Richard Heath.

The reformation in France from the revocation of the Edict of Nantes to the incorporation of the reformed churches into the state online

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still more their sanguinary laws. In addition to
death to all pastors, and galleys for life to all shelter-
ing them, every district in which a pastor was
arrested was to pay a fine of 3,000 francs, and any
one attending an assembly was not only to be sent to
the galleys, but to have all he possessed confiscated.

Persecution began again to rage. In the provinces,
and especially in Normandy, many children were
carried off, the seizures being made at night by
archers led by the parish priests. If the doors were
not opened, they were broken in. Young girls were
the chief prey, and their parents had to support them
in some convent. These cruelties provoked a new
emigration, and in Normandy alone 600 families left
the country. Lettres de cachet — an act of absolute
despotism, by which the king shut up whom he
pleased — were used to imprison Protestant notables.
And the legal bodies in the south, called parliaments,
rivalled, as they always had done, the Government
at Versailles in their persecuting spirit, pursuing all
acts of baptism and solemnization of matrimony per-
formed in the desert. Several assemblies were fired
upon by the soldiers, some worshippers were killed,
others wounded, and as many taken prisoners as
could be caught. From 1744 to 1746, three hundred
persons were condemned either to flogging, degra-



THE PASTORS OF THE DESERT, 107

dation from the nobility, perpetual imprisonment,
the galleys, or death, by the parliament of Grenoble
alone. The galleys for the flock, the gallows for the
pastors. No one could accuse the authorities of
feebleness. In 1744 seven contumacious pastors
were condemned to death, the brother of one of the
seven, Louis Kang or Kane, aged twenty-six, being
executed at Die, in March, 1745. As he mounted the
ladder he sang Ps. cxviii., ' happy day.' He was
followed by the youthful Chamier, a descendant of
the eminent pastor of that name, who in the days of
Louis XIII. fell at the siege of Montauban. A third
was the aged Jacques Koger, who suffered May 22,
1745. When the executioner arrived, he cried,
* The happy day has come that I have so much
desired. Kejoice, O my soul, for to-day thou art to
enter into the joy of thy Lord.' After having hung
twenty-four hours, his body was thrown into the
Isere. A fourth was Matthieu Majal, who went by
the name of Desubas. He was only twenty-six, and
so beloved by the people that his arrest cost several
lives. In passing through one village, a rescue was
attempted, and six were shot dead. Next day the
people gathered in crowds, but unarmed, and came
into the town where he had been taken. The
officer in command, fearing a rising, caused the troops
to fire on the people from the house-tops. Thirty
fell dead, and two or three hundred were wounded.
The people, enraged, would now have risen in reahty ;
the pastors threw themselves into their midst, and
besought them to be quiet ; but it was only when
Desubas himself sent the same request that they
consented to disperse. He was hanged on the
esplanade of Montpellier, February 2nd, 1746.



io8 THE REFORMATION IN FRANCE.

VII.

Stamping Out the Peotestant Family.

We have noted the growth of the sentiments of
justice and humanity in the pubhc mind, while the
authorities pursued the downward path of iniquity
with unequal steps, at times frantic persecutors, at
times letting the law become a dead letter. When
this happened, however, the bishops and clergy al-
ways appeared to spur on their flagging energies,
urging more rigour. The point at which the bishops
aimed was that the law should not recognise the
existence of a single Protestant in France. This
was the position definitely asserted by the law of
1715. But neither that, nor the yet more cruel law
of 1724, could be carried out. However, the prelates
conceived they might yet succeed, if the civil author-
ity would only exercise more severity in suppressing
Protestant marriage and baptism. If this could be
done with uniform pitiless severity, say for twenty
years, Protestantism would be extirpated. For the
Protestant family was the second arch of the Pro-
testant temple, the pastorate being the first. Destroy
its foundations by compelling Protestants to appear
Catholics at marriage, and Catholics again at the
birth of each child, and the whole edifice would
crumble to pieces.

The struggle accordingly centred in this point.
To submit was to surrender the most elemental
liberties — the right to know God for oneself, the
right to form a family in God, the right to bring up
a family for God. The pastors felt that there was
no alternative ; it was necessary to be hanged rather
than obey the law. Seven of them tried to memori-
alise the king. Their faith in royalty was very
different from that of their Huguenot fathers. Nor



STAMPING OUT THE FAMILY. 109

must we attribute it to fear ; it was a genuine con-
viction, born of the public opinion, which, apart from
their attitude as confessors for rehgious Hberty, af-
fected them in common with the rest of Frenchmen.

But on the point in question they were immov-
able, the bishops all the while conceiving that to
bring about their submission it was only necessary
so to tighten the screws as to make the victim believe
the torture would go on until every bone was dis-
located, and death ensued.

Thus, between 1750-55, under a man of ominous
name, the Vicomte Guignard de Saint Priest, Pro-
testant assemblies were not only broken up, the
attendants killed, wounded, and dragged to prison,
but it was determined to rebaptize the children on a
large scale, and to resolemnize the marriages. They
began with the rich, making them pay enormous
fines for neglecting obedience. The resistance was
universal, and very soon the prisons were so gorged
with victims that resort was had to a new dragon-
nade. A great number of Protestants emigrated
from the South of France, and going to Kotterdam,
were assisted by the Walloon churches on their way
to Ireland, v/here, by the help of the British Govern-
ment, the Irish Protestant bishops, and a number of
private persons, they were comfortably established.

The flight of some only made matters worse for
those that remained. Saint Priest became more
severe, and the terrified people, abandoning their
houses, fields, workshops and factories, fled into the
woods and hid themselves in the caverns. Saint
Priest recommenced the dragonnades. But these
tyrants little understood human nature, which
welcomes death very much sooner than is generally
supposed by those in happy circumstances. On the
27th of March, 1752, Fran9ois Benezet, a candidate



no TItE REFORMATION IN FRANCE.

for the ministry, was executed at Montpellier. He had
been arrested together with the pastor, Paul Rabaut,
for whose head a sum of 20,000 francs was offered.
By a strange resolution of the officer in command,
he was released, and Benezet alone paid the penalty.

VIII.

Paul Rabaut.

The man whose life was so strangely preserved was
to be the successor of Court in influence over the
Church of the Desert. The final history of this
struggle seems to centre round the figure of Paul
Rabaut, a modest, simple, timid man, with nothing
at all romantic in his personal character.

Born at Bedarieux, near Montpellier, in 1718, Paul
Rabaut was the son of a pious draper. At the age
of sixteen, that is, as early as 1734, he was wandering
about in the deserts and the mountains, exposed to
every inclemency of the weather, the companion of
those who exercised the perilous office of the ministry
in the desert. He was ten years of age when Roussel
suffered ; fourteen, when Durand was put to death ;
twenty-three, when J. P. Dortial endured the last
penalty of the law ; twenty-six, when Ranc, exactly
his own age, and Roger were executed ; twenty-
seven, when Desubas, a man still younger than
himself, was hanged. This was the sort of education
by which this youth, timid by nature, was made one
of the bravest of men, and the most effectual minister
of the Reformed faith in France. Six months at the
College of Lausanne, in 1740, with whatever school-
ing he had before he was sixteen, covered all the
instruction Paul Rabaut ever received.

In 1743, he was appointed one of the ministers of
the church at Nismes, and it was at the very com-



PAUL RABAUT. ni

mencement of his ministry that the hanging of four
of the pastors just named took place. The anxious
hfe of a pastor of the desert did not present favour-
able opportunities for the printing of their sermons.
A very small proportion has come down to us, but
in the appendix to the letters of Paul Eabaut to
Antoine Court, the following fragment of a sermon
by the former appears, preached in the desert,
Friday, 31st August, 1753 :

* Oh that I might, my dear brothers, reveal your-
selves to yourselves ! Oh that I might make known
to you all the misery of a soul which is far from God,
that has no communion with Him, and is con-
sequently subject to condemnation ! Oh ! if you
thoroughly understood this state, if you felt all its
danger, you would have no repose until the Lord
had given you peace.

* But without doubt, the holy word that I have
announced to you will not return unto the Lord
without effect. Without doubt among those who
listen to me are sinners who labour and are heavy-
laden, souls hungering and thirsting after the
righteousness of Jesus Christ. Oh ! go with con-
fidence to this Divine Saviour ; it is you whom He
calls ; it is you whose thirst He will quench, whose
hunger He will satisfy ; it is for you that He shed
His blood ; it is to you that He offers the treasure of
His grace. Go, then, to Him, with a firm assurance
that you will find in His blood the remission of
your sins, and the principle of a new life. Go
to Him, confounded, afflicted, as having displeased
Him, and resolved never to abandon Him, never
to have henceforth any other will than His. Go
to Him, wholly occupied with the thought of His
death, penetrated with His charity, inflamed with
love to Him, and with gratitude for all He has done



112 THE REFORMATION. IN FRANCE.

for you. He is, so to speak, crucified before your
eyes in the symbols of His body and His blood here
presented before you ; do not content yourself with
contemplating them ; eat the sacred bread, drink
the blessed cup, and oh that j^ou might be able
to receive with the signs the thing signified ! Oh
that we might return to our houses justified ! Oh
that we might henceforth be faithful disciples, that
we may drink for ever of the river of His pleasures !
May He deign to give us this grace ; and to this
Divine Saviour, even as to the Father and to the
Holy Spirit, be honour and glory evermore ! Amen.'

In all that affected the rights of conscience and
the existence of the Eeformed religion in France,
Paul Babaut offered a persistent and immovable
resistance. He firmly insisted on the duty of
attending the assemblies, and not taking part in any
Catholic sacrament. On the other hand, all violence
was discountenanced, and no one was to come armed
to the religious assemblies. If surprised, the con-
gregation were recommended to rise simultaneously,
so as to give the pastor an opportunity to escape,
one of the congregation meanwhile trying to induce
the commander to be reasonable ; and if he proceeded
to arrest any one, the whole congregation were to
offer themselves as prisoners.

But this most calm and inoffensive way of main-
taining the most elemental rights of manhood the
authorities met by a reward for Paul Kabaut's head,
which they gradually raised from 6,000 to 20,000
francs, and instead of the gallows they threatened
him with the wheel.

In a document issued in 1758 by the police, and
attached to the orders which were being continually
sent out for the search and capture of the Protestant
ministers, he is thus described :



PAUL RABAUT. 113

' Paul Kabaut, minister, aged about forty years,
heiglit five feet, less two inches, visage plain, long
and thin, a little sunburnt, black hair, wearing a
peruke, nose long and pointed, somewhat aquiline,
black eyes rather full, body slightly bent towards
the right side, legs very thin, the right one turned
inwards. It is asserted that he has lost a tooth in
the upper jaw.'

Obliged constantly to change both his name and
his costume, Paul Eabaut was compelled to pass
rapidly from place to place, faithful young men pre-
ceding, following, and surrounding him, warning
him by signals wherever there was a probability of
danger. Yet, with all these precautions, he some-
times only escaped by springing on to a horse ; and
at one time he was driven to hide in a sort of hut,
partly hollowed out of the ground, and covered with
stones and bushes. This miserable hole, in the
midst of a lonely heath, served him at once for
dormitory and study. But even here he was not
allowed to rest in peace, for a shepherd happening
to come upon it, while leading his sheep over the
heath, informed the police.

The spirit in which he bore these trials may be
seen by the following pasisage from another of his
sermons, preached in the desert in 1750 :

* In order to love Jesus Christ as He would have
us love Him, we must follow Him to Calvary ; we
must go with Him to prison and to death ; you
must love Him more than your goods, your liberty,
or even your life. And why should we not sacrifice
our goods, since He has made Himself poor that we
might become rich ? Why should we not sacrifice
our liberty, since He has suffered the death reserved
for slaves'? Why should we not give our life for
Him, since He has given His for us? Why should

H



114 THE REFORMATION IN FRANCE.

we not love Him with all the power of which we
are capable, since He has loved us first, and with a
love ours will never equal ? '

This sermon was preached at the opening of the
severe persecution referred to in the last chapter,
and perhaps it is of this time that Antoine Court
speaks, when he describes the sufferings under which
an infinite number of unhappy innocent people
groan, as 'producing a despair tvhich is above all
human considei'ation, above religio7i even.

This word of Court had a significance beyond what
he intended. For this terrible despair had been
produced in the name of religion, and was now
sustained and intensified by the very persons who
were in France the chief representatives of religion.
The Bishop of Alais, far from feeling any remorse
at the misery to which the policy of the authorities
in Church and State had reduced the Protestants,
demanded that judicial formalities should no longer
be used with the Protestants, but that they should
be dealt with directly by the military or civil authori-
ties.

At this crisis the children again became the cham-
pions of the faith.

Some of ten, twelve, and fourteen years of age
absolutely refused to go to church, so that they had
to be dragged there ; others screamed and uttered
piercing cries ; while others again, heedless of their
lives, threw themselves like little lions on their. per-
secutors, and tore their clothes into shreds ; and
some mocked the priest at the very moment he was
preparing to sprinkle them.

These scenes indicate to what a hard and almost
brutal condition the Protestants themselves were re-
duced by this horrible system of governing. And it
is a truly terrible reflection that it was only stopped



PAUL RABAUT. • 115

when the poor worms, unable to bear the crushing
heel any longer, suddenly turned and bit the op-
pressor.

Some peasants, encouraged by the minister Coste,
seized their muskets and swore that they would
stand it no longer, and that the next act of violence
offered their children should be avenged by blood.
No one took much heed of the threat, and on the
10th of August, 1752, some Cevenols lay in ambush,
and seeing certain priests pass, who were acting as
guides to the rural police, they fired on them. Three
were wounded, one of whom died three months after.

These musket-shots produced an extraordinary
effect ; the soldiers evacuated the hill-country, the
intendant stopped short, Versailles was anxious and
disturbed. It was feared the Camisard war was
going to break out anew. The effort to re-baptize
the people was finally abandoned, as events proved,
for ever.

This state of mind in the authorities explains an
incident which happened in the following month.
The Marquis de Paulmy,^ Minister of War, passed
through Languedoc. Paul Kabaut determined to
see him, and present him with a memorial on the
miserable condition of the Protestants, which he had
prepared, and had got a recent synod of Lower Lan-
guedoc to adopt in the name of all the Protestants
in the kingdom. On the 19th of September, 1752,
Paul Eabaut waited for the minister's carriage at a
certain spot on the road. It was getting dusk, but
the Marquis de Paulmy stopped to receive Kabaut's

» Yoyer d'Ar^enson de Paulmy (1722-1787), after serving
as Minister of War and Ambassador in Switzerland, Poland,
and Venice, gave himself to literary and historical studies.
His library, one of the finest of the time, forms to-day the
Bibliotheque de I'Arsenel,



Il6 THE REFORMATION IN FRANCE.

paper. The poor pastor's heart must have fluttered
when he found himself recognised, but the minister
was courteous in the extreme, and after mutual
bows, Eabaut mounted his horse and turned back
again, praising God and praying Him to bless the
effort that he had made.

It was indeed a courageous act, for this very mar-
quis had ordered the death of one of his fellow-
pastors, Jacques Koger. , And the era of executions
was by no means over. Two years after, Etienne
Tessier, called Lafaye, minister of the Lower Ce-
vennes, was arrested, and amidst the lamentations
of his aged father and mother, and the tears of the
people, he was carried off by the soldiers and hanged
at Montpellier. His story, like the rest, was em-
balmed in popular legend.

Paul Eabaut's rencontre with the Minister of War
interested some people at Versailles, and the Prince,
de Conti invited him to a conference. Paul Rabaut
set out secretly for Paris, in July, 1755. He had
two interviews with the prince, and made the fol-
lowing reques'ts : 'That the galley-slaves, the pri-
soners for conscience' sake, the children of both sexes
shut up in convents and seminaries, should go free ;
that Protestant baptisms and marriages should be
declared valid on registration ; that worship should
be permitted, if not in temples, at least in private
houses at some distance outside the towns ; that
Protestants should be able to sell their estates with-
out authorization ; and that the refugees should be
permitted to re-enter the kingdom.'

It is evident that the authorities had begun to
respect Paul Eabaut, and to think that his arrest
and execution would be bad policy. Henceforth
their efforts were rather directed towards forcing
him to leave the country.



PAUL RABAUT. 117

On New Year's Day, 1766, the church at Nisraes
held a service in a gorge in the desert. The people
had scarcely assembled, when they were surprised
by the soldiers. They flew up the rocks, among the
more agile being a young man named Jules Fabre.
Suddenly he remembered his father, a feeble old
man of seventy. Returning, he found his fears
realized ; his father and another man had been cap-
tured. He ran to the soldiers, and insisted on their'
accepting him in place of his father. Taken away
as a prisoner, he was convicted of being present at
an. illegal assembly, and sent to the galleys. The
intendant of Languedoc, the Duke of Mirepoix,
trading on the sympathy awakened by the filial
devotion of the poor young convict, offered to pardon
both Jules Fabre and the other prisoner, if Paul
Kabaut would leave the country.

In September, 1761, the young pastor, Fran9ois
Bochette, was arrested near Caussade. The next
day being the fair, there was a tumult. Several
Protestants were arrested, among others, three
brothers named Grenier.

They and the pastor were sentenced to death.
Eabaut made efforts in all directions to obtain the
pardon of Eochette, against whom nothing was
alleged except the fact that he was a pastor. He
wrote to Madame Adelaide, the eldest daughter of
the king, and to other powerful personages, and, to
leave no stone unturned, he sent a letter to Eousseau,
just then the most popular writer in France, urging
him to use his influence in favour of Eochette and
the three brothers Grenier.

Eousseau's reply was not very sympathetic.
Having expressed his grief and indignation that his
brethren should not be allowed to hear the Word of
God in peace, he added :



n8 THE REFOI^MATiON iN FRANCE.

' Yet,' sir, ' that same Word of God is express on
the duty of obeying the laws of princes. The power
of prohibiting pubKc assembHes is incontestably
among their rights ; and after all, these assemblies
not being essential to Christianity, a man may ab-
stain from them without renouncing his faith. He
who would be a Christian must learn in the first
place to suffer, and every one ought to maintain a
course of conduct consistent with his principles.'

Kochette and his companions were executed on
the 26th of February, 1762.

While this judicial murder was being perpetrated,
a still more infamous parody of justice was in pro-
gress.

IX.

The Calas Tkagedy.

Louis Calas, a son of Jean Calas, a Protestant
tradesman of Toulouse, became a Catholic. It so
affected the mind of the eldest brother, Marc Antoine,
that in a fit of despondency he hanged himself.
Such was the misunderstanding existing between
Catholics and Protestants under the blind rule to
which both had been so long subjected, that it was
believed by the former that the Protestants made
a duty of strangling their children, rather than that
they should abjure. It was, they said, a secret
doctrine, hidden from those whose birth and educa-
tion would indispose them to receive it. The whole
Calas family was accordingly thrown into prison,
and Louis Calas was so perverted as to confirm
these suspicions. The parliament of Toulouse
accordingly condemned the unfortunate father, Jean
Calas, a man sixty-four years of age, to be put to
the question, ordinary and extraordinary, then to
be broken alive on the wheel, and his body finally



THE CALAS TRAGEDY. 119

burnt. And this frightful sentence was literally
executed, March 10th, 1762.

The Protestants appear to have been more troubled
by the dangerous idea that had got possession of
their Catholic neighbours than indignant at the
cruel fate of Galas. It was quite in the order of
things, and besides, some of them thought he might
be guilty. Paul Rabaut, as their representative,
issued a protest, called Calumny Coyifounded, which
was publicly burnt three days before Galas was
broken on the wheel. The very morning after that
doleful tragedy, the Procureur-general of Toulouse
demanded that the widow, her son, and the guest
who supped with Galas on the fatal evening should
all be sent to the gallows.

However, a merchant from Marseilles, who had
been in Nismes at the time, went to Geneva, and
related the whole history to Voltaire, who was so
affected by the atrocious injustice and the merciless
cruelty of the sentence that he threw himself into
the matter with ardour, and never rested until he
had obtained a reversion of the sentence. For the
three years that the effort went on, he exercised all
the self-restraint of which he was capable, and was
constantly anxious and irritable. But when the
news arrived that the reversal of the sentence was
actually decreed, the old man embraced the youngest
son of Jean Galas, whom he had kept living in his
house, and the two wept tears of joy. Writing to
one of his friends, he declared that he had never in
his life had a joy so pure as at the moment that he
received the news.

The year which the unfortunate Jean Galas suf-
fered so unjustly was a happy one for another victim
of tyranny. Jules Fabre, the son who had offered
his liberty for that of his father, after serving six



I20 THE REFORMATION IN FRANCE

years on the galleys, was set free by the exertions of
M. de Choiseul.

He arrived home the 21st May, 1762, and found
his old father still living. The story of his filial
piety became known at Paris, and Marmontel sug-
gested the subject to a play- writer, who composed
the drama of the HonnHe Criminel, which was per-
formed at Versailles, Paris, and throughout France,
and greatly increased the effect the Galas trial had
had on popular opinion.

And what befell the government , that treated its


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Online LibraryRichard HeathThe reformation in France from the revocation of the Edict of Nantes to the incorporation of the reformed churches into the state → online text (page 8 of 14)