(1530 — 1532.)
JUST when the Gospel was about to enter Geneva with Farel and Saunier, the bishop-prince was making new exertions to recover his power. A crisis was approaching: a decisive step must be taken. Which shall have supremacy in the church — the bulls of the pope or the Scriptures of God? Which shall have supremacy in the state — slavery or liberty? Great powers had determined to oppress this little city; but humble servants of God were about to enter it one after another, and planting there the standard of Christ, secure the victory to independence and the Gospel.
The Duke of Savoy, desiring to inflict a fatal blow on Geneva, had invoked the co-operation of the most powerful monarchs of Europe, and dispatched to Charles 5., then at the diet of Augsburg, the usual minister of his tyranny, the man whom he had employed to put Levrier to death, and to capture Bonivard. As soon as Bellegarde reached Augsburg (11th September 1530) he waited on the Sire de Montfalconet, who at that time discharged the office of grand equerry to His Majesty, and who ‘had great credit with the emperor, so that nothing was kept secret from him.’ Enemies whom the duke had at the imperial court had created a very unfavorable impression of this prince; Bellegarde accordingly gave a pension of 300 crowns to the equerry, who earnt them under the circumstances we are describing, by following the envoy’s instructions.
The latter, being impatient to draw the emperor into the plans concocted for seizing Geneva, begged Montfalconet to ask his master at what hour he would be pleased ‘to permit him to pay his respects.’ ‘Tell him,’ said Charles, who had on his hands all the affairs of protestantism and Germany, ‘tell him that in consequence of my many engagements he must wait a couple of days.’ Bellegarde did so, and on the third morning attended punctually in the emperor’s chamber. Very impatient to see the puissant monarch, he was rehearsing what he had to tell him about Geneva, when instead of His Majesty he saw Montfalconet enter the room, alone with this message: ‘The emperor desires me to say that for the present you must only hand in his highness’s letter, as well as that from his most dread lady; and he will give you an audience directly after.’ The ambassador was much vexed at the delay; but to console him the equerry confidentially informed him of the great trouble the protestants of Germany were giving Charles. ‘I assure you the emperor is in such a condition,’ he said, ‘that it is impossible for him to bring the affairs of the empire into anything like a reasonable state. He has therefore forsaken the counsels of men to have recourse to the Lord only. As the help of the world fails me, said His Majesty this morning (14th September), I hope Divine Providence will come to my assistance. The emperor then confessed, and retired into the oratory of the palace to receive the sacrament. He has also ordered that prestations (confessions, communions, and prayers) should be made in every place where there are any devout people.’
While these two individuals were talking Charles came out of his oratory.
M. de Bellegarde made him a low bow, humbly presented him the compliments of the duke and duchess, and handed him the letters. The emperor, who was busy, told him to return the next morning at his levee.
Bellegarde did not fail, and Charles received him with much kindness. ‘Give me news of his highness’s health,’ he said, ‘and also of madam my good sister (Duchess Beatrice), and of my nephew monsieur their son.’
Bellegarde answered his questions, and then made all the communications to the emperor with which the duke had charged him. He hoped the emperor would immediately enter into conversation with him about the plans formed against Geneva, but it was not so. ‘I am very glad,’ said Charles, ‘that the duke has sent you to me; but, considering my great occupations, be so good as to draw up a memoir of what you think most expedient for the despatch of the business that brings you here, and then deliver it to my lord Grandvelle.’ ‘Here was a fresh delay. The minister’s answer, considering the numerous offices he filled, had to be waited for; yet Bellegarde spoke seven times with Charles 5., ‘each time giving his majesty some little information about the duke’s affairs.’ But the emperor, while appearing to listen to the disputes between Geneva and Turin, frequently had his thoughts elsewhere. He was tormented with the state of the empire, and did not conceal it from his brother-in-law’s envoy. ‘I do not mean,’ he said one day to Bellegarde, ‘that the duke shall be either dismissed or ejected; but the diet (of Augsburg) is all in confusion and broken up. I have no great hopes... It is a long while since I have found the princes of Germany thus dilly-dallying, putting me off from day to day, so that I am quite out of hope, and my head is confused... Ah! if it pleased God that other princes were of my opinion... Christendom would not be in such confusion.’
These are the very words his majesty was pleased to use, adds Bellegarde in his memoir. He was surprised at them. That man who knew so well how to put one of his adversaries in prison and another to death, was astonished that so mighty a prince as Charles should not adopt an equally simple and expeditious method.’ He ventured to give the emperor a little advice. He had learnt that the strength of the protestants was in their union. ‘Sire,’ he said, ‘break up the alliances, as well past as future, which have been formed to your great prejudice, and whose consequences are so dangerous.’ — ‘At present,’ said Charles, ‘there is no time. I can not now reduce the princes and cities of Germany that are opposed to the faith; but I am determined not to abandon the work, and when I have completed it, what concerns his highness (be sure you tell him) will not be forgotten.’
This then was Charles’s plan: first to crush the protestants of Germany, and then the huguenots of Geneva. In his opinion these were as dangerous for the Latin races as the former for the Germans.
At last, on the 6th of October, Grandvelle, chancellor of the empire (he was the father of the famous cardinal), accompanied by the commander , had an interview with Bellegarde, and gave him the emperor’s answer. ‘With respect to Geneva, his majesty thinks that to avoid falling into the danger which the duke has at all times feared and avoided, no part or parcel of his states must become Swiss. You must take all the more precaution, because the nature of the cantons is always to extend and grow larger, and the rebellion and stiff-necked obstinacy of messieurs of Geneva will incline them to plunge through despair into this accursed error. That would cause loss and damage to the duke, and little credit to the emperor, considering that Geneva is a fief of the empire. Here is the expedient the emperor has hit upon. He orders both the duke and Geneva to lay before him within two months their titles, rights, and privileges, and his majesty will then decide. As for the prelates, the bishop, and the canons, the emperor recommends both them and the duke to bring their quarrels to an end. By so doing the duke will get rid of a great load of trouble, and will have the prelates better under his direction and obedience.’ After a few other communications, the chancellor withdrew with the commander, and Bellegarde immediately sent off a despatch conveying this decision to the duke.
The Sieur de Bellegarde left Augsburg not long after, and returned to Turin, determined to urge his master more than ever to destroy independence and the Reformation in Geneva at one blow. What he had seen at Augsburg, and the dangers with which German protestantism threatened the supremacy of the pope and of the emperor, had increased his zeal. The institutions of the middle ages seem to have had at that time no friend more fanatical and no champion more zealous than the active, intelligent, devoted, cruel courtier who had put Levrier to death at the castle of Bonne. ‘My lord,’ he said to the duke, ‘consider the peril to which you are exposed in this business of Geneva, either because of the neighbors who are so near, and are ravening wolves, or because of the little faith the world has in all the qualities, sound right, and reasons a man may have. What will happen if we do not remain masters in the struggle with this new sect?
What vexations, losses, and cares, you know that better than I do. They want to keep you in good humor, my lord, but it is only ‘the better to make game of you, and to increase at your expense, on this side of the mountains or on that — everywhere, in fact. You have documents in your chamber to show that the Genevans used to pay you toll and subsidy; that they helped to portion the daughters of your house; and, further, that they gave your predecessors aid in time of war, and that in time of peace they appealed to them in their suits and sentences... And now what have they done? They have deprived you of the vidamy, they have taken from you the castle on the island, they have committed much injustice to the prejudice of your rights, and have been guilty of murder and other intolerable evils... Worse still... they are joining that perverse sect in order to complete their ruin. ‘But we shall soon put an end to it all, my lord. You have an emperor at your service on whom everything depends. Will they dare be wicked and rebellious in his presence? ‘Firstly, the emperor will replace them under your authority, as you and your ancestors had them... Next, for their rebellion and the crimes they have committed, he will condemn them to be deprived of some privilege — of that which is most injurious to you.
Finally, he will build for you, for your government, a castle or fortress in the city, in whatever part you like, and exact from the Genevans for the support of the Garrison a tax to be paid every year. The city will thus be kept well in subjection. As for the bishops, the emperor will command them to pay you the respect which belongs to the holy empire, as being its representative; he will order them to obey you like himself, and will restore them to all obedience towards you considering also that the time approaches for their general reformation, as is but reasonable. And if the said people of Geneva will not obey (as their unreason may incline them) the emperor will put them under the ban of the empire as rebels, and you shall seize them... You will make them your subjects entirely, confiscating all their privileges and possessions ; and thus you will be for ever established rightfully in Geneva.’ We should not perhaps have quoted the words of the Sieur de Bellegarde at such length, if the document from which they are extracted had not hitherto been unknown. His allegations were false. No presents had ever been made by the city of Geneva to the dukes of Savoy without a special act declaring that the liberality was spontaneous and without prejudice for the future. The vidamy was a fief conferred by the bishop, which made the holder of it an officer of the latter. Lastly, the dukes of Savoy were not vicars of the emperor. But if Bellegarde’s allegations as to the past were false, his schemes as to the future were outrageous. A strong fortress shall be built in Geneva, the citizens shall pay the garrison, and a brutal serfdom shall withdraw them from that perverse sect and keep them for ever in strict obedience under the yoke of their master! As for the bishops, they shall be compelled to obey the duke, especially as the time of their general reformation approaches! It would appear, then, that in the sixteenth century already reason (as Bellegarde says) demanded the abolition of the temporal power of ecclesiastical princes. Were they more advanced then than in our days? I think not. This rude policy aimed merely at substituting the despotism of princes for the despotism of bishops, as being stricter and more effectual. Lastly — the end crowns the work — if the Genevans resist, they shall be conquered, and all their power and property confiscated. In this manner, concludes the advocate of these revolutionary measures, the rights of his master will be for ever secured.
This is what Geneva had to expect from Savoy; what had it to hope from the bishop?
Pierre de la Baume indignant at the duke’s pretensions, had said to him one day proudly: ‘I am subject only to the pope.’ He had lately softened down, in appearance at least, and was drawing nearer to Savoy, so that the Genevans said: ‘Our prince is reconciled with our enemy.’ We are now transported into quite another sphere. If the duke wished to reign by force, the bishop desired to use stratagem. The pastor of Geneva was not in a position to build a fortress in the middle of the city; it was by means of negotiations and intrigues that he would crush the Reformation and liberty. The lion was succeeded by the serpent. Pierre de la Baume, knowing the influence of Besancon Hugues had over his fellow citizens, solicited his help. He wrote to him, during the last year of Besancon’s life, a series of letters we have also had the good fortune to discover. The bishop and the citizen of Geneva were not such good friends as they had been. The former addressed many reproaches to the latter, either because Hugues was dissatisfied on political grounds, or perhaps because his catholicism had cooled down a little in his frequent interviews with the reformed of Berne.
On the 11th of April 1532, the bishop, then at Arbois, impatient to recover his former power in Geneva, resolved to open the campaign, and wrote to Hugues: ‘Besancon, I have always done for you everything that I could; you have seen it by the results; I do not speak to reproach you, but I am astonished that you should requite me so ill. If you had as good an affection for me, as I have given you opportunity, you would have barked (aboye) so well, that my authority would not have fallen to its present depression, and I should not have the trouble, which I must take, of restoring it. I well know the excuses that you can make... None is so deaf as he that will not hear. Nevertheless I have trusted in you, and I still trust in your well-known fidelity. So act, I pray, that I may have cause to continue it. In a little time I shall send one of my people to Geneva on business; you will hear the rest from him. I pray God that He will give you, Besancon, all that you desire.’ Ten days later, Machard, the bishop’s secretary, came from Arbois to Geneva, charged with a political mission, and bearer of another letter for Hugues, which, either on account of the delicate matters to which it related, or because Machard was to explain them verbally, is rather obscure. Hugues hastened to read the prelate’s missive: ‘I send my secretary,’ said De la Baume, ‘on certain business, which I have instructed him to communicate to you first. You will give credit to what he says in my name as if I said it myself. I desire that the affair in question may come to a good end, in order to gratify the princes from whom it proceeds (the emperor and the duke, no doubt). Set a willing hand to it, so that there may be friendly relations between me and my subjects and the said princes, which is a thing of no trifling consequence to all the republic.’
Hugues did not care to enter into the plans formed by the bishop in accord with the princes; so that when Machard returned to Arbois and made his report, his master was much annoyed. He complained of the excessive boldness and strange insubordination of the Genevans, and wrote bitterly to the ex-syndic. ‘Besancon,’ he said, ‘the news that you have given me of Berne are a little compensation for the insolence and ill practices that you and my subjects show towards my officers, usurping my jurisdiction under the shelter of certain words that you have uttered before the general council... I intend to uphold this same jurisdiction in opposition to you...
Indeed, I have done so against greater folks... I hope that you will return to your duty and become my subjects once more. That will give me the opportunity of being a good master. Otherwise do not trust to me...
Matters shall not remain where you have left them. Communicate this to my subjects, if need be.’
The bishop was angry with Geneva, as this letter shows — sometimes more, sometimes less, but always restless and agitated. One day he was told of something Hugues had said which delighted him; not long after he would hear of something the Genevans had done that increased his anger.
About the 13th May when he was informed that Hugues had displayed a very good feeling towards him, the prelate was quite delighted, and wrote to him: ‘I have been informed of your intention to declare everywhere the wrong that my subjects are doing me. You will show me, I hope, by good actions, when I shall require it of you, that you are not a man of two words,’ But ere long other tidings reached the bishop. He was filled with trouble, fear, and pain; and gave way to all the emotions of a restless and suspicious policy. He had fits of anger; he became rash, violent; then he would suddenly collapse; he had neither strength, feeling, nor courage. In general, however, it was indignation that prevailed in him. Not one of his officers or of the canons (for there was a collegiate church at Arbois) understood him, or consoled him, or encouraged him. He was alone... and vented his agitation in his apartments or in his gardens. ‘I think the answers made by my subjects very strange,’ he said, ‘I should be sorry to be angry with them.’ A few days later he wrote: ‘I am quite amazed...
It seems that my subjects do not understand their business... If they do not mend, I shall be forced to proceed in another way... which will displease me... It seems to me that they would do well to obey their lord, and not act the prince... It cannot last. But it did last. Geneva, where they were listening to Olivetan, where they were placarding everywhere, by the side of the pardon of Rome, ‘the great general pardon’ of Jesus Christ, where the council unanimously ordered the Gospel to be preached ‘according to the truth, without any mixture of fable;’ — Geneva, whatever Pierre de la Baume might say or do, was separating from the bishop and the pope. On the 3rd September (1532), the bishop, more exasperated than ever, wrote again to Besancon Hugues, but with an increase of ill-humor. ‘I am displeased with the way my subjects treat me from day to day, declaring that they will rise against my authority... That will last as long as it can... ‘I have always been long-suffering; but now it would be better for me to be angry... If I attempt to do anything from which the Genevans will reap neither pleasure nor profit... they must not be surprised... Certainly I have little to thank my servants or my friends for serving me so badly... I think, Besancon, that you desire what is right, but I should like to see the fruits. The people always find excuses in you... They say that I have allowed their proceedings... I do not understand that dance, and I affirm that I said nothing with that intention, from which may God keep them.’ ‘The Bishop of Geneva’ fh182 It was reported at Geneva that the bishop was willing to make some concessions, that he had said so privately, and the huguenots took advantage of it to assert their independence. On the 28th November Pierre de la Baume wrote to Besancon Hugues from the Tour de Mai: ‘Besancon, I have seen what you wrote touching the mode of proceeding against my authority and to the detriment of my church. I know whence that comes... except that I have always been given to understand that, according to the common opinion, my subjects would have been much better guided and would have obeyed me better than they have done, if you had been willing to set your hand to it, as you had promised me, endeavoring to procure the peace of the city, which suffers the greatest loss on my part. As to what you write about being under my displeasure, the only regret I feel as regards you is that you have not been willing to do what you promised.
The recompense I made you was to the end that you might keep my possessions in peace, but they are more than ever in war. It is entirely your fault if my jurisdiction is not still kept up. I write to you in order that you may perform your duty... You will do me a pleasure: I would not have so many words to be without result As for me I am accustomed to do something vigorously I shall consider what it must be. ’ Such are the threatening words which close the correspondence of Pierre de la Baume with Besancon Hugues. Until now all traces of this great citizen had been lost after the 26th September 1532. If the letter we have just given belongs to this year, that limit would be shortened by two months. He must have died between the 28th November 1532 and the 18th February 1533. Thus the bishop, continually engrossed with Geneva, thought of nothing but recovering his former power. But the independence of that city had enemies more formidable still. Charles 5. had ordered the Genevans to drive the Reformation from their walls. ‘Full of anxiety for your soul’s health,’ he wrote to them, ‘and learning that certain new opinions and sects are beginning to swarm among you, we exhort you seriously not to admit them, to extirpate them, and to set about it with the utmost diligence, not to permit anything to be taught among you in the leastwise opposed to the decrees and traditions of your ancestors; on the contrary, to preserve with unshaken constancy the faith, rites, and ceremonies that you have received from your fathers. You will thus receive a worthy reward from Almighty God, and will merit from us every sort of gratitude.’ Geneva had not obeyed the orders of the puissant emperor. The affairs of Germany had at first prevented him from constraining the little city to follow his sovereign orders, which even the barbarous tribes of the new world obeyed. But now the treaty of Nuremberg was signed; Charles having come to terms with the protestants of Germany might easily keep the promise he had made to his brother-in-law through Bellegarde, and assist him against the huguenots of Geneva.
The perfidious murderer of Levrier was beginning to hope that it would be possible to found a stronghold in Geneva, with its ditches and lofty walls, flanked with towers and bastions, and a strong garrison of halberdiers, arquebusiers, and artillerymen, who would keep the city and country in complete subjection under the yoke of their master. When Gessler was sent in the name of Austria to destroy the liberties of the Swiss, did he not build a fortress above Altorf — Zwing-Uri, the yoke of Uri? and had not the free children of those mountains to atone for the smallest sparks of independence by long and costly imprisonment in gloomy dungeons? Had not Pharaoh set the example in Egypt?... Why should not they do the same to subdue the huguenots? Fortresses, cannons, arquebusses, chains... this was what Geneva had to expect. Before any great length of time the Genevans were really to see a formidable force marching against them, commissioned to carry out the plans of the emperor and the duke. But God’s providence had always kept the city, and at this very moment a new force, the pledge of liberty, was about to be given it. The Gospel of the Son of God was about to enter its walls. But he whom the Son maketh free, shall be free indeed.