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The Signs of the Times, vol. 13

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    June 16, 1887

    “The Edict of Nantes” The Signs of the Times 13, 23, pp. 359, 360.

    WHEN the massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day was over it was expected by its authors that Protestantism in France was forever a thing of the past. In many of the cities and villages in the open country there was not a Huguenot left to breathe; but in the mountains the destruction was not so thorough, and before the first anniversary of the massacre came round, the Huguenot cause was almost as strong as it had been before that terrible day. When the anniversary came—August 24, 1573—the Huguenots met and drew up new demands, which they at once presented to the king. They sent delegates who “boldly demanded, in the name of the whole body of Protestants, to be replaced in the position they occupied before St. Bartholomew’s Day, and to have back all the privileges of the pacification of 1570. The king was so taken aback that he did not know what to say. Catherine, pale with anger, burst out with: “What! although the Prince of Condé had been still alive, and in the field with 20,000 horse and 50,000 foot, he would not have dared to ask half of what you now demand.”SITI June 16, 1887, page 359.1

    Charles IX. died May 30, 1574, and his brother, the Duke of Anjou, became king of France, under the title of Henry III. He began his reign by issuing an edict commanding all his subjects to conform to the religion of Rome or leave the kingdom. But the Government had not the power to enforce the decree, and its principal effect was to give the Huguenots full warning that the sword of St. Bartholomew’s Day still hung over their heads. Henry of Navarre now became the great leader of the Huguenots. There also arose what was called the State party, who, although they were Romanists, revolted at the policy of extermination pursued by the court, which was bringing the State nearer and nearer to the brink of ruin. These case their influence on the side of the Huguenots, and thus re-enforced, the Protestants renewed their demands and the court had to grant all that they asked.SITI June 16, 1887, page 359.2

    Besides certain matters of a political nature, it was granted that “the public exercise of the Reformed religion should be authorized throughout the kingdom; that the provincial Parliaments should consist of an equal member of Roman Catholics and Protestants; that all sentences passed against the Huguenots should be annulled; that eight towns should be placed in their hands as a material guarantee; that they should have a right to open schools, and to hold synods; and that the States-General should meet within six months to ratify this agreement. This treaty was signed May 6, 1576. Thus within four years after the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre, the Protestants, whom it was supposed that that massacre had exterminated, had all their former rights conceded to them, and in ampler measure.”SITI June 16, 1887, page 359.3

    At this the extreme Catholics took new alarm and formed “The League,” whose immediate aim was to prevent the execution of the terms of the treaty just signed, and in the end to accomplish the purpose designed by the massacre—the extirpation of the Huguenots. The king after some hesitation, went over to the side of the League, and to make himself secure with that party, swept away the treaty, by revoking all the privileges of the Protestants and once more commanding them to give up their religion or leave the kingdom. War followed, and the Huguenots, under the brilliant leadership of Henry of Navarre, held their own against the armies of the League and the king. It was soon seen, however, that the principal step in the accomplishment of the grand and ultimate purpose of the League was the establishment of the Duke of Guise upon the throne of the kingdom. This at once set the duke and the king at swords’ points, each seeking to entrap and kill the other. The king succeeded and the Duke of Guise was slain. This turned all the Catholics into bitter enemies of the king; the Pope excommunicated him, and he went over to Henry of Navarre and the Huguenots. He was soon afterward assassinated by a monk, Jacques Clement by name. The death of King Henry III. was the extinction of his royal race, and the throne of France fell by right of succession to King Henry of Navarre, the leader of the Huguenots.SITI June 16, 1887, page 359.4

    But, although the throne of right belonged to Henry, all the extreme Catholics, from the Pope downward, were opposed to his occupying it unless he would declare himself of the communion of Rome. At first he nobly answered: “Would it be more agreeable to you to have a godless king? Could you confide in the fait of an atheist? and in the day of battle would it add to your courage to think that you followed the banner of a perjured apostate?” But the Catholics were determined and Henry was not; they hedged him about with difficulties, he thought he saw the throne slipping from under him, and he began to temporize. He tried to be both Romanist and Huguenot at once. He concluded an arrangement with the Catholics in which it was agreed that he should have six months’ instruction in both creeds, and at the end of that time he would make his choice.SITI June 16, 1887, page 359.5

    The period of sic months was drawn out to four years, and Henry’s throne was no more secure than it was at the first. He however had had four years of practice in duplicity. In fact it is extremely doubtful whether he ever had any real godliness. His mother was a Huguenot and a sincere Christian. He had grown up under Huguenot influence, and his sympathies were with them of course, but when the subject came to the test and he had to choose between principle, the genuine spirit of the gospel of truth, was not in him. And so Sunday morning, July 25, 1593, he went to the Church of St. Denis and knocked at the cathedral door. “The Bishop of Bourges, at the head of a train of prelate and priests, met him and demanded to know the errand on which the king had come. Henry made answer, “To be admitted into the Church of Rome.” He was straightway led to the altar, and kneeling on its steps, he swore to live and die in the Romish faith.” He also had to swear that he would endeavor to the utmost of his power, and in good faith, to drive out of his jurisdiction, and from the lands under his sway, all heretics denounced by the church. Of course he never did it; he never intended to do it. His pretended conversion to Rome was nothing in the world but a piece of policy to gain the Catholics. And although the Huguenots suffered many hardships, Henry always secretly favored them and encouraged their organization.SITI June 16, 1887, page 359.6

    The Huguenot council applied to Henry’s government for the redress of their wrongs, and the restoration of Protestant rights and privileges. Four years passed away in these negotiations, disputes, and contentions more or less bitter, which descended in one instance to actual violence, when at last the whole matter came to a happy issue inSITI June 16, 1887, page 360.1


    By this edict those who professed the so-called “Reformed religion” were to enjoy henceforth “full and complete” liberty of conscience, but with restricted liberty of worship. Lord’s high-justiciary, of whom there were 3,500, were allowed to assemble with their families, their tenants, and those whom they chose to invite. Those of lower grade would not worship in assemblies of more than thirty persons. Huguenots were to be freely admitted to all colleges, schools, and hospitals; they might establish and maintain educational and charitable institutions of their own; and their religious books might be published in all places where their worship was authorized. They were made eligible to all public employments on equal terms with Catholics, and on taking office were not bound to take any oaths, or attend ceremonies that would offend their consciences. Special courts were established, which should have jurisdiction in all cases arising between Catholics and Huguenots. Beside the worship of the land owners, named above, the Huguenot worship was legalized in one town or village in each bailage. But at the court of the sovereign, at Paris and within a radius of fifteen miles all round it, and in all military camps, except in the personal quarters of a Protestant general, the Reformed worship was absolutely prohibited. It was also directly prohibited, by special arrangement, in many cities and towns. The Huguenots were enjoined to show outward respect to the Catholic religion; to observe all the Catholic holy days; and to pay tithes to the clergy. Their provincial assemblies were to be at once dissolved, but the king was to license the holding of a representative synod once in three years, with the privilege of addressing the crown on their condition, and petitioning for redress of grievances. They were confirmed in the possession, for eight years, of all the cautionary towns that had been granted in the treaty of 1577; and the expense of the Huguenot garrisons was met by a grant of 80,000 crowns—about 2,000,000 francs of the present day—a year fro the royal treasury.SITI June 16, 1887, page 360.2

    Such was the “full and complete liberty of conscience” granted by the Edict of Nantes. But yet it was a precious boon to the hunted Huguenots. They now had a legal existence. At this time there were in France seven hundred and sixty Huguenot churches, and under the edict they soon began to fill France with flourishing manufactures and a valuable trade. They were excellent farmers; they manufactured silk, velvet, paper, and a great number of other articles. But it was not manufactures and trade alone that they spread over France. Much better than all this was the moral vigor which they instilled into the people, and by which society was renewed. “Honesty, purity, and mental culture supplanted the barren dreams of chivalry and the corruption and indolence of the Catholic rule.” “To be as ‘honest as a Huguenot,’” became a proverb.SITI June 16, 1887, page 360.3

    Under this edict the Huguenots prospered till 1660, when Louis XIV. abolished the representative synods. In 1669 he abolished the special courts. In 1679 the doors of all public employments were closed to Huguenots. Children of seven years were empowered to change their religion against their parents’ will, and “a word, a gesture, or a look,” was sufficient evidence that a child intended to abjure “the religion,” and to facilitate such abjuration a system of purchasing conversions was established. The dragoons were quartered upon the Huguenots, “ruining the well-to-do, maltreating old men, women, and children, striking them with their sticks or the flat of their swords, hauling off Protestants in the churches by the hair of their heads, harnessing laborers to their own plows, and goading them like oxen.” “Those who could fly left France, at the risk of being hanged if the attempt happened to fail.” These persecutions went on for six years, growing worse and worse tillSITI June 16, 1887, page 360.4


    October 15, 1685. The edict of revocation ordered that all chapels that remained standing should be demolished; interdicted all Protestant assemblies or worship; all disobedient ministers were ordered to leave the kingdom within fifteen days; all new-born babies were to be sprinkled by the parish priest; and all Huguenots were forbidden to leave the kingdom, under penalty of sentence to the galleys for men, and confiscation of person and property for women. The superintendent of Rouen declared: “The will of the king is that there be no more than one religion in this kingdom; it is for the glory of God and the well-being of the State.” And two hours were allowed for the Reformers of Rouen in which to make their abjuration and become Catholics. Of course the effect of the revocation was only to let loose the full tide of persecution once more.SITI June 16, 1887, page 360.5

    “A wide scene of horror spread over the flourishing realm. Every Huguenot dwelling was invaded by fierce dragoons, the wealth of the industrious Reformers was snatched from them by the indolent and envious Catholics; the manufactories were deserted; flourishing cities sunk into ruin; and such crimes were perpetrated by the savage soldiers of Louis as can only be paralleled in the various persecutions instigated by the Popes of Rome. Yet the king and his courtiers found only a cruel joy in the sufferings of the people. Even literature the faded product of the corrupt age, celebrated Louis as the destroyer of heresy; and the infamous band of gifted preachers who adorn and disgrace this period of human woe, united in adoring the wisdom of their master, and the piety of the Jesuits. Bossuet, with rare eloquence and singular inhumanity, triumphed in the horrors of persecution; Massillon repeated the praises of the pitiless Louis; Fléchier, the pride of the Romish pulpit, exulted in the dreadful massacres; Bourdaloue was sent to preach in the bleeding and desolate provinces, and obeyed without remonstrance; and the whole Catholic priesthood were implicated in the fearful crimes of that fatal period. The wise, the good, the gentle Huguenots became the prey of the vile, the cruel, and the proud.”SITI June 16, 1887, page 360.6

    “Hundreds of factories were destroyed, many villages were deserted, many large towns half depopulated, and great districts of the richest land in France became once more a wilderness. At Tours, of forty thousand persons employed in the silk manufacture, scarcely four thousand remained, the population of Nantes was reduced one-half; it is estimated that one hundred thousand persons perished in Languedoc alone, one-tenth of them by fire, strangulation, or the rack! Such was the victory of the faith over which Massillon, Bossuet, and Bourdaloue broke forth into loud applause; for which they celebrated the miserable king, with whose vices they were perfectly familiar, as the restorer of the church. ‘Let our acclamations ascend to Heaven,’ said Bossuet, ‘let us greet this new Constantine, this exterminator of the heretics, and say, “King of Heaven, preserve the king of earth.”’ ‘At the first blow dealt by the great Louis,’ cried Massillon over the general massacre, ‘heresy falls, disappears, and bears its malice and its bitterness to foreign lands.’SITI June 16, 1887, page 360.7

    “Rome and the Pope, too, were eloquent in congratulation over the ruin of the working-classes of France. Te Deums were sung; processions moved from shrine to shrine; the Pope addressed a letter to Louis filled with his praises. The whole Romish Church rejoiced in the slaughter of the heretics. Public thanksgivings were offered at Paris; medals were struck to commemorate the fortunate event; a brazen statue was erected to Louis on the Hôtel de Ville, with a brief Latin inscription, ‘To the asserter of the dignity of kings and of the church.’ During the Revolution it was converted into cannon, to be aimed against the throne and the priesthood.SITI June 16, 1887, page 360.8

    “There now occurred in the course of their annals that wonderful spectacle of heroism and devotion, the flight of the Huguenots from France. The pure, the wise, the good, the noble, the wealthy, or the poor, animated by a common resolution to preserve their faith at the cost of all they held dear, resolved to abandon their native land and throw themselves upon the charity of strangers. From every part of France, in mournful processions, in secret, by night, in strange disguises, and in fearful sufferings and dangers, great companies of men, women, children, made their way to the frontiers. No severity could restrain them; no offers of emolument or favors could induce them to accept the Romish creed. Louis and his priestly advisers dispatched the fierce dragoons in pursuit of the fugitives, and filled the galleys and the prisons with their helpless captives. The unparalleled enormities inflicted upon the flying Huguenots can scarcely be described in history.”SITI June 16, 1887, page 360.9