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6 Challenge and Response of the Early Generation Mid-1520s to Mid-1530s
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Early Manifestations of Unorthodoxy

For historians of the French Reformation, the early 1520s are notable for Guillaume Briçonnet's reform of his diocese of Meaux, where he became co-leader of reform-minded Frenchmen with the humanist scholar Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples, whose vernacular translations of the Bible were just being published. Both enjoyed the patronage of Marguerite d'Angoulême, later queen of Navarre, the king's sister, and their three names have continued to be identified with what the French call the pré-réforme . Translations of Luther's pamphlets of 1520, condemning the sacramental system and celibacy, and calling on the German princes to reform the churches of their respective states, were circulating throughout Europe. Not far behind was news of his excommunication, his defiance of the emperor (1521), and the changes in liturgy he introduced in Wittenberg after his rescue by Elector Frederick "the Wise" of Saxony, in 1522. For Parisian parlementaires, however, events in Germany were material rather for amazed gossip than for serious concern. Even the new ideas of Marguerite and her protégés did not loom large by comparison with events close to Parlement's interests, such as the king's creation of new judicial offices and establishment of a system of municipal bonds (rentes de l'Hôtel de Ville ) as ways of augmenting the royal revenues. To be sure, the Sorbonne had condemned Luther's works as heretical, together with Lefèvre's translations, and Parlement prohibited the publication of any religious books lacking the imprimatur of the faculty of theology. The "menace of Lutheranism" began to be mentioned in Parisian diaries.[1]


But the court as a whole was not yet aroused on the subject of heresy, and between the representatives of unorthodoxy and those who attacked it stood the royal family's sponsorship of the new learning. Yet the royal family's position was not monolithic. Marguerite's stand was clearly with the humanist reformers but that of her mother was ambiguous. Louise de Savoie had always exerted the greatest influence over her son, understandably in view of his debt to her ambition and political ability. Louise visited Meaux in the early fall of 1521 and a letter of Marguerite's to Briçonnet shortly thereafter says that her mother and brother were ready to defend the "évangéliques contre les calomnies des hypocrites."[2] A year later, however, Briçonnet wrote, "Le bois que vous vouliez faire bruler est encore trop vert. . . . Le roi et Madame ne sont pas mûrs pour la réforme évangélique."[3]

Those who believe that the queen mother was, like her daughter, a true believer in and sponsor of the reform, base their opinion on an entry in her so-called Journal for December 1522, expressing antagonism to the ultraconservatives: "Mon fils et moi . . . commencens à cognoistre les hypocrites blancs, noirs, gris . . . et de toutes couleurs." At the time of this entry Louise was angered by attacks on Michel d'Arande, a member of her household who was "reading scripture" with her, a circumstance that might account for the tone rather than personal sympathy with the reform; Louise was not one to take any kind of opposition in stride.[4] If the argument of a recent article is correct, one aspect of the mystery can be cleared up, namely, the explicitly Protestant tone of the Journal text. Myra Orth's hypothesis is that the Journal was actually ghostwritten by François Du Moulin, one of Louise's Franciscan advisers who had been a tutor of young François in Angoulême, before his accession. Orth claims, in fact, that Du Moulin was the link between the royal family and the humanist reformers, Budé and Erasmus as well as Lefèvre. Du Moulin seems to have lost favor with Louise about this time, the turn of 1522-23, and Orth asks, "Was the Journal his swansong?" If so, she does not feel able to elucidate the matter.[5] Orth's attribution would explain the text of the Journal as Du Moulin's unorthodox views are well known, but it leaves the question of Louise's own true


belief unresolved. While Marguerite, in the Heptaméron , presents the Louise-character, Oisille, as évangélique , I incline to the opinion expressed by V. L. Saulnier that the queen mother was not on the conservatives' side "nor resolutely on that of Briçonnet . . . never allowing herself to be sidetracked from political and practical considerations."[6]

The same might be said of François I himself. He cultivated the image of Maecenas, a patron on the model of the Italian princes, treating representatives of the new learning as ornaments of his court. The establishment of lecteurs royaux for classical, oriental, and scientific scholars, in 1530, was the crowning manifestation of that policy. This sponsorship earned him the flattering title, père des lettres . The fact that he also protected representatives of the new religious learning (notably Briçonnet, Lefèvre, Clément Marot, and especially Louis de Berquin) from the secular and ecclesiastical authorities produced the impression that he shared the opinions of his sister. Historians prior to the midtwentieth century tended to contrast a pre-reform period of considerable leniency toward dissent on the king's part, with a "crackdown" in the late 1520s and especially after l'affaire des placards (1534). A careful examination of the record does not support the view that François I was seriously interested either in the innovative intellectual currents (Renaissance) or in religious reform. In the former he was a dilettante, and he always opposed "heresy"—or anything else—that undermined royal authority. N.M. Sutherland attributes the conventional misreading to historians' failure to trace out the links between François's religious and political policies, especially in foreign affairs, and to their exaggeration of the significance of his repeated interventions for Berquin. I believe that she is right on the first point but underestimates the importance of the second in contemporary opinion. The parlementaires, at least, were convinced that the crown favored the alleged heretics, with the result that tension between king and court steadily increased.

New scholarship of the 1990s has drawn fresh attention to the problems of interpreting attitudes toward the reformers of both the king and the Parlement. On the one hand, James Farge maintains that the influence of the reformers has been greatly exaggerated, that the title Très Chrétien was much more important than père des lettres , and indeed that the sponsorship of letters was inseparable from the concept of king-priest as sacerdoce royal . Likewise Guillaume Budé, organizer of the lecteurs royaux , believed that the classics gave Christian scholarship greater depth. For "Christian humanists," following Erasmus, true religion had nothing to fear and every-


thing to gain in partnership with study of the classics. Indeed the liaison étroite of church and state in opposition to heresy was conspicuous in the very years of the lecteurs royaux .[7] Farge is certainly right that the Parlement consistently supported the Roman tradition against dissent; even the most open-minded of our magistrates never rejected core Catholic doctrine although conceding "peripheral" changes, such as use of the vernacular.

C.A. Mayer, on the other hand, takes a boldly revisionist view and maintains that the king, and others of the royal family, not only favored the reformers but developed a strategy of elaborate deceit to protect them from exposure, persecution, and prosecution by an argument as follows: only persons who claimed to be followers of Luther were condemned by the pope's bull Exsurge domine (June 1520), and thus Frenchmen who denounced Luther—even while embracing some of his ideas—could escape prosecution by the Sorbonne. According to Mayer, the term évangéliste (or évangélique ) was invented to describe them (and indeed the practice of historians down to the present has been to apply it), a "cover-up" term (faux-fuyant ) Mayer calls parfaitement erroné . Mayer says that they are equivalent terms and that rationalization for évangélisme was based on the correspondence of Marguerite and (especially) Briçonnet, with the false assumption that the Roman church was on the threshold of reforming itself, and that only those who acknowledged Luther were really heretics or Protestants. There are no known French dissenters claiming Luther as their model. In fact, they usually replied to such allegations, "I was not baptized in the name of Martin Luther, but in that of Jesus Christ!"

The correspondence of Marguerite with Briçonnet, in 1521-22, is the only primary source known to the present writer that might support a policy of deliberate deception, and that attributable exclusively to Marguerite. It assumes a commitment to the reform inconsistent with the pragmatic political position of both the king and his mother, abundantly documented; it also conflicts with the humanist Erasmian position of Catholics who were opposed to persecution of dissenters but who also felt a need to differentiate themselves from the ultramontanes of the Sorbonne.

Even less convincing is Mayer's revisionist contention that the Parlement of Paris in the 1520s was antiroyalist, even anti-French, cooperating with Spaniards and others allied with Charles V to delay François's release and


return to France. Conceivably, this might be true for Jean Bouchard, an obscure figure, whose identity has never been clearly established, but he was anything but representative of the court. The loyalty of ranking magistrates to the monarchy—as distinct from particular sovereigns—is unmistakable throughout the century.[8]

The relative scholarly neglect of the pré-réforme is partly to be explained by its scattered and amorphous character. Some personalities and events stand out: Noël Béda, syndic of the faculty of theology, made a virulent attack on the reformers, some of whom fled the country (Guillaume Farel, Marot) while others, like Briçonnet, drew back, and the first rash of martyrdoms occurred. Mayer does not understand how the mistaken theory that rationalized évangélisme could survive the "magisterial" exposure of Jean Delumeau.[9]

From Switzerland Guillaume Farel undertook to give shape to the reform as a national movement in France. In the eyes of later generations, his contribution was often masked by that of John Calvin, understandably since most of their doctrines coincided, and it was Farel who first invited Calvin to Geneva. The armature of Calvinism, after its establishment in the 1550s, tended to reduce the phase of Farel's leadership to "background" in historians' accounts. Farel was promoting the Zwinglian or sacramentarian doctrine of the Eucharist—denial of the Real Presence (except in a spiritual sense)—that served as a core to the concept of heresy in France. In the mid-1520s attacks on the mass were matched by increasing references in Catholic circles to the necessity of defending "the sacrament of the altar" at all costs. Agreement on this priority eventually caused king and Parlement to join forces, but for about ten years neither recognized how much greater was the strength of this bond than the various, less central, issues that divided them.

The heresy of Louis de Berquin became the principal bone of contention between the crown and the court, whose offensive was directed by avocat du roi Pierre Lizet. The polarization of later decades was foreshadowed in


the first period of tension over religious dissent, which rose in sharp jumps, from 1523 to 1529.[10]

In the first phase of the case, Berquin was caught in the Sorbonne-Parlement net that included clandestine searches for forbidden books. A collection of books and manuscripts found on Berquin's premises on May 1, 1523, and turned over to the faculty of theology to be judged, included translations of works by Luther and Melanchthon and original works of Berquin's, defending Luther. Not surprisingly, the faculty found them "manifestly Lutheran and derogatory to the Catholic Church" and recommended that they be burned. This judgment was handed down in late June, simultaneously with a letter from the king to the Parlement ordering the court to drop the case. Ignoring this command, Parlement summoned Berquin to explain his opinions to representatives of the faculty and two magistrates, André Verjus and Jean Le Verrier, who appeared often in this and similar capacities. Lizet attempted to act as mediator, hoping to persuade Berquin to modify his views sufficiently to bring about an accommodation, but nothing came of it when François I definitively evoked the case to the Grand Conseil on July 11. Still ignoring the king's wishes, Parlement had Berquin arrested the first week in August and ordered him to stand trial before the bishop of Paris. Rescue by royal officers "in the bishop's very presence" spared him this fate, but his books were burned in front of the cathedral of Notre-Dame on August 8.[11]

Thus in less than one hundred days, between May and August 1523, latent fears of innovation and Parlement's resentment of special privileges granted by the king to a "carrier of contagion"—heresy was regularly referred to as disease or poison—had produced a mind-set of intolerance in Parlement, which then took the first steps in the formation of a policy of repression.[12] Already certain members of the court were becoming known as "specialists" in heresy cases; their names recur in each episode. Pierre Lizet as avocat du roi became a leader of the acharnés . Twenty years later, as premier président, the pinnacle of a parlementaire career, he organized and directed the infamous special chamber for heresy cases, the Chambre Ardente. In the early generation with which we are presently concerned,


although Lizet was influential, the court's leadership was in the hands of the moderate traditionalist présidents Thibault Baillet and Charles Guillart. Premier président Jean de Selve was also a moderate, but he became suspect when he accepted dedications from Lefèvre (of the Psalter , 1524) and from Erasmus (of his Apologia , 1525). De Selve was a member of the small group of liberal parlementaires whose most distinguished representative was Guillaume Budé, and whose future offered a choice only between flight and silence.[13]

If any humanist reformer could be assumed to rank so high that he would be immune to parlementaire inquisition, it was Erasmus of Rotterdam, the model Christian scholar whose wit and pen faithfully served the Roman church in essential matters, like the sacraments and the papacy, while turning against only the abuses and human encrustations. The drift of parlementaire opinion to the conservative side is shown by the court's defiance of the king's wishes in 1524, when it insisted that Erasmus's works be reviewed and judged by the faculty of theology.[14]

Parlement's increasing agitation over heresy is a compelling drama, but it would be a mistake to assume that it had become the dominant concern. In the 1520s constitutional issues were more central and more keenly felt, though religious issues were inextricably entangled with them because of Parlement's traditional role as guardian of the Gallican liberties. Specifically, the bitterness of the Concordat fight was far from forgotten by either the king or the court. Parlementaires were not reconciled to the abandonment of the Pragmatic Sanction, nor could they forgive the man chiefly responsible, Chancellor Antoine Duprat.

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6 Challenge and Response of the Early Generation Mid-1520s to Mid-1530s
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