Who would henceforth dare to doubt his divine mission and his infallible genius!
Continuing The Edict of Nantes Revoked,
our selection from Histoire de France by Bon Louis Henri Martin published in 1836. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Edict of Nantes Revoked.
Guienne subjected, the army of Béarn was marched, a part into Limousin, Saintonge, and Poitou, a part into Languedoc. Poitou, already “dragooned” in 1681 by the intendant Marillac, had just been so well labored with by Marillac’s successor, Lamoignon de Basville, aided by some troops, that Foucault, sent from Béarn into Poitou, found nothing more to glean. The King even caused Louvois to recommend that they should not undertake to convert all the Reformers at once, lest the rich and powerful families, who had in their hands the commerce of those regions, should avail themselves of the proximity of the sea to take flight (September 8th). Basville, a great administrator, but harshly inflexible, was sent from Poitou into Lower Languedoc, in the first part of September, in order to cooperate there with the Duke de Noailles, governor of the province. The intendant of Lower Languedoc, D’Aguesseau, although he had zealously cooperated in all the restrictive measures of the Reformed worship, had asked for his recall as soon as he had seen that the King was determined on the employment of military force; convinced that this determination would not be less fatal to religion than to the country, he retired, broken-hearted, his spirit troubled for the future.
The conversion of Languedoc seemed a great undertaking. The mass of Protestants, nearly all concentrated in Lower Languedoc, and in the mountainous regions adjoining, was estimated at more than two hundred forty thousand souls; these people, more ardent, more constant than the mobile and skeptical Gascons, did not seem capable of so easily abandoning their belief. The result, however, was the same as elsewhere. Nîmes and Montpellier followed the example of Montauban. The quartering of a hundred soldiers in their houses quickly reduced the notables of Nîmes; in this diocese alone, the principal centre of Protestantism, sixty thousand souls abjured in three days. Several of the leading ministers did the same. From Nîmes the Duc de Noailles led the troops into the mountains. Cévennes and Gevaudan submitted to invasion like the rest, as the armed mission advanced from valley to valley. These cantons were still under the terror of the sanguinary repressions of 1683, and had been disarmed, as far as it was possible, as well as all Lower Languedoc. Noailles, in the earlier part of October, wrote to Louvois that he would answer “upon his head” that, before the end of November, the province would contain no more Huguenots. If we are to believe his letters, prepared for the eyes of the King, everything must have taken place “with all possible wisdom and discipline”; but the Chancellor d’Aguesseau, in the “life” of his father, the intendant, teaches us what we are to think of it. “The manner in which this miracle was wrought,” he says, “the singular facts that were recounted to us day by day, would have sufficed to pierce a heart less religious than that of my father!” Noailles himself, in a confidential letter, announced to Louvois that he would ere long send “some capable men to answer about any matters which he desired to know, and about which he could not write.” There was a half tacit understanding established between the minister, the military chiefs, and the intendants. The King, in their opinion, desired the end without sufficiently desiring the means.
Dauphiny, Limousin, La Rochelle, that holy Zion of the Huguenots, all yielded at the same time. Louis was intoxicated. It had sufficed for him to say a word, to lay his hand upon the hilt of his sword, to make those fierce Huguenots, who had formerly worn out so many armies, and had forced so many kings to capitulate before their rebellions, fall at his feet and the feet of the Church. Who would henceforth dare to doubt his divine mission and his infallible genius!
Not that Louis, nor especially those that surrounded him, precisely believed that terror produced the effects of grace, or that these innumerable conversions were sincere; but they saw in this the extinction of all strong conviction among the heretics, the moral exhaustion of an expiring sect. “The children at least will be Catholics, if the fathers are hypocrites,” wrote Madame de Maintenon. At present it was necessary to complete the work and to prevent dangerous relapses in these subjugated multitudes. It was necessary to put to flight as quickly as possible the “false pastors” who might again lead their old flocks astray, and to make the law conform to the fact, by solemnly revoking the concessions formerly wrung by powerful and armed heresy from the feebleness of the ruling power. Louis had long preserved some scruples about the violation of engagements entered into by his grandfather Henry IV; but his last doubts had been set at rest, several months since, by a “special council of conscience,” composed of two theologians and two jurisconsults, who had decided that he might and should revoke the Edict of Nantes. The names of the men who took upon themselves the consequences of such a decision have remained unknown: doubtless the confessor La Chaise was one of the theologians; who was the other? The Archbishop of Paris, Harlai, was not, perhaps, in sufficient esteem, on account of his habits. The great name of the Bishop of Meaux naturally presents itself to the mind; but neither the correspondence of Bossuet nor the documents relating to his life throw any light on this subject, and we know not whether a direct and material responsibility must be added to the moral responsibility with which the maxims of Bossuet and the spirit of his works burden his memory.
After the “council of conscience,” the council of the King was convened for a definitive deliberation in the earlier part of October. Some of the ministers, apparently the two Colberts, Seignelai, and Croissi, insinuated that it would be better not to be precipitate. The Dauphin, a young prince of twenty-four, who resembled, in his undefined character, his grandfather more than his father, and who was destined to remain always as it were lost in the splendid halo of Louis the Great, attempted an intervention that deserves to rescue his name from oblivion. “He represented, from an anonymous memorial that had been addressed to him the evening before, that it was, perhaps, to be apprehended that the Huguenots might take up arms;” “that in case they did not dare to do this, a great number would leave the kingdom, which would injure commerce and agriculture, and thereby even weaken the state.” The King replied that he had foreseen all and provided for all, that nothing in the world would be more painful to him than to shed a drop of the blood of his subjects, but that he had armies and good generals whom he would employ, in case of necessity, against rebels who desired their own destruction. As to the argument of interest, he judged it little worthy of consideration, compared with the advantages of an undertaking that would restore to religion its splendor, to the state its tranquility, and to authority all its rights. The suppression of the Edict of Nantes was resolved upon without further opposition.
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