When the great harvest had been sufficiently gathered in the South and West, the reapers were sent elsewhere.
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.
All the diabolic inventions of the highwaymen of the Middle Ages to extort gold from their captives were renewed here and there to secure conversions: the feet of the victims were scorched, they were strappadoed, suspended by the feet; young mothers were tied to the bedposts, while their infants at the breast were writhing with hunger before their eyes. “From torture to abjuration, and from this to communion, there was often not twenty-four hours’ distance, and their executioners were their guides and witnesses. Nearly all the bishops lent themselves to this sudden and impious practice.” Among the Reformed whom nothing could shake, those who encouraged others to resistance by the influence of their character or social position were sent to the Bastille or other state prisons; some were entombed in subterranean dungeons — in those dark pits, stifling or deadly cold, invented by feudal barbarism. The remains of animals in a state of putrefaction were sometimes thrown in after them, to redouble the horror! The hospital of Valence and the tower of Constance at Aigues-Mortes have preserved, in Protestant martyrology, a frightful renown. The women usually showing themselves more steadfast than the men, the most obstinate were shut up in convents; infamous acts took place there; yet they were rare. It must be said to the honor of the sex, often too facile to the suggestions of fanaticism, that the nuns showed much more humanity and true religion than the priests and monks. Astonished to see Huguenot women so different from the idea they had formed of them, they almost became the protectors of victims that had been given them to torment.
The abduction of children put the final seal to the persecution. The Edict of Revocation had only declared that children subsequently born should be brought up in the Catholic religion. An edict of January, 1686, prescribed that children from five to sixteen years of age should be taken from their heretical relatives and put in the hands of Catholic relatives, or, if they had none, of Catholics designated by the judges! The crimes that we have just indicated might, in strictness, be attributed to the passions of subaltern agents; but this mighty outrage against the family and nature must be charged to the Government alone.
With the revocation, the dragonade was extended, two places partially excepted, over all France. When the great harvest had been sufficiently gathered in the South and West, the reapers were sent elsewhere. The battalions of converters marched from province to province till they reached the northern frontier, carrying everywhere the same terror. Metz, where the Protestants were numerous, was particularly the theatre of abominable excesses. Paris and Alsace were alone, to a certain extent, preserved. Louvois did not dare to show such spectacles to the society of Versailles and Paris; the King would not have endured it. The people of Paris demolished the Protestant church of Charenton, an object of their ancient animosity; the ruling power weighed heavily upon the eight or nine thousand Huguenots who remained in the capital, and constrained two-thirds of them, by intimidation, to a feigned conversion; but there were no striking acts of violence, except perhaps the banishment of thirty elders of the consistory to different parts of the kingdom, and the soldiers did not make their appearance. The lieutenant of police, La Reinie, took care to reassure the leading merchants, and the last article of the Edict of Revocation was very nearly observed in Paris and its environs. As to Lutheran Alsace, it had nothing in common with the system of the Edict of Nantes and the French Calvinists: the Treaty of Westphalia, the capitulation of Strasburg, all the acts that bound it to France, guaranteed to it a separate religious state. An attempt was indeed made to encroach upon Lutheranism by every means of influence and by a system of petty annoyances; but direct attacks were limited to a suppression of public worship in places where the population was two-thirds Catholic. The political events that soon disturbed Europe compelled the French Government to be circumspect toward the people of this recently conquered frontier.
The converters indemnified themselves at the expense of another frontier population, that was not dependent on France. The Vaudois, the first offspring of the Reformation, had always kept possession of the high Alpine valleys, on the confines of Piedmont and Dauphiny, in spite of the persecutions that they had repeatedly endured from the governments of France and Piedmont. The Piedmontese Vaudois had their Edict of Nantes; that is, liberty of worship in the three valleys of St. Martin, La Luzerne, and La Perouse. When the dragonade invaded Dauphiny, the Vaudois about Briançon and Pignerol took refuge in crowds with their brethren in the valleys subject to Piedmont. The French Government was unwilling to suffer them to remain in this asylum. The Duke Victor Amadeus II enjoined the refugees to quit his territory (November 4th). The order was imperfectly executed, and Louis XIV demanded more. The Duke, by an edict of February 1, 1686, prohibited the exercise of heretical worship, and ordered the schools to be closed under penalty of death. The barbes (ministers), schoolmasters, and French refugees were to leave the states of the Duke in a fortnight, under the same penalty. The Vaudois responded by taking up arms, without reflecting on the immense force of their oppressors. The three valleys were assailed at the same time by French and Piedmontese troops. The French were commanded by the governor of Casale, Catinat, a man of noble heart, an elevated and philosophic mind, who deplored his fatal mission, and attempted to negotiate with the insurgents, but Catinat could neither persuade to submission these men resolved to perish rather than renounce their faith, nor restrain the fury of his soldiers exasperated by the vigor of the resistance. The valleys of St. Martin and La Perouse were captured, and the victors committed frightful barbarities. Meanwhile the Piedmontese, after having induced the mountaineers, who guarded the entrance of the valley of La Luzerne, to lay down their arms, by false promises, slaughtered three thousand women, children, and old men at the Pré de la Tour! The remotest recesses of the Alps were searched; a multitude of unfortunates were exterminated singly: more than ten thousand were dragged as prisoners to the fortresses of Piedmont, where most of them died of want. A handful of the bravest succeeding in maintaining themselves among the rocks, where they could not be captured, and, protected by the intervention of Protestant powers, and especially of the Swiss, finally obtained liberty to emigrate, both for themselves and their coreligionists.
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