(FROM FEBRUARY TO THE END OF MARCH 1536.)
THERE was now to be an interview between the liberators and the liberated. Berne and Geneva, united by a common faith, were to embrace each other. The members of those two republics loved one another not only as allies but as brothers. On Thursday (February 3d) the Council of Two Hundred assembled; many other citizens were present, and the hall was full. Nugueli appeared, accompanied by his principal officers and the representatives of the Council of Berne. The assembly gave utterance to its joy, and all eyes were fixed on the valiant general. ‘Most honored lords,’ he said, ‘this long while past we have heard your complaints. For these twenty months we have been making great efforts at Lucerne, Baden, and even Aosta; and having thus exhausted all the means of peace, we have drawn the sword, and the enemy has fled on every side. Now we will do whatever you command us, for we are here to fulfill the oaths that unite Geneva and Berne.’ Such noble language moved the assembly. ‘May God do the same for you,’ replied the premier syndic. Then desiring the work to be perfect, he added: ‘Now, gentlemen, march onwards; pursue the enemy until the end; we are ready to give you all necessary assistance.’ It was decided that the army should make itself master of Chablais on the left shore of the lake, and push forward on the other side as far as Chambery. In all those districts they would circulate the Word of God. There was first another task to be completed. For centuries the castles had obstructed the progress of civilization, and in later years that of the gospel. It was from those eyries, perched on their lofty rocks, that the vultures swooped down upon the plain. Bishops even had been known to entreat the princes to destroy, ‘for the love of God and the honor of the blessed Mary, those buildings constructed by the inspiration of Satan.’ This the evangelical Nagueli was about to do, and henceforth the husbandman would drive his plow in peace through fields from which he would no longer fear to see the fruit of his labors swept away.
The inhabitants of the castles had disappeared: fear of the Bernese had depopulated the country. Men, women, and children had taken refuge in the miserable chalets of the Saleve, Voirons, Mole, and Jura. Priests and monks, hurriedly abandoning their parishes and their convents, threw off their frocks and assumed the garb of the peasantry. ‘Not one man in all the country dared represent himself as a priest or a monk.’ Every now and then one of them dressed in a coarse gray coat would leave his hidingplace, and mysteriously entering some half-deserted hut, would ask the affrighted peasant ‘what the bear of Berne was doing.’ ‘But take care,’ he added, ‘you tell nobody that I am a priest.’ The clerical and lay despots of the Middle Ages learnt in their turn what it was to tremble.
At length a great spectacle of desolation, which was to be the last, began.
A judgment — may we not call it a judgment of God? — was accomplished. Here and there at first a few flames were seen flashing forth, and these soon became an immense conflagration. Detachments, consisting of Bernese and Genevans, issued from the city: some turned to the right, others to the left; the ancient walls of some old towers were their aim. ‘It was from thence,’ said the Genevans, ‘that rapine and death have so often rushed out upon us.’ The building was surrounded, the most impetuous made their way into the interior and set fire to it, and when the flames had caught they rushed off for another execution. These detachments were followed by a numerous troop of men, women, and boys, who had their share also in the business. The judgment of God swept over the country, as of old over the land of Canaan. The fortresses of Gex, Gaillard, and Jussy, those terrible scourges of Geneva; the castles of Coppet, Prangins, Bellerive, Vilette, Ville-la-Grand, and many others, fell a prey to the flames. They were in all, according to Froment, from a hundred to a hundred and forty. Geneva was sometimes surrounded by a circle of fire.
The longer and crueler the offense, the more terrible was the punishment.
No one was put to death, but those feudal lairs, which crumbled away in the midst of the flames, were a sacrifice offered by the Swiss to the shades of the citizens immolated by their former possessors.
There was one castle in particular whose destruction the Genevans desired: it was Peney. On the 8th of February some Bernese, accompanied by a few horsemen and gunners of Geneva, started for this purpose. The blood shed by the Peneysans and their numberless outrages made them cry out unanimously, ‘No mercy for Peney!’ The almost abandoned fortress was easily occupied. A fire was kindled in that courtyard where the victims had been so cruelly tortured. The castle was soon in flames, and there remained nothing but dismantled towers and blackened walls; but that was not enough. Those walls still seemed guilty, and the Genevans so completely destroyed the ill-omened ruin that not a trace of it can now be found. All the country was at length swept clean of a long-continued brigandage; but (we repeat) it does not appear that one of those gentlemen or of their dependents suffered death or even imprisonment for their crimes. The device of Geneva and of Berne during this remarkable expedition was: ‘Spare the tyrants, but destroy their dens.’ At the same time peace reigned within. A spirit of pardon seemed to have descended upon the Genevans. Happiness enlarged all their hearts. On Sunday (February 6th) sermons were preached in the different churches by the reformers; after which the great bell, Clemence, reserved for solemn occasions, summoned all the people to St. Pierre’s, It was, as it were, the first day of the new republic. ‘Citizens,’ said one of the syndics, ‘in order that the city may prosper we must believe what the Gospel teaches and live according to its commandments. Accordingly — and this is our new decree — let all the animosities which sprang up during the war be renounced; all offenses pardoned, all quarrels forgotten, all lawsuits given up. Let us drop all hateful names. Let no man henceforth say to another, “You are a papist,” or the latter reply, “You are a Lutheran.” But let us all live according to the Holy Gospel of God.’ Such were the first fruits of the Reformation. ‘We will! we will!’ shouted the people. They then proceeded to the election of the four syndics who were to be at the head of the new republic. The assembly chose the energetic Claude Savoye, the amiable and persevering Ami Porral, and the zealous Etienne de Chapeaurouge, men on the side of the Reformation but especially of political experience. The people, wishing to have among their magistrates one man purely evangelical, named Ami Levet, the husband of the pious Claudine, although he was not on the list proposed by the senate. Shortly afterwards the Two Hundred elected the twenty-five members of the Council, and Balard, as well as Richardet, Roman-catholics but good citizens, preserved their seats. In the hour of their greatest enthusiasm the Genevans behaved justly and without party-spirit — a thing rarely witnessed in the annals of nations. On the evening before, Nagueli, at the head of the army, augmented by a Genevese contingent, had marched out in order to follow up his victory as far as Chambery and farther . Ambitious thoughts may then perhaps have stirred the hearts of some of the Bernese. For the triumph of the Reformation (they might possibly have said for the grandeur of Berne) they thought that Savoy, and even the north of Italy, ought to be conquered. Let there be formed in the center of Europe, on both sides of the colossal citadels of the Alps, a great confederation of independent and evangelical people, which shall circulate liberty and truth through Germany, France, and the Italian peninsula. Therefore forward to Chambery, and farther !
The dream was to melt away as soon as formed. The general was riding in front, calm and pensive, followed by some of his officers. He turned his head — there was no army to be seen. Nagueli galloped back towards Geneva, and found his soldiers drawn up in a square in a large field and deliberating democratically. What was the cause of such a breach of military discipline? The soldiers, satisfied with having delivered Geneva, did not care to follow their captain in his daring schemes. They deliberated therefore, as they were wont to do in their valleys. Should they march forward or turn back? ‘To Berne,’ cried many; ‘to our fields, our flocks, our mountains!’ Nagueli succeeded, however, in getting the army to march.
Was he not their good Franz ? On Saturday, 12th of February, the Swiss advanced guard had reached Rumilly, near the lake of Bourget, eight leagues from Chambery, when M. de Villebon, grand provost of Paris, arrived in great haste at the camp. ‘The king my master,’ he said, ‘has a quarrel with the duke of Savoy, his uncle, about his mother’s rights. Yesterday (February 11th) he signed at Lyons the commission given to the Sire de Brion-Chabot, admiral of France, to attack Savoy. Eight hundred French lances, a thousand light horse, twelve thousand infantry, six thousand lansquenets, two thousand French adventurers, three thousand Italians, and a powerful artillery are about to enter the states of the duchy; and when Savoy is conquered, the French army will invade Piedmont. I require you, therefore, in the name of the king, to proceed no farther.’ Nagueli, already shaken by the demands of his soldiers, answered that as the King of France had rights over those countries, the Swiss would discontinue their advance. Other hands than those of Switzerland were to deal the last blows destined to secure the Reformation and independence of Geneva. Villebon had hardly got back to Lyons, when the army of Francis I. moved forward, overran Bresse and Savoy, then invaded Piedmont, and afterwards the Milanese. The duke, always irresolute, had taken no steps to check the French. It was in vain that at the last moment he called Medici to his aid; that captain, who had been unable to destroy Geneva, could not save Piedmont. Charles III., abandoned by the emperor, his brother-in-law, found himself, after spending thirty years of his life in hunting down Geneva, robbed in four months of his states, which he never entered again, and driven to bay on the shores of the Mediterranean. All kinds of disasters fell upon him at once. His country was devastated by the plague; his friends trained against him; the emperor showed him no pity; his son, the heir to his crown, was taken away by death; his beautiful and haughty wife, Beatrice of Portugal, pierced to the heart by so many misfortunes, died of a wasting sickness. Of all his states there was nothing left but the valley of Aosta, Nice, and two or three other cities. Alone and affrighted, this unhappy prince dragged out a wearisome life. He regretted his son, regretted his wife, regretted his states. His heated imagination surrounded him with phantoms; Geneva, which, unopposed, was developing her glorious and new existence, was to him an avenging ghost. He fell ill: he broke out in sweats; he shivered with cold; his eyes grew dim and his face pale; he wasted away of a slow fever. After a punishment of twenty-three years, death, the consequence of his reverses and his sorrows, put an end to the painful existence of the great enemy of Genevese independence and of the Reformation. His son, Emanuel Philibert, a man of great capacity, recovered his states; but having many evils to repair, he adopted a pacific policy with regard to Geneva. Forty-four years of peace permitted the Reformation and the new republic to strengthen and organize themselves. God gives to the people and the churches, whom he designs to make use of, the time necessary for their development.
While these things were going on, dangers less apparent, but as great as they were unexpected, threatened Geneva. As the Bernese desired to reap advantage from the help accorded to the little republic, their ambassadors put forward certain pretensions, which they set up a little later with respect to Lausanne and Vaud, and which were then too easily conceded.
The lords of Berne, regardless of the reproach that might be urged against them of having consulted merely their own interests in the expedition, hinted to the council of Geneva that they ought to have their reward, and asked that the rights and prerogatives of the duke and the bishop should be transferred to them. Such a demand revolted the proud independence of the Genevese, and they rejected the sovereignty of Berne with as much decision as they had rejected that of Savoy. ‘If we had desired to have a master,’ they answered with firmness, ‘we should have spared ourselves all the trouble, expense, and bloodshed of which we have been so prodigal to secure our independence.’ Berne was forced to give way before a resolution that appeared immovable. When Nagueli re-entered Geneva, after having taken the Fort de l’Ecluse on returning from his short campaign, he was surprised to meet with a cold and embarrassed reception, very different from the former enthusiastic welcome. The noble general, who did not like such discussions, gave immediate orders for the departure of his army.
There was still a great work to be accomplished. In conformity with the instructions of the Bernese government, Nagueli was to break the twofold yoke of the pope and the duke which pressed heavily upon the territory of Vaud. His troops marched into that country without resistance, and took Yverdun, in which the intrepid Mangerot had fortified himself. In a short time cities, villages, and castles submitted; a few towns, tired of the Savoyard rule, desired to be annexed to Berne. Others, especially Lausanne and some rural districts, wished to retain all their rights; but they gave way, when the Bernese promised to respect their franchises. Under any circumstances it was a good work to take away from the pope and unite to Switzerland the beautiful country that extends from the lake of Geneva to that of Neuchatel. Nagueli re-entered Berne in peace, and his soldiers, proud of a four weeks’ campaign that was to have such important consequences, gave vent to their exultation, and concluded their songs with this line: Respecte l’ours, ou bien crains les oursons. The work appeared to be accomplished. The city of the Reformation thrilled with joy, and exulted in the air of liberty and of the Gospel. Here and there, however, sorrows and regrets remained. Many hearts were wrung, and many an eye was turned with mortification in the direction of Chillon, where Bonivard had been languishing for six years. He had done so much to give liberty to Geneva, and he alone was not free. He was pining away, imprisoned within those rocks, which, excavated below the level of the lake, form a gigantic sepulcher. A loophole permitted a feeble ray of light to enter the dungeon, and the prisoner, while walking slowly round the column to which he was chained, delighted to turn his eyes towards that side, and sometimes contemplated (according to tradition) a little bird, which used to perch on the iron bars of the narrow opening. At the slightest noise, the bird flew off to the wood behind the castle, or skimmed away over the surface of the lake. The bird was free; but Bonivard was in chains. ‘I had such leisure for walking,’ he said, ‘that I wore away a path in the rock, as if it had been done with a hammer.’ When he was seized by the perfidious hands of his enemies he had said: ‘I am going alone, with God, to suffer my passion!’ And suffer it he did. But while his body and heart suffered, his mind was at work. Some of the thoughts which then occupied him have been recorded by his own hand: Live in remembrance of death , — Courage increases by wounds , and such like. For five or six months the Genevan envoys, so traitorously seized at Coppet, had also been imprisoned at Chillon, but not in the underground dungeons.
Such iniquities could not be tolerated. Berne again took up her fire-sticks , and Geneva prepared her boats. On the 20th of March one hundred armed men were embarked on four war cutters and other vessels. The Genevese councils had given the command to Francis Favre and Francis Chamois. All the citizens would have liked to march in person to Chillon to set Bonivard and the plenipotentiaries at liberty. On the day of sailing, everybody left their houses, and from an agitated crowd assembled near the Rhone, there rose a universal cry, ‘Rescue the captives!’
On Sunday morning — it was the 26th of March — Bonivard being as usual in his dungeon, pricked up his ears. He fancied he heard an unaccustomed noise; he was not mistaken. Loud but still distant cannon shots re-echoed through the vaults of his prison. What was going on? It was the artillery of Berne which, on its arrival at Lutry, between Lausanne and Chillon, announced its presence. But that signal of deliverance was to be the signal of death to Bonivard and the three envoys. ‘If the Bernese appear before the place,’ wrote the duke of Savoy to the governor, ‘you will give the prisoners of Geneva the estrapade twice, and then put them to death without hesitation.’ The duke intended that the deliverers should find nothing but corpses.
The next morning (27th of March) Chillon was surrounded. Berne had drawn up her troops and planted her guns below the village of Veytaux, between the castle and Montreux. The Valaisans, although catholics, had also taken up arms to expel the duke from their neighborhood, and had placed their artillery on the Villeneuve side; the Genevans blockaded the castle from the lake. The batteries opened fire, and the governor perceiving that all resistance was useless, demanded a parley at nightfall. Nagueli, Favre, and some other captains assembled at the foot of a steep rock between the castle and the Bernese batteries, to receive his deputies; but as they could not come at once to terms, the conference was prolonged. The garrison, by no means anxious to fall into the hands of the Swiss, determined to take advantage of this momentary respite and of the veil of night, to make their escape. Silently they crept on board the great galley; not a voice, not a sound of arms was heard, and having thus mysteriously got away, they made rapidly towards Savoy. When Favre was informed of it, he went immediately on board his boat, which was moored to the shore, and hastened in pursuit of the enemy; but before he could get up with them, they had thrown their cannons into the lake, set fire to the galley, and from Lugrin, where they landed, hurried into the Savoyard Alps below the Dents d’Oche. Had they taken Bonivard and the three plenipotentiaries with them? It was a question that could not be answered, and Favre, ill at ease, veered round and returned to Chillon. The governor had surrendered just as he arrived. Nagueli, on leaving Berne, had written to him that he should answer with his head for the lives of the prisoners: he had, therefore, some hope of recovering them. Favre, Chamois, and the other Genevans hastily sprang from their boats, entered the castle, and in a minute they embraced the three envoys. But where was Bonivard? They seized the keys of the vaults, unlocked a sunk door, and entered. It was the hall of execution: beneath its rude arches were wheels, axes, pulleys, cords, and all the horrible instruments with which men were crippled or killed. The Genevans, without stopping, ran to the door of an inner vault, undid the bars, pulled back the bolts. The friends of the prior of Saint Victor sprang over the threshold, rushed into the gloomy dungeon, reached the column. ‘Here he is! he is alive!’ Bonivard fell into their arms.
His friends found it difficult to recognize him. The features changed by suffering, the long unkempt beard, the hair falling over his shoulders — had changed his appearance. ‘Bonivard,’ they said to him, ‘Bonivard, you are free!’ The prisoner, who seemed to be waking from a long sleep, did not think of himself: his first words were for the city he had loved so much. ‘And Geneva?’ he asked. ‘Geneva is free too,’ they replied. His chains were taken off, and, conducted by his friends, he crossed the door of that vast prison. The bright light which burst upon him affected his eyes which had been deprived of it for so many years, and he turned them mechanically towards the gloom of his dungeon. At last he recovered himself and bade farewell to his sepulcher. The crowd looked at him for some moments with emotion, and then rushed into that dismal cell, where the wretched man had suffered so long. Every one desired to see it, and for ages yet to come the traveler will visit it. The illustrious prisoner was delivered; the last fortress of tyranny was captured; the victory of the Reformation was complete. No traveler wandering along the picturesque shore of Montreux can fail to look at those walls, rising out of the water, without a feeling of horror for despotism and of gratitude for the Gospel.
Those rocks, so long the witnesses of oppression, are now hailed with emotion and joy by the friends of the Word of God and liberty. Chillon! thy prison is a holy place, And thy sad floor an altar. The flotilla was soon sailing back to Geneva with Bonivard and the three parlementaires on board. They were returning joyously through the help from on high, and in a short time they landed from their boats amid the joyful shouts of their fellow-citizens, and placed their feet on a free soil.