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.

7 The Engine of Repression The Transitional Generation, 1540-1551


In 1551 an issue arose that diverted Parlement's attention from heresy. The first session of the Council of Trent had broken up (1547) because of national rivalries, especially between France and the Hapsburgs, and differences over organization and procedure among the prelates. The French specifically opposed a recall of the same council by Julius III, at Trent in November 1550, which made the interval a mere adjournment. Henri II retaliated with traditional Gallican moves, a threat to hold a national council, an embargo on the export of gold to Rome, and preparations to use the ultimate weapon, the "withdrawal of obedience" from the church. Schism was avoided by the diplomatic mediation of cardinal de Tournon, and the episode of 1551 ranks among the least of the "Gallican crises." Nevertheless, the revival of the old ultramontane menace drew the ultras closer to the mainstream, a rapprochement facilitated by the king's abolition of the Chambre Ardente on the one hand and his granting the Society of Jesus teaching privileges on the other.[32]

Simultaneously, although a new edict (Chateaubriand, 1551) marked a shift to what Sutherland calls "positive persecution," the king's attention was diverted for three or four years by the renewal of war. After a number

[31] . AN x1a 1566, fols. 117, 170, June 11 and 27, 1550.

[32] . Sutherland, Huguenot Struggle , 342-343; Kelley, Foundations , 165-166.


of encounters, military and diplomatic, in Italy, Henri II decided to attack the emperor in a more sensitive area, the middle strip of the old Carolingian empire, which bordered France on the east. The constable would attack Metz while the king and Guise would penetrate Lorraine. Before leaving for the front, Henri extended an olive branch to Parlement by recognizing its right of remonstrance but asked also that the court accept the actions and edicts of Catherine de Médicis as regent in his absence and register them without remonstrance.

The strategic fortress of Metz became the focus of Franco-imperial rivalry in 1552. The constable took the city in the spring but the emperor could not accept its loss, and in the latter part of the year he attempted to drive the French out. The siege of Metz was one of the great military events of the century and the brilliance of its successful defense made the reputation of François, duc de Guise, with consequences for the history of France later in the sixteenth century that are hard to exaggerate.[33]

Charles V was defeated in battle and the long years of struggling to hold together his far-flung holdings had worn him out; he abdicated in 1556, but the military threat to France did not disappear. By 1557 she was on the defensive against Philip II on her vulnerable north-eastern frontier. Long years of expensive war had profoundly affected the relations of king and Parlement by stimulating an extraordinary increase in venality and exploitation of offices for money. Responsibility for these developments and for the entire chain reaction of consequences should be attributed to king and magistrates in about equal shares. Without entering into details, we need to follow the main outlines in order to understand changes occurring within Parlement between the early years of Henri II's reign and the long crisis over religious policy that began in its final years and reached a climax after his death.

Henri II's systematic exploitation of parlementaire ambition, greed, family pride, and vanity leaps out of the record. War imposed actual fiscal needs, yet the cynicism with which the king would reiterate reform intentions and recite the rules intended to regulate the composition and operation of the court in the very act of breaking them is reminiscent of the twentieth-century uses of "the big lie." Maugis contrasts Henri II's methods with those of his father—hardly a model respecter of procedures: "Where François I had proceeded more or less subtly with small steps of equivocation, menace and constraint, the art of his son lay entirely in deception, indirect means, that is of diplomacy aided by corruption." Maugis adds, "he scarcely

[33] . Le Monnier, France sous Henri II , 147-154.


bothered to deny that his one thought was to sell more offices." The principal means was by illegal private arrangements with those présidents and conseillers "known to be ready for seduction, who had something to gain from the proposed creations [of offices] for their elder sons, benefices for the younger ones, marital alliances for their daughters. The game began on the first day [of the reign]." The offices thus gained became a part of the family heritage, droits acquis , and some of the greatest parlementaire families were involved in these transactions, not excluding the de Thou, the Séguier, and the Harlay.[34]

Nevertheless, there were periodic protests and attempts to restore the traditional dignity and discipline. In March 1554, when he was still avocat du roi, Pierre (I) Séguier spoke out against a royal edict abolishing the old system of épices (unofficial but customary fees in addition to legally defined fees) and substituting new taxes on every act, commission, order, inquiry, record, or other transaction in every royal court, including inferior jurisdictions such as the presidial courts and those of the bailliages . Arguing for retention of the old system, Séguier pointed out that whereas the épices were paid at the end of a case, when sentence had been pronounced, under the new system litigants "would have to put their hand in their pockets in order to get a hearing and again at every step of the judicial process, with the risk for a poor man that he would be denied justice entirely. What a scandal, not only for the king's subjects, but even more for foreigners accustomed to revere French justice!"

The edict was registered de mandato expresso on April 28, after much debate, but it was abolished along with the entire système de semestre (a doubling of the numbers in the court, with one-half to serve in one-half of the year) four years later (January 1558). Séguier's eloquence had not prevailed in the spring of 1554, but he was promoted to a presidency on June 30 of that year, one day after Christophe de Thou. Although at the time he expressed some resentment that a mere avocat at the bar of the court should outrank him, the avocat du roi, he accepted the situation. It seems possible that this slight humiliation was the king's reprisal for Séguier's opposition. If so, it did not turn him into a docile rubber stamp of royal policy. Nor did any serious antagonism from this initial rivalry develop between him and de Thou. On the contrary, they joined forces repeatedly, and as leaders of the moderate mainstream they were able to wrest control from the ultras and enlist the majority on their side.[35]

[34] . Maugis, Parlement de Paris , 1:191-192, 208, 217-219.

[35] . Ibid., 1:193, 197, 211, 203.


In 1550, the expiration of the Chambre Ardente and parlementaire reaction against flagrant manipulation of the two ranking judicial offices (chancellorship and first presidency) had brought about a lessening of tensions within the court. Recognition of Parlement's rights in heresy cases and the "Gallican crisis" healed the breach still further in 1551. The détente this time was of brief duration, however. Even though Henri II's attention was mainly on the war until financial necessity obliged him to prepare for peace in 1558, he resumed the offensive in religious policy as early as 1555. Neither he nor the ultra parlementaires would easily accept the shift of parlementaire opinion toward modification of uncompromising repression of heresy.


7 The Engine of Repression The Transitional Generation, 1540-1551

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.