History of the Rise of the Huguenots Volume II Part 43

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The attempted a.s.sa.s.sination had happened in front of the cloisters of St.

Germain l'Auxerrois. The house was recognized as one belonging to the d.u.c.h.ess Dowager of Guise, in which Villemur, the former tutor of young Henry of Guise, had lodged. The door was found locked; but the indignant followers of Coligny soon burst it open. They found within only a woman and a lackey. The a.s.sa.s.sin, after firing, had fled to the rear of the house. There he found a horse awaiting him; this he exchanged at the Porte Saint Antoine for a fresh Spanish jennet. He was out of Paris almost before pursuit was fairly undertaken. Subsequent investigation left no doubt as to his ident.i.ty. It was that same Maurevel of infamous memory, who during the third civil war had traitorously shot De Mouy, after insinuating himself into his friends.h.i.+p, and sharing his room and his bed.

The king's a.s.sa.s.sin, "le tueur du roi"--a designation he had obtained when Charles or his advisers gave a special reward for that exploit[950]--had been selected by Catharine, Anjou and the Guises, as possessing both the nerve and the experience that were requisite to make sure of Coligny's death. It was found that he had been placed in the house by De Chailly, "maitre d'hotel" of the king, and that the horse by means of which he effected his escape had been brought to the door by the groom of the Duke of Guise.[951]

[Sidenote: Agitation of the king.]

Charles was still in the tennis-court, when De Piles came in, sent by Coligny, to inform him of the b.l.o.o.d.y infraction of the Edict of Pacification. On hearing the intelligence, the king was violently agitated. Throwing down his racket, he exclaimed: "Am I, then, never to have peace? What! always new troubles?" and retired to his room in the Louvre, with a countenance expressive of great dejection.[952] And when, later in the day, the King of Navarre, the Prince of Conde, and La Rochefoucauld, after seeing Coligny's wounds dressed, came to the palace and begged him for permission to leave a city in which there was no security for their lives, Charles swore to them, with his accustomed profanity, that he would inflict upon the author and abettors of the crime so signal a punishment that Coligny and his friends would be satisfied, and posterity have a warning example. Coligny had received the wound, he said, but the smart was _his_. Catharine, who was present, chimed in, and declared the outrage so flagrant, that just retribution must speedily be meted out, or insolence would be pushed so far as that the king would be attacked in his own palace.[953]

[Sidenote: Coligny courageous.]

Meantime the admiral bore his sufferings with serenity, and, far from needing any comfort his friends could give him, himself administered consolation to the n.o.blemen around his bed. His sufferings were acute.

Amboise Pare, the famous surgeon of the king, himself a Huguenot, was called in; but the instruments at hand were dull, and it was not until the third attempt that he could satisfactorily amputate the wounded finger.

"My friends," said Coligny to Merlin, his minister, and to other friends, "why do you weep? As for me, I think myself happy in having received these wounds for the name of G.o.d." And when Merlin exhorted him "to thank G.o.d for His mercy in preserving his mental faculties sound and entire, and to continue to divert his thoughts and feelings from his a.s.sa.s.sin and his wounds, and to turn them, as he was doing, from all things else to G.o.d, since it was from His hands that he had received them," the admiral's reply was, that sincerely and from the heart he forgave the person who had wounded him, and those who had instigated him, holding it for certain that it was beyond their power to injure him, since, should they even kill him, death would be an a.s.sured pa.s.sage to life.[954] Thus, with quiet submission, and with edifying prayers which it would be too long to insert, the Admiral de Coligny pa.s.sed those hours which his enemies subsequently, in their desperate attempts to justify or palliate the most abominable of crimes, represented as given up to infamous plots against king and state.

[Sidenote: He is visited by the king and his mother.]

That afternoon, between two and three o'clock, Charles visited the wounded man, at the suggestion of Teligny and Damville; for Coligny had expressed a desire to see the monarch, that he might communicate certain matters which concerned him greatly, but of which he feared there was no one else that would inform him.[955] The king came, accompanied by his mother, his brothers, the Duke of Montpensier, Cardinal Bourbon, Marshals Damville, Tavannes and Cosse, Count de Retz, and the younger Montmorencies, Th.o.r.e and Meru.[956] The interview was kind and rea.s.suring. The admiral, who lay upon his bed, heartily thanked the king for the honor he had deigned to do him, and for the measures he had already taken in his behalf. And Charles praised the patience and magnanimity exhibited by Coligny, and bade him be of good courage. Then more important topics were introduced. There were three points respecting which the admiral wished to speak to Charles. The first was his own loyalty, which, however much it had been maligned by his enemies, he desired now solemnly to reaffirm, in the presence of Him before whose bar he might soon be called to stand, and he declared that the sole cause of the hostility he had aroused was his attempt to set bounds to the fury of those who presumed to violate royal edicts. Next, he commended to the king the Flemish project. Never had any predecessor of Charles enjoyed so splendid an opportunity as now offered, when several cities of the Netherlands had declared their desire for his favor and protection. But these advances were openly derided by some of the courtiers about the king; while state secrets were so badly kept, that "one could not turn an egg, nor utter a word in the council, but it was forthwith reported to the Duke of Alva." And, indeed, what else could be expected, since those who were present, and even his own brothers, communicated to foreigners and enemies the king's most confidential deliberations? He earnestly begged Charles to apply a prompt remedy to this matter in future. The last point was the observance of the Edict of Pacification. What opinion would foreign nations form of the king, if he suffered a law solemnly made, and frequently confirmed by oath, to be openly trampled upon? In proof of this a.s.sertion, he alleged the recent attack upon the Protestants of Troyes returning from their place of wors.h.i.+p, the tragic termination of which has already been noticed.

To that part of Coligny's remarks which related to the war in Flanders, it is said that Charles made no direct reply; but he declared that he had never suspected the admiral's loyalty, and that he accounted him a good man, and a great and generous captain. There was not another man in the kingdom whom he would prefer to him. And he again a.s.severated his intention to enforce a religious observance of his edicts; for which purpose, indeed, he had recently despatched commissioners into all the provinces, as the queen could inform him. "That is true, Monsieur l'amiral," said Catharine, "and you know it." "Yes, madam," he replied, "commissioners have been sent, among whom are some that condemned me to be hung, and set a price of fifty thousand crowns on my head." "Then,"

rejoined Charles, "we must send others who are open to no suspicion."

Again he promised with his accustomed oath to see that the attempt upon the admiral's life should be so punished that the retribution would be forever remembered;[957] after which he inquired whether Coligny were satisfied with the judges whom he had appointed to conduct the investigation. Coligny replied that he committed himself in this matter to the king's prudence, but suggested that Cavaignes, the recently appointed maitre de requetes, and two other Huguenots be added to the commission.

The king and De Retz both endeavored to persuade the admiral to permit himself to be transported, for safety's sake, to the Louvre; but Coligny's friends would not consent to a removal which might endanger his life.

Charles requested, before he left, to see the ball extracted from the wounded arm, and examined it with apparent curiosity. Catharine took it next, and said that she was glad that it had been removed, for she remembered that, when the Duke of Guise was shot, the physicians repeatedly said that, even if the ball were poisoned, there was no danger to be apprehended when once the ball was taken out. Many afterward regarded it as a significant circ.u.mstance that the queen mother's mind should have reverted on this occasion to the murder of which the Lorraine family still persisted in accusing Coligny of having been the instigator.[958]

[Sidenote: Catharine attempts to break up the conference.]

Such was, according to the solitary Huguenot who was present by Coligny's bed, and who survived the subsequent ma.s.sacre, the substance of the conversation at this celebrated interview. But, if we may credit the account which purports to have been given by Henry of Anjou, there was an incident which he failed to mention. At a certain point in the conversation Coligny asked to be allowed to speak to the king in private, a request which Charles willingly granted, motioning Henry and Catharine to withdraw. They accordingly retired to the middle of the room, where they remained standing during the suspicious colloquy. Meanwhile their apprehensions were awakened as they noticed that there were more than two hundred gentlemen and captains of the admiral's party in this and an adjacent room and below stairs. The sad looks of the Huguenots, their gestures expressive of discontent, their suppressed whispers, as they pa.s.sed to and fro, before and behind the queen and her favorite son, with less respect than the latter thought was due to them, impressed them with the idea that they were objects of distrust. Catharine afterward admitted to Henry that never in her life was she so glad to get out of any other place. Her impatience soon impelled her to cut short the conference between Charles and Coligny--much to the regret of Charles--on the pretext that longer conversation might r.e.t.a.r.d the sick man's recovery.

Scarcely had the royal party left the admiral's lodgings, when Catharine began to ply Charles with questions respecting Coligny's private communication. Several times he absolutely refused to satisfy her curiosity. But at last, losing all patience, he roughly answered her with an oath: "What the admiral told me was true: kings are recognized as such in France only so far as they have the power to reward or punish their subjects and servants; and this power and the management of the affairs of the entire state have insensibly slipped into your hands. But this authority of yours, the admiral told me, may some day become highly prejudicial both to me and to my whole kingdom, and I ought to look upon it with suspicion, and to be on my guard. Of this he had desired, as one of my best and most faithful subjects, to warn me before he died. Well then, _mon Dieu_, since you will know it, this is what the admiral was telling me." "This was uttered," Anjou subsequently said, "with so much pa.s.sion and fury, that the speech cut us to the heart. We concealed our emotion as best we could, and vindicated ourselves. This discourse we pursued from the admiral's lodgings to the Louvre. There, after having left the king in his own room, we retired to that of the queen, my mother, who was nettled and offended in the highest degree by this language of the admiral to the king, and still more by the credit the king seemed to give it, fearing that this might occasion some change in our affairs and in the conduct of the state. To be frank, we found ourselves so unprovided with counsel and understanding, that, being unable to come to any determination at that time, we separated, deferring the matter until the morrow."[959]

[Sidenote: Charles writes letters expressing his displeasure.]

Meantime, Charles, not content with closing all the gates of Paris, save two, which were to be strictly guarded, and with ordering a speedy judicial investigation, despatched, on the very day of the attempt on Coligny's life, a circular letter to all the governors of the provinces, and a similar letter to his amba.s.sadors at foreign courts, declarative of his profound displeasure at this audacious crime. In the former he said: "I am at once sending in every direction in pursuit of the perpetrator, with a view to catch him and inflict such punishment upon him as is required by a deed so wicked, so displeasing, and, moreover, so inconvenient; for the reparation of which I wish to forget nothing." And lest any persons, whether Protestants or Roman Catholics, should be aroused by this news to make a disturbance of the peace, he called upon all the governors to explain the full circ.u.mstances of the case. "a.s.sure every one," he wrote, "that it is my intention to observe inviolate my edict of pacification, and so strictly to punish those who contravene its provisions, that men may judge how sincere is my will."[960] In a similar strain he wrote to his amba.s.sador in England, that he was "infinitely sorry" (infiniment marry), and that he desired him to acquaint Queen Elizabeth with his determination to cause such signal justice to be executed, that every one in his realm might take example therefrom.

"Monsieur de la Mothe Fenelon," he added in a postscript, "I must not forget to tell you that this wicked act proceeds from the enmity between his [the admiral's] house and the Guises. I shall know how to provide that they involve none of my subjects in their quarrels; for I intend that my edict of pacification be observed in all points."[961]

[Sidenote: The Vidame de Chartres advises the Huguenots to leave Paris.]

Not long after the king had left Coligny's room, the admiral Was visited by Jean de Ferrieres, Vidame de Chartres, a leading Huguenot, who came to condole with him. He also had a more practical object in view. In a conference of the great n.o.bles of the reformed faith, held in the room adjoining the admiral's, he advocated the instant departure of the Protestants from Paris, and urged it at considerable length. He saw in the event of the day the first act of a tragedy whose catastrophe could not be long deferred. The Huguenots had thrust their head into the very jaws of the lion; it were prudent to draw it out while it was yet time. But this sensible advice, based less upon any distinct evidence of a plot for their destruction than upon the obvious temptation which their defenceless situation offered to a woman proverbially unscrupulous, was overruled by the majority of those present. Teligny, in particular, the accomplished and amiable son-in-law of Coligny, opposed a scheme which not only might endanger the admiral's life, but would certainly displease the king, by betraying distrust of his ability or his inclination to defend his Protestant subjects.[962]

Sat.u.r.day morning came, and with it a report from Coligny's physicians, announcing that his wounds would not prove serious. Meanwhile the investigation into the attempted a.s.sa.s.sination was pursued, and disclosed more and more evidence of the complicity of the Guises. The young duke and his uncle Aumale, conscious of the suspicion in which they were held, and fearful perhaps of the king's anger, should the part they had taken become known, prepared to retire from Paris, and came to Charles to ask for leave of absence, telling him at the same time that they had long noticed that their services were not pleasing to him. Charles, with little show of courtesy, bade them depart. Should they prove guilty, he said, he would find means to bring them to justice.[963]

[Sidenote: Catharine and Anjou come to a final decision.]

And now the time had arrived when Catharine and the Duke of Anjou must come to a final decision respecting the means of extricating themselves from their present embarra.s.sments. Maurevel's shot had done no execution.

Coligny was likely to recover, to be more than ever the idol of the Huguenots, to become more than ever the favorite of the king. In that case the influence of Catharine and her younger son would be irretrievably lost; especially if the judicial investigation now in progress should reveal the fact that they were the prime movers in the plan of a.s.sa.s.sination. Certainly neither Henry of Guise nor his mother would consent to bear the entire responsibility. More than that, the Huguenots were uttering loud demands for justice, which to guilty consciences sounded like threats of retribution.

We must here recur to Henry of Anjou's own account of this critical period; for that strange confession throws the only gleam of light upon the process by which the young king was moved to the adoption of a course whereby he earned the reputation--of which it will be difficult to divest him--of a monster of cruelty. "I went," says Anjou, "to see my mother, who had already risen. I was filled with anxiety, as also she was on her side.

We adopted at that time no other determination than to despatch the admiral by whatever means possible. As artifice and cunning could no longer be employed, we must proceed by open measures. But, to do this, we must bring the king to this same resolution. We decided that we would go in the afternoon to his private room, and would bring in the Duke of Nevers, Marshals Tavannes and Retz, and Chancellor Birague, solely to obtain their advice as to the means we should employ in executing the plan upon which my mother and I had already agreed.

[Sidenote: They ply Charles with arguments.]

"As soon as we had entered the room in which the king my brother was, my mother began to represent to him that the party of the Huguenots was arming against him on account of the wounding of the admiral, the latter having sent several despatches to Germany to make a levy of ten thousand horse, and to the cantons of Switzerland for another levy of ten thousand foot; that most of the French captains belonging to the Huguenot party had already left in order to raise troops within the kingdom; and that the time and place of a.s.sembling had been fixed upon. Let so powerful an army as this once be joined to their French troops--a thing which was only too practicable--and the king's forces would not be half sufficient to resist them, in view of the intrigues and leagues they had, inside and outside of the kingdom, with many cities, communities, and nations. Of this she had good and certain advices. Their allies were to revolt in conjunction with the Huguenots under pretext of the public good; and for him (Charles), being weak in pecuniary resources, she saw no place of security in France.

And, indeed, there was besides a new consequence of which she wished to warn him. It was that all the Catholics, wearied by so long a war, and vexed by so many sorts of calamities, were determined to put an end to them. In case he refused to follow their counsel, they also had determined among themselves to elect a captain-general to undertake their protection, and to form a league offensive and defensive against the Huguenots. Thus he would remain alone, enveloped in great danger, and without power or authority. All France would be seen armed by two great parties, over which he would have no command, and from which he could exact just as little obedience. But, to ward off so great a danger, a peril impending over him and his entire state, so much ruin, and so many calamities which were in preparation and just at hand, and the murder of so many thousands of men--to avert all these misfortunes, a single thrust of the sword would suffice--the admiral, the head and author of all the civil wars, alone need be put to death. The designs and enterprises of the Huguenots would perish with him; and the Catholics, satisfied with the sacrifice of two or three men, would remain obedient to him (the king)."

Such arguments, and many more of a similar character, does Henry tell us that he and his wily mother addressed to the unhappy Charles. At first their words irritated him, and, without convincing, drove him into a frenzy of excitement. A little later, giving credit to the oft-repeated a.s.sertions of his false advisers, and his imagination becoming inflamed by the picture of the dangers surrounding him which they so skilfully painted, he would, nevertheless, hear nothing of the crime to which he was urged, but began anxiously to consult those who were present whether there were no other means of escape. Each man gave his opinion in succession; and each supported Catharine's views, until it came to the turn of Retz, who, contrary to the expectation of the conspirators, gave expression to more n.o.ble sentiments.[964] If any one were justified in hating Coligny and his faction, he said, it was himself, maligned, as he had been, both in France and abroad; but he was unwilling, in avenging private wrongs, to involve France and its royal family in dishonor. The king would justly be taxed with perfidy, and all confidence in his word or in public faith would be lost. Henceforth it would be impossible to treat for terms of peace in those new civil wars in which the French must be involved, and of which their children would not see the end.

[Sidenote: The king consents reluctantly.]

These wholesome words at first struck speechless the advocates of murder.

Then they undertook, by repeating their arguments, to destroy the effect of the prophetic warning to which the king had just listened. They succeeded but too well. "That instant," says Henry of Anjou, "we perceived a sudden change, a strange and wonderful metamorphosis in the king. He placed himself on our side, and adopted our opinion, going much beyond us and to more criminal lengths; since, whereas before it was difficult to persuade him, now we had to restrain him. For, rising and addressing us, while imposing silence upon us, he told us in anger and fury, swearing by G.o.d's death that, 'since we thought it good that the admiral should be killed, he would have it so; but that with him all the Huguenots of France must be killed, in order that not one might remain to reproach him hereafter; and that we should promptly see to it.' And going out furiously, he left us in his room, where we deliberated the rest of the day, during the evening, and for a good part of the night, and decided upon that which seemed advisable for the execution of such an enterprise."[965]

This is the strange record of the change by which Charles, from being the friend of Admiral Coligny, became the accomplice in his murder and in countless other a.s.sa.s.sinations throughout France. The admission of his guilt by one of the princ.i.p.al actors in the tragedy is so frank and undisguised that we find it difficult to believe that the narrative can have emanated from his lips. But the freaks of a burdened conscience are not to be easily accounted for. The most callous or reticent criminal sometimes is aroused to a recognition of his wickedness, and burns to communicate to another the fearful secret whose deposit has become intolerable to himself. And fortunately the confession of the princely felon does not stand alone. The son of another of the wretches who persuaded Charles to imbrue his hands in the blood of his subjects has given us the account which he undoubtedly received from his father shortly before his death, and we find the two statements to be in substantial agreement. Tavannes says: "The king notified (of the attempt upon Coligny's life), is offended, and threatens the Guises, not knowing whence the blow came. After a while, he is appeased by the queen, a.s.sisted by the sieur de Retz. They make his Majesty angry with the Huguenots--a vice peculiar to his Majesty, who is of choleric humor. They induce him to believe that they have discovered an enterprise of the Huguenots directed against him. He is reminded of the designs of Meaux and of Amboise.

Suddenly gained over, as his mother had promised herself that he would be, he abandons the Huguenots, and remains sorry, with the rest, that the wound had not proved mortal."[966]

[Sidenote: Few victims selected at first.]

And now, the a.s.sa.s.sination of the admiral having received the king's approval, it only remained to decide upon the number of Protestants who should be involved with him in a common destruction, and to perfect the arrangements for the execution of the murderous plot. How many, and who were the victims whose sacrifice was predetermined? This is a question which, with our present means of information, we are unable to answer.

Catharine, it is true, used to declare in later times that she contemplated no general ma.s.sacre; that she took upon her conscience the blood of only five or six persons;[967] and, although the unsupported a.s.sertion of so perfidious a woman is certainly not ent.i.tled to any great consideration, we can readily see that the heads of half a dozen leaders might have fully contented her. She was not seeking for revenge so much as paving the way for her ambition. There were few Huguenots who were apparently so powerful as to interfere with her projects. Coligny, their acknowledged head; the Count of Montgomery, personally hated as the occasion of the death of her husband, Henry the Second, in the ill-fated tournament; the Vidame of Chartres; and La Rochefoucauld--these were doubtless of the number. Would she have desired to include the King of Navarre and the Prince of Conde? Not the former, on account of his recent marriage with her daughter. Yet to whom the Bourbons were indebted for the omission of their names from the proscriptive roll we cannot tell. After the accession of Henry the Fourth, it became the interest of all the families concerned to put the conduct of their ancestors in the most favorable light. Thus, Jean de Tavannes states that his father saved the life of the Bearnese in that infamous conclave; but so little did the latter believe him, that, on the contrary, he persistently refused to confer upon him the marshal's baton, which he would otherwise have received, on the ground that Gaspard de Tavannes was an instigator of the ma.s.sacre.[968]

[Sidenote: Religious hatred.]

Thus much must be held to be clearly established: that fancied political exigencies demanded the a.s.sa.s.sination of only very few persons; that personal hatred, on the part of the princ.i.p.al or of the minor conspirators, added many more; that a still greater number were murdered in cold blood, simply that their spoils might enrich the a.s.sa.s.sins. What part must be a.s.signed to religious zeal?[969] To any true outgrowth of religion, none at all; but much to the malice and the depraved moral teachings of its professed representatives. The hatred of Protestantism, engendered in the minds of the people by long years devoted to traducing the character and designs of the reformers, now bore fruit after its own kind, in revolting crimes of every sort; while the lesson, sedulously inculcated by priests, bishops, and monks, that obstinate heretics might righteously be, and ought to be exterminated from the face of the earth, permitted many a Parisian burgess to commit acts from which any but the most diabolic nature would otherwise have recoiled in horror. But of the measure of the responsibility of the Roman pontiff and his clergy for this stupendous crime, it will be necessary to speak in the sequel.

[Sidenote: Precautionary measures.]

In devising the plan for the destruction of the Huguenots, the queen mother and her council were greatly a.s.sisted by the course pursued by the Huguenots themselves, and by the very circ.u.mstances of the case. Under pretence of taking measures to secure the safety of the Protestants, the "quarteniers" could go, without exciting suspicion, from house to house, and make a complete list of all belonging to the reformed church.[970] The same excuse served to justify the court in posting a body of twelve hundred arquebusiers, a part along the river, a part in the immediate neighborhood of Coligny's residence.[971] And now the Protestants themselves, startled by the unusual commotion which they noticed in the city, and by the frequent pa.s.sage to and fro of men carrying arms, sent a gentleman to the Louvre to ask the king for a few guards to protect the dwelling of their wounded leader. The request was only for five or six guards; but Charles, feigning astonishment and deep regret that there should be any reason for such apprehensions, insisted, at the suggestion of his brother Anjou, who stood by, upon despatching fifty, under command of Cosseins. So well known was the captain's hostility to Coligny and the Protestants, that Th.o.r.e, Montmorency's brother, whispered to the Huguenot messenger as he withdrew: "You could not have been given in guard to a worse enemy;" but the royal direction was so positive that no remonstrance seemed possible. Accordingly, Cosseins and his arquebusiers took possession, in the king's name, of two shops adjoining Coligny's abode.[972] With as little ceremony, Rambouillet, the "marechal des logis," turned the Roman Catholic gentlemen out of the lodgings he had previously a.s.signed them in the Rue de Bethisy, and gave the quarters to the Protestant gentlemen instead.[973] The reason a.s.signed for this action was that the Huguenots might be nearer to each other and to the admiral, for mutual protection; the real object seems to have been to sweep them more easily into the common net of destruction.

And yet the majority of the Huguenot leaders were not alive to the dangers of their situation. In a second conference held late on Sat.u.r.day, the Vidame of Chartres was almost alone in urging instant retreat. Navarre, Conde, and others thought it sufficient to demand justice, and the departure of the Guises, as possessing dangerous credit with the common people. Teligny again dwelt upon the wrong done to Charles in distrusting his sincerity, and deprecated a course that might naturally irritate him.

One Bouchavannes was noticed in the conference--a professed Protestant, but suspiciously intimate with Catharine, Retz, and other avowed enemies of the faith. He said nothing, but listened attentively. So soon as the meeting was over, Bouchavannes went to the Louvre and related the discussion to the queen mother.[974] The traitor's report, doubtless grossly exaggerated, is supposed to have decided Catharine to prompt action. It is certain, at least, that the calumnious perversion of the speeches and resolutions of the Huguenot conference was employed to inflame the pa.s.sions of the mob, as well as to justify the atrocities of the morrow in the eyes of the world.

[Sidenote: Orders issued to the prevot des marchands.]

It was now late in the evening of Sat.u.r.day, the twenty-third of August.

Coligny had been writing to his friends throughout France, recommending them to be quiet, and informing them of the investigations now in progress. G.o.d and the king, he said, would do justice. His wounds were not mortal, thank G.o.d. If his _arm_ was wounded, his _brain_ was yet sound.[975] Meantime, the original framers of the murderous plot had called in the Guises, who in reality had not left Paris.[976] It had been arranged that the execution should be intrusted to them, in conjunction with the b.a.s.t.a.r.d of Angouleme, Charles's natural brother, and Marshal Tavannes. And now at last we emerge from the mist that envelops many of the preliminaries of the night of horrors. The records of the Hotel de Ville contain the first doc.u.mentary evidence of the coming ma.s.sacre. There is no longer any doubt, unfortunately, of Charles's approval and complicity. "This day, the twenty-third day of August, very late in the evening," Charles sends for Charron, "prevot des marchands," to come to the Louvre. Here, in the presence of the queen mother, the Duke of Anjou and other princes and lords, his Majesty "declares that he has received intelligence that those of the new religion intend to make a rising by conspiracy against himself and his state, and to disturb the peace of his subjects and of his city of Paris; and that this very night some great personages of the said new religion and rebels have conspired against him and his said state, going to such lengths as to send his Majesty some arrogant messages which sounded like menaces." Consequently, in order to protect himself and the royal family, Charles directs the prevot to seize the keys of all the gates of the city, and to keep them carefully closed, in order to prevent any one from entering or leaving Paris. He also commands him to remove all the boats moored along the Seine, so as to prevent any one from crossing the river; and to put under arms all captains, lieutenants, ensigns, and burgesses capable of doing military duty.[977] The orders were faithfully and promptly obeyed. Long before morning dawned they had been transmitted successively to the lower munic.i.p.al officers, quarteniers, dizainiers, etc.; the wherry-men had been stopped, and the troops and burgesses of Paris having armed themselves as best they could, were a.s.sembled ready for action in front of the Hotel de Ville, on that famous Place de Greve, so often drenched in martyr's blood.[978]

[Sidenote: The first shot and the bell of St. Germain l'Auxerrois.]

To the guilty plotters that was a sleepless night. Unable to rest quietly, at a little before dawn, Catharine with her two elder sons found her way to the portal of the Louvre, adjoining the tennis court. There, in a chamber overlooking the "ba.s.secour," they sat down to await the beginning of their treacherous enterprise. If we may believe Henry of Anjou, none of them as yet realized its full horrors; but as they quietly watched in that hour of stillness for the first signs of the coming outbreak, the report of a pistol-shot reached their ears. Instantly it wrought a marvellous revulsion in their feelings. Whether the shot wounded or killed any one, they knew not; but it brought up vividly to their imaginations the results of the terrible deluge of blood whose flood-gates they had raised. Hastily they send a servant to the Duke of Guise, and countermand the instructions of the evening, and bid him do no injury to the admiral. It is too late!

The messenger soon returns with the tidings that Coligny is already dead, that the work is about to begin in all the rest of the city. This news produces a fresh change. With one of those fluctuations which are so easy for souls that have no firm or established principles, but s.h.i.+ft according to the deceptive, ever-varying tide of apparent interest, the mother and her sons return heartily to their former purpose. The die is cast, the deed is half done; let it be fully and boldly consummated. No room now for pity or regret.[979]

It was a Sunday morning, the twenty-fourth of August--a day sacred in the Roman calendar to the memory of Saint Bartholomew. Torches and blazing lights had been burning all night in the streets, to render the task easy.

The houses in which Protestants lodged had been distinctly marked with a white cross. The a.s.sa.s.sins themselves had agreed upon badges for mutual recognition--a white cross on the hat, and a handkerchief tied about the right arm. The signal for beginning was to be given by the great bell of the "Palais de Justice" on the island of the old "cite."[980]

The preparations had not been so cautiously made but that they attracted the notice of some of the Huguenots living near Coligny. Going out to inquire the meaning of the clash of arms, and the unusual light in the streets, they received the answer that there was to be a mock combat in the Louvre--a pleasure castle was to be a.s.saulted for the king's diversion.[981] But, as they went farther and approached the Louvre, their eyes were greeted by the sight of more torches and a great number of armed men. The guards, full of the contemplated plot, could not refrain from insults. It soon came to blows, and a Gascon soldier wounded a Protestant gentleman with his halberd. It may have been at this time that the shot was fired which Catharine and her sons heard from the open window of the Louvre. Declaring that the fury of the troops could no longer be restrained, the queen now gave orders to ring the bell of the neighboring church of St. Germain l'Auxerrois.[982]

[Sidenote: Murder of Admiral Coligny.]

Meantime Henry of Guise, Henry of Valois, the b.a.s.t.a.r.d of Angouleme, and their attendants, had reached the admiral's house. The wounded man was almost alone. Could there be any clearer proof of the rect.i.tude of his purpose, of the utter falsity of the charges of conspiracy with which his enemies afterward attempted to blacken his memory?[983] Guerchy and other Protestant gentlemen had expressed the desire to spend the night with him; but his son-in-law, Teligny, full of confidence in Charles's good intentions, had declined their offers, and had, indeed, himself gone to his own lodgings, not far off, in the Rue St. Honore.[984] With Coligny were Merlin, his chaplain, Pare, the king's surgeon, his ensign Cornaton, La Bonne, Yolet, and four or five servants. In the court below there were five of Navarre's Swiss guards on duty.[985] Coligny, awakened by the growing noise in the streets, had at first felt no alarm, so implicitly did he rely upon the protestations of Charles, so confident was he that Cosseins and his guards would readily quell any rising of the Parisians.[986] But now some one knocks at the outer door, and demands an entrance in the king's name. Word is given to La Bonne, who at once descends and unlocks. It is Cosseins, followed by the soldiers whom he commands. No sooner does he pa.s.s the threshold than he stabs La Bonne with his dagger. Next he seeks the admiral's room, but it is not easy to reach it, for the brave Swiss, even at the risk of their own lives, defend first the door leading to the stairs, and then the stairs themselves. And now Coligny could no longer doubt the meaning of the uproar. He rose from his bed, and, wrapping his dressing-gown about him, asked his chaplain to pray; and while Merlin endeavored to fulfil his request, he himself in audible pet.i.tions invoked Jesus Christ as his G.o.d and Saviour, and committed to His hands again the soul he had received from Him. It was then that the person to Whom we are indebted for this account--and he can scarcely have been another than Cornaton--rushed into the room. When Pare asked him what the disturbance imported, he turned to the admiral and said: "My lord, it is G.o.d that is calling us to Himself! The house has been forced, and we have no means of resistance!" To whom the admiral, unmoved by fear, and even, as all who saw him testified, without the least change of countenance, replied: "For a long time have I kept myself in readiness for death. As for you, save yourselves, if you can. It were in vain for you to attempt to save my life. I commend my soul to the mercy of G.o.d." Obedient to his directions, all that were with him, save Nicholas Muss or de la Mouche, his faithful German interpreter, fled to the roof, and escaped under cover of the darkness.

History of the Rise of the Huguenots Volume II Part 43

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