François Pierre Guillaume Guizot.

A Popular History of France from the Earliest Times, Volume 4 online

. (page 16 of 38)
Online LibraryFrançois Pierre Guillaume GuizotA Popular History of France from the Earliest Times, Volume 4 → online text (page 16 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

serious fire took place at Troyes in 1524. "It was put down," says M.
Boutiot, a learned and careful historian of that town, "to the account of
the new religious notions, as well as to that of the Emperor Charles V.'s
friends and the Constable de Bourbon's partisans. As early as 1520 there
had begun to be felt at Troyes the first symptoms of repressive measures
directed against the Reformation; in 1523, 1527, and 1528, provincial
councils were held at Meaux, Lyons, Rouen, Bourges, and Paris, to oppose
the Lutherans. These councils drew up regulations tending to reformation
of morals and of religious ceremonies; they decided that the
administration of the sacraments should take place without any demand for
money, and that preachers, in their sermons, should confine themselves to
the sacred books, and not quote poets or profane authors; they closed the
churches to profane assemblies and burlesques (fetes des fous); they
ordered the parish priests, in their addresses (au prone), to explain the
gospel of the day; they ruled that a stop should be put to the abuses of
excommunication; they interdicted the publication of any book on
religious subjects without the permission of the bishop of the diocese.
. . . Troyes at that time contained some enlightened men; William Bude
(Budaeus) was in uninterrupted communication with it; the Pithou family,
represented by their head, Peter Pithou, a barrister at Troyes and a man
highly thought of, were in correspondence with the Reformers, especially
with Lefevre of Etaples." [_Histoire de la Ville de Troyes et de la
Champagne meridionale,_ by T. Boutiot, 1873, t. iii. p. 379.] And thus
was going on throughout almost the whole of France, partly in the path of
liberty, partly in that of concessions, partly in that of hardships, the
work of the Reformation, too weak as yet and too disconnected to engage
to any purpose in a struggle, but even now sufficiently wide-spread and
strong to render abortive any attempt to strangle it.

The defeat at Pavia and the captivity of Francis I. at Madrid placed the
governing power for thirteen months in the hands of the most powerful
foes of the Reformation, the regent Louise of Savoy and the chancellor
Duprat. They used it unsparingly, with the harsh indifference of
politicians who will have, at any price, peace within their dominions and
submission to authority. It was under their regimen that there took
place the first martyrdom decreed and executed in France upon a partisan
of the Reformation for an act of aggression and offence against the
Catholic church. John Leclerc, a wool-carder at Meaux, seeing a bull
of indulgences affixed to the door of Meaux cathedral, had torn it down,
and substituted for it a placard in which the pope was described as
Antichrist. Having been arrested on the spot, he was, by decree of the
Parliament of Paris, whipped publicly, three days consecutively, and
branded on the forehead by the hangman in the presence of his mother, who
cried, "Jesus Christ forever!" He was banished, and retired in July,
1525, to Metz; and there he was working at his trade when he heard that a
solemn procession was to take place, next day, in the environs of the
town. In his blind zeal he went and broke down the images at the feet of
which the Catholics were to have burned incense. Being arrested on his
return to the town, he, far from disavowing the deed, acknowledged it and
gloried in it. He was sentenced to a horrible punishment; his right hand
was cut off, his nose was torn out, pincers were applied to his arms, his
nipples were plucked out, his head was confined in two circlets of
red-hot iron, and, whilst he was still chanting, in a loud voice, this
versicle from the cxvth Psalm, -

"Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of men's hands."

his bleeding and mutilated body was thrown upon the blazing fagots. He
had a younger brother, Peter Leclerc, a simple wool-carder like himself,
who remained at Meaux, devoted to the same faith and the same cause.
"Great _clerc,_" says a contemporary chronicler, playing upon his name,
"who knew no language but that which he had learned from his nurse, but
who, being thoroughly grounded in the holy writings, besides the
integrity of his life, was chosen by the weavers and became the first
minister of the gospel seen in France." An old man of Meaux, named
Stephen Mangin, offered his house, situated near the market-place, for
holding regular meetings. Forty or fifty of the faithful formed the
nucleus of the little church which grew up. Peter Leclerc preached and
administered the sacraments in Stephen Mangin's house so regularly that,
twenty years after his brother John's martyrdom, the meetings, composed
partly of believers who flocked in from the neighboring villages, were
from three to four hundred in number. One day when they had celebrated
the Lord's Supper, the 8th of September, 1546, the house was surrounded,
and nearly sixty persons, men, women, and children, who allowed
themselves to be arrested without making any resistance, were taken.
They were all sent before the Parliament of Paris; fourteen of the men
were sentenced to be burned alive in the great marketplace at Meaux, on
the spot nearest to the house in which the crime of heresy had been
committed; and their wives, together with their nearest relatives, were
sentenced to be present at the execution, "the men bare-headed and the
women ranged beside them individually, in such sort that they might be
distinguished amongst the rest." The decree was strictly carried out.

[Illustration: Burning of Reformers at Meaux - - 188]

It costs a pang to recur to these hideous exhibitions, but it must be
done; for history not only has a right, but is bound to do justice upon
the errors and crimes of the past, especially when the past had no idea
of guilt in the commission of them. A wit of the last century,
Champfort, used to say, "There is nothing more dangerous than an honest
man engaged in a rascally calling." There is nothing more dangerous than
errors and crimes of which the perpetrators do not see the absurd and
odious character. The contemporary historian, Sleidan, says, expressly,
"The common people in France hold that there are no people more wicked
and criminal that heretics; generally, as long as they are a prey to the
blazing fagots, the people around them are excited to frenzy and curse
them in the midst of their torments." The sixteenth century is that
period of French history at which this intellectual and moral blindness
cost France "Their idols are silver and gold, The work of men's hands," -
most dear; it supplied the bad passions of men with a means, of which
they amply availed themselves, of gratifying then without scruple and
without remorse. If, in the early part of this century, the Reformation
was as yet without great leaders, it was not, nevertheless, amongst only
the laborers, the humble and the poor, that it found confessors and
martyrs. The provincial nobility, the burgesses of the towns, the
magistracy, the bar, the industrial classes as well as the learned, even
then furnished their quota of devoted and faithful friends. A nobleman,
a Picard by birth, born about 1490 at Passy, near Paris, where he
generally lived, Louis de Berquin by name, was one of the most
distinguished of them by his social position, his elevated ideas,
his learning, the purity of his morals, and the dignity of his life.
Possessed of a patrimonial estate, near Abbeville, which brought him in a
modest income of six hundred crowns a year, and a bachelor, he devoted
himself to study and to religious matters with independence of mind and
with a pious heart. "Most faithfully observant," says Erasmus, "of the
ordinances and rites of the church, to wit, prescribed fasts, holy days,
forbidden meats, masses, sermons, and, in a word, all, that tends to
piety, he strongly reprobated the doctrines of Luther." He was none the
less, in 1523, denounced to the Parliament of Paris as being on the side
of the Reformers. He had books, it was said; he even composed them
himself on questions of faith, and he had been engaged in some sort of
dispute with the theologian William de Coutance, head of Harcourt

[Illustration: Erasmus - - 194]

The attorney-general of the Parliament ordered one of his officers to go
and make an examination of Berquin's books as well as papers, and to
seize what appeared to him to savor of heresy. The officer brought away
divers works of Luther, Melancthon, and Carlostadt, and some original
treatises of Berquin himself, which were deposited in the keeping of the
court. The theological faculty claimed to examine them as being within
their competence. On being summoned by the attorney-general, Berquin
demanded to be present when an inventory was made of his books or
manuscripts, and to give such explanations as he should deem necessary;
and his request was granted without question. On the 26th of June, 1523,
the commissioners of the Sorbonne made their report. On the 8th of July,
Peter Lizet, king's advocate, read it out to the court. The matter came
on again for hearing on the 1st of August. Berquin was summoned and
interrogated, and, as the result of this interrogatory, was arrested and
carried off to imprisonment at the Conciergerie in the square tower. On
the 5th of August sentence was pronounced, and Louis de Berquin was
remanded to appear before the Bishop of Paris, as being charged with
heresy, "in which case," says the Journal d'un Bourgeois de Paris, "he
would have been in great danger of being put to death according to law,
as he had well deserved." The public were as ready as the accusers to
believe in the crime and to impatiently await its punishment.

It was not without surprise or without displeasure that, on the 8th of
August, just as they had "made over to the Bishop of Paris, present and
accepting" the prisoner confined in the Conciergerie, the members of the
council-chamber observed the arrival of Captain Frederic, belonging to
the archers of the king's guard, and bringing a letter from the king, who
changed the venue in Berquin's case so as to decide it himself at his
grand council; in consequence of which the prisoner would have to be
handed over, not to the bishop, but to the king. The chamber
remonstrated; Berquin was no longer their prisoner; the matter had been
decided; it was the bishop to whom application must be made. But these
remonstrances had been foreseen; the captain had verbal instructions to
carry off Louis de Berquin by force in case of a refusal to give him up.
The chamber decided upon handing over the bishop's prisoner to the king,
contenting themselves with causing the seized books and manuscripts to be
burned that very day in the space in front of Notre Dame. It was whilst
repairing to the scene of war in Italy, and when he was just entering
Melun, where he merely passed through, that the king had given this
unexpected order, on the very day, August 5, on which the Parliament
pronounced the decree which sent Berquin to appear before the Bishop of
Paris. There is no clear trace of the vigilant protect, or who had so
closely watched the proceedings against Berquin, and so opportunely
appealed for the king's interference. In any incident of this sort there
is a temptation to presume that the influence was that of Princess
Marguerite; but it is not certain that she was at this time anywhere near
the king; perhaps John du Bellay, Bishop of Bayonne, acted for her.
Francis I. was, moreover, disposed to extend protection, of his own
accord, to gentlemen and scholars against furious theologians, when the
latter were not too formidable for him. However that may be, Berquin, on
becoming the king's prisoner, was summoned before the chancellor, Duprat,
who, politely reproaching him with having disquieted the church, confined
himself to requesting that he would testify some regret for it. Berquin
submitted with a good grace, and, being immediately set at liberty, left
Paris and repaired to his estate in Picardy.

Whilst he there resumed his life of peaceful study, the Parliament
continued to maintain in principle and openly proclaim its right of
repression against heretics. On the 12th of August, 1523, it caused
notice to be given, by sound of trumpet, throughout the whole of Paris,
that clergy and laymen were to deposit in the keeping of the Palace all
Luther's books that they possessed. Laymen who did not comply with this
order would have their property confiscated; clergymen would be deprived
of their temporalities and banished. Toleration, in a case of suspected
heresy, was an act of the king's which itself required toleration;
proceedings against heresy remained the law of the land, constantly
hanging over every head.

Eighteen months later, in May, 1525, there seemed to be no further
thought about Berquin; but the battle of Pavia was lost; Francis I. was a
prisoner at Madrid; Louise of Savoy and the chancellor, Duprat, wielded
the power. The question of heretics again came to the front. "The queen
must be told," said Peter Lizet, king's advocate, "as St. Gregory told
Brunehaut, Queen of the Franks, that the best way of driving away the
enemies of the kingdom is to drive away from it the enemies of God and
His spouse, the Church." On the 10th of April, 1525, on occasion of
giving the regent some counsel as to her government, the Parliament
strongly recommended her to take proceedings against the heretics. "The
court," they said to her, "has before now passed several provisional
decrees against the guilty, which have not been executed because of the
evil disposition of the times and the hinderances effected by the
delinquents, who have found means of suspending and delaying the
judgments given against them, as well by transference of the venue to the
grand council as by seizure and removal of certain of them, prisoners at
the time, whom they have had withdrawn from their prisons by exercise of
sovereign and absolute power, which has given the rest occasion and
boldness to follow the evil doctrine." It was impossible to reproach the
king more broadly with having set Berquin at liberty. The Parliament
further advised the regent to ask the pope to send over to France
pontifical delegates invested with his own powers to watch and to try in
his name "even archbishops, bishops, and abbots, who by their deeds,
writings, or discourses, should render themselves suspected of a leaning
towards heresy." Louise of Savoy, without any appearance of being hurt
by the attack made by the Parliament on the acts of the king her son,
eagerly followed the advice given her; and on the 20th of May, 1525,
Clement VII., in his turn, eagerly appointed four delegates commissioned
to try all those suspected of heresy, who, in case of condemnation, were
to be left to the secular arm. On the very day on which the pope
appointed his delegates, the faculty of theology at Paris passed censure
upon divers writings of Erasmus, translated and spread abroad in France
by Berquin; and on the 8th of January, 1526, the Bishop of Amiens
demanded of the Parliament authority "to order the body to be seized of
Louis de Berquin, who resided in his diocese and was scandalizing it by
his behavior." The Parliament authorized his arrest; and, on the 24th of
January, Berquin was once more a prisoner in the Conciergerie, at the
same time that orders were given to seize all his books and papers,
whether at his own house or at that of his friend the Lord of Rambure at
Abbeville. The great trial of Berquin for heresy was recommenced, and in
it the great name of Erasmus was compromised.

When the question was thus solemnly reopened, Berquin's defenders were
much excited. Defenders, we have said; but, in truth, history names but
one, the Princess Marguerite, who alone showed any activity, and alone
did anything to the purpose. She wrote at once to the king, who was
still at Madrid "My desire to obey your commands was sufficiently strong
without having it redoubled by the charity you have been pleased to show
to poor Berquin according to your promise; I feel sure that He for whom I
believe him to have suffered will approve of the mercy which, for His
honor, you have had upon His servant and yours." Francis I. had, in
fact, written to suspend until his return the proceedings against
Berquin, as well as those against Lefevre, Roussel, and all the other
doctors suspected of heresy. The regent transmitted the king's orders to
the pope's delegates, who presented themselves on the 20th of February
before the Parliament to ask its advice. "The king is as badly advised
as he himself is good," said the dean of the faculty of theology. The
Parliament answered that "for a simple letter missive" it could not
adjourn; it must have a letter patent; and it went on with the trial.
Berquin presented several demands for delay, evidently in order to wait
for the king's return and personal intervention. The court refused them;
and, on the 5th of March, 1526, the judgment was read to him in his
prison at the Conciergerie. It was to the effect that his books should
be again burned before his eyes, that he should declare his approval of
so just a sentence, and that he should earn the compassion of the church
by not refusing her any satisfaction she might demand; else he should
himself go to the stake.

Whilst Berquin's trial was thus coming to an end, Francis I. was entering
France once more in freedom, crying, "So I am king again!" During the
latter days of March, amongst the numerous personages who came to
congratulate him was John de Selve, premier president of the Parliament
of Paris. The king gave him a very cold reception. "My lords," wrote
the premier president to his court, "I heard, through M. de Selve, my
nephew, about some displeasure that was felt as regards our body, and I
also perceived it myself. I have already begun to speak of it to Madame
[the king's mother]. I will do, as I am bound to, my duty towards the
court, with God's help." On the 1st of April the king, who intended to
return by none but slow stages to Paris, wrote from Mont-de-Marsan, to
the judges holding his court of Parliament at Paris: -

"We have presently been notified how that, notwithstanding that, through
our dear and much-loved lady and mother, regent in France during our
absence, it was written unto you and ordered that you would be pleased
not to proceed in any way whatever with the matter of Sieur Berquin,
lately detained a prisoner, until we should have been enabled to return
to this our kingdom, you have, nevertheless, at the request and pursuance
of his ill-wishers, so far proceeded with his business that you have come
to a definitive judgment on it. Whereat we cannot be too much astounded.
. . . For this cause we do will and command and enjoin upon you . .
that you are not to proceed to execution of the said judgment, which, as
the report is, you have pronounced against the said Berquin, but shall
put him, himself and the depositions and the proceedings in his said
trial, in such safe keeping that you may be able to answer to us for
them. . . . And take care that you make no default therein, for we do
warn you that, if default there be, we shall look to such of you as shall
seem good to us to answer to us for it."

Here was not only a letter patent, but a letter minatory. As to the
execution of their judgment, the Parliament obeyed the king's injunction,
maintaining, however, the principle as well as the legality of Berquin's
sentence, and declaring that they awaited the king's orders to execute
it. "According to the teaching of the two Testaments," they said, "God
ever rageth, in His just wrath, against the nations who fail to enforce
respect for the laws prescribed by Himself. It is important, moreover,
to hasten the event in order as soon as possible to satisfy,
independently of God, the people who murmur and whose impatience is
becoming verily troublesome." Francis I. did not reply. He would not
have dared, even in thought, to attack the question of principle as to
the chastisement of heresy, and he was afraid of weakening his own
Authority too much if he humiliated his Parliament too much; it was
sufficient for him that he might consider Berquin's life to be safe.
Kings are protectors who are easily satisfied when their protection, to
be worth anything, might entail upon them the necessity of an energetic
struggle and of self-compromise. "Trust not in princes nor their
children," said Lord Strafford, after the Psalmist [_Nolite confidere
principibus et filiis eorum, quia non est sales in illis,_ Ps. cxlvi.],
when, in the seventeenth century, he found that Charles I. was abandoning
him to the English Parliament and the executioner. Louis de Berquin
might have felt similar distrust as to Francis I., but his nature was
confident and hopeful; when he knew of the king's letter to the
Parliament, he considered himself safe, and he testified as much to
Erasmus in a long letter, in which he told him the story of his trial,
and alluded to "the fresh outbreak of anger on the part of those hornets
who accuse me of heresy," said he, "simply because I have translated into
the vulgar tongue some of your little works, wherein they pretend that
they have discovered the most monstrous pieces of impiety." He
transmitted to Erasmus a list of the paragraphs which the pope's
delegates had condemned, pressing him to reply, "as you well know how.
The king esteems you much, and will esteem you still more when
you have heaped confusion on this brood of benighted theologians whose
ineptitude is no excuse for their violence." By a strange coincidence,
Berquin's most determined foe, Noel Beda, provost of the Sorbonne, sent
at the same time to Erasmus a copy of more than two hundred propositions
which had been extracted from his works, and against which he, Beda, also
came forward as accuser. Erasmus was a prudent man, and did not seek
strife; but when he was personally and offensively attacked by enemies
against whom he was conscious of his strength, he exhibited it proudly
and ably; and he replied to Beda by denouncing him, on the 6th of June,
to the Parliament of Paris itself, as an impudent and ignorant
calumniator. His letter, read at the session of Parliament on the 5th of
July, 1526, was there listened to with profound deference, and produced a
sensation which did not remain without effect; in vain did Beda persist
in accusing Erasmus of heresy and in maintaining that he was of the
brotherhood of Luther; Parliament considered him in the wrong,
provisionally prohibited the booksellers from vending his libels against
Erasmus, and required previous authorization to be obtained for all books
destined for the press by the rectors of the Sorbonne.

The success of Erasmus was also a success for Berquin; but he was still
in prison, ill and maltreated. The king wrote on the 11th of July to
Parliament to demand that he should enjoy at least all the liberties that
the prison would admit of, that he should no longer be detained in an
unhealthy cell, and that he should be placed in that building of the
Conciergerie where the court-yard was. "That," was the answer, "would be
a bad precedent; they never put in the court-yard convicts who had
incurred the penalty of death." An offer was made to Berquin of the
chamber reserved for the greatest personages, for princes of the blood,
and of permission to walk in the court-yard for two hours a day, one in
the morning and the other in the evening, in the absence of the other
prisoners. Neither the king nor Berquin was inclined to be content with
these concessions. The king in his irritation sent from Beaugency, on
the 5th of October, two archers of his guard with a letter to this
effect: "It is marvellously strange that what we ordered has not yet been
done. We do command and most expressly enjoin upon you, this once for
all, that you are incontinently to put and deliver the said Berquin into
the hands of the said Texier and Charles do Broc, whom we have ordered to
conduct him to our castle of the Louvre." The court still objected; a
prisoner favored by so high a personage, it was said, would soon be out
of such a prison. The objection resulted in a formal refusal to obey.
The provost of Paris, John de la Barre, the king's premier gentleman, was
requested to repair to the palace and pay Berquin a visit, to ascertain
from himself what could be done for him. Berquin, for all that appears,
asked for nothing but liberty to read and write. "It is not possible,"

Online LibraryFrançois Pierre Guillaume GuizotA Popular History of France from the Earliest Times, Volume 4 → online text (page 16 of 38)