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7 The Engine of Repression The Transitional Generation, 1540-1551
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Collaboration of Crown and Parlement in Religious Policy During the 1540s

The Edict of 1539, by which the crown first took a direct part in the prosecution of heresy, had not been registered by the Parlement of Paris. Sutherland is undoubtedly right in believing that this was one reason for issuing another exactly a year later, but the Edict of Fontainebleau also specifies some new points of capital importance for the future, which is why it may be reckoned as the first step in the systematic assembling of machinery for the repression of heresy.[1] While royal courts and officials at all levels might initiate proceedings in heresy cases, the new edict required them to submit their findings to the criminal chambers of the Parlements, which were ordered to give these cases priority and report to the king every six months. Moreover, this edict constitutes the first of many attempts to define the relation of heresy to sedition, of the ecclesiastical to the secular authorities. Ambiguities and contradictions in phrasing on this subject in successive edicts are among the main causes of the incoherence of royal policy toward heresy. Contemporaries and historians have been equally confused. The major contribution of Sutherland's work on the Huguenots is that she has disentangled, summarized clearly, and analyzed all the edicts, letters patent, and other official documents on heresy from 1525 to 1598—for the first time ever. While this makes the incoherence even more conspicuous, it also enables us to follow the serpentine record step by step and attempt to relate each formulation to the specific historical and political context that produced it.


The 1540 edict forbids association with heretics because the profession of false doctrine "contains in itself the crimes of human and divine lèse-majesté, popular sedition, and the disturbance of our state and the public peace."[2] In other words, heresy equals sedition; it is both a canonical and a criminal offense, imposing on the ecclesiastical authorities an obligation to cooperate with the secular authorities. The clergy took this as an encroachment on their authority, which resulted in another edict in 1543, allegedly to "clarify" the respective jurisdictions—heresy to lie in that of the church and sedition in that of the state. Clear enough on paper, but "not helpful" in Sutherland's words, because heresy itself had already been declared treasonable. The Edict of Fontainebleau was also modified by removal of the requirement that heresy cases be sent to the parlements to be judged; they were now merely to be reported to the sovereign courts within two months. If the ecclesiastical jurisdiction suffered in 1540, Parlement's was reduced in 1543. Sutherland's comment is a masterpiece of understatement, "By 1543 the heresy laws were in a state of confusion."[3] Nor did this condition end with the reign of François I.

Emergence of the jurisdictional problem was only one of the differences between the 1540s and the earlier tensions of 1525-35. Another was a reversal of roles as between the crown and the Parlement with regard to initiative in combating heresy. As long as parlementaires felt threatened by royal favor to heretics, they kept pressing the crown for action against them; we recall Parlement's demands on Louise de Savoie and its summary execution of Berquin to forestall (a third) royal intervention. In the early 1540s, on the contrary, it was the crown, acting in concert with the Sorbonne, that took the initiative. In 1541, the parlements were ordered to pursue heretics "with the utmost vigor"; the authority of Matthieu Ory, "Inquisitor of the Faith," was extended; the first special or regional commissioner, Jacques Le Roux, was appointed in 1542. Extirpation of heresy was stated as a prime objective in the Treaty of Crépy (1544), one of the ephemeral truces between France and the Empire, and the first special court for heresy cases (in Rouen) was established in 1545.[4] By then the Parlement and the crown were both engaged in "hot pursuit," which created serious divisions within the court, between acharnés and moderates.

The hardening of attitudes into ideological factions within Parlement


itself offers us the most important contrast between the early and transitional generations. The spectrum of opinion was very different. Where there had been a fluid continuum from generally open-minded to fearful and closed-minded, there was now a well articulated ultra-Catholic position, organized to launch the offensive about to be analyzed, with no balancing liberal position. The liberals of the Berquin period had either died (de Selve, Guillart, Budé) or had gone "underground." We know that a substantial minority of parlementaires held unorthodox views right through the crisis period of 1559-62 (chapter 8), but they were—wisely—keeping silent in the 1540s. The large majority in the center was more clearly than ever opposed to heresy, but they now faced a different problem: how far were they willing to go along with the increasingly severe measures of the ultraconservatives? They were often able to avoid taking a stand because of deviations from traditional parlementaire procedures imposed by the crown. With increasing frequency the king would order a case to be judged by particular judges (either as individual commissioners, or as a specially designated group); standard general votes and plenary sessions became rare. Parlementaire discontent, especially among the younger members of the Chambres des Enquêtes, erupted in a series of protests and demonstrations, which came to a head in the opening years of Henri II's reign. To Parlement's plea that "from now on all chambers be allowed to participate in the execution of justice, according to custom," the new king responded that "from now on, in order to avoid wasting time" only one président and two conseillers from each Chambre des Enquêtes would meet regularly with members of the Grand' Chambre in the Tournelle, for criminal cases.[5] The rarity of votes taken in these circumstances made it easy for those who were uncertain how they felt—or who merely wished to postpone taking a stand—to avoid committing themselves, until the reemergence of strong moderate leadership in the 1550s.

With the encouragement of the king, the Sorbonne produced a program that provides a measure of the temper of the 1540s: in 1542 the faculty drew up a preliminary list of books to be banned, which included the works of the German and Swiss reformers (in the original or in translation) as well as unorthodox works of French authors such as Clément Marot and Étienne Dolet, followed in 1543 by twenty-five fully elaborated "articles of the faith" that explicitly reaffirmed the doctrines of transubstantiation, papal supremacy, and others under attack, as well as a list of condemned articles of belief. The wording and organization of these documents are very


similar to those later drawn up by the Council of Trent, as noted by both Weiss and Sutherland.[6] It is quite possible that the Sorbonne's formulations did influence the church council, whose definitive doctrinal pronouncements date from its last session (1563), but more interesting than this speculation is the fact that the Sorbonne's action came at a critical juncture in the history of the Roman church.

In the mid-1530s Pope Paul III had given a small group of reformers in the College of Cardinals an opportunity to produce a program for reform of the Catholic church "in the head and in the members." When embodied in a document (De ecclesia emendanda , 1538) presented to the sacred college, it was overwhelmingly voted down. With hindsight this does not seem surprising, since its recommendations were antipathetic to the course of reform actually taken in the following years, but at the time this was hidden in the future. The liberal leadership did not disintegrate until after the death of Cardinal Contarini and the withdrawal of other reformers, while the Counter-Reformation leaders had not yet closed ranks, though there too the machinery was being created: both the Index and the revived Inquisition (in the papal states) were already in being, and Paul III had extended the status of priesthood to members of the recently formed Society of Jesus (1540), who would become active in the movement. In spirit and in the instruments of implementation the 1540s measures against heresy in Paris resemble those later taken in Rome on an international scale and for a much longer time.

Led by premier président Pierre Lizet, who had held this most important office since the death of Jean de Selve in 1529, the Parlement of Paris made its own contributions to the completion of the repressive policy. In 1542, coincident with the Sorbonne Index, Parlement forbade possession of Calvin's Institutes (which had recently appeared in French, earlier editions were in Latin) and decreed the surrender of copies within twenty-four hours, on pain of death . The court began at this time to acquire allies among the Parisian clergy, some of whom were fanatics, denouncing heretics in very extreme terms and inciting the populace to violence against them. This pattern would become increasingly familiar in the coming decades, as we will see in each phase of the religious wars, culminating in a high degree of stylization by the 1590s. The excess of zeal expressed in the pulpits offended many, even parlementaires actively engaged in enacting repressive legislation. In 1543, coincident with the Sorbonne articles of faith, procureur général Noël Brulart so feared the consequences that he asked the Grand'


Chambre to discipline the most vituperative of the preachers, and premier président Lizet himself tried to persuade them to moderate their language. There is no evidence that he succeeded, however, and the dominant theme of inflammatory sermons continued to be that heresy was getting worse every day. In 1544, in accord with the Treaty of Crépy (with the emperor), the court condemned the works of Calvin and Dolet to be burned on the Parvis Notre-Dame, with the bells of the cathedral ringing to celebrate the event.[7] The Parlement then enacted the arrêt des luthériens , which was the legal cornerstone of the special chamber for heresy cases known as the Chambre Ardente.

Even so, Catholics both inside and outside Parlement feared that the king might withdraw his support and there were rumors that he was about to soften his stand on the heresy of the Vaudois. The momentum could not be arrested, however, even had François wished to do so. The point of no return had been passed, as Weiss notes: les bûchers sont partout allumés .[8]

By 1545 the several constituent elements—royal edicts, Sorbonne definitions, clerical propaganda—were joined by arrêts of Parlement into a structure for official French policy toward heresy. The engine of repression was set in motion when François created the Rouen Chamber in the spring of 1545 and appointed five members of the Paris Parlement as commissioners to investigate and root out heresy, each in a particular region noted for the incidence of "infection": Claude des Asses in Anjou and Touraine, Jacques Le Roux in Sens, Nicole Sanguin in Meaux, Guillaume Bourgoing in the Bourbonnais, and Louis Gayant in Orléans and Blois.[9] They would figure among the most experienced members of the Chambre Ardente in 1547-50.

Heresy—and persecution—had raged out of control in the Pays de Vaud for some months already and fears of a return to leniency on the king's part focused on that region, homeland of Farel and wide open to currents of opinion from Switzerland and Italy. A number of pleas for mercy to the Vaudois had been presented to the king, but after the premier président of the Parlement of Aix (falsely) accused them of conspiring to seize the city of Marseille in 1544, the whole region was marked for punishment. In only ten days, twenty-two villages were totally destroyed and nearly four thousand inhabitants killed or taken captive. Riding roughshod over protests,


the king decreed that the prisoners must abjure within two months or pay with their lives.[10]

The tempo of persecution was quickening throughout the kingdom. Many of the victims were humble folk, but some enjoyed high patronage, like François Bribart, secretary of Bishop Jean Du Bellay, martyred in Paris in March 1545. The bloody climax of this period, marking the final months of François I's reign, occurred in the summer and fall of 1546, in Paris. Among the victims were printers of forbidden books in July; the humanist Étienne Dolet in August; and finally, on October 7, fourteen members of the groupe de Meaux (out of fifty-seven condemned) were burned in a giant auto-da-fé in the Place Maubert. It did not stop there. As Brantôme wrote some thirty years later, "François's path to the tomb was lighted by the fires he had set."[11] There were five such executions in the first weeks of January 1547 (not all in the capital). On January 14 a solemn procession was held in expiation of the mutilation of a statue in the Cemetery of the Innocents, which the lawyers and procureurs of Parlement were ordered to attend. Absentees would incur a fine of sixty Parisian sous and the risk of being removed from the rolls .[12] The machinery of repression was moving uncomfortably close to the Paris robe, although only its lower echelons were affected, as yet.

François I fell ill shortly thereafter and died on March 31. Contemporaries have left different versions of his dying sentiments on the religious issue. The most favorable account attributes to him a deathbed repentance in regard to the slaughter of the Vaudois. "He charged his son . . . not to defer the punishment of those who, abusing his name and authority, were responsible for the harsh escalation . . . because otherwise God, who does not permit such [violent acts] . . . to go unpunished, will exact vengeance Himself." But another quotes him as saying that he had no remorse, that his conscience was clear because he had "never done or had done, injustice to anybody in the world, as far as he knew." We are not in a position to decide between these two accounts, but even if the apologist is correct, it matters little; after a lifetime of adjusting expression of his sentiment on religious issues to the advantage of the moment, to satisfy the pope at one time, the Protestant German princes at another, the dying François I doubtless wished to present the best possible face to win the Almighty's favor.[13]


For the Vaudois the aftermath was equivocal. Premier président Oppède of the Parlement of Aix, responsible for the worst of the persecutions, was arrested and his trial lasted for three years, but he was finally acquitted. All his offices and honors were restored and he was later made a Knight of the Order of Saint John by the pope. Only the lawyer Guérin did not escape punishment, among those responsible, while the Vaudois heretics continued to be both prosecuted and persecuted. For the Parlement of Paris, storm clouds were thickening; despite their robes, conseillers returning from François's funeral were jostled by hostile crowds shouting menacing epithets, of which the worst was Fauteurs d'hérésie![14]

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