François Pierre Guillaume Guizot.

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

. (page 25 of 38)
Online LibraryFrançois Pierre Guillaume GuizotA Popular History of France from the Earliest Times, Volume 4 → online text (page 25 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


of Guise would not be an impossibility for him." "Appointment between
him and me!" answered Conde: "it can only be at the point of the lance."
The Duchess Renee of Ferrara, daughter of Louis XII., having come to
France at this time, went to Orleans to pay her respects to the king.
The Duke of Guise was her son-in-law, and she reproached him bitterly
with Conde's trial. "You have just opened," said she, "a wound which
will bleed a long while; they who have dared to attack persons of the
blood royal have always found it a bad job." The prince asked to see, in
the presence of such persons as the king might appoint, his wife, Eleanor
of Roye, who, from the commencement of the trial, "solicited this favor
night and day, often throwing herself on her knees before the king with
tears incredible; but the Cardinal of Lorraine, fearing lest his Majesty
should be moved with compassion, drove away the princess most rudely,
saying that, if she had her due, she would herself be placed in the
lowest dungeon." For them of Guise the princess was a thorn in the
flesh, for she lacked not wits, or language, or courage, insomuch that
they had some discussion about making away with her. [_Memoires de
Castelnau,_ p. 119; _Histoire de l'Etat de France, Cant de la Republique
que de la Religion, sous Francois II.,_ by L. Regnier, Sieur de la
Planche.] She demanded that at any rate able lawyers might act as
counsel for her husband. Peter Robert and Francis de Marillac, advocates
of renown in the Parliament of Paris, were appointed by the king for that
purpose, but their assistance proved perfectly useless; on the 26th of
November, 1560, the Prince of Conde was sentenced to death; and the
sentence was to be carried out on the 10th of December, the very day of
the opening of the states-general. Most of the historians say that, when
it came to the question of signing it, three judges only, Chancellor de
l'Hospital, the councillor of state, Duportail, and the aged Count of
Sancerre, Louis de Bueil, refused to put their names to it. "For my
part," says the scrupulous De Thou, "I can see nothing quite certain as
to all that. I believe that the sentence of death was drawn up and not
signed. I remember to have heard it so said a long while afterwards by
my father, a truthful and straightforward man, to whom this form of
sentence had always been distasteful."

Many contemporaries report, and De Thou accords credence to the report,
that, in order to have nothing more to fear from the house of Bourbon,
the Guises had resolved to make away with King Anthony of Navarre as well
as his brother the Prince of Conde, but by another process. Feeling
persuaded that it would be impossible to obtain against the elder brother
a sentence ever so little in accordance with justice, for his conduct had
been very reserved, they had, it is said, agreed that King Francis II.
should send for the King of Navarre into his closet and reproach him
severely for his secret complicity with his brother Conde, and that if
the King of Navarre defended himself stubbornly, he should be put to
death on the spot by men posted there for the purpose. It is even added
that Francis II. was to strike the first blow. Catherine de' Medici, who
was beginning to be disquieted at the arrogance and successes of the
Lorraine princes, sent warning of this peril to the King of Navarre by
Jacqueline de Longwy, Duchess of Montpensier; and, just as he was
proceeding to the royal audience from which he was not sure to return,
Anthony de Bourbon, who was wanting in head rather than in heart, said to
Renty, one of his gentlemen, "If I die yonder, carry my blood-stained
shirt to my wife and my son, and tell my wife to send it round to the
foreign princes of Christendom, that they may avenge my death, as my son
is not yet of sufficient age." We may remark that the wife was Jeanne
d'Albret, and the son was to be Henry IV. According to the chroniclers,
when Francis II. looked in the eyes of the man he was to strike, his
fierce resolve died away: the King of Navarre retired, safe and sound,
from the interview, and the Duke of Guise, irritated at the weakness of
the king his master, muttered between his teeth, "'Tis the very whitest
liver that ever was."

In spite of De Thou's indorsement of this story, it is doubtful whether
its authenticity can be admitted; if the interview between the two kings
took place, prudence on the part of the King of Navarre seems to be quite
as likely an explanation of the result as hesitation to become a murderer
on the part of Francis II.

One day Conde was playing cards with some officers on guard over him,
when a servant of his who had been permitted to resume attendance on his
master, pretending to approach him for the purpose of picking up a card,
whispered in his ear, "Our gentleman is _croqued_." The prince,
mastering his emotion, finished his game. He then found means of being
for a moment alone with his servant, and learned from him that Francis
II. was dead. [_Histoire des Princes de Conde, by the Duke d'Aumale,_
t. i. p. 94.] On the 17th of November, 1560, as he was mounting his
horse to go hunting, he fainted suddenly. He appeared to have recovered,
and was even able to be present when the final sentence was pronounced
against Conde; but on the 29th of November there was a fresh
fainting-fit. It appears that Ambrose Pare, at that time the first
surgeon of his day, and a faithful Reformer, informed his patron, Admiral
Coligny, that there would not be long to wait, and that it was all over
with the king. Up to the very last moment, either by themselves or
through their niece Mary Stuart, the Guises preserved their influence
over him: Francis II. sent for the King of Navarre, to assure him that it
was quite of his own accord, and not by advice of the Guises, that he had
brought Conde to trial. He died on the 5th of December, 1560, of an
effusion on the brain, resulting from a fistula and an abscess in the
ear.

[Illustration: Mary Stuart - - 284]

Through a fog of brief or doubtful evidence we can see at the bedside of
this dying king his wife Mary Stuart, who gave him to the last her tender
ministrations, and Admiral de Coligny, who, when the king had heaved his
last sigh, rose up, and, with his air of pious gravity, said aloud before
the Cardinal of Lorraine and the others who were present, "Gentlemen, the
king is dead. A lesson to us to live." At the same moment the Constable
de Montmorency, who had been ordered some time ago to Orleans, but had,
according to his practice, travelled but slowly, arrived suddenly at the
city gate, threatened to hang the ill-informed keepers of it, who
hesitated to let him enter, and hastened to fold in his arms his niece,
the Princess of Conde, whom the death of Francis II. restored to hope.

[Illustration: Coligny at the Death-bed of Francis II. - - 295]





CHAPTER XXXIII. - - CHARLES IX. AND THE RELIGIOUS WARS. (1560-1574.)

We now enter upon the era of the civil wars, massacres, and
assassinations caused by religious fanaticism or committed on religious
pretexts. The latter half of the sixteenth century is the time at which
the human race saw the opening of that great drama, of which religious
liberty is the beginning and the end; and France was then the chief scene
of it. At the close of the fifteenth and at the commencement of the
sixteenth centuries, religious questions had profoundly agitated
Christian Europe; but towards the middle of the latter century they had
obtained in the majority of European states solutions which, however
incomplete, might be regarded as definitive. Germany was divided into
Catholic states and Protestant states, which had established between
themselves relations of an almost pacific character. Switzerland was
entering upon the same course. In England, Scotland, the Low Countries,
the Scandinavian states, and the free towns their neighbors, the
Reformation had prevailed or was clearly tending to prevail. In Italy,
Spain, and Portugal, on the contrary, the Reformation had been stifled,
and Catholicism remained victorious. It was in France that,
notwithstanding the inequality of forces, the struggle between
Catholicism and Protestantism was most obstinately maintained, and
appeared for the longest time uncertain. After half a century of civil
wars and massacres it terminated in Henry IV., a Protestant king, who
turned Catholic, but who gave Protestants the edict of Nantes; a
precious, though insufficient and precarious pledge, which served France
as a point of departure towards religious liberty, and which protected it
for nearly a century, in the midst of the brilliant victory won by
Catholicism. [The edict of Nantes, published by Henry IV. in 1598, was
revoked by Louis XIV. in 1685.]

For more than three centuries civilized Europe has been discussing, pro
or con, the question of religious liberty, but from instinct and with
passion far more than with a serious understanding of what is at the
bottom of things. Even in our own day it is not without difficulty that
a beginning is being made to understand and accept that principle in its
true sense and in all its bearings. Men were wonderfully far from it in
1560, at the accession of Charles IX., a child ten years old; they were
entering, in blind confidence, upon a religious war, in order to arrive,
only after four centuries of strife and misconception, at a vindication
of religious liberty. "Woe to thee, O country, that hast a child for
king!" said, in accordance with the Bible, the Venetian Michael Suriano,
ambassador to France at that time. Around that royal child, and seeking
to have the mastery over France by being masters over him, were
struggling the three great parties at that time occupying the stage in
the name of religion. The Catholics rejected altogether the idea of
religious liberty for the Protestants; the Protestants had absolute need
of it, for it was their condition of existence; but they did not wish for
it in the case of the Catholics, their adversaries. The third party
(_tiers parti_), as we call it nowadays, wished to hold the balance
continually wavering between the Catholics and the Protestants, conceding
to the former and the latter, alternately, that measure of liberty which
was indispensable for most imperfect maintenance of the public peace, and
reconcilable with the sovereign power of the kingship. On such
conditions was the government of Charles IX. to establish its existence.

The death of Francis II. put an end to a grand project of the Guises,
which we do not find expressly indicated elsewhere than in the _Memoires_
of Michael de Castelnau, one of the best informed and most intelligent
historians of the time. "Many Catholics," says he, "were then of opinion
that, if the authority of the Duke of Guise had continued to be armed
with that of the king as it had been, the Protestants would have had
enough to do. For orders had been sent to all the principal lords of the
kingdom, officers of the crown and knights of the order, to show
themselves in the said city of Orleans on Christmas-day at the opening of
the states, for that they might be all made to sign the confession of the
Catholic faith in presence of the king and the chapter of the order;
together with all the members of the privy council, reporting-masters (of
petitions), domestic officers of the king's household, and all the
deputies of the estates. The same confession was to be published
throughout all the said kingdom, in order to have it sworn by all the
judges, magistrates, and officers, and, finally, all private persons from
parish to parish. And in default of so doing, proceedings were to be
taken by seizures, condemnations, executions, banishments, and
confiscations. And they who did repent themselves and abjured their
Protestant religion were to be absolved." [_Memoires de Michel de
Castelnau,_ book ii. chap. xii. p. 121, in the _Petitot_ collection.]
It is not to be supposed that, even if circumstances had remained as they
were under the reign of Francis II., such a plan could have been
successful; but it is intelligible that the Guises had conceived such an
idea: they were victorious; they had just procured the condemnation to
death of the most formidable amongst the Protestant princes, their
adversary Louis de Conde; they were threatening the life of his brother
the King of Navarre; and the house of Bourbon seemed to be on the point
of disappearing beneath the blows of the ambitious, audacious, and by no
means scrupulous house of Lorraine. Not even the prospect of Francis
II.'s death arrested the Guises in their work and their hopes; when they
saw that he was near his end, they made a proposal to the queen-mother to
unite herself completely with them, leave the Prince of Conde to
execution, rid herself of the King of Navarre, and become regent of the
kingdom during the minority of her son Charles, taking them, the Lorraine
princes and their party, for necessary partners in her government. But
Catherine de' Medici was more prudent, more judicious, and more
egotistical in her ambition than the Guises were in theirs; she was not,
as they were, exclusively devoted to the Catholic party; it was power
that she wanted, and she sought for it every day amongst the party or the
mixtures of parties in a condition to give it her. She considered the
Catholic party to be the strongest, and it was hers; but she considered
the Protestant party strong enough to be feared, and to give her a
certain amount of security and satisfaction: a security necessary,
moreover, if peace at home, and not civil war, were to be the habitual
and general condition of France. Catherine was, finally, a woman, and
very skilful in the strifes of court and of government, whilst, on the
field of battle, the victories, though won in her name, would be those of
the Guises more than her own. Without openly rejecting the proposals
they made to her under their common apprehension of Francis II.'s
approaching death, she avoided making any reply. She had, no doubt,
already taken her precautions and her measures in advance; her
confidante, Jacqueline de Longwy, Duchess of Montpensier and a zealous
Protestant, had brought to her rooms at night Antony de Bourbon, King of
Navarre, and Catherine had come to an agreement with him about the
partition of power between herself and him at the death of the king her
son. She had written to the Constable de Montmorency, a rival of the
Guises and their foe though a stanch Catholic, to make haste to Orleans,
where his presence would be required. As soon as Chancellor de
l'Hospital became aware of the proposals which were being made by the
Guises to the queen-mother, he flew to her and opposed them with all the
energy of his great and politic mind and sterling nature. Was she going
to deliver the Prince of Conde to the scaffold, the house of Bourbon to
ruin, France to civil war, and the independence of the crown and of that
royal authority which she was on the point of wielding herself to the
tyrannical domination of her rivals the Lorraine princes and of their
party? Catherine listened with great satisfaction to this judicious and
honest language. When the crown passed to her son Charles she was free
from any serious anxiety as to her own position and her influence in the
government. The new king, on announcing to the Parliament the death of
his brother, wrote to them that "confiding in the virtues and prudence of
the queen-mother, he had begged her to take in hand the administration of
the kingdom, with the wise counsel and advice of the King of Navarre and
the notables and great personages of the late king's council." A few
months afterwards the states-general, assembling first at Orleans and
afterwards at Pontoise, ratified this declaration by recognizing the
placement of "the young King Charles IX.'s guardianship in the hands of
Catherine de' Medici, his mother, together with the principal direction
of affairs, but without the title of regent." The King of Navarre was to
assist her in the capacity of lieutenant-general of the kingdom.
Twenty-five members specially designated were to form the king's privy
council. [_Histoire des Etats generaux,_ by M. Picot, t. ii. p. 73.]
And in the privacy of her motherly correspondence Catherine wrote to the
Queen of Spain, her daughter Elizabeth, wife of Philip II., "Madame, my
dear daughter, all I shall tell you is, not to be the least anxious, and
to rest assured that I shall spare no pains to so conduct myself that
God and everybody may have occasion to be satisfied with me. . . .
You have seen the time when I was as happy as you are, not dreaming of
ever having any greater trouble than that of not being loved as I should
have liked to be by the king your father. God took him from me, and is
not content with that; He has taken from me your brother, whom I loved
you well know how much, and has left me with three young children, and
in a kingdom where all is division, having therein not a single man in
whom I can trust, and who has not some particular object of his own."

The queen-mother of France, who wrote to her daughter the Queen of Spain
with such firmness of tone and such independence of spirit, was, to use
the words of the Venetian ambassador John Michieli, who had lived at her
court, "a woman of forty-three, of affable manners, great moderation,
superior intelligence, and ability in conducting all sorts of affairs,
especially affairs of state. As mother, she has the personal management
of the king; she allows no one else to sleep in his room; she is never
away from him. As regent and head of the government, she holds
everything in her hands, public offices, benefices, graces, and the seal
which bears the king's signature, and which is called the cachet
(privy-seal or signet). In the council, she allows the others to speak;
she replies to any one who needs it; she decides according to the advice
of the council, or according to what she may have made up her own mind
to. She opens the letters addressed to the king by his ambassadors and
by all the ministers. . . . She has great designs, and does not
allow them to be easily penetrated. As for her way of living, she is
very fond of her ease and pleasure; she observes few rules; she eats and
drinks a great deal; she considers that she makes up for it by taking a
great deal of exercise a-foot and a-horseback; she goes a-hunting; and
last year she always joined the king in his stag-chases, through the
woods and thick forests, a dangerous sort of chase for anyone who is not
an excellent rider. She has an olive complexion, and is already very
fat; accordingly the doctors have not a good opinion of her life. She
has a dower of three hundred thousand francs a year, double that of
other queens-dowager. She was formerly always in money-difficulties and
in debt; now, she not only keeps out of debt, but she spends and gives
more liberally than ever." [_Relations des Ambassadeurs venztzens,_
published by A. N. Tommaseo, t. i. pp. 427-429.]

As soon as the reign of Charles IX. and the queen-mother's government
were established, notice was sent to the Prince of Conde that he was
free. He refused to stir from prison; he would wait, he said, until his
accusers were confined there. He was told that it was the king's express
order, and was what Francis II. on his death-bed had himself impressed
upon the King of Navarre. Conde determined to set out for La Fere, a
place belonging to his brother Anthony de Bourbon, and there await fresh
orders from the king. In February, 1561, he left La Fare for
Fontainebleau. On his road to Paris his friends flocked to him and made
him a splendid escort. On approaching the king's palace Conde separated
himself from his following, and advanced alone with two of his most
faithful friends. All the lords of the court, the Duke of Guise amongst
them, went to meet him. On the 15th of March he was admitted to the
privy council. Chancellor de l'Hospital, on the prince's own demand,
affirmed that no charge had been found against him. The king declared
his innocence in a deed signed by all the members of the council. On the
13th of June, in solemn session, the Parliament of Paris, sitting as a
court of peers, confirmed this declaration. Notwithstanding the Duke of
Guise's co-operation in all these acts, Conde desired something of a more
personal kind on his part.

[Illustration: Francis de Lorraine, Duke of Aumale and of Guise - - 302]

On the 24th of August, at St. Germain, in presence of the king, the
queen-mother, the princes, and the court, the Duke of Guise, in reply to
a question from the king, protested "that he had not, and would never
have desired to, put forward anything against the prince's honor, and
that he had been neither the author nor the instigator of his
imprisonment." "Sir," said Conde, "I consider wicked and contemptible
him or them who caused it." "So I think, sir," answered Guise, "and it
does not apply to me at all." Whereupon they embraced, and a report was
drawn up of the ceremony, which was called their reconciliation. Just as
it was ending, Marshal Francis de Montmorency, eldest son of the
constable, and far more inclined than his father was towards the cause of
the Reformers, arrived with a numerous troop of friends, whom he had
mustered to do honor to Conde. The court was a little excited at this
incident. The constable declared that, having the honor to be so closely
connected with the princes of Bourbon, his son would have been to blame
if he had acted differently. The aged warrior had himself negotiated
this reconciliation; and when it was accomplished, and the Duke of Guise
had performed his part in it with so much complaisance, the constable
considered himself to be quits with his former allies, and free to
follow his leaning towards the Catholic party. "The veteran," says the
Duke of Autnale, "did not pique himself on being a theologian; but he
was sincerely attached to the Catholic faith because it was the old
religion and the king's; and he separated himself definitively from
those religious and political innovators whom he had at first seemed to
countenance, and amongst whom he reckoned his nearest relatives." In
vain did his eldest son try to hold him back; a close union was formed
between the Constable de Montmorency, the Duke of Guise, and Marshal de
Saint-Andre, and it became the Catholic triumvirate against which
Catherine de' Medici had at one time to defend herself, and of which she
had at another to avail herself in order to carry out the policy of
see-saw she had adopted as her chief means of government.

Before we call to mind and estimate as they deserve the actions of that
government, we must give a correct idea of the moral condition of the
people governed, of their unbridled passions, and of the share of
responsibility reverting to them in the crimes and shocking errors of
that period. It is a mistake and an injustice, only too common, to lay
all the burden of such facts, and the odium justly due to them, upon the
great actors almost exclusively whose name has remained attached to them
in history; the people themselves have very often been the prime movers
in them; they have very often preceded and urged on their masters in the
black deeds which have sullied their history; and on the masses as well
as on the leaders ought the just sentence of posterity to fall. The
moment we speak of the St. Bartholomew, it seems as if Charles IX.,
Catherine de' Medici, and the Guises issued from their grave to receive
that sentence; and God forbid that we should wish to deliver them from
it; but it hits the nameless populace of their day as well as themselves,
and the hands of the people, far more than the will of kings, began the
tale of massacres for religion's sake. This is no vague and general
assertion; and, to show it, we shall only have to enumerate, with their
dates, the principal facts of which history has preserved the memory,
whilst stigmatizing them, with good reason, as massacres or murders. The
greater number, as was to be expected, are deeds done by Catholics, for
they were by far the more numerous and more frequently victorious; but
Protestants also have sometimes deserved a place in this tragic category,
and when we meet with them, we will assuredly not blot them out.

We confine the enumeration to the reign of Charles IX., and in it we
place only such massacres and murders as were not the results of any
legal proceeding. We say nothing of judicial sentences and executions,



Online LibraryFrançois Pierre Guillaume GuizotA Popular History of France from the Earliest Times, Volume 4 → online text (page 25 of 38)