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Title: History of the Reformation - Catastrophe. (Beginning of July, 1533.)
Author: John Calvin
Language: English

38 00005-0037 Catastrophe 
 
(Beginning of July, 1533.)

WHILE these fine liberal theories were being proclaimed at the hotel de ville and hailed with joy by noble minds, some enemies of the Reform maintained that they were only got up for the occasion, because the reformed were not yet the strongest party, and the bulk of the people, who looked upon them as mere trash, was occupied with other things. The report grew stronger every day that the bishop had made up his mind at last, that his resolution was not to be shaken, and that in obedience to the pope he was about to return to Geneva. The liberty so lately proclaimed was, therefore, seriously endangered.

Every preparation was made for the reception of the prince, whose approaching arrival began to turn people’s heads, as usually happens in such a case. Priests, mamelukes, and ducal partisans believed that the hour of their triumph was at hand, and that independence and Reform would be effectually buried. Every man who owned a horse had him dressed, as no one was permitted to go and meet the bishop on foot. The trumpeters rehearsed, the artillerymen got out their guns. Jacques de Malbuisson, one of the chiefs of the catholic party, thinking that there was nothing too fine for a bishop and prince, especially for one who was bringing to the city, as a token of welcome, submission to the pope in religious matters, and to an ecclesiastical sovereign in temporal matters, hung the walls of the episcopal palace with beautiful tapestry, covered the tables and floors with silk and woolen cloth, and filled the rooms with rich furniture. Pierre de la Baume had appointed him quartermaster, and the good catholic intended that the beauty of the decorations should make the Genevans comprehend the greatness of their prince.

If a servile crowd was preparing to sacrifice to a priest the liberties of the people and the Word of God, those who esteemed these treasures far above all others, anticipated with sorrow that all the old vexations were about to be revived. The Two Hundred were assembled: one proud huguenot, jealous of the political liberties, could not contain himself, and rising in the council, said: ‘There is a report that the mamelukes who deserted the city some seven years ago are to escort the bishop and return with him: I ask if it is true?’ Instantly the storm broke out. Some said ‘Yes!’ others ‘No!’ The debate grew warm; they provoked and abused each other, gave one another the lie, and used very irritating language. At last the huguenots conquered, and the Two Hundred ordered that the mamelukes should not be allowed to enter, for fear that there should be disorder instead of harmony in the city.

The syndics foresaw that such a resolution would probably excite confusion in the procession accompanying the bishop; and as they wished to avoid all disputes, they sought an opportunity for bringing men’s minds together. Assembling the leaders of the opposing parties, they entreated them, as a sign of peace, to dine together. Such a banquet, they thought, would reconcile factions and dissipate the fears of the prelate. It was an argumentum ad hominem. How could Pierre de a Baume be afraid of men who drank together? Libations were indeed copiously poured out in honor of concord, for the Genevans were always ready in this respect; but the convictions of the two parties remained the same. Wine had no power to change either the champions of the pope or of the people, neither the Guelphs nor the Ghibelines. On Tuesday, 1st of July, the prince-bishop descended the Jura, attended by his chancellors, the president De Gevigny and many of the nobility, meditating the counter-revolution he hoped to bring about. The Friburg deputies, ‘knowing the prelate’s timid humor,’ went to meet him at Gex, in order to protect his entrance. They turned back with him and drew near the city. This event, which filled the catholics with joy, was a great trouble to the proud huguenots and pious evangelicals, and nearly broke their hearts. The procession seemed to them like a funeral train. Were independence, liberty, the growing Reform — those inestimable riches which are the life of man — to be carried like a dead body to the grave?

Were those bells, just beginning to ring, tolling a funeral knell? Everything seemed to point that way.

Just as the brilliant escort that was riding out to meet the bishop crossed the bridge over the Rhone, a troop of about fourscore catholics appeared, all carrying arquebuses. The premier syndic, who was watching them with uneasy look, ordered them to return. ‘We are going to our prince,’ answered they with spirit. The magistrates and their escort lost sight of them for a few moments, but the troop was again visible when the procession got out of the city. ‘They are the most violent of the party,’ said some of the syndic’s followers. ‘They will play us some scurvy trick.’ A second time the syndic ordered them to return, and a second time they answered, ‘We are going to our prince,’ and continued their way.

The cortege having proceeded half a league from the city, waited for the bishop, who came in sight about four in the afternoon. By his side were the magistrates of Friburg, and behind him the chiefs of the mamelukes, banished from Geneva but proud of braving those who had expelled them.

The intimidated syndics dared not forbid their entrance into the city. Nor was this all: the fourscore arquebusiers surrounded the prelate, assuming the duty of a bodyguard. The bells rang out, the artillery roared, and the friends of the clergy shouted repeated vivats. The throne was regaining strength; the majesty of the prince enhanced its splendor, and His Highness inspired respect in all who saw him. These bursts of joy soon came to an end. The bishop had hardly entered the city, when its appearance changed. New faces were seen everywhere — faces which seemed to breathe of nothing but revenge. At night conferences were held at the palace, among the canons and the other partisans of despotic rule. Everyone talked about the horrible resolutions come to in these meetings — it was all the same whether the resolutions were true or fictitious. Many of the reformed were exceedingly distressed. ‘The heretics felt great contrition,’ says Sister Jeanne, ‘for they knew full well that the bishop brought no good to them, but would injure them as much as he could.’ The prelate was firmly resolved to have recourse, if necessary, to force, banishment, and death. But his character and interests inclined him also to accomplish peacefully, if he could, the great revolution he so strongly desired. He wished to act in such a way that appearances at least should be on his side.

Desiring to give his restoration the double sanction of religion and policy, the bishop ordered a grand procession for Thursday, 3rd July, after which a general council of the people should be held. The procession took place: canons, priests, and friars, walking in order, sang or chanted their litanies with great fervor, and prayed that God and the Virgin would be pleased to preserve the holy Roman Catholic Church in Geneva. When the singing was over, the general council was held. The refugees, who had forgotten nothing and learnt nothing, would have preferred a prompt and vigorous repression to this liberal meeting; but the bishop was unwilling to begin by imprisoning citizens. Besides, the impatient exiles would lose nothing by waiting. All the bishop’s partisans proceeded proud and joyful to the council of the people; the magistrates with uneasiness, and a few huguenots with sad and suffering looks. As soon as the assembly was formed, the prelate appeared, attended by his nobles. He was determined to claim full sovereign power in Geneva, and to take it by force if it were disputed.

Two great principles — the good pleasure of the prince and the constitutions of the people — met face to face on the 3rd of July, in the general council of Geneva. La Baume had taken his precautions; he had brought several distinguished men with him from Franche Compte, and among them the bailiff of Dole, a learned and eloquent magistrate. This orator, imagining to win the Genevans by flattering and flowery language, delivered a very fine oration; but his Burgundian eloquence produced no great effect upon the huguenots. After him the prince-bishop came forward, and, speaking with a fine clear voice and in very intelligible language, he asked the syndics and the people whether they recognized him for their prince and lord. The question was skillfully put. If they answered No, they made themselves rebels, and severe measures became lawful; while, if they answered Yes, they surrendered to the prelate, and all was over with liberty and the Gospel. The magistrates, who were careful not to fall into a trap, saw that it was necessary to make a distinction.

Convinced that they held their charters, franchises, and legislation from God quite as much as the prince did his power, they made a reserve, ‘Certainly, my lord,’ they replied, ‘we regard you as our prince, and are ready to obey you; but in adopting for guide our liberties, customs, and franchises, written and unwritten, which we beg you to respect, and you promised to do a long while ago. The embarrassed bishop-prince thought it essential not to open up the delicate question of the constitution he had ratified, and, letting alone for the moment all that concerned his temporal power, he spoke only as a bishop, and delivered to the Genevans a devout exhortation on the salvation of their souls. In reality, the great object of his terror was the Reformation; the great desire of his heart was the triumph of the papacy. ‘Have the fear of God before your eyes,’ he said, ‘and keep the commandments of holy Church.’ He knew full well that ‘holy Church’ would recommend the people to recognize his power without any restriction. He pronounced these words ‘in so devout and humble a manner that everybody wept, and the general council broke up without dispute or tumult, for which God be praised.’ The Genevans were not, however, ready to bend their necks to receive the yoke the bishop presented to them. The various members of the assembly had hardly dispersed before the agitation broke out. Huguenots and independent catholics declared boldly and with one accord that they would maintain the constitution; the courtiers and mamelukes alone supported the absolute privileges of the prelate. ‘No despotic power,’ said one party. ‘No resistance to the orders of our prince,’ said the other. Offended at the new pretensions of the bishop, the citizens resolved to oppose him with the antique monuments of their liberty. There was a vaulted chamber in the hotel de ville called the Grotto, in which the venerable charters of the Genevan people were enclosed under many bolts and bars. Not suffering themselves to be disturbed by the arbitrariness of the bishop, by the eloquence of his orators, or the terrible bands of Friburg and Turin, the citizens determined to consult the sacred documents of their franchises.

The syndics proceeded to the Grotto; the rusty bolts yielded to the stout arms of their officers; they took out the noble parchments of their ancestors, and all eyes were eagerly turned upon the title-deeds in which were inscribed the duties, rights, and liberties of the people. The roll was placed upon the table; it was unfolded, and, while the others listened, one of the magistrates read the words written therein. ‘In the name of the holy, perfect, and undivided Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.’ Could the bishop trample under foot a charter which reposed on so sacred a foundation? The magistrate continued his examination. This document, drawn up by Bishop Adhemar in 1387, contained (to use its own words) ‘the liberties, franchises, and immunities which the citizens of Geneva have enjoyed so long that the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.’ The Genevans were moved, and passing the parchment from hand to hand, read certain portions of it, and swore to defend their rights. The syndics having no doubt that these old documents would be received by the bishop with the profoundest respect, quitted the hotel de ville, carrying their venerable charters with them, which they laid before the prelate. They pointed out to him the immunities that were secured to them, and withdrew full of hope. But Pierre de la Baume aid not care the least for these old papers, and would not give himself the trouble to decipher such dis-agreeable documents: he was in a hurry to see them restored to the cellar where they had slept so long. He intended to govern after a more modern fashion. The Reformation, on the other hand, was about to be accomplished by maintaining, in opposition to episcopal usurpation, the most lawful rights of the most ancient liberty. The bishop no longer hesitated. When he had asked the general council to recognize his sovereignty, the magistrates had replied by limiting it according to the constitutions of the people. It was necessary therefore to renounce all idea of reigning with mildness, and to govern by force. Pierre de la Baume was not the first bishop excluded from his episcopal city, who had re-entered it with thoughts of violence. Tales of unheard-of cruelties had been imprinted on the memory of the people. In the tenth century, the bishop of Cambray having been driven from his city by the burgesses who were exasperated against him, had returned with foreign soldiers; and these mercenaries, the ministers of his revenge, had pursued the citizens even into the churches, killing some, cutting off the hands and feet of others, putting out the eyes of some, and branding many on the forehead with a red-hot iron. About two centuries later, another bishop also returning forcibly into his city, his followers had seized one of the most respected and wealthy citizens, notwithstanding the promise to spare his life, and had fastened him by the feet to the tail of a horse, which they forced into a gallop. The bishop of Geneva did not purpose imitating these episcopal proceedings; manners, though rude, were softened; he meant to content himself with less. He would have the principal supporters of the Reformation and of Geneva seized, and would get rid of them simply by the sword — either in Geneva, as in the case of Berthelier, or in some lonely castle, as in the case of Levrier. Then the prince-bishop would exercise, without control and in his own way, that sovereignty which appeared to him absolutely necessary in order to stifle the protestantism of some and the independence of others.

Freed from the importunate antiquarians who put their trust in dusty charters, the bishop began to prepare for the execution of his designs. He counted his forces and felt sure of victory. In the first place there was the Council, which, being mostly catholic, supported him at heart; then there were the priests and their adherents; then the Friburgers; then the banished mamelukes, and finally a certain class of people, skillful in the use of the arquebuse, ‘and who would handle it well,’ said the bishop. The total of his partisans being thus reckoned, the bishop enquired who were the huguenot chiefs he ought to get rid of. It is hardly probable that La Baume did this alone or simply aided by one of his secretaries or officers of justice. Weakness was one of the most marked features of his character; he had no energy, although he sometimes pretended the contrary. But those around him made up for it. The proscription that he was about to carry into execution was essentially due to the encouragements and solicitations of the enemies of the Reformation and of independence. ‘Finding himself strong and powerful,’ says a contemporary, ‘both on the part of the Friburgers and of the enemies of God and the city (namely, the mamelukes) who were now within the walls, the bishop desired to exercise his tyranny. Some of his friends shrank from such severity, and would have desired to divert him from it; but the most violent men prevailed. ‘My lord,’ they said, ‘must exercise his power against certain citizens and burgesses, and by this means extirpate and eradicate the Lutheran sect and heresy. The proscribed were selected indifferently from among the evangelicals and huguenots. One of the first pointed at was Chautemps. He was not only a heretic but his children had been trained up in heresy, and he had kept for a long time in his house Olivetan, the translator of the Bible, who had dared reprimand a dominican preacher in full church. Aime Levet came next; at his house the religious meetings were most frequently held. Pierre Vandel — youngest son of that Claude, whom twenty years before Bishop John of Savoy had cast into prison — a man of resolute character, readily putting himself in the foreground, was joined with the other two. Ami Perrin did not belong to the evangelicals properly so called, but he had been the chief of the four huguenots whose zeal for controversy had proved so embarrassing to the vicar of the Madeleine, and passed for the boldest of all the band. Others were afterwards pointed out:

Jean Pecolat, an ill-sounding name in episcopal ears; Domaine d’Arlod, Jean Veillard, Anthonin Derbey, Henry Doulens, Jacques Fichet, Claude de Geneve, and Philibert de Compey, a nobleman in high esteem. Although a Savoyard and of gentle birth, Philibert was huguenot at heart; the count of Genevois took advantage of the opportunity to confiscate all his lands and lordships, ‘and the poor pervert was deprived of his property,’ says a contemporary. There were still a few more whose arrest was determined on, and among them Pasta and Rozetta. The bishop and his friends, all full of zeal, hoped to catch other citizens after these; but they thought it prudent not to do everything at once. If the first attempt succeeded, they would follow it up by a second, and would lay their hands upon such citizens as they had not thought of at first. ‘I have proscribed all those whom I can remember; those whom I have forgotten I will proscribe as they recur to my mind.’ This saying of a great master in the art, found its application in Geneva. The bishop having ended his first task, began to consider how he could lay hold of the proscribed, which was no easy matter. The most natural way would have been to capture each of them in his own house; but he feared, that if he went to work in that fashion, some would hide themselves, others would escape, and others would be rescued in the streets. The alarm would spread in a moment, and the daring huguenots would entrench themselves in Baudichon de la Maisonneuve’s house. Above all, Pierre de la Baume was wanting in frankness; he excelled, whenever he pleased, in appearing amiable to those whom he hated, he resolved to give them an invitation, and to hold out his hand graciously to the men whose death he was plotting. He will invite them to his palace, ‘trusting in his faith,’ but without keeping it. He will thus take them all by one cast of the net, then he will tie the knot, and the poor witches shall leave the saloons of the palace only to descend to its dungeons. It was thought an excellent stratagem, and preparations were made for carrying it out.

The next day, July 5th, the bishop’s officers called on the citizens entered in the black list, and in his name gave them an invitation, which must have appeared to them either a great honor or a treacherous snare. If any of them raised objections, the messengers assured them, in the prelate’s name, that no harm would come to them. Some through candor, others from ignorance, and others also from rashness, proceeded to the episcopal palace. They had put on their finest suits and wore their swords. What could the bishop want with them?… Probably to obtain some concessions, and they were firmly decided not to make any.

Others, who were more clear-sighted or more prudent, took to flight. The clerical riots which had preceded the bishop’s coming, the unsatisfactory company by which he was surrounded, and the demands he had made — all combined to give food for thought to minds possessed of any discernment. Women, more keen or more timid, generally see clearer in such cases than men: their conjugal love takes the alarm. It would appear that Claudine Levet and Jaquema Chautemps felt all the tender solicitude of their sex, and conjured their husbands not to place themselves in the cruel hands of the bishop, and to quit their homes, their children, and their country which they could now serve better abroad. These two excellent christians were among the number of those who escaped. Maisonneuve, against whom the mamelukes were much irritated set out for Berne, full of indignation against the bishop’s tyranny. To this city, next to God, he always looked for deliverance. Several others also quitted Geneva. Meantime Perrin, D’Arlod, Vandel, and their friends proceeded to the palace. The gates opened before them and they entered my lord’s antechambers. But they had hardly arrived, reckoning on the gracious audience that had been promised them, when they were seized, heavily fettered, and led away to the episcopal prison. The impetuous Perrin and the courageous Vandel were compelled to yield to force. The bishop’s officers took them down into the dungeons, and as if cords, iron doors, and bolts were not enough, their feet were set in the stocks and their hands were manacled. When the news was told the prince-prelate, it was the pleasantest tidings he had ever received. He breathed again, and yet he was not entirely satisfied: he wanted some prisoners whom he had especially set his heart upon — particularly Levet and Chautemps. But if the husbands had disappeared, their wives might suffer for them. Pierre de la Baume ordered Jaquema Chautemps to be seized, but Claudine Levet remained at liberty.

Claudine was a pious christian woman, firm in faith, but of gentle character, and she was spared; but Jaquema, who it will be remembered was taught by Olivetan, possessed perhaps some of that courageous decision which was found in Calvin’s cousin and in Calvin himself.

Claudine was the woman of the New Testament; Jaquema seems rather to remind us of the heroines of the Old. It is to be regretted that we have not the same information about her as about Claudine. At all events she paid for her husband. The delicate woman, the wife of one of the chief persons in the city, accustomed to the comforts of life, used to the company of one of the most original French writers of the day, the tutor to her children, was shut up in a narrow cell, and treated roughly like a conspirator.

Ancient and modern times have witnessed more than one instance of conjugal devotion. Many wives, seeing their husbands threatened with a cruel death, have been able to say to them: … Et quel autre que moi A le droit d’y pretendre et de mourir pour toi? The Reformation also has furnished many similar examples.

As part of the huguenot leaders were now in prison, the bishop and his confidants deliberated what should be done with them. It was quite out of the question to put them to death publicly in Geneva, like Berthelier. The simplest way would be to behead them secretly in their dungeons; but that would be known immediately, and would create terrible excitement. ‘They durst not kill them in the city for fear of the people.’ The bishop’s councilors proposed to send them out of Geneva in a boat by night, and convey them either to Friburg, which was calling for victims to avenge Wernli’s death, or to the castle of Chillon, where Bonivard was shut up, or to Jussy near Mount Voiron, or lastly to the strong castle of Gaillard at the foot of the Saleve, ‘and there do as they pleased with them.’ They decided on the last plan, and orders were given for carrying it out.

Thus everything proceeded to the bishop’s satisfaction. As some of the principal huguenots were about to be sent out of Geneva, it became necessary ‘to catch other citizens after them and serve them the same,’ that is, carry them also out of the city; for the fear of the people continually pursued the bishop. He was planning how to continue the work he had undertaken, when news was brought him which greatly troubled him.

One of his agents, commissioned by him to take note of everything that occurred in the city, came and told him that not only Baudichon de la Maisonneuve had escaped, but that he had gone to Berne to demand help… What a check! what danger! If the fugitive brings back the Bernese, they will undertake the defense of heresy.., it will triumph. The harder the blow which La Banme desired to strike, the more dangerous would it be if it failed. He was therefore in great alarm and in a great passion also. He ordered his officers to pursue those who had escaped, to take horses so as to catch them up, and to bring them back bound to prison where their friends awaited them. But he did not rest satisfied with sending after the fugitives such persons as were under his own orders, he wanted others to track them down, to catch them in the rear or in front: this induced him to make a very extraordinary demand.

As soon as the syndics had heard of the arrest of some of the most notable of the citizens, they had summoned the council. Astounded at the tyrannical act, and alarmed for the future of the republic, they deliberated what was to be done. Should they abandon their fellow-citizens to the illegal vengeance of the bishop, or should they revolt against their prince?

They were plunged into silent stupor when a messenger from the bishop appeared. No doubt he had come to give some explanation, to make an excuse, and perhaps to declare that the bishop would withdraw his fatal decree! No such thing: the council soon learnt that he was charged with an extraordinary message.

The episcopal messenger, having made the customary salutations, said: ‘My lord has decided to send his officers beyond the frontiers to take certain criminals (this was the term he applied to those noble citizens).

Our very reverend prince therefore requires the council to lend him some of the city officers to accompany his own and pursue the fugitives in the territory of Savoy,’ This was too much. De la Baume required the magistrates of Geneva to employ in oppressing citizens the power they had received to defend them, Such an audacious proposition disgusted the syndics; they did not hesitate to refuse his demand; desiring, however, to keep on good terms with him to the last, they gave a specious motive for their refusal. ‘Pray pardon us,’ they answered the bishop, ‘if we can not do it; we should be afraid lest the duke, whose territories our officers would have to enter, should be angry with us for violating the treaties.’

This refusal threw him into a great passion, he believed, perhaps not without reason, that the duke of Savoy would overlook the violation of territory, as its object was to catch huguenots. ‘Return,’ he said to his officer, ‘and tell those gentlemen to do justice, and that if they do not, there are fourscore in the city who will help me to do it. Add, that they are to act straightforwardly.’ The magistrates remained firm. But the prelate found some little consolation in the cooperation of people better disposed than the syndics of Geneva to subserve his anger. Aime Levet, instead of escaping by the right bank, on which his house was situated, had chosen the left bank, and thrown himself into that beautiful country which extends between the Rhone and the lake on one side, and Mount Voiron and Mount Saleve on the other, and where the wide opening which these two mountains leave between them, permit the traveler to contemplate the magnificent range of the Alps of Mont Blanc.

Was it Levet’s wish to avoid taking the usual road of the fugitives, on which he was sure to be arrested; or did he intend hiding in the mountains, as the fine month of July invited him, to climb the easy and graceful slope of the Voiron, or to scale, by the road called l’Echelle (the ladder), the abrupt walls of Saleve, whose enormous rocks overhang the plain? That is possible; other fugitives had done so. Levet wandered for some time in that part of the valley where the sandy torrent of the Arve utters a low murmur; but, thinking only how he should escape his persecutors, he had no leisure to contemplate the dazzling vision of the Alps lighted up by a July sun, which made so striking a contrast with the gloomy paths. He was then traversing. He knew that mamelukes, priests, ducal partisans, and above all, the Sire de Montagny, castellan of Gaillard, would follow in his track. How strange his destiny! Only a few months ago he had been a zealous catholic, and then the surprising conversion of his wife had led to his… Now, he was wandering about as a fugitive, without a place where to lay his head. We can not tell all the anguish he went through, and all the groans he uttered, he did not lose courage, however, for he knew Him who was his protector, and who maintains the right. He was assured of being able to stand before God and His angels at the very moment when men were hunting him down. He had wolves behind him eager to tear him in pieces, but ‘God saves His poor sheep, even out of the jaws of the lions.’ They were indeed in pursuit of him. Messire de Charanzonay, a canon of Geneva, had kept his eye on Lever: he knew that he had made off in the direction of the mountains, and that he must be found either in the bailiwick of Gaillard or in the parish of Bonne. He had an interview, therefore, with the castellan of Gaillard, M. de Montagny, a good catholic and Savoyard, who furnished him with aid; a band of men left the castle, and the chase began, the canon leading the way. Ere long, poor Lever heard the footsteps of the people in search of him: he was seized. The canon, eager to vent his anger, had him scourged without any form of trial, and after he had been soundly beaten, sent him off to the castle of Galliard. Levet, encompassed by guards, was conducted to that fortress, situated at the point where the Arve, issuing from the mountains, enters the plain, and where many an innocent man had been imprisoned. The drawbridge fell and rose again, the massive gates opened, the armed sentinels halted to see the huguenot pass, and at last Levet, doubly guilty, as a liberal and as an evangelical, was thrown into a deep dungeon. From that moment the husband’s captivity assured the liberty of the wife.

Other circumstances happening on the same day (6th of July) rejoiced the bishop and his court, and put to the proof the firmness of the council as well as the tranquillity of the citizens. A man sent from the Pays de Vaud reported that a number of well-armed Friburgers had arrived at Nyon and threatened Geneva. They were the avengers of Wernli’s blood. ‘Go and tell the captain-general,’ said the syndics, ‘and bid him look to the safety of the city.’ Shortly after this, a citizen told the council that the Friburgers who were in Geneva were preparing to set out for the castle of Gaillard.

Presently a third person came and informed the syndics that the Friburgers were crossing the lake from Nyon, and that their boats could be clearly distinguished from the upper part of the city, making for the south.

Finally, news came from Gaillard that Wernli’s relations, accompanied by a great number of Friburg men-at-arms, had entered the fortress, vowing they would wash their feet in the blood of the evangelicals. The council did not know what to do, and the city was filled with apprehension. The extremes of anguish were felt in the homes of the prisoners. The most sinister stories were propagated through the city as to the severity employed by the bishop towards his captives. Some began to lose courage and to ask — it was a question often put in the time of the Reformation — why the disciples of the Gospel had to endure not only the afflictions common to all men, but calamities from which their enemies were exempt? ‘Ah!’ replied the wiser ones, ‘the corn is first threshed in the barn along with the straw; but afterwards it is pressed and crushed alone on the millstone.’ All were not to be comforted, and from many an afflicted house the cries of sorrow rose to heaven.

Meanwhile, the avoyers of Friburg pressed the council to grant to Wernli’s relations the justice they demanded and insisted that the Genevans arrested on the 23rd May and 4th June should be brought to trial immediately. The mamelukes cried still louder than the Friburgers, and demanded the trial of the eleven persons imprisoned on the 5th July.

While the case of the Friburgers was entirely judicial, that of the mamelukes was political: they wished to take advantage of a trial to effect a revolution. The council instructed the procurator-fiscal to have the accused brought before him, as the Genevan constitution required; but the fiscal declared he could not do so on account of the order of the prince, who had cited the case before himself. The bishop meant to be at once judge and interested party, and to substitute clerical despotism for the protecting forms of the lay tribunals. The alarmed magistrates immediately waited on the prince to make their humble but resolute protest. Pierre de la Baume had just dined when the syndics appeared. ‘I have cited the cause before me,’ he said: ‘I have my reasons.’ The syndics represented to him that he might pardon men after sentence, but not try accused persons, who must necessarily appear before the lawful tribunals, ‘I cite the case before me,’ repeated the bishop. The indignant syndics bowed and withdrew. Sebastian de Diesbach, the banneret of Weingarten, and other deputies from Berne, had arrived at Geneva, and Baudichon de la Maisonneuve, as it seems, had returned with them. The syndics prayed their intervention, and the Bernese spoke to the bishop; but the passionate headstrong churchman would not listen to them. He stretched the cord at the risk of breaking it. ‘I have cited the case before me,’ he said again.

The spirit of blind fanaticism was felt in other places besides the palace: it agitated the mamelukes, carried away the episcopalians and even a few of the Friburgers. They had sworn the death of liberty and the Reformation, and were already planning the means of preventing for ever their return to Geneva. They went up and down the city, and were quite indefatigable.

As you looked at them you would have said — the comparison was made at the time — that coming after the deluge, and wishing to prevent the waters from invading their dwellings again, they had said to one another: ‘Let us build a tower whose top may reach unto heaven.’ ‘They built the tower of Babel,’ says a contemporary, ‘presuming, like the giants, to fight against God.’

They did indeed come to blows. On that very day (7th July) some horsemen of the episcopal party who were riding at Plainpalais in front of the convent of their friends the Dominicans, saw three of the most considerable of the Genevese citizens go past: they were Philippe the captain-general, John Lullin afterwards syndic, and Francis Favre who was a member of the ordinary council in the following year. The cavaliers immediately rode at them, calling them traitors and Lutherans. The three huguenots were hated and feared by the mamelukes, who knew them to be men ready to sacrifice their lives for the ancient liberties of their country.

If they had not been included in the first proscription, it was partly through fear, for their boldness was indomitable; and also because it had been preferred to begin with pious evangelicals like Chautemps and Levet.

True, Ami Perrin had been arrested; but without having undergone the great change which Scripture calls ‘a new birth,’ he was still in the front rank whenever the cause of the Reformation was in question. It was he who had actively protected Farel. Besides the episcopal sbirri could not well distinguish between protestants who were such inwardly and those who were so outwardly only. However, neither persecution nor insult abated the courage of the citizens. They knew that God often suffers the wicked to act for a few days, and permits them to raise high towers against his elect. Then on a sudden he strikes the huge mass, he loosens the joints and scatters the materials, so that the mighty edifice whose summit was to rise to heaven falls into dust, and is scattered to the winds.

The syndics, being determined to resist the bishop and his usurpations, convened the council of Sixty on the 8th July, and explained to them how he purposed to place Geneva under the government of his good pleasure, and by way of beginning, was preparing to try in his own court the noblest of the citizens. The future that threatened Geneva filled the assembly with emotion and fear. What was to be done? Resort to force, policy, or diplomacy? The Genevans, in self-defense, looked for simpler and more affecting means; they had recourse to one of those measures which are almost unique in history, and exhale a perfume of antiquity.

There were in Geneva certain ancestors of liberty, who, uplifting their hoary heads among three generations of their children, gave utterance to words of wisdom. To these they had recourse. Councilors — their sons probably went to fetch them, and these venerable witnesses of the ancient liberties entered the presence of the council, where seats were placed for them. Although the vigor of their bodies was weakened, their hearts now beat stronger for their country than in their younger days, and their memory recalled to them distinctly the times of yore. Accordingly, when they heard of the dangers by which the republic was threatened, and of the bishop’s intention to usurp judicial power, they were filled with sadness and alarm. ‘Criminal causes,’ they said, ‘belong to the civil magistrate; the practice has never varied in that respect, and the bishop’s claim to hear them himself is a novelty without precedent.’ The council of sixty resolved to send a deputation to the prince, composed of the four syndics and six of these aged citizens, who felt happy to bear, before they died, a last testimony to the liberties of their country. If the bishop laughed at the ancient papers of ancient Geneva, would he also laugh at these ancient men?

The deputation, proceeding slowly through the streets, took its way towards the palace. The fathers of the country walked with tottering steps, supported by the younger ones, and advanced towards the residence of the haughty priest whom Rome had sent to the shores of the Leman, and who was trampling under foot the most venerable rights.

Never had men going to plead the independence of a nation inspired more tenderness, sympathy, and respect. People watched and blessed them as they passed, and prayers were raised to heaven that God would accompany with his strength this extraordinary step in favor of liberty. The bishop, informed of the movement, had desired to surround himself with all that could give a specious appearance to his usurpations. And accordingly, when they entered the hall, the deputation found not only the prelate sitting in pomp — not only his councilors, officers, and the ambassadors of Berne and Friburg ranged around him, — but also the relatives of the canon. Pierre de la Baume paired the suppliants of Friburg against the elders of Geneva. The syndics respectfully expressed to him their surprise that he should appear to look upon the council with suspicion, that several citizens of note had been thrown into prison, and lastly that his lordship, contrary to the laws, had cited the case before his own tribunal. But, while the elders turned a look at once mild and penetrating upon the prince, and their hoary heads seemed, as it were, to bring the old times before him, Wernli’s relatives, shaking their black garments, again called for vengeance, declaring that the prince had promised to do them justice, and praying upon him to be faithful to his word. ‘Yes,’ said the bishop immediately, ‘yes, I cite the cause before me.’

The syndics, determined not to give up the most venerated laws of the State, placed before him the ancient constitution of the people, and pointing to the twelfth article, read as follows: ‘That no inquisition upon lay malefactors, or other process whatsoever, can or shall be held, except by summoning the four syndics and four citizens of the said city of Geneva, who shall be chosen by the other citizens. And that the trial and sentence of the afore-named malefactors belongs and shall belong to the aforesaid citizens, and not to any other persons whatsoever.’ The constitution having thus spoken, the syndic ceased.

Then the elders, who had hitherto kept silent, and whose grave, modest, and firm looks inspired respect, came forward. One of them, speaking for all, raised his trembling hands, ‘and declared that such had always been the law of Geneva, and that never in the course of their long lives had they had the pain to see the prince trample it under foot.’ The feeble voices and calm looks of these venerable men added a strange, and one might almost say a heavenly, force to their testimony. That humble speech in favor of liberty possessed an eloquence more penetrating than the most admirable orations of a Cicero or a Demosthenes. But, if liberty had never been more touching, despotism had never been more obstinate. The syndics conjured the bishop in vain, in the name of the laws and of God, to surrender the prisoners to them, according to the law, so that they might try them conformably with their office; Pierre de la Baume kept repeating: ‘I can not, I have cited the cause before me.’ The Friburg ambassadors begged the syndics to consent to the episcopal citation, ‘for this time only,’ but the magistrates of Geneva were unwilling that the franchises of the city should be violated either now or later. They quitted the bishop’s palace with sorrow, and the six elders followed them. When they arrived at the hotel de ville, the council of sixty was still sitting. They gave a faithful account of their mission. They reported that the bishop-prince persisted in its iniquitous non possumus, and although the council felt deep pain at hearing the statement, no one flinched. These Genevans knew the fidelity that freemen owe to the institutions of their ancestors. The ambassadors of Berne then asked to be admitted.

Importuned by their allies, the Friburgers, and by the councilors of the bishop, these haughty Bernese, unfaithful to their renown, had come to imagine that the Genevans might very well, for once, on this solemn occasion, renounce their charter and their rights. Sebastian de Diesbach therefore invited the council to try if they could not ‘consent to this citation, which the prelate positively would not recoil.’ Thus the only allies of Geneva solicited them to enter voluntarily upon the path of concessions… .The council deliberated, and the Sixty were unanimous.

Here is the, resolution which the secretary entered upon the register: ‘Ordered to reply to My Lords of Berne, that we will not consent to this citation, as it is entirely contrary to our franchises, and resolved to ask them to be pleased to aid us with their advice.’ My Lords of Berne did not like to see their advice rejected, but as they withdrew they said that such men deserved to be free. This new refusal exasperated the mamelukes. They were determined to use Wernli’s death as an instrument of war to beat down the ancient edifice of Genevese liberties, to root up the foundations of the Reformation, and to establish on the ruins their own theories concerning the absolute power of the pope and the prince. Consequently they demanded the convocation of the Two Hundred, hoping to find favorable voices among them. The great council met the next day, and the Friburg ambassadors appeared before it, attended by a great number of the relations and friends of the canon — all dejected, gloomy, and silent, like the suppliants of ancient times. It was not fanaticism which animated the greater part of them. They had played with Wernli in their childhood; they had loved him in their youth; they venerated his memory now that a terrible catastrophe had stretched him dead in the streets of the city. If they had been unable to defend him in the hour of danger, they wished to do everything now the hour of vengeance was come. It was not sufficient to have sprinkled his body with their tears, the blood of victims must flow in the very spot, where the martyr had been struck down. ‘Most honored lords,’ said the canon’s brother, ‘the justice which men owe to one another is written on earth in the hearts of the just; why, then, should you trample it under foot? You have not yet done justice for the death of him who was our brother and our friend; on the contrary, you left the criminals free to come and go for six weeks. His body lies in the grave, but his blood, sprinkled on the stones of your city, calls for vengeance. If you are armed with the sword, it is not for mere show but to strike malefactors. And yet your tribunals are dumb, and your sword slumbers in the sheath. Permit my lord bishop to cite the case before him. If you refuse, you may rest assured that we may seek other means of avenging the death of our friend, and we shall drown our sorrow and anger not in the waters of justice but in blood.’ The Friburgers spoke as if it were a murder: they forgot that the canon had put on a cuirass, that he had grasped the halberd, that he had gone fully armed to the scene of tumult, that he had rekindled the dying flames, and attacked the huguenots, who had only used their arms in legitimate self-defense. The avoyer of Friburg seconded the eloquent menaces of Wernli’s brother. The Two Hundred saw that a war with Friburg and Savoy would be the consequence of their refusal, but they had taken their stand on the rock of right and were not to be moved. ‘We do not know of any guilty persons who have been allowed to come and go freely in the city,’ they said. ‘If it be so, the blame lies with the procurator-fiscal whose duty it was to apprehend them, and not with us who are judges. As for permitting my lord to cite the cause before him, we can not do so; it would be a violation of the franchises, for which we and our forefathers have often risked our bodies and our goods.’ The syndic added that the council would consent to the bishop’s naming two persons to be present at the examination, but on condition that they had no deliberative voice. The Friburgers and mamelukes could not make up their minds to accept this proposition.

They were specially vexed that Coquet, syndic of the guard, whom they looked upon as devoted to the reform, should be among the number of the judges, whilst in their opinion he ought to be in the prisoner’s dock. If it had been a mere question of punishing the author of the canon’s death, the prelate would perhaps have trusted to the syndics; but he aimed at destroying both liberty and the Reformation in Geneva, and for that he trusted to himself alone. To supplications, threats, and violence some consented to add reasons: There was a kind of argument used only in scholastic debates to prove that priests were the best judges both in civil and political matters. This strange proposition was demonstrated by syllogism. The major was: ‘He is the best fitted to judge who is nearest to God.’ The minor this: ‘Ecclesiastics are nearer to God than laymen.’ The conclusion is evident. They had recourse also to arguments derived from astronomy. ‘As there are two great lights in the universe,’ it was said, ‘so there are also two in society. The Church is the sun and the State is the moon. Now the moon has no light of her own; all her light is derived from the sun. It is evident, therefore, that the church possesses in itself, formally and virtually, the temporal jurisdiction of the state.’ Such arguments had great strength in the prelate’s eyes: he appointed two deputies, his bailiff and his attorney, and sent them to the Two Hundred with orders to defend the rights of the sun. The union of the two powers in a single individual supplied them with their principal argument. The BISHOP was hardly mentioned in their speech but only the prince. ‘The bishop is your prince,’ they declared; ‘and you, the syndics, are his officers. He may therefore command you as his subjects, and when he transfers to his tribunal a cause which is in your hands, you have only to obey.’ This theory of absolute power could not pass in Geneva. ‘We are not the prince’s officers,’ replied the magistrates, ‘but syndics of the city, elected by the people and not by my lord. He has no power to institute us, and even his own officers, nominated by himself, make oath to us, whilst we make oath to nobody.’ Then the syndics, turning to the Friburg deputation, continued: ‘Sirs, you helped us in the time of Berthelier, help us again now. It is not we, but the bishop and his officers who alone occasion the delay of which you complain. Let two deputies from the bishop, two from Berne, and two from Friburg, assist at the trial, and be witnesses of our uprightness.’ The bishop persisted in his demand: the deputies from Berne, desiring to terminate the difference, proposed that the cause should be remitted to two judges nominated by the council, two by the bishop, two by Berne, and two by Friburg. The Genevans replied that a people were not at liberty to sacrifice the smallest portion of their rights; and fatigued with these endless importunities, they added: ‘If our offer is refused, we will convoke the general assembly of the people and do what it shall ordain.’

The Bernese, knowing very well that if the matter was referred to the people no arrangement would be possible, exclaimed: ‘Pray do nothing of the kind.’

Whilst even Berne was soliciting the syndics to give way, the wives, relations, and friends of the prisoners conjured them to persevere in their resistance. They feared to hear every morning that it was too late to act. ‘It is time to bring the matter to an end,’ said the syndics to the Bernese. ‘The prisoners are only accused; is it just to make them suffer as if they were guilty? Go and speak plainly to the prince; make him comprehend the duty which our liberties impose upon us.’ The Bernese went to the episcopal palace, but neither the bishop nor the Friburgers who were with him would yield an inch. ‘Messieurs of Geneva will not do otherwise than they have said,’ coldly answered Pierre de la Baume. ‘Very good, and we for our part will not do otherwise than we have declared.’ The Friburgers added with a menacing tone: ‘We are about to return home and there… we shall consider another remedy.’ This remedy was war: the Friburg deputies would return with an army. While these things were going on, the huguenots and evangelicals, seized by the bishop’s order, were still in prison bound hand and foot. Pierre Vandel, Claude Pasta, the Sire de Compey, Domaine D’Arlod, the energetic Ami Perrin and others, not forgetting Jacquema, awaited their fate in the gloomy vaults of the episcopal residence. In every house in Geneva and at the townhall people were constantly talking of them. ‘The prisoners,’ they said, ‘are kept in close confinement.’ Such severity excited universal compassion, and the secretary of council mentions it in the Registers. However if the bishop had been able to deprive them of freedom of motion, there was another he could not take from them, which was a sweet consolation for those who had received the gospel in their hearts. ‘Though they were bound and made fast in the stocks,’ says Calvin, ‘still while praying they praised God.’ It is of Paul and Silas, shut up in the prison at Philippi, of whom the reformer is speaking; but what he says of the liberty of prayer, which exists even in spite of chains, may be applied to some of those who were now in the prelate’s dungeons.

Just at this time a report calculated through the city that the bishop was secretly preparing boats for the removal of the prisoners to some castle. It was said that certain stout watermen were ready to grasp the our, that an armed force would accompany the captives, and that as soon as the episcopal officers were upon the open lake they would laugh at the syndics and the huguenots. These reports still more excited the anger of the citizens. One of them, a daring man named Pierre Verne, watching the boats moored on the shore, sought the means of preventing this unlawful abduction: he thought he had found one, simple and in his opinion infallible, and waited (as we shall see presently) until the veil of night concealed him from the eyes of the enemy. If the prince’s councilors were contriving how to get the huguenot captives away, certain of the mamelukes were vexed that there were still so many at liberty, and that the bishop was so slow in apprehending them all without exception. It seemed to them that the coup d’etat, or rather coup de main, of which they had dreamt was long in coming; and they knew that if a bold stroke is to succeed, the execution must be prompt. Some of them began therefore to make amends for official slowness by separate acts of violence.

It was harvest time, and Jean Ami Curtet or Curteti, a man well disposed towards the gospel and belonging to a family which Duke Philibert le Beau had ennobled, had gone out in the morning to visit a field which he possessed on the banks of the Arve. He examined the ears and the stalks: everything promised a fine harvest. Knowing that when wheat is once ripe, there should be no delay in reaping it, he ordered the laborer who accompanied him to begin to cut it. But he was destined to fall before his corn, and on that very spot… A sudden noise was heard, some men in disguise fell upon him, knocked him down, beat him and left him for dead in his own field, The news soon reached the city. ‘It is some gentlemen in disguise who have murdered him,’ said the people. On hearing the mournful news, the relations and friends of Curtet seize their arquebuses, and about forty of them hastened towards the Arve bridge. They raised the poor man who was seriously wounded, and bearing their sad burden returned slowly into the city, their hearts bursting with anger. As the procession passed in front of a house where some Friburgers lodged, one of the Genevans called them ‘Rascals and traitors!’ The Friburgers, innocent of the attempt, swore that they would demand satisfaction for such an outrage; but the sad procession, passing slowly through the principal streets of Geneva, under the windows of the chief citizens, called up very different thoughts. Men asked each other whether the partisans of the prince-bishop intended to add murder to illegal arrest; whether it was sufficient to wear a mask and strange garments to deprive citizens of their lives, without any risk to the murderers; and whether every huguenot, as he was engaging in the most innocent occupations, might be suddenly laid dead by a masked enemy in the field, bequeathed to him by his ancestors? While these dangers were accumulating on the heads of the friends of the reformation in Geneva itself, perils not less great were gathering round the city. People arriving from the country on the left bank of the Rhone and of the lake reported that armed Friburgers and Savoyards were assembling in great numbers at the castle of Gaillard, and that one of the Wernlis commanded a part of them. It was well known that this person, exasperated by the death of his relative the canon, combined in his heart, along with the love and respect he bore to his memory, a more energetic sentiment, that of revenge. The knights and soldiers who gathered round him caught the infection of his anger. But not at Gaillard only were armed men assembling, according to the reports of the country people: there were some higher up, in the direction of the mountains, at Etrembieres, where there was a ferry over the Arve to the mandement of Mornex. Others were assembling higher still around the picturesque hill of Montoux, and especially at the village of Collonges, at the foot of the hill. At the same time, the people who came to Geneva from the right bank of the Rhone and the lake, from the side of the Jura, brought similar tidings, and spoke of armed men in the Gex district, and particularly at the Grand Saconnex, three-quarters of a league from Geneva. The city was beginning to be surrounded by its enemies. The time seemed near when the projects conceived by the bishop at Arbois were about to be realized. That prelate, who reproached his friend Besancon Hugues for not having ‘barked’ loud enough to prevent the fall of his authority, proposed not only to bark himself against the wolves,’ but also to bite them. One of those priests whom Rome had raised to the rank of princes of nations had said: ‘I am accustomed to act vigorously… I shall consider what it must be.’ The pontiff was preparing to fulfill his own prophecies.

The future of Geneva was indeed threatening. On the 10th of July a gloomy veil seemed to be closing over that noble city. A fanatical party was preparing the shroud in which it designed to bury the independence of the citizens and the Reformation of the Church. That city, for which many persons had already anticipated a more glorious destiny, was about to be reduced to a mere provincial town, occupying an undistinguished place in the world, and subject to the enervating influence of Rome, without life and without liberty.

But other things were written in heaven. God was preparing both Geneva and Calvin to deliver battle together, on the result of which was to depend the triumph of the Gospel and the liberty of modern nations. And to prepare for these glorious events, the steps of the great reformer were soon to be directed, undesignedly on his part, towards that small but energetic city, unique of its kind in Europe, and of which the man of God was not then thinking.

We shall not forget that other nations have also added their stone to the edifice of civil and religious liberty. From Switzerland, Germany, the Low Countries, the British Isles, France, and afterwards America, as well as other countries, were to proceed some of the acts destined to secure the triumph of God’s and man’s liberties.

And yet Calvin and Geneva did something. Calvin possessed an inflexible resolution. God had said to this man as he had said of old to one of his prophets:

As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead; fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. ( Ezekiel 3:9) It was not by chance, as it is termed, that such a character was called to the midst of a people who had shown in terrible struggles, watered with the blood of their best citizens, an indomitable resistance to absolute power. At the period of history we are describing God was preparing Calvin and Geneva each apart; but the union of those two natures, predestined (if I may say so) for each other, could not fail to produce remarkable effects in the world. The reformer was about to concentrate in this little corner of earth a moral force which would contribute to save the Reformation in Europe, and to preserve in a few more favored spots those precious liberties to which all nations have equal rights.

It was necessary in the 16th century that a great man and a little people should serve as a center to the Reformation. The firmness of the one, the energy of the other, tempered like steel in the waters of the Gospel, were to give the tone to nations that were greater though possibly less decided, and to impress the seal of unity on other energies. Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

While waiting for this new dawn, sorrow reigned in Geneva. The reformers were expelled, their most fervent disciples were in prison, or wandering through the country; and the sword was suspended over the heads of all the friends of God’s word. The mamelukes triumphed. The friends of the Gospel and of liberty asked with anguish if the day of great tribulation was come at last… The wives of the prisoners and of the fugitives expected to hear every moment of some new tragedy. Children called for their fathers, who came not to the call. Groans and lamentations, apprehension, and even cries of anger, prevailed everywhere.

Only a few souls, putting their trust in God, preserved some little hope.

Knowing that ‘God is not God unless He is on a throne, that is, unless he governs the world, they feared nothing, however terrible it might be,’ from the hands of the powers of the earth. In the midst of agitated hearts and dejected faces, there were eyes which, though dimmed with tears, were raised towards heaven with a glance of hope and faith.

END OF THE THIRD VOLUME



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