Papal Intrigues in France during the Reign of Clovis—of Childeric III—of Pepin—of Charlemagne—of Hugh Capet—of Philip IV.—of Louis XII—-of Francis I.—of Francis II—of Charles IX.—of Henry JTK—of Louis XIII—of Louis XIV.
The subtile poison of Catholicism was instilled into the French government under the reign of Clovis, the Great, who succeeded his father Childeric, King of the Franks, in 481. Aspiring to extend the territory of his kingdom, which was confined within the sea and the Scheldt, he made war upon Syagrius, the Roman governor at Soissons; captured and put him to death; subjugated Paris, and the cities of Belgia Secunda; and to obtain assistance in conquering the Allemanni; espoused Clotilda, neice of Gundebald, King of Burgundy. Clotilda, who had been educated by the Catholic priests, became in their hands an instrument for the conversion of her royal husband. Conceiving that the God and religion of Catholicism were better able to aid him in completing his intended conquests than were the God and religious contrivances of Paganism, Clovis submitted to be baptized by St. Remigius, and anointed with some holy oil which the bishop affirmed had been brought by a dove from heaven. The crimes and devotion of the king, in the cause of the church, were rewarded with numberless miracles and instances of divine interposition. A white hart of singular statue and brilliancy became the conductor of his army through secret passes, a dazzling meteor blazed forth as his forces approached the cathedral at Poitiers, and the walls of Angouleme fell down at the blast of his warlike bugle. Imbibing the orthodoxy of the bishops, he imbibed also their hatred to the heretics. "It grieves me," said he to a company of princes and warriors assembled at Paris, "to see the Arians still possess the fairest portions of Gaul. Let us march against them with the aid of God; and, having vanquished the heretics we will possess and divide their fertile provinces." His savage piety led him to declare that had he been at the trial of Christ he would have prevented his crucifixion. He summoned and dismissed a council of Gaulic bishops; and then deliberately assassinated all the princes belonging to his family. After having removed, by violence or treachery, the princes of the different Frankish tribes, incorporated their government into his own, stained the soil with the blood of its proprietors and defenders, bowed in abject reverence before the clergy, and committed the most fiendish and heartrending atrocities, the pope of Rome, in consideration of his piety and usefulness, bestowed upon him the title of "The most Christian King and Eldest Son of the Church."
While the pope professed to be the humble successor of St. Peter, the fisherman, he was secretly laboring to become the successor of the Cćsars, the masters of the world. With this end in view he had scattered his monks throughout Europe to preach the doctrines of humility, of passive obedience, of reverence for the clergy, and of absolute submission to himself. The support which these doctrines gave to despotism rendered them acceptable to kings, and the conveniency with which they supplied the want of morality made them popular with the multitude. The arts and miracles of the holy brotherhood excited the wonder, and commanded the reverence of the crowd; and their tact and sycophancy enabled them to become the companions of kings, the instructors of princes, the confessors of all classes, and the spies upon the most secret recesses of their thoughts. The avaricious character of their religious principles enabled them to accept without scruple the spoils of plundering expeditions, and to augment the stores of their wealth by artful tricks and pious frauds. The success of their missionary rapacity enabled them to build spacious convents, sufficiently sumptuous for the accommodation of pious kings who wished to abdicate their thrones. The dungeons of these sanctuaries sometimes contained a monarch, an heir to a throne, or some distinguished personage whom usurpation, jealousy, ambition or tyranny had there confined; and sometimes their halls afforded a hospitable asylum for the sick, the indigent, or the refugee from oppression.
The popes having, with their usual skill and prudence, established the various parts of their political machinery in different sections of Europe, and sanctified them in the eyes of princes and people, eagerly watched every opportunity to set them in motion in favor of their cherished design. The Saracens, however, entered Europe, and threatened to subjugate it to the authority of the religion of Mahomet; but the hammer of Charles Martel, Mayor of France, which alone crushed 375,000 of the invaders, checked the career of their triumphant arms. But as the warrior had applied the riches of the church to the necessities of the state and the relief of his soldiers, a synod of Catholic bishops declared that the man who had saved the Catholic church from extinction, was doomed to the flames of hell on account of his sacrilege. The inspired synod, in arriving at this orthodox conclusion was assisted by the reported facts, that a saint while dreaming had seen the soul of the savior of Europe, and of Christianity, burning in hell, and that upon opening his coffin a strong odor of fire and brimstone had been perceived. The pope entertained a better opinion of his son Carloman, whose superstition strikingly resembled the malady of insanity. This Mayor of France, while exercising the regal authority of his office, was induced by his spiritual advisers to resign his dignity; to consecrate the remainder of his life to God by shutting himself up in a convent; and to give all his private possessions and valuables to the church. The design which prompted this intrigue seems to have been, to prepare the way for the usurpation of the crown of the Franks, by Pepin, the Short. The pope well knew Pepin was ambitious of the diadem, and had only been deterred from supplanting Childeric III., the King of France,—who was but a youth—by fear of Carloman. This obstacle being removed by the retirement of the devout warrior, Pepin consulted Pope Zachary about his intentions, who replied: "He only ought to be king who exercised the royal power." Encouraged by this papal sanction of prospective treason and usurpation, he had the office of Mais du Palais abolished, himself proclaimed King of France, and Childeric imprisoned in a monastic dungeon, in which he was obliged to pass the remainder of his life.
The interests of the pope and Pepin, by these artful machinations, became deeply interwoven. The critical state of the Holy See soon developed the sagacity and good policy of the pope. The Lombards entered Italy, conquered the Exarchate, and threatened the reduction of Rome. Oppressed with these misfortunes, the holy father appeared in the camp of Pepin, dressed in mourning and covered with ashes, soliciting the assistance of his arms in the defence of the church, and of the Consulate government of Rome. But Pepin was more ready to speculate on the misfortunes of the pope than to assist him in his distress. The cruelties which stained the usurpers crown made him apprehensive of insecurity. He therefore signified to the supplicant a willingness to comply with his wishes, if he would officially sanction all the acts of usurpation of which he had been guilty, crown his two sons, and anoint them with the holy oil which the dove had brought from heaven. Terms being satisfactorily arranged between the two parties, Pepin drew his sword and reconquered the greater part of Italy.
The tricks, sophistry, and eloquence of the monks having failed to convert the Saxons to the church, the pope was disposed to try the efficacy of the sword. Charlemagne, Pepin's son, having succeeded to the Frankish throne, and papal influence having gained the ascendency in his councils, he was without difficulty tempted to unfurl his banner in the cause of the church. But the Saxons were courageous warriors, full of the love of independence and of liberty; and when the alternative of extinction or Catholicism was presented to their choice, their proud spirit gave a desperate valor to their arms, in the maintenance of their rights of existence and of religious liberty. Against superior numbers, they defended the integrity of their empire for thirty-three years; and had not their chief advised to the contrary, would rather have suffered extermination than to have submitted to a religion baptized in blood, founded upon fraud and treachery, and forced upon their acceptance against their reason and conscience, and by a sword reeking with the blood of their fellow countrymen. The arms of Charlemagne, and the religion and policy of the pope triumphed; but not until the land was depopulated, the country converted into a desert, and the cost of subjugation outbalanced the value of the victory.
The competition between aspiring candidates for the opulent bishopric of Rome had often been productive of turmoil and bloodshed. The favorite and intended successor of Adrian I. having been disappointed by the unexpected election of Leo III., his exasperated adherents attacked the sacred procession on the occasion, assaulted the chosen vicar of Christ, and, as it is alleged, cut out his tongue, dug out his eyes, and left him dead on the ground. But a miracle, it is averred, interposed in his behalf; restored his life, eyes and tongue; and enabled him to escape a repetition of the outrage by gaining the invisible precincts of the Vatican.
After having received this assistance from heaven he invoked the temporal aid of the Duke of Spoleto, and of the friendly interposition of Charlemagne in his favor. By the influence of these secular princes he was enabled to ascend the sacerdotal throne, and to exercise his spiritual authority in banishing his competitors and their adherents.
On a visit of Charlemagne to Rome, after these events, the pope abruptly crowned him with a diadem, invested him with the regalia of the Cćsars, anointed him with the holy oil which the dove had conveyed from Paradise, and pronounced him the pious Cćsar crowned by God. The emperor who, professing to have been astonished at the pope's singular conduct, nevertheless took an oath to preserve the faith and privileges of the church. Agreeably to this oath he entrusted the clergy with temporal and civil jurisdiction, expended more cost and labor in the construction of cathedrals than on useful undertakings, and as the demons of the air had admonished the payment of tithes he enforced their exaction with extreme rigor. The favor and liberal indulgence of the pope enabled the emperor, consistently with his Catholicism to enjoy the possession of nine wives, to divert his capricious fancy with numberless mistresses, to prolong the celibacy of his daughters that it might extend the period of an illicit commerce, and to become the father of numerous illegitimate children, whom, however, in atonement for his indiscretions, he consecrated to the priesthood.
The barbarity and usurpations of which Charlemagne was guilty, in the enlargement of his vast empire, naturally made him suspicious of the loyalty of his subjects; and the frequent outbursts which disturbed the peace of certain sections excited his most painful fears for the stability of his throne. To prevent the disorganization of a power which he had constructed with so much labor, but endangered with so much crime, he imprudently scorned the wisdom of adopting concessionary measures, and had recourse to the artifices of priestcraft. Dividing the empire between two of his sons, he had them crowned and anointed with the celestial oil, in expectation that these superstitious ceremonies would excite in the minds of his subjects such reverence for the imperial dignity as would secure in its favor their devout allegiance. But this arrangement excluding his eldest son—the issue of a divorced wife—from an equal participation with his brothers in the administration of the government, excited him to rebel against the authority of his father. His attempt to obtain by arms the justice denied by parental authority was, in consequence of the loyalty of the papal political machinery, unsuccessful; and the injured son was obliged to expiate the guilt of his unfilial insubordination by serving the church in the capacity of a monk, and passing the remainder of his days in a monastic dungeon.
This conspiracy was not the only result that was produced by the policy of Charlemagne, in substituting superstition in the place of justice in his efforts to conciliate popular dissatisfaction. While it lent a prop to the governmental structure, it furnished an instrument for undermining its foundation. The division of the monarchy gave occasion, after Charlemagne's death, to fraternal disputes and civil conflicts; and as these disorders favored the pope's ambitious desire to succeed to the crown and dominion of the Caesars, they were kept active by his machinery until the empire was disintegrated.
The last survivor of the Carlovingian dynasty was Charles, Duke of Lorraine. The subjects of the realm at that period had become greatly dissatisfied concerning the oppressive privileges which the clergy enjoyed, as well as with the impoverishing exactions which they extorted from their industry. With these popular grievances the temper and disposition of Charles engaged his warmest sympathies. Pope John XVI., elected in 986, perceiving that the heir presumptive to the throne would, when he acceded to power, listen to the complaints and lessen the burdens of his subjects; and acting on the historic motive of the Holy See, in making rulers its tools, and changing dynasties to suit its purposes, induced the Frankish nobility to proclaim Hugh Capet King of France. But before this sycophantic papal favorite could be crowned king, and anointed with the holy oil, he was obliged to swear to preserve the clergy in all the privileges and immunities which they enjoyed. Against this formidable conspiracy Charles found himself powerless; and after making some demonstrations against the usurper, retired to Lyons, which place was capable of withstanding a vigorous siege. With great skill and energy, but without any flattering success, his adversary assailed the strong-built fortifications. The success which valor denied was, however, accorded by treachery. The bishop of the city having entered into secret negotiations with Capet, the gates were thrown open at midnight; and the usurper entering the precincts amid the stillness of the hour captured the royal family, surprised Charles in bed and threw him into prison, from which he was never liberated. The Capitian dynasty, thus founded in fraud, violence and usurpation, and unsupported by a shadow of legal right, stands forth in history as the grand champion of the legitimacy of kings, or their divine right to rule by virtue of their descent, independent of the consent of the governed. The dynasties of empires and the political events of nations are so intimately connected with the domestic affairs of royal families, that in order to control the one, papal intrigue has constantly intermeddled with the other, Robert II., who became king of France in 997, married Bertha, his cousin, a lady of inestimable qualities. The royal pair were a model of connubial loveliness and felicity; but when an heir had completed the perfection of their happiness the pope interfered, and by the exercise of his sacred authority, embittered the remainder of their existence. Robert not having purchased of the church an indulgence for marrying a cousin, Pope Sylvester II. pronounced the conjugal union illegal, and commanded the king to abandon his wife. To be guilty of an offence of such a henious character against the most amiable of women; to act in violation of all his matrimonial vows and obligations; to spurn his lawful wife as a prostitute, and to declare his children bastards, was a complication of iniquity which Robert declared to the pope that he would rather die than commit. But the obdurate and savage-hearted holy father, whom the view of no misfortune could move, in order to reduce the king to obedience proceeded to pronounce a sentence of excommunication against him. This act was designed to call into requisition all the appliances of the pope's machinery in blasting the happiness of two persons, whose worth was unequaled in the kingdom, and perhaps unsurpassed in the records of history. Accordingly the churches were draped in mourning; the pictures of the images of the saints shrouded in black; the bells were tolled night and day; religious worship was suspended in the kingdom; and no funeral ceremony allowed to be performed. The immaculate Bertha was declared polluted; stories were circulated that she had given birth to a monster, which had the head of a savage and the tail of a serpent; the poor, on whom she had been accustomed to bestow charity, now fled at her approach; her domestics broke the costly vases which adorned the palace, and taking the viands from the royal table dashed them into the fire. Consternation seized the populace; and priests, courtiers and people fled alike from the sight of the amiable couple, as if they were destructive monsters. At length, through the repeated requests of Bertha, Robert agreed to a separation, and allowed her to retire to a convent. This act, by which he placed his wife at the mercy of licentious priests, conciliated the vengeance of the sacerdotal monster.
During the reign of Philip II., who became king of France in 1180, the province of Languedoc enjoyed an eminent degree of liberty and prosperity. The charters which the subjects had obtained from their princes secured them in the enjoyment of many important civil rights, fortified by such jealous guards as effectually protected them against the encroachments of executive power. This liberality in their political constitution encouraged liberality in religious inquiry, which consequently led to doubts of the pope's right to temporal power. At the flourishing city of Albi these progressive ideas assumed a definite shape in an organization of the people, which received the appellation of the Albigenses. The pope finding this sectary increasing in numbers and popularity, in spite of the vigorous counteracting efforts of his appliances of bishops, priests and monks, ordered Raymond VI., Count of Toulouse, to compel the Albigenses, by force of arms, to change their religious views. As Raymond of Rogers, Count of Beziers, nephew of Raymond VI., had declared in favor of the reformer, the Count of Toulouse refuse to oblige the pope by taking up arms against the Count of Beziers. On account of this determination, dictated by a high and delicate sense of duty and honor, the pope pronounced sentence of excommunication against him. In addition to this insulting manifesto, he commissioned his legate to raise an army of the cross, for the purpose of exterminating the reformers and their allies. This authorized desperado, through the energetic co-operation of the pope's political machinery, soon collected a numerous army of crusaders; and imposing on them a horrible oath that they would exterminate the Albigenses without pity for the cries or tears of their wives or children, immediately commenced the work of blood and devastation. As this army of murderers approached the city of Carcassonne, an order was given not to leave one stone upon another, and to put to death every man, woman, youth and infant. The butchery was frightful, and mixed with the most fiendish acts. To arrest the horrible work Raymond of Rogers offered to resign his authority. With execrable treachery the legate pretended to be willing to negotiate; but no sooner had he betrayed the Count into his power than he incarcerated him in a dungeon, where he died after experiencing years of suffering. After the removal of Raymond by this base treachery, Carcasonne fell; and thirty thousand men, women and children were butchered in one day. Tired of the terrible carnage, or disgusted at its atrociousness, the chiefs of the army of the cross declared to the legate, that among the crowd they could not distinguish the heretic from the Catholic. "Kill on," replied the holy legate, "God will know those which are his." The murderous army moved on; blood flowed at every step; at Beziers sixty thousand were put to death; nor did the carnage cease until the inhabitants of almost every town in Languedoc, without distinction of age, sex or creed, were weltering in their gore. As an express reward to Simon de Monfort for having surpassed all others in hardihood and cruelty on those days of blood, the pope bestowed upon him the devastated domains as a fief of the church. But the soil sown with the bones of heroes, and enriched with the blood of patriots, was prolific of formidable avengers; who constantly shook the throne, and rendered it a calamity to its blood-stained occupant. His son succeeded him; but not being able to defend it against the uprising of the people, it was incorporated into the French empire; but still the war raged, until 1226, when a peace was concluded with Raymond IV., upon condition of his purchasing absolution at an enormous price, and ceding the greater portion of his domains to France.
In 1285, when Philip IV. ascended the throne of France, the despotism of Rome had perpetually encroached on the rights of the sovereignty of the government, and by an insidious policy subjected it more and more to its influence. Among the privileges which the popes arrogated was the right to arbitrate the controversies which arose between independent sovereignties. A dispute having sprung up between Philip IV., of France, and Edward I., of England, Pope Boniface VIII., wishing to enjoy the advantage of dictating the terms of adjustment, arbitrarily attempted to interfere in the controversy. This officious intermeddling in the affairs of a sovereign state was resisted by Philip with patriotic firmness. The irascible pope, transported with rage at the irreverence and independence of Philip, and at the recollection of his liberal governmental views and measures, interdicted all religious worship in his dominions, and suspended the dispensation of the means of grace. But the policy of Philip, in introducing the "third estates," or deputies of the people, which had been instituted by Charlemagne, but discontinued by Hugh Capet, and in his extending the jurisdiction of parliament over the crowned heads, had fortified him in the affections of his subjects, while the papal establishments, in extracting the life-blood from the industrial classes, had weakened popular attachment to the Holy See. The liberality of the king nullified the virtue of the Vatican thunder; and the generous support which he commanded from the people, and from a faction of the priests, enabled him to resist the intermeddling of the pope with the rights of the crown; nay more, as the tyranny of the holy father had rendered him unpopular in Italy, it placed him at the mercy of a prince whom he had insulted and exasperated, and who was capable of taking revenge. Accordingly, emissaries were sent to Rome who, seizing the holy father while he was defiantly seated in the apostolic chair, dragged him from his despotic throne, and cast him into prison. From this ignominious predicament he was, however, shortly afterwards released; but as his character was black with crime, it was determined to summon a council for his deposition. Depressed with the expectation of certain degradation, chagrined and mortified at the loss of his dignity and the insults to his holiness, and having refused all sustenance in confinement for fear of being poisoned, his constitution broke down, and he died in a paroxysm of rage and fear before arrangements could be completed for his trial. According to Catholic authority, "he entered like a fox, reigned like a tiger, and died like a dog." His condition after his death may be variously conjectured by theologians according to their different creeds; but Dante, who was a Catholic, places him in hell between Pope Nicholas III. and Pope Clement V.
During the reign of Louis XII., who became King of France in 1498, the duplicity and treachery which has in general characterized the history of the papal intrigues obtained an illustration in the conduct of the popes, which would have disgraced the chiefs of barbaric nations. Louis, upon receiving the royal diadem, pardoned the wrongs which had been done to him while he was duke, relieved the industry of his subjects by reducing the burden of their taxation, elevated the literary standard of the nation by the introduction of scientific collections, and displayed a nobleness of disposition, and a capacity for the exercise of the governmental functions prophetic of the highest degree of national prosperity and greatness. Pope Julius II. before his election, had professed the warmest friendship for Louis, and secured his influence in gaining the sacerdotal crown. Having succeeded in this strategic measure, his ambition led him to grasp at another object which he conceived Louis's friendship might be made accessory in realizing. That object was the obliteration of the Venitian republic. He accordingly formed a holy league, called the "League of Cambray," with France, Spain and Germany, for the accomplishment of his object. Faithful to his obligations, Louis fought with distinguished bravery in the pope's cause. His heroism won encomiums from all but from the holy father, who was too jealous not to hate superiority, too selfish for sincere friendship, and too sagacious not to perceive that in the further developments of his aggressive designs he was bound to encounter in the heroism and honor of Louis a powerful antagonist. The formidable valor of the Venitian republicans in the defence of their government, the mutual distrust among the allies, which they managed to excite, and the conflicting interpretations of the terms of the compact eventually dissolved the holy league. But the finesse of the pope, and the adroitness with which he engineered his machinery, gave him the ability to conciliate his difficulties with the republicans, and of inducing that republic to unite with him in a league with Spain, England and Switzerland, against France. Germany and France then called a council at Pisa, for reformation in the head and body of the church; at the bar of which they summoned the pope, to explain his conduct.
But scorning the mandate of the synod, he convened a council at the Lateran; and causing a decree to be passed declaring Louis to have forfeited his crown, excommunicated him, and interdicted the celebration of religious worship in his kingdom. Louis was now assaulted by the English at Guingate, by the Spanish at Navarre, by the Swiss at Dijon, while his kingdom was internally convulsed by treacherous priests, crafty spies, false friends, and unpatriotic Catholics. Unable to contend against these formidable antagonists, he had to surrendered all his possessions beyond the Alps and the Pyrenees.
Pope Leo X., who succeeded Julius II., governed by motives of nepotism and ambition, concocted a scheme for obtaining for his family the kingdom of Naples and the duchies of Ferrara and Urbino. At the same time Louis entertained a design of reconquering Milan, which he inherited from his grandmother, Valentina Visconti. The success of these schemes depended on the mutual friendship of the projectors. The pope, in order to secure the confidence of Louis, entered into a secret alliance with him, and pretended to favor all his plans. But while he was flattering his hopes, he was preparing to ruin his cause. To weaken his resources he secretly sent Bambo, his legate, to Venice to detach its alliance from France; and though this treacherous mission was unsuccessful, yet when the French appeared on the confines of Italy, he increased his power by the purchase of Modena, and finally reduced Louis to a formal submission.
In 1515 Francis I, ascended the throne, and immediately commenced preparations for the re-conquest of Milan. Pope Leo X., to defeat this enterprise formed an alliance with Milan, Florence, Artois, Germany and Switzerland. A bloody battle ensued in which tigers and giants seemed to struggle with each other, and which was protracted without intermission for two days and nights. France recovered Milan; the pope was reduced to the last extremity; yet the prudence or superstition of Francis concluded a concordat with him, upon such liberal terms as excited the dissatisfaction of France, and the surprise of the world.
After this signal and generous triumph the belligerent powers became reconciled. This event was hailed by the friends of humanity with united acclamations. But the Holy See, whose policy has ever been to foster wars and controversies between governments, that it might improve the consequent confusion and disorder in aggrandizing its power, received the news of pacification with chagrin and disappointment.
But Milan, which had cost France so much to win, was soon lost by the conquest of Charles V., Emperor of Germany and King of Spain. This prince having formed a league with Pope Leo X. against Francis I.,—which league was afterwards joined by Henry VIII., of England—active hostilities were soon commenced. After a war of four disastrous years, the emperor captured Francis, obliged him to relinquish his claims to Naples, Milan, Genoa, Asti, Flanders and Artois; to dismember his kingdom by surrendering Burgundy; and to ransom himself by the payment of 2,000,000 crowns. The popularity and victorious march of the German emperor now alarmed the jealous fears of the holy father, Pope Clement VII., who, apprehending in them his own subjugation, united in an alliance with. Francis I:, the former antagonist of the Roman See, and with all the Italian powers, to arrest the dangerous triumphs of his new rival. The allies succeeded in humbling the pride of Charles; but in the midst of their victories a plague, more fearful than their foes, broke out in the French army, and thinned its ranks with fearful mortality. This circumstance led to the peace of Cambray. But the ambition of Francis, and his indomitable thirst for the reconquest of Milan, soon led him to violate the terms of this covenant. Confederating with Solyman II., Sultan of the Ottoman empire, he drove Charles before his forces. The interest of the Holy See being threatened by the successes of the allied army, and perhaps in the event of the triumph of Charles not perfectly secure, Pope Paul III. interposed his friendly mediation, and induced the belligerents to conclude a truce of ten years.
In 1559 Francis II., son of Francis I., succeeded to the crown of France. Amid the flattering successes of the papal intrigues, the rapid progress of Protestantism in Europe, and the fearless boldness of its advocates, occasioned great uneasiness to the Holy See. Scorning the mild but able services of reason and conciliation, it counselled the most sanguinary measures. The records of the times are consequently filled with accounts of disorders, assassinations, massacres, and the most deplorable conflicts. The French nation was divided into two great factions; the one in favor of Catholicism, the other in favor of Protestantism. By means of the papal machinery of bishops, abbots, priests, monks and spies, the Catholics were made to believe that the religious disorders which had convulsed the empire were but a prelude to an intended extermination of all Romanists. To narrow-minded bigots, who absurdly believed that their church afforded the only possible method of escaping the pangs of purgatory, and of obtaining eternal happiness, all the zeal which their hopes and fears of eternity could inspire was awakened in the defence of their religion. While the Protestants who, on the other hand, believed that Catholicism was idolatry, subversive of Christianity, demoralizing in its tendency, and destructive of the rights of conscience, reason and religious liberty, became equally heated in the defence of their faith. Both factions had been educated in intolerent principles; in the belief that error of opinion was perilous to the soul; that it rendered a person a proper object of aversion and denunciation; and, that a difference of opinion was a sufficient justification of hatred and persecution. Both factions being educated in the principles of bigotry and intolerance, nursed amid convulsions and barbarity, embittered against each other by mutual provocations and injury, were incapable of pacification by just and reasonable concession. The Catholics, having the power, were enabled to inflict on the Protestants the deeper injuries; and, to the credit of the Protestants it will ever be remembered, that they sought not to exterminate their foes, but to obtain equal rights with them.
The Cardinal of Lorraine, who had supervision of the clergy, and Henry, Duke of Guise, the uncle of the king, who directed the military affairs, were both uncompromising in their hostility to the Protestants. Antony of Bourbon, King of Navarre, and his brother Louis, Prince of Condé, being excluded from the governmental administration, united with the Calvinists for the overthrow of the regime, under pretext of religious zeal. Catherine de Medici, mother of the king, and niece of Pope Clement VII., jealous of a power in which she could not participate, favored the designs of Louis, and employed her art in stimulating the opposition of the reformers to the administration of the Duke of Guise. Under these circumstances a conspiracy against the duke was formed at Amboise, which led to a murderous onslaught, and inaugurated civil war. Louis was captured and condemned to death.
In the midst of the distraction of conflicting parties Francis I. died, and Charles IX., in 1560, succeeded to the throne at the age of ten years. Catherine de Medici, his mother, with the acquiesence of parliament, administered the affairs of government. Although a bigoted Catholic, yet having no principle but the love of sway, she was ready to support any faction or creed that administered to her power, or removed an obstacle to her ambition. Without profound views of policy, she was incapable of either originating a great national object, or of supporting it by adequate measures. So indomitable was her passion for dominion, that it as much obdurated her maternal feelings as it disqualified her for a judicious regent. She even studied to incapacitate her sons for the exercise of the governmental functions, and to divert their attention from the state of national affairs. With this end in view she involved them in the grossest dissipation, and strove to keep them in a perpetual whirl of voluptuous intoxication. Perfect in the art of dissimulation, she cajoled Catholics and Protestants. Anxious to obtain the support of all parties, she alternately favored the one and the other. To embarrass the Duke of Guise she threw everything into confusion; but to conciliate the Protestants she had to redeem her pledges; and in spite of the opposition of the court, to issue an act of toleration in their favor.
The lines of party became now distinctly drawn. The Protestant faction, headed by the Prince of Condé, and Coligny, admiral of France, was assisted by the English; and the Catholic faction, headed by Francis, Duke of Guise, was assisted by Spain. At a season of intense public excitement the Duke of Guise, with a band of adherents, was passing a barn in which some Calvinists were singing psalms. Irritating taunts were mutually exchanged between the two parties. This exasperating conduct brought on a collision, in which sixty Calvinists were killed, the flames of civil war ignited, and the empire divided and distracted by the hostile conflicts of the two religious parties. The duke, at the head of his forces, pursued the Protestants with pitiless revenge, and the Protestants retaliated his cruelties with fearful retribution. Desperate conflicts perpetually took place, and the land was drenched with blood. The bigotry of both factions stained their cause with deplorable excesses. At the battle of Dreux the belligerents came to a decisive engagement. The Protestants were defeated, and Condé captured. The Duke of Guise designing to crush Protestantism by striking a blow at Orleans, its centre, commenced active preparations for the enterprise; but while he was engaged in them he was shot by Poltrot de Mercy, a Huguenot nobleman. Advising peace in his last moments, terms of conciliation were accordingly offered the Protestants, which being accepted, tranquillity was restored to the empire.
The arts of Catherine, the intolerance of Catholicism, and the suspicion and fervor of Protestantism, soon convulsed the nation again with the disorders of civil war. Aspiring to rule with more absolute power than she had hitherto been able, Catherine conceived the idea of having the king, whom she held helplessly under her control, declared to be of competent age for the exercise of the royal functions. This accomplished, she made a tour through the empire in company with him. At Bayonne the young king had an interview with his sister, wife of Philip II., King of Spain. The suspicions of the Calvinists were immediately excited; they precipitately armed themselves for defence, and formed a conspiracy to assassinate the king. Civil war consequently broke out. A severe and bloody engagement took place at St. Dennis. The losses were heavy on both sides; but Montmorency, a prominent Catholic leader being killed, another treaty of peace was concluded. But the artifice and dissimulation of Catherine only made treaties which contained the elements of future wars. They satisfied neither the Catholics nor the Protestants; and were evaded by both. Contrary to the stipulations of the treaty of St. Dennis, the Calvinists still continued to hold places which they had contracted to surrender, and to continue correspondence with England and Holland, which they had agreed to break off. The inflammable material of religious bigotry, together with these circumstances, provoked another intestine war. The Duke of Anjou, afterwards Henry III., commanded the Catholic faction; and Condé and Admiral Coligny headed the Protestant faction. At the battle of Jarnac, Condé was captured and shot; and at the battle of Montcontour Coligny was defeated. Amid these discomfitures of the Protestants a peace was offered them on terms of such extraordinary generosity by the Catholics, that they were unconditionally accepted.
Henry of Navarre, Condé's son, subsequently Henry IV., on hearing of his father's death swore to revenge his murder; but the peace which had just been concluded rendered him destitute of means and arms. His mother, Queen Jeanne d'Albret, after the death of her husband, Condé, King of Navarre, had, in order to avoid the intrigues of Catherine, retired from the French court to Bearn, her hereditary possessions. In this retreat she declared herself in favor of the Huguenots. When her son was but eleven years old the Guises, in conjunction with Philip II., King of Spain, devised a plot for depriving the young prince of his hereditary possessions in lower Navarre, and of placing him in the hands of the latter tyrant. The sagacity of Elizabeth, Queen of England, however, detected this conspiracy in time to frustrate it. In consequence of this base machination, Queen Jeanne d'Albert placed her son Henry, when he was but sixteen years old, at the head of a Protestant army, and caused him to take an oath to shed the last drop of his blood in the defence of his kingdom and religion.
Henry Guise, son of Francis Guise, Duke of Lorraine, became the commander of the royal army. The bloody Catherine, in collusion with this ambitious and bigoted duke, concocted a plot for the total extermination of all the Protestants in the French empire. The peace which had been concluded with the Protestants at Jarnac and Montcontour was but the preliminary measure in the accomplishment of this horrible project. The terms it accorded were so surprisingly advantageous to the conquered forces, that the more cautious Protestants regarded it with suspicion. The next device in this insidious plot, was a specious pretence of uniting all parties in interest and harmony by the bonds of two marriages, the one between the king, Charles IX., and Elizabeth, daughter of Maximilian II., Emperor of Germany, and the other between Margaret, the queen's sister, and Henry, Prince of Navarre. All the distinguished Protestant leaders were earnestly invited to be present at the celebration of the royal nuptials. Fearing treachery many of them, however, declined the honor. Amid the magnificence and festivity of the occasion Queen Jeanne d'Albert was poisoned. Shortly after Coligny was wounded by a shot from a window. The king swore to punish the villain who had attempted the assassination. His mother assured him Coligny had the same designs on his life. Bursting into rage he exclaimed: "Kill every Protestant—kill Coligny." Catherine then held her council of blood. All having been concerted for a general massacre, on Bartholomew's eve, at midnight of the day fixed, the church bells announced the signal for commencing the horrible butchery. Wild shrieks and murderous clamor immediately shook the air. "Spare none; it is God's, it is Catherine's it is the kings order." shouted the Catholic leaders as they led on their gangs of remorseless bigots. In the red glare of terrifying flambeaux, were seen daggers dripping with the blood of men, women, and even babes. The people without means of defence or flight saw they were doomed to perish without mercy or revenge. Coligny awakened from his sleep by the terrific yells and screams that filled the air, arose from his bed and opened the door of his mansion. Meeting the assassins, he courteously invited them into his chamber. "Companions," said he, "finish your work. Take the blood sixty years of war have respected: Coligny will forgive you. My life is of little consequence, and though I would rather lose it in defending you, yet take it." Touched at these words, and his calm, majestic countenance, the ruffians fell upon their knees; one of them threw away his dagger; another embraced the knees of his intended victim, and the courage of all dissolved into tears. Besme, the commander of the gang, who had waited in the court for Coligny's head, becoming impatient entered the chamber, and seeing the assassins overcome by humanity denounced them as traitors to Catherine. At this denunciation one of them averting his head, drew his sword and plunged it into Coligny's breast. For thirty days in every part of the kingdom the most atrocious acts were perpetrated. Doors were burst open; men and women assassinated night and day; babes torn from their mother's arms were murdered before their parents' eyes. Over this dreadful calamity the friends and foes of France might have together wept; but Rome was illuminated, cannons were fired in its honor, churches were shaken with the peals of thanksgiving, priests formed themselves into holy processions to testify their joy, jubilees were proclaimed, and the pope, jealous of the authorship of atrocities that shook the world with horror, had medals prepared to immortalize his right to the honor of having originated the most horrible massacre on record. When we consider the atrociousness of the massacre, and the exultations of the holy father, we are at a loss which most to pity, the victims of the catastrophe, or the fiend that rejoiced over it. After the incidents of that day Henry of Navarre and the Prince of Condé had to profess Catholicism in order to save their lives. This device defeating the designs of Catherine on the life of Henry, she next added to the ignominy of her character by attempting to dissolve the marriage which, through her influence, had just been consummated. Foiled in this scheme, she then sought to poison the happiness of the royal pair. To hold Henry spell-bound in the power of her fascinations, she spread around him all the voluptuous allurements of sensual pleasure. But the native magnanimity of his spirit broke the thralls of her enchantment; and secretly escaping from a corrupt and besotted court, he recanted his Catholicism, and placed himself at the head of the Protestant League as King of Navarre; a title which he had rightfully assumed since his mother's death. The revenge which was now rife on the lips of thousands, for slaughtered relatives and citizens, and the portentous disasters which overhung the empire, convinced Catherine of her error; and Charles, tracing the calamities of the nation to her ambition, resolved to atone for his past neglect by governing the empire himself: but death too soon deprived him of an opportunity to make this atonement.
On the death of Charles IX., Henry III., his brother, succeeded to the throne. But being then King of Poland, Catherine, his mother, was permitted to govern in his name until he should be able to assume the administration himself. Catherine immediately concluded a peace with the Huguenots, which granted them religious liberty But this liberal concession exasperated the Catholics, and afforded Henry Guise a pretext for perfecting a league which had been projected by Cardinal Lorraine. The professed object of this league was to defend Catholicism, and extirpate religious liberty; but it had also a secret object, which was to usurp the throne. After Henry III. had returned to his domains, his profligate disposition, and his want of decision and firmness made him the dupe of his mother's intrigues. By her machinations he was kept imprisoned in the royal palace, occupied with frivolous intrigues and stupefied with debauch, even while dissension was shaking his government, and treason plotting his downfall. Besides the unpopularity which his neglect of national affairs engendered in the minds of his subjects, his marriage with the Countess of Lorraine, giving the Guises increased influence in the government, added suspicion to the popular discontent.
By the support of the papal machinery, Henry Guise became sufficiently powerful to dictate laws to the king. He obliged him to annul all provisions in favor of the reformers, and carried his insolence so far that the king forbid him to approach the capitol. It was now discovered that the duke intended to kidnap the king, imprison him in a monastic dungeon, and usurp the imperial authority. Conscious of his power, the duke boldly violated the king's command, that he should not enter Paris. At this defiance the king called on his troops for assistance; but so effectively had the pope's machinery operated, that the people attacked the royal troops, drove them away, and thirty thousand papists sprung to arms in the defence of the duke. Such was the helplessness of the king that he had to fly for safety to Chartres, and to conclude a treaty with his enemy. Upon the assembling of the Estates of Blois, they decided that the duke was too powerful to be brought to trial, but that his open treason would justify the king in having him assassinated. Appearing to be reconciled to him he then partook of the eucharist in company with him; but while he did so, gave secret orders for his assassination. In a few days after this event the duke was stabbed as he entered the royal palace, and Cardinal Lorraine met the same fate in a dungeon. The severe disappointments which these melancholy events occasioned to the hopes of the Papal See, gave rise to a holy league against Henry III., headed by the Duke of Mayenne, brother of the Duke of Guise, which league was supported by all the resources of Rome. Every department of the papal machinery was now set in the most vigorous action. Paris and the principal cities of France were incited to declare against the king. The Sorbonne, the highest Catholic university in the empire, absolved the subjects from their allegiance to him; the pope threatened him with excommunication; and his assassination was publicly preached in the churches; But by a fortunate coalition with Henry of Navarre the king defeated the pope and his league, re-captured Paris, and established again his authority in the empire. Yet the Catholic church, which never forgives an offence, and scruples at no means to remove an obstacle, found a Dominican monk who executed her vengeance by the assassination of the king.
Henry III. left no male heirs; consequently Henry of Navarre became the legitimate inheritor of the throne of France. The papal machinery which in vain had been called into requisition to destroy him, was now set in vigorous operation to prevent him from establishing a legal right to his heritage. The Duke of Mayenne, at the head of the Catholics, declared against him; Philip II., king of Spain, claimed the crown; and several unsuccessful attempts were made to assassinate him. But the valor and sagacity of Henry defeated his enemies, and triumphed over all difficulties. The papal machinery was, however, still formidable; and Henry IV., convinced that the blood of his subjects must continue to flow as long as they were governed by a Protestant sovereign, decided to profess the Catholic faith, which of all others he must have sincerely detested. By this politic act of humiliation he acquired for his subjects political security and entire religious liberty, and obtained from the pope a concession to his right to the crown. But in sacrificing principle to expediency he did not conciliate papal malice, nor secure tranquillity to his reign. Conspiracies were rife, female intrigue abounded, bigotry and intolerance gave birth to much violence and disorder, and finally; the long-premeditated assassination of Henry IV. was accomplished by Ravaillac, who stabbed him to the heart with a double-edged sword, the papal symbol of spiritual and temporal power.
The papal machinery during the past reigns had demoralized the nation. The national policy was characterized by a system of falsehood, corruption and intrigue. Princes of the blood were excluded from the throne, on account of their liberal proclivities. Innocent men, women and children were imprisoned, murdered and burnt. Female intrigue, the bane of national peace and virtue predominated in political circles; and public robbery and extravagance laid the foundation of a debt which ultimately broke down the government.
Under Louis XIII., who became King of France in 1610, the papal machinery was directed by Cardinal Richelieu, who governed the king; by M. Tellier, his confessor, and Madame Maitenon, his prostitute, who governed the cabinet. Richelieu gave boldness and craft to the national policy, and consummated the governmental absoluteness which had been initiated by Louis XI. Division of power being more friendly to justice and republicanism than consolidation, the papal political machinery has always vigorously, as well as universally, labored to defeat the first and encourage the second. But what is unfriendly to republicanism is destructive to national prosperity; and consequently the papal intrigues and appliances in favor of absoluteness in France destroyed the greatness of the nation.
The political security and religious liberty which Henry IV. had secured to the subjects were annulled by the repeal of the Edict of Nantes, and Catholic intolerance again domineered over the lives and fortunes of Protestants. Kings had been taught by their teachers and spiritual guides that "to dissemble was to reign," and that "to become a great man it was necessary to become a great villain." The consequence was national weakness and demoralization. Mock treaties were made to conceal real ones, and kings, to disguise their intentions, acted differently from what they thought. A succession of weak, bigoted, tyrannical, and criminal rulers had oppressed the industry of the country, and drove thousands of subjects to seek a livelihood under less oppressive government. Despotic ministers, rapacious favorites, intriguing prostitutes, foolish enterprises absurd laws, professed rakes in the garb of priests and cardinals, prodigality, corruption and tyranny withering the vitality of the nation, and accumulating on the heads of the people an insupportable load of taxation and misery, were the deplorable results of the operation of the pope and his political engine. But while such were the calamities which Catholicism was maturing, the eloquent writings of Voltaire, of Rousseau, and other liberal authors were awakening a spirit of inquiry in the public mind, and preparing the way for political regeneration. The smouldering fires of freedom which burned in the breast of the nation, rendered the conflict between monarchy and republicanism inevitable. It finally took place; the majesty of the people was vindicated; and, a national assembly convened consisting of three hundred and seventeen clergy men, three hundred and seventeen nobles, and six hundred and seventeen deputies of the people; all of whom took an oath never to separate until they had given France a free constitution, From the ruins of the monarchy a republic arose in majesty and power. The feudal estates were abolished without indemnification. The invidious game laws, the feudal tribunals, the church tithes, the ecclesiastical revenues, the hereditary descent of officers, the exemption of church dignities from military taxation, the laws excluding Protestants from offices of trust or profit, and denying them the right of inheriting, acquiring or bequeathing property, and all that the toil of the papal machinery had accumulated on the heads of the people, were swept away by the spirit of liberal government. To obtain this freedom the nation had poured out its blood. But the nation had been educated in Catholic bigotry and intolerance; and now it visited on the heads of its tutors the lessons which they had taught. The people swept away the despotism of the throne, but left it remaining in the national councils; and, while they made a wreck of oppression, they preserved its elements to be reconstructed in another form. It is not, then, surprising, that hard as their freedom was won, it was so easily betrayed by the genius of Napoleon Bonaparte, once its advocate, but always its foe; who hated republicanism as much as he hated papacy, for they both were in conflict with his designs; and who loved nothing but himself and supreme dominion. But the boon he sought his ambition defeated. While he stood at the height of his fortune, with the conquest of Europe in his grasp, the mask fell from his brow. The confidence of freemen forsook him; and his glory, which else might have outrivalled the splendor of the greatest, flickered, grew dim, and soon vanished away; leaving the world as much astonished at the obscurity it left as it had been at the effulgence it had emitted.
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