The Huguenots by Geoffrey Treasure

The Huguenots by Geoffrey Treasure

Author:Geoffrey Treasure
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9780300196191
Publisher: Yale University Press


Catholic Reformation

The great age of souls.

ON 14 MAY 1610, halted in his carriage by the congestion in a narrow Parisian street, the king was stabbed to death by François Ravaillac. A poor teacher from Angoulême, after years of rejection and hardship he had become obsessed with the idea that Huguenots planned a massacre and that the king was failing in his duty to protect his Catholic subjects, indeed planning to make war on the Pope. So he seems to offer a classic case of hallucinatory killer. He also witnesses to the effect on a disordered mind of political theories that condoned tyrannicide, and the unceasing clamour of voices insisting on the dangers of heresy to the individual and to the realm.1 All accounts confirm that Henry's subjects were shocked and that grief was fervent and real. There were, however, some Catholics who had never accepted that Henry's conversion was sincere, saw the hand of God in his punishment and looked forward to the reign of a boy who had been born Catholic and who would become fully aware of his duty to destroy heresy. In the meantime they could find assurance in the regency of Marie, reliably devout and patron of the Jesuits, and more astute and determined than she has usually been assumed to have been.2

Conversely, Huguenots had reason to be fearful. Henry's balancing act had not impressed all. The war of ideas continued, with constant assault, in tract and sermon, from the Jesuits, provoked, in fact matched, by the Huguenots’ narrow focus on Rome as the source of persecution and on the Pope as Antichrist. That had long been the depiction, indeed the official line since it had been affirmed by the national synod of 1603. That body had also commissioned from Nicolas Vignier a work on the subject, as well as, from Jean-Paul Perrin, a second book on the Albigensians.3 Huguenots who had tended in the earlier Religious Wars to equate their suffering with those of the early church were now taking a broader view of their history, particularly that of their martyrs, as a phase in Rome's long, continuing repression of ‘the true church’. Into this fitted the history of the Albigensians and Waldensians still much alive in the memory in southern parts where potential rebels could still be found. Meanwhile Huguenots everywhere continued to be reminded of their past by successive editions of the Histoire des martyrs.4 It was essentially a French past of which they could be proud but they could also identify with a longer, international story and with the experience of Wyclif, Hus and Luther. The sense of identity varied between different parts of France, according to their history; and between individuals and communities according to current circumstances. A faint heart, a mind to compromise – of course they were not unusual. There would be defections. But of the body as a whole the story is one of resilience, fortified in each succeeding generation by the double sense of belonging: to their part of the kingdom, and to a true church.


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