Preferred Citation: Roelker, Nancy Lyman. One King, One Faith: The Parlement of Paris and the Religious Reformations of the Sixteenth Century. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1996.

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

Heresy as Clear and Present Danger

The Parisian diocesan council, presided over by Duprat, met in February 1528 and drew up a list of sixteen articles defining Catholic orthodoxy and another list of thirty-one "errors." The distinctions between the humanist reformers and the "sacramentaires" who denied the Real Presence were becoming evident, although the former were blamed for paving the way for the latter. The works of Zwingli were widely known in France, especially in the southern provinces, and Farel's efforts to recruit lieutenants to man the national reform were meeting with considerable success. Like the pro-

[28] . Henri Bordier's note in his transcription of the document (AN x1a 1530, fol. 349r), in Bibliothèque de la société de l'histoire du protestantisme francais (hereafter, BSHPF) 487, 1.

[29] . Imbart de la Tour, Origines de la réforme , 3:259; Sutherland, Huguenot Struggle , 27, 34.


verbial match in a powder keg, the first outbreak of iconoclasm in Paris set off an explosion. On June 2 a much venerated statue of the Virgin Mary (in a niche in the wall of Louis de Harlay's house) was mutilated. The king was very angry and for the first time took a dramatic public stand by leading the procession to expiate la profanation de la Vierge and by ordering a silver statue to replace the old one. The "bourgeois de Paris" features it in his journal .[30]

Within a few days the Parlement was expressing its indignation and calling for strong measures. Pierre Lizet's speech was addressed to Duprat, urging the chancellor to influence the king's policy toward the "hard line."

This poisonous, contagious sect . . . is undoubtedly the source and root of all these scandals and evils. . . . For the Lutherans, as one can see in their writings, have not only despised the images in our churches, but also prayers to the saints, saying . . . that they have no power to help us, as Saint Augustine and Gratian said . . . [we must] try to cut off all the branches and toxic fruit . . . there is no other way than to exterminate and uproot [the evil] from this kingdom, otherwise . . . it will be beyond control. . . . [We must] make a thorough search for those of this unfortunate sect . . . by publicizing in all the major towns . . . where there is a royal court . . . and commanding the bishops to keep it under control and do their duty . . . so that this great and dangerous evil may be entirely removed from the state (chose publique ) as [the king] has always wished . . . and [now wishes] to achieve by sound advice to remove from his whole kingdom with the greatest diligence possible this unhappy sect that he has always hated. . . . Lizet then very humbly begged the said cardinal chancellor, as chief of French justice and principal prelate of the Gallican church [to carry out the policy stated].[31]

Louis de Berquin's release in November 1526 had not invalidated his sentence. He was determined to force the issue by claiming that those who had condemned him had exceeded their authority (appel comme d'abus ). For months (1527-28) he sought and obtained interventions by Erasmus, Marguerite, and the king himself, which finally resulted in the creation by the pope of a special commission to review the case (1529). Meanwhile Berquin was importuned by both Jean de Selve and Charles Guillart to drop the appeal. The sources make it clear that the court's leadership was anxious to find some face-saving formula and to avoid another confrontation with

[30] . Bourrilly, ed., Journal d'un bourgeois , 290-293.

[31] . Lizet speech, 8 juin 1526, AN x1a 1531, transcribed by Henri Bordier in BSHPF 487, 1, fols. 308-312.


the king—which they fully expected unless some accommodation could be found. Contemporary observers thought Berquin was himself responsible for his predicament, and for the third—and final—round of the case, through his unwillingness to let well enough alone. The bourgeois begins his very full account with the phrase, "God, wishing to punish him, puffed up his heart with pride." And Versoris remarks, "he absolutely insisted on abusing his knowledge."[32]

The papal commission decided that Berquin had clearly fallen into Lutheran heresy but that because of his declared willingness to submit to church discipline, his sentence would be limited. Although his books were to be burned and his doctoral degree revoked, and he was required to make public abjuration of his errors before being imprisoned for life, that life itself was spared. But when he then refused to withdraw his appeal, it was interpreted as disobedience to the Church and "hardness of heart." As a lapsed heretic he was turned over to the "secular arm," that is, the Parlement of Paris, which deputed a special panel to sentence him: premier président Jean de Selve presided; Denis Poillot was the only other président, but maître des requêtes Guillaume Budé served, as did Étienne Leger, vicar-general of the bishop of Paris (by invitation), along with conseillers Jean Prévost, Guillaume Bourgeois, Louis Roillart, René Gentils, and Pierre Brulart. Striking swiftly, they condemned Berquin to death and executed the sentence on April 17, 1529; in the words of the bourgeois, "expedited the same day with great diligence, so that he could not again have recourse to the king."

Although "the excessive impieties committed by heretics so angered the king" that he abandoned Berquin "to the ordinary course of justice," as Félibien says, the Parlement had no reason to expect that the king would thus reverse his course. Berquin having been twice snatched from parlementaire justice, it was logical to anticipate a third "rescue."[33] In addition, the return of Lefèvre, Roussel, and Farel under the shelter of the throne and their enjoyment of Marguerite's continued favor (shared by many lesser "innovators") supported parlementaire expectations, as well as their fears.[34]

In the first years of the new decade, the Reformation was expanding

[32] . Bourrilly, ed., Journal d'un bourgeois , 317-322, 423-427; Versoris, Livre de raison , 213.

[33] . Félibien and Lobineau, Histoire , 2:985.

[34] . Sutherland, Huguenot Struggle , 26-30.


throughout Europe in a variety of forms. Three of these were "magisterial," that is, under a centralized ecclesiastical direction, in contrast to the radical movements.[35]

In England the Reformation Parliament was passing a series of acts, climaxed by the Act of Supremacy (1534), which established a national church under the crown instead of the pope, but still Catholic in doctrine. On the continent, a clear-cut break between Lutherans and Zwinglians over the interpretation of the Eucharist had occurred at the Colloquy of Marburg (1529), an outcome diametrically opposed to the intentions of the organizers, who hoped to unify the continental reform. Within a year the basic doctrines of the Lutheran Church were formulated (Confession of Augsburg, 1530); the major Swiss cities, following the model of Zurich in 1523, held "disputations" between a reformer and a representative of the Roman church that resulted in the establishment of a reformed church in Bern, Basel, and—most important for us—Geneva and Neuchâtel. The exiled French reformers made Geneva their headquarters and when Calvin joined Farel there in 1536, that city was launched on its destiny as the "Protestant Rome"—although it would not be fulfilled for another twenty years.

In France meanwhile Louise de Savoie died, and François I grew apart from his sister and the humanists as he elaborated the policy of repression. In 1533 he launched a systematic drive to extirpate heresy in Languedoc, ordering Parlement to appoint commissioners who would proceed rapidement, par main forte to the task. Even so, parlementaires were not convinced that the king really agreed with them, but his reaction in l'affaire des placards would help them believe it. The appearance of handbills attacking the mass in Paris (and even on the door of the king's private apartments in the château of Amboise) in the night of October 4-5, 1534, and a heretical sermon by the rector of the university, Nicolas Cop, shortly thereafter, caused the extension of edicts against heretics to those who harbored or in any way helped them. Tighter censorship of printing was also instituted. But what impressed public opinion most was the king's personal participation in the public acts of expiation on the one hand and reprisals enacted against heretics on the other, in the early months of 1535.[36]

[35] . "Radical Reformation" designates a wide variety of groups that refused centralized institutions allied with the secular authorities. See the major study by George Hunston Williams (Philadelphia, 1962); new edition, 1992.

[36] . Sutherland, Huguenot Struggle , 28-31, and notes; on the placards see Robert Hari, "Les Placards de 1534," Aspects de la Propagande religieuse , ed. G. Berthoud (Geneva, 1957), 79-122; Bourrilly, ed., Journal d'un bourgeois , 359-360; Georges-Maurice Guiffrey, ed., Cronique du Roy François, premier de ce nom (Paris, 1860), 110-140; for the speech of parlementaire Jean Tronson, see Félibien and Lobineau, Histoire , 2:987-989.


François I was no less preoccupied with foreign policy in the 1530s than earlier. Following a short break in hostilities (Treaty of Cambrai, 1529), he was preparing a new offensive against the emperor, this time by diplomacy. The first move was a new rapprochement with the papacy to secure papal acceptance of his proposed alliance with German princes against Charles V. The quid pro quo for the ambitious Pope Clement VII was the marriage of his niece, Catherine de Médicis, to the king's second son, Henri, in 1533, a marriage thought at the time to be inconsequential, which in fact turned out to be historically important when fate brought Henri (II) to the throne in 1547, after the dauphin's death. According to the bourgeois de Paris, it was the suggestion of the next pope, Paul III, that the French king reduce the discrepancy between his treatment of Protestants in France and those in Germany, "to employ mercy rather than justice . . . begging the king to calm his rage and exercise pardon. . . . Thus the king moderated his policy and ordered the court of Parlement not to proceed with the same rigor, . . . which resulted in the release of prisoners." This explains the tone of the preamble of the Edict of Coucy, January 1535, which is often cited as a sign of greater leniency on the part of the French crown.[37]

Sutherland is correct in seeing this as window-dressing, and in pointing out that it did not apply to those who most needed clemency, sacramentaires and recidivists, but it was nonetheless perceived by contemporaries as a softening of royal policy, a shift in the direction of toleration. At the same time the repressive measures remained in force, and Parlement was not deceived into renewed opposition to the king. The death of Duprat, which occurred about the same time, also contributed to the lessening of tension.

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

Preferred Citation: Roelker, Nancy Lyman. One King, One Faith: The Parlement of Paris and the Religious Reformations of the Sixteenth Century. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1996.