History of the Rise of the Huguenots Volume II Part 60

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It was no part of Catharine de' Medici's plan, at this juncture, to wreak her vengeance for the blow that had been aimed at her authority, either upon her son or upon her son-in-law. The Montmorencies, also, though suspected and long since the objects of jealousy, ultimately escaped with little difficulty. It is true that the eldest brother, Marshal Francois de Montmorency, was enticed to the court, as was also another marshal, M. de Cosse, and that both were thrown into the Bastile. But the younger Montmorencies, Th.o.r.e and Meru, had escaped, while their more energetic brother Marshal Damville, was too firmly fixed in the governors.h.i.+p of Languedoc, to be removed without a struggle. It was hardly prudent to drive so influential a family to extremities. Moreover, Catharine was too wise to desire the utter destruction of a clan whose authority might on occasion be employed, as it had often been in the past, as a counterpoise to the formidable power of the Guises.

[Sidenote: Execution of La Mole and Coconnas.]

Some victims of inferior rank were needed. They were found in the persons of Joseph Boniface de la Mole and Hannibal, Count de Coconnas, who, with one M. de Tourtray, expiated their error and that of their superiors, on the Place de Greve. The cruel procedure known as the administration of justice in the sixteenth century has no more striking ill.u.s.tration than in the barbarous torture, including the terrible trial by water, inflicted upon these wretched men. By such means it was not difficult to extort admissions which the prisoner was likely to retract at a subsequent time.

Consequently it is not quite clear, even with the full record before us, how far La Mole and Coconnas were really implicated. As for the sufferers themselves, there was little about them to call forth our special sympathy. La Mole, of handsome appearance, but of cowardly disposition, was a firm believer in the magic that pa.s.sed current in his day, and was questioned on the rack respecting the object of a waxen figure found among his effects. He admitted he had employed it for sorcery, to advance his suit with a lady whose love he sought. Coconnas, an Italian, instead of inviting contempt for his poltroonery, inspires aversion for his crimes.

No a.s.sa.s.sin had distinguished himself more at the Ma.s.sacre of St.

Bartholomew's Day. We are inclined to believe the contemporary chronicler, who states that Charles the Ninth himself averred that he had never liked Coconnas since hearing the latter's sanguinary boast that he had redeemed as many as thirty Huguenots from the hands of the populace, only that he might induce them to abjure their religion, under promise of life, and afterward enjoy the satisfaction of murdering them by inches under his dagger.[1376]

Had Coconnas and La Mole been persons more ent.i.tled to our respect, we might have pitied their misfortune in falling into the hands of a royal commission with whom the evidence of the guilt of the prisoners was apparently of less weight than the desire to gratify the court by their condemnation. The first president of parliament, Christopher de Thou, again headed the commission. The same pliant tool of despotism who had signed the death-warrant of Prince Louis of Conde, just before the sudden close of the brief reign of Francis the Second, and had congratulated Charles the Ninth, twelve years later, in the name of the judiciary of the kingdom, on the "piety" he had displayed in butchering his unoffending subjects, again obeyed with docility the instructions of his superiors, and suppressed those more generous sentiments, which, if we may credit his son's account, he secretly entertained.

[Sidenote: Conde retires to Germany.]

Meantime the arrests and judicial proceedings at the capital did not delay the military enterprise in which the Huguenots and Malcontents were alike embarked. More fortunate than his cousin of Navarre, the Prince of Conde, chancing to be in Picardy at the outbreak of the pretended conspiracy of St. Germain, took Th.o.r.e's advice and fled out of the kingdom to Strasbourg.[1377] Himself free from the dangers encompa.s.sing his confederates in France, he was able to a.s.sist them materially by addressing personal solicitations to the German princes, and by superintending the levy of auxiliary troops.

[Sidenote: Reasons for the success of the Huguenots in face of great difficulties.]

The Huguenots were entering in good earnest upon the fifth religious war, and used their successes with such moderation as to conciliate even hostile populations. Their enemies, judging only from superficial indications, might wonder at their strange recuperative energies.

Catharine might exclaim, in amazement at their progress and presumption, that "the Huguenots were like cats, for, in falling, they always alighted on their feet."[1378] But those who looked into the matter more closely saw that this was no mere accident. A contemporary writer, who is also a declared antagonist, praises their prudence and good conduct at the present juncture. "We must not be astonished," he remarks, "if in a short time the Protestants carry through such great repairs and so difficult to be believed. No sooner have they set foot in a place than they consider its position and deliberate as to what can be done to render it strong, or at least tenable. In all diligence they execute their decisions and enterprises, however great and difficult they may be, by the good order they practise and by a prompt obedience to the commands given them. So that I confess that they surpa.s.s us in prudence and conduct. Moreover, so soon as they are in a place, they appoint persons in whom they have the greatest confidence, to collect the king's revenues, as well as the income of the ecclesiastics and of those bearing arms against them, without regard for any save the gentilhommes. Their receipts are faithfully applied to the benefit of their cause, and they know how to employ these sums so well, that with little money they carry on great enterprises. So far as possible they relieve the poor husbandmen. In this they conform to the fas.h.i.+on of the Indians, who, in time of war, do not injure the laborers, their families, their beasts of burden, and the implements used in cultivating the earth, but abstain from burning their houses and villages, and leave them in peace, deeming the tillers of the ground to be ministers of the common weal and the nursing fathers of the other estates.[1379] ... If necessity constrain them to make use of the husbandmen, they bring them to it as freely and graciously as possible, more by fair words than by force, employing caresses, and meantime protecting their cattle, their harvests, and all their property. When marching through the country, without indulging in insolence, abusive language, or plunder, they eat what they find in the houses, and keep their soldiers under good control. They instantly establish in the places they hold a council of the most capable and experienced persons.... This they convene daily and for so long a time as their affairs demand, and here they listen to the complaints made to them, whether by word of mouth or by written pet.i.tion, and answer as well as they can to the satisfaction of the plaintiffs."[1380]

[Sidenote: Montgomery lands in Normandy.]

[Sidenote: He is forced to surrender and is taken prisoner.]

About the same time that Conde was leaving France for Germany, another Huguenot leader was entering it from the opposite quarter. Count Montgomery, who from England had come to the island of Jersey, suddenly made his appearance in western Normandy. In this province the Huguenots had lately made themselves masters of the important town of Saint Lo, as well as of Domfront on the borders of the province of Maine.[1381] To these gains Montgomery soon added Carentan, an important point on the north, which he took care to provision. He seemed likely, indeed, to bring all this extensive territory under the power of the Protestants. His brilliant career was, however, destined to be very brief. The royal forces sent against him under Matignon were strong, his own troops were few.

From Saint Lo, where he was besieged, he succeeded by a bold dash in escaping with a small company of horse; but at Domfront, whither he betook himself in hope of receiving reinforcements from the south, his manly defence availed nothing. Against an army of four thousand foot and one thousand horse, besides a large number of Roman Catholic gentlemen serving at their own charges, the little band of not over ninety arquebusiers and fifty horse could offer no protracted resistance. Domfront, strong in itself, was commanded by neighboring heights, and the walls, through long neglect, had become so weak that they crumbled and fell at the very first cannonade. Montgomery, deserted by some of his soldiers and enfeebled by the loss of others, was compelled to surrender to the besieging army. The story was current that he had received a pledge of life and liberty at the hands of Matignon.[1382] But Agrippa d'Aubigne is undoubtedly correct in declaring that the report was a mistaken one, and that Montgomery barely received the a.s.surance that he would be placed in the hands of the king alone. "There have been only too many acts of perfidy in France, without the invention of others," says this historian. "If there were any infractions of the capitulation, they were in the case of some other gentlemen and soldiers, who were maltreated or slain."[1383]

[Sidenote: Delight of Catharine de' Medici.]

There was one person to whom the capture of Count Montgomery was peculiarly gratifying. Catharine de' Medici had never forgotten the murderous wound Montgomery's lance had inflicted upon her husband in the rough tournament held in honor of Isabella's nuptials. True, the count had entered the lists with Henry only by the king's express command, and the fatal effects of the blow that shattered Henry's visor and drove the splintered stock into his eye, were due to no malicious intent.

Nevertheless, Montgomery was never sincerely forgiven; and when the slayer of the father was captured fighting against the son, Catharine resolved that no considerations of pity should prevent his expiating his unintended crime. Nor was the Roman Catholic party loth to see summary punishment inflicted upon Montgomery in revenge for the blow he had struck the "n.o.blesse" of Bearn and the frightful slaughter of their partisans he had authorized, five years before, during the third civil war, at the storming of Orthez.[1384] On the other hand, the Parisian populace was excited by the revival of the false rumor already referred to, that Count Montgomery, glorying in the mischance whereby France was robbed of her king, had subst.i.tuted for his ancestral coat of arms a novel escutcheon of his own device, whereon was figured a broken lance.[1385] It need not surprise us, therefore, that though guiltless of any crime of which the law of even that cruel age ordinarily took cognizance, the Huguenot leader, after being placed on the rack in the vain attempt to obtain from him admissions criminating his a.s.sociates, was condemned, as a traitor found in arms against his king, to be beheaded and quartered, on the Place de Greve, on the twenty-sixth of June, 1574.

[Sidenote: Execution of Montgomery on the Place de Greve.]

Both enemies and friends unite in testifying to the fort.i.tude with which Count Montgomery underwent the execution of his severe sentence. Roman Catholic writers, indeed, hint that he may have received profit from the ministrations of five or six theological doctors, to whom they represent him as gladly listening.[1386] But Protestant historians give us a circ.u.mstantial account that seems better ent.i.tled to credit, and leaves no room for doubt that Gabriel de Montgomery died constant to the faith which he had embraced in his retirement, after the death of Henry the Second. He refused to confess to the famous Vigor, Archbishop of Narbonne, and would neither kiss the crucifix offered to him by the priest who rode with him in the tumbrel, nor listen to his words, nor even look at him. To a Gray Friar, who attempted to convince him that he was in error and had been deceived, he replied: "How deceived? If I have been deceived, it was by members of your own order; for the first person that ever gave me a Bible in French, and bade me read it, was a Franciscan like yourself. And therein I learned the religion that I now hold, which is the only true religion. Having lived in it ever since, I wish, by the grace of G.o.d, to die in it to-day." On the scaffold, after a touching address to the spectators, he recited in a loud voice the Apostles' Creed, in the confession of which he protested that he died, and then, "having made his prayer to G.o.d after the manner of those of the (reformed) religion,"[1387]

manfully offered his neck to the executioner's sword.[1388]

But the scene just described belongs strictly to the reign of the next French monarch. The capture of Montgomery at Domfront had been followed, within three days, by the death of the young king against whom the count had been fighting.

[Sidenote: Last days of Charles IX.]

It is difficult to determine the exact proportions in which physical weakness and remorse for the past entered as ingredients of the malady that cut short the life of Charles the Ninth. It may not be prudent to accept implicitly all the stories told by contemporaries respecting the wretched fancies to which the king became a victim. But it would be carrying historical scepticism to the very verge of absurdity to reject the whole series of reports that come down to us respecting the strange hallucinations of Charles during the last months of his life. De Thou, perhaps the most candid and dispa.s.sionate historian of the period, has left the statement on record that, ever since St. Bartholomew's Day, Charles, who at no time slept well, used frequently to have his rest broken by the sudden recollection of its dreadful scenes. To lull him to repose, his attendants had no resource but singing, the king being pa.s.sionately fond of music and of poetry.[1389] Agrippa d'Aubigne corroborates the statement, adding, on the authority of high n.o.blemen who had been present, that the king would awake trembling and groaning, and that his agitation was sure to find expression in frightful imprecations and words expressive of utter despair.[1390]

With the growing certainty of his approaching death, the mental distress of Charles proportionately increased. His old Huguenot nurse, to whom he talked without reserve, was the witness of the startling conflict through which he was pa.s.sing in his last hours. While sitting near his bedside on one occasion, she was suddenly recalled from a revery by the sound of the sighs and sobs of the royal patient. To her solicitous questions as to the cause of his distress, she received the most piteous exclamations, interrupted by weeping: "Ah, my nurse, my friend, how much blood! how many murders! Ah, what wicked counsels have I had! My G.o.d, have pity upon me and pardon me! I know not where I am; so perplexed and agitated have they made me. What will become of me? What shall I do? I am lost; I know it full well." The pious attendant's earnest exhortations and consoling words had little effect in dispelling the gloom that had settled on the termination of a life so auspiciously begun. She might pray, in his hearing, that the blood of the murdered Huguenots might be on the heads of those who gave the young king such treacherous advice. She might encourage and urge him to rest in the confidence that, in view of his penitence, G.o.d would not impute to him his crime, but cover him with the mantle of Christ's righteousness.[1391] Her words had little power to dissipate his extreme despondency.

[Sidenote: Distress of his young queen.]

For months the life of Charles had been despaired of. Now he was visibly dying. The news of the capture of Montgomery, which his mother came to announce to him with a delight she neither was able nor anxious to hide, brought him no pleasure. He had, he said, ceased to care for these things.

Meanwhile, Catharine, if not altogether devoid of natural affection--if not experiencing unmingled satisfaction at the prospect that the sceptre was likely to pa.s.s into the hands of her favorite son, the King of Poland--at least took care to provide for the contingency of Charles's speedy death, by obtaining, on the twenty-ninth of May, letters to the governors of provinces, and the next day the more authoritative letters patent conferring upon her the regency until the return of Henry from Poland.[1392] More sincere in her sorrow, the young Queen Elizabeth, Charles's wife, endeavored to ward off the stroke of Heaven by solemn processions. For nine successive days, laying aside all tokens of her royal rank, simply clad, and with uncovered face, she walked barefooted, and accompanied by a large number of poor boys and girls, from the wood of Vincennes, where the court still lingered, to the city of Paris. After devoutly praying for the king's recovery at the Sainte-Chapelle and at the shrine of Notre Dame, she returned from her pilgrimage in the same painful and humble manner, her ladies and the officers of her court following at a respectful distance.[1393]

Upon Sorbin, the king's confessor, devolved the duty of administering to Charles the last rites of religion--Sorbin, who was accustomed to speak of the perfidy and cruelty of the ma.s.sacre as true magnanimity and gentleness. It has been well remarked that, in all the dark drama of guilt and retribution upon which the curtain was about to fall, no part is more tragic than the scene in which the last words preparing the soul for judgment were spoken by such a confessor as Sorbin to such a penitent as Charles.[1394] Under such spiritual guidance the unhappy boy-king may possibly have expressed the sentiment which the priest ascribes to him at the hour of death: that his greatest regret was that he had not seen the Reformation wholly crushed.[1395]

On Sunday, May the thirtieth, 1574, the festival of Pentecost, Charles died, late in the afternoon.[1396] Almost his last words had been of congratulation that he left no son to inherit the throne, since he knew very well that France had need of a man, and that under a child both king and kingdom were wretched.[1397]

[Sidenote: Death of Charles.]

The general usage was not violated in the present instance. Charles, like a host of prominent princes and statesmen of the sixteenth century, was currently reported to have fallen a victim to the poisoner's art, then in its prime. Nor did the examination made after his death, though clearly proving that the event had a natural cause, suffice to clear away the unhappy impression.[1398] The Huguenots had, perhaps, more reason than others to regard the circ.u.mstances attending it as strange, if not miraculous. That the king, whose guilty acquiescence in the murderous scheme of Catharine, Anjou, and Guise, had deluged his realm in blood, should himself have perished of a malady that caused blood to exude from every pore in his body,[1399] was certainly sufficiently singular to arrest the attention of the world. The phenomenon has been shown beyond all question to have many parallels in the annals of medicine.[1400] But the coincidence was so remarkable that we scarcely wonder that, in the eyes of many, it partook of a supernatural character.

Thus perished, in the twenty-fourth year of his age, a prince whom fair natural endowments seemed to have destined to play a creditable, if not a resplendent part in the history of his period; but whom the evil counsels and examples of his mother, and the corrupt education which, designedly or through an unfortunate accident, she had given him, had so depraved, that his morals were regarded with disgust and reprobation by an age by no means scrupulously pure.[1401]

[Sidenote: The funeral rites.]

The forty days' funeral rites were performed in honor of the deceased king with all the detail of pomp customary on such occasions. For forty days, on a bed of cloth of gold, lay in state the life-like effigy of Charles of Valois, dressed in crimson and blue satin, and in ermine, with a jewelled crown upon its head, and with sceptre and other emblems of royalty at its side. For forty days the service of the king's table remained unchanged, and the pleasing fiction was maintained that the monarch was yet alive.

The gentlemen in waiting, the cupbearer, the pantler, the carver, and all the retinue of servants who, as in feudal times, appeared at the royal meals, discharged each his appointed office with punctilious precision.

Courses of viands were brought on in regular succession, and as regularly removed from the board. A cardinal or prelate blessed the table before the empty show of a meal, and rendered thanks at its conclusion. Only at the close, by the sad repet.i.tion of the De profundis, and other psalms appropriate to funeral occasions, did the pageant differ materially from many a scene of convivial entertainment in which Charles had taken part.

When the prescribed term of waiting was at length over, the miserable show ended, the effigy was replaced by the bier, funeral decorations took the place of festive emblems, and the body of the late king was laid in its last resting-place.[1402]

[Sidenote: Had persecution, war, and treachery succeeded?]

The courtiers had already turned their eyes from the dead monarch to the successor whose speedy return from Poland all eagerly awaited. Henry the Third had already precipitately fled from Cracow, and was on his way to a.s.sume his ancestral throne. He was to find the kingdom plunged in disquiet, a prey to internal discord fostered by foreign princes. Neither Huguenot nor Roman Catholic was satisfied. A full half-century from the first promulgation of the reformed doctrines by Lefevre d'etaples found the friends of the purer faith more resolute than ever in its a.s.sertion, despite fire, ma.s.sacre, and open warfare. No candid beholder could deny that the system of persecution had thus far proved an utter failure. It remained to be seen whether the new king would choose to repeat a dangerous experiment.


[1253] Jean de Serres, Commentaria de statu rel. et reipublicae, iv., fol.

60 _verso_. I have made use, up to 1570, of the first edition of this work, published in three volumes in 1571, my copy being one formerly belonging to the library of Ludovico Manini, the last doge of Venice. From 1570 on I refer to the edition of 1575, which comprises a fourth and rarer volume, bringing down the history to the close of the reign of Charles. A comparison between this edition and the later edition of 1577 brings out the interesting circ.u.mstance that many Huguenots of little courage, who at first apostatized, afterward returned to their old faith. Thus, the edition of 1575 reads (iv. 51 _v._): "Vix enim dici possit, quam multi ad primum illum impetum a Religione resiluerint, mortis amittendarumque facultatum metu, _quorum plerique etiamnum haerent in luto_." The words I have italicized are omitted in the edition of 1577, as quoted by Soldan, ii. 473.

[1254] Jean de Serres, iv., fol. 61.

[1255] Ib., _ubi supra_.

[1256] Borrel, Histoire de l'eglise reformee de Nimes (Toulouse, 1856), pp. 77, 78, from Archives of the Hotel-de-ville.

[1257] J. de Serres, iv., fols. 68-70; Borrel, Hist. de l'egl. ref. de Nimes, 78, 79; De Thou, iv. 663.

[1258] See _ante_, chapter xviii., p. 480.

[1259] Agrippa d'Aubigne, Hist. univ., ii. 38 (liv. i., c. 8). Neither De Thou, iv. (liv. liii.) 659, nor J. de Serres (either in his Commentaria de statu rel. et reip., iv. 68, or in his Inventaire general de l'histoire de France, Geneve, 1619), makes any allusion to Regnier's combat, while the former expressly, and the latter by implication, refer to his agency in persuading the inhabitants of Montauban to espouse the Protestant cause in arms. I incline to think, nevertheless, that D'Aubigne has neither misplaced nor exaggerated a brilliant little affair which was certainly to his taste.

[1260] J. de Serres, De statu, etc., iv., fol. 63; De Thou, iv. (liv.

liii.) 647.

[1261] Reveille-Matin, 200; Eusebii Philadelphi Dialogi (1574), i. 57.

[1262] Arcere, Histoire de la Roch.e.l.le, i. 405. The records of the customs showed that 30,000 casks of wine were brought in. An ample supply of powder was also secured by offering a bonus of ten per cent, to all that imported it from abroad.

[1263] Jean de Serres, iv., fol. 65; De Thou, iv. 649.

[1264] "Affirmabant vero haudquaquam se facere contra officium et antiqua sua privilegia, per quae illis tribueretur exemptio ab omni praeterquam ex sua civitate delecto ab ipsis praesidio, et facultas sese suis armis custodiendi." Such was the claim of the Roch.e.l.lois in answer to Strozzi's summons. Jean de Serres, iv. 63.

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