. . . the Edict of Nantes” “remains useless, we have judged that we could not do better, in order wholly to efface the memory of evils that this false religion had caused in our kingdom . . . .
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.
Father la Chaise and Louvois, according to their ecclesiastical and military correspondence, had promised that it should not even cost the drop of blood of which the King spoke. The aged Chancellor le Tellier, already a prey to the malady that was to bring him to his grave, drew up with trembling hand the fatal declaration, which the King signed October 17th.
Louis professed in this preamble to do nothing but continue the pious designs of his grandfather and his father for the reunion of their subjects to the Church. He spoke of the “perpetual and irrevocable” edict of Henry IV as a temporary regulation. “Our cares,” he said, “since the truce that we facilitated for this purpose, have had the effect that we proposed to ourselves, since the better and the greater part of our subjects of the so-called Reformed religion have embraced the Catholic; and inasmuch as by reason of this the execution of the Edict of Nantes” “remains useless, we have judged that we could not do better, in order wholly to efface the memory of evils that this false religion had caused in our kingdom, than entirely to revoke the said Edict of Nantes and all that has been done since in favor of the said religion.”
The order followed to demolish unceasingly all the churches of the said religion situated in the kingdom. It was forbidden to assemble for the exercise of the said religion, in any place, private house or tenement, under penalty of confiscation of body and goods. All ministers of the said religion who would not be converted were enjoined to leave the kingdom in a fortnight, and divers favors were granted to those who should be converted. Private schools for instruction of children in the said religion were interdicted. Children who should be born to those of the said religion should for the future be baptized by the parish curates, under penalty of a fine of five hundred livres, and still more, if there were occasion, to be paid by the parents, and the children should then be brought up in the Catholic religion. A delay of four months was granted to fugitive Reformers to leave the kingdom and recover possession of their property; this delay passed, the property should remain confiscated. It was forbidden anew to Reformers to leave the kingdom, under penalty of the galleys for men, and confiscation of body and goods for women. The declarations against backsliders were confirmed.
A last article, probably obtained by the representations of the Colberts, declared that the Reformers, “till it should please God to enlighten them like others, should be permitted to dwell in the kingdom, in strict loyalty to the King, to continue there their commerce and enjoy their goods, without being molested or hindered under pretext of the said religion.”
The Edict of Revocation was sent in haste to the governors and intendants, without waiting for it to be registered, which took place in the Parliament of Paris, October 22d. The intendants were instructed not to allow the ministers who should abandon the country to dispose of their real estate, or to take with them their children above seven years of age: a monstrous dismemberment of the family wrought by an arbitrary will that recognized neither natural nor civil rights! The King recommended a milder course toward noblemen, merchants, and manufacturers; he did not desire that obstinacy should be shown “in compelling them to be converted immediately without exception” “by any considerable violence.”
The tone of the ministerial instructions changed quickly on the reception of dispatches announcing the effect of the edict in the provinces. This effect teaches us more in regard to the situation of the dragooned people than could the most sinister narratives. The edict which proscribed the Reformed worship, which interdicted the perpetuation of the Protestant religion by tearing from it infants at their birth, was received as a boon by Protestants who remained faithful to their belief. They saw, in the last article of the edict, the end of persecution, and, proud of having weathered the storm, they claimed the tolerance that the King promised them, and the removal of their executioners. The new converts, who, persuaded that the King desired to force all his subjects to profess his religion, had yielded through surprise, fear, want of constancy in suffering, or through a worthier motive, the desire of saving their families from the license of the soldiers, manifested their regret and their remorse, and were no longer willing to go to mass.
All the leaders of the dragonades, the Noailles, the Foucaults, the Basvilles, the Marillacs, complained bitterly of a measure that was useless to them as to the demolition of Protestant churches and the prohibition of worship, and very injurious as to the progress of conversions. They had counted on rooting out the worship by converting all the believers. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes sinned, therefore, in their eyes by excess of moderation! Louvois hastened to reassure them in this respect, and authorized them to act as if the last article of the edict did not exist. “His majesty,” he said, “desires that the extremist rigors of the law should be felt by those who will not make themselves of his religion, and those who shall have the foolish glory of wishing to remain the last must be pushed to the last extremity.” “Let the soldiers,” he said elsewhere, “be allowed to live very licentiously!” (November, 1685).
The King, however, did not mean it thus, and claimed that persecution should be conducted with method and gravity. But men do not stop at pleasure in evil: one abyss draws on another. The way had been opened to brutal and cynical passions, to the spirit of denunciation, to low and mean fanaticism; the infamies with which the subaltern agents polluted themselves recoiled upon the chiefs who did not repress them, and on this proud government that did not blush to add to the odium of persecution the shame of faithlessness! The chiefs of the dragonades judged it necessary to restrain the bad converts by making example of the obstinate; hence arose an inundation of horrors in which we see, as Saint Simon says, “the orthodox imitating against heretics the acts of pagan tyrants against confessors and martyrs.” Everything, in fact, was allowed the soldiers but rape and murder; and even this restriction was not always respected; besides, many of the unfortunate died or were maimed for life in consequence of the treatment to which they had been subjected; and the obscene tortures inflicted on women differed little from the last outrage, but in a perversity more refined.
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