XXXII. FRANCIS II., JULY 10, 1559—DECEMBER 5, 1560.
During the course, and especially at the close of Henry II.'s reign, two rival matters, on the one hand the numbers, the quality, and the zeal of the Reformers, and on the other, the anxiety, prejudice, and power of the Catholics, had been simultaneously advancing in development and growth. Between the 16th of May, 1558, and the 10th of July, 1559, fifteen capital sentences had been executed in Dauphiny, in Normandy, in Poitou, and at Paris. Two royal edicts, one dated July 24, 1558, and the other June 14, 1559, had renewed and aggravated the severity of penal legislation against heretics. To secure the registration of the latter, Henry II., together with the princes and the officers of the crown, had repaired in person to Parliament; some disagreement had already appeared in the midst of that great body, which was then composed of a hundred and thirty magistrates; the seniors who sat in the great chamber had in general shown themselves to be more inclined to severity, and the juniors who formed the chamber called La Tournelle more inclined to indulgence towards accusations of heresy. The disagreement reached its climax in the very presence of the king. Two councillors, Dubourg and Dufaure, spoke so warmly of reforms which were, according to them, necessary and legitimate, that their adversaries did not hesitate to tax them with being Reformers themselves. The king had them arrested, and three of their colleagues with them. Special commissioners were charged with the preparation of the case against them. It has already been mentioned that one of the most considerable amongst the officers of the army, Francis d'Andelot, brother of Admiral Coligny, had, for the same cause, been subjected to a burst of anger on the part of the king. He was in prison at Meaux when Henry II. died. Such were the personal feelings and the relative positions of the two parties when Francis II., a boy of sixteen, a poor creature both in mind and body, ascended the throne.
Deputies from Parliament went, according to custom, to offer their felicitations to the new king, and to ask him "to whom it was his pleasure that they should, thenceforward, apply for to learn his will and receive his commands." Francis II. replied, "With the approbation of the queen my mother, I have chosen the Duke of Guise and the Cardinal of Lorraine, my uncles, to have the direction of the state; the former will take charge of the department of war, the latter the administration of finance and justice." Such had, in fact, been his choice, and it was no doubt with his mother's approbation that he had made it. Equally attentive to observe the proprieties and to secure her own power, Catherine de' Medici, when going out to drive with her son and her daughter-in-law Mary Stuart, on the very day of Henry II.'s death, said to Mary, "Step in, madame; it is now your turn to go first."
During the first days of mourning she kept herself in a room entirely hung with black; and there was no light beyond two wax-candles burning on an altar covered with black cloth. She had upon her head a black veil, which shrouded her entirely, and hid her face; and, when any one of the household went to speak to her, she replied in so agitated and so weak a tone of voice that it was impossible to catch her words, whatever attention might be paid to them. But her presence of mind and her energy, so far as the government was concerned, were by no means affected by it; he who had been the principal personage at the court under Henry II., the Constable de Montmorency, perfectly understood, at his first interview with the queen-mother, that he was dismissed, and all he asked of her was, that he might go and enjoy his repose in freedom at his residence of Chantilly, begging her at the same time to take under her protection the heirs of his house. Henry II.'s favorite, Diana de Poitiers, was dismissed more harshly. "The king sent to tell Madame de Valentinois," writes the Venetian ambassador, "that for her evil influence (mali officii) over the king his father she would deserve heavy chastisement; but, in his royal clemency, he did not wish to disquiet her any further; she must, nevertheless, restore to him all the jewels given her by the king his father." "To bend Catherine de' Medici, Diana was also obliged," says De Thou, "to give up her beautiful house at Chenonceaux on the Cher, and she received in exchange the castle of Chaumont on the Loire." The Guises obtained all the favors of the court at the same time that they were invested with all the powers of the state.
In order to give a good notion of Duke Francis of Guise and his brother the Cardinal of Lorraine, the two heads of the house, we will borrow the very words of those two men of their age who had the best means of seeing them close and judging them correctly, the French historian De Thou and the Venetian ambassador John Micheli. "The Cardinal of Lorraine," says De Thou, "was of an impetuous and violent character; the Duke of Guise, on the contrary, was of a gentle and moderate disposition. But as ambition soon overleaps the confines of restraint and equity, he was carried away by the violent counsels of the cardinal, or else surrendered himself to them of his own accord, executing with admirable prudence and address the plans which were always chalked out by his brother." The Venetian ambassador enters into more precise and full details. "The cardinal," he says, "who is the leading man of the house, would be, by common consent, if it were not for the defects of which I shall speak, the greatest political power in this kingdom. He has not yet completed his thirty-seventh year; he is endowed with a marvellous intellect, which apprehends from half a word the meaning of those who converse with him; he has an astonishing memory, a fine and noble face, and a rare eloquence which shows itself freely on any subject, but especially in matters of politics. He is very well versed in letters: he knows Greek, Latin, and Italian. He is very strong in the sciences, chiefly in theology. The externals of his life are very proper and very suitable to his dignity, which could not be said of the other cardinals and prelates, whose habits are too scandalously irregular. But his great defect is shameful cupidity, which would employ, to attain its ends, even criminal means, and likewise great duplicity, whence comes his habit of scarcely ever saying that which is. There is worse behind. He is considered to be very ready to take offence, vindictive, envious, and far too slow in benefaction. He excited universal hatred by hurting all the world as long as it was in his power to. As for Mgr. de Guise, who is the eldest of the six brothers, he cannot be spoken of save as a man of war, a good officer. None in this realm has delivered more battles and confronted more dangers. Everybody lauds his courage, his vigilance, his steadiness in war, and his coolness, a quality wonderfully rare in a Frenchman. His peculiar defects are, first of all, stinginess towards soldiers; then he makes large promises, and even when he means to keep his promise he is infinitely slow about it."
To the sketch of the Cardinal of Lorraine Brantome adds that he was, "as indeed he said, a coward by nature." a strange defect in a Guise.
It was a great deal, towards securing the supremacy of a great family and its leading members, to thus possess the favor of the court and the functions of government; but the power of the Guises had a still higher origin and a still deeper foundation. "It was then," said Michael de Castelnau, one of the most intelligent and most impartial amongst the chroniclers of the sixteenth century, "that schism and divisions in religious matters began to be mixed up with affairs of state. Well, all the clergy of France, and nearly all the noblesse and the people who belonged to the Roman religion, considered that the Cardinal of Lorraine and the Duke of Guise were, as it were, called of God to preserve the Catholic religion established in France for the last twelve hundred years. And it seemed to them not only an act of impiety to change or alter it in any way whatever, but also an impossibility to do so without ruin to the state. The late king, Henry, had made a decree in the month of June, 1559, being then at Ecouen, by which the judges were bound to sentence all Lutherans to death, and which was published and confirmed by all the Parliaments, without any limitation or modification whatever, and with a warning to the judges not to mitigate the penalty, as they had done for some years previously. Different judgments were pronounced upon the decree: those who took the most political and most zealous view of religion considered that it was necessary, as well to preserve and maintain the Catholic religion as to keep down the seditious, who, under the cloak of religion, were doing all they could to upset the political condition of the kingdom. Others, who cared nothing for religion, or for the state, or for order in the body politic, also thought the decree necessary, not at all for the purpose of exterminating the Protestants, —for they held that it would tend to multiply them,—but because it would offer a means of enriching themselves by the confiscations ensuing upon condemnation, and because the king would thus be able to pay off forty-two millions of livres which he owed, and have money in hand, and, besides that, satisfy those who were demanding recompense for the services they had rendered the crown, wherein many placed their hopes." [Memoires de Michael de Castelnau, in the Petitot collection, Series I., t. xxxiii. pp. 24-27.]
The Guises were, in the sixteenth century, the representatives and the champions of these different cliques and interests, religious or political, sincere in their belief or shameless in their avidity, and all united under the flag of the Catholic church. And so, when they came into power, "there was nothing," says a Protestant chronicler, "but fear and trembling at their name." Their acts of government soon confirmed the fears as well as the hopes they had inspired. During the last six months of 1559 the edict issued by Henry II. from Ecouen was not only strictly enforced, but aggravated by fresh edicts; a special chamber was appointed and chosen amongst the Parliament of Paris, which was to have sole cognizance of crimes and offences against the Catholic religion. A proclamation of the new king, Francis II., ordained that houses in which assemblies of Reformers took place should be razed and demolished. It was death to the promoters of "unlawful assemblies for purposes of religion or for any other cause." Another royal act provided that all persons, even relatives, who received amongst them any one condemned for heresy should seize him and bring him to justice, in default whereof they would suffer the same penalty as he. Individual condemnations and executions abounded after these general measures; between the 2d of August and the 31st of December, 1559, eighteen persons were burned alive for open heresy, or for having refused to communicate according to the rites of the Catholic church, or go to mass, or for having hawked about forbidden books. Finally, in December, the five councillors of the Parliament of Paris, whom, six months previously, Henry II. had ordered to be arrested and shut up in the Bastille, were dragged from prison and brought to trial. The chief of them, Anne Dubourg, nephew of Anthony Dubourg, Chancellor of France under Francis I., defended himself with pious and patriotic persistency, being determined to exhaust all points of law and all the chances of justice he could hope for without betraying his faith. Everything shows that he had nothing to hope for from his judges; one of them, the President Minard, as he was returning from the palace on the evening of December 12, 1559, was killed by a pistol-shot; the assassin could not be discovered; but the crime, naturally ascribed to some friend of Dubourg, served only to make certain and to hasten the death of the prisoner on trial. Dubourg was condemned on the 22d of December, and heard unmoved the reading of his sentence. "I forgive my judges," said he; "they have judged according to their own lights, not according to the light that comes from on high. Put out your fires, ye senators; be converted, and live happily. Think without ceasing of God and on God." After these words, which were taken down by the clerk of the court, "and which I have here copied," says De Thou, Dubourg was taken on the 23d of December, in a tumbrel to the Place de Greve. As he mounted the ladder he was heard repeating several times, "Forsake me not, my God, for fear lest I forsake thee." He was strangled before he was cast into the flames (De Thou, t. iii. pp. 399-402), the sole favor his friends could obtain for him.
But extreme severity on the part of the powers that be is effectual only when it falls upon a country or upon parties that are effete with age, or already vanquished and worn out by long struggles; when, on the contrary, it is brought to bear upon parties in the flush of youth, eager to proclaim and propagate themselves, so far from intimidating them, it animates them, and thrusts them into the arena into which they were of themselves quite eager to enter. As soon as the rule of the Catholic, in the persons and by the actions of the Guises, became sovereign and aggressive, the threatened Reformers put themselves into the attitude of defence. They too had got for themselves great leaders, some valiant and ardent, others prudent or even timid, but forced to declare themselves when the common cause was greatly imperilled. The house of Bourbon, issuing from St. Louis, had for its representatives in the sixteenth century Anthony de Bourbon, King of Navarre and husband of Jeanne d'Albret, and his brother Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Conde. The King of Navarre, weak and irresolute though brave enough, wavered between Catholicism and the Reformation, inclining rather in his heart to the cause of the Reformation, to which the queen his wife, who at first showed indifference, had before long become Passionately attached. His brother, the Prince of Conde, young, fiery, and often flighty and rash, put himself openly at the head of the Reformed party. The house of Bourbon held itself to be the rival perforce of the house of Lorraine. It had amongst the high noblesse of France two allies, more fitted than any others for fighting and for command, Admiral de Coligny and his brother, Francis d'Andelot, both of them nephews of the Constable Anne de Montmorency, both of them already experienced and famous warriors, and both of them devoted, heart and soul, to the cause of the Reformation. Thus, at the accession of Francis II., whilst the Catholic party, by means of the Guises, and with the support of the majority of the country, took in hand the government of France, the reforming party ranged themselves round the King of Navarre, the Prince of Conde, and Admiral de Coligny, and became, under their direction, though in a minority, a powerful opposition, able and ready, on the one hand, to narrowly watch and criticise the actions of those who were in power, and on the other to claim for their own people, not by any means freedom as a general principle in the constitution of the state, but free manifestation of their faith, and free exercise of their own form of worship.
Apart from—we do not mean to say above-these two great parties, which were arrayed in the might and appeared as the representatives of the national ideas and feelings, the queen-mother, Catherine de' Medici, was quietly laboring to form another, more independent of the public, and more docile to herself, and, above all, faithful to the crown and to the interests of the kingly house and its servants; a party strictly Catholic, but regarding as a necessity the task of humoring the Reformers and granting them such concessions as might prevent explosions fraught with peril to the state; a third party (tiers part), as we should say nowadays, politic and prudent, somewhat lavish of promises without being sure of the power to keep them, not much embarrassed at having to change attitude and language according to the shifting phases of the moment, and anxious above everything to maintain public peace and to put off questions which it could not solve pacifically. In the sixteenth century, as at every other time, worthy folks of moderate views and nervous temperaments, ambitious persons combining greed with suppleness, old servants of the crown, and officials full of scruples and far from bold in the practical part of government, were the essential elements of this party. The Constable de Montmorency sometimes issued forth from Chantilly to go and aid the queen-mother, in whom he had no confidence, but whom he preferred to the Guises. A former councillor of the Parliament, for a long while chancellor under Francis I. and Henry II., and again summoned, under Francis II., by Catherine de' Medici to the same post, Francis Olivier, was an honorable executant of the party's indecisive but moderate policy. He died on the 15th of March, 1560; and Catherine, in concert with the Cardinal of Lorraine, had the chancellorship thus vacated conferred upon Michael de l'Hospital, a magistrate already celebrated, and destined to become still more so. As soon as he entered upon this great office he made himself remarkable by the marvellous ability he showed in restraining within bounds "the Lorraines themselves, whose servant he was," says the Protestant chronicler Regnier de la Planche; "to those who had the public weal at heart he gave hope that all would at last turn out well, provided that he were let alone; and, to tell the truth, it would be impossible to adequately describe the prudence he displayed; for, assuredly, although if he had taken a shorter road towards manfully opposing the mischief he would have deserved more praise, and God would perhaps have blessed his constancy, yet, so far as one can judge, he alone, by his moderate behavior, was the instrument made use of by God for keeping back many an impetuous flood under which every Frenchman would have been submerged. External appearances, however, seemed to the contrary. In short, when any one represented to him some trouble that was coming, he always had these words on his lips: 'Patience, patience; all will go well.'" This philosophical and patriotic confidence on the part of Chancellor de l'Hospital was fated to receive some cruel falsifications.
A few months, and hardly so much, after the accession of Francis II., a serious matter brought into violent collision the three parties whose characteristics and dispositions have just been described. The supremacy of the Guises was insupportable to the Reformers, and irksome to many lukewarm or wavering members of the Catholic nobility. An edict of the king's had revoked all the graces and alienations of domains granted by his father. The crown refused to pay its most lawful debts, and duns were flocking to the court. To get rid of them, the Cardinal of Lorraine had a proclamation issued by the king, warning all persons, of whatever condition, who had come to dun for payment of debts, for compensations, or for graces, to take themselves off within twenty-four hours on pain of being hanged; and, that it might appear how seriously meant the threat was, a very conspicuous gibbet was erected at Fontainebleau close to the palace. It was a shocking affront. The malcontents at once made up to the Reformers. Independently of the general oppression and perils under which these latter labored, they were liable to meet everywhere, at the corners of the streets, men posted on the lookout, who insulted them and denounced them to the magistrates if they did not uncover themselves before the madonnas set up in their way, or if they did not join in the litanies chanted before them. A repetition of petty requisitions soon becomes an odious tyranny. An understanding was established between very different sorts of malcontents; they all said and spread abroad that the Guises were the authors of these oppressive and unjustifiable acts. They made common cause in seeking for means of delivering themselves, at the same time drawing an open distinction between the Guises and the king, the latter of whom there was no idea of attacking. The inviolability of kings and the responsibility of ministers, those two fundamental maxims of a free monarchy, had already become fixed ideas; but how were they to be taken advantage of and put in practice when the institutions whereby political liberty exerts its powers and keeps itself secure were not in force? The malcontents, whether Reformers or Catholics, all cried out for the states-general. Those of Tours, in 1484, under Charles VIII., had left behind them a momentous and an honored memory. But the Guises and their partisans energetically rejected this cry. "They told the king that whoever spoke of convoking the states-general was his personal enemy and guilty of high treason; for his people would fain impose law upon him from whom they ought to take it, in such sort that there would be left to him nothing of a king but the bare title. The queen-mother, though all the while giving fair words to the malcontents, whether Reformers or others, was also disquieted at their demands, and she wrote to her son-in-law, Philip II., King of Spain, 'that they wanted, by means of the said states, to reduce her to the condition of a maid-of-all-work.' Whereupon Philip replied 'that he would willingly employ all his forces to uphold the authority of the king his brother-in-law and of his ministers, and that he had forty thousand men all ready in case anybody should be bold enough to attempt to violate it.'"
In their perplexity, the malcontents, amongst whom the Reformers were becoming day by day the most numerous and the most urgent, determined to take the advice of the greatest lawyers and most celebrated theologians of France and Germany. They asked whether it would be permissible, with a good conscience and without falling into the crime of high treason, to take up arms for the purpose of securing the persons of the Duke of Guise and the Cardinal of Lorraine, and forcing them to render an account of their administration. The doctors, on being consulted, answered that it would be allowable to oppose by force the far from legitimate supremacy of the Guises, provided that it were done under the authority of princes of the blood, born administrators of the realm in such cases, and with the consent of the orders composing the state, or the greatest and soundest portion of those orders. A meeting of the princes who were hostile to the Guises were held at Vendome to deliberate as to the conduct to be adopted in this condition of opinions and parties; the King of Navarre and his brother the Prince of Conde, Coligny, D'Andelot, and some of their most intimate friends took part in it; and D'Ardres, confidential secretary to the Constable de Montmorency, was present. The Prince of Conde was for taking up arms at once and swoop down upon the Guises, taking them by surprise. Coligny formally opposed this plan; the king, at his majority, had a right, he said, to choose his own advisers; no doubt it was a deplorable thing to see foreigners at the head of affairs, but the country must not, for the sake of removing them, be rashly exposed to the scourge of civil war; perhaps it would be enough if the queen-mother were made acquainted with the general discontent. The constable's secretary coincided with Coligny, whose opinion was carried. It was agreed that the Prince of Conde should restrain his ardor, and let himself be vaguely regarded as the possible leader of the enterprise if it were to take place, but without giving it, until further notice, his name and co-operation. He was called the mute captain.
There was need of a less conspicuous and more pronounced leader for that which was becoming a conspiracy. And one soon presented himself in the person of Godfrey de Barri, Lord of La Renaudie, a nobleman of an ancient family of Perigord, well known to Duke Francis of Guise, under whose orders he had served valiantly at Metz in 1552, and who had for some time protected him against the consequences of a troublesome trial, at which La Renaudie had been found guilty by the Parliament of Paris of forging and uttering false titles. Being forced to leave France, he retired into Switzerland, to Lausanne and Geneva, where it was not long before he showed the most passionate devotion for the Reformation. "He was a man," says De Thou, "of quick and insinuating wits, ready to undertake anything, and burning with desire to avenge himself, and wipe out, by some brilliant deed, the infamy of a sentence which he had incurred rather through another's than his own crime. He, then, readily offered his services to those who were looking out for a second leader, and he undertook to scour the kingdom in order to win over the men whose names had been given him. He got from them all a promise to meet him at Nantes in February, 1560, and he there made them a long and able speech against the Guises, ending by saying, 'God bids us to obey kings even when they ordain unjust things, and there is no doubt but that they who resist the powers that God has set up do resist His will. We have this advantage, that we, ever full of submission to the prince, are set against none but traitors hostile to their king and their country, and so much the more dangerous in that they nestle in the very bosom of the state, and, in the name and clothed with the authority of a king who is a mere child, are attacking the kingdom and the king himself. Now, in order that you may not suppose that you will be acting herein against your consciences, I am quite willing to be the first to protest and take God to witness that I will not think, or say, or do anything against the king, against the queen his mother, against the princes his brothers, or against those of his blood; and that, on the contrary, I will defend their majesty and their dignity, and, at the same time, the authority of the laws and the liberty of the country against the tyranny of a few foreigners.'" [De Thou, t. iii. pp. 467-480.]
"Out of so large an assemblage," adds the historian, "there was not found to be one whom so delicate an enterprise caused to recoil, or who asked for time to deliberate. It was agreed that, before anything else, a large number of persons, without arms and free from suspicion, should repair to court and there present a petition to the king, beseeching him not to put pressure upon consciences any more, and to permit the free exercise of religion; that at almost the same time a chosen body of horsemen should repair to Blois, where the king was, that their accomplices should admit them into the town and present a new petition to the king against the Guises, and that, if these princes would not withdraw and give an account of their administration, they should be attacked sword in hand; and, lastly, that the Prince of Conde, who had wished his name to be kept secret up to that time, should put himself at the head of the conspirators. The 15th of June was the day fixed for the execution of it all."
But the Guises were warned; one of La Renaudie's friends had revealed the conspiracy to the Cardinal of Lorraine's secretary; and from Spain, Germany, and Italy they received information as to the conspiracy hatched against them. The cardinal, impetuous and pusillanimous too, was for calling out the troops at once; but his brother the duke, "who was not easily startled," was opposed to anything demonstrative. They removed the king to the castle of Amboise, a safer place than the town of Blois; and they concerted measures with the queen-mother, to whom the conspirators were, both in their plans and their persons, almost as objectionable as to them. She wrote, in a style of affectionate confidence, to Coligny, begging him to come to Amboise and give her his advice. He arrived in company with his brother D'Andelot, and urged the queen-mother to grant the Reformers liberty of conscience and of worship, the only way to checkmate all the mischievous designs and to restore peace to the kingdom. Something of what he advised was done: a royal decree was published and carried up to the Parliament on the 15th of March, ordaining the abolition of every prosecution on account of religion, in respect of the past only, and under reservations which rendered the grace almost inappreciable. The Guises, on their side, wrote to the Constable de Montmorency to inform him of the conspiracy, "of which you will feel as great horror as we do," and they signed, Your thoroughly best friends. The Prince of Conde himself, though informed about the discovery of the plot, repaired to Amboise without showing any signs of being disconcerted at the cold reception offered him by the Lorraine princes. The Duke of Guise, always bold, even in his precautions, "found an honorable means of making sure of him," says Castelnau, "by giving him the guard at a gate of the town of Amboise," where he had him under watch and ward himself. The lords and gentlemen attached to the court made sallies all around Amboise to prevent any unexpected attack. "They caught a great many troops badly led and badly equipped. Many poor folks, in utter despair and without a leader, asked pardon as they threw down upon the ground some wretched arms they bore, and declared that they knew no more about the enterprise than that there had been a time appointed them to see a petition presented to the king which concerned the welfare of his service and that of the kingdom." [Memoires de Castelnau, pp. 49, 50.] On the 18th of March, La Renaudie, who was scouring the country, seeking to rally his men, encountered a body of royal horse who were equally hotly in quest of the conspirators; the two detachments attacked one another furiously; La Renaudie was killed, and his body, which was carried to Amboise, was strung up to a gallows on the bridge over the Loire with this scroll: "This is La Renaudie, called La Forest, captain of the rebels, leader and author of the sedition." Disorder continued for several days in the surrounding country; but the surprise attempted against the Guises was a failure, and the important result of the riot of Amboise (tumulte d'Amboise), as it was called, was an ordinance of Francis II., who, on the 17th of March, 1560, appointed Duke Francis of Guise "his lieutenant-general, representing him in person absent and present in this good town of Amboise and other places of the realm, with full power, authority, commission, and special mandate to assemble all the princes, lords, and gentlemen, and generally to command, order, provide, and dispose of all things requisite and necessary."
The young king was, nevertheless, according to what appears, somewhat troubled at all this uproar and at the language of the conspirators. "I don't know how it is," said he sometimes to the Guises, "but I hear it said that people are against you only. I wish you could be away from here for a time, that we might see whether it is you or I that they are against." But the Guises set about removing this idea by telling the king that neither he nor his brothers would live one hour after their departure, and "that the house of Bourbon were only seeking how to exterminate the king's house." The caresses of the young queen Mary Stuart were enlisted in support of these assertions of her uncles. They made a cruel use of their easy victory "for a whole month," according to contemporary chronicles, "there was nothing but hanging or drowning folks. The Loire was covered with corpses strung, six, eight, ten, and fifteen, to long poles. . . ." "What was strange to see," says Regnier de la Planche, "and had never been wont under any form of government, they were led out to execution without having any sentence pronounced against them publicly, or having the cause of their death declared, or having their names mentioned. They of the Guises reserved the chief of them, after dinner, to make sport for the ladies; the two sexes were ranged at the windows of the castle, as if it were a question of seeing some mummery played. And what is worse, the king and his young brothers were present at these spectacles, as if the desire were to 'blood' them; the sufferers were pointed out to them by the Cardinal of Lorraine with all the signs of a man greatly rejoiced, and when the poor wretches died with more than usual firmness, he would say, 'See, sir, what brazenness and madness; the fear of death cannot abate their pride and felonry. What would they do, then, if they had you in their clutches?'"
It was too much vengeance to take and too much punishment to inflict for a danger so short-lived and so strictly personal. So hideous was the spectacle that the Duchess of Guise, Anne d'Este, daughter of Renee of France, Duchess of Ferrara, took her departure one day, saying, as she did so, to Catherine de' Medici, "Ah! madame, what a whirlwind of hatred is gathering about the heads of my poor children!" There was, throughout a considerable portion of the country, a profound feeling of indignation against the Guises. One of their victims, Villemongey, just as it came to his turn to die, plunged his hands into his comrades' blood, saying, "Heavenly Father, this is the blood of Thy children: Thou wilt avenge it!" John d'Aubigne, a nobleman of Saintonge, as he passed through Amboise one market-day with his son, a little boy eight years old, stopped before the heads fixed upon the posts, and said to the child, "My boy, spare not thy head, after mine, to avenge these brave chiefs; if thou spare thyself, thou shalt have my curse upon thee." The Chancellor Olivier himself, for a long while devoted to the Guises, but now seriously ill and disquieted about the future of his soul, said to himself, quite low, as he saw the Cardinal of Lorraine, from whom he had just received a visit, going out, "Ah! cardinal, you are getting us all damned!"
The mysterious chieftain, the mute captain of the conspiracy of Amboise, Prince Louis of Conde, remained unattainted, and he remained at Amboise itself. People were astounded at his security. He had orders not to move away; his papers were seized by the grand prelate; but his coolness and his pride did not desert him for an instant. We will borrow from the Histoire des Princes de Conde (t. i. pp. 68-71), by the Duke of Aumale, the present heir, and a worthy one, of that line, the account of his appearance before Francis II., "in full council, in presence of the two queens, the knights of the order, and the great officers of the crown. 'As I am certified,' said he, 'that I have near the king's person enemies who are seeking the ruin of me and mine, I have begged him to do me so much favor as to hear my answer in this company here present. Now, I declare that, save his own person and the persons of his brothers, of the queen his mother and of the queen regnant, those who have reported that I was chief and leader of certain sedition-mongers, who are said to have conspired against his person and state, have falsely and miserably lied. And renouncing, for the nonce, my quality as prince of the blood, which I hold, however, of God alone, I am ready to make them confess, at the sword's point, that they are cowards and rascals, themselves seeking the subversion of the state and the crown, whereof I am bound to promote the maintenance by a better title than my accusers. If there be, amongst those present, any one who has made such a report and will maintain it, let him declare as much this moment.' The Duke of Guise, rising to his feet, protested that he could not bear to have so great a prince any longer calumniated, and offered to be his second. Conde, profiting by the effect produced by his proud language, demanded and obtained leave to retire from the court, which he quitted at once."
All seemed to be over; but the whole of France had been strongly moved by what had just taken place; and, though the institutions which invite a people to interfere in its own destinies were not at the date of the sixteenth century in regular and effective working order, there was everywhere felt, even at court, the necessity of ascertaining the feeling of the country. On all sides there was a demand for the convocation of the states-general. The Guises and the queen-mother, who dreaded this great and independent national power, attempted to satisfy public opinion by calling an assembly of notables, not at all numerous, and chosen by themselves. It was summoned to meet on August 21, 1560, at Fontainebleau, in the apartments of the queen-mother. Some great lords, certain bishops, the Constable de Montmorency, two marshals of France, the privy councillors, the knights of the order, the secretaries of state and finance, Chancellor de l'Hospital and Coligny, took part in it; the King of Navarre and the Prince of Conde did not respond to the summons they received; the constable rode up with a following of six hundred horse. The first day was fully taken up by a statement, presented to the assembly by L'Hospital, of the evils that had fallen upon France, and by a declaration on the part of the Guises that they were ready to render an account of their administration and of their actions. Next day, just as the Bishop of Valence was about to speak, Coligny went up to the king, made two genuflections, stigmatized in energetic terms the Amboise conspiracy and every similar enterprise, and presented two petitions, one intended for the king himself and the other for the queen-mother. "They were forwarded to me in Normandy," said he, "by faithful Christians, who make their prayers to God in accordance with the true rules of piety. They ask for nothing but the liberty of holding their own creed, and that of having temples and celebrating their worship in certain fixed places. If necessary, this petition would be signed by fifty thousand persons." "And I," said the Duke of Guise brusquely, "would find a million to sign a contrary petition." This incident went no further between the two speakers. A great discussion began as to the reforms desirable in the church, and as to the convocation of a general council, or, in default thereof, a national council. The Cardinal of Lorraine spoke last, and vehemently attacked the petitions presented by Admiral de Coligny. "Though couched in moderate and respectful terms," said he, "this document is, at bottom, insolent and seditious; it is as much as to say that those gentry would be obedient and submissive if the king would be pleased to authorize their mischievous sentiments. For the rest," he added, "as it is merely a question of improving morals and putting in force strict discipline, the meeting of a council, whether general or national, appears to me quite unnecessary. I consent to the holding of the states-general."
The opinion of the Cardinal of Lorraine was adopted by the king, the queen-mother, and the assemblage. An edict dated August 26 convoked a meeting of the states-general at Meaux on the 10th of December following. As to the question of a council, general or national, it was referred to the decision of the pope and the bishops of France. Meanwhile, it was announced that the punishment of sectaries would, for the present, be suspended, but that the king reserved to himself and his judges the right of severely chastising those who had armed the populace and kindled sedition. "Thus it was," adds De Thou, "that the Protestant religion, hitherto so hated, began to be tolerated, and in a manner authorized, by consent of its enemies themselves." [Histoire Universelle, t. iii. p. 535.]
The elections to the states-general were very stormy; all parties displayed the same ardor; the Guises by identifying themselves more and more with the Catholic cause, and employing, to further its triumph, all the resources of the government; the Reformers by appealing to the rights of liberty and to the passions bred of sect and of local independence. A royal decree was addressed to all the bailiffs of the kingdom. "Ye shall not fail," said the king to them, "to keep your eyes open, and give orders that such mischievous spirits as may be composed of the remnants of the Amboise rebellion or other gentry, studious of innovation and alteration in the state, be so discovered and restrained that they be not able to corrupt by their machinations, under whatsoever pretexts they may hide them, simple folks led on by confidence in the clemency whereof we have heretofore made use." The bailiffs followed, for the most part successfully, but in some cases vainly, the instructions they had received. One morning in December, 1560, the Duke of Guise was visited by a courier from the Count de Villars, governor of Languedoc; he informed the duke that the deputies of that province had just been appointed, and that they all belonged to the new religion, and were amongst the most devoted to the sect; there was not a moment to lose, "for they were men of wits, great reputation, and circumspection. The governor was very vexed at not having been able to prevent their election and departure; but plurality of votes had carried the day against him." This despatch was "no sooner received than some men were got ready to go and meet those deputies, in order to put them in a place where they would never have been able to do good or harm." The deputies of Languedoc escaped this ambuscade, and arrived safe and sound at Orleans; but they "were kept under strict watch, and their papers were confiscated up to the moment when the death of the king occurred to deliver them from all fear." [Histoire des Etats generaux, by G. Picot, t. ii. pp. 25-29.] In Provence, in Dauphiny, in the countship of Avignon, at Lyons, on occasion and in the midst of the electoral struggle, several local risings, seizures of arms, and surprisals of towns took place and disturbed the public peace. There was not yet religious civil war, but there were the preparatory note and symptoms of it.
At the same time that they were thus laboring to keep out of the approaching states-general adversaries of obscure rank and belonging to the people, the Guises had very much at heart a desire that the great leaders of the Reformers and of the Catholic malcontents, especially the two princes of the house of Bourbon, the King of Navarre and the Prince of Conde, should come to this assembly, and there find themselves under the thumb of their enemies. They had not gone to the assemblage of notables at Fontainebleau, and their hostility to the Guises had been openly shown during and since that absence. Nothing was left untried to attract them, not to Meaux any longer, but to Orleans, whither the meeting of the states-general had been transferred. King Francis II., a docile instrument in the hands of his uncles and his young queen their niece, wrote letter after letter to the King of Navarre, urging him to bring with him his brother the Prince of Conde to clear himself of the accusations brought against him "by these miserable heretics, who made marvellous charges against him. . . . Conde would easily prove the falsity of the assertions made by these rascals." The King of Navarre still hesitated; the king insisted haughtily. "I should be sorry," he wrote on the 30th of August, 1560, "that into the heart of a person of such good family, and one that touches me so nearly, so miserable an inclination should have entered; being able to assure you that whereinsoever he refuses to obey me I shall know perfectly well how to make it felt that I am king." The Prince of Conde's mother-in-law, the Countess of Roye, wrote to the queen-mother that the prince would appear at court if the king commanded it; but she begged her beforehand not to think it strange if, on going to a place where his most cruel enemies had every power, he went attended by his friends. Whether she really were, or only pretended to be, shocked at what looked like a threat, Catherine replied that no person in France had a right to approach the king in any other wise than with his ordinary following, and that, if the Prince of Conde went to court with a numerous escort, he would find the king still better attended. At last the King of Navarre and his brother made up their minds. How could they elude formal orders? Armed resistance had become the only possible resource, and the Prince of Conde lacked means to maintain it; his scarcity of money was such that, in order to procure him a thousand gold crowns, his mother-in-law had been obliged to pledge her castle of Germany to the Constable de Montmorency. In spite of fears and remonstrances on the part of their most sincere friends, the two chiefs of the house of Bourbon left their homes and set out for Orleans. On their arrival before Poitiers, great was their surprise: the governor, Montpezat, shut the gates against them as public enemies. They were on the point of abruptly retracing their steps; but Montpezat had ill understood his instructions; he ought to have kept an eye upon the Bourbons without displaying any bad disposition towards them, so long as they prosecuted their journey peacefully; the object was, on the contrary, to heap upon them marks of respect, and neglect nothing to give them confidence. Marshal de Termes, despatched in hot haste, went to open the gates of Poitiers to the princes, and receive them there with the honors due to them. They resumed their route, and arrived on the 30th of October at Orleans.
The reception they there met with cannot be better described than it has been by the Duke of Aumale: "Not one of the crown's officers came to receive the princes; no honor was paid them; the streets were deserted, silent, and occupied by a military guard. In conformity with usage, the King of Navarre presented himself on horseback at the great gate of the royal abode; it remained closed. He had to pocket the insult, and pass on foot through the wicket, between a double row of gentlemen wearing an air of insolence. The king awaited the princes in his chamber; behind him were ranged the Guises and the principal lords; not a word, not a salutation on their part. After this freezing reception, Francis II. conducted the two brothers to his mother, who received them, according to Regnier de la Planche's expression, 'with crocodile's tears.' The Guises did not follow them thither, in order to escape any personal dispute, and so as not to be hearers of the severe words which they had themselves dictated to the young monarch. The king questioned Conde sharply; but the latter, 'who was endowed with great courage, and spoke as well as ever any prince or gentleman in the world, was not at all startled, and defended his cause with many good and strong reasons,' protesting his own innocence and accusing the Guises of calumniation. When he haughtily alluded to the word of honor which had been given him, the king, interrupting him, made a sign; and the two captains of the guard, Breze and Chavigny, entered and took the prince's sword. He was conducted to a house in the city, near the Jacobins', which was immediately barred, crenelated, surrounded by soldiers, and converted into a veritable bastile. Whilst they were removing him thither, Conde exclaimed loudly against this brazen violation of all the promises of safety by which he had been lured on when urged to go to Orleans. The only answer he received was his committal to absolutely solitary confinement and the withdrawal of his servants. The King of Navarre vainly asked to have his brother's custody confided to him; he obtained nothing but a coarse refusal; and he himself, separated from his escort, was kept under ocular supervision in his apartment."
The trial of the Prince of Conde commenced immediately. He was brought before the privy council. He claimed, as a prince of the blood and knight of the order of St. Michael, his right to be tried only by the court of Parliament furnished with the proper complement of peers and knights of the order. This latter safeguard was worth nothing in his case, for there had been created, just lately, eighteen new knights, all friends and creatures of the Guises. His claim, however, was rejected; and he repeated it, at the same time refusing to reply to any interrogation, and appealing "from the king ill advised to the king better advised." A priest was sent to celebrate mass in his chamber: but "I came," said he, "to clear myself from the calumnies alleged against me, which is of more consequence to me than hearing mass." He did not attempt to conceal his antipathy towards the Guises, and the part he had taken in the hostilities directed against them. An officer, to whom permission had been given to converse with him in presence of his custodians, told him "that an appointment (accommodation) with the Duke 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.
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.