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8 The Road to Civil War (1): 1555-1561
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The Road to Civil War (1):

Divisions in the Crisis Generation

Historians of all generations and persuasions agree that the death of Henri II (July 1559) precipitated the midcentury crisis in France, weakening the crown and encouraging attempts by rival, armed politico-religious groups to dominate the country through the young Valois kings who succeeded him. The first civil war broke out in April 1562. The thirty-three months between these two dates constitute the period of acute crisis, yet events in the last years of Henri II's reign provided its context, partly determined the shape it would take, and contributed to its long-range consequences, even beyond the end of the century. The virtually all-embracing character of this turning point results from the coincidence and interaction of major changes in the power structure and religious forces throughout western Europe with equally important changes within France.

In 1555 the first war "of religion," in the Germanies, ended in the Peace of Augsburg, by which the several princes were granted the autonomy they had long sought, including the right to determine the religious affiliation of their subjects (as between Catholic and Lutheran only). One result was that the Lutheran princes no longer needed the active support of the French king; another was that Emperor Charles V was preparing to abdicate and to divide his domains into two parcels. Within two years, his son Philip, king of Spain and lord of the Netherlands, was posing a very direct threat to France's northeastern frontier, only a few miles from Paris. The Spanish king would prove to be a dangerous foe in future decades, but in the first stages of the Franco-Spanish war (1557-59) both nations were in such serious financial straits, after sixty years of intermittent war, that they were forced to prepare for peace—actually concluded in April 1559. The fact that


both kings were alarmed by the spread of heresy provided them with a useful rationalization: it was the prime duty of Catholic monarchs to unite to defend the faith by stamping out heresy, rather than wasting their substance in war against each other, which permitted heresy to increase.

Philip's emergence as a main actor on other parts of the European stage also affected France. To the west, his marriage to Mary Tudor (1554) created a kind of encirclement of France by Spanish influence, while the rising tide of Calvinism in Scotland (John Knox returned in 1559) threatened the stability of the Scottish throne and the age-old alliance between Scotland and France. Mary of Guise, sister of the French ultra-Catholic party leaders, was regent for her daughter, Mary Stuart, who was residing at the French court and soon to be married to the dauphin, François (1558). To the south, Philip's inheritance of the Kingdom of Naples aroused the opposition of the Neapolitan pope, Paul IV. He made an alliance with Henri II, who undertook to protect the pope and his ambitious Caraffa nephews, and to assist in liberating Naples from Spain. As a Counter-Reformation leader, the pope was a natural ally of the Guise faction, whose fortunes we have seen rise dramatically (as a result of the siege of Metz) at the expense of Constable Montmorency's. In the mid-1550s Montmorency was urging peace on Henri II and secured a—fleeting—victory over his rivals when France signed a truce at Vaucelles in 1556, while the cardinal de Lorraine was absent in Italy. Dynastic and personal motives were no more lacking in Montmorency's pursuit of peace than in the aggressive policy of the Guises. A clause in the Truce of Vaucelles provided for the ransom of his son François, and the constable's own release from captivity (in the battle of St-Quentin, 1557) was an important French objective in the more definitive Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559).

The balance of religious forces in Europe was also changing in the last years of Henri II's reign. The Lutheran states were so well established that their existence had to be accepted, however reluctantly, by the successors of Charles V and even by the papacy. The strategy of the Counter-Reformation leadership was to focus attention on areas like France, wavering in their allegiance but still loyal if Rome used the right methods, and to "counter" heresy directly by reaffirming every Catholic doctrine that had been challenged. The source of the "contagion" was now Geneva, where Calvin achieved undisputed religious supremacy in the very year of the Peace of Augsburg and of the organization of the Paris Reformed Church, 1555.

By 1558-59 the religious polarization was to some extent linked with the diplomatic lineup: Spain, the papacy, and in France the Guise party in


a Counter-Reformation coalition, as against the states that had broken with the old church, of which England became the most important with Elizabeth's accession to the throne. Elizabeth's own religious position was conservative but also imprecise; she could not be a Roman Catholic, as in the eyes of the papacy she was illegitimate both as a sovereign and as an individual. Furthermore, England's national interests would lead Elizabeth to join forces with the followers of Knox against the Guise party in Scotland (Treaty of Edinburgh, 1560), and later to support the Dutch rebels and the Huguenots—as cheaply as possible, to be sure. Both international coalitions were subject to internal tensions and temporary dissolution whenever national, dynastic, or factional interests conflicted with the religious interest.

France was divided not only by two rival parties striving for supremacy, each allied to an international camp, but further by the conflicts between traditional Gallican Catholics and followers of the newer Tridentine approach, which was specifically antinational and ultramontane. The three-way split would make France the crucible of Europe and prolong the wars of religion for thirty-six years.

The international religious polarization was matched by profound shifts in the religious pattern in France. In the late 1550s, the ultra-Catholic position was greatly strengthened by the prestige of the Guises and, in a negative way, by reaction against the spectacular growth of Calvinism. These facts have long been recognized. In addition, Denis Richet has recently drawn attention to changes within the French Reformed movement and in the perceptions and reactions of the surrounding Catholic community. He points to three "mutations" in French Protestantism that surfaced at the end of Henri's reign: first, the conversion to or tolerance of unorthodox views of significant numbers of notables in Paris in three important milieux: the ranking commercial families, the municipal government, and the sovereign courts; second, contrary to their predecessors, the new Huguenots or sympathizers, were militant: "aux martyrs qui acceptaient la supplice, qui éprouvaient même une joie intense à périr pour Dieu, se substituent des hommes qui résistent." Sure of themselves, the Protestant notables asserted their legitimacy and disclaimed any kind or degree of rebellion or sedition. Accompanying this triomphalisme , as Richet calls it, was contempt for the man in the street that Richet believes helps to explain the connivance of Catholic notables who were also concerned to purge the community of disturbers of the peace. Richet postulates a desire, shared by the upper class of both confessions, to contain and impose "order" on the lower classes, and he considers this horizontal class cleavage more significant than the vertical ideological (religious) cleavage. The third new factor was the reluc-


tance of the authorities to act against well-placed persons by whom they were impressed. "A certain diffuse sympathy for the cause of the Gospel among Parisian notables" was manifested among parlementaires, which provoked distrust of their sincerity as Catholics and skepticism of their declared intentions to suppress heresy.[1]

The Parlement of Paris thus stood at the center of a series of concentric circles of crisis. It was inevitably affected by international crises, like those in the British Isles and the Netherlands, toward which France had to take a stand; bonds of clientage and interest connecting them to les grands made it impossible for parlementaires to avoid being caught in the crossfire of factional rivalries at court; and a difference of religious opinion among parlementaires put them at odds with royal policy toward heresy.

At the center of all these circles, the Parlement was subject to inner divisions that seriously impeded its effectiveness and threatened its integrity. As long as religious policy dominated both the relations of the court to the crown and among its own members, the pressures continued to mount. Not even the eventual explosion in civil war could relieve them. Only displacement of the threat of heresy by the ultramontane threat could do so—and that was not until 1563.

The Moderates at Bay, 1555-1559

When Henri II requested the court's "advice" on the best means of punishing and stamping out heresy in 1555, the moderates had the opening they had been waiting for. Président Séguier and conseiller Du Drac spoke out against a proposed new edict (as unnecessary) and specifically opposed the introduction of an Inquisition. In their opinion, "the record of the medieval Inquisition did not inspire confidence . . . [it was] marked by savage brutality and gross errors in judgment." If new men were appointed to such a court, they would lack the necessary knowledge and experience of the law, and if new men were not to be appointed, why was it necessary to create a new court?

Special courts in any case weakened justice by reducing the jurisdiction and the prestige of the existing courts. Royal justice, vested in Parlement, was the main protection of Frenchmen, and kings should not abandon it in favor of "innovations." More attention should be given to prevention of


heresy and less to punishment, following the example of the primitive church, which, far from taking the sword, resisted persecution by the purity of Christian lives. "By these means the word of God was spread . . . and the church was able to persevere in bad times as well as in good. The wise Emperor Justinian forbade the clergy to come to court, under pain of suspension from their offices. . . . The residence requirement should be revived in France." Alluding to one more danger of an Inquisition—denunciation by one's personal enemies under the cover of religion—président Séguier reemphasized the main point: "Parlement's deputies advise the king that the best way to put an end to heresies would be to imitate the state of the primitive church, that is, through good examples set by ecclesiastics, rather than by fire and sword."[2]

The moderates may have been emboldened to speak up at this time (October 1555) by episodes in which individuals had taken the law into their own hands, exceeding even the harsh measures permitted by royal policy. Only a few days earlier one Jean de Thérouenne, described as exalté , had harassed, without authorization, the bailli of Orléans, Jean Groslot, "for negligence in pursuing persons suspected of heresy" and caused him to be imprisoned, "usurping power reserved to the Grand' Chambre by royal command."[3]

In April 1556 the court refused to knuckle under to pressure from the cardinal de Lorraine. Procureur général Brulart reported that the cardinal was displeased to learn that certain prisoners pour le faict de la religion had continued in their errors after being released, plus refractoires qu'au-paravant , and wished the court to require proof of real repentance in future cases. The court replied that each case would continue to be decided on its merits, while agreeing that released prisoners should report to diocesan authorities.[4]

In 1556 and 1557 the court was repeatedly accused of foot-dragging in the pursuit of heresy by spokesmen for the crown, sometimes by the king himself. On June 12, 1556, Henri II told a parlementaire delegation that the court "had proceeded so coldly against heretics for the past three years" that he was considering removing the matter from their jurisdiction. A year later, the gens du roi presented letters patent commanding the court—


again—to register an edict seizing the goods of religious fugitives who had fled the kingdom. The accusation of deliberate malingering stung the parlementaires, and Séguier retorted that no more than eleven or twelve sessions had been involved, and "when the two hours reserved for current cases each day were subtracted, only about fifteen minutes were left for each [member] to declare his conscience." On the last day of 1557, the gens du roi complained again that the court had still not deliberated the king's latest edict (Compiègne), "presented four months ago." They understated the case: the edict had been presented on July 24, 1557, and was registered in January 1558.[5]

Fabian tactics were routine in parlementaire resistance. In this case it is easy to understand because the Edict of Compiègne was Draconian. It enforced the death penalty, without appeal, for all sacramentaires (those who denied the Real Presence), all who preached heresy, even in private, all who offended against the sacraments, images, the Virgin, or the saints, engaged in unlawful assembly or other sedition, who communicated with Geneva, or who possessed or traded in condemned books. In addition to summing up all previous edicts, it stated that violations sont autant à chastier par armes que par voye de justice , which Sutherland interprets as no less than "a declaration of war by the king against his Protestant subjects."[6]

Simultaneously letters patent establishing "three inquisitors of the faith in our kingdom" had been sent to Parlement. (This royal decree confirmed a papal brief of April 1556. The Edict of Compiègne can be considered a companion declaration for the secular arm.) Conditions were attached to this unpopular measure by which the king hoped to soften the opposition and limit the inquisitors' power: only reliable churchmen were to be employed, cooperation with the local bishop was required, and at least six of the ten bons et notables personnages on the tribunals were to be conseillers in Parlement. Moreover, all final decisions lay with royal officials. The inquisitors chosen reflect the same caution and desire to defuse hostility. They also represent a balance of the noble factions at court: Odet, cardinal de Châtillon, a nephew of Montmorency and a liberal Erasmian;[7] Charles, cardinal de Lorraine, leader of the Guise party; with Charles, cardinal de


Bourbon, ineffectual but of royal blood, in the middle. Although the letters patent were registered by Parlement in January 1558, they remained a dead letter and were allowed to lapse in six months. No Inquisition of the Roman type ever functioned in France, although many measures of French courts were substantively similar, and some Sorbonne theologians had borne the title "inquisitor of the faith" since the reign of François I.[8]

Events of major importance occurred in the months between this attempt to set up an inquisition, in July 1557, and its abandonment the following year. In August the French armies suffered a drastic defeat by the Spaniards at St-Quentin. In addition to the constable, his nephew Gaspard de Coligny was taken prisoner. Anxiety to obtain Montmorency's release was a principal factor in Henri II's willingness to sue for peace, while the admiral's confinement was probably the turning point of his life, laying the groundwork for his conversion to the Protestant cause, which he would lead for the last ten years of his life.[9] This was, of course, unknown at the time, but other events kept the menace of heresy in the forefront of Parisian public opinion.

Shortly after St-Quentin, on September 5, 1557, a clandestine Protestant service in a private house in the rue St-Jacques was invaded by the authorities. The congregation included many nobles, and while the men fought their way out, 22 of the 132 persons arrested were described as "dames et demoiselles de grandes maisons." The affaire de la rue St-Jacques created a scandal, confirming the fears of those who had only suspected the extent of the movement in those circles. Two of the noblewomen were members of Catherine de Médicis's entourage, and she subsequently took others under her protection. Important persons in the Germanies and Switzerland tried to intercede with the French king on behalf of the prisoners—in vain. The episode is a striking instance of the points made by Richer about the Huguenots of these years.[10]

The most flagrant manifestations of Huguenot triomphalisme were yet to come, in the spring of 1558, when Protestants assembled openly in the


Pré-aux-Clercs (quartier St-Germain) to hold services à la mode de Genève , in the contemporary phrase. The presence of François d'Andelot, youngest of the Châtillons, and on occasion that of Antoine de Bourbon, king of Navarre and first prince of the blood, seemed to protect the gatherings, so that the laws against "illicit assemblies" were not enforced, which encouraged others to join. On May 17 the bishop of Paris complained that in the streets surrounding the Pré-aux-Clercs "great crowds were chanting the Psalms of David in French."[11] As with any novelty, many were curiosity seekers rather than serious converts, and university neighborhoods are always volatile, but the increased numbers raised the visibility of Parisian heretics.[12]

Some came to taunt and heckle; fights frequently broke out and the neighborhood became notorious for its "disorders." A considerable share of the responsibility for the endemic violence should probably be attributed to the ever more inflammatory sermons, which the bishop tried to control, but with no noticeable effect.[13] The king expected the Parlement to control the situation and sent word (May 23) that he wished to get to the bottom of the disturbances: "Those who know anything and do not reveal it will be punished by death, as seditious [persons]." Henri II was quoted as saying that if his own son did not share his religion, he would treat him as an enemy. Parlement's position, already difficult, grew increasingly hazardous, caught between royal pressure to punish lawbreakers and confidence of the latter that their high sponsorship would shield them.[14] Parlementaires heard threats from outraged Catholics in the streets and felt reluctance to move against persons they respected—colleagues, friends, and relatives with whose views they often sympathized and sometimes shared. Judges who tried to implement royal policy were jostled and insulted in the streets; a frequent epithet was Fauteur d'hérésie! The king's Catholic advisers were urging that judges who failed to apply the heresy laws—and especially those who were personally guilty of violating them—should be stripped of


their offices. Attempting to pass the buck, the court deplored the dereliction in their duty of the municipal and university authorities. On June 2 the king lost patience and sent orders to the court "to act at once and severely," making Antoine Fumée and Bartholomé Faye responsible for carrying them out.[15]

However severe the pressures from outside, the Parlement's own crisis was caused by an inner explosion. Conflicts between the moderates and the ultras over religious policy fragmented the court. The moderates, led by présidents Séguier and Harlay, prevailed in the Tournelle and thus routinely heard heresy cases appealed from lower courts, while the ultras, led by premier président Le Maistre, dominated the Grand' Chambre. The case that set off the explosion, in March 1559, involved three prisoners who were appealing a death sentence. The Tournelle judges had failed to persuade the accused to recant and were under attack for delaying sentence. They then made a move, at great risk to themselves, which could only mean that they were unwilling to apply the royal edicts and were seeking a further means to avoid doing so. Entering into discussion with the accused, they apparently offered acquittal on condition of attendance at mass, and when the prisoners refused, they permitted them to give explanations of their reasons in writing. The source that gives the fullest detail on the episode is the Histoire ecclésiastique that speaks for the Calvinist leadership (formerly attributed to Théodore de Bèze himself). We cannot therefore be sure that the explanations of the accused were so convincing that "some of the judges were obliged to admit out loud that in truth the Mass contained abuses," but there is no disputing the fact that the Tournelle converted the death sentence of a lower court to banishment, even as the Grand' Chambre was handing down another death sentence in a comparable case.[16]

Such a situation could not be tolerated. The gens du roi convoked a special mercuriale to "restore discipline" and heal the breach. The king's intention was clearly to bring the erring moderates into line. We recall that all those close to him favored the ultra position and that their reaction to Huguenot triomphalisme had gone from indignation to fright and fury in recent months.


The Offensive of the Ultras, Spring 1559-December 1560

The first mercuriale session was held on the last Wednesday in April 1559. Our source, La Vraye Histoire (anonymous and Protestant) was considered factually reliable by de Thou, and nothing that I know of contradicts it. The author's judgments of people are frankly biased, however: Arnauld du Ferrier, who advocated submitting the heresy problem to a church council, is "a learned man with an enlightened mind," while the ultra président Minard is "given to sensuality, with no learning, a great inventor of schemes and factions."

It appears that a moderate consensus was reached in the first two sessions, on the necessity (and appropriateness) of leaving heresy to a church council, with discussion centering on how to handle unorthodox opinions in the meanwhile. One proposal was to offer declared heretics six months in which to recant or face banishment, but with permission to take their movable property with them. Antoine Fumée argued that capital punishment should be suspended until the issues were clarified by the ecclesiastical authorities. According to the Vraye Histoire premier président Le Maistre and présidents Minard and Saint-André, together with procureur général Bourdin, "fearing that a majority shared [Fumée's] opinion, and wishing to please the king and the pope, gave the king to understand that almost all the conseillers were Lutherans who wished to strip him of his power and his crown . . . that if he allowed the mercuriales to continue the [Roman] church would be ruined because Parlement would support its Lutheran [members], who paid no attention to the laws and mocked those who judged according to them . . . and that the majority [of the court] never attended Mass."[17] The informers urged the king to surprise the court during a mercuriale session so as to verify their report, and advised that force be used against the heretic members.

This "leaked" information—which was decidedly exaggerated—was of course a violation of the confidentiality of Parlement's deliberations. Jacques-Auguste de Thou also reports, on the authority of his father, président Christophe de Thou, that the informers produced a list identifying parlementaire suspects—and their property—which the king had shown to de Thou. The session of June 10, when Henri II followed the informers' advice, was the most important (historically) ever held. Accompanied by


Montmorency and the Guises, under armed escort, the king interrupted the deliberations, announced his dissatisfaction with the pursuit of heresy and his determination to stamp it out. He then ordered the deliberations to resume forthwith. Conseiller Claude Viole, advocating that the heresy question be submitted to a church council, summed up the substance of previous sessions. Unfortunately, there are no minutes for these sessions in the registers; they were probably destroyed, as seems to be true of Parlement's records in other major crises. There are some sources other than the Vraye Histoire , however, for the belief that a majority of those who spoke favored a general council and opposed the death sentence, notably the dispatch of England's ambassador Nicholas Throckmorton of June 13, which states that of one hundred twenty persons present, only Le Maistre and fourteen others supported the death sentence. He also interprets the basic motive for the ultra maneuver as their desire, one might say their need, to discredit président Séguier.

The House of Guise hath taken this occasion to weaken the Constable; and because they wold not begynne directly with Seggier, for feare of manifesting their practise, they have found the meanes to cause these counsailors to be taken; supposing, that on the examination of them somme mater may be gathered to toche Seggier withal, and thereby to overthrow him.[18]

While saying nothing about religious policy as such, two conseillers made bold attacks on the king. Louis Du Faur said that it was necessary to uncover the ultimate responsibility for the troubles of the kingdom and cited the prophet Elijah, who accused King Ahab of "troubling Israel," while Anne Du Bourg commented on the contrast between the flourishing and prosperous condition of blasphemers and adulterers, and the persecution of those who led pure lives and whose "sedition" was to demand the reform of a corrupt church. Even a more magnanimous king would probably have found that these remarks constituted lèse-majesté; it was out of the question for Henri II to ignore them in the very presence of his most important, ultra, advisers. The cardinal de Lorraine may well have been murmuring, "I told you so."

After the conseillers, the présidents expressed their opinions, which are


of particular interest to us. Four constituted the nucleus of the moderate leadership: René Baillet, Christophe de Harlay, Christophe de Thou, and Pierre (I) Séguier. Their main message was the defense of the court, with some suggestion that the heresy laws should be reexamined. The other two présidents were the "informers." Antoine Minard, who had a reputation for timidity, said merely that the royal edicts should be obeyed. Only premier président Le Maistre (liaison between the ultras in the royal entourage and those in Parlement) said anything directly about religious policy, by expressing approval of the policy of Philip Augustus toward the Albigensians as a precedent for the death penalty.

There was no orderly conclusion or adjournment to this mercuriale . The king flew into a rage, demanded that the register be surrendered to him, stormed out of the building with his entourage, and ordered the arrest of eight parlementaires. Three were able to hide with friends and stay out of sight: Jacques Viole, Arnauld Du Ferrier, and Nicole Du Val. Along with Anne Du Bourg, the most "seditious," four others were arrested and imprisoned in the Bastille: Louis Du Faur, Antoine Fumée, Paul de Foix, and Eustache de la Porte. According to the rules, magistrates could be tried only by the whole court, all chambers assembled, but on June 19 the king appointed a special commission to try them. It was even more flagrantly "extraordinary" than the Chambre Ardente, indeed, two of its members were veterans of the latter, président François de Saint-André and conseiller Louis Gayant. The others were conseiller Robert Bonete, maître des requêes Jean de Mesmes, and two ecclesiastics, Antoine de Mouchy and Eustache du Bellay, bishop of Paris.

During the following week the prisoners were interrogated. Du Bourg denied the authority of the commission and took advantage of many legal loopholes, including appeals to his ecclesiastical superiors as well as to the full Parlement. Against some members of the commission he also made challenges of their competence (récusations ), on the grounds that they had previously taken action against him. The case dragged on until the end of the year, in various phases. He was repeatedly condemned as a heretic and finally burned at the stake in the Place de Grève on December 23. It is clear that in the latter stages Du Bourg was consciously making points, both legal and theological, and that he was prepared for martyrdom, perhaps even seeking it.[19] Aspects of the case significant for the general question of parlementaire mentalité will be considered in the next section of this chap-


ter, along with the opinions of other members. The four conseillers arrested with Du Bourg were all reinstated the following year, but there was considerable variation in the sentences they received and in the circumstances of their rehabilitation. Each denied the legality of the case against him.[20]

Analysis of the spectrum of religious opinion among parlementaires must be understood in the context of some important changes in the political climate of France between the arrests in June 1559 and the release of all but Du Bourg within a few months. On July 10, 1559, exactly one month after Henri II had sworn "to see [Du Bourg] burn with his own eyes," the king died as a result of a wound inflicted during a joust that was part of the celebration of two royal marriages sealing the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis.[21] The fact that the fatal thrust had reached the brain through the eye did not escape notice of the Huguenot pamphleteers, who saw it as God's punishment on the adulterous persecutor of the righteous. The removal of the king did not, of course, soften the harsh policy of the royal government, over which the cardinal de Lorraine now had virtually unchallenged control. The young king, François II, was married to the cardinal's niece, Mary Stuart; Catherine de Médicis was not yet in a position to emerge from her enforced role as mere mère de famille (although she could destroy Diane de Poitiers's influence); and Montmorency was also in eclipse.

The Guises removed all important officeholders not of their party, and under their direction the tempo of persecution in Paris rose to new heights. There were massive arrests, regularly resulting in torture, mutilation, and autos-da-fé. The property of Protestants was sacked and public places were emblazoned with libels attacking them. The French pastors felt obliged to warn Calvin (who did not approve of armed resistance) that the faithful could not long bear these conditions, and they appealed to Catherine de Médicis to intervene. Parlement managed to soften one edict (September) that decreed the razing of any house used for Protestant assemblies by restricting its application only to cases in which the owner had been a participant. An edict (November) requiring denunciation of any heretical activity one knew of on pain of being considered a heretic oneself was


allowed to stand, together with a monetary reward to informers and personal pardon if they had themselves formerly been guilty.[22] In the week before Christmas fear, rumor, and violence reached a new crescendo. Présiclent Minard, prominent in the ultra faction, was assassinated in the street, an act understandably (but with no known justification) attributed to the Huguenots. Rumors that Le Maistre and Saint-André would soon fall victim fueled the anti-Protestant frenzy, and on December 23 Du Bourg was burned at the stake.

The intensity of persecution aroused widespread passive resistance and, not surprisingly, plans for armed resistance as well. The Conspiracy of Amboise, an ill-conceived and badly executed plot of some lesser Protestant nobles to seize the Guises and "rescue" the king in March 1560, was an isolated resort to arms unauthorized by the Reformed leaders either in France or in Geneva. It was betrayed to the Guises in advance and easily put down with brute force. The consequences were unfortunate in that the episode played into the hands of the ultras, who could represent all Protestants as rebels and thus frighten many law-abiding, non-ultra Catholics into accepting the persecution policy as essential to law and order and to the stability of the state.

For some time the French pastors and Calvin himself had been working for the conversion of the Bourbon brothers, princes of the blood. Neither Antoine, king of Navarre, nor Louis, prince de Condé, had become converts but their actions as "protectors" of the Huguenots were exploited by the Guises, who condemned them as fauteurs d'hérésie and rebellion. Condé was described as "the silent chief" of the Conspiracy of Amboise.[23]

The attack on the princes of the blood proved counterproductive for the Guises, substantiating the view that they had usurped the princes' "constitutional" place as "natural" advisers to the crown and regents for weak or minor sovereigns. People in all sections of the country and all (articulate) classes were drawn into a loose anti-Guise coalition, most of them Catholics of the traditional, Gallican stripe, as well as loyal to the crown. A Huguenot "party" would emerge in 1561, but there were as yet no respected and sufficiently powerful lay Protestant leaders. The anti-Guise "party" of 1559-60 naturally included the Huguenots and they tended to become its most vocal elements, but it was the moderate Catholics in the entourage of


Catherine de Médicis who were responsible for some modifications of royal policy in the summer of 1560. At what might on the surface seem the height of their power, the Guises had created their own nemesis.

The historian can discern the signs as early as the spring of the year. On March 11 Parlement registered the Edict of Amboise, which states explicitly that the queen mother's advice had been sought because the religious troubles were threatening the kingdom with civil war. She replied that the young king did not wish "to stain the first year of his reign with the blood of his subjects" and therefore offered pardon for all crimes of religion on condition of abjuration. Pastors and conspirators against the royal family or its ministers were specifically excluded. The long-range aim was to separate rank-and-file Protestants from their leaders, but there is no doubt that the immediate purpose was to abort a Huguenot resort to force, widely rumored. It was badly timed, too late; the attack on the château of Amboise came only five days later, March 16. On the 17th, an ampliation de l'édit du Roy was issued from Amboise, offering pardon to those who claimed they had merely intended to petition the king and had been "misled" into treasonable actions. Catherine made this move when interrogations of those captured revealed many humble persons who had been persuaded that if the king only understood their grievances he would redress them. The ampliation was the basis for releasing many in the ranks while the limbs of the leaders were displayed on the walls as a grisly deterrent to would-be imitators.[24]

In the early summer, Catherine made her most important appointment. Michel de L'Hôpital officially took over the seals as chancellor on June 20. It would be his thankless task to pilot through Parlement the ill-fated policy of religious toleration Catherine adopted in 1562. L'Hôpital, who had not enjoyed his sixteen years as conseiller in Parlement and never assimilated the mainstream mentalité , had risen rapidly under the sponsorship of the cardinal de Lorraine since 1553. He was successively maître des requêtes, premier président of the Chambre des Comptes, and a member of the Conseil Privé. An accomplished man of letters, he had eulogized the valor of François de Guise and the eloquence of the cardinal. It was generally assumed that he would be a tool of the Lorrainers, but L'Hôpital had served each of his several patrons so as to advance his own career as well. His adaptation to the service of Catherine while retaining the cardinal's favor, during the six months between his assumption of office and the fall of the Guises, was a political masterpiece.


As the most recent authority on L'Hôpital says, "Hostility between L'Hôpital and the Parlement escalated into institutional conflict when the king appointed him to the newly created first presidency of the Chambre des Comptes in February 1555." Clashes with Parlement left an indelible mark not only on L'Hôpital's career when he became chancellor in 1560, but also on royal policy throughout the 1560s. The parlementaires felt both humiliated and betrayed by his authoritarian manner and consistent efforts to reduce their power. He was after all a former colleague and the first chancellor who had not advanced from the position of premier président of the Parlement.[25]

L'Hôpital's first direct confrontation with Parlement over religious policy came when he presented the Edict of Romorantin in May 1560. The court was resisting registration because the edict reduced its jurisdiction; all civil authorities were forbidden de s'en mesler aucunement in heresy cases, the cognizance of which was thus "returned" to the church. Illicit assemblies, especially of armed men, were to be the responsibility of the presidial courts, recently established by Henri II, and presumably easier for the crown to control than the Parlements. Sutherland says that the edict provided "a relatively unobtrusive way of departing from extreme persecution" and that the situation of the earlier part of the century was "restored . . . in which Protestants could survive if they behaved discreetly, though naturally no such intention was expressed."[26] This was a first step in the policy of restricting government measures to law and order—to actions as opposed to beliefs. It certainly represented a via media between the Protestant demand for a suspension of all persecution and the Guise policy of inquisition. Yet Parlement's remonstrances, drawn up by conseillers Jean Jacquelot and Adrien Du Drac and expressed by président Baillet, were virtually identical to the earlier protests of Séguier against the Inquisition, that is, that the king's justice was diminished by allowing ecclesiastics to punish heresy, even if there were no accompanying "seditious disturbances," and by denying the right of appeal. Parlement's specific constitutional prerogatives were infringed by designating independent powers to the presidial courts.[27] The Edict of Romorantin was never enforced, and no further edicts were issued in the remaining months of the reign. As a conciliatory gesture to the court, the crown shortly denied any intention of removing its jurisdiction over illicit assemblies.


In the weeks surrounding the Conspiracy of Amboise, Catherine had begun to seek advice from seigneurs sufficiently powerful to provide a counterforce to Guise domination. Most prominent among them were Montmorency's Châtillon nephews, Gaspard de Coligny, admiral of France, and Odet de Coligny, cardinal de Châtillon. She would depend heavily on them for the next two years. The timing of their respective "conversions" is uncertain. Although their reform sympathies dated back to the later years of Henri II's reign, they did not take an unequivocally partisan stand until the spring of 1561, and not until the Huguenot resort to arms in 1562 did collaboration with the regent become impossible.

When Catherine convoked a special meeting of the royal council at Fontainebleau in August 1560, as a means of reducing tension between the factions, Coligny played an important part. He was highly respected and could do more than anyone else to present the legitimate grievances of the Protestants and to change their association with sedition in the public mind, by emphasizing their loyalty and law-abiding character and insisting that the leadership had no responsibility for the Conspiracy of Amboise. The admiral was not yet the Huguenot leader known to history, however. His first public step was not taken until the following April—as will be seen. At Fontainebleau his role was "more that of a mediator than that of an advocate," as his most recent biographer demonstrates.[28]

Also present at Fontainebleau were three prominent liberal Catholic bishops, frequently attacked by the ultras as heretics: Jean de Monluc, bishop of Valence, Jean de Morvilliers, bishop of Orléans, and Charles de Marillac, archbishop of Vienne, all members of the Conseil Privé. It seems probable that Catherine shared their view that abuses in the clergy were responsible for the corruption of the church and its loss of appeal; that a general council was the most desirable remedy, but if that did not occur there should be a national council, possibly in consultation with leaders of the reform, to seek an accommodation; and that no punishment harsher than exile was suitable for peaceable heretics. For the concomitant secular problems solutions should be sought in a meeting of the Estates General, which was decided upon for later in the year. In 1561, Catherine would also try the remedy of a national council on the religious question.[29]


Exchanges between Chancellor L'Hôpital and Parlement in September 1560 foreshadowed the struggle ahead.[30] When the chancellor reproached members of the court for "inciting [sedition] instead of opposing it" and warned that the king expected everyone "to avoid language that might cause scandal or confirm the seditious in their opinions," Parlement was hit on a sensitive nerve, loyalty to the crown. Premier président Le Maistre retorted that he did not know of anything said by any officer of the court tournant à sedition , and reiterated parlementaire loyalty and persistent efforts to secure obedience to the king's laws. Passing over to the offensive, he noted that two important offices were held by Huguenots and declared that such violations were the real cause of the disorders.[31]

The fact that the opinions of the queen's most trusted advisers partly coincided with those of the Protestants could not help alarming the Guises, who resumed the offensive by accusing the Bourbons of complicity in the Conspiracy of Amboise. In October they were summoned to Orléans, which had become an armed camp, and treated with scant respect by François II. Shortly Condé was arrested and Antoine humiliated. An extraordinary tribunal comprised of magistrates, conseillers d'état , and knights of the Order of St. Michael, pronounced a death sentence (for treason) against Condé on November 26, but opinions were so sharply divided that L'Hôpital adjourned the trial.[32] A political reversal even more dramatic than the sudden death of Henri II seventeen months earlier then changed the course of events. François II fell ill with a severe ear infection and died on December 5. While the Guise administration was overwhelmed with confusion, Catherine took steps to assure for herself the regency—the next Valois brother (Charles IX) was only ten years old. She was able to exploit the well-known weaknesses of Antoine de Bourbon so as to neutralize his counterclaims as first prince of the blood.[33] There were historical precedents for both. As


parlementaires who were their clients had been manipulated by the Guises under François II, so now there was an opportunity for the moderates, favored by the regent, to become more influential. But this did not transform them into docile creatures, cooperating with her policies; far from it.

Religious Opinion in the Crisis Generation

Reference has been made to the modest, low-key religious style habitual for magistrates, with its emphasis on conformity to conventional beliefs as well as reserve in behavior as expressed in such precepts as "The most familiar is always the best," "The facade must never be disturbed." The hold of these attitudes became even stronger under the pressure of new religious movements in the sixteenth century. Suspicion of innovation and the conviction that theology should be left to trained, authorized theologians—just as law should be left to trained, authorized lawyers and judges—caused typical mainstream robins to shy away from theological disputes associated with the Protestant challenge, even while favoring the reform of abuses in the Roman church. They readily imputed the decline in religious fervor and the growth of heresy to the failures of the contemporary clergy and regularly insisted that the only sure remedy was for clerics to be morally superior persons, resident in their cures or sees, who would set the right example for the Christian life. Discussion of the content of religious belief is virtually unheard of amongst them. When the challenge of the ultramontane revival replaced that of heresy, after 1563, the problem of content faded away but differences of opinion over forms of religious expression were greatly sharpened. Typical parlementaire opposition to ultra-Catholic extravagance (especially in the public displays of Henri III and in the League processions) was frequently and unequivocally expressed. For the substance of their belief, however, the historian is obliged to draw inferences from indirect sources. This contrasts sharply with the explicit statements of those like Berquin and Du Bourg, who frankly departed from the old church and explained fully both their reasons for doing so and their contrary ("heretical") beliefs, in "confessions of faith."

One particular document that allows us to penetrate beyond the conventional facade is, therefore, uniquely useful for our inquiry. In 1574 Pierre de Gondi, bishop of Paris, at the request of Pope Gregory XIII, conducted a hearing concerning the religious opinions expressed by Paul de Foix at the mercuriale of 1559 for which he had been imprisoned by Henri II. In spite of his rehabilitation and successful career as royal adviser and diplomat in the intervening fifteen years, there was still a taint of suspicion hanging


over Foix as candidate for the archbishopric of Toulouse, even with the support of Catherine de Médicis. The hearing involved interrogating thirty-six surviving magistrates, who had been present, on the statements of Paul de Foix. The facts that Foix had himself chosen the witnesses and that their testimony was favorable to him do not invalidate the source for our purposes, because prominent spokesmen of the mainstream were among the witnesses and through the questions and answers of the hearing we glean some insights into their religious opinions to balance those of the suspects recorded in La Vraye Histoire .[34]

The attempt to sketch out a religious "profile" of the Parlement in this period must be postulated on the recognition that the only member we can call "Protestant" with certainty is Anne Du Bourg, on his own testimony. In the course of his trial(s), Du Bourg revealed that he had not attended mass since 1557 and that for him the pope was only the bishop of Rome. He declared that Scripture was the sole authority for a Christian and that all other elements, called by Catholics "the tradition," were man-made, as were the sacraments except for baptism and the Eucharist. These beliefs, expressed as early as the fourteenth century by John Wycliffe, had become the core tenets of all varieties of Protestantism since Luther. Another was repudiation of the doctrine of transubstantiation, Du Bourg thought that the Last Supper should be reenacted in simplicity, following Christ's instruction, "Eat, drink . . . do this in remembrance of me." This implies communion for the laity "in both kinds" and denies miraculous power to the priest. Preaching is the special function of the clergy: "Go, tell all the world." In common with almost everyone in the sixteenth century, Du Bourg thought there was one religious truth, that all other beliefs were heretical, and that heresy should be punished. For him, heresy was anything that departed from the (written) Word of God; for his judges, it was anything that denied the essential teachings of the Roman church.[35]

The other 1559 suspects revealed little about their beliefs, confining themselves to adherence to the Bible and the Athanasian Creed. Their claims dealt with legal technicalities, and chiefly featured récusations against those who interrogated and judged them, and the irregularity of the procedures. These were manipulated by président Saint-André so as to prevent the defendants from exercising their rights as subjects of the crown, not to speak of their legal privileges derived from their offices. For example, "con-


frontations" of Antoine Fumée with the moderate leaders (de Thou, Séguier, Baillet, and Harlay) were arranged in order that they could subsequently be declared ineligible to be among his judges.[36]

La Vraye Histoire dismisses the responses of all the prisoners except Du Bourg with the phrase, "Il n'y avait rien de notable ni digne de tels personages." From the pen of that author, this is proof positive that he did not consider them Protestants, an opinion borne out by the specific charges against them and what was required for their rehabilitation. Three of them, as well as the three who escaped imprisonment, had joined in the consensus on submission of the religious problem to a general council and opposition to the death penalty, suggesting various less severe punishments and favoring suspension of all prosecution until the definition of heresy had been clarified by the ecclesiastical authorities. Eustache de la Porte's offense had been to condemn the severity of the Grand' Chambre in heresy cases, and his only punishment was public reversal of that opinion. Louis Du Faur, no doubt because of his personal insult to Henri II, received the harshest sentence. He was obliged to retract his support of a national council and opposition to persecution, in addition to being fined and suspended from his office for five years.[37]

Antoine Fumée's was the stormiest case, involving denunciations of all his judges and appeals to les grands , including even the cardinal de Lorraine. In the end he got off with no punishment whatsoever, almost certainly thanks to the intervention of Catherine de Médicis.[38]

For Paul de Foix, unlike' the others, owing to the document mentioned and the article of Noël Didier analyzing it, we have access to at least some of his substantive religious beliefs.[39] He favored making a distinction between heretics who believed only in a spiritual "Real Presence" (sacrementaires ) and those who merely "varied the form" of celebrating the Eucharist (Lutherans). He advocated that the death penalty be limited to the former


("those who denied both the form and the substance"). In order to strengthen its hand, the Guise regime had requested the Sorbonne to condemn formally the propositions, "put forward by some royal officers" (that is, by Foix), that a general council was required to settle the religious question because of diversity of opinion on the sacrament, and that all punishment should meanwhile be suspended. The faculty's response went beyond mere compliance, condemning in addition Foix's argument that the sacramentaires had been judged by "Mosaic law" instead of the "law of grace," which was supposed to prevail among Christians, and the argument that the sacraments of the contemporary church lacked validity because most of the priests had concubines and that the ritual was meaningless because the people could not understand it. For royal officers to echo this familiar "Protestant" criticism shows the strength of the reform from within in the robe milieu, even as the Sorbonne's condemnation demonstrates the extent to which the ultra-Catholic mind was closed to any suggestion of change.

Paul de Foix did not deny any fundamental Roman Catholic dogma, as attested by all the witnesses at the 1574 hearing. He acknowledged that rites at variance with those of the Roman church were punishable under the royal edicts. Nevertheless, his was not a dogmatic faith requiring absolute obedience: personne ne lui semblait avoir tout à fait raison . In these circumstances a man of conscience could not presume to pronounce judgment, still less could he condemn men to death for their opinions when nobody knew what the truth was. However great and numerous the bonds between reform-minded Catholics and Protestants, including both negative views of abuses and positive beliefs—like the superiority of the primitive church—they were not strong enough to bridge the chasm between sophisticated Catholic doubt and unquestioning Protestant conviction that theirs was the only truth. The "suspects" of 1559 stood close to the dividing line, but still on the Catholic side. It is improbable that Christophe de Thou would have intervened in their behalf—as he did for each one—otherwise, nor is a virtually agnostic position, even in secret, psychologically compatible with Calvinism.

There was less legal wrangling in the case of Foix than in that of Du Faur, but he was obliged to declare to the full court that he had erred in seeing a distinction between form and matter in the Eucharist. As punishment he was forbidden to possess censured books and suspended from his office for a year (later annulled).

As far as can be ascertained from real sources (as opposed to rumors and accusations) the position of Paul de Foix was the farthest "left" in the


mainstream. In order to distinguish it from that of his fellow suspects who merely said the problem of heresy should be settled by an ecclesiastical council with suspension of prosecution in the interval, I am designating his stand as "radical" and theirs as "liberal." The liberals constituted a considerable proportion of the court, even if we do not accept the claim that they would have had a majority if a free vote had been permitted. Séguier and Harlay should certainly be included in their ranks. For the radicals, it is hard even to guess. It seems likely that many of those who later absented themselves from crucial sessions (especially those in which a profession of faith was required) and who appear on the anonymous "police report," shared the views of Paul de Foix. If any were secretly Protestant, those Calvin castigated as "Nicodemites," the sources present no evidence. After the events of 1559, such was the course of wisdom, even of survival. But if there was a sizable liberal minority, the majority was undoubtedly moderate-conservative. The first of these adjectives distinguishes them from the extreme conservatives, the second from the liberals. This moderate-conservative group proved in the long run to be the most important, less because of its numbers than because it repudiated both the experiment in religious toleration (1561-62) and the ultramontane reform, simultaneously infusing new life into the liberties of the Gallican church.


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