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The Reformation (continued); the Catholic Reaction. page 3

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In summing up the Protestant gains of the Reformation, we find that, soon after the middle of the 16th century, or in 50 years from Luther's burning of Leo's "bull" before the Elster Gate of Wittenberg, the new religion had triumphed decisively in northern Europe, among the nations of the Teutonic race. England, Scotland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Prussia, Saxony, Hesse, Wurtemberg, the Rhenish Palatinate, several Swiss cantons, the northern Netherlands, were all Protestant. In this region of Europe, Ireland alone held firm, as she mainly does to this day, to the ancient faith. Italy and Spain were left, as they have remained, almost untouched by the religious revolt, along with much of southern and central Germany. It remains to trace the course of events in France, where the struggle between the two religions was for a time doubtful. The University and the Parliament of Paris strongly supported the Papal cause, the former having, in 1521, issued a severe censure of Luther's views. Henry II. (1547-1559) has been already seen in warfare with the emperor Charles V. The contest, continued against Philip II. of Spain, involved the complete defeat of the French by the Spaniards, in 1557, at the famous battle of St. Quentin, in the north of France, and was ended, two years later, by the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis, a town east of Cambray. Early in 1558 the surprise of Calais by the French deprived England of the last remnant of the conquests made under Henry V. Henry II.'s wife, Catharine de' Medici, born in 1519, of the famous Florentine family, was a notable woman, crafty, ambitious, thoroughly representative of an age of the vilest sensuality and the most subtle intrigue. Beautiful and witty, abounding in tact, she thus acquired the great influence wielded by her in the reigns of three successive kings, her sons. Francis II., first husband of Mary Stuart of Scotland, died in 1560. He was succeeded by his brother, Charles IX. (1560-1574), a lad of ten years, entirely under his mother's control. The Guises were at this time enjoying great power, at first as rivals of Catharine, and then as her allies against other parties in the state. The chiefs of the house were Duke Francis of Guise, a military commander of courage and skill, the defender of Metz and captor of Calais; a man of noble person and easy manners, frank in his dealings; a firm friend and a remorseless foe. His brother Charles, Cardinal de Lorraine, a quick, clever, licentious man, directed religious and financial affairs. Their chief rival was the "Constable," Anne de Montmorenci, a man of enormous wealth, and for many years a personage of great importance in France. He fought bravely in the Italian wars, and was created a field-marshal in 1522, in his 30th year. A playmate of Francis I. in his youth, he fought by his side on the fatal field of Pavia, and was his fellow-captive for a time at Madrid. Released by ransom, he rose to power through his exertions for the king's freedom, and in 1536, with masterly Fabian tactics, avoiding a battle in which defeat might have ruined the monarchy, he caused the retreat of Charles V. with his invading army. In 1538, appointed "Constable," fifth of his family to attain that honour, he was the greatest subject of the Crown, austere in character, rough in demeanour, disliked at court, whence he was banished by Francis, for some unknown reason, in 1541. Restored to favour under Henry II., De Montmorenci, heading his own court-faction, was at constant issue with the Duke and the Cardinal. One of his chief claims to credit with posterity is his liberal employment of that great artistic genius Bernard Palissy "the Potter." In 1557 the Constable was taken prisoner by the Spaniards near St. Quentin, but he returned to Paris on parole in the following year, in order to defend his interests against the Guises. Protestantism, in the Calvinistic form, was at this time making much progress in France, in spite of severe persecution in the two last reigns. Known as Huguenots, a name said to be a Geneva nickname for the German Eidgenosse, or "confederates," the Calvinists included many persons of rank and of the middle classes, and were headed by the taciturn and stubborn Admiral Coligny, and his brothers, D'Andelot and Chatillon, nephews of the Constable, all three men who sacrificed to their religion worldly power and profit. Anton de Bourbon, king of Navarre, and his brother Louis, prince de Conde, were on the same side, either on religious grounds or from jealousy of the influence of the Guises.

It is impossible to give here details of the complicated intrigues of the time. Persecution of the Huguenots and political interests caused the outbreak of civil war in 1562. In December of that year a hard-fought battle at Dreux ended in the defeat of the Protestants under Coligny and Conde, with the capture of the latter on one side, and of Montmorenci on the other. In the following February (1563) the duke of Guise, besieging the Huguenot headquarters in Orleans, defended by Coligny's brother D'Andelot, received a fatal wound. Anton de Bourbon had recently been killed at the siege of Rouen, leaving a young son, Henry of Navarre, born in 1553 at Pau, in the province of Beam, on the French side of the Pyrenees, whence came his name of "le Bearnais." His father had changed sides, and died fighting for the Catholics, but his mother, Jeanne d'Albret, who held the Protestant opinions, trained her son in her own faith. On the death of Guise, the queen-mother, Catharine de' Medici, now virtually ruling the country, concluded with the Protestants the Peace of Amboise, with the purpose, as it seems, of vexing and depressing the Guises, who headed the Catholic cause. By this arrangement, which was merely a truce in an internecine contest, the Huguenots were to have the free exercise of their religion, except in certain districts and towns. Another change of policy caused Catharine to combine with Philip of Spain for the uprooting of heresy. The liberties of the Huguenots were then curtailed, and attempts were made upon the life of Conde and of Coligny. The war was resumed, and Paris was besieged by Conde, but he was defeated, in 1567, in a battle at St. Denis by Montmorenci, who there received a fatal wound. In March, 1568, there was another "peace" made, but the persecution of Protestants continued, and some thousands perished by massacre or judicial execution. Aided by troops from Germany and stores from England, the Huguenots again took the field, only to be severely defeated, in 1569, at Jarnac, near Angouleme, with the death of Conde, and at Moncontour, between Tours and Poitiers, where they were led by Coligny. The gallant young Henry of Navarre, now in his 17th year, the hero whose white plume was ever seen waving in the thick of battle, had now, at his mother's instance, assumed a leading part in the Protestant cause, and had fought both at Jarnac and Moncontour. Coligny, again helped from England, Germany, and Switzerland, gained some successes over the royal (Catholic) forces, in the capture of Nimes, the relief of La Rochelle, a town ceded to the Huguenots, and a victory in the field. Catharine then again, in 1570, concluded a peace (St. Germain-en-Laye), by which the Protestants were, with an amnesty for the past, to receive freedom of worship through all the country except in Paris, and a number of strong towns as security.

This lull was only one preceding a storm in the perpetration of one of the worst crimes of all history. The treacherous and cruel Catharine, unable to crush her foes on the field of battle, devised an ambuscade. Human hearts were, to this wicked woman, only counters in a game of policy and crime, and she arranged a marriage, as if to bind a lasting peace, between Henry of Navarre and her beautiful daughter, Marguerite de Valois, sister of the king (Charles IX.). The celebration of the nuptials was the bait by which she drew the Huguenot leaders to Paris in August, 1572. Coligny received costly presents from Charles, and was made a councillor of state. Four days after the marriage, the brave Protestant, a model of virtue in a most vicious age, was wounded by a shot from the palace-window. The king, in real or pretended wrath, hastened to assure Coligny that he should be avenged, but on that very day, under his mother's influence, he came to believe that his life was aimed at by the wounded man, and, with a blasphemous oath, he ordered his slaughter and that of all his followers. Bands of armed citizens were prepared, and the signal for wholesale murder was given on the night of St. Bartholomew's Day, August 24th. The wounded Coligny was the first victim, and then, at midnight, the tolling of a bell in the palace-tower let loose the murderers on their prey. About 4,000 Huguenots were slaughtered in Paris, Henry of Navarre only escaping by attendance at mass. In the course of two months at least 30,000 more Protestants were slain in the provinces. The Pope (Gregory XIII.) showed his joy, as Vicar of Christ on earth, by proclaiming a year of jubilee, by the striking of a medal, by a procession to the church of St. Louis, and by the performance of a grand Te Deum. The court of Spain of course sent congratulations on this noble vindication of Catholic principles. From the atrocious guilt of this deed no cavilling or sophistry, no pretences that the murdered Huguenots were mere political rebels, themselves planning the destruction of the monarchy, have ever been able to relieve its perpetrators or approvers. Writing in the year 1898, in a time when a criminal conspiracy of Christian powers, the hideous farce styled the "Concert of Europe," deliberately condones Armenian massacres, on a scale far vaster than that of St. Bartholomew's Day, in the fear of provoking a general war due to international jealousies on the endless "Eastern Question," it is well to take readers back to the days of Elizabeth, and witness how this enormous crime was regarded by an English queen and her subjects. When the ambassador of France, a few days after La St. Barthelemy, as the French call the massacre, presented himself at court, he had to make his way to the throne in the hall of reception between lines of courtiers and officials, all clad in the deepest mourning and regarding him with gloomy looks of aversion. The queen, in like attire, received him with the demeanour due to one who, personally guiltless, was the emissary and representative of a monarch whose recent crime had put its blackest blot on the page of modern history up to that date, and had consigned his own name to indelible infamy.

The tragedy was perfectly useless as a means of overcoming the Protestants of France. After the first shock of horror, they seized their weapons, caused a royal army to waste away in a vain siege of La Rochelle, and in 1573 extorted another "peace" by which they obtained the free exercise of their religion in their strong places, Nimes, Montauban, and La Rochelle. In 1574, on the death of Charles IX., Henry III., another son of Catharine, came to the throne. He was a man of weak character, caring little for the religious question, and only anxious for a life of dissolute ease. His mother's baneful influence, however, caused him to attack the Huguenots again, and the fifth civil (religious) war of this period in France began. The Protestants had the best of the struggle, and in May, 1576, another "peace" gave them complete freedom of worship in all parts, and eight new "places of security" or strong towns. Henry, duke of Guise, then formed, in alliance with Philip of Spain, the Holy League, headed by the king, for the annihilation of the Protestant cause, but again, in 15771 another "peace" (Bergerac or Poitiers), after some fighting, was granted by Henry, in fear of increase of power for the Guises, and Catharine, for the same reason, made a private arrangement with Henry of Navarre. Once more, when the court violated the terms lately granted, arms were resumed, and the seventh war began in November, 1579. A year later another "peace" confirmed the previous treaties with the Huguenots, and for some years the country was at rest.

Henry of Navarre had resumed the leadership of the Protestants, and the death of the king's brother, the duke of Anjou, in 1584, foreboding the extinction, in the male line, of the House of Valois, gave the Bourbon prince the prospect of the throne. The Catholics, under Henry of Guise, then revived the League, and planned the exclusion of Henry of Navarre, and the transference of the crown, on the king's death, to his uncle Cardinal de Bourbon. This intrigue, and the revocation of the concessions to the Huguenots, at once caused the eighth civil war, known as the "War of the three Henries," of Valois (the king), of Navarre, and of Guise. The Protestant Henry gained a victory in 1587, but the Catholics had the best of the struggle in the end. Henry of Guise then plotted the deposition of the king, but died, by assassination at his order, at the castle of Blois in September, 1388. A year later Henry III., after a revolt of Paris and other great towns, and an alliance with Henry of Navarre against the Catholic rebels, was murdered in his camp at St. Cloud, before his capital, by the dagger of Jacques Clement, a Dominican monk, and the House of Valois thus ended. The duke of Mayenne, brother of the murdered Henry of Guise, had now assumed the leadership of the Catholics.

The House of Bourbon, which held the French throne until 1792, and from 1815 to 1830, now began to reign in the person of Henry IV., the rightful heir, by descent from Louis IX. The Catholics, however, set up a rival king, the old Cardinal de Bourbon. Catharine de' Medici had died early in 1589, and one source of trouble for the wasted and unhappy country was thus removed. Henry, fighting for his throne, gained important victories over Mayenne, in 1589 at Arques, near Dieppe, and in March, 1590, at Ivry. When he besieged Paris, he was driven off by the combined forces of Mayenne and of Philip II.'s great general, the duke of Parma. Three years later he sacrificed his religious faith to secure his crown, and, abjuring the reformed religion at St. Denis, was crowned at Chartres in 1594. He was then engaged, between 1595 and 1598, in driving out Philip's troops from Brittany, Picardy, and Burgundy, as the Spanish sovereign claimed the French throne for his daughter by his third marriage with Elizabeth of Valois, sister of the late king (Henry III.). The civil wars of religion in France then came to an end with the Edict of Nantes, published in April, 1598, giving the Huguenots equal political rights with the Catholics, and freedom of religious worship, with restrictions thereof to nobles of a certain class, and to the citizens of certain cities and towns. It was prohibited in all episcopal cities, at the royal court, and in Paris and within a radius of 20 miles round the capital. Public offices were opened to Protestants, and they could have seats in the four parliaments of Paris, Grenoble, Bordeaux, and Toulouse. Some fortified towns were assigned to them, and they became a kind of armed political party. The Treaty of Vervins made peace with Spain, and all Philip's conquests of territory were restored.

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