(SEPTEMBER AND OCTOBER 1535.)
THE joy which then filled Geneva was not to be of long duration. The sky was fair, and yet certain signs indicated that the tempest was not far off.
The Reformation which had been accomplished excited the most serious uneasiness at Turin, at Rome, and around the puissant Charles V. Hitherto a few desultory attacks had been made against the city: its territory had been laid waste, its provisions intercepted, and ladders had been placed against its walls: but now a regular campaign was about to be opened, and the enemy were decided not to lay down their arms until they had taken it and transformed it into a popish and Savoyard city. The partisans of Rome felt their danger; they saw that as Geneva was at the gates of France, Italy, and Germany, if the Reformation was settled there, it might compromise the existence of the papacy itself. Accordingly all their thoughts were bent on putting down the revolt , though at the cost of much bloodshed, and of treating Geneva as Alby, ‘of holy and illustrious memory,’ had been treated formerly. Paul III., a friend of the world and of the fine arts, wished, however, to employ milder means at first — to reduce the city by famine. ‘These Lutherans of four days’ standing,’ he said, ‘will soon be disgusted with their heresy.’ He was deceived, but the duke of Savoy did not share his mistake. That prince, who showed a certain kindness towards his party, was hard, violent, and merciless whenever Geneva was concerned. He was to be the Simon de Montfort of the new crusade. ‘It is impossible,’ people said, ‘that the Genevans can hold out in the face of the duke’s alliances. On the one hand, there is his brother-in-law the emperor, his nephew the king of France, his father-inlaw the king of Portugal, and his allies the Swiss; and then all his own subjects, who hem in Geneva for two hundred leagues round, as wolves surround a fold of helpless sheep. On the other hand, there is the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, and the priests, whose favor and support the bishop of Geneva possesses.’ The cabinet of Turin resolved, therefore, to set to work. On the 30th of August the duke publicly proclaimed Geneva as infected with the plague, forbade his subjects, under pain of death, to have any communication with its inhabitants, and promised hospitality in his states to all who desired to escape from the pestilence. It was thought in Piedmont that only a few mischief-makers would remain, and that one bold stroke would make the ducal army master of the city.
Everything was prepared in the states of Charles IV. to strike a decisive blow. On the 28th of August and 24th of September, numerous companies came as far as the gates of Geneva, but the citizens drove them back. These were mere skirmishes of outposts: more formidable attacks were in preparation.
Charles V., victorious over Barbarossa, called upon the Swiss League, assembled at Baden near Zurich, to give material help to the duke of Savoy. It was said in many quarters that the plan of that ambitious monarch was to destroy four cities — Algiers, Geneva, Wittemberg, and Constantinople — two cities of the Koran and two of the Gospel. Did not an old prophecy speak of an emperor who was to achieve the conquest of the world, command ‘the adoration of the cross under pain of death, and then be crowned at Jerusalem by an angel of God ?’ — ‘That emperor,’ said many, ‘is Charles V.’ Alarm was beginning to creep over the Genevese people; the councils deliberated, but in vain, as to what could be done to save the city. Fathers and mothers sat by their firesides with downcast eyes, silent lips, and foreheads burdened with care; and groups collected here and there in the streets, talking earnestly about their misfortunes! ‘All round the city there is nothing but fighting, blockade of provisions, plunder, and conflagration.
Within the city correspondence on a large scale with the enemy. How can a handful of men resist such a multitude?’ Then the preachers of the Word pointed to the glorious deliverances recorded in the Scriptures. ‘God will do the same for you to-day,’ they said, ‘provided you place your whole trust in Him.’ And lifted up by that mighty word, those men against whom princes took counsel together, exclaimed: ‘We will place our hope and our refuge in God alone.’ Charles III., encouraged by the emperor’s support, sent his ambassadors to the Swiss Cantons, and demanded that the duke and the bishop, ‘escorted by my Lords of Berne, should be brought back to Geneva, to resume all their pre-eminence therein; and that no person should make innovations.’ Happily the deputies from Geneva — Lullin, Des Clefs, and Claude Savoye were there, and remained firm as rocks to uphold the rights of their country. The Swiss, finding the two parties equally inflexible, withdrew, saying: ‘This affair of Geneva tires us to death; get out of it the best way you can!’ Lullin and Des Clefs returned to Geneva; but Claude Savoye, determined to obtain help, remained in the territories of the League. The hopes of this energetic reformer were not without some foundation.
When the council of Berne had heard of the abolition of the mass at Geneva, they had rejoiced, and, on the 28th of August, had written a letter of congratulation to the magistrates: ‘Seeing that you have learnt the truth,’ they said, ‘be watchful over it and persevere firmly. So doing, be not afraid that God will let you be destroyed at last.’ Claude Savoye departed for Berne, and on arriving there went from house to house and appeared before the heads of the State. ‘What!’ said he, ‘you sent us your minister Farel, and now that we have obeyed the Word which he preached to us, you deliver us up into the cruel hands of our enemies.’ That noble reformer, Berthold Haller, supported him with all his strength, and called upon Berne ‘not to abandon Geneva faint-heartedly.’ Meanwhile the deputies from Turin canvassed the lords of the council on the opposite side. Self-interest prevailed among the patricians. ‘Raise troops for your own defense,’ they told Claude Savoye, ‘provided it be not on our territory; all that we can possibly do for you is to commend you to God’s grace.’ And they ended with this expressive but familiar saying: ‘The shirt is nearer to us than the coat.’ When the Genevans heard of Berne’s refusal, they were thunderstruck.
Berne, reformed like themselves, abandoned them! The faith, so necessary to nations, began to waver in many hearts; but Farel endeavored to strengthen those who were shaken. ‘Certainly,’ he said to them, ‘my lords of Berne have sent us to a great and strong master — to God. He it is who will have all the honor of our deliverance, and not men. He has done mightier things than this. He always shows his power in what is desperate; and when it seems that all is lost, it is then that all is won.’ The court of Turin did not think like Farel, and seeing the Swiss abandoning Geneva, it felt no doubt that the city, coveted so long, would soon fall into its hands. It was desirable to take advantage of the dejection of the citizens; and accordingly the Piedmontese cabinet hastily sent ambassadors to summon ‘my lords of Geneva,’ in the name of their masters, to expel heresy and the heresiarchs, to restore the bishop and clergy to their rights, and to set up the images again. But the Genevese, prouder still in misfortune than in prosperity, replied to the envoys: ‘Noble lords, we will sacrifice our fortunes, our interests, our children, our blood, and our lives in defense of the Word of God. And sooner than betray that holy trust we will set fire to the four corners of our city, as our Helvetian ancestors once did.’ The ambassadors carried back this heroic answer to their master, and the duke pressed forward his preparations.
A danger not less great — possibly greater — threatened Geneva: discord.
An implacable hatred ‘like that which in old times existed between Caesar and Pompey,’ says Froment, divided the captain-general Philippe and the syndic Michael Sept; a fatal hatred whence proceeded great woes, with loss of goods, of honor, and of men, exile, and death. Some took part with Philippe, others with Michael Sept. ‘When the eldest son of the captaingeneral,’ said the former, ‘was taken prisoner by the men of Peney, who offered to exchange him against a number of their comrades who were imprisoned in Geneva, Michael Sept answered: “No, it would be contrary to the interests of the state.”’ — ‘It is true,’ replied the syndic’s friends, ‘but did he not add: “Let us redeem Philippe’s son; I will give three hundred crowns as my share. If it were the case of my own child, my advice would not be different.”’ The council having refused the exchange in consequence of this advice, the captain-general, a liberal and brave but haughty, turbulent, and violent man, swore a deadly animosity against Michael Sept. He scattered fire and flame everywhere against that venerable magistrate, and sacrificing the interests of his country to his resentment, he retired murmuring to his tent. ‘I am sick,’ he replied, ‘I will be captain-general no longer.’ Extreme susceptibility may ruin a man and sometimes a state.
The retirement of the captain-general, in the serious position in which Geneva was now placed, as well as the divisions with which it was accompanied, greatly increased the danger of the city. Moreover, they did not know whom to appoint as Philippe’s successor. Many named Baudichon de la Maisonneuve; but he was hasty and impetuous like the other, and the council would have liked a more sedate, more penetrating, more prudent character; they feared the eagerness and want of circumspection of that daring citizen. But his friends represented that nobody was more devoted to the cause of independence and of the Gospel; and that what they wanted now was a chief full of courage and zeal. De la Maisonneuve was appointed captain-general.
The new commander immediately called a muster of all the men who were ready to march out with him against the enemy. They were but four hundred in all. It mattered not. De la Maisonneuve grasped a banner on which he had ordered some fiery tears to be emblazoned. Greater simplicity might have been more becoming at such a moment; yet it was a deep and true feeling of the tragical position in which Geneva was placed that animated the captain-general. He waved his standard before his four hundred soldiers, and exclaimed: ‘Let every one be prepared to die. It is not common tears that we must shed, but tears of blood!’
On returning into the city, the little army went to the churches. Farel had as much ardor in praying as Baudichon in fighting. Every day there were sermons and prayers to the Lord. ‘O God,’ said the reformer, ‘be pleased to defend thy cause!’ In truth, it was not only the independence of Geneva that was threatened, but the Reformation. The Genevans enumerated their sufferings, outrages, poverty, famine, cold, loss of goods, furniture, and cattle, stolen by bands of plunderers; young children, and even men and women, carried off, maltreated, and put to death; attacks made at all hours, and so violently that it was scarcely possible to hold out longer. But greater misfortunes were still to come. Charles of Savoy, supported by the emperor, was recruiting old Italian and Spanish soldiers, and had selected to command them one of the cruelest captains of the age, employed somewhat later by Charles V. against the Protestants of Germany. The heads of the state, convinced of the danger, made this declaration on the 3d of October: ‘Our enemies are preparing every day to attack us; so that, if God does not help us, we cannot escape their blood-stained hands.’ During this time Claude Savoye, who was soliciting help from Berne, received nothing but refusals. He was sad and heart-stricken; all was growing darker round him; he knew not whence aid could come. On a sudden a ray of light cheered him. Farel had proclaimed at Neuchatel the Gospel he was preaching at Geneva. The towns and villages and valleys of that country were the scene of many of the reformer’s victories. He had also preached to the mountaineers of the see of Basle, who had imagined they were ‘listening to an angel come down from heaven.’ Claude Savoye, rejected by the lords of Berne, turned his eyes towards the Jura, where the French language being in use, it would be easy for him to plead the cause of his country. He shook off the dust of his feet against Berne, and departed.
There was in those parts a man known for his evangelical zeal, a friend of Farel, and on whom Savoye thought he could reckon. Jacob Wildermuth, or Wildermeth, belonged to a family whose members had filled the highest offices at Bienne, of which they were the hereditary mayors; but they also possessed the citizenship of Neuchatel, and the one of whom we are speaking seems to have frequently resided in the latter country. His father had gained distinction in the famous battles of Morat and Grandson, and he himself had made the campaigns of Italy from 1512 to 1515. Wildermuth signifies wild courage , a name very appropriate to the intrepid warrior. Although advanced in years, he had all the fire of youth and could support great fatigue. About the end of 1529, when Farel went to Neuchatel, Wildermuth had welcomed him; and when the magistrates forbade the reformer to preach in the churches: ‘Stay,’ said the soldier to him, ‘I will make you preach in the houses.’ He was immediately assailed with threats: ‘I can easily brave them,’ he said, ‘for I know that God is stronger than man or devil.’ Such was the man to whom Claude Savoye made known the danger of Geneva. He conceived at once the design of delivering that city.
Wildermuth was not only full of faith in the Gospel, and of aversion to ultramontane superstitions, but he was intelligent, skillful, and courageous; and having already made the campaigns of Italy, he knew better than others how to organize and lead a body of volunteers. ‘A burgess of Berne,’ said the Genevan to him, ‘has given me six hundred crowns, wherewith to raise a troop to fight against the duke and the pope.’ — ‘Very good,’ said the Swiss warrior, ‘I undertake, with the help of my strong-handed cousin, Ehrard of Nidau, to enroll some stout fellows, and lead them secretly and promptly to Geneva.’
Half a league from Bienne, on the lake of that name, in the Seeland, which forms part of the canton of Berne, stands the pretty little town of Nidau.
Ehrard Bourgeois was one of the citizens most devoted to the Gospel and to liberty; and, more than that, he was one of those strong, practical men, who know how to act upon others, and who, when they have once embraced a cause, never give it up until it has triumphed. At once he made the critical position of Geneva known in Nidau and its environs. If he had a strong hand, he had a no less powerful voice; those who loved the Gospel and hated despotism answered to his call. In a humble dwelling of this neighborhood there lived a woman with her husband and three sons, whose name has not been handed down to us. Filled with ardent zeal for the Gospel, she determined to contribute to the deliverance of her brethren of Geneva. A religious spirit has often invested women with a strength that does not seem to belong to their sex. The heroine of Nidau stood up: grasping a two-handed sword, and addressing her husband and three sons, she inspired them all with courage. She burnt with desire to march with her people to encounter those soldiers of Savoy, who, urged on by the pope, were advancing against Geneva. Their number and force did not stop her. ‘Though I should be alone,’ she said to her husband and children, ‘I would fight with this sword against all yonder Savoyards. The father and sons were valiant warriors and fervent in the Gospel; and all five presented themselves to Ehrard in order to march to the rescue of Geneva. It is a great sign when women bestir themselves about the maintenance of rights, and encourage their sons and their husbands, instead of dissuading them from the battle: when this occurs, the enemy is already beaten. We have seen it in antiquity, and in modern times. The fire which animated this heroine spread all around her, and a goodly number of valiant fellows hastened from the Seeland, Bienne, and the valleys of the Jura, to be enrolled under the flag of Ehrard.
During this time Claude Savoye and Wildermuth were appealing to the men of good-will at Neuchatel and in its valleys. In every place Savoye uttered his lament over the poor city of Geneva: ‘Help us in God’s name,’ he said. ‘Give aid and succor to your Christian brethren, who hold the same faith and obey the same law as you: and who, because they have the Gospel preached, and defend their liberties and franchises, are beleaguered by the enemies of the faith.’ These words were not ineffectual. Many generous minds threw far from them the selfish thoughts that might have restrained them. ‘Shall we not be moved with pity towards our brethren in the Lord?’ said the men of Neuchatel to one another. ‘Shall not the charity we owe to our neighbor impel us?’ One of the most fervent was Jacques Baillod, called also the Banneret, whose family, one of the oldest in the Val de Travers, filled the chief offices of the state. He was, as it would appear, misshapen in body, short, and a little hunch-backed, not very unlike Aesop (said some); but he was a skillful and valiant captain. Many men from the Val de Travers and other places listened to his appeal. Even at Neuchatel, an ex-councilor was distinguished by his zeal; this was Andre, surnamed Mazellier, or ‘the butcher,’ one of those firm characters who, when they have put their hands to the plow, never look back. ‘In a short time,’ says a contemporary chronicler, ‘a thousand picked men, fine menof- war, faithful and of stout heart — if there are any suck in all Switzerland — were assembled, and ready to march at once to the succor of Geneva at their own expense.’ According to others, only eight or nine hundred men took up arms.
Meanwhile the rumor of these preparations reached the castle of Neuchatel. The Sire de Rive de Prangins, governor of the county for the princess of Longueville, ‘a papist and a Savoyard,’ says the chronicler Roset; ‘a great enemy of the Word,’ says Froment; had done all he could to prevent the establishment of the Reformation in the county, and now the Neuchatelans wanted to go and support Geneva. Astonished at so much audacity, he forbade those brave men to move under pain of his serious indignation. Among those who had answered to the appeal of Savoye, there were some who now hesitated. A certain number of these brave men had no strong belief or strong will to maintain them. Full of respect for the princess and her lieutenant, they bent easily beneath the authority which presumed to constrain them. Their wives endeavored to revive their zeal. In the eyes of the latter it was not an ordinary war; it was a struggle for the Word of God. Being ardent evangelists, they had at heart, as much as Farel, to uphold the faith, and combined with pure doctrine that keen sensitiveness, that impulsiveness of the heart, which are the portion of their sex. ‘Go,’ they said; ‘if you do not go, we will go ourselves.’ Some, indeed, did go, like the heroine of Nidau. Others, speaking in the name of religion, overawed their husbands and decided them: ‘We will not leave our Christian brethren of Geneva to perish miserably,’ said the Neuchatelans to those who wished to detain them; ‘they are attacked for no other cause than to destroy the Gospel and their liberties. In such a quarrel we will all die .’
It was necessary to depart at once. The men who had risen in the towns, the valleys, and the plain, to defend, without official character, a city they had never seen, were not armed cap-a-pied like the brilliant knights of Savoy whom they were going to fight. Some had muskets, all had swords, but they wore neither helmet nor cuirass. The justice of their cause was to be their breast-plate. In the evening of the 7th October the most distant corps — that from Bienne, the bishopric of Basle, Nidau, and the Seeland — began their march. It is probable that they crossed the lake of Neuchatel to avoid the city. On arriving at the entrance to the Val de Travers they halted, that being the place of rendezvous. Those from Neuchatel, Valangin, and other places soon arrived, and all were now assembled in that picturesque country where the Areuse rushes out of the valley. The intrepid Wildermuth took the command. The little army was preparing to depart when it saw a cavalcade approaching from the direction of Neuchatel: they were officers of the government sent to prevent any of Madame’s subjects from marching to the help of Geneva. Having reached the force, these delegates from the Sire of Prangins approached the men under their jurisdiction, and ordered them to return each one to his home. To go and fight against the duke of Savoy was to put themselves in revolt against their sovereign, who would treat them as rebels. ‘They were forbidden, and in stronger terms than before, and with fierce threats, so that many lost courage.’ These Neuchatelans had not at first reflected that their government was strongly opposed to the Reformation. Now their respect for the established powers counterbalanced the sentiments which had induced them to go to the help of the Gospel. They feared the unpleasant consequences that their disobedience might entail upon themselves and their families. They were agitated and divided. Wildermuth and other worthy persons perceiving that some of them were giving way, were grieved at it; but they did not want men whose hearts were weakened. It was right in their eyes to protect the innocent against the wicked; but they would not force their convictions on their brethren. Wildermuth called out: ‘Comrades, if you have not the courage to die for Geneva, and kill as many false priests as shall offer themselves, go about your business! It is better for us to be few, but men of heart, as in the days of Gideon, than to drag half-hearted ones after us.’
The struggle in these Neuchatelans became more severe. Should they go forward or should they return? Wildermuth had named Gideon: they remembered how that Israelitish chief had consulted God to know if he was to march against Midian. These honest people, who had taken up arms in God’s cause, believed in God and in His help. All, therefore, knelt down on the spot in order to ask of their Sovereign Lord the road they ought to take; and that troop, but lately so tumultuous, remained for some minutes in deep silence. God himself was to choose whom He would for the battle. When the prayer was ended, each man stood up, and the energetic captain exclaimed aloud and with great earnestness: ‘Now, let those return home whom threats alarm; but you, to whom God has given hearts to fight for your brethren, without fear for your lives — forward!’
Three or four hundred returned home. It is not doubtful that they acted thus from a spirit of obedience to the superior authority.
The others, who belonged particularly to the canton of Berne and to the Jura, had not received a similar prohibition, and although diminished in number, they did not hesitate. The little force was reduced by one half, and consisted of four hundred and fifteen men; but those who remained were filled with faith and courage. They departed calling upon the name of God, and praying Him to be their helper.