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5 Setting the Problem: Religious Values
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Successive Pressure Points and Generations

There were three distinct judicial phases to the case of Louis de Berquin, conseiller clerc, tried for heresy in 1523, 1526, and finally in 1529, when he


was executed. During these six years the tension was building in spurts, as the court confronted François I. The king succeeded in rescuing Berquin on the first two occasions and might have done so again but for the rapidity of Parlement's definitive (and defiant) action. The sharp leap in pressure, however, occurred in the last phase when, in 1528, Paris experienced its first serious outbreak of iconoclastic vandalism, against a revered statue of the Virgin and Child. A sense of shock and outrage swept the city and influenced the Parlement to take a more firm—and also more extreme—stand than it had in previous years. The tension lasted without let-up until after l'affaire des placards (October 1534). Not until then did the king definitively adopt a policy of repression, though his earlier protection of the reformers had been increasingly eroded. In the 1520s, the Sorbonne had espoused the policy of repression firmly, and the Parlement was divided; François I's course made the crown appear to be the most lenient authority toward religious dissent and the most reluctant to resort to repression. The appearance was deceptive, but understandable, in the light not only of the king's interventions in behalf of Berquin but of his much-publicized protection of Briçonnet and Lefèvre. Eventually he turned against them also and silenced even his sister, who was closely associated with them and their ideas of reform within the Catholic fold. However disturbing these events might be, members of Parlement were accustomed to bizarre and irresponsible behavior on the part of les grands . The unorthodoxy—even heresy—of a fellow magistrate was quite another matter, and it posed the problem in terms that made the issue impossible to avoid.

When François I joined the Sorbonne and conservative elements of the Parlement in a dramatic procession through the streets of the capital in 1535, all the voices of authority were singing the same song, and tensions among them dropped rapidly.[26] (At the same time such unanimity in advocacy of repression created an atmosphere of crisis for the victims and their sympathizers, of course.) During these seven to eight years (1528-35) the articulate leaders of the court were Charles Guillart, Jacques de La Barde, and others of the early generation; only two leaders important in the initial stages had died (Thibault Baillet and Jean de Selve). This was the first generation of Frenchmen to be faced with dissent in religious views, well articulated by their own countrymen (in the case of Berquin, by a colleague) in such a way as to force them to take a position.

Events on the international scene contributed to the détente that began


in the latter months of 1535 and lasted until 1540. During these years a new pope (Paul III) was favoring the liberal faction in the College of Cardinals and urging reform rather than repression. More importantly, François I sought an accommodation with the emperor some of the time and at others tried to build up alliances with German princes against the emperor. Some of these princes were adherents of Luther, and while the king's opinion of heretics at home was not softened by his alliances with heretics abroad, in 1535 and 1536 he issued edicts offering amnesty to dissenters who abjured their faith. The pressures were greatly relieved. During the interval, many Frenchmen heard the name of John Calvin for the first time and also learned of the reform movement in the city of Strasbourg, a model of humanist moderation of the sort that would appeal to educated parlementaires.[27]

All the more brutal, therefore, was the shock when the policy of repression was resumed, with new implementing devices, in the Edict of Fontainebleau of 1540. The pressures escalated, and the renewed tension lasted for more than a decade. The climactic phase was related to the establishment and operation of the Chambre Ardente, between 1548 and 1550. In this period the crown (Henri II) and the court (dominated by Pierre Lizet) were in general agreement, and both persecution and prosecution rose to a new level of ferocity. But there were still some differences on the means to implement the elimination of heresy, and the Parlement resented a decree of 1543 (Edict of Paris) that seemed to reduce the court's traditional power over religious matters, to the advantage of the ecclesiastical authorities. In 1544 a list of prohibited books, prepared earlier by the Sorbonne, was established by royal decree (in imitation of the Roman Index); in 1545 special commissions of parlementaires to seek out heresy in particular regions began to function, providing precedents for both the personnel and the procedures of the Chambre Ardente. In 1546 the humanist Étienne Dolet (sometimes called the "martyr of the Renaissance") and fourteen members of the groupe de Meaux , formerly associated with Briçonnet, were put to death, and a much publicized procession was held some months later in expiation of their sins, at which the presence of all the lawyers licensed to practice before the Parlement was required. Fear of the noose was beginning to be felt in the Palais de Justice itself.[28]


It is worth noting that this new period of tension coincided with the collapse of the liberal reform effort in the Roman curia. Paul III began to lean in the direction of the "hard-liners," whose methods would triumph in the coming decades, personified by Cardinal Caraffa, later Paul IV. This leadership, in contrast to that of the liberals, under the Venetian Contarini, believed that no accommodation with heretics was either possible or desirable; their errors should simply be exterminated. The Society of Jesus, founded in 1540, stood ready to implement this policy; the Index and the Inquisition were already functioning in some states, and the Council of Trent held its first session in 1545-46.

The leadership of the court in this period was in perfect agreement with the new direction in Rome, under premier président Pierre Lizet and his alternate, président François de Saint-André. But this group proved to be a transitional generation, because although powerful, the acharnés could not really command and hold the confidence and adherence of the mainstream parlementaires who were not comfortable with their extreme position. Since moderates in the court could not safely voice their objections to the engine of repression on religious grounds (any such hint made one suspect), the initial murmurs of opposition ignored the specifically religious issues altogether and attacked instead the constitutionality of the Chambre Ardente as an "extraordinary tribunal." We have noted the court's resentment of any such body as a threat to the judicial sovereignty of the Parlement.[29]

A quarrel between Henri II and the papacy (Julius III) over the second session of the Council of Trent in 1551 provoked an incipient Gallican crisis and gave the moderates in Parlement a chance to reassert themselves. The Chambre Ardente had ceased to function, and heresy cases were moved into the Tournelle, the regular chamber for criminal cases. Important changes of personnel within the court itself also contributed to a decompression in the 1550s, especially with the appointment as présidents of two men who rapidly became the leaders of the inner group and remained so for a quarter of a century: Pierre (I) Séguier and Christophe de Thou, both fearless, influential, and solidly traditional in their views. From the outset (1554) they were able to shape Parlement's action and opinion, in part because of the removal from office of Lizet, and his temporary replacement by Jean Bertrand, who was distrusted and disliked, before the assumption of the premier présidence by Gilles Le Maistre, whose ambition often exposed


him to hostile or satirical comment as well. Lizet, Bertrand, Le Maistre, each in his different way, deviated from the mainstream tradition, so that neither the majority of their contemporaries (nor the survivor-spokesmen for the Parlement at the end of the century like Loisel, L'Estoile, and La Roche-Flavin) felt comfortable with their ideas nor confident in their leadership. Séguier and de Thou, in contrast, they perceived as the embodiment of traditional parlementaire virtues.[30]

The decompression this time lasted five to six years. Although there were some signs of rising pressure in 1555, it did not become acute until 1557. It reached the highest level so far attained in 1559-60 and lasted for four years of escalating crisis including one of open civil war (only in the 1590s would tension be higher). The triggering events of 1557 included one action by the king (a proposal to establish a French inquisition) and one spectacular clash between the newly organized Parisian Calvinist community and the authorities (l'affaire de la rue St-Jacques ). But the complex and prolonged tension of 1557-63 came from the eruption of divisions within the court, formerly suppressed. Brought to light in contrasting judgments of heresy cases, and different reactions to royal religious policy in the context of a series of melodramatic events, these divisions reflected the necessity for each magistrate to think through the ideological puzzle and take a stand, as an individual Christian, as a subject of the French king, and as a member of Parlement.

The fact that the Pacification of Amboise (March 1563), which brought this crisis—together with the First Civil War—to an end coincided with the first major thrust of the Counter-Reformation is extremely significant. As soon as Cardinal Caraffa (Paul IV) ascended the throne of Peter he began to organize the several weapons created (or, in the case of the Inquisition, revived) by his predecessors into a system. The final session of the Council of Trent (1562-63), which provided the framework for the policies of the Roman church for four hundred years, thereafter issued a series of decrees relating to doctrine and to ecclesiastical administration that all Catholic rulers were then pressured to implement in their realms. No powerful ruler easily accepted these decrees, and even Philip II modified them to some extent. In France, they became the focus of the continuing struggle between Gallicans and ultramontanes, together with the legal status of the organi-


zation most effective in carrying them out—the Society of Jesus. The Trent decrees and the Jesuits became the immediate targets, pushing the Concordat into the background—but never out of sight. Although declining to yield his own secular power over the church in Spain, Philip II, as is well known, committed his financial, diplomatic, and, when necessary, military power to the Catholic cause throughout the continent. In France, that meant partnership with the ultra-Catholic Guise-Lorraine party. The result was pivotal to our study: traditional Gallican concern with heresy faded in face of the much greater threat from Rome and Madrid. This shift of attention was entirely realistic; the ligueur -Spanish party was much stronger than the Huguenot party, even when the latter had the support of England and several German princes, and also at times stronger than the royalist-Gallican forces even when allied with the Huguenots in order to maintain the balance against the Counter-Reformation party.[31]

The end of this time segment, therefore, marks a break in our series. Whereas in the thirty-five years from the late 1520s to the early 1560s, the various shifts in parlementaire attitudes and policy were determined by the dual challenge to tradition from the dissidents on the one hand and from royal policy on the other, in the remaining years (into the early seventeenth century) the tensions between Gallican-traditionalists and the ultra-Catholics, foreign and domestic, were overriding. This did not mean greater acceptance of non-Catholic religious belief by parlementaires—far from it. In fact, the attitudes hammered out in the earlier decades were pretty well set by 1562. On certain occasions in the later decades, contention over policy toward heresy would surface again briefly—especially at the occurrence of a truce in the endemic civil wars. The Huguenot forces rarely managed to prevail in battle but always avoided final defeat and, when truces were signed, gained concessions: a measure of freedom of worship, access to offices and privileges, and politico-military autonomy in regions they already held. As one of the leading Catholic captains exclaimed in exasperation, "We win on the field and they with their damned documents!"[32]

The changed pattern after 1563 produced two periods of lesser tension over religious policy. One was in 1568, in the six months between the second and third civil wars, when there was a renewal of legal discrimination against Huguenots and the imposition of a second profession of faith on


royal officers. It lasted only until the end of the third war (August 1570). The decompression this time involved the most important of Catherine de Médicis's repeated attempts at reconciliation of the factions. The marriage of Henri de Navarre to one of the Valois daughters was to be the showpiece of this policy, and the crowning realization of the queen mother's dream. Unfortunately for long-range peace, the détente did not last. The presence of Huguenot leaders in fanatically Catholic Paris caused an explosion of anti-Huguenot prejudice, in the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, four days after the wedding, August 24, 1572.[33] A second period of lesser tension occurred in 1576, when another Edict of Pacification—officially the Edict of Beaulieu, but usually referred to as the Peace of Monsieur—after the king's brother—stimulated the organization of the Holy League as a united movement (up to this point there had been a variety of regional leagues). The League challenged the king, Henri III, and supported policies that threatened the Gallican church.

An uneasy equilibrium prolonged the situation of 1563. We cannot speak of a "freeze" because there were three brief wars in the twenty-one years between the Pacification of Amboise and the death of Alençon in 1584, but in general the restraining factors prevailed over those threatening to upset the status quo. Two of the latter were new.[34] The active intervention of foreign powers on both sides, with military power supplementing diplomacy, blocked a military victory by any side. Of the nations involved, only Spain might (conceivably) have been strong enough, but it would have been a victory worse than Pyrrhic, and Philip hoped to prevail at a lesser cost. Catherine de Médicis's government became even weaker as she sought to reconcile factions and avoid war, civil or foreign, at almost any price—except capitulation to either faction. The weakness of the crown was hardly new, but as the decades dragged on, a general unraveling of morale took place, partly as a result of the feuds within the Valois family, which drew increasing comment.[35] The attack of the Huguenot pamphleteers on the


royalist tradition was decidedly new, but its effects were further to isolate the Huguenots from the general population, and to reinforce in magistrates' minds their loyalty to the tradition of un roi, une foi . If a spokesman for the reformed faith advocated a revival of the Estates General and attacked Parlement for usurping its functions, as did François Hotman in the Franco-Gallia , parlementaires held up the work as confirming the irresponsibility and danger of religious dissent, a social evil that it was Parlement's duty to stamp out.[36] The implications for private belief also had a restraining effect. In the prevailing circumstances public adherence to the reform had become unthinkable for a member of the court; if he nevertheless held dissenting beliefs, he must keep them to himself, behind a safe, conformist façade. (He might, in other words, become a Nicodemite.)

Our final period of tension was initiated by the death of Alençon in 1584, which shocked Frenchmen into the realization that Henri de Bourbon would almost certainly become king at the death of Henri III, which could not be far off. Navarre's personal adherence to Calvinism, and even more his leadership of the Huguenot party, made this prospect unwelcome to many—and virtually unconstitutional to those for whom un roi, une foi was fundamental, if not officially a fundamental law. The pressure jumped up noticeably at once, and a new ultra-Catholic offensive sprang into being, sometimes called "the second League." It was in fact the old League, reorganized and reinvigorated, under the leadership of the second generation of the Guise-Lorraine family. With the help of Spain and the papacy they succeeded in capitalizing on the public discontents in French cities and towns to the point of open rebellion—in Paris on the Day of the Barricades, May 12, 1588.[37] Henri III was repudiated on the grounds that his weakness and concessions to heresy prevented him from fulfilling his royal duty, and after the assassination of the Guise brothers he was proclaimed a tyrant for persecuting the defenders of the true church. Under the doctrine of tyrannicide it became not merely legitimate but meritorious for anyone to assassinate him, without any special authorization.


Parlementaires found such disorder an abhorrence. The leadership that had to deal with it was in the hands of a younger generation, for the first time in twenty-five years. Pierre (I) Séguier had died in 1580, Christophe de Thou in 1582. There were of course many elements of continuity, in personnel and in opinion; the elite core was now led by Achille de Harlay, son of Christophe de Harlay and son-in-law of Christophe de Thou. His tenure as premier président would last for twenty-nine years (1582-1611), nine years longer than the term of his own predecessor, and he died in 1611, one year after the king whose reign he did much to bring about. The values stamped on the court by de Thou were voluntarily continued by Harlay, so that together they represent a half-century of mainstream mentalité .

The tension of this period did not break at all until the capitulation of Paris to Henri IV in March 1594, following his abjuration of Calvinism the previous July. At a lower level, the tension continued until 1598, the year when the first Bourbon king defeated the League, (with his nobles) drove the Spaniards out of France and then made peace with them in the Treaty of Vervins, and forced the Parlement of Paris to register the Edict of Nantes (February 1599). All the issues we have seen in earlier periods were raised again, but because the royal succession and even the survival of France as an independent nation were also at stake in the 1590s, the pressure was the greatest and the events were the most sensational of the entire century. For the parlementaires themselves the most intense pressure point of all time was the attack on the court by the extremist faction of the Paris League (the Sixteen) that led to the assassination of the premier président, Barnabé Brisson, and two others in November 1591.[38]

The Parlement of Paris put up the same struggle against the Edict of Nantes in 1598—after thirty-six years of civil war in which religious toleration was one of the main issues—as against the Edict of January 1562 and with many of the same arguments. But as we shall discover in chapter 11, the context was profoundly changed by the presence of a strong king. He was their opponent on the toleration issue and their ally in the Gallican issue, and their struggle was that of the fish on the end of the line held by a master fisherman.


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5 Setting the Problem: Religious Values
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