John S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) Abbott.

History of Henry the Fourth, king of France and Navarre online

. (page 6 of 16)
Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Henry the Fourth, king of France and Navarre → online text (page 6 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


was too late to draw back, with fiend-like eager-
ness engaged himself in the work of death. The
monarch, when a boy, had been noted for his
sanguinary spirit, delighting with his own hand
to perform the revolting acts of the slaughter-
house. Perfect fury seemed now to take pos-'
H



114 King HE:t^EY IV. [1572.

Fugitives butchered. Terror of Marguerite.

session of him. His cheeks were flushed, his
lips compressed, his eyes glared with frenzy.
Bending eagerly from his window, he shouted
words of encouragement to the assassins. Grasp-
ing a gun, in the handling of which he had he-
come very skillful from long practice in the
chase, he watched, like a sportsman, for his prey;
and when he saw an unfortunate Protestant,
wounded and bleeding, flying from his pursuers,
he would take deliberate aim from the window
of his palace, and shout with exultation as he
saw him fall, pierced by his bullet. A crowd
of fugitives rushed into the court-yard of the
Louvre to throw themselves upon the protection
of the king. Charles sent his own body-guard
into the yard, with guns and daggers, to butcher
them all, and the pavements of the palace-yard
were drenched with their blood. "

Just before the carnage commenced. Marguer-
ite, weary with excitement and the agitating
conversation to which she had so long been lis-
tening, retired to her private apartment for sleep.
She had hardly closed her eyes when the fear-
ful outcries of the pursuers and the pursued fill-
ed the palace. She sprang up in her bed, and
heard some one struggling at the door, and
shrieking "Navarre! Navarre!" In a parox-



1572.] The Massacee. 117

Flight of Marguerite. Terrors of the night.

ysm of terror, she ordered an attendant to open
the door. One of her husband's retinue in-
stantly rushed in, covered with wounds and
blood, pursued by four soldiers of her brother's
guard. The captain of the guard entered at the
same moment, and, at the earnest entreaty of
the princess, spared her the anguish of seeing
the friend of her husband murdered before her
eyes.

]Marguerite, half delirious with bewilderment
and terror, fled from her room to seek the apart-
ment of her sister. The palace was filled with
uproar, the shouts of the assassins and the
shrieks of their victims blending in awful con-
fusion. As she was rushing through the hall,
she encountered another Protestant gentleman
flying before the dripping sword of his pursuer.
He was covered with blood, flowing from the
many wounds he had already received. Just
as he reached the young Queen of Navarre, his
pursuer overtook him and plunged a sword
through his body. He fell dead at her feet.

JSTo tongue can tell the horrors of that night.
It would require volumes to record the frightful
scenes which were enacted before the morning
dawned. Among the most remarkable escapes
we may mention that of a lad whose name aft-



118 King Heney IY. [1572.



Eemarkable escape of Maximilian.



erward attained much celebrity. The Baron de
Eosny, a Protestant lord of great influence and
worth, had accompanied his son Maximilian, a
verj intelligent and spirited boy, about eleven
years of age, to Paris, to attend the nuptials of
the King of Navarre. This young prince, Max-
imilian, afterward the world-renowned Duke of
Sully, had previously been prosecuting his stud-
ies in the College of Burgundy, in the metropo-
lis, and had become a very great favorite of the
warm-hearted King of Navarre. His father had
come to Paris with great reluctance, for he had
no confidence in the protestations of Catharine
and Charles IX. Immediately after the attempt
was made to assassinate the admiral, the Baron
de Eosny, with many of his friends, left the city,
intrusting his son to the care of a private tutor
and a valet de chambre. He occupied lodgings
in a remote quarter of the city and near the col-
leges.

Young Maximilian was asleep in his room,
when, a little after midnight, he was aroused by
the ringing of tJie alarm-bells, and the confused
cries of the populace. His tutor and valet de
chambre sprang from then' beds, and hurried out
to ascert^ain the cause of the tumult. They did
notj however, return, for they had hardly reacli-



1572.] The Massacre. 119

Efltorts to save Lis life. The disguise.

ed the door when they were shot down. Max-
imilian, in great bewilderment respecting their
continued absence, and the dreadful clamor con-
tinually increasing, was hurriedly dressing him-
self, when his landlord came in, pale and trem-
bling, and informed him of the massacre which
was going on, and that he had saved his own
life only by the avowal of his faith in the Cath-
olic religion. He earnestly urged Maximilian
to do the same. The young prince magnani-
mously resolved not to save his life by false-
hood and apostasy. He determined to attempt,
in the darkness and confusion of the night, to
gain the College of Burgundy, where he hoped
to find some Catholic friends who would protect
him.

The distance of the college from the house in
which he was rendered the undertaking desper-
ately perilous. Having disguised himself in
the dress of a Roman Catholic priest, he took a
large prayer-book under his arm, and trembling-
ly issued forth into the streets. The sights
which met his eye in the gloom of that awful
night were enough to appal the stoutest heart.
The murderers, frantic with excitement and in-
toxication, were uttering wild outcries, and pur-
suing, in every direction, their terrified victims.



120 King Henry IV. [1572.

Scene in the street.

Women and children, in their night-clothes, hav-
ing just sprung in terror from their beds, were
flying from their pursuers, covered with wounds,
and uttering fearful shrieks. The mangled bod-
ies of the young and of the old, of males and
females, were strewn along the streets, and the
pavements were slippery with blood. Loud and
dreadful outcries were heard from the interior
of the dwellings as the work of midnight assas-
sination proceeded ; and struggles of desperate
violence were witnessed, as the murderers at-
tempted to throw their bleeding and dying vic-
tims from the high windows of chambers and
attics upon the pavements below. The shouts
of the assailants, the shrieks of the wounded, as
blow after blow fell upon them, the incessant
reports of muskets and pistols, the tramp of sol-
diers, and the peals of the alarm-bell, all com-
bined to create a scene of terror such as human
eyes have seldom witnessed. In the midst of
ten thousand perils, the young man crept along,
protected by his priestly garb, while he frequent-
ly saw his fellow-Christians shot and stabbed
at his very side.

Suddenly, in turning a corner, he fell into the
midst of a band of the body-guard of the king,
whose swords were dripping with blood. They



1572.] The Massacre. 121

The talisman. Arrival at the college.

seized him with great roughness, when, seeing
the Catholic prayer-book which was in his
hands, they considered it a safe passport, and
permitted him to continue on his way uninjured.
Twice again he encountered similar peril, as he
was seized by bands of infuriated men, and each
time he was extricated in the same way.

At length he arrived at the College of Bur-
gundy ; and now his danger increased tenfold.
It was a Catholic college. The porter at the
gate absolutely refused him admittance. The
murderers began to multiply in the street around
him with fierce and threatening questions. Max-
imilian at length, by inquiring for La Faye, the
president of the college, and by placing a bribe
in the hands of the porter, succeeded in obtain-
ing entrance. La Faye was a humane man,
and exceedingly attached to his Protestant pu-
pil. Maximilian entered the apartment of the
president, and found there two Catholic priests.
The priests, as soon as they saw him, insisted
upon cutting him down, declaring that the king
had commanded that not even the infant at the
breast should be spared. The good old man,
however, firmly resolved to protect his young
friend, and, conducting him privately to a secure
chamber, locked him up. Here he remained



122 King Henry IV. [1572.

His protection, Henry taken before the king.

three days in the greatest suspense, apprehen-
sive every hour that the assassins would break
in upon him. A faithful servant of the presi-
dent brought him food, but could tell him of
nothing but deeds of treachery and blood. At
the end of three days, the heroic boy, who af-
terward attained great celebrity as the minis-
ter and bosom friend of Henry, was released
and protected.

The morning of St. Bartholomew's day had
not dawned when a band of soldiers entered the
chamber of Henry of Navarre and conveyed him
to the presence of the king. Frenzied with the
excitements of the scene, the imbecile but pas-
sionate monarch received him with a counte-
nance inflamed with fury. With blasphemous
oaths and imprecations, he commanded the King
of Navarre, as he valued his life, to abandon a
religion which Charles affirmed that the Prot-
estants had assumed only as a cloak for their
rebellion. With violent gesticulations and
threats, he declared that he would no longer
submit to be contradicted by his subjects, but
that they should revere him as the image of
God. Henry, who was a Protestant from con-
siderations of state policy rather than from
Christian principle, and who saw in the conflict



1572.] The Massacre. 123



He yields. Paris on the Sabbath following.

merely a strife between two political parties,
ingloriously yielded to that necessity by which
alone he could save his life. Charles gave him
three days to deliberate, declaring, with a vio-
lent oath, that if, at the end of that time, he did
not yield to his commands, he would cause him
to be strangled. Henry yielded. He not only
went to mass himself, but submitted to the deg-
radation of sending an edict to his own domin-
ions, prohibiting the exercise of any religion ex-
cept that of Rome. This indecision was a se-
rious blot upon his character. Energetic and
decisive as he was in all his measures of gov-
ernment, his religious convictions were ever fee-
ble and wavering.

When the darkness of night passed away and
the morning of the Sabbath dawned upon Par-
is, a spectacle was witnessed such as the streets
even of that blood-renowned metropolis have
seldom presented. The city still resounded
with that most awful of all tumults, the clamor
of an infuriated mob. The pavements were
covered with gory corpses. Men, women, and
children were still flying in every direction,
wounded and bleeding, pursued by merciless
assassins, riotous with demoniac laughter and
drunk with blood. The report of guns and pis-



124 King Henry IV. [1572.

Encouragement by the priests. The massacre continued.

tols was heard in all parts of the city, sometimes
in continuous volleys, as if platoons of soldiers
were firing upon their victims, while the scat-
tered shots, incessantly repeated in every sec-
tion of the extended metropolis, proved the uni-
versality of the massacre. Drunken wretches,
besmeared with blood, were swaggering along
the streets, with ribald jests and demoniac
bowlings, hunting for the Protestants. Bodies,
torn and gory, were hanging from the windows,
and dissevered heads were spurned like footballs
along the pavements. Priests were seen in
their sacerdotal robes, with elevated crucifixes,
and with fanatical exclamations encouraging
the murderers not to grow weary in their holy
work of exterminating God's enemies. The
most distinguished nobles and generals of the
court and the camp of Charles, mounted on
horseback with gorgeous retinue, rode through
the streets, encouraging by voice and arm the
indiscriminate massacre.

" Let not," the king proclaimed, " one single
Protestant be spared to reproach me hereafter
with this deed,"

For a whole week the massacre continued,
and it was computed that from eighty to a hund-
red thousand Protestants were slain throughout
the kinp'dom.



1572.] The Massacre. 125

Exultation of the Catholics. Triumphal procession.

Charles himself, with Catharine and the high-
born but profligate ladies who disgraced her
court, emerged with the morning light, in splen-
did array, into the reeking streets. The ladies
contemplated with merriment and ribald jests
the dead bodies of the Protestants piled up be-
fore the Louvre. Some of the retinue, appalled
by the horrid spectacle, wished to retire, alleg-
ing that the bodies already emitted a putrid
odor. Charles inhumanly replied. " The smell
of a dead enemy is always pleasant."

On Thursday, after four days spent in hunt-
ing out the fugitives and finishing the bloody
work, the clergy paraded the streets in a tri-
umphal procession, and with jubilant prayers
and hymns gave thanks to God for tlieir great
victory. The Catholic pulpits resounded with
exultant harangues, and in honor of the event
a medallion was struck off, with the inscription
'-'-La jpiete a reveille la justice''^— -Religion has
awakened justice.

In the distant provinces of France the mas-
sacre was continued, as the Protestants were
hunted from all their hiding-places. In some
departments, as in Santonge and Lower Lan-
guedoc, the Protestants were so numerous that
the Catholics did not venture to attack them.



126 King Henry IV. [1572.

Extent of the massacre.

In some other provinces they were so few that
the Catholics had nothing whatever to fear from
them, and therefore spared them ; and in the
sparsely-settled rural districts the peasants re-
fused to imbrue their hands in the blood of
their neighbors. Many thousand Protestants
throughout the kingdom in these ways escaped.
But in nearly all the populous towns, where
the Catholic population predominated, the mas-
sacre was universal and indiscriminate. In
Meaux, four hundred houses of Protestants were
pillaged and devastated, and the inmates, v/ith-
out regard to age or sex, utterly exterminated.
At Orleans there were three thousand Protest-
ants. A troop of armed horsemen rode furi-
ously through the streets, shouting, "Courage,
boys ! kill all, and then you shall divide their
property." At Rouen, many of the Protestants,
at the first alarm, fled. The rest were arrested
and thrown into prison. They were then brought
out one by one, and deliberately murdered. Six
hundred were thus slain. Such were the scenes
which were enacted in Toulouse, Bordeaux,
Bourges, Angers, Lyons, and scores of other cit-
ies in France. It is impossible to ascertain with
precision the number of victims. The Duke of
Sully estimates them at seventy thousand ; the



1572.] The Massacee. 127



Magnanimity of Catholic officers.



Bishop Perefixe at one hundred thousand. This
latter estimate is probably not exaggerated, if
we include the unhappy fugitives, who, fleeing
from their homes, died of cold, hunger, and fa-
tigue, and all the other nameless woes which
accrued from this great calamity.

In the midst of these scenes of horror it is
pleasant to record several instances of generous
humanity. In the barbarism of those times
dueling was a common practice. A Catholic
officer by the name of Yessins, one of the most
fierce and irritable men in France, had a private
quarrel with a Protestant officer whose name
was Hegnier. They had mutually sought each
other in Paris to obtain such satisfaction as a
duel could aiford. In the midst of the massa-
cre, Eegnier, while at prayers Avith his servant
(for in those days dueling and praying were not
deemed inconsistent), heard the door of his room
broken open, and, looking round in expectation
of instant death, saw his foe Yessins enter
breathless with excitement and haste. Hegnier,
conscious that all resistance would be unavail-
ing, calmly bared his bosom to his enemy, ex-
claiming,

* ' You will have an easy victory. "

Yessins made no reply, but ordered the valet



128 Kino Henry IV. [1572.



The Bishop of Lisieux.



to seek his master's cloak and sword. Then
leading him into the street, he mounted him
upon a powerful horse, and with fifteen armed
men escorted him out of the city. Not a word
was exchanged between them. When they ar-
rived at a little grove at a short distance from
the residence of the Protestant gentleman, Ves-
sins presented him with his sword, and bade
him dismount and defend himself, saying,

"Do not imagine that I seek your friend-
ship by what I have done. All I wish is to
take your life honorably."

Regnier threw away his sword, saying, "I
will never strike at one who has saved my life."

"Very well!" Vessins replied, and left him,
making him a present of the horse on which he
rode.

Though the commands which the king sent
to the various provinces of France for the mas-
sacre were very generally obeyed, there were
examples of distinguished virtue, in which Cath-
olics of high rank not only refused to imbrue
their own hands in blood, but periled their lives
to protect the Protestants. The Bishop of
Lisieux, in the exercise of true Christian char-
ity, saved all the Protestants in the town over
which he presided. The.Governor of Auvergne



1572.] The Massacee. 129



Noble replies to the king's decree.



replied to tlie secret letter of the king in the fol-
lowing words :

" Sire, I have received an order, under your
majesty's seal, to put all the Protestants of this
province to death, and if, which God forbid, the
order be genuine, I respect your majesty still
too much to obey you."

The king had sent a similar order to the
commandant at Bayonne, the Viscount of Or-
thez. The following noble words were returned
in reply :

" Sire, I have communicated the commands
of your majesty to the inhabitants of the town
and to the soldiers of the ganison, and I have
found good citizens and brave soldiers, hut not
one executioner ; on which account, they and
I humbly beseech you to employ our arms and
our lives in enterprises in which we can con-
scientiously engage. However perilous they
may be, we will willingly shed therein the last
drop of our blood."

Both of these noble-minded men soon after
very suddenly and mysteriously died. Few
entertained a doubt that poison had been ad-
ministered by the order of Charles.

The laio of France required that these Prot-
estants should" be hunted to death. This was
I



130 King Heney IV. [1572.

The higher law. Attempted justification.

the law promulgated by the king and sent by
his own letters missive to the appointed officers
of the crown. ■

But there is — there is a higher law than
that of kings and courts. Nobly these majes-
tic men rendered to it their allegiance. They
sealed their fidelity to this higher law with
their blood. They were martyrs, not fanatics.

On the third day of the massacre the king
assembled the Parliament in Paris, and made a
public avowal of the part he had taken in this
fearful tragedy, and of the reasons which had in-
fluenced him to the deed. Though he hoped to
silence all Protestant tongues in his own realms
in death, he knew that the tale would be told
throughout all Europe. He therefore stated, in
justification of the act, that he had, "as if by a
miracle," discovered that the Protestants were
engaged in a conspiracy against his own life and
that of all of his family.

This charge, however, uttered for the moment,
was speedily dropped and forgotten. There was
not the slightest evidence of such a design.

The Parliament, to give a little semblance of
justice to the king's accusation, sat in judgment
upon the memory of the noble Coligni. They
sentenced him to be hung in e^^gj ; ordered his



1572.] The Massacee. 131



Punishment of Coligni.



arms to be dragged at the lieels of a horse through
all the principal towns of France ; his magnifi-
cent castle of Chatillon to be razed to its founda-
tions, and never to be rebuilt ; his fertile acres,
in the culture of wliich he had found his chief
delight, to be desolated and sown with salt; his
portraits and statues, wherever found, to be de-
stroyed; his children to lose their title of nobil-
ity; all his goods and estates to be confiscated
to the use of the crown, and a monument of du-
rable marble to be raised, upon which this sen-
tence of the court should be engraved, to trans-
mit to all posterity his alleged infamy. Thus
was punished on earth one of the noblest serv-
ants both of God and man. But there is a day
of final judgment yet to come. The oppressor
has but his brief hour. There is eternity to
right the oppressed.

Notwithstanding this general and awful mas-
sacre, the Protestants were far from being ex-
terminated. Several nobles, surrounded by their
retainers in their distant castles, suspicious of
treachery, had refused to go to Paris to attend
the wedding of Henry and Marguerite. Others
who had gone to Paris, alarmed by the attack
upon Admiral Coligni, immediately retired to
their homes. Some concealed themselves in



132 Kino Heney IV. [1572.

Valor of the survivors. Pledges of aid.

garrets, cellars, and wells until the massacre
was over. As has been stated, in some towns
the governors refused to engage in the mer-
ciless butchery, and in others the Protestants
had the majority, and with their own arms could
defend themselves within the walls which their
own troops garrisoned.

Though, in the first panic caused by the dread-
ful slaughter, the Protestants made no resist-
ance, but either surrendered themselves submis-
sively to the sword of the assassin, or sought
safety in concealment or flight, soon indignation
took the place of fear. Those who had fled
from the kingdom to Protestan,t. states rallied
together. The survivors in ;rrance began to
count their numbers and marshal their forces
for self-preservation. From every part of Prot-
estant Europe a cry of horror and execration
simultaneously arose in view of this crime of un-
paralleled enormity. In many places the Cath-
olics themselves seemed appalled in contempla-
tion of the deed they had perpetrated. Words
of sympathy were sent to these martyrs to a
pure faith from many of the Protestant king-
doms, with pledges of determined and efficient
aid. The Protestants rapidly gained courage.
From all the country, they flocked into those



1572.] The Massacre. 133

Prophecy of Knox. Apology of the court.

walled towns which still remained in their
power.

As the fugitives from France, emaciate, pale,
and woe-stricken, with tattered and dusty garb,
recited in England, Switzerland, and Germany
the horrid story of the massacre, the hearts of
their auditors were frozen with horror. In Ge-
neva a day of fasting and prayer was instituted,
which is observed even to the present day. In
Scotland every church resounded with the thrill-
ing tale ; and Knox, whose inflexible spirit was
nerved for those iron times, exclaimed, in lan-
guage of prophetic nerve,

" Sentence has gone forth against that mur-
derer, the King of France, and the vengeance of
God will never be withdrawn from his house.
His name shall be held in everlasting execra-
tion."

The French court, alarmed by the indignation
it had aroused, sent an embassador to London
with a poor apology for the crime, by pretend-
ing that the Protestants had conspired against
the life of the king. The embassador was re-
ceived in the court of the queen with appalling
coldness and gloom. Arrangements were made
to invest the occasion with the most impressive
solemnitj^. The court was shrouded in mourn-



134 KiNa Heney IV. [1572.



Opinions of the courts of Europe.



ing, and all the lords and ladies appeared in sa-
ble weeds. A stern and sombre sadness was
upon everj countenance. The embassador,
overwhelmed by his reception, was overheard to
exclaim to himself, in bitterness of heart,

" I am ashamed to acknowledge myself a
Frenchman."

He entered, however, the presence of the
queen, passed through the long line of silent
courtiers, who refused to salute him, or even to
honor him with a look, stammered out his mis-
erable apology, and, receiving no response, re-
tired covered with confusion. Elizabeth, we
thank thee I This one noble deed atones for
many of thy crimes.

Yery different was the reception of these tid-
ings in the court of Eome. The messenger who
carried the news was received with transports
of joy, and was rewarded with a thousand pieces
of gold. Cannons were fired, bells rung, and
an immense procession, with all the trappings of
sacerdotal rejoicing, paraded the streets. An-
thems were chanted and thanksgivings were sol-
emnly offered for the great victory over the ene-


1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Henry the Fourth, king of France and Navarre → online text (page 6 of 16)