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A LONG train of causes prepared the way for the Protestant Reformation, and an acute observer might have seen that a storm was gathering over the Catholic Church in the beginning of the sixteenth century. Old abuses were succeeded by new ones, and the improvidence of Pope Leo the Tenth precipitated the explosion. The boldness, perseverance, and fiery temper of Martin Luther maintained a successful opposition against the authority of the Roman pontiff, and within a few years from the condemnation of the great reformer by a papal bull, in 1520, the Church of Rome had lost Saxony, Hesse, Brunswick, Denmark, Sweden, and a great part of Switzerland.
The first appearance of the reformed religion in France was marked by the most bloody persecution. The parliament of Aix, in Provence, condemned to the flames, as heretics, all the masters of families in the town of Merindol, ordered all the houses to be razed to the ground, and the trees of the neighbouring forest to be rooted up. The execution of this barbarous act exceeded the order. Twenty-two towns and villages fell a prey to the flames, and three thousand persons, without distinction of age or sex, were massacred. This was the signal for the ferocious wars which fanaticism soon after lighted up in the kingdom. From the death of Henry the Second, the court of France was filled with turbulent factions. Catherine de Medicis, the Queen Mother, ambitious, versatile, treacherous, and capable of the blackest crimes, swayed the actions of the imbecile Francis the Second. She made no scruple of committing any wickedness when it was found expedient, and may be said to have breathed the very spirit of Machiavellism. The active authority was in the hands of the Guises, uncles of the young queen, Mary Stuart; but other powerful aspirants for dominion exerted their intrigues to throw the state into confusion, for the sake of their own private interest. All of them used religion as the instrument of faction. Be religion they kindled the civil wars, in which ambi. tion and fanaticism vied with each other in exerting their fiercest rage upon the people.
Under Francis the First, the Protestant religion had spread greatly at court, as well as in the capital and provinces, notwithstanding the royal edicts against it, which were less owing to the zeal of Francis, than
to controlling circumstances. The massacres of Mer. indol, and the executions which were imprudently multiplied by Henry the Second, irritated, instead of humbling, the spirit of the sect. Some aspired to martyrdom; others mingled with their zeal great ardor for liberty and thirst for revenge. Admiral Coligni and his brothers, D'Andelot and Cardinal Chatillon, nephews of the Grand Constable, men of weight and influence in the kingdom, were firm friends to a reformation, and the Prince of Condé inclined to the same side. Such powerful protectors kept them in courage.
The origin of the term, Huguenot, like that of many other names which spring up in times of party, is uncertain. It is most commonly thought to be a corrup. tion of Eidgenossen, the appellation of the Swiss leaguers in their early struggle for liberty. It was applied exclusively to the Protestants of France. The government incessantly harassed them, and, by a most dishonorable policy, tempted them into snares, that pretexts might be obtained for punishing them. Far from correcting the superstitions that had crept into the Catholic worship, new observances still more superstitious were invented. At the corners of the streets were placed images of the Virgin and the Saints with lighted tapers before them. Round these the populace assembled, singing hymns, and forcing passengers to put money into begging-boxes. If a man did not bow to these images, and stop with marks of reverence while the fanatic people were paying this worship, he was insulted, knocked down, and dragged to prison. The Protestants, under these outrages, thirsted for revenge, and only wanted a leader, to break out into
violence. The first demonstration was the con. spiracy of Amboise, in 1560, having for its object to take the government out of the hands of the Guises, who were hated for the double reason of being foreigners and persecutors. The conspiracy was prematurely betrayed, and the Huguenots, flocking from all quarters to the place of rendezvous, were surprised, massacred, or put to death by the executioners.
Such a misfortune could only further inflame a party so numerous and resolute. A general assembly was held at Fontainebleau to deliberate on the exigencies of the state, when Admiral Coligni presented to the king a petition from the Huguenots, demanding the public exercise of their religion, and that their particular meetings might no longer be imputed to them as a crime. He declared that fifty thousand men were ready to sign it. This bold proceeding was not without effect. The persecutions were suspended, and the Huguenots had time to breathe under a shadow of toleration.
Shortly after, Francis the Second died, and was succeeded by his brother, Charles the Ninth, not yet ten years of age. The intrigues of the Queen Mother again plunged the government into troubles, and all hopes of peace were completely dissipated by an accident which revived the religious feuds in their full rage. As the Duke of Guise was travelling through Vassy in Champagne, some of his men insulted a congregation of Protestants, who were attending a sermon in a barn. Seeing a fray beginning, he ran to appease the combatants, and was struck with a stone. His attendants, in a fit of rage, killed about sixty per
sons. This massacre, which was greatly exaggerated by public report, drove the Huguenots to take up arms. Such was the beginning of the religious wars which threw the whole kingdom into confusion. The Prince of Condé, who put himself at the head of the Protestant party, seized Orleans, Rouen, and other cities and towns. He gave up Havre to Elizabeth of England, in order to obtain her assistance. The French seemed to have lost their national spirit in the heat of their animosities. The whole kingdom was filled with fa. natics transported with the hottest rage against each other. The parliament proscribed the Huguenots, and commanded the Catholics to pursue and kill them without fear of being brought to justice. The age of Marius and Sylla appeared to be renewed. Surprisals and massacres occurred every moment, and hardly a town in the kingdom escaped the bloody and horrible scenes of civil war.
Short intervals of peace seemed to promise occa. sionally a termination of these calamities; but the trea. ties in favor of the Huguenots were shamefully violated by the stronger party, when it suited their pur. poses. Deeds of the most profound dissimulation and treachery at length prepared the way for the massacre of St. Bartholomew, one of the foulest transactions that stain the page of French history. The court flattered and cajoled the Protestants in order to bring them into their toils. The perfidious Charles the Ninth invited Admiral Coligni to his court, offered him the command of an army against Spain, and treated him with the greatest respect and affection. Coligni fell into the snare, and was completely won by the frank