(FROM THE BEGINNING OF NOVEMBER 1535 TO THE END OF JANUARY 1536.)
A REVERSE is not always an evil; it may sometimes lead to a decisive victory. There were few regular troops among those who had been beaten at Gingins, which made the defeat a lesson by which the duke of Savoy might profit. He resolved, in effect, to benefit by it, to bring up veteran soldiers, to place a distinguished general at their head, and thus to crush that rebellious city which presumed to set up a religion unknown at Rome.
But as these troops were not ready, Charles III. ordered the chiefs of the great valley of the Leman to exact of their vassals the military service which they owed. The nobles of that district were persuaded that they would easily triumph over Geneva, if the Swiss did not come to their help; and as that was not likely, the hatred felt against the city, and the hope of enriching themselves with its spoil, induced a great number of liegemen to rally round the banners of their lords. About the end of October the Sire de Lullin took his measures for blockading Geneva. Mangerot, baron of La Sarraz, a prompt, violent, obstinate man, filled with contempt for the reformation of the Church and the liberty of the citizens, was placed at the head of the attack. On the 1st of November these armed bands occupied certain villages and small towns which formed a kind of circle round the city, and began to plunder, burn, and kill all who fell into their hands.
Famine and the cold, which was very severe that year, soon caused distress in the city. The churches were filled with old men, women and children, and even armed men. ‘There is no resource and refuge left but God alone,’ said Farel from the pulpit, and voices were heard responding to him from the midst of the congregation, ‘In Him alone we place our trust.’ If a musket-shot was heard, or shouts, or the drum, the armed men left immediately, but ‘without noise or confusion; nobody else moved from the sermon,’ and the service was not interrupted. As the firing grew hotter without, those who had remained in the temple cried to God that ‘not to man’s arm did they look for deliverance, but to His great faithfulness.’ One night, the Genevans, startled out of their sleep and rising hastily, found the city surrounded by fires kindled by the men-atarms of Savoy, with the intention of giving them light for the assault, and heard the bells of the convents and chapels all round ringing as loud as possible to increase their terror. The citizens fought valiantly, and the enemy was once more repulsed. Yet the blockade was still maintained round the city, and no one could tell whence succor would arrive. One day a messenger coming from France succeeded in making his way through the troops which surrounded Geneva: he was the bearer of a letter conceived in these terms: ‘You will certainly receive some mule loads of good and salable merchandise, and they will be there one of these days. ‘Pierre Croquet.’ The letter was handed to Maigrot the Magnificent. ‘Tis good,’ he said, ‘salvation comes to us from France.’
At that moment certain evolutions were taking place in the policy of the great powers of Europe, which might favor the deliverance of Geneva. ‘If you desire Milan, take Turin,’ said the crafty Clement VII. to the king of France. As Sforza, the last duke of Milan, was dead, Francis I., in order to follow up the pontiff’s advice, had to seek some kind of pretext for declaring war against his uncle, the duke of Savoy. There was one which presented itself quite naturally. ‘Charles IV. oppresses Geneva,’ said some. ‘Let France oppose his laying hands on it, and war will be certain.’
Francis I., who was then at Lyons and negotiating with Charles V., saw that he could not support Geneva openly; but permitted the Sieur de Verey, a French nobleman, to raise a troop of volunteers. Men, charmed with the new liberties, flocked with enthusiasm to his banners. Many printers in particular joined the band. The printers in those times remarked that the Reformation produced not only authors who wrote for the people, but a people who read their books with eagerness; and accordingly they were ready to fight for it. Francis I. was not content to look on, but gave Verey the company of Jean Paoli, son of the Sieur de Ceri, the old captain of the Roman bands, consisting of ‘excellent cavalry and valiant personages.’ Meanwhile the city was going to ruin: there was no money to pay the soldiers. What was to be done? In many old houses Genevan coins were found, bearing the sun as a symbol with this device — Post tenebras spero lucem . These pieces proved that the city of Geneva had once possessed the right of coining money — a right of which the princebishops had deprived her. Claude Savoye received instructions to issue a new coinage, and was forthwith supplied with silver crosses, chalices, patens, and other sacred utensils. The coins he struck bore on one side the key and eagle (the arms of Geneva), with the legend, Deus noster pugnat pro nobis , 1535, ‘Our God fighteth for us;’ and on the reverse, Geneva civitas . The following year another coinage was issued which, in addition to the ordinary device, Post tenebras lucem , bore these words of Isaiah and St. Paul, Mihi sese flectet omne genu , ‘Unto me every knee shall bow,’ the monogram of Jesus, I. H. S., being in the center. Geneva did not believe in its own victory only, but in the victory of God, whose glory, hidden until then, would be magnified among all nations.
While Francis I. was stealthily aiding Geneva, the powerful republic of Berne was negotiating in its favor. Some of its statesmen crossed the Saint- Bernard on their way to the town of Aosta, where the duke of Savoy was to meet them. Berthold Haller, the reformer, and the other Bernese pastors, had gone in a body to the council and conjured them to make an appeal to the people for the deliverance of Geneva. ‘They are ready,’ said the ministers, ‘to sacrifice their goods and their lives to uphold the Reformation in that city.’ The lords of Berne, desirous of taking at least one step, sent a deputation to the duke, and commissioned their general, Francis Nagueli, who was at its head, to support the cause of Geneva. Son of one of the most distinguished chiefs of the Swiss bands, Francis had grown up in the camp, and like Wildermuth, had made his first campaign in the wars of Italy in 1511. ‘He was a man at twenty,’ people said. His features bronzed by a southern sun presented a mixture of energy, acuteness, and antique grandeur, and the Christian piety by which he was animated imparted to them a great charm. P. d’Erlach, Rodolph of Diesbach, and the chancellor P. Zyro accompanied him. Crossing the mountains with difficulty — it was in the latter half of November — and braving rain, cold, and snow, the ambassadors arrived at last at the city of Aosta. The duke was not there; they were invited to push on to Turin, but the lords of Berne replied that they would wait for the duke at the foot of the glaciers. The Bernese and their suite took advantage of this delay to enter into conversation with the inhabitants, and spoke to them fearlessly of Holy Scripture and the usurpations of the Roman bishop.
At last Charles III. arrived and the conference was opened. ‘First of all,’ said the Bernese, ‘we require you to leave the citizens of Geneva at liberty to obey the Word of God, as the supreme authority of faith.’ The duke, surrounded by the servants of Rome and urged particularly by Gazzini, Bishop of Aosta, declared that he could not concede their demand without the consent of the emperor, the permission of the pope, and the decision of a general council. ‘I ask you once more,’ said Nagueli, ‘to leave the Genevans free to profess their faith.’ ‘Their faith,’ ejaculated Charles, ‘what is their faith?’ ‘There are Bibles enough, I think, in Savoy,’ answered Nagueli; ‘read them, and you will discover their faith.’ The duke asked for a truce of five or six months to come to an understanding on the matter with the emperor and the pope. The ambassadors, recrossing the snows of those lofty mountains, returned to Berne and made their report. During this time the Savoyard troops had drawn closer round Geneva, and on the 7th of December had attacked the city. Rodolph Nagueli, the general’s brother, communicated to the council the offer made by Charles III. of a five months’ truce. But the Genevese replied: ‘How can the duke observe a truce of five months, when he cannot keep one of twenty days?
He makes the proposal in order to starve us out. We will negotiate no more with him, except at the sword’s point. All delays are war to us. Give us your assistance, honored lords. We ask it not only in the name of our alliances, but in the name of the love you owe to your poor brethren in Christ. Do what you may, the hour is come, and our God will fight for us.’
The herald was sent through the city, ordering every citizen to get his arms ready and to muster round their captains. At the same time Baudichon de la Maisonneuve, who was then in Switzerland, employed all his energies to awaken the sympathy of the people in favor of Geneva. At Berne, he sought support among the middle classes, among those who loved the Gospel and liberty, feeling persuaded that they would carry the magistrates with them. He was indefatigable and pleaded the cause of his country in private houses, in society, and in the council. He labored as if desirous of repairing the fault he had committed in allowing himself to be outwitted at Coppet by the Savoyard statesmen.
The government of Lullin, being informed of the exertions of the Genevese citizen, ordered him to be seized when he attempted to cross the territory of Vaud on his return home. De la Maisonneuve was filled with joy, for he was succeeding in his efforts; the good cause was gradually gaining the upper hand in Berne; but one thing distressed him: he received no news from Geneva, and could not go there to communicate his great expectations to his fellow-countrymen. ‘I have received no news at all from you,’ he wrote on the 9th of December to the council, ‘no more than if I were a Jew or a Saracen. If I could pass, I would not remain here; but I am warned that I am watched on all sides, as a mouse is watched by a cat. Know that those of Basle and other cantons who belong to the Gospel are willing to employ all their power to help us. In a short time you will see wonders and how God will work.’ Meanwhile the severity of the weather had become extreme; the nobles who were blockading Geneva — the De Montforts, De Gingins, De Burchiez, and others — determined to go into winter quarters with their men. The Sire Mangerot de la Sarraz vainly conjured them to remain. ‘We are compelled to return,’ they said. The Genevans began to breathe. Their enemies were departing, and the refugee Maigrot kept telling them that friends from France were about to ‘arrive in numbers and full of courage.’
The citizens began thus to discern some gleams of light through the darkness which surrounded them.
In effect the Sieur de Montbel de Verey, with his seven hundred footsoldiers and four hundred horse, dispatched secretly by Francis I., with a personal object, to the support of Geneva, had arrived in the valley of St. Claude. This was in the middle of December. The intrepid Mangerot, disgusted at the cowardice of his allies, had remained alone at his post; and he had done so specially to oppose the French. Taking four hundred men with him, he climbed the mountains, and found from ten to twenty feet of snow in the upper valleys. De Verey’s Italian cavalry could not advance and his foot-soldiers were almost frozen. All of a sudden, at the turn of a road, a discharge of musketry spread terror and disorder in that disorganized band. The intrepid De Verey, accompanied by seven horsemen, dashed through the enemy, and on the 14th of December eight men, the only survivors of nearly twelve hundred, arrived at the gates of Geneva. Nagueli, the Bernese deputy, fully comprehending the gravity of the circumstances, departed the same day. They soon learnt with regret that all the Sieur de Verey’s men-at-arms had either been cut to pieces or dispersed in the snows and forests of the mountains; at the same time La Sarraz, proud of his victory, once more beleaguered the city, and swore that he would put an end to its independence and heresy. The fortunes of Geneva were overcast, and some asked if this was how God saved those who followed His Word. On the 17th of December, at the moment when the frightful news arrived, William Farel went to the council and said: ‘Most honored lords, the chief thing is that we should all be converted to God, and that you should make arrangements that the people should renounce sin and hear the Word of the Lord. It is because God knows that it is of no use to entice by mildness those who sleep, that He now strikes you with great blows of His hammer in order to arouse you.’ That holy exhortation made a deep impression on the council, and the same day the officers of the state published throughout the city that ‘all men should go on the morrow and other days to the church of St. Pierre and invoke the help of God.’ The next morning, the Genevese, assembling before the Most High, cried to Him by the voices of His servants. A still greater danger threatened Geneva. The Frenchman, De Verey, although beaten, desired none the less to attain the end for which he had been sent. He had very winning ways with the Genevese. ‘The king of France,’ he said, ‘takes your business to heart; he will send a stronger force to save you, for he loves Geneva with a strong affection. Meantime, gentlemen, to give him occasion to expel your enemy, it would be advisable that you should grant him some pre-eminence in your city.
The king asks for nothing but to be called the Protector of your liberties .
He desires to help you to become strong.’ The council ruminated, discussed, and calculated all these matters well. On the one hand, they did not want the protection of France; on the other, they felt the need of her support. They temporized. ‘First expel our enemies, they said, and we will then see how to show our respect for the king.’ ‘We had hoped to find you better disposed,’ said De Verey, who was not satisfied with respect for his master. ‘Think upon it, gentlemen, think upon it.’ He went away very discontented. But the citizens spoke out more frankly than the council. A despotic king, what a protector for their liberty! A king who hangs and burns evangelical Christians, what a protector for their faith!
Bold tribunes, and especially the brothers Bernard, stood forth, and demanded that if their country must perish, it should perish free. Let us write to the king, then said the council, that the Genevese offer him their humble services, ‘but without any subjection .’ The little city, on the verge of the abyss, rejected the hand of the powerful monarch which alone was stretched out to save them. Six days later (December 23d) the duke of Savoy ordered the commanders of his forces on this side of the mountains ‘to do their duty.’ It was resolved in Geneva that in case of assault all the citizens, and even the old men, women, and children, should repair to the walls.
The year 1536 opened, and on the 3d of January the Savoyard garrisons of Lancy, Confignon, Saconnex beyond the Arve, and Plan-les-Ouates, castles situated between the Rhone and the Arve, as well as those of Gaillard and Jussy, fortresses between the Arve and the lake, advanced simultaneously against the city. At the head of the last troop was Amblard de Gruyere, a fervent catholic and hot-headed feudalist, who determined first to take possession of the church of our Lady of Grace on the Arve, and thus acquire an important position a few minutes distant from the city and the Savoyard territory. Pierre Jesse and three other valiant huguenots had thrown themselves into the tower. Amblard advanced, and standing at the foot of the wall, called to them: ‘Surrender! on the honor of a gentleman your lives shall be spared.’ Jesse answered: ‘I would sooner surrender to you pig-drivers, for you gentlemen have no honor.’ Upon this Amblard de Gruyere opened a warm fire upon his adversaries. The latter were not alarmed; they stood firm, and believed, with Farel, that a man armed with divine strength is equipped from head to foot. They threw down huge stones from the top of the tower upon their assailants; they discharged their arquebuses and killed several of the enemy. Amblard ordered an assault, broke down the iron door which closed the staircase, and rushed up it, sword in hand; but just as he reached the door which opened into the belfry, a ball knocked him back upon the people behind him. Although reinforcements came up one by one to the support of the assailants, the latter, seeing their captain fall, ‘had a great fright and fear.’ All night long the four huguenots made fire-signals to their friends in the city, to let them know that they would hold out until death. Meantime the attacking party did not relax their hold. Climbing the narrow stairs, they placed torches against the floor of the tower under the feet of the four huguenots, and set the timbers on fire. The Savoyards, thinking that the Genevans would be burnt to death, then retired, ‘carrying off the body of their captain and others who had fallen.’ The undaunted huguenots, already feeling the fire, rushed down the stairs through the flames, and were saved, with nothing burnt but their beards. Jesse was afterwards made a member of the council.
Still, if one attack failed, it paved the way for others; and new troops were moved up against the city. The council deliberated on the course to be pursued, and two alternatives were proposed. Farel demanded, for the preservation of the city, that the inhabitants should put their trust in God, and that prayers should be offered from every heart for peace and unity, not for Geneva only, but for all Christendom. Balard proposed another remedy: ‘Let mass be publicly celebrated once more,’ he said; ‘the mass is an expiation that will render God propitious to us.’ — ‘The mass is not worth a straw,’ exclaimed a huguenot. — ‘If it is so,’ retorted a catholic, ‘the death and passion of Jesus Christ are good for nothing.’ At these words the assembly became greatly excited. ‘Blasphemy!’ exclaimed some. ‘Balard has spoken blasphemy! He is a heretic. All who maintain the sacrifice of the host nullify the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.’ The council put an end to the discussion by resolving ‘that the priests should prove that the preachers spoke falsely, or else that they should go to the sermons and convince themselves that the ministers spoke the truth.’ On the 12th of January the gates of the city were bricked up, the openings in the walls were filled in, and the armed men held themselves in readiness.
The hostile force was advancing in three divisions — one between the lake and the Arve, a second between the Arve and the Rhone, and a third between the Rhone and the lake. About ten o’clock at night cries of alarm were heard from the walls; the Savoyards were placing their ladders on the southern side, while the Baron de la Sarraz and his troop had already got into the fosse on the north-west side. The Genevans hastened bravely to the defense, and threw down both ladders and soldiers. The next day the agitated council ordered these words to be entered in the minute-book of their meetings: ‘They assaulted us vigorously , but God , to whom belongs all the honor , repelled them .’ From that time the Savoyards, ‘more inflamed than ever, scarcely missed a night without making an attack.’ They desired to do more.
On the 24th of January the garrisons of Jussy and Gaillard, amounting to 600 or 800 men, of whom 100 were horsemen, reinforced by a large number of peasants, took up a position between Chene and Cologny, a little above the ravine of Frontenex. A hundred footmen and forty horse made a sortie from Geneva, and a great number of boys from fourteen to sixteen years old accompanied them. This small body at once attacked the large one, and in a short time the wide plain between Frontenex and Ambilly was covered with fugitives and corpses. Not less than two hundred had fallen. The victors returned in triumph from the War of Cologny , through a crowd of citizens, who went out to meet them and welcome them with shouts of joy. But if the weak people of Geneva repulsed little armies, how would they resist when the grand army came?