The Age of Louis XIV - Richelieu and Mazarin

But however flatterers may sing the praises of the age of Louis XIV, one spot of shame remains ineradicable the persecution of the Huguenots. The French king believed that the unity of the Church was inseparable from a perfect monarchy. For this reason he oppressed the Jansenists, a Catholic party, which first contended against the Jesuits, and afterwards against the head of the Church himself; and he compelled the. Calvinists, by the most severe persecutions, either to fly, or to return into the bosom of the Catholic Church. Colbert, who esteemed the Huguenots as active and industrious citizens, prevented for some time these violent measures; but the suggestions of the royal confessor, La Chaise, the zeal for conversion of the affectedly pious Madame Maintenon, who had been first a tutoress of the court, and afterwards Louis' trusted wife, and the cruelty of Louvois, the minister of war, at length triumphed over the advice of Colbert. A lon g succession of oppressive proceedings against the Huguenots prepared the way for the great stroke. The number of their churches was restricted, and their worship confined to a few of the principal towns. Louis' paroxysms of repentance and devotion were always the sources of fresh oppressions to the Calvinistic heretics, by whose conversion he thought to expiate his own crimes. They were gradually excluded from office and dignities; converts were favored; in this way, the ambitious were enticed, the poor were won by money, which flowed from the king's conversion chest, and from the liberal gifts of the pious illustrious; a wide field was opened to the zeal for proselytism by the enactment that the conversion of children under age was valid. Families were divided, children were torn from their parents and brought up as Catholics. Court and clergy, the heartless and eloquent bishop Bossuet at their head, set all means in motion to establish the ecclesiastical unity of France. When all other means of conversion failed, came the dragonades. At the command of Louvois, the cavalry took possession of the southern provinces, and established their quarters in the dwellings of the Huguenots. The prosperity of the industrious citizens, whose substance was devoured by the dragoons, soon disappeared. The bad treatment by these booted missionaries, who quitted the houses of the apostates to fall in doubled numbers upon those who remained stedfast, operated more effectually than all the enticements of the court or the seductions of the priests. Thousands fled abroad that they might preserve their faith upon a foreign soil. At last came the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, October, 1685. The religious worship of the Calvinists was now forbidden, their churches were torn down, their schools closed, their preachers , banished from the land; when the emigration increased to a formidable degree, this was forbidden, under punishment of the galleys and forfeiture of goods. But despite all threats and prohibitions, upwards of 500,000 French Calvinists carried their industry, their faith, and their courage to Protestant lands. Switzerland, the Palatinate of the Rhine, Brandenburg, Holland, and England, offered an asylum to the persecuted. The silk manufacture and stocking weaving were carried abroad by the fugitive Huguenots. Flatterers ex tolled the king as the exterminator of heresy, but the courage of the peasants in Cevennes, and the number of Huguenots who contented themselves with private devotion, show how little religious oppression conduced to the desired end. For when the persecution was carried into the distant valleys of the Cevennes, where Waldenses and Calvinists lived, according to ancient custom, in the simplicity of the faith, the oppressors met with an obstinate resistance. Persecution called forth the courage of its victims, oppression urged zeal into fanaticism. Led on by a young mechanic, the Camisards, clad in a linen frock, rushed "with naked breast against the marshals." A frightful civil war filled the peaceful valleys of Cevennes fugitive priests, in the gloom of the forest, exhorted the evangelical brethren to a,desperate defense, till, at length, the persecutors grew weary. Nearly two millions of the Huguenots remained without rights and with out religious worship.