Terror flew before the soldiers; as soon as the scarlet uniforms and the high caps of the dragoons were descried, corporations, whole cities, sent their submission to the intendant.
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.
Louvois had persuaded the King that in the moral situation of Protestant communities it would be enough “to show them the troops,” to compel them to abjure. The troops had been “shown,” therefore, to the Reformers of Béarn; the intendant of that province, Foucault, had come to Paris to concert with the minister the management of the enterprise; Louvois could not have found a fitter instrument than this pitiless and indefatigable man, who had the soul of an inquisitor under the garb of a pliant courtier. On his return from Paris, Foucault, seconded by the Parliament of Pau and the clergy, began by the demolition, on account of “contraventions,” of fifteen out of twenty Protestant churches that remained in Béarn, and the “conversion” of eleven hundred persons in two months (February-April, 1685). He then called for the assistance of the army to complete the work, promising “to keep a tight rein over the soldiers, so that they should do no violence.” This was for the purpose of allaying the scruples of the King. The troops were therefore concentrated in the cities and villages filled with Reformers; the five remaining Protestant churches shared the fate of the rest, and the pastors were banished, some to a distance of six leagues from their demolished churches, others beyond the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Pau.
Terror flew before the soldiers; as soon as the scarlet uniforms and the high caps of the dragoons were descried, corporations, whole cities, sent their submission to the intendant. An almost universal panic chilled all hearts. The mass of Reformers signed or verbally accepted a confession of the Catholic faith, suffered themselves to be led to the church, bowed their heads to the benediction of the bishop or the missionary, and cannon and bonfires celebrated the “happy reconciliation.” Protestants who had hoped to find a refuge in liberty of conscience without external worship saw this hope vanish. Foucault paid no attention to the decrees in council that regulated the baptisms, marriages, and burials of Protestants, because, he said in a dispatch to the minister, “in the present disposition to general and speedy conversion, this would expose those who waver, and harden the obstinate.” The council issued a new order confirmatory of the preceding ones, and specially for Béarn. Foucault, according to his own words, “did not judge proper to execute it.” This insolence went unpunished. Success justified everything. Before the end of August the twenty-two thousand Protestants of Béarn were “converted,” save a few hundred. Foucault, in his Memoirs, in which he exhibits his triumphs with cynicism, does not, however, avow all the means. Although he confesses that “the distribution of money drew many souls to the Church,” he does not say how he kept his promise of preventing the “soldiers from doing any violence.” He does not recount the brutalities, the devastations, the tortures resorted to against the refractory, the outrages to women, nor how these soldiers took turns from hour to hour to hinder their hosts from sleeping during entire weeks till these unfortunates, stupefied, delirious, signed an abjuration.
The King saw only the result. The resolution was taken to send everywhere these “booted missionaries” who had succeeded so well in Béarn. Louvois sent, on the part of the King, July 31st, a command to the Marquis de Boufflers, their general, to lead them into Guienne, and “to quarter them all on the Reformers”; “observing to endeavor to diminish the number of Reformers in such a manner that in each community the Catholics shall be twice or three times more numerous than they; so that when, in due time, his majesty shall wish no longer to permit the exercise of this religion in his kingdom, he may no longer have to apprehend that the small number that shall remain can undertake anything.” The troops were to be withdrawn as fast as this object should be obtained in each place, without undertaking to convert all at once. The ministers should be driven out of the country, and by no means should they be retained by force; the pastors absent, the flocks could more easily be brought to reason. The soldiers were to commit “no other disorders than to levy (daily) twenty sous for each horseman or dragoon, and ten sous for each foot-soldier.” Excesses were to be severely punished. Louvois, in another letter, warned the general not to yield to all the suggestions of the ecclesiastics, nor even of the intendants. They did not calculate on being able to proceed so rapidly as in Béarn.
These instructions show precisely, not what was done, but what the King wished should be done. The subalterns, sure of immunity in case of success, acted more in accordance with the spirit of Louvois than according to the words dictated by Louis. The King, when by chance he heard that his orders had been transcended, rarely chastised the transgressor, lest it might be “said to the Reformers that his majesty disapproves of whatsoever has been done to convert them.” Louis XIV, therefore, cannot repudiate, before history, his share of this terrible responsibility.
The result exceeded the hopes of the King and of Louvois. Guienne yielded as easily as Béarn. The Church of Montauban, the head-quarters of the Reformation in this region, was “reunited” in great majority, after several days of military vexations; Bergerac held out a little longer; then all collective resistance ceased. The cities and villages, for ten or twelve leagues around, sent to the military leaders their promises of abjuration. In three weeks there were sixty thousand conversions in the district of Bordeaux or Lower Guienne, twenty thousand in that of Montauban or Upper Guienne. According to the reports of Boufflers, Louvois, September 7th, reckoned that before the end of the month there would not remain in Lower Guienne ten thousand Reformers out of the one hundred fifty thousand found there August 15th. “There is not a courier,” wrote Madame de Maintenon, September 26th, “that does not bring the King great causes of joy; to wit, news of conversions by thousands.” The only resistance that they deigned to notice here and there was that of certain provincial gentlemen, of simple and rigid habits, less disposed than the court nobility to sacrifice their faith to interest and vanity.
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