FROM MARCH 28 TO MAY 4, 1553
JUST at that time some foreigners were staying in Geneva, and particularly seven merchants of Friburg, who had come for the fair. They looked with sorrow on the spectacle around them, and could not understand how citizens could go so far as to kill one another, ‘to satisfy the appetite of their priests,’ says a manuscript. These worthy Switzers came forward to mediate. The chiefs of the catholic party, not doubting that they were on their side, asked for their support. ‘We do not meddle in business of this kind,’ wisely answered the Friburgers, ‘except it be to restore peace, since we are co-burghers and good friends with you as well as with the others.’ They proceeded to the Rue des Allemands and said to the reformed: ‘Look at the great multitude of people that is against you.
This matter must be settled before worse befalls you.’ The reformed, who were ready for the battle, made answer: ‘The disturbance did not begin with us, and we should be distressed to do anything to the disadvantage of the Council or of the people. We only ask to be left at peace and to live according to God, obeying the magistrates, as the Gospel commands. We are acting in self-defense, for they have conspired to kill us. If so many priests and monks remain assembled in the square, rest assured that we shall defend ourselves to the last, if it please God to assist us. But we are not pleased at having to fight against fathers, brothers, relations, friends, and neighbors to gratify the appetites of the priests and monks.’ The Friburgers, encouraged by these words, returned to the Molard and addressing the priests, said: ‘It is neither good nor honorable, and above all it is not in accordance with your office, thus to excite the people to kill one another. It is your duty to be in your houses or at church praying to God rather than be thus in arms. When the people are at variance, you should reconcile them instead of exciting them to shed blood.’ These were christian words, and the laymen delivered an excellent exhortation to the clergy; but the latter were so enraged that they would listen to nothing.
After the pacific address of the Friburgers, ‘they showed themselves more heated than ever in their desire that all should be killed.’
These worthy merchants, astounded at finding ecclesiastics so eager for battle, thought that the laymen would be more moderate, and went off to parley with the magistrates. ‘If there is any bloodshed,’ they said, ‘all the blame will be laid on you. Do your duty: it is yours to command; order the two parties to withdraw to their homes.’ The honor of the magistrates, who at heart desired peace, was touched, and they resolved to put down the tumult. Turning to the priests, upon whom the whole affair depended, they said to them before the people: ‘You must restore peace.’ But the clergy would do nothing, and indeed excited the people all the more to attack the Lutherans. The indignant Friburgers determined to frighten them. ‘We pray you, sirs, not to be so high,’ they said, ‘for if it should come to fighting, we would rather be on their side than on yours… They are very different soldiers from you, in better order and well-armed… we have seen them.’ Then pointing to the listening people, they continued: ‘Do you think, sir priests, that the men here, who have their children, parents, and friends on the other side, wish to kill them or to be killed by them for love of you?… Indeed, we pray them to withdraw. And if ‘after that you desire to attack your enemies, think what you are about; perchance, you may not have the opportunity of returning.’
The worthy Friburgers did not stop here; after speaking to the magistrates and priests, they began to harangue the people. Approaching the citizens, they spoke to them singly: ‘You have sons, relations, and friends on the huguenot side; do you want to kill them, or be killed by them? We advise you to let the priests fight it out by themselves.’
Many highly approved of this remonstrance. ‘We are very foolish,’ they said; ‘why should we get killed for the priests?… Let them defend themselves, if they like. Let them contend with Holy Scripture and not with the sword.’ Some whom reason could not convince were seized with fear. The good sense of the Friburgers dissipated the charm of sacerdotal fanaticism. The natural affections repressed for a moment, resumed their power. ‘Let the affair be arranged,’ was the cry from all quarters; ‘Arbitrate, arbitrate.’
The magistrates, seeing the priests deserted, regained their courage. There was not a moment to be lost. The council assembled in the middle of the Molard, the ushers keeping off the crowd; the syndics were the first to protest against the spilling of blood; many influential councilors supported them, and the majority of the people seemed to declare in favor of peace.
Then the premier-syndic, Nicholas du Crest, Claude Baud, and Pierre de Malbuisson, attended by several captains, advanced to treat with De la Miaisonneuve and his friends. The foremost of the huguenots, seeing them approach, thought that the battle was beginning, and one of them, a prompt and energetic man, arranged a piece of artillery, began to take aim at the center of the group, and got ready to apply the match. ‘The shot would have made a terrible breach,’ says Froment. This rapid movement alarmed those who were approaching; on all sides they shouted out, ‘Peace is made.’ At these words the gunner stopped, the soldiers drew back, the syndics came forward on one side, Baudichon and his friends on the other, and the two parties conferred together. Confidence was not yet restored. It was agreed to give hostages: three notable men were given up on each side, and among the six was a canon named Guet. Immediately the sound of the trumpet was heard in the city, and the herald proclaimed: ‘Every man shall lay down his arms and return quietly home, without quarrel or dispute, under pain of being hanged; and no one shall sing song or ballad, provoking to quarrel, under pain of being whipped and banished.’
The most diverse opinions prevailed at that moment in the city. The priests and fervent disciples of Rome could find no comfort. Wishing to destroy the Reformation at any cost, they thought it very christian-like to put the reformed to death. They were particularly envenomed against the captain-general; some of them publicly called him a traitor. ‘This peace vexes the christians sorely,’ writes Sister Jeanne; and accordingly they were heard exclaiming: ‘We ought now to despatch them from the world, in order to be no more frightened or vexed on their account.’ ‘To say the truth,’ adds the devout nun, ‘it would have been better than letting them live.’ But while some of the catholic leaders, as Wernli and Moine, returned home gloomy and discontented, hoping that the business was merely adjourned; others, both reformed and catholics, gladly recrossed the thresholds of their homes, and were welcomed with tears of joy. Wives embraced their husbands, the little children clung round their fathers, while the elder ones took off their swords. The politicians smiled as they witnessed the joy of some and the chagrin of others; they shook their heads and thought that one party or the other would break the truce as soon as they fancied it would be to their interest to do so. ‘It is a sham peace,’ they said. But nothing could console certain of the monks. ‘Alas!’ they muttered in their convents, ‘the christians would easily have discomfited and reduced the heretics to subjection, and now these wicked ones will gain the supremacy in the city. On the following day (29th March) the council of sixty assembled ‘to settle the strife of the day before.’ The tempest was not yet entirely appeased; the catholic members of the council looked with threatening eyes on the most notable of their colleagues, Jean Philippe, Francois Faure, Claude Roset, and others. These were the men to be attacked, they thought, for the strength of the anticlerical movement lay with them. But for a time reconciliation was all the fashion. They resolved to frame a compromise which would satisfy both parties: and some of the magistrates and principal citizens met to arrange a system of uniting Rome and the Gospel.’ The Two Hundred, who were joined by many other citizens, being assembled on the 30th March, the premier-syndic first liberated the hostages and then proposed the famous project of reconciliation. The council having accepted it, he forwarded a copy to the captains of each company; and turning to the Abbot of Bonmont, who pretty regularly discharged the functions of bishop, considering the prelate’s continual absence, the chief magistrate said to him: ‘Mr. Vicar, I shall give you also a copy of this decree, in order that you may take care to make your priests live properly.’ All the laymen agreed that there lay the main difficulty.
The sitting broke up.
Each company was immediately drawn up on its Place d’Armes; the captain stood in the center: huguenots and mamelukes listened to this strange decree which, regulating a religious matter, was ordered by the civil authority and proclaimed by the soldiers. ‘In the name of God, the Creator and Redeemer, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,’ read the captain, and all bared their heads. ‘In the interest of peace, it is resolved,’ continued the officer with sonorous voice, ‘that all anger, grudges, injuries, and ill-will between any soever of our citizens and inhabitants, as well ecclesiastic as secular, and also all battery, insult, and reproach, committed by one side or the other, be wholly pardoned.’
The listeners appeared satisfied. ‘Item. That every citizen, of what state or condition soever he may be, live henceforward in peace, without attempting any novelty until it be generally ordered to live otherwise.’ — ‘Really, here is a reform,’ said the huguenots, ‘but it is in the future.’ ‘Item. That no one speak against the holy Sacraments, and that in this respect every one be left at liberty according to his conscience.’ Liberty and conscience! what strange words. If the people of Geneva gained that, everything was gained. ‘That no one,’ continued the captain, ‘preach without the license of the superior, the syndics, and the council; and that the preacher say nothing that is not proved by Holy Scripture. ’ No article caused greater satisfaction. ‘Good,’ said some of the reformed, ‘our doctrine is that of Holy Scripture.’ — ’Good,’ said some of the catholics, ‘the superior will contrive that no heretic preaches.’
The captain added the prohibition to eat meat on Friday, to sing songs against one another, or to say ‘You are a Lutheran,’ ‘You are a papist.’
Moreover he ordered the heads of families to inform their wives and children of the decree. The catholic ladies and their boys had been sufficiently forward at the time of the battle not to be forgotten.
The captain having finished said to his company: ‘Let those who desire peace and love hold up their hands and make oath before God.’
The reformers, who obtained Holy Scripture and liberty of conscience, held up their hands. The catholics seeing that the episcopal authority and fast days were left them, did the same; but in one of the companies, a huguenot who did not care for this mixture, said: ‘I refuse!’ — ’ To the Rhone with him,’ exclaimed the catholics immediately; ‘to the Rhone.
Throw him into the Rhone without mercy, like a mad dog,’ Nobody, however, was drowned, and next day there was a general procession through the city to return thanks to God for the peace.
The catholics triumphed. Religious liberty and the bible seemed such strange things that they had nothing to fear from them. They learnt the contrary afterwards; but at this time the words looked like a decoy, that had no reality, merely intended to attract and catch the huguenots. On Palm Sunday, a very learned dominican (as it was said) come from Auxerre, was commissioned to preach the victory of Rome. The crowd was so great that the convent church could not contain it. He was conducted to the open space in front of the building, where he got up into a pulpit that had been brought out for him. Standing proudly before his congregation, the disciple of St. Dominic said: ‘Here I am ready to enter into the lists with these preachers. Let my lords of Berne send as many as they like, I will undertake to confound them all.’ He had a copious flow of big words, to the great contempt of the Word of God.’ The huguenots, scarcely able to contain themselves, exclaimed: ‘These canting knaves desire to blindfold the eyes of the simple, so that they may not see the sun which has risen on us in his brightness.’
The dominican continued hurling his thunderbolts without intermission, then suddenly the assembly became disturbed. The women screamed, the men were agitated… it was believed that the huguenots were sallying from the city (for the convent was in a suburb) and about to fall on the congregation. ‘Shut the gates’ (of the city), Cried some; and the devout were still more frightened at this exclamation. Some drew their swords, others their daggers, all got ready to defend themselves. The poor monk, fancying the Lutherans were there already and about to put him to death, grew frightened, turned pale… ‘and fell out of the pulpit in a faint.’ But no huguenots appeared. The congregation began to enquire into the cause of the alarm, and discovered a young hare which had been let loose among the people, and was running here and there between the women’s dresses. It was a trick played by some foolish jester. There was a good deal of laughter in the city at the intrepid champions of Rome who had so heroically drawn their daggers against a leveret. A ceremony of another kind, more serious and absorbing, was in preparation. It was Passion-week, and the evangelicals took the necessity of meeting in a spirit of christian fraternity around the Lord’s table. On Holy Thursday (10th April) four score men and several women assembled in the garden at the Pre l’ Eveque. First, one of them washed the feet of the others, in remembrance of the like act done by our Lord. It was not an idle imitation with them: they understood Christ’s meaning: ‘reminding them that no one should refuse to descend to serve his brethren and equals, however low and abject the service might be;’ and they felt that ‘if charity is abandoned, it is because every one takes more than he wants, and despises almost all the others.’ After the washing of the feet, the holy sacrament was celebrated. These energetic men humbled themselves like little children before God, and approaching the table in sincere faith, many experienced that the presence of the Redeemer, although spiritual, is real and strengthens the inner man.
As soon as the news of this celebration became known, all the city spoke of it, and sarcasms were not spared. ‘These Jews, ’ they said, ‘have bitten one after another into a slice of bread and cheese, in token of peace and union… And thereupon the catholics laughed,’ sister Jeanne informs us. But the laughter was soon changed into fear. As they returned from the Pre l’ Eveque, several huguenots (and some of the most dreaded were among them) walked through the streets together. A few silly gossips having caught sight of them in the distance, reported everywhere that large bodies of heretics were assembling in the squares and plotting to prevent the celebration of the mass on Easter Sunday. It being Holy Thursday, the communion was about to be administered in the churches; but the women, terrified by the tales they heard, did not dare stir out. The men grasped their arms; the priests and monks did the same; and both pastors and flock began to celebrate the supper of peace, protected by breast-plates, daggers, and clubs. All of them kept their ears on the watch; they were agitated at the least noise; but no one came to disturb them, and the communion passed off quietly. ‘It will be on Good-Friday then,’ said a few of the catholics; ‘the huguenots, it is well known, are preparing to make a demonstration that day in the Dominicans’ church, where the monk Auxerre is to preach.’ To prevent such a mishap it was decided that the good father should preach at St. Pierre’s, ‘the like of which had never been seen within the memory of man, on such a day.’ The canons believed themselves safe in their cathedral, as in a fortress. For more security numerous bodies of men patrolled the city; one of the chief catholics, M. de Thorens, paraded proudly up and down surrounded by a troop of bravoes. On Friday morning, priests and worshipers went armed to St. Pierre’s. Some of the reformed were astonished at seeing them under arms on such a day, and reminded them of our Lord’s words: Put up thy sword in his sheath. ‘That means,’ said the priests, ‘that it must be kept close until it is time to draw it. ’ Convenient interpretations are always to be found.
These good people were disquieted without a cause: there was not the least disturbance, and the preacher of Auxerre said whatever he pleased. But he did not feel at ease in the city of the huguenots, and Easter Day was no sooner past than he returned ‘hastily into his own country.’ No one dared preach after his departure, which greatly surprised devout catholics. The ordinance of the council had forwarded religious liberty in Geneva, but it was little more than in theory; the practice was more difficult. In the opinion of some, Geneva ought to be entirely reformed; in the opinion of others, entirely catholic men of decision asked ‘how long they would halt between two opinions?’ and daring partisans repeated that the sword alone could cut the difficult knot. The premier-syndic, Nicholas du Crest, and councilor Roy started for Berne to pray the senate not to support the Reform; while the evangelicals, on the other hand, desired that it should be allowed to develop itself freely. Many had a fervor of mind, a sincere hunger and thirst for righteousness; their souls sought after eternal salvation; and they were as ambitious of heavenly truth as conquerors are of glory and empire. The clergy, by depriving them of their ministers, had reduced them to simple attempts at mutual edification; but they desired the full preaching of the Gospel, without which the church pines away. ‘We are suffering from want,’ they said; ‘we are deprived of our rights. A bold monk is perpetually shouting that he is prepared to confound all the ministers that Berne is willing to send us… Well then, let us ask Berne for ministers whose learning and eloquence may reduce these insolent and prating Dominicans to silence.’
The journey of Syndic du Crest disquieted Maisonneuve. Who can tell but the respect due to the chief magistrate of the republic may induce the powerful canton of Berne to take a false step?… He will endeavor to prevent so great a misfortune. He communicated his intentions to the faithful Salomon, who being full of confidence in his friend, departed with him immediately on this perilous journey. Du Crest and Councilor Roy, arriving at Berne, on the 6th April, fancied one day they saw Maisonneuve and Salomon in the street. They stopped in surprise, eyed them both from head to foot, and looked as if petrified… It was really the two huguenots. The premier-syndic was exasperated, and going up to them, asked rudely, ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘We are told that you have instructions to speak against us,’ answered Maisonneuve: ‘we are here to defend ourselves.’ The next day, when the two magistrates went to the council, they were still more surprised to find the two reformed leaders in the outer hall. They hoped at least to enter the councilroom alone; but no! the door was hardly open when the two huguenots went forward unceremoniously with the two magistrates, and sat down quietly at their left. Was there then a second power in Geneva, which also sent its ambassadors?
Maisonneuve was in reality an ambassador; his heart burnt for a great cause — that of the Gospel and of the new times. The truth which he represented filled him with courage; he rose first, even before the Genevan magistrate had spoken, and said with holy boldness: ‘Most honored lords, we and a great number of our fellow-citizens desire the pure Word of God to be preached in Geneva. The voice of the Gospel, so little heard in times of yore, is now resounding throughout Christendom, and we do not wish to give up hearing it. Neither banishment nor threats can reduce us to carelessness and inactivity.’ And then without fearing the premier-syndic, who was listening, he continued: ‘My lords, do you know to what extremity we are reduced? Our magistrates are making war upon us, and trying to drive from Geneva that Gospel which you have established in Berne. After the visit we paid you recently, they summoned us before them… And this Nicholas du Crest here present has trampled our liberties under foot and spoken to us as if we were thieves… Instead of answering your letters they went from house to house exhorting their partisans to take up arms. They rang the tocsin; gathered together the canons, priests, and common people; and contrived a wicked and bloody conspiracy… And why, my lords? We must (they said) cut off the heads of those who went to Berne… Behold, most honored lords, the value they attach to your citizenship!… O liberties of Geneva! O alliance of the League! O justice of the laws!… Everything is trodden under foot by priests determined to leave us for our inheritance nothing but slavery and superstition, tears, sighs, and groans… A remedy must be applied, and you alone can do it, most honored lords. A fanatical monk, who preaches against pure religion, has offered to enter the lists against every minister of the Gospel you may send us… Do what he asks… Grant to us and our brethren one of your preachers. Obtain for him a public place where he may freely declare the Word of God. Let him combat with this dominican in a properly regulated discussion, and thus ensure the triumph of the Gospel.’
Maisonneuve knew the risk he incurred by speaking with so much frankness, and he therefore added: ‘Perhaps you will also see that this just request does not prevent our returning home and living there in peace.’ The syndic and the Genevan councilor, who had not expected such a speech, were embarrassed. Having come as accusers, they found themselves accused. The angry looks of the Bernese councilors disturbed the magistrate of Geneva still more than the words of the protestant ambassador. The avoyer, turning to the syndic, asked him whether he had any answer to make. ‘We have no orders on the subject, and, therefore have nothing to say,’ was his reply. ‘Well then,’ said the lords of Berne, ‘we will send a deputation to Geneva shortly, to see what is going on there with regard to religion.’ The council rose. It seemed as if a favorable wind was about to blow on the evangelical ship. But a storm was preparing, which might perhaps dash it to pieces.