raising to the third Heaven the present pope, consigning his predecessor to the deepest Hell . . . falling on those of Châlons . . . avoiding no sort of injury which would make them odious. Boucher, most violent and injurious of all . . . called de Thou a mad bull, Agenous an old drunken Huguenot . . . giving each member of the Châlons Parlement a soubriquet, and declared that there were seventeen heresies in their declaration.

The curé of St-André vomited his rage against the king: one should no longer call him Henri de Bourbon, as the excommunication deprived him of that name; if it was necessary to speak of him he should be called "heretic, relapser, excommunicate, villain, son of a prostitute, devil" . . . and said that the Parlements of Tours and Châlons should be burned alive with their decisions.

Rose, Commolet, Ceuilly, Guarinus, Lincestre, Martin and all the others treated the same subject, in their well-known way (Brunet 5:107-108; Roelker 203-204).

Understandably, some Catholics prominent in the king's party were sufficiently troubled by the pope's censure to waver in their allegiance, and the League exploited the opportunity to claim gains at a time when their losses were becoming conspicuous. Moreover, even as Frenchmen tended to attack "evil advisers" of a monarch when condemning royal policies, so loyal French Catholics directed their strongest invective against the papal legates, specifically against the nuncio Landriano, whom Gregory had en-


trusted with the mission of implementing the Bull. The Parlement of Tours, on August 5, denounced the Bull and monitoires as "abusive, seditious, full of impiety, contrary to the rights, immunities, and privileges of the Gallican church." An arrêt was passed, condemning all copies to be torn up and burned and enacting prohibitions to all bishops, curés, and other ecclesiastics to publish or read them; and to all persons of whatever estate and condition to possess them "or suffer the consequences of lèse-majesté ." The court further ordained that "Landriano, so-called nuncio and bearer of these seditious documents, be bodily seized, imprisoned, and interrogated by the court." It also declared "Gregory, so-called XIV pope of that name, enemy of public tranquility, of peace, of the unity of the Catholic Church, of the king and his state, fauteurs des rebelles, complice des Espagnols et du détestable parricide commis par trahison sur la personne du Roi Henri III. "[25]

When the ligueur Parlement in Paris received word of the Tours action, it held a session, on September 24, to condemn it in even more drastic terms than had been applied to the Châlons arrêt two months earlier, nullifying it as "execrable, abominable, drawn up by men with no authority, schismatics, heretics, men who had violated their oath of loyalty to God, whose cause they had betrayed and abandoned." The Paris court reaffirmed the duty of all to honor and respect the successor of Saint Peter, and to obey his Bulls, which were "inspired by piety and paternal solicitude." Public prayers and processions were ordered to be held every Thursday, "to appease God's anger" and members of the Parlement were to attend.[26]

The royalist bishops, assembled in Chartres about the same time, firmly reiterated the sentiments of the Tours and Châlons parlements and of Henri IV, appealing to "all Christians, true Catholics who care about the honor of Frenchmen, and especially the clergy, to join with us . . . to pray that divine Grace will inspire the king . . . and lead him to the bosom of the Catholic church, as he gave us to hope at his accession, promising to conserve the ecclesiastical hierarchy, with its rights, privileges, and liberties."[27] This hope was realized, as far as the official convocation of the French bishops held in November 1591 was concerned,[28] although peace, return of all to their obedience and reconciliation were, naturally, much longer in coming.


The historian of the Parlement of Paris, Édouard Maugis, gives us his opinion of these varying reactions to the papal initiative:

The Châlons judges spoke a pure legalistic language, full of subtleties, as in diplomacy; those of Paris followed the party line of Rome (doctrine stricte pontificale ) without sufficient reservations for the rights of the Crown; Henri IV [spoke] the supreme wisdom that stems from good sense and from legal justification. The Parlement of Tours takes us back to the excesses of a Pierre de Flotte and Philip the Fair. Fortunately, the clergy showed greater tact and political realism . . . as interpreter and guardian of the Gallican liberties.[29]

The Gallican crisis was not decisively settled until the summer of 1593, and it is probable that it would have dragged on longer had not Henri IV then felt obliged—finally—to fulfill his promise to "return to the bosom of the Church." Even so, he could not reenter the capital, his immediate objective, for another eight months, and it took him five more years to quell the rebellion completely.

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