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7 The Engine of Repression The Transitional Generation, 1540-1551
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Reaction to the Chambre Ardente, 1549-1554

Outside the special chamber events were taking place that would affect religious policy, and especially Parlement's part in it. The "clarifying" edict of 1543 had not satisfied the clergy in the matter of their jurisdiction, and they pressed the king to reiterate the exclusive right of bishops over "simple heresy" in their dioceses. A new edict of November 1549 did so, but it also specified that for related offenses involving scandalle publicque the clergy must cooperate with the royal courts, at all levels; the right of appeal was reserved to the Parlements.[24] Weiss imputes another motive (undeclared) to the clergy: the negative reaction to the excessive persecution was turning public opinion against the Roman church. It is true that the number of heretics was constantly increasing and that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church"—in this case, the Reformed Church. According to Weiss, the measures taken by the Chambre Ardente constituted "overkill. It was better to keep waverers in the fold, even if only formally, rather than 'exterminate' them in a way that increased their numbers." Parlement disapproved of "fudging" the issue—a tactic that implied condoning hypocrisy; the court insisted that heresy was a crime and should not go unpunished.[25]

Another factor was becoming increasingly important. The authorities charged with disciplining heretics often failed to do so. Sometimes they refused outright and became suspects or acknowledged converts. The Parlement itself was under suspicion, but the proportion of suspects was always much greater in the lower courts and among local officers. We have noted the case of the officers of Cognac, suspended as a group for failing to prosecute known Protestants. In the southern provinces Protestants were often a substantial majority in the lower ranks of the robe. Of forty notaries in Bordeaux, twenty-eight were Calvinists; further east in towns like Nîmes and Béziers, virtually all the notaries, lawyers, and procureurs were members of Reformed congregations. Every instance of defection in their own profession facilitated the efforts of the ultras to persuade the moderates of the necessity of repression—and brought it closer to the sovereign courts


themselves.[26] This situation, as will be seen in the next chapter, was a major cause of the political crisis that could not be settled without civil war.

The factional power struggle at the king's court became entangled with religious policy. Each of the chief rivals for the king's favor was Catholic and each wished to place his or her own clients in the most advantageous positions in the royal bureaucracy, and none were more advantageous than the Parlement. Constable Montmorency's influence was being eroded by that of the Guises and the latter's alliance with Diane de Poitiers assured their triumph. The powerful duchess was determined to ruin Lizet, who had made thinly veiled hostile references to her influence on the king. In the later decades of the century it was generally believed that Lizet's disgrace reflected the strategy of the cardinal of Lorraine. The cardinal had advised Diane "to allow only persons who were wholly loyal to her" to hold high office "and to get rid of any who stood in her way. She began with Pierre Lizet, auvergnat, premier président, a man very learned in the law, both Roman and French." Lizet had also boldly risked some sharp encounters with the powerful cardinal directly. His disgrace took effect on July 12, 1550, and while the court gave him some support, the remonstrances were half-hearted because "they too [other parlementaires] were threatened by the creatures of the Guises." The content of the remonstrances is not recorded in the registers, but we do find the following references under dates of June 16 and 20.

[When the Parlement sent remonstrances to the king about the disgrace of Lizet and high-handed treatment of some other members] the chancellor replied that . . . the king found it marvelously strange that the Parlement, which stood watch every day to make certain that its own arrêts were observed, should make difficulty for him, so just a prince, in his own [jurisdiction]. . . . Moreover, he had done nothing contrary to established practice, as the offense had been committed by the premier président blatantly, in the Privy Council, and two fingers from the king's own person. . . . Furthermore, although the king had admonished him . . . he had persevered in his obstinate contumaciousness. [June 16]

The king has since forgiven him and sought him out for a high (and more profitable) office, but [Lizet] has given him no occasion to continue him in royal favor. . . . If [the king] has shown more indulgence to others [Saint-André and Minard], it was at the request of some grands seigneurs . . . . What's more, everybody knows that he had a particular cause in regard to Lizet. [June 20][27]


Lizet's disgrace was in fact only one part of an elaborate scheme to bring the highest echelons of the law under Guise control. Jean Bertrand held the office of premier président briefly before assuming that of garde des sceaux . (François Olivier, a man of outstanding integrity, had already been stripped of the substance of the office of chancellor on the pretext of poor health, but he was allowed to keep the title and privileges.) Gilles Le Maistre, another Guise client, then became premier président, and held the office until 1562.[28]

We do not know what "high office" Lizet scorned, but there is no doubt that he became abbot of the abbey of St-Victor, to which he retired, and where he died in 1554. It is noteworthy that the Protestant historian Regnier de La Planche joins the ranks of other historians and legists in his laudatory epitaph of Pierre Lizet, the scourge of heretics: "[It is a great shame] that this good old man who had served in the front ranks of justice, should be disgraced and forced out."[29]

It is safe to assume that the power plays of les grands did not escape parlementaire notice. Those who were not Guise clients would be alarmed by the course of events through self-interest. There was also a reaction against the entire system of repression among the mainstream parlementaires, of whose Catholic piety there was no question, on grounds that skirt the religious question entirely—that could justifiably be called "constitutional." The Chambre Ardente was an "exceptional jurisdiction" and thus an invasion of Parlement's sphere, encroaching on its powers as the supreme and most ancient judicial body in France. We have noted the consistent resistance to what Parlement regarded as usurpation by the Conseil du Roi, and in the following chapters we will follow its furious protests when the crown attempted to bypass the parlements by sending royal edicts directly to the presidial courts and especially when the provincial Parlements were used to bypass the Parlement of Paris.[30] The Chambre des Luthériens was staffed by parlementaires. When repeated remonstrances against the exceptional chamber were unsuccessful, members of the court resorted to another strategy, using every pretext for refusal to serve when called upon


by the king to discharge particular tasks, and finally by abstentions and absenteeism. In January 1550, a delegation of parlementaires exhorted the king to terminate the Chambre Ardente and leave heresy cases to the regular criminal chamber, the Tournelle. The Chambre did indeed cease to function at that time, although Henri II could not abolish it officially without losing face.

As of 1550 the moderates lacked effective leadership, but their time was not far off. An early sign was the expression of protest against the manipulation of the chancellorship and first presidency, on grounds that the appointments of Bertrand and Le Maistre violated all the rules, and the request for a plenary session to deliberate the matter. The time was not yet ripe, however; the court dismissed the argument and voted to register the appointments as raisonnables .[31] Yet, as at its lowest point the tide begins imperceptibly to turn, so forces favorable to a shift in the balance of power between the factions of the court soon provided an opportunity for the moderates to recapture the leadership.

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