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As François II was a sickly boy of 15, his mother Catherine de’ Medici (as the French called her) ruled just as she had as regent during Henri II’s campaigns. She dismissed his mistress Diane de Poitiers and Constable Montmorency as she relied on the Guise brothers, Duke François and Cardinal Charles of Lorraine, uncles of Mary Stuart who had married François II and was now queen. Catherine promised the Huguenots (French Protestants) she would not persecute them if they did not assemble or cause a scandal. However, she let Du Bourg be burned for heresy, and the Huguenots became more aggressive. French and German jurists advised them they needed a prince of the blood for a violent coup against the Guises, and they approached Louis de Bourbon-Vendome Condé. Jean du Barry de la Renaudie was a Protestant and met with them in Paris and then traveled for five months in France and Switzerland to arouse support. From Geneva more than sixty exiled nobles returned to France.
Men disguised as litigants and merchants met in Nantes on February 1, 1560, claiming to be an Estates-General. La Renaudie denounced the Guise government and emphasized loyalty to the King. By March 2 reports of the planned coup reached François II, who issued the Edict of Amboise that granted amnesty to religious prisoners except pastors and conspirators. Michel de L’Hôpital was appointed chancellor in April, and royal troops attacked 500 men in the woods around Amboise. La Renaudie was killed in the fighting, and at least 300 were arrested, tortured, and executed including 56 nobles who were beheaded in public on March 30.
Cardinal Charles of Lorraine proposed a national council and wrote to Pope Pius IV on March 21, 1560. Pius replied on May 12 that he opposed a French council, but he sent Cardinal François de Tournon as a legate. Public demonstrations erupted in Paris against the Guises; the Cardinal of Lorraine was hanged and burned in effigy, and attempts were made to burn his properties. On May 18 the Edict of Romorantin moved the prosecution of heresy from royal courts to ecclesiastical tribunals while punishing illegal assemblies and seditious acts was left to presidial courts. Chancellor L’Hôpital believed that two different religions could not coexist in the same kingdom. He considered force and violence pertinent only to beasts and not humans, and he argued that justice is determined by reason. To achieve national unity he summoned an Assembly of Notables to Fontainebleau on August 20. Bishop Jean de Monluc of Valence opposed the persecution of religious dissenters who were loyal to the crown, and he advised toleration and a council to reform the clergy. Charles de Marillac, Archbishop of Vienne, complained about burdensome taxes and the abuses of the Church. Since the Pope would not call a General Council, he advised calling a national council. Admiral Coligny supported the demand for the Estates-General, and the King summoned one at Meaux on December 10.
Meanwhile the Huguenots were resorting to arms, and Edme de Ferrieres of Maligny captured Lyon, though King Antoine of Navarre persuaded him to withdraw. On October 31 Louis de Condé, was arrested for treason in Orléans and put in prison. François II became ill and died on December 5, 1560. His 10-year-old brother became Charles IX. Antoine of Navarre was the first prince of blood, but he was rejected. The Estates-General began at Orléans on December 13, and L’Hôpital asked for their help. The Conseil privé appointed Catherine de’ Medici regent on December 21.
Although on January 13, 1561 L’Hôpital informed the deputies that the public debt of 43 million livres was four times the annual revenue, they refused to grant any money to the crown. Regent Catherine confirmed and modified the Edict of Romorantin, releasing all religious prisoners and suspending all heresy cases. On March 9 Condé was acquitted and released from prison, and on the 25th Antoine of Navarre renounced his claim to the regency and was confirmed as lieutenant-general of France. On April 7 Cardinal Tournon persuaded the Guises to form an alliance with Montmorency to defend the Catholic faith. Catherine responded by allying herself with Navarre. On the 19th the government banned the terms “Huguenot” and “papist.” On May 15 Charles IX was crowned at Reims. The Cardinal of Lorraine urged Regent Catherine to summon an Assembly of Notables to prohibit Protestant assemblies. On June 11 the seigneur d’Esternay petitioned the King for the Huguenots so that they could recall foreign exiles under safe conduct. Catherine met with princes and the royal council, and a new edict banned all Protestant worship while denying Parlement authority to judge heresy cases. Banishment became the maximum punishment for heresy, and all religious and seditious offenders since Henri II’s death were pardoned.
Meanwhile on March 10, 1561 the second Calvinist national synod met at Poitiers and recommended that the next Estates-General establish a royal council to enforce edicts. In the spring Calvinists held open-air services despite attempts to stop them in Troyes, Etampes, Melun, Meaux, and Chartres. Mobs sacked Catholic churches in Normandy and Agen. Calvinists went into churches and destroyed statues of saints, crucifixes, and altarpieces. The Parlement of Toulouse complained of armed assemblies in four towns. The Parlement of Paris ordered places used for Protestant services and meetings destroyed.
On July 31, 1561 Charles IX opened the national council at Poissy, and a colloquy began on religious issues. On August 27 the Estates-General met at Saint-German-en-Laye. Then the lay estates met at Pontoise while the clergy convened at Poissy. The secular estates proposed selling church property that could bring in 120 million livres to pay the national debt and then the annual expenses of the clergy and for trade. On September 15 the prelates at Poissy formally approved the Society of Jesus in France. One week later the government allowed twelve Calvinists to debate as many Catholics in private. The national council was dissolved on October 13. Eleven days later Catherine asked Pope Pius IV to sanction communion in both kinds by the laity to no avail. When the Council of Trent reconvened on January 18, 1562 not one French prelate attended. On January 17 Catherine issued the Edict of Saint-German that allowed Huguenots to worship unarmed outside of walled towns. King Antoine of Navarre announced that he had become a Catholic. By the end of 1561 Rouen had about 15,000 Huguenots. In October hundreds of Protestants held public meetings in Dijon. In 1561 and early 1562 Geneva, Neuchatel, and Berne sent 150 Calvinist missionaries to France.
The four Guise brothers (François, Charles, Claude, and Louis) met with Duke Christoph of Württemberg and four Lutheran theologians on February 15, 1562, and the latter Protestants urged the Catholic brothers to tolerate French Calvinists. They came to an understanding, and the Guises promised not to persecute Protestants for the sake of Christian unity. On his way to Paris on March 1 Duke François de Guise stopped at Vassy in his duchy to attend mass. He learned that about 500 Calvinists were worshipping nearby in a barn, and he went to talk with them. He and his companions became angry and were thrown out and had stones thrown at them. They began shooting Calvinists with arquebuses, went back in, and massacred about thirty people, wounding about a hundred.
Regent Catherine de Medici was with the court at Montceaux, and she tried to keep Paris peaceful. Marshal Montmorency ordered the Reformed churches to suspend services; but the pastors refused because they were protected by a recent edict. Louis de Bourbon, the Prince of Condé, met with Protestant nobles in Paris, and they warned the Reformed churches. Condé’s manifesto urged Protestant nobles to prepare with arms and horses. Huguenots demanded that Guise be arrested, and Catherine ordered him not to march to Paris and appointed a formal inquiry into the Vassy atrocity. Montmorency and Jacques Dalbon, the seigneur de Saint-André, persuaded Guise to go to Paris, and they arrived on March 16 with about 2,500 troops. Catherine appointed Cardinal Charles de Condé to govern Paris as a neutral, and the next day he and the leaders of Parlement urged Guise and Louis de Condé to leave Paris; but they remained. A riot broke out on March 20. King Antoine of Navarre arrived, and two days later on Palm Sunday he joined the Triumvirs (Guise, Montmorency, and Saint-André) in a Catholic procession. Catherine at Fontainebleau had written four letters to Louis de Condé, asking him to protect her and her son. The Triumvirs came to her, and on March 13 they forced her and her children to go with them to Paris. Later she denied they were prisoners.
On April 2, 1562 Louis de Condé’s Protestant rebels seized Orléans. He issued a manifesto declaring that they had taken up arms to liberate young King Charles IX and his mother Catherine and to make sure the edict protecting religious liberty was enforced. He recruited 3,000 reiters and 4,000 landsknechts from Protestant principalities in Germany. Since the 1550s the reiters had been effectively using handguns. By the end of April the rebels captured Angers, Tours, Blois, Valence, and Lyon. Catherine went back to Montceaux and negotiated with the Huguenots. Blaise de Monluc recorded how he tried to preserve law and order in the next few months by hanging Protestants at Fumel, Villefranche-en-Rouergue, Gironde, Monségur, and Terraube. He believed that hanging one man was more effective than killing a hundred in battle.
On July 13 the Parlement of Paris outlawed Protestants and decreed that anyone could kill them with impunity. Huguenots were smashing images and stripping churches of their valuables. Catherine appealed to Pope Pius IV, Duke Emmanuel-Philibert of Savoy, and Felipe II of Spain. She recruited 6,000 Swiss infantry and some Catholic Germans. The Huguenots turned to England’s Queen Elizabeth who was being challenged by the Guises’ niece Mary Stuart. On September 2 Condé’s envoys promised Elizabeth the port of Le Havre for 100,000 crowns and 6,000 troops. This treaty offended patriotic Frenchmen. The Catholics recaptured Blois in the Loire valley while the Huguenots seized towns in Languedoc and Guyenne but failed to take Toulouse. On August 31 the Catholic army crossed the Loire and took Bourges to cut off supplies to Orléans.
Meanwhile on May 13 fighting broke out in Toulouse, and three days later the Protestants were allowed to leave the city. Their safe conduct was violated, and outside the walls about 3,500 Protestants were killed. The conflict was also fierce in Rouen which was besieged by Aumale and the royalists on May 28. In the city authorities persecuted Catholics. In a treaty on September 20 the Protestants gave Le Havre to Elizabeth for 6,000 troops to relieve Rouen and Dieppe. The Catholics’ siege of Rouen had 30,000 troops, but the royals’ general, King Antoine of Navarre, was mortally wounded on October 15. Eleven days later the royal troops broke into the city and plundered it for three days. After her husband Antoine died on November 17, 1562, Queen Jeanne d’Albret made Calvinism the religion of Navarre. Condé proclaimed himself lieutenant-general of his kingdom; but Catherine sent the Cardinal of Bourbon to govern, and they set up a new town council without any Protestants.
Louis de Condé left Orléans to march on Paris; but Guise got there first, and on December 9 Condé headed toward Normandy. His 20,000 men included 2,400 horsemen with pistols, and on the 19th south of Dreux they met the army of 19,000 led by Constable Montmorency. The Protestants had 2,000 more cavalry than the royalists. In the battle Montmorency was captured as his army was routed. However, Guise and Saint-André fought back and captured Condé. Coligny’s Protestant cavalry attacked. Saint-André was captured and killed by Bobigny exacting revenge. Both sides suffered heavy casualties with about 6,000 men killed. A few days later the Huguenots had only an army of 1,000 French, 900 landsknechts, and 700 of their 4,500 horsemen. About 1,500 landsknechts had surrendered to Guise, and several hundred reiters had escorted the captured Constable to Orléans.
Guise with the royal army pursued Coligny’s force and besieged Orléans on February 5, 1563, but thirteen days later while inspecting the camp he was mortally wounded by a shot from the Huguenot Poltrot de Méré. Before the assassin was executed on March 18, he accused Coligny of aiding in the murder. The prisoners Montmorency and Condé negotiated the peace of Amboise on March 19 which protected freedom of religion but gave nobles wider rights than others. Protestants were permitted to worship in towns where they had before March 7 and in one town in each bailliage. Property stolen from Catholic churches was to be restored. The poet Pierre de Ronsard protested this war with poems published under the title Discours des misères de ce temps in 1567.
After Queen Elizabeth sent her a message that the English took Le Havre to get revenge and to trade it to get back Calais sooner, Regent Catherine gathered troops of both religions to besiege Le Havre on July 28, 1563. Elizabeth delayed the peace talks for eight months before agreeing to let France keep Calais for 120,000 crowns. Even though he was barely 13 years old, Charles IX was proclaimed of age on August 17 during a lit de justice in the Parlement of Rouen. Then he commanded that the peace be kept and that no one should seek any military or financial assistance from other countries. He assured his mother Catherine that she would rule more than ever. A proclamation ordered his subjects to lay down their weapons. Only nobles could keep them at home, but they were not allowed to have firearms. Royal soldiers were the only exceptions as a few were assigned to guard the King.
The Parlement of Paris refused to register the declaration. After Charles IX reproached them, they complied on September 28. Chancellor Michel de L’Hôpital reminded them that their role was judicial, not to question the laws made by the monarch. Many Parisians refused to give up their weapons. As Condé’s wife was leaving the capital, hundreds of armed men attacked her coach and killed an escort. Condé wanted to leave the court, but Catherine persuaded him to stay. The royal officer Charry while crossing a bridge in Paris was murdered by three men for vengeance, but Catholics blamed Coligny and François de Chatillon, the seigneur d’Andelot. The Guises demanded justice and began arming, but Charles IX put off the case for three years by ordering both parties to refrain from any judicial or armed action.
On February 18, 1562 Admiral Coligny sent Jean Ribault with 500 soldiers to found a Huguenot colony in Florida, and they were welcomed by friendly Indians on April 29. Coligny sent a second expedition under Goulaine de Laudonniere that reached Florida on June 25, 1564 and built Fort Caroline. Ribault arrived with the third expedition on August 28 with artisans and peasants. However, Felipe II of Spain sent Pedro Menéndez in ten ships with 2,600 men, and they destroyed the “heresy” at La Caroline on September 20.
Meanwhile Protestant nobles continued to pillage churches while Catholics attacked Huguenots returning home. Charles IX sent four marshals on inspection tours, and to assist them he appointed 28 commissioners from his privy council and the Parlement of Paris. They were to enforce the amnesty, restore confiscated property, and find sites where Protestants could worship in each baillage. Complaints about such sites often led to difficult lawsuits. During the four years of peace from 1563 to 1567 the royal councilors included 20 moderates as well as 16 Catholics and 6 Protestants.
Cardinal Charles of Lorraine led the 34 French prelates who attended the Council of Trent. On November 23, 1562 he told the Council that the moral corruption of the Church was to blame for the conflict in France. On January 2, 1563 the French delegation proposed suppressing papal dispensations that were granted for money. When they returned to France, Lorraine wanted the Tridentine decrees published there; but Chancellor L’Hôpital opposed this so strongly that the Cardinal accused him of being a Protestant. When Pope Pius IV summoned seven French bishops to Rome for suspected heresy, the French government objected to their being removed from the justice system in their own country. When Pius tried to depose Queen Jeanne d’Albret of Navarre, Catherine reminded him he had no authority over kings and queens.
On June 14 the Edict of Vincennes prohibited Protestants from trading on Catholic feast days. On December 14 monks and nuns were ordered to return to their religious houses or leave France even if they had married. Huguenots were also upset when on January 13, 1564 Catherine decreed that heads of households in Paris could keep their weapons. Catherine had eighty ladies-in-waiting at court, and many young noblemen were given mistresses to introduce them into high society. Entertainment included military parades, jousting at tournaments, lavish banquets, music by women in the palace gardens, hearing Ronsard’s Eclogues, and witnessing the tragicomedy Beautiful Ginevra based on Orlando Furioso.
On March 13, 1564 Catherine and Charles IX began a two-year tour of France with their government that included more than 10,000 people. The purpose was to inspect local situations and instruct officials. Leaving Fontainebleau they went east to Sens, Troyes, Chalons, and Bar-le-Duc before turning south to visit Dijon, Lyon, Crémieu, Vienne, Valence, Orange, Avignon, Aix, and Toulon. They left Lyon to avoid a plague that was believed to have killed 25,000 people. At Roussillon on August 4 Charles IX ruled that Protestants could be fined and have their property confiscated for worshipping beyond the limits prescribed by the Edict of Amboise. Married priests had to leave their wives or go into exile. Charles suspended the Parlement of Aix for refusing to register the Edict of Amboise and replaced them with Parisian parlementaires.
From Toulon they moved west to Montpellier, Béziers, Carcassonne, Toulouse, Agen, and Bordeaux. During the tour Catherine wrote 413 letters including 110 to Paris. While they were in Toulouse for 46 days, she learned of a confrontation in Paris between Governor François de Montmorency and the Cardinal of Lorraine. When the Guises gathered forces, Coligny arrived with 500 Protestant cavalry to back the Governor. Catherine ordered both sides to leave the capital, but only the Protestants complied. After turning south to stay at Bayonne, they moved north to Bergerac, Angouléme, La Rochelle, and Nantes. Bypassing Brittany and Normandy, they went east to Angers, Saumur, Tours, Amboise, Blois, Bourges, and Moulins where Catherine summoned an Assembly of Notables to meet on January 24, 1566. The Ordinance they passed in February had 86 articles on laws, administration, hospitals, ecclesiastical benefices, and trade guilds. The main purpose was to increase royal authority, and parlements were forbidden to remonstrate more than once against registering a new law ordered by the King. Towns maintained criminal jurisdiction, but civil jurisdiction was taken over by royal judges. Governors who had increased their powers during the civil war had them cut back. Gratuities, nepotism, and holding multiple offices were banned.
In the summer of 1566 Spain’s Felipe II decided to send the Duke of Alba with an army to punish the Netherlands by way of Provence, Dauphiné, and Burgundy. France’s Catherine responded by increasing the garrisons in Piedmont, Picardy, Metz, Toul, and Verdun. Charles IX hired 6,000 Swiss mercenaries to help defend his kingdom. Huguenot leaders expected another campaign of persecution and alerted their forces to gather at Rosay-en-Brie. Catherine and Charles IX fled from Montceaux to Meaux on September 26. When they moved on from there, they were followed by Huguenot cavalry. Charles IX made it to Paris, but on October 1 he began investing the capital and burned at least a dozen windmills outside Paris. On September 30 Protestants had killed about eighty people at Nimes, and they also seized Orléans. Catherine sent L’Hôpital and envoys to Louis de Condé at Saint-Denis, offering a royal pardon if they would put down their arms, but Condé demanded that the King disband the Swiss troops, expel the Guises from his court, allow Protestants freedom of religion, reduce taxes, dismiss Italian bankers, and summon the Estates-General. Condé appealed to all the people to revolt regardless of their religion. Pope Pius V sent Catherine 25,000 écus and offered her 6,000 soldiers. In 1567 she persuaded Charles IX to name her 16-year-old son Henri of Anjou commander of the royal army.
The Huguenots planned to starve Parisians into submission. The 74-year-old Constable Montmorency led a force out of Paris to attack Saint-Denis where he was shot by a pistol. After Condé retreated, the royal forces returned to Paris where Montmorency died on November 12. On January 16, 1568 Condé welcomed 6,000 German reiters and then besieged Chartres. By February both sides were bankrupt and could not pay their troops. On March 28 the Huguenots agreed to the Peace of Longjumeau which confirmed the Edict of Amboise with some restrictions. Charles IX agreed to pay the reiters if they left his kingdom. The Huguenots disbanded most of their forces, but the Catholics did not. In April the Brotherhood of the Catholics was formed at Chalon-sur-Saone, and in May a league was organized to defend the Catholic Church and the royal house of Valois under 17-year-old Duke Henri of Guise.
Catherine ordered Governor Tavannes of Burgundy to besiege Noyers in order to capture Condé, but he and Coligny escaped from Noyers on August 23, 1568 with 150 soldiers. They went to La Rochelle and were joined by many Huguenots. On September 25 Charles IX banned the Reformed religion, banished their pastors, and excluded Protestants from public offices and universities. The Protestant army of 25,000 men marched on Poitou and on October 26 fought a royal force at Poitiers where Captain Mouvans was killed. A much larger battle was fought along the Charente River where Tavannes surprised the Huguenots with the royal army near Jarnac on March 16, 1569. Prince Condé led a charge, suffered a broken leg, and surrendered, but he was murdered by Henri of Anjou’s guard Montesquiou.
In January 1569 Philippe and Richard Gastines were arrested for holding a Protestant service in their home. A riot erupted, and about fifty people were killed. The Gastines were hanged in July, and their property was confiscated. After their house was demolished, a cross on a stone pyramid was erected to represent Catholic opposition. Admiral Coligny led the Huguenots, and in early August the Parlement ordered the property of Huguenot leaders confiscated. Coligny was sentenced to death in September, and a reward of 50,000 écus was offered for his head. Coligny was joined by Germans, and they defeated a small royalist force near La Roch l’Abelle, capturing Colonel-general Strozzi. They took few prisoners and slaughtered hundreds of peasants. Next Coligny besieged Poitiers from July 24 to September 7.
The royalists were reinforced by Pope Pius V, Florence, and Spain so that by June they had 16,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalry. The Protestants had about 12,000 foot soldiers and 6,000 horsemen. Both sides had hired many foreign mercenaries. They met on October 3, 1569 at Moncontour. The Huguenots lost about 10,000 men while the royalists suffered less than 600 casualties. Coligny recovered from a wound and invaded Guyenne to join Montgomery who had conquered Béarn. After the winter Coligny’s army ravaged the regions of Toulousain, Narbonne, Roussilon, and Montpellier. In the spring of 1570 they marched into Burgundy and sacked the abbey of Cluny on June 18. Coligny’s army defeated the royalists at Arnay-le-Duc but avoided a major battle with the royal army and marched on Paris, hoping to make peace.
They agreed to end the third civil war at Saint-Germain on August 8, 1570. The Protestants were granted security for two years in the towns of La Rochelle, Montauban, La Charité, and Cognac. They were allowed to worship wherever they had before the war and could be admitted to all the universities, schools, and hospitals. Offices and property taken from Huguenots were to be returned to them. Blaise de Monluc and other Catholics objected to these concessions. The Golden Hammer house demanded that the cross at the Gastines be removed according to the treaty, but a mob attacked that house and its neighbor. Charles IX asked Paris for 600,000 livres to pay the mercenaries who had fought for the Huguenots, and the King responded to objections by offering to accept half. Also in 1570 Jean-Antoine de Baif founded the first French Academy in his father’s home, and Charles IX approved. Their purpose was to revive poetry and music in order to improve morals.
On September 12, 1571 Charles IX welcomed Coligny back to court because he favored a war against Spain in the Netherlands. In late May 1572 Count Louis of Nassau and some Huguenots seized Valenciennes and Mons, but on June 7 Charles prohibited his subjects from helping Nassau. Yet in July the King allowed 3,000 Huguenot infantry and about 350 cavalry to relieve Mons; but they were defeated on July 17 before they reached Mons. Coligny gathered 12,000 arquebusiers and 2,000 cavalry. The wedding of Henri of Navarre and the King’s sister Marguerite of Valois was held at Notre-Dame cathedral on August 18 and was followed by four days of festivities. On August 22 Coligny was shot in the arm with an arquebus while walking home. The next day a judicial inquiry implicated Duke Henri de Guise, and the King gave Coligny a bodyguard of fifty arquebusiers.
Catholics feared a Huguenot uprising, and on August 23 Charles IX ordered Swiss and French guards to attack Huguenot leaders. Before dawn the Duke of Guise led the royal guards to the Hotel de Béthisy and murdered Coligny, tossing his body out the window. His head was taken to the royal palace, and the corpse was dragged through the streets for three days. On St. Bartholomew’s Day (August 24) the King commanded that the pillaging and murdering stop, but the slaughter continued for nearly a week in the capital. Thomas Crozier bragged of killing more than 400 men by himself on that day. About 3,000 people were killed in Paris. Charles IX issued written instructions on August 24, 27, and 28 warning officials that the Huguenots might rise up in response to the Parisian massacre. The King’s brother Duke Henri of Anjou wrote a letter arguing that Huguenots everywhere should suffer the same fate as those killed in Paris. The slaughter spread to La Charité, Meaux, Bourges, Saumur, Angers, Lyon, Troyes, Rouen, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Galliac, and it lasted into the first week in October, killing about 7,000 Huguenots. In Rouen about 3,000 Protestants became Catholics, and the Reformed community there was reduced from 16,500 to less than 3,000. Charles IX once again banned Calvinists from royal offices.
Charles IX appointed Marshal Biron to govern La Rochelle, but the people refused to let him in the city. The King sent the Huguenot captain François de La Noue, but the rebels made him their governor. Biron was ordered to besiege La Rochelle in February 1573, and an army of 28,000 commanded by Henri of Anjou arrived. La Noue joined that army on March 12, and after eight royalist assaults he finally negotiated an agreement in July. By then the royalists had lost about 12,000 men, many to illness and desertion. The casualties included 73% of the officers. All the refugees and most of the Huguenot army of 1,500 had been killed. The miserable siege of Sancerre from November 9, 1572 to August 25, 1573 was described by the Calvinist minister Jean de Léry. About 500 people in the city died in the famine.
Meanwhile on May 29, 1573 Henri of Anjou learned he had been elected King of Poland. He returned to the Louvre and agreed to the conditions of the Polish ambassadors in late August. He swore an oath at Notre-Dame on September 10 and left on December 2. He ruled in Krakow until June 1574 when he learned that his brother had died and that he was now King of France. The Huguenots still flourished in southern France, and in December 1573 they adopted a constitution. Delegates at Milau in July 1574 proclaimed that they still served the King of France. Within the Huguenot state the Catholic cities of Toulouse, Bordeaux, Marseille, Avignon, Aix, and Agen were beyond their control.
In November 1573 Charles IX sent a subsidy to covertly assist Dutch rebels led by Willem of Orange’s brother, Louis of Nassau, against imperial Spain. In January 1574 Charles IX promised to appoint his brother François, the Duke of Alençon, to replace their brother Henri of Anjou as lieutenant-general, but the Guises discredited him and Marshal François de Montmorency. In the Louvre on February 15 Duke Henri de Guise attacked Alençon’s man Ventabren and claimed that Ventabren had been hired to assassinate him by Montmorency who then left the court. Then the King did not appoint Alençon but Duke Charles of Lorraine instead at the behest of queen mother Catherine. With Protestant troops nearby on the night of February 27 the court quickly left Saint-Germain-en-Laye to take refuge in Paris. Alençon admitted that the plot was intended to attack the Guises and free himself and Henri of Navarre. Chancellor Birague wanted them executed as traitors, but Charles IX only made them take a loyalty oath on March 24.
A second plot was discovered in April, and fifty suspected conspirators were arrested; La Mole and the comte de Coconas were tried and executed on April 30. Also in April Languedoc’s governor, Marshal Henri Damville, allied himself with the Huguenots of Midi. Young Prince Henri de Bourbon-Condé had escaped the court in May and arrived in Germany to raise mercenaries for the Protestants. That month the marshals François de Montmorency (Damville’s brother) and Artus de Cossé were suspected of plotting with Alençon and were imprisoned in the Bastille for 18 months.
Rebels had seized towns in Lower Normandy, Poitou, and the Rhone valley, and in response the crown sent three small armies. The Count of Montgomery had landed in Normandy in March 1574 and took over Saint-Lo and Carentan, but the army led by Matignon trapped him in the fortress of Domfront in May. Montgomery surrendered and was taken to Paris for execution. Catherine wanted vengeance because he had been involved in the jousting death of her husband Henri II. Matignon’s army of 7,500 men attacked Saint-Lo on June 10, and Carentan soon opened its gates. Montpensier’s siege of Fontenay failed in May; but reinforcements from Normandy increased his army to 8,600, and after a three-week siege Fontenay surrendered on September 22. Montpensier’s army then besieged Lusignan which capitulated on January 26, 1575.
King Charles IX had been ill and died on May 30, 1574. His mother Catherine acted as regent until his brother Henri III returned from Poland to Lyon on September 6. He was persuaded to use force against the Huguenots, and armies were organized in Poitou, Provence, and the Rhone valley. France’s new Marshal Bellegarde with an army of 17,000 besieged Pouzin, and they suffered many casualties. Henri III led another army against Henri Damville who was ordered to disband his army and go to Lyon or Savoy. Instead he issued a manifesto on November 13 blaming the foreigners in the King’s Council, and he bombarded Saint-Gilles. Protestants and some Catholics met at Nimes to set up a state in southern France. During the winter Johann Casimir was given money by his father, the Elector-Palatine Friedrich III, to hire mercenaries for Henri de Bourbon Condé. Bellegarde’s siege of Livron from December 17 to January 24, 1575 resulted in desertions and mutinies.
Henri III moved from Avignon to northern France in January 1575, and he was crowned at Reims on February 13. The next day he married Louise de Vaudémont, a princess from Lorraine. Meanwhile forces of a few thousand led by captains were fighting at various places in France, pillaging, raping, and demanding ransoms. Captain Montbrun had even plundered Henri III’s baggage train on its way to Avignon. Later he was captured, tried, and executed by the Parlement of Grenoble. On September 15 Alençon escaped from the court at Paris and fled to Dreux. Condé provided 16,000 troops to invade France as he formed an alliance with Johann Casimir. Guillaume Thoré led 2,000 German reiters into Champagne in early October. On November 22 Catherine agreed to a truce with Alençon at Champigny for seven months, and he was given Angouleme, Niort, Saumur, Bourges, and La Charité. The reiters were to be paid off with 500,000 livres and were not to cross the Rhine. However, Condé and Casimir with 20,000 men crossed the Meuse at Neufchateau on January 9, 1576 to plunder Burgundy and move into the Loire valley. Alençon in December had accused Birague of trying to poison him and repudiated the truce.
On February 5 Henri of Navarre escaped from the court and abjured Catholicism to return to his original Calvinism. He, Alençon, Condé, and Damville sent a delegation to Henri III with 93 articles demanding freedom of religion, bipartisan courts in all parlements, secure towns, and payment of the reiters. On April 9 Alençon declared that they intended to win by force the peace they could not attain by reason. Henri III sent his mother Catherine to negotiate with them, and she accepted most of their demands; but they would not let Protestants worship within two leagues of Paris. The Peace of Monsieur was signed on May 2. Parlement registered it a week later and published it as the Edict of Beaulieu on May 14. Protestants were promised religious freedom and two secure places each in Languedoc, Guyenne, Dauphiny, and Provence; tribunals were to have equal numbers of Catholics and Protestants. Henri promised to summon the Estates-General within six months, and Alençon was given the duchies of Anjou, Touraine, and Berry with an annual pension of 100,000 écus. Casimir wanted 1,700,000 livres, and Henri asked for loans of 300,000 livres from Emmanuel-Philibert of Savoy, two million livres from Charles III of Lorraine, and one million florins from Cardinal de Guise.
Many Catholics believed that the French government had sold out to the Huguenots, and the Catholic League formed in Picardy and spread throughout France. Catholics led by friars and Jesuits supported Henri de Guise.
During the French civil wars many military memoirs were written. In 1576 Jean Bodin (1530-96) published his Six Books of the Republic, arguing that all power comes from God and that kings are responsible to God. Yet the state needs a senate or council to advise the monarch and magistrates with jurisdiction to mediate between the sovereign and his subjects. He believed the king should have the power to prevent religious zealots from disrupting the government by forcing them to obey the law, but the source of the royal power must not be religious.
Many Protestant pamphlets also appeared. The most revolutionary treatise was the Discours politiques des diverses puissances establies de Dieu au monde which advocated that a tyrant must be resisted and killed. The dialog has a woman contending that a king and his laws should not be obeyed if they are unjust and that no law is just which forces people to be impious. Many pamphlets, treatises, and excerpts were collected and published in three volumes by Pastor Simon Goulart of Geneva in 1576 as Mémoires de l’estat de France sous Charles IX. His three main purposes were: first, to chronicle the massacres of St. Bartholmew’s Day; second, to persuade moderate Catholics as well as Protestants that they were being oppressed by a conspiracy which included Pope Gregory XIII, Felipe II, and the French monarchy; and third, to challenge absolute monarchies which had become tyrannical and replace them with governments that protected the rights of the people. The most popular treatise was Le reveille-matin des François et de leurs voisins (“Call to awakening for Frenchmen and their neighbors”) which had been first published at Basel in early 1573. Bernhard Jobin printed several editions of the Reveille-matin in German. In 1576 Innocent Gentillet wrote Anti-Machiavel, arguing that Machiavelli’s immoral influence was ruining the French monarchy, and he warned against Italians.
In September 1574, August 1578, in 1582, and again in 1585 Henri III made changes in his court that alienated many nobles. From February 1576 to September 1579 he encouraged philosophy and attended the meetings of the French Academy with the poets Ronsard, Philippe Desportes, Amydus Jamyn, Pontus de Tyard, and Jacques Davy du Perron; intelligent and well educated women were also included. Henri III summoned the Estates-General, and on December 2, 1576 at Blois he ordered armed leagues organized throughout his kingdom. Catholics who refused to join would be considered enemies. Four days later he promised to end abuses and to restore order, and his chancellor appealed for funds so that they could keep the peace and make the reforms work. The third estate with 187 delegates elected the lawyer Le Tourneur; 110 clergy selected Pierre d’Espinac, Archbishop of Lyon; and 86 nobles named the Baron de Sennecy. The first two supported the Guises. On December 19 the nobles decided to advocate religious unity with laws against Protestant pastors and their supporters. Three days later the clergy voted unanimously to suppress Protestants; the third estate was divided but went along with suppressing Protestant worship.
The Protestants were fighting in Provence and Guyenne, and Henri III persuaded the Estates to send diplomats to Condé, Navarre, and Damville, inviting them to Blois. They each declined, and the Duke of Montpensier, after hearing Damville, returned and pleaded for peace with religious toleration. The Estates refused to fund the King’s program, though the clergy offered him 450,000 livres. Facing another civil war, the King’s Council reconsidered religious unity on March 2, 1577, and Catherine persuaded her son Henri they needed peace. He hoped to keep the war brief and wrote Marshall Damville on March 6, offering him the marquisate of Saluzzo. Catherine convinced his wife Antoinette de La Marck, and Damville left the Huguenots to support the King.
Henri III could only pay his troops for a month; but his brother François of Alençon, now Duke of Anjou, besieged La Charité on April 25, and it surrendered a week later and was sacked. Anjou also punished Issoire in Auvergne after it capitulated on June 12. The royal army was reduced to less than 2,000 men. Navarre and Condé captured Brouage for the Huguenots and got aid from England. On August 6 Henri III told Montpensier to make peace. The Peace of Bergerac signed on September 14 was confirmed three days later by the Edict of Poitiers. Protestant worship was restricted; half the bipartisan courts were abolished, and the others reduced the Huguenot magistrates to a third. They were to keep their eight secure towns but only for six years. All leagues and confraternities that divided the religious were banned. By 1578 Paris had about 1,800 tennis courts to play jeu de paume which began by using the palm of one’s hand, then later gloves before they devised rackets.
In 1578 peasants called Razats in Provence who were Catholics and Protestants revolted against the Catholic Count of Carces and his soldiers, and in April 1579 peasants, angry at nobles who were exempt from taxes, massacred 600 of his noble clients. Peasants in Callas sacked their seigneur’s chateau, and the uprising spread. In February the lawyer Jean La Rouviere had written a petition to the King on behalf of the poor people of Vivarais. During carnival on February 16, 1580 Antoine Guérin was elected “king” and drove the armed peasants out of Romans. The peasant bands led by Jean Serve, who was called Paumier, retreated to Moirans where more than a thousand people were massacred by royal forces on March 26. Guérin then arrested and executed the remaining rebels in Romans, ending the uprising.
Henri III forbade his subjects to support the Dutch revolt, but Alençon de Anjou escaped from the court on February 14, 1578 and raised troops at Angers. On April 27 three mignons loyal to Henri III fought duels against Guise’s followers, and two on each side were killed. The Duke of Anjou arrived at Mons on July 12 to help Willem of Orange; but the Dutch mistrusted the French, and Anjou’s unpaid troops began deserting and pillaging on their way home. Catherine signed a treaty with Henri de Navarre and Damville at Nérac on February 28, 1579. Condé seized La Fere on the border in November, and fighting erupted in the south. Navarre led an assault on Cahors in May 1580. Anjou opposed the civil war so that he could help the Dutch, and in November he negotiated the Peace of Fleix which gave the Huguenots secure towns for another six years except they had to give back Cahors. Anjou seized Cambrai in August 1581, and he formed an alliance with England’s Elizabeth in October, though she declined to marry him. His attempt to take Antwerp failed in January 1583, and he returned to France in October.
Henri III had founded the Order of the Holy Spirit in 1578. In 1583 he established the confraternity of White Penitents at an Augustinian house and in December inaugurated retreats of Hieronymites at Vincennes. He also promoted charitable institutions such as hospitals, pharmacies, schools, and orphanages, and the Congrégation de l’Oratoire de Notre Dame de Vie Saine began in 1584. Orators included the humanist Jacques Amyot, the poet Desportes, the King’s Jesuit confessor Edmond Auger who translated The Imitation of Christ into French, and the controversial Bishop Guillaume Rose who later preached so aggressively against the King for the Catholic League. At the funeral of Ronsard on February 24, 1586 Jacques Davy du Perron gave an impressive oration that influenced generations. This era ended later that year when Henri fled from Paris, and a mob sacked the royal oratory.
Henri III’s brother François, Duke of Anjou and Alençon, suffered from tuberculosis and died on June 10, 1584, leaving the Huguenot Henri de Navarre as crown prince according to Salic law. The King invited him to court to abjure his faith, but Navarre declined. Duke Henri de Guise and his brothers tried to exclude him from the succession in September by founding an association at Nancy. Pope Gregory XIII declined to oppose Henry III, but Spain’s Felipe II sent his agents to sign the treaty of Joinville with the Guise party on December 31. They promised to defend the Catholic faith and eliminate the Protestant faith from France and the Netherlands, and they recognized Navarre’s uncle, the Cardinal de Bourbon, as heir to the throne. Felipe promised to fund the revolt of the League with 600,000 écus. The Duke of Guise took over Chalon while Charles de Lorraine, the Duke of Mayenne, seized Dijon, Macon, and Auxonne. They governed Champagne and Burgundy where they began recruiting. Other Guises organized in Brittany, Normandy, and Picardy. On March 31, 1585 Guise published a manifesto at Péronne explaining why the Cardinal de Bourbon and others were opposing those who would undermine the Catholic faith and the kingdom. They advocated abolishing taxes and subsidizes begun since Charles IX and proposed triennial meetings of the Estates-General.
Henri III hired Swiss mercenaries to help defend Paris and sent his mother Catherine to negotiate with the Catholic League at Epernay on April 9. They signed the treaty of Nemours on July 7 which humiliated Henri III by paying troops raised to fight against him. They also ceded surety towns to Henri de Guise who was made commander of the royal armies. Catherine betrayed her previous policy of national unity with religious freedom, and an edict based on the treaty banned Protestant worship in France and banished all pastors. Protestants were banned from public offices, and the Salic law was set aside in order to prevent Navarre from becoming king. On July 18 Henri reluctantly held a lit de justice to register the edict. Navarre was appalled and met with Condé and Damville near Lavaur, and on August 10 they renewed the alliance of the Protestants with the “united Catholics.” Their manifesto accused the house of Lorraine of trying to supplant the royal house of France. They promised to respect Catholics because they “always believed that consciences should be free.” Navarre had agents in England and Germany but could only offer land for aid.
The reforms in the Ordinance of Blois in 1579 had not been effective, and by 1586 the price of bread had doubled since 1578. The Parisian League was organized in late 1584 by Charles Hotman de La Rocheblond and three clerics. On August 11, 1585 Henri III asked the city of Paris for 200,000 écus for the war the Catholics expected him to fight, and he said he would no longer pay their judges. On September 9 Pope Sixtus V issued a bull to deprive Henri de Navarre and the Prince of Condé of their rights; but Henri III refused to publish it because it violated Salic law. On October 1 Damville’s manifesto declared that their policy was to keep the peace and uphold the laws. The Huguenots were strong in Guyenne and Languedoc, and Constable Lesdiguieres regained towns in Dauphiné. Condé stopped an invasion of Poitou by Mercoeur and then besieged Brouage; but he was defeated by Henri de Joyeuse and fled to Guernsey.
On October 7 Henri III issued an edict that named Huguenots traitors whose property could by confiscated by the King, giving them six months to abjure or leave France. Condé’s followers were already condemned. Navarre reacted on November 30 with an order to confiscate the goods of nobles and clergy who joined “enemies of the state.” In a letter he warned Catherine that Henri III might be deposed. Navarre also wrote to the three estates on January 1, 1586 reminding the clergy to keep the peace, the nobles to protect the nation’s honor, and the third estate to be compassionate. League co-founder Louis Dorléans replied with his Avertissment des catholiques anglais aux François catholiques in which an English Catholic warns the French they might suffer what Elizabeth did to Catholics in England.
The clergy met in October 1586, and Henri III argued that four armies fighting the Huguenots needed two million livres per month. The clerics promised to sell church lands to raise 50,000 écus per year. Henri III sent the Bishop of Paris to Rome to get the Pope’s approval for selling church property. Sixtus V promised 100,000 écus in two installments, but this made the clergy angry. In December 1586 about twenty Norman villages refused to pay taxes. The King gave Henri de Guise command of the royal army in March while Marshal d’Aumont led an army to Auvergne and Languedoc. On June 16 Henri III asked Parlement to register 27 edicts. Queen Elizabeth sent 100,000 crowns to support Navarre; but the money was sent to Johann Casmir who also received a subsidy from King Frederik II of Denmark. He used it to raise an army of 8,000 reiters to help the Huguenots.
Towns in France suffered a major plague in 1586 and 1587. In February 1587 Henri III learned of a plot to abduct him, and he enclosed himself in the Louvre. The Sixteen leaders of the League offered Henry a paid army of 24,000 men under his commanders to defend against German reiters. The Guises were controlling more of France than Henry III, and they refused his suggestion that they make concessions to the Huguenots.
In the “War of the Three Henris” France’s King Henri III left Paris on September 12, 1587 to lead his army to the Loire to prevent the relief army of Protestant foreigners from uniting with the Huguenot forces led by Henri of Navarre. The relief army with about 20,000 Swiss, 10,000 German reiters, and 2,500 French under Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, the Duke of Bouillon, invaded France and marched south toward the farms of Beauce and Poitou. Henri III sent Admiral Anne de Joyeuse with a force that confronted Navarre on October 18 at the Dronne River. In the battle of Coutras two days later the more experienced Protestants lost only about 500 men compared to some 2,500 Catholic casualties, and Joyeuse was killed by a pistol. The reiters moved on their own and were defeated by a force led by Duke Henri of Guise at Vimory on October 26 and at Aumeau on November 24. Henri III persuaded the Swiss to go home in exchange for four-months’ pay and supplies and equipment valued at 50,000 écus. On December 8 the Germans also promised Henri III they would leave for cash and the protection of an escort.
King Henri III returned to Paris on December 23; but he angered many Catholic Leaguers when he gave Joyeuse’s offices to his favorite Nogaret de La Valette, the Duke of Epernon, who became wealthy so quickly that they accused him of robbing the kingdom. Several attempts were made to assassinate Epernon in the spring of 1588. In August so many poor people in the countryside were starving that gangs cut and ate half-ripened grain in the fields. The previous summer there had been an uprising against bakers. Also in the spring of 1588 the King’s attempt to regulate guilds provoked a revolt in Troyes where they pillaged the houses of Italian merchants. At night on May 11 Henri III posted troops in the capital. Parisians resented this infringement on their right to self-defense. Crowds erected barricades in the streets, and mobs attacked the royal soldiers.
Henri III secretly left Paris on May 13 and went to Chartres. The next day Parisians asserted their independence by liberating the Bastille, and Henri of Guise appointed Bussy-Leclerc governor. Elections were held by voice votes that favored the League. The Sixteen’s leader La Chapelle-Marreau was elected prévot des marchands and swore his loyalty to Guise and Cardinal de Bourbon as heir to the throne. The League also elected four merchants as échevins. Henri III conceded the League’s demands in the Edict of Union by dismissing Epernon, recognizing Cardinal de Bourbon as heir, making Guises governors, and appointing Henri de Guise lieutenant-general of France. Yet Paris prepared to defend itself against royal attack by purging the militia. On August 12 the Chambre des Comptes demanded the King appoint new ministers and eliminate financial corruption. On September 8 Henri III dismissed his ministers and replaced them with younger men who were not bound to Catherine. Then on December 19 he established a financial tribunal (chamber de justice) of 24 members chosen from one hundred elected by the Estates. On December 23 Henri III’s 45 bodyguards murdered Duke Henri de Guise in the King’s chamber at the chateau of Blois. The next day the Duke’s brother Cardinal de Guise was also killed while several members of their family and many from the Catholic League were imprisoned.
The Guise’s younger brother, Duke Charles of Mayenne, became the leader of the League’s aristocrats, and the Paris assembly appointed as governor their cousin, the Duke d’Aumale. On January 5, 1589 Catherine de’ Medici died. The revolutionary Council of Forty was set up and added to the municipal council. On January 7 they released people from their allegiance to King Henri III and urged them to take up arms. Pope Sixtus V summoned Henri III to Rome and threatened him with excommunication. On January 16 the Parlement of Paris recognized Cardinal de Bourbon as King Charles X even though he was still imprisoned by Henri III; they ruled in his name. The Duke de Mayenne entered Paris with his army on February 12, and the Sixteen appointed him lieutenant-general. He modified the councils, made political decisions, and established his own administration. Radicals in the Catholic League called people to avenge the murders of the Guises as priests urged people to kill Henri III. Jean Boucher was called the “one-eyed king of Paris,” and he advocated tyrannicide and charged Henri III with ten serious crimes.
Henri III pawned the crown jewels to pay for war, and on February 17 he borrowed 1.2 million livres from the Elbene brothers. His bad credit did not allow him to get large loans. So he allied with Henri of Navarre, and they signed a truce on April 26. They combined their armies and marched on Paris to besiege the capital. On August 1, 1589 the Dominican friar Jacques Clément came to the King’s camp, claiming he was a messenger from his friends, and stabbed him in the stomach. A few hours later after recognizing Henri of Navarre as his heir and advising him to become a Catholic, Henri III died.
In the early 1540s George Buchanan wrote the plays Jephthah or the Vow (expanding on the Biblical story in Judges 11:30-40) and John the Baptist. On November 17, 1548 the Parlement of Paris banned the performance of all religious mystery plays. Catholics did not want to encourage people to read the Bible, and Protestants ignored the Catholic saints. The Calvinist Theodore Beza published the play Abraham’s Sacrifice in 1550. Etienne Jodelle satirized superior priests in Eugene in 1552, and his tragedy Cleopatra Captured depicting the last day of her life was performed in 1553. Jacques Grévin wrote a tragedy about Julius Caesar and the comedy Les Esbahis in 1560. Henri III patronized Jean de La Taille who published his play Saul’s Madness in 1572. The next year he translated a play by Ariosto as The Necromancer. La Taille also wrote L’art de la tragédie to explain how a play can influence the audience’s emotions. For comedy Antoine de Baif translated Miles Gloriosus by Plautus as Le Brave in 1567 and adapted Terence’s Eunuchus in 1573. Italian comedies were also popular in the second half of the century, and many were adapted by Pierre Larivey. Robert Garnier wrote a tragicomedy called Bradamante in 1582 and Les Juifives in 1583.
Joachim du Bellay (1522-60) was a notable member of La Pleiade brigade along with Pierre de Ronsard and Jean-Antoine de Baif. He went to Paris with Ronsard in 1547, and with his help in 1549 Du Bellay published Defense and Illustration of the French Language, arguing that French could be as good as Greek and Latin for poetry. Ronsard and Baif were influenced by Greek classics while Du Bellay was a Latinist. In his Olive he wrote love sonnets in the style of Petrarch. He worked in Rome as a secretary to his cousin, Cardinal Jean du Bellay. His 47 sonnets in Antiquités de Rome were translated into English and published by Edmund Spenser in 1591. Du Bellay returned to Paris in 1557 and published his Divers Jeux Rustiques (Various Rustic Games) and 191 sonnets in Regrets.
Pierre de Ronsard was born on September 11, 1524 in Vendomois. His father Louis de Ronsard served François I as maître d’hotel. After the King was captured and exchanged following defeat at Pavia, Louis spent four years with the princes as hostages at the imperial court in Madrid. At age 9 Pierre attended the College de Navarre in Paris, and at 12 he joined his father at the French court in Avignon. When Princess Madeleine of France married James V of Scotland, Pierre Ronsard went with her as a page to Edinburgh in May 1537. She died on July 7, but he returned a year later. He joined the household of Charles d’Orléans and traveled to Flanders and Holland. He accompanied Antoine de Baif at the Diet of Speyer. Ronsard’s father died in 1544, and Pierre returned to Paris to study in the home of Lazare de Baif where he and Antoine were tutored by Jean Dorat, a student of Guillaume Budé.
Ronsard wrote love poetry to various women and published his Odes in 1550. In 1555 he dedicated his Hymns to Marguerite de Valois. Queen Mary Stuart urged him to publish his Complete Works in 1560. Ronsard wrote a patriotic exhortation to the royal troops in 1559, and the next year he published his Exhortation for Peace in which he criticized the use of fire-arms. He warned kings that after death they will be no greater than a peasant.
In 1562 Ronsard published his Discours des Miseres de ce temps and his Continuation of the same. In the latter he began by addressing Queen Catherine de’ Medici that he must recount to future generations the suffering and extreme misfortune in France. He described how the arrogant challenge their master to a battle, not realizing that God wants to save every person. With swords and fire like mad-men they burn houses, plunder, pillage, kill, and dominate by force, no longer obeying kings. He asks if this is reforming churches. Jesus never acted like this and has shown the way. “Armed with patience, we must follow his path, not raise an army and enrich ourselves with spoils.”1 Ronsard in his Discours a G. Des-Autels argued that kings do not need to protect their realms with arms but rather with books and laws that can pacify hearts and soothe mutinous mobs. In the future they must defend their homes with vigorous reasoning and valiant hearts. They must correct a hundred thousand abuses of the Church committed by avaricious priests.
In 1563 Ronsard wrote his Remonstrance to the People of France. The poet is embarrassed and ashamed of Christians with their cruel wars and admits that if he did not have unshakeable faith in God, he would become a pagan like the first men; but he is not willing to exchange the holy Gospel of Jesus Christ. He wrote,
Opinion of itself makes men take up weapons,
and sets brother against brother in battle;
it causes the downfall of religion, it overthrows large towns,
the crowns of Kings and civic government;
and after the people are subjugated to it,
then vice and horror triumph over virtue.2
In 1565 his Elégies came out along with his influential Abrégé de l’art poétique français. Charles IX asked Ronsard to write a national epic; but he wrote only four books of the Franciade by 1572, and it is not considered one of his major works. The last line of the unfinished epic poem is: “Virtue is this world’s only certain value!”3 Ronsard died on December 28, 1585, and the 7th collected edition of his works was published in 1587 with a biography of him by Claude Binet.
Michel de Montaigne was born on February 28, 1533. His father Pierre Eyquem fought for François I in Italy and was made lord and squire of Montaigne. His mother was from a family of Spanish Jews, though she was baptized a Catholic. His father gave Michel a German tutor who spoke only Latin to him for his first six years. Then Michel attended the College of Guienne for seven years before studying law in 1546. His father purchased an office in the Cour des Aides of Périgueux to handle tax cases and the sale of new offices. Pierre was then elected mayor of Bordeaux and gave his counselor position to his son Michel. This new court was unpopular, and in 1557 King Henri II incorporated its officers into the Parlement of Bordeaux. Michel spent his next thirteen years as a counselor in the Chambre des Enquetes. While serving in the municipal court, Etienne de La Boétie became his best friend. La Boétie was an idealist and wrote his Discours sur la servitude volontaire to oppose tyranny by monarchs. Before he died of a plague at Bordeaux in 1563, he gave his unpublished manuscript to Montaigne who did not publish it until 1576 after a pirated edition had appeared. After not getting a position in the Grand’ Chambre in 1569, Michel resigned a year later.
In 1568 his father died, and Michel inherited the Montaigne estate and had promised that he would translate the Latin Book of Creatures, or Natural Theology by the 15th-century Spaniard Raymond Sebond. The purpose of this book was to demonstrate the existence and nature of God, and it was put on the Index of Prohibited Books by 1558, though it was removed in 1564 except for its preface. Montaigne’s translation is considered accurate except that the preface moderated the author’s claims. Years later Montaigne wrote his “Apology for Raymond Sebond” as the only book-length chapter in his Essays.
In 1570 Montaigne began writing what he called in French “Essais,” for a word meaning “attempts” to describe his short pieces of writing that are less thematic and logically organized than discourses. In 1571 he was made a gentleman-in-ordinary to Henri III, and after his death he served Henri de Navarre in the same way. After the Massacre on Saint Bartholmew’s Day in 1572 Montaigne mediated between Henri de Guise and Henri of Navarre. By 1578 Michel was suffering from kidney stones, the disease that had killed his father. After publishing his first two books of Essays in 1580, he traveled to Lorraine, Switzerland, Bavaria, and Italy to use mineral baths. He kept a Travel Journal partly in Italian which was not published until 1774. While he was in Rome, the papal censors condemned him for his defense of the pagan Emperor Julian the Apostate and for his objecting to cruel punishments. Montaigne made minor changes in his Essays but restored them after 1588. At Lucca on September 7, 1581 he learned that he had been elected mayor of Bordeaux. He returned in November and served two terms until July 1585.
On October 23, 1587 Henri de Navarre visited Montaigne after his victory at Coutras; many were surprised when he did not counter-attack after a rebellion. Montaigne went to Paris in 1588 to publish the first edition of his Essays with three books. He also represented Henri de Navarre in negotiations with Henri III and was detained in the Bastille on July 10 but was released that evening because of Catherine de’ Medici’s intercession. He stayed at court and attended the Estates-General at Blois in October. In 1587 the 20-year-old Marie de Gournay had become devoted to Montaigne, and he later adopted her as his daughter. He wrote two letters to Henri de Navarre in 1590 offering to serve him, but his ill health prevented that. He died on September 13, 1592, and Marie edited his additions and corrections into the first complete edition of his Essays in 1595.
Montaigne began his Essays with a note to the reader explaining that his purpose was to portray himself for the convenience of his relatives and friends. His first essay begins,
The commonest way of softening the hearts
of those we have offended,
when, vengeance in hand, they hold us at their mercy,
is by submission to move them to commiseration and pity.
However, audacity and steadfastness—
entirely contrary means—
have sometimes served to produce the same effect.4
Then he gave several examples from European history. He admitted that he is inclined toward “mercy and gentleness.” In his essay “Our feelings reach out beyond us” he cited Plato’s precept, “Do thy job and know thyself” because “He who would do his job would see that his first lesson is to know what he is and what is proper for him.”5
Montaigne wrote about liars, prognostications, how the taste of good and evil depends on our opinions, whether philosophy helps one learn to die, and the power of the imagination. He acknowledged being much influenced by imagination and explained that his art is to escape it, not resist it. He discussed habit and how social customs are difficult to change even with laws. He mocked pedants and considers actions more important than words, calling knowledge a good drug. He had much to say on the education of children and as usual drew from Plutarch. The most valuable art is living well. Because of his experience with La Boétie, Montaigne placed much value on friendship. As a Stoic and an Epicurean he knew the importance of moderation. He warned against judging divine ordinances because unknown things are not subject to ordinary reasoning. What is least known is often most firmly believed. Perceiving the divine and bringing it down to earth is difficult.
In his later years Montaigne enjoyed leisure and solitude, and he wrote, “The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.”6 Socrates advised learning while young, doing good when grown, and withdrawing from civil and military occupations when old. Montaigne warned against “communicating one’s glory” which is difficult even for philosophers. He was wary of trying to rule others “since in ruling ourselves so many difficulties occur.” He found it easier to follow. One’s character shapes one’s fortune. He discussed sumptuary laws and recommended contempt for gold and silk as useless things rather than honoring them. Judgment is often uncertain. He observed the vanity of words. In discussing prayer he noted Plato’s comment that neither gods nor men accept a present from a wicked person.
Book 2 of Montaigne’s Essays begins with “Of the inconsistency of our actions” and then discusses drunkenness. He wrote, “The worst condition of man is when he loses knowledge and control of himself.”7 At least a generation before Descartes, Montaigne believed that “to philosophize is to doubt.” In “Of Conscience” he quoted Ovid that our inmost conscience may be clear or troubled, causing us to feel hope or fear. “Of practice” notes how we must go beyond reasoning and education into action by practicing what we believe. Practicing is what makes skilled artists, musicians, athletes, scientists, writers, business people or anything else. Montaigne also wrote about the affection of fathers. In “Of books” he noted how he loved to read Cicero’s Letters to Atticus. Montaigne read the classics and had nearly a thousand books in his library, giving us relevant history and ancient insights in his topical essays. He tried to explain human cruelty.
Montaigne’s famous motto is “Que sçay-je?” (What do I know?). As he aged, he tended to become more skeptical. He spent few pages of his 140-page “Apology for Raymond Sebond” defending the thesis that we can learn about God by studying nature. He dismissed atheism because it is arrogant, and he even questioned agnosticism by asking how one knows that one will never know. Montaigne was writing amid the terrible civil wars in France between the Catholics and the Huguenots and had this to say about the folly of war:
As for war,
which is the greatest and most pompous of human actions,
I should be glad to know whether we want to
use it as an argument for some preeminence,
or, on the contrary,
as testimony of our imbecility and imperfection;
as indeed the science of undoing and killing one another,
of ruining and destroying our own species,
seems to have little to make it alluring
to the beasts who do not have it.8
Next he took up the topic of death and observed that many fear dying more than death itself. Another quote that Montaigne had inscribed on the ceiling of his library was from Pliny the Elder who wrote, “There is nothing certain but uncertainty, and nothing more miserable and arrogant than man.”9 Then he described how our desires are increased by difficulties. He noted that both want and abundance can pain us because one is not having enough, and the other is having too much. He believed that glory and honor belong to God alone, and in “Of presumption” he described the vainglory which comes from having too high an opinion of our own worth. He regretted losing his memory skills and wondered whether living too long would cause him to forget his own name, as has happened to others. He came to believe that our morals are extremely corrupt and incline toward the worse while many of our laws and customs are barbarous and monstrous. Improving the human condition seems so difficult that he wondered if preventing destruction may require putting “a spoke in the wheel” of progress to stop it.
Montaigne wrote that it is easy to criticize the government, but trying to create a better state from the one ruined usually achieves nothing. He wrote another essay on lies and quoted the ancient poet Pindar’s view that banishing truth is the first stage in the corruption of morals. Montaigne considered dissimulation one of the most notable qualities of his century. He began “Of freedom of conscience” by observing that “good intentions, if they are carried out without moderation, push men to very vicious acts.”10 In this essay he showed how the intelligent Julian was one of the better Roman emperors. Montaigne discussed whether an evil means can lead to a good end. He diagnosed cowardice as the mother of cruelty. In “Of anger” he wrote, “There is no passion that so shakes the clarity of our judgment as anger.”11 He advised never laying a hand on one’s servant as long as one’s anger lasts. Diogenes observed that hiding anger only incorporates it by drawing it inside, and Seneca wrote, “All vices are less weighty in the open, and most pernicious when they hide under an appearance of soundness.”12 Montaigne defended Seneca and Plutarch, two of his favorite authors.
In discussing good women Montaigne noted that a good marriage depends on “how long the association lasts and whether it has been constantly pleasant, loyal, and agreeable.”13 The three men he most admired are Homer, Alexander the Great, and Epaminondas. He found health most precious because life without it becomes painful and oppressive.
At the beginning of Book 3 Montaigne noted that nothing is useless in nature. He wrote, “The way of truth is one and simple; that of private profit and the advantage of one’s personal business is double, uneven, and random.”14 Justice is natural and universal, and it is regulated more nobly than the “special, national justice, constrained to the need of our governments.” Seneca during the Roman Empire observed, “There are crimes committed as a result of decrees of the senate and of popular votes.”15 In “Of Repentance” Montaigne wrote, “God must touch our hearts. Our conscience must reform by itself through the strengthening of reasoning, not through the weakening of our appetites.”16
Montaigne’s views on sex and bodily pleasure are found in his long essay entitled “On some verses of Virgil.” He wrote,
There is nothing in us during this earthly imprisonment
that is purely either corporeal or spiritual,
and that we do wrong to tear apart a living man,
and that it seems somewhat reasonable
that we should behave as favorably
at least toward the use of pleasure as we do toward pain.17
I say that males and females are cast in the same mold;
except for education and custom, the difference is not great.
Plato invites both without discrimination to the fellowship of all
studies, exercises, functions, warlike and peaceful occupations,
in his commonwealth.18
Montaigne began “Of the art of discussion” with the following:
It is a practice of our justice
to condemn some as a warning to others.
To condemn them because they have done wrong
would be stupidity, as Plato says;
for what is done cannot be undone.
But they are condemned
so that they may not do the same wrong again,
or so that others may avoid
the example of their wrongdoing.19
Cicero found that there can be no discussion without contradiction. Socrates welcomed contradiction to his arguments since he knew the advantage would fall on his side. In “Of vanity” Montaigne agreed with Cicero that wealth should not be calculated by your income but rather by your manner of living and your culture. In “Of husbanding your will” he quoted Seneca’s idea that nature supplies what it demands.
Montaigne’s last essay “Of experience” is also long and begins, “There is no desire more natural than the desire for knowledge. We try all the ways that can lead us to it. When reason fails us, we use experience.”20 Montaigne complained about how many laws France had in his time, and he agreed with Tacitus who wrote that they formerly suffered from crimes but now they suffer from laws. Montaigne liked the old Spanish saying, “God defend me from myself.” He agreed with Cicero that young men lose their lives by violence, but old men do so by ripeness. Finally Montaigne comes back once again to the value of self-knowledge.
It is an absolute perfection and virtually divine
to know how to enjoy our being rightfully.
We seek other conditions
because we do not understand the use of our own,
and go outside of ourselves
because we do not know what it is like inside.21
The Catholic Church placed Montaigne’s Essays on the Index in 1676. In the opinion of many, including this author, he is one of our greatest writers.
1. Continuation du Discours des Miseres de ce temps 59-60 by Pierre Ronsard in Selected Poems tr. Malcolm Quainton and Elizabeth Vinestock, p. 226.
2. Remonstrance au peuple de France by Pierre Ronsard in Selected Poems, p. 252.
3. The Franciad (1572) by Pierre de Ronsard tr. Phillip John Usher, p. 236.
4. The Complete Essays of Montaigne tr. Donald M. Frame, 1:1, p. 3.
5. Ibid., 1:3, p. 8-9.
6. Ibid., 1:39, p. 178.
7. Ibid., 2:2, p. 245.
8. Ibid., 2:12, p. 347-348.
9. Ibid., 2:15, p. 463.
10. Ibid., 2:19, p. 506.
11. Ibid., 2:31, p. 540.
12. Ibid., p. 543.
13. Ibid., 2:35, p. 563.
14. Ibid., 3:1, p. 603.
15. Ibid., p. 604.
16. Ibid., 3:2, p. 620.
17. Ibid., 3:5, p. 681.
18. Ibid., p. 685.
19. Ibid., 3:8, p. 703.
20. Ibid., 3:13, p. 815.
21. Ibid., p. 857.