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The fifth in size (usually reckoned the fourth) of the great divisions of Europe.
The area of France is 207,107 square miles; it has a coastline 1560 miles and a land frontier 1525 miles in length. In shape it resembles a hexagon of which the sides are: (1) From Dunkirk to Point St-Matthieu (sands and dunes from Dunkirk to the mouth of the Somme; cliffs, called falaises , extending from the Somme to the Orne, except where their wall is broken by the estuary of the Seine; granite boulders intersected by deep inlets from the Orne to Point St-Matthieu. (2) From Point St-Matthieu to the mouth of the Bidassoa (alternate granite cliffs and river inlets as far as the River Loire; sandy stretches and arid moors from the Loire to the Garonne; sands, lagoons, and dunes from the Garonne to the Pyrenees). (3) From the Bidassoa to Point Cerbére (a formation known as Pyrenean chalk). (4) From Point Cerbére to the mouth of the Roya (a steep, rocky frontier from the Pyrenees to the Tech; sands and lagoons between the Tech and the Rhone, and an unbroken wall of pointed rocks stretching from the Rhone to the Roya). (5) From the Roya to Mount Donon (running along the Maritime, the Cottain, and the Graian Alps, as well as the mountains of Jura and the Vosges). (6) From Mount Donon to Dunkirk (an artificial frontier differentiated by few marked physical peculiarities).
France is the only country in Europe having a coast line both on the Atlantic and on the Mediterranean; moreover, the passes of Belfort. Côte d'Or and Naurouse open up ready channels of communication between the Rhine, the English Channel, the Atlantic, and the Mediterranean. Furthermore, it is noteworthy, that wherever the French frontier is defended by lofty mountains (as, for instance, the Alps, the Pyrenees), the border people are akin to the French either in race, speech, or customs (the Latin races), while on the other hand, the Teutonic races, differing so widely from the French in ideas and sentiment, are physically divided from them only by the low-lying hills and plains of the North-East. Hence it follows that France has always lent itself with peculiar facility to the spread of any great intellectual movement, coming from the shores of the Mediterranean, as was the case with Christianity. France was the natural high road between Italy and England, between Germany and the Iberian peninsula. On French soil, the races of the North mingled with those of the South; and the very geographical configuration of the country accounts in a certain sense for the instinct of expansion, the gift of assimilation and of diffusion, thanks to which France has been able to play the part of general distributor of ideas. In fact, two widely different worlds meet in France. A journey from north to south leads through three distinct zones: the grain country reaching from the northern coast to a line drawn from Mézières to Nantes ; the vine country and the region of berries, southward from this to the latitude of Grenoble and Perpignan; the land of olive-garths and orange groves, extending to the southern boundary of the country. Its climate ranges from the foggy promontories of Brittany to the sunny shores of Provence; from the even temperature of the Atlantic to the sudden changes which are characteristic of the Mediterranean. Its people vary from the fair-haired races of Flanders and Lorraine, with a mixture of German blood in their veins, to the olive-skinned dwellers of the south, who are essentially Latin and Mediterranean in their extraction. Again Nature has formed, in the physiography of this country, a multitude of regions, each with its own characteristics -- its own personality, so to speak -- which, in former times, popular instinct called separate countries. The tendency to abstraction,however, which carried away the leaders of the Revolution, is responsible for the present purely arbitrary divisions of the soil, known as "departments". Contemporary geography is glad to avail itself of the old names and the old divisions into "countries" and "provinces" which more nearly correspond to the geographical formations as well as the natural peculiarities of the various regions. "Massif Central" (the Central Plateau), a rugged land inhabited by a stubborn race that is often glad to leave its fastness, and those lands of comfort that lie along the great Northern Plain, the valley of the Loire, and the fertile basin in which Paris stands. But in spite of this variety, France is a unit. These regions, so unlike and so diversified, balance and complete each other like the limbs of a living body. As Michelet puts it, "France is a person."
In 1901, France had 31,031,000 inhabitants. The census no longer inquires as to the religion of French citizens, and it is only by way of approximation that we can compute the number of Catholics at 38 millions; Protestants, 600,000; Jews 68,000. The population of the French colonies amounts to 47,680,000 inhabitants, and in consequence France stands second to England as a colonizing power; but the difference between them is very great, the colonies of England having more than 356 millions of inhabitants.
There are two points to be noted in the study of French statistics. The annual mean excess of births over deaths for each 10,000 inhabitants during the period 1901-1905 in France was 18, while in Italy it was 106, in Austria 113, in England 121, in Germany 149, in Belgium 155. In 1907, the deaths were more numerous than the births, the number of deaths being 70,455, while that of births was only 50,535 -- an excess of 19,920 deaths -- and this is notwithstanding the fact that in 1907 there were nearly 45,000 more marriages than in 1890. Official investigations attributed this phenomenon to sterile marriages. In 1907, in only 29 of 86 departments, the number of births exceeded the number of deaths. It may perhaps be legitimately inferred that the sterility of marriages coincides with the decay of religious belief. Again it is important to note the increase in population of the larger cities between the years 1789 and 1901: Marseilles, from 106,000 to 491,000; Lyons, from 139,000 to 459,000; Bordeaux, from 83,000 to 256,000; Lille, from 13,000 to 210,000; Toulouse, from 55,000 to 149,000; Saint-Etienne, from 9000 to 146,000. Paris, which in 1817 had 714,000 inhabitants, had 2,714,000 in 1901; Havre and Roubaix, which in 1821 had 17,000 and 9000 respectively, now have 130,000 and 142,000. In these great increases the multiplication of parishes has not always been proportionate to the increase in the population, and this is one of the causes of the indifference into which so many of the working people have fallen. In should be remembered that in former days nine-tenths of the people in France lived in the country; that while 556 of every 1000 Frenchmen lived by agriculture in 1856, that number had fallen to 419 in 1891. The emigrants from the country hurried into the industrial towns, many of which multiplied their population by fifteen, and there, accustomed as they had been to the village bell, they found no church in the neighbourhood, and after a few brief generations the once faithful family from the country developed the faithless dweller in the town.
HISTORY TO THE THIRD REPUBLIC
The treaty of Verdun (843) definitely established the partition of Charlemagne's empire into three independent kingdoms, and one of these was France. A great churchman, Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims (806-82), was the deviser of the new arrangement. He strongly supported the kingship of Charles the Bald, under whose scepter he would have placed Lorraine also. To Hincmar, the dream of a united Christendom did not appear under the guise of an empire, however ideal, but under the concrete form of a number of unit States, each being a member of one mighty body, the great Republic of Christendom. He would replace the empire by a Europe of which France was one member. Under Charles the Fat (880-88) it looked for a moment as though Charlemagne's empire was about to come to life again; but the illusion was temporary, and in its stead were quickly formed seven kingdoms: France, Navarre, Provence, Burgundy beyond the Jura, Lorraine, Germany, and Italy. Feudalism was the seething-pot, and the imperial edifice was crumbling to dust. Towards the close of the tenth century, in the Frankish kingdom alone, twenty-nine provinces or fragments of provinces, under the sway of dukes, counts, or viscounts, constituted veritable sovereignties, and at the end of the eleventh century there were as many as fifty-five of these minor states, of greater or lesser importance. As early as the tenth century one of the feudal families had begun to take the lead, that of the Dukes of Francia, descendants of Robert the Strong, and lords of all the country between the Seine and the Loire. From 887 to 987 they successfully defended French soil against the invading Northmen, and the Eudes, or Odo, Duke of Francia (887-98), Robert his brother (922-23), and Raoul, or Rudolph, Robert's son-in-law (923-36), occupied the throne for a brief interval. The weakness of the later Carlovingian kings was evident to all, and in 987, on the death of Louis V, Adalberon, Archbishop of Reims, at a meeting of the chief men held at Senlis, contrasted the incapacity of the Carlovingian Charles of Lorraine, the heir to the throne, with the merits of Hugh, Duke of Francia. Gerbert, who afterwards became Sylvester II, adviser and secretary to Adalberon, and Arnoul, Bishop of Orléans, also spoke in support of Hugh, with the result that he was proclaimed king. Thus the Capetian dynasty had its rise in the person of Hugh Capet . It was the work of the Church, brought to pass by the influence of the See of Reims, renowned throughout France since the episcopate of Hincmar, renowned since the days of Clovis for the privilege of anointing the Frankish kings conferred on its titular, and renowned so opportunely at this time for the learning of its episcopal school presided over by Gerbert himself.
The Church, which had set up the new dynasty, exercised a very salutary influence over French social life. That the origin and growth of the "Chansons de geste", i.e., of early epic literature, are closely bound up with the famous pilgrim shrines, whither the piety of the people resorted, has been recently proved by the literary efforts of M. Bédier. And military courage and physical heroism were schooled and blessed by the Church, which in the early part of the eleventh century transformed chivalry from a lay institution of German origin into a religious one, by placing among its liturgical rites the ceremony of knighthood, in which the candidate promised to defend truth, justice, and the oppressed. The Congregation of Cluny, founded in 910, which made rapid progress in the eleventh century, prepared France to play an important part in the reformation of the Church undertaken in the second half of the eleventh century by a monk of Cluny, Gregory VII, and gave the Church two other popes after him, Urban II and Pascal II. It was a Frenchman, Urban II, who at the Council of Claremont (1095), started the glorious movement of the Crusades, a war taken up by Christendom when France had led the way.
The reign of Louis VI (1108-37) is of note in the history of the Church, and in that of France; in the one because the solemn adhesion of Louis VI to Innocent II assured the unity of the Church, which at the time was seriously menaced by the Antipope Antecletus ; in the other because for the first timer Capetian kings took a stand as champions of law and order against the feudal system and as the protectors of public rights. A churchman, Suger, abbot of St-Denis, a friend of Louis VI and minister of Louis VII (1137-80), developed and realized this ideal of kingly duty. Louis VI, seconded by Suger, and counting on the support of the towns -- the "communes" they were called when they had obliged the feudal lords to grant them charters of freedom -- fulfilled to the letter the rôle of prince as it was conceived by the theology of the Middle Ages. "Kings have long arms", wrote Suger, "and it is their duty to repress with all their might, and by right of their office, the daring of those who rend the State by endless war, who rejoice in pillage, and who destroy homesteads and churches." Another French Churchman, St. Bernard, won Louis VII for the Crusades ; and it was not his fault that Palestine, where the first crusade had set up a Latin kingdom, did not remain a French colony in the service of the Church. The divorce of Louis VII and Eleanor of Acquitain (1152) marred the ascendancy of French influence by paving the way for the growth of Anglo-Normal pretensions on the soil of France from the Channel to the Pyrenees. Soon, however, by virtue of feudal laws the French king, Philip Augustus (1180-1223), proclaimed himself suzerain over Richard Coeur de Lion and John Lackland, and the victory of Bouvines which he gained over the Emperor Otto IV, backed by a coalition of feudal nobles (1214), was the first even in French history which called forth a movement of national solidarity around a French king. The war against the Albigensians under Louis VIII (1223-26) brought in its train the establishment of the influence and authority of the French monarchy in the south of France.
St. Louis IX (1226-1270), "ruisselant de piété, et enflammé de charité", as a contemporary describes him, made kings so beloved that from that time dates that royal cult, so to speak, which was one of the moral forces in olden France, and which existed in no other country of Europe to the same degree. Piety had been for the kings of France, set on their thrones, set on their thrones by the Church of God, as it were a duty belonging to their charge or office; but in the piety of St. Louis there was a note all his own, the note of sanctity. With him ended the Crusades, but not their spirit. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, project after project attempting to set on foot a crusade was made, and we refer to them merely to point out that the spirit of a militant apostolate continued to ferment in the soul of France. The project of Charles Valois (1308-09), the French expedition under Peter I of Cyprus against Alexandria and the Armenian coasts (1365-1367), sung of by the French trouvère, Guillaume Machault, the crusade of John of Nevers, which ended in the bloody battle of Nicopolis (1396) -- in all these enterprises, the spirit of St. Louis lived, just as in the heart of the Christians of the east, whom France was thus trying to protect, there has survived a lasting gratitude toward the nation of St. Louis. If the feeble nation of the Marionites cries out today to France for help, it is because of a letter written by St. Louis to the nation of St. Maroun in May, 1250. In the days of St. Louis the influence of the French epic literature in Europe was supreme. Brunetto Latini, as early as the middle of the thirteenth century wrote that, "of all speech [parlures] that of the French was the most charming, and the most in favour with everyone." French held sway in England until the middle of the fourteenth century; it was fluently spoken at the Court of Constantinople at the time of the Fourth Crusade ; and in Greece in the dukedoms, principalities and baronies found there by the House of Burgundy and Champagne. And it was in French that Rusticiano of Pisa, about 1300, wrote down from Marco Polo's lips the story of his wonderful travels. The University of Paris, founded by favour of Innocent III between 1280 and 1213, was saved from a spirit of exclusiveness by the happy intervention of Alexander IV, who obliged it to open its chairs to the mendicant friars. Among its professors were Duns Scotus ; the Italians, St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure ; Albert the Great, a German; Alexander of Hales, an Englishman. Among its pupils it counted Roger Bacon , Dante, Raimundus Lullus, Popes Gregory IX , Urban IV, Clement IV, and Boniface VIII.
France was also the birthplace of Gothic art, which was carried by French architects into Germany. The method employed in the building of many Gothic cathedrals -- i.e., by the actual assistance of the faithful -- bears witness to the fact that at this period the lives of the French people were deeply penetrated with faith. An architectural wonder such as the cathedral of Chartres was in reality the work of popular art born of the faith of the people who worshiped there.
Under Philip IV, the Fair (1285-1314), the royal house of France became very powerful. By means of alliances he extended his prestige as far as the Orient. His brother Charles of Valois married Catherine de Courtney, an heiress of the Latin Empire of Constantinople. The Kings of England and Minorca were his vassals, the King of Scotland his ally, the Kings of Naples and Hungary connections by marriage. He aimed at a sort of supremacy over the body politic of Europe. Pierre Dubois, his jurisconsult, dreamed that the pope would hand over all his domains to Philip and receive in exchange an annual income, while Philip would thus have the spiritual head of Christendom under his influence. Philip IV laboured to increase the royal prerogative and thereby the national unity of France. By sending magistrates in feudal territories, by defining certain cases ( cas royaux ) as reserved to the king's competency, he dealt a heavy blow to the feudalism of the Middle Ages. But on the other hand, under his rule many anti-Christian maxims began to creep into law and politics. Roman law was slowly re-introduced into social organization, and gradually the idea of a united Christendom disappeared from the national policy. Philip the Fair, pretending to rule by Divine right, gave it to be understood that he rendered an account of his kingship to no on under heaven. He denied the pope's right to represent, as the papacy had always done in the past, the claims of morality and justice where kings were concerned. Hence arose in 1294-1303, his struggle with Pope Boniface VIII, but in that struggle he was cunning enough to secure the support of the States-General, which represented public opinion in France. In later times, after centuries of monarchical government, this same public opinion rose against the abuse of power committed by its kings in the name of their pretended divine right, and thus made an implicit amende honorable to what the Church had taught concerning the origin, the limits, and the responsibility of all power, which had been forgotten or misinterpreted by the lawyers of Philip IV when they set up their pagan State as the absolute source of power. The election of Pope Clement V (1305) under Philip's influence, the removal of the papacy to Avignon, the nomination of seven French popes in succession, weakened the influence of the papacy in Christendom, though it has recently come to light that the Avignon popes did not always allow the independence of the Holy See to waver or disappear in the game of politics. Philip IV and his successors may have had the illusion that they were taking the place of the German emperors in European affairs. The papacy was imprisoned on their territory; the German empire was passing through a crisis, was, in fact, decaying, and the kings of France might well imagine themselves temporal vicars of God, side by side with, or even in opposition to, the spiritual vicar who lived at Avignon.School or Church closed? - Here's FREE help!
But at this juncture the Hundred Years War broke out, and the French kingdom, which aspired to be the arbiter of Christendom, was menaced in its very existence by England. English kings aimed at the French crown, and the two nations fought for the possession of Guienne. Twice during the war was the independence of France imperilled. Defeated on the Ecluse (1340), at Crécy (1346), at Poitiers (1356), France was saved by Charles V (1364-80) and by Duguesclin, only to suffer French defeat under Charles VI at Agincourt (1415) and to be ceded by the Treaty of Troyes to Henry V, King of England. At this darkest hour of the monarchy, the nation itself was stirred. The revolutionary attempt by Etienne Marcel (1358), and the revolt which gave rise to the Ordonnace Cabochienne (1418) were the earliest signs of popular impatience at the absolutism of the French kings, but internal dissensions hindered an effective patriotic defence of the country. When Charles VII came to the throne, France had almost ceased to be French. The king and court lived beyond the Loire, and Paris was the seat of an English government. Blessed Joan of Arc was the saviour of French nationality as well as French royalty, and at the end of Charles' reign (1422-61) Calais was the only spot in France in the hands of the English.
The ideal of a united Christendom continued to haunt the soul of France in spite of the predominating influence gradually assumed in French politics by purely national aspirations. From the reign of Charles VI, or even the last years of Charles V, dates the custom of giving to French kings the exclusive title of Rex Christianissimus . Pepin the Short and Charlemagne had been proclaimed "Most Christian" by the popes of their day: Alexander III had conferred the same title on Louis VII; but from Charles VI onwards the title comes into constant use as the special prerogative of the kings of France. "Because of the vigour with which Charlemagne, St. Louis, and other brave French kings, more than the other kings of Christendom, have upheld the Catholic Faith, the kings of France are known among the kings of Christendom as 'Most Christian'." Thus wrote Philippe de Mézières, a contemporary of Charles VI. In later times, the Emperor Frederick III, addressing Charles VII, wrote "Your ancestors have won for your name the title Most Christian , as a heritage not to be separated from it." From the pontificate of Paul II (1464), the popes, in addressing bulls to the kings of France, always use the style and title Rex Christianissimus . Furthermore, European public opinion always looked upon Bl. Joan of Arc, who saved the French monarchy, as the heroine of Christendom, and believed that the Maid of Orléans meant to lead the king of France on another crusade when she had secured him in the peaceful possession of his own country. France's national heroine was thus heralded by the fancy of her contemporaries, by Christine de Pisan, and by that Venetian merchant whose letters have been preserved for us in the Morosini Chronicle, as a heroine whose aims were as wide as Christianity itself.
The fifteenth century, during which France was growing in national spirit, and while men's minds were still conscious of the claims of Christendom on their country, was also the century during which, on the morrow of the Great Schism and of the Councils of Basle and of Constance, there began a movement among the powerful feudal bishops against pope and king, and which aimed at the emancipation of the Gallican Church. The propositions upheld by Gerson, and forced by him, as representing the University of Paris, on the Council of Constance, would have set up in the Church an aristocratic regime analogous to what the feudal lords. profiting by the weakness of Charles VI, had dreamed of establishing in the State. A royal proclamation in 1518, issued after the election of Martin V maintained in opposition to the pope "all the privileges and franchises of the kingdom," put an end to the custom of annates, limited the rights of the Roman court in collecting benefices, and forbade the sending to Rome of articles of gold or silver. This proposition was assented to by the young King Charles VII in 1423, but at the same time he sent Pope Martin V an embassy asking to be absolved from the oath he had taken to uphold the principles of the Gallican Church and seeking to arrange a concordat which would give the French king a right of patronage over 500 benefices in his kingdom. This was the beginning of the practice adopted by French kings of arranging the government of the Church directly with the popes over the heads of the bishops. Charles VII, whose struggle with England had left his authority still very precarious, was constrained, in 1438, during the Council of Basle , in order to appease the powerful prelates of the Assembly of Bourges, to promulgate the Pragmatic Sanction, thereby asserting in France those maxims of the Council of Basle which Pope Eugene had condemned. But straightway he bethought him of a concordat, and overtures in this sense were made to Eugene IV. Eugene replied that he well knew the Pragmatic Sanction -- "that odious act" -- was not the king's own free doing and a concordat was discussed between them. Louis XI (1461-83), whose domestic policy aimed at ending or weakening the new feudalism which had grown up during two centuries through the custom of presenting appanages to the brothers of the king, extended to the feudal bishops the ill will he professed toward the feudal lords. He detested the Pragmatic Sanction as an act that strengthened ecclesiastical feudalism, and on 27 November, 1461, he announced to the pope its suppression. At the same time he pleaded, as the demand of his Parliament, that for the future the pope should permit the collation of ecclesiastical benefices to be made either wholly or in part through the civil power. The Concordat of 1472 obtained from Rome very material concessions in this respect. At this time, besides "episcopal Gallicanism", against which pope and king were working together, we may trace, in the writings of the lawyers of the closing years of the fifteenth century, the beginnings of a "royal Gallicanism" which taught that in France the State should govern the Church.
The Italian wars undertaken by Charles VIII (1493-98), and continued by Louis XII (1498-1515), aided by an excellent corps of artillery, and all the resources of French furia , to assert certain French claims over Naples and Milan, did not quite fulfill the dreams of the French kings. They had, however, a threefold result in the worlds of politics, religion, and art. Politically, they led foreign powers to believe that France was a menace to the balance of power, and hence arouse alliances to maintain that balance, such, for instance, as the League of Venice (1495), and the Holy League (1511-12). From the point of view of art, their carried a breath of the Renaissance across the Alps. And in the religious world they furnished France an opportunity on Italian soil of asserting for the first time the principles of royal Gallicanism. Louis XII, and the emperor Maximilian, supported by the opponents of Pope Julius II, convened in Pisa a council that threatened the rights of the Holy See. Matters looked very serious. The understanding between the pope and the French kings hung in the balance. Leo X understood the danger when the victory of Marignano opened to Francis I the road to Rome. The pope in alarm retired to Bologna, and the Concordat of 1516, negotiated between the cardinals and Duprat, the chancellor, and afterwards approved of by the Ecumenical Council of the Lateran, recognized the right of the King of France to nominate not only to 500 ecclesiastical benefices, as Charles VII had requested, but to all the benefices in his kingdom. It was a fair gift indeed. But if in matters temporal the bishops were thus in the king's hands, their institution in matters spiritual was reserved to the pope. Pope and king by common agreement thus put an end to an episcopal aristocracy such as the Gallicans of the great councils had dreamed of. The concordat between Leo X and Francis I was tantamount to a solemn repudiation of all the anti-Roman work of the great councils of the fifteenth century. The conclusion of this concordat was one of the reasons why France escaped the Reformation. From the moment that the disposal of church property , as laid down by the concordat, belonged to the civil power, royalty had nothing to gain from the Reformation. Whereas the kings of England and the German princelings saw in the reformation a chance to gain possession of ecclesiastical property, the kings of France, thanks to the concordat, were already in legal possession of those much-envied goods. When Charles V became King of Spain (1516) and emperor (1519), thus uniting in his person the hereditary possessions of the House of Austria and German, as well as the old domains of the House of Burgundy in the Low Countries -- uniting moreover the Spanish monarchy with Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, the northern part of Africa, and certain lands in America, Francis I inaugurated a struggle between France and the House of Austria. After forty-four years of war, from the victory of Marignano to the treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis (1515-59), France relinquished hopes of retaining possession of Italy, but wrested the Bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun from the empire and had won back possession of Calais. The Spaniards were left in possession of Naples and the country around Milan, and their influence predominated throughout the Italian Peninsula. But the dream which Charles V had for a brief moment entertained of a world-wide empire had been shattered.
During this struggle against the House of Austria, France, for motives of political and military exigency, had been obliged to lean in the Lutherans of Germany, and even on the sultan. The foreign policy of France since the time of Francis I had been to seek exclusively the good of the nation and no longer to be guided by the interests of Catholicism at large. The France of the Crusades even became the ally of the sultan. But, by a strange anomaly, this new political grouping allowed France to continue its protection to the Christians of the East. In the Middle Ages it protected them by force of arms; but since the sixteenth centuries, by treaties called capitulations, the first of which was drawn up in 1535. The spirit of French policy had changed, but it is always on France that the Christian communities of the East rely, and this protectorate continues to exist under the Third Republic, and has never failed them.
The early part of the sixteenth century was marked by the growth of Protestantism in France, under the forms of Lutheranism and of Calvinism. Lutheranism was the first to make its entry. The minds of some in France were already prepared to receive it. Six years before Luther's time, the archbishop Lefebvre of Etaples (Faber Stapulensis), a protégé of Louis XII and of Francis I, had preached the necessity of reading the scriptures and of "bringing back religion to its primitive purity". A certain number of tradesmen, some of whom, for business reasons, had travelled in Germany, and a few priests, were infatuated with Lutheran ideas. Until 1634, Francis I was almost favorable to the Lutherans, and he even proposed to make Melanchthon President of the Collège de France. But on learning, in 1534, that violent placards against the Church of Rome had been posted on the same day in many of the large towns, and even near the king's own room in the Château d'Amboise, he feared a Lutheran plot; an inquiry was ordered, and seven Lutherans were condemned to death and burned at the stake in Paris. Eminent ecclesiastics like du Bellay, Archbishop of Paris, and Sadolet, Bishop of Carpentras, deplored these executions, and the Valdois massacre ordered by d'Oppède, President of the Parliament of Aix, in 1545. Laymen, on the other hand, who ill understood the Christian gentleness of these prelates, reproached them with being slow and remiss in putting down heresy ; and when, under Henry II, Calvinism crept in from Geneva, a policy of persecution was inaugurated. From 1547 to 1550, in less than three years, the chambre ardente , a committee of the Parliament of Paris, condemned more than 500 persons to retract their beliefs, to imprisonment, or to death at the stake. Notwithstanding this, the Calvinists, in 1555, were able to organize themselves into Churches on the plan of that at Geneva; and, in order to bind these Churches more closely together, they held a synod in Paris in 1559. There were in France at that time seventy-two Reformed Churches ; two years later, in 1561, the number had increased to 2000. The methods, too, of the Calvinist propaganda had changed. The earlier Calvinists, like the Lutherans, had been artists and workingmen, but in the course of time, in the South and in the West, a number of princes and noblemen joined their ranks. Among these were two princes of the blood, descendants of St. Louis: Anthony of Bourbon, who became King of Navarre through his marriage with Jeanne d'Albret, and his brother the Prince de Condé. Another name of note is that of Admiral de Coligny, nephew of that duke of Montmorency who was the Premier Baron of Christendom. Thus it came to pass that in France Calvinism was not longer a religious force, but had become a political and military cabal; and the French kings in opposing it were but defending their own rights.
Such was the beginning of the Wars of Religion. They had for their starting-point the conspiracy of Amboise (1560) by which the Protestant leaders aimed at seizing the person of Francis II, in order to remove him from the influence of Francis of Guise. During the reigns of Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III , a powerful influence was exercised by the queen-mother, who made use of the conflicts between the opposing religious factions to establish more securely the power of her sons. In 1561, Catharine de' Medici arranged for the Poissy discussion to try and bring about an understanding between the two creeds, but during the Wars of religion she ever maintained an equivocal attitude between both parties, favouring now the one and now the other, until the time came when, fearing that Charles IX would shake himself free of her influence, she took a large share of responsibility in the odious massacre of St. Bartholomew. There were eight of these wars in the space of thirty years. The first was started by a massacre of Calvinists at Vassy by the troopers of Guise (1 March, 1562), and straightway both parties appealed for foreign aid. Catharine, who was at this time working in the Catholic cause, turned to Spain ; Coligny and Condé turned to Elizabeth of England and turned over to her the port of Havre. Thus from the beginning were foreshadowed the lines which the Wars of religion would follow. They opened up France to the interference of such foreign princes as Elizabeth and Philip II, and to the plunder of foreign soldiers, such as those of the Duke of Alba and the German troopers ( Reiter ) called in by the Protestants. One after another, these wars ended in weak provisional treaties which did not last. Under the banners of the Reformation party or those of the League organized by the House of Guise to defend Catholicism, political opinions ranged themselves, and during these thirty years of civil disorder monarchical centralization was often in trouble of overthrow. Had the Guise party prevailed, the trend of policy adopted by the French monarchy towards Catholicism after the Concordat of Francis I would have been assuredly less Gallican. That concordat had placed the Church of France and its episcopate in the hands of the king. The old episcopal Gallicanism which held that the authority of the pope was not above that of the Church assembled in council and the royal Gallicanism which held that the king had no superior on the earth, not even the pope, were now allied against the papal monarchy strengthened by the Council of Trent. The consequence of all this was that the French kings refused to allow the decisions of that council to be published in France, and this refusal has never been withdrawn.
At the end of the sixteenth century it seemed for an instant as though the home party of France was to shake off the yoke of Gallican opinions. Feudalism had been broken; the people were eager for liberty; the Catholics, disheartened by the corruption of the Valois court, contemplated elevating to the throne, in succession to Henry II, who was childless, a member of the powerful House of Guise. In fact, the League had asked the Holy See to grant the wish of the people, and give France a Guise as king. Henry of Navarre, the heir presumptive to the throne, was a Protestant ; Sixtus V had given him the choice of remaining a Protestant, and never reigning in France, or of abjuring his heresy, receiving absolution from the pope himself, and, together with it, the throne of France. But there was third solution possible, and the French episcopate foresaw it, namely that the abjuration should be made not to the pope but to the French bishops. Gallican susceptibilities would thus be satisfied, dogmatic orthodoxy would be maintained on the French throne, and moreover it would do away with the danger to which the unity of France was exposed by the proneness of a certain number of Leaguers to encourage the intervention of Spanish armies and the ambitions of the Spanish king, Philip II, who cherished the idea of setting his own daughter in the throne of France.
The abjuration of Henry IV made to the French bishops (25 July, 1593) was a victory of Catholicism over Protestantism, but none the less it was the victory of episcopal Gallicanism over the spirit of the League. Canonically, the absolution given by the bishops to Henry IV was unavailing, since the pope alone could lawfully give it; but politically that absolution was bound to have a decisive effect. From the day that Henry IV became a Catholic, the League was beaten. Two French prelates went to Rome to crave absolution for Henry. St. Philip Neri ordered Baronius -- smiling, no doubt, as he did so -- to tell the pope, whose confessor he, Baronius was, that he himself could not have absolution until he had absolved the King of France. And on 17 September, 1595, the Holy See solemnly absolved Henry IV, thereby sealing the reconciliation between the French monarchy and the Church of Rome. The accession of the Bourbon royal family was a defeat for Protestantism, but at the same time half a victory for Gallicanism. Ever since the year 1598 the dealing of the Bourbons with Protestantism were regulated by the Edict of Nantes. This instrument not only accorded the Protestants the liberty of practicing their religion in their own homes, in the towns and villages where it had been established before 1597, and in two localities in each bailliage , but also opened to them all employments and created mixed tribunals in which judges were chosen equally from among Catholics and Calvinists; it furthermore made them a political power by recognizing them for eight years as master of about one hundred towns which were known as "places of surety" ( places de sûreté ). Under favour of the political causes of the Edict Protestants rapidly became an imperium in imperio , and in 1627, at La Rochelle , they formed an alliance with England to defend, against the government of Louis XIII (1610-43), the privileges of which Cardinal Richelieu, the king's minister, wished to deprive them. The taking of La Rochelle by the king's troops (November, 1628), after a siege of fourteen months, and the submission of the Protestant rebels in the Cévenes, resulted in a royal decision which Richelieu called the Grâce d'Alais : the Protestants lost all their political privileges and all their "places of surety" but on the other hand freedom of worship and absolute equality with Catholics were guaranteed them. Both Cardinal Richelieu, and his successor, Cardinal Mazarin, scrupulously observed this guarantee, but under Louis XIV a new policy was inaugurated. For twenty-five years the king forbade the Protestants everything that the edict of Nantes did not expressly guarantee them, and then, foolishly imagining that Protestantism was on the wane, and that there remained in France only a few hundred obstinate heretics, he revoked the Edict of
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