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From an opposite direction, Francois d’Andelot, whom the outbreak of hostilities overtook while yet in Brittany, was warned by Conde to hasten to the same point. With his accustomed energy, the young Chatillon rapidly collected the Protestant n.o.blemen and gentry, not only of that province, but of Normandy, Touraine, Maine, and Anjou, and with such experienced leaders as the Count of Montgomery, the Vidame of Chartres, and Francois de la Noue, had reached a point on the Loire a few miles above Angers. It was his plan to seize and hold the city and bridge of Saumur, and thus secure for the Huguenots the means of easy communication between the two sides of the important basin intervening between the smaller basins of the Seine and the Garonne. His expectations, however, were frustrated princ.i.p.ally by the good fortune of M. de Martigues, who succeeded in making a sudden dash through D’Andelot’s scattered divisions, and in conveying to the Duke of Montpensier at Saumur so large a reinforcement as to render it impossible for the Huguenots to dream of dislodging him.
For a time D’Andelot was in great peril. With only about fifteen hundred horse and twenty-five hundred foot, he stood on the banks of a river swollen by autumnal rains and supposed to be utterly impa.s.sable, and in the midst of a country all whose cities were in the hands of the enemy. He had even formed the desperate design of retiring twenty or thirty miles northward, in hope of being able to entice Montpensier to follow him so incautiously that he might turn upon him, and, after winning a victory, secure for himself a pa.s.sage to the sources of the Loire or to his allies in Germany. At this moment the joyful announcement was made by Montgomery that a ford had been discovered. The news proved to be true. The crossing was safe and easy. Not a man nor a horse was lost. The interposition of heaven in their behalf was so wonderful, that, as the Huguenot troopers reached the southern bank, the whole army, by common and irresistible impulse, broke forth in praise to Almighty G.o.d, and sang that grand psalm of deliverance–the seventy-sixth. Never had those verses of Beza been sung by more thankful hearts or in a n.o.bler temple.
[Sidenote: Success in Poitou, Angoumois, etc.]
Full of courage, the exultant troops of D’Andelot now pressed southward.
First the city of Thouars fell into their hands; then the more important Partenay surrendered itself to the Huguenots. Here, according to the cruel rules of warfare of the sixteenth century, they deemed themselves justified in hanging the commander of the place, who had thrown himself into the castle, for having too obstinately insisted upon standing an a.s.sault in a spot incapable of defence, together with some priests who had shared his infatuation. Admiral Coligny now met his brother, and the united army, with three cannon brought from La Roch.e.l.le, forming his entire siege artillery, demanded and obtained the surrender of Niort, the size and advantageous position of which made it a bulwark of La Roch.e.l.le toward the east. Angouleme, Blaye, Cognac, Pons, and Saintes, were still more valuable acquisitions. In short, within a few weeks, so large a number of cities in the provinces of Poitou, Angoumois, and Saintonge had fallen under the power of the Protestants, that they seemed fully to have retrieved the losses they had experienced through the treacherous peace of Longjumeau. “In less than two months,” writes La Noue of his fellow-soldiers, “from poor vagabonds that they were, they found in their hands sufficient means to continue a long war.” And the veteran Admiral Coligny, amazed at the success attending measures princ.i.p.ally planned by himself, was accustomed to repeat with heartfelt thankfulness the exclamation attributed to Themistocles: “I should be lost, if I had not been lost!”
[Sidenote: Affairs in Dauphiny, Provence, and Languedoc.]
[Sidenote: Powerful Huguenot army in the south.]
[Sidenote: It effects a junction with Conde’s forces.]
Meantime, in the south-eastern part of France, the provinces of Dauphiny, Provence, and Lower Languedoc, the Huguenots had not been slow in responding to the call of the Prince of Conde. The difficulty was rather in a.s.sembling their soldiers than in raising them; for there was little lack of volunteers after the repeal of the royal edicts in favor of the Protestants. With great trouble the contingents of Dauphiny and Provence were brought across the Rhone, and at Alais the Baron d’Acier
mustered an army to go to the succor of the Prince of Conde at La Roch.e.l.le. A Roman Catholic historian expresses his profound astonishment that the Huguenots of this part of the kingdom, when surprised by the violation of the peace, should so speedily have been able to ma.s.s a force of twenty-five thousand men, well furnished and equipped, and commanded by the most excellent captains of the age–Montbrun, Mouvans, Pierre-Gourde, and others. The abbe’s wonder was doubtless equalled by the consternation which the news spread among the enemies of the Huguenots.
The Roman Catholics could bring no army capable of preventing the junction of D’Acier’s troops with those of Conde; but the Duke of Montpensier succeeded, on the twenty-fifth of October, in inflicting a severe loss upon one of the divisions at Messignac, near Perigueux. Mouvans and Pierre-Gourde, who were distant from the main body, were attacked in their quarters, by a force under Brissac, which they easily repulsed. D’Acier, suspecting the design of the enemy, had commanded the Huguenot captains to make no pursuit, and to await his own arrival. But brave Mouvans was as impatient of orders as he was courageous in battle. Disregarding the authority which sat so lightly upon him, he fell into an ambuscade, where he atoned for his rashness by the loss of his own life and the lives of more than a thousand of his companions. After this disaster, D’Acier experienced no further opposition, and, on the first of November, he met the advancing army of Conde at Aubeterre, on the banks of the Dronne.
With the new accessions to his army, the prince commanded a force very considerably larger than any he had led in the previous wars. Among the conflicting statements, we may find it difficult to fix its numbers.
Agrippa d’Aubigne says that, after the losses consequent upon the defeat of Messignac and those resulting from camp diseases, Conde’s army consisted of only seventeen thousand foot soldiers, and two thousand five hundred hors.e.m.e.n. A Huguenot bulletin, sent from La Roch.e.l.le for the information of Queen Elizabeth and the Protestants of England, may have given somewhat too favorable a view of the prince’s prospects, but was certainly nearer the truth, in a.s.signing him twenty-five thousand arquebusiers and a cavalry force of five or six thousand men. On the other hand, Henry of Anjou, who had been placed in nominal command of the Roman Catholic army, had not yet been able to a.s.semble a much superior, probably not an equal, number of soldiers. The large forces which, according to his amba.s.sador at the English court, Charles the Ninth could call out, existed only on paper. The younger Tavannes, whose father was the true head of the royal army, gives it but about twenty thousand men.
It was already nearly winter when the armies were collected, and their operations during the remainder of the campaign were indecisive. In the numerous skirmishes that occurred the Huguenots usually had the advantage, and sometimes inflicted considerable damage upon the enemy. But the Duke of Anjou, or the more experienced leaders commanding in his name, studiously avoided a general engagement. The instructions from the court were to wear out the courage and enthusiasm of Conde’s adherents by protracting a tame and monotonous warfare. The prince’s true policy, on the contrary, lay in decided action. His soldiers were inferior to none in France. The flower of the higher n.o.bility and the most substantial of the middle cla.s.ses had flocked to his standard so soon as it was unfurled.
But, without regular commissariat, and serving at their own costs, these troops could not long maintain themselves in the field. The n.o.bles and country gentlemen, never too provident in their habits, soon exhausted their ready funds, with their crowd of hungry retainers, and became a more pitiable cla.s.s than even the burgesses. The latter, whom devotion to their religious convictions, rather than any thirst for personal distinction, had impelled to enter the service, could not remain many months away from their workshops and counting-rooms without involving their families in great pecuniary distress. It was not, however, possible for Conde and Coligny to bring about a combat which the duke was resolved to decline, and the unparalleled severity of the season suspended, at the same time, their design of wresting from his hands the city of Saumur, a convenient point of communication with northern France. Early in December the vines were frozen in the fields, disease broke out in either camp, and the soldiers began to murmur at a war which seemed to be waged with the elements rather than with their fellow-men. While Anjou’s generals, therefore, drew off their troops to Saumur, Chinon on the Vienne, and Poitiers, Conde’s army went into winter quarters a little farther west, at Montreuil-Bellay, Loudun and Thouars, but afterward removed, for greater commodity in obtaining provisions, to Partenay and Niort.
[Sidenote: Huguenot reprisals and negotiations.]
It was while the Huguenots lay thus inactive that their leaders deliberated respecting the best means of providing for their support during the coming campaign. Jeanne d’Albret, whose masculine vigor
had never been displayed more conspicuously than during this war, was present, and a.s.sisted by her sage counsels. It was determined, in view of the cruelties exercised upon the Protestants in those parts of the kingdom where they had no strongholds, and of the confiscation of their property by judicial decisions, to retaliate by selling the ecclesiastical possessions in the cities that were now under Huguenot power, and applying the proceeds to military uses. The order of sale was issued under the names of the young Prince of Navarre, of Conde, Coligny, D’Andelot and La Rochefoucauld, and a guarantee was given by them. As a reprisal the measure was just, and as a warlike expedient nothing could be more prudent; for, while it speedily filled the coffers of the Huguenot army, it cut off one great source of the revenues of the court, which had been authorized both by the Pope and by the clergy itself to lay these possessions under contribution.
Already the temper of the Protestant leaders had been sounded by an unaccredited agent of Catharine de’ Medici, who found Conde at Mirebeau, and entreated him to make those advances toward a peace which would comport better with his dignity as a subject than with that of Charles as a king. But the prince, who saw in the mission of an irresponsible mediator only a new attempt to impede the action of the confederates, had dismissed him, after declaring, in the presence of a large number of his n.o.bles, that he had been compelled to resort to arms in order to provide for his own defence. The war was, therefore, directed not against the king, but against those capital enemies of the crown and of the realm, the Cardinal of Lorraine and his a.s.sociates. All knew his own vehement desire for peace, of which his late excessive compliance was a sufficient proof; but, since the king was surrounded by his enemies, he intended, with G.o.d’s favor, to come and present his pet.i.tions to his Majesty in person.
[Sidenote: William of Orange attempts to aid the Huguenots.]
Abroad the Huguenots had not been idle in endeavoring to secure the support of advantageous alliances. So early as in the month of August, after the disastrous defeat of Louis of Na.s.sau, at Jemmingen, the Prince of Orange had contemplated the formation of a league for common defence with the Prince of Conde and Admiral Coligny. A draft of such an agreement has been preserved; but it is unsigned, and may be regarded rather as indicative of the friendly disposition of the French and Dutch patriots than as a compact that was ever formally adopted. That same autumn William of Orange had undertaken an expedition intended to free the Netherlands from the tyranny of Alva. He had been met with consummate skill. The duke refused to fight, but hung remorselessly on his skirts.
The inhabitants of Brabant extended no welcome to their liberator. The prince’s mercenaries, vexed at their reception, annoyed by the masterly tactics of their enemy, and eager only to return to their homes, clamored for pay and for plunder. Orange, outgeneralled, was compelled to abandon the campaign, and would gladly have turned his arms against the oppressors of his fellow-believers in France; but his German troops had enlisted only for the campaign in the Netherlands, and peremptorily declined to transfer the field of battle to another country. However, the depth of the Meuse, which had become unfordable, furnished more persuasive arguments than could be brought forward by Genlis and the Huguenots who with him had joined the Prince of Orange, and the army of the patriots was forced to direct its course southward and to cross the French frontier.
[Sidenote: Consternation and devices of the court.]
[Sidenote: Declaration of the Prince of Orange.]
Great was the consternation at the court of Charles. Paris trembled for its safety, and vigorous were the efforts made to get rid of such dangerous guests. Marshal Cosse, who commanded for his Majesty on the Flemish border, was too weak to copy successfully the tactics of Alva; but he employed the resources of diplomacy. His secretary, the Seigneur de Favelles, not content with remonstrating against the prince’s violation of the territory of a king with whom he was at peace, endeavored to terrify him by exaggerating the resources of Charles the Ninth and by fabricating accounts of Huguenot reverses. Conde, he said, had been forced to recross the river Vienne in great confusion; and there was a flattering prospect that he would be compelled to shut himself up in La Roch.e.l.le; for “Monseigneur the Duke of Anjou” had an irresistible army of six thousand horse and twenty-five or thirty thousand foot, besides the forces coming from Provence under the Count de Tende, the six thousand newly levied Swiss brought by the Duke d’Aumale, and other considerable bodies of troops. Gaspard de Schomberg was despatched on a similar errand by Charles himself, and offered the prince, if he came merely desiring to pa.s.s in a friendly manner through the country, to furnish him with every facility for so doing. In reply, William of Orange, although the refusal of his soldiers to fight against Charles left him no alternative but to embrace the course marked out for him, did not disguise his hearty sympathy with his suffering brethren in France. In view of the attempts made, according to his Majesty’s edict of September last, to constrain the consciences of all who belonged to the Christian religion, and in view of the king’s avowed determination to exterminate the pure Word of G.o.d, and to permit no other religion than the Roman Catholic–a thing very prejudicial to the neighboring nations, where there was a free exercise of the Christian religion–the prince declared his inability to credit the a.s.sertions of his Majesty, that it was not his Majesty’s intention to constrain the conscience of any one. He avowed his own purpose to give oppressed Christians everywhere all aid, comfort, counsel, and a.s.sistance; a.s.serting his conviction that the men who professed “the religion”
demanded nothing else than the glory of G.o.d and the advancement of His Word, while in all matters of civil polity they were ready to render obedience to his Majesty. He averred, moreover, that if he should perceive any indications that the Huguenots were pursuing any other object than liberty of conscience and security for life and property, he would not only withdraw his a.s.sistance from them, but would use the whole strength of his army to exterminate them. After this declaration, the prince prosecuted his march to Strasbourg, where he disbanded his troops, p.a.w.ning his very plate and pledging his princ.i.p.ality of Orange, to find the means of satisfying their demands. Great was the delight of the royalists, great the disappointment of the Huguenots, on hearing that the expedition had vanished in smoke. “The army of the Prince of Orange,” wrote an agent of Conde in Paris, “after having thrice returned to the king’s summons a st.u.r.dy answer that it would never leave France until it saw religion re-established, has retreated, in spite of our having given it notice of your intention to avow it. I know not the cause of this sudden movement, for which various reasons are alleged.” William the Silent had not, however, relinquished the intention of going to the a.s.sistance of the Huguenots, whose welfare, next to that of his own provinces, lay near his heart. Retaining, therefore, twelve hundred hors.e.m.e.n whom he found better disposed than the rest, he patiently awaited the departure of the new ally of the French Protestants, Wolfgang, Duke of Deux-Ponts (Zweibrucken), in whose company he had determined to cross France with his brothers Louis and Henry of Na.s.sau.
[Sidenote: Aid sought from England.]
[Sidenote: Generous response of the English people.]
[Sidenote: Bishop Jewel’s n.o.ble plea.]
The Prince of Conde received more immediate and substantial a.s.sistance from beyond the Channel. When Tavannes undertook to capture Conde and Coligny at Noyers, it was in contemplation to seize Odet, Cardinal of Chatillon, the admiral’s elder brother, in his episcopal palace at Beauvais. He received, however, timely warning, and made his escape through Normandy to England, where Queen Elizabeth received him at her court with marks of distinguished favor. His efforts to enlist the sympathies and a.s.sistance of the English monarch in behalf of his persecuted countrymen were seconded by Cavaignes, who soon arrived as an envoy from Conde. Cavaignes was instructed to ask material aid–money to meet the engagements made with the Duke of Deux-Ponts, and ships with their armaments to increase the small flotilla of privateersmen, which the Protestants had, for the first time, sent out from La Roch.e.l.le. Soon after appeared the vice-admiral, Chastelier-Pourtaut de Latour, under whose command the flotilla had been placed, bearing a letter from the Queen of Navarre to her sister of England, in which she was entreated to espouse a quarrel that had arisen not from ambition or insubordination, but from the desire, in the first place, to defend religion, and, next, to rescue a king who was being hurried on to ruin by treacherous advisers. To these reiterated appeals, and to the solicitations for aid addressed to them by other refugees from papal violence who had found their way to the sh.o.r.es of Great Britain, the subjects of the queen returned a more gracious answer than the queen herself. The exiled Huguenot ministers were received with open arms by men who regarded them as champions of a common Christianity, and some Protestant n.o.blemen had in a few weeks after their arrival raised for their relief, the sum–considerable for those days–of one hundred pounds sterling. Not only the laity, but even the clergy of the Church of England, took a tender pride in receiving the “few servants of G.o.d”–some three or four thousand–whom Providence had thrown upon their sh.o.r.es. They welcomed them to their cities, and resented the attempts of Pope and king to secure their extradition. Could the Pope, who harbored six thousand usurers and twenty thousand courtesans in his own city of Rome, call upon the Queen of England to deny the right of asylum to “the poor exiles of Flanders and France, and other countries, who either lost or left behind them all that they had–goods, lands, and houses–not for adultery, or theft, or treason, but for the profession of the Gospel?” “It pleased G.o.d,” wrote Bishop Jewel, “here to cast them on land: the queen of her gracious pity hath granted them harbor. Is it become so heinous a thing to show mercy?” “They are our brethren,”
continued their n.o.ble-minded advocate, “they live not idly. If they have houses of us, they pay rent for them. They hold not our grounds but by making due recompense. They beg not in our streets, nor crave anything at our hands, but to breathe our air, and to see our sun. They labor truly, they live sparefully. They are good examples of virtue, travail, faith, and patience. The towns in which they abide are happy, for G.o.d doth follow them with His blessings.”
[Sidenote: Misgivings of Queen Elizabeth.]
[Sidenote: Her double-dealing and effrontery.]
Queen Elizabeth was less decidedly in their favor. Her court swarmed with creatures of the Spanish king, who openly gloried in the victories of the Guises. The amba.s.sadors of Charles and Philip strove to the utmost to render the Huguenots odious to her mind, and to give a false coloring to the war raging in France. Her jealousy of the royal prerogative was appealed to, by the repeated declaration that the Protestants of France were turbulent men, who, for the slightest occasion and upon the most slender suspicion, were ready to have recourse to arms–enthusiasts, who could not be dissuaded from rash enterprises; sectaries, who employed their consistories and their organized form of church government to levy men, to collect arms, munitions of war, and money–rebels, in fine, who could at any moment rise within an hour, and surprise his most Christian Majesty’s cities and provinces. The abrogation of religious liberty was, therefore, not merely advisable, but absolutely necessary. Elizabeth was reminded, also, of her own intolerant measures toward the Roman Catholics of her dominions; and she was a.s.sured that her fears of a combined attack on all the Protestants were devoid of foundation–that Charles had neither taken up arms, nor revoked the edicts of toleration at the desire of any other prince, still less because of the instance of any private individuals, but of his own free will, in order to secure his kingdom. These arguments, if they did not convince Elizabeth, gave her a fair excuse for trying to maintain an appearance of non-intervention, which the perilous position of England seemed to her to dictate. With the problem of Scotland and Mary Stuart yet unsolved–with a very considerable part of the lords and commons of her own kingdom scarcely concealing their affection for the Romish faith–she deemed it hazardous to provoke too far the enmity of Philip the Second, her brother-in-law, and a late suitor for her hand. As if any better way could be found of warding off from her island the a.s.saults of Philip than by rendering efficient aid to Conde and Orange! As if England’s dissimulation and refusal to support the “Huguenots” and the “Gueux” in any other than an underhand way were likely to r.e.t.a.r.d the sailing of the great expedition that was to turn the Pope’s impotent threats against the “b.a.s.t.a.r.d of England” into fearful realities! As if Protestantism, everywhere menaced, could hope for glorious success in any other path than a bold and combined defence! Unfortunately Elizabeth was fairly launched on a sea of deceitful diplomacy, and not even Cecil could hold her back. She gave La Mothe Fenelon, the French envoy, a.s.surances that would have been most satisfactory could he have closed his eyes to the facts that gave these a.s.surances the lie direct. At one time, with an appearance of sincerity, she told the Spanish amba.s.sador, it is true, that she could not abandon the family of Chatillon, who had long been her friends, whilst she saw the Guises, the declared enemies of her person and state, in such authority, both in the council and the field; that she could not feel herself secure, especially since a member of the French council had inadvertently dropped the hint that, after everything had been settled at home, Charles would turn his arms against England. She had rather, consequently, antic.i.p.ate than be antic.i.p.ated. But to La Mothe Fenelon himself she maintained unblushingly that, so far from helping the French Protestants, “there was nothing in the world of which she entertained such horror as of seeing a body rising in rebellion against its head, and that she had no notion of a.s.sociating herself with such a monster.” And again and again she protested that she was not intriguing in France–that she had sent the Huguenots no a.s.sistance. At the same time Admiral Winter had been despatched with four or five ships of war and a fleet of merchantmen, to carry to La Roch.e.l.le, in answer to the request of Conde and of the Queen of Navarre, 100,000 “angelots” and six pieces of cannon and ammunition. When the amba.s.sador was commissioned to lay before the queen a remonstrance against this flagrant breach of neutrality, and to demand an answer, within fifteen days, respecting her intentions,
Elizabeth, in declaring for peace, had the effrontery to a.s.sert that the a.s.sistance in cannon and powder (for she denied that any money was left at La Roch.e.l.le) was involuntary, not only with her, but even with the admiral himself. Having dropped into the harbor to obtain the wine and other commodities with which his fleet of merchantmen were to be freighted, Admiral Winter was approached by the governor of the city, who so strongly pressed him to sell or lend them some pieces of artillery and some powder, which they could not do without, that, considering that he, as well as the ships, were in their power, he thought it necessary to comply with a part of their requests, although it was against his will. Such were the paltry falsehoods to which Elizabeth’s insincere course naturally and directly led. La Mothe Fenelon was well aware that Admiral Winter, besides his public commission, had been furnished with a secret order, authorizing him to a.s.sist La Roch.e.l.le, signed by Elizabeth’s own hand, without which the wary old seaman absolutely refused to go, doubtless fearing that he might be sacrificed when it suited his mistress’s crooked policy. What the order contained was no mystery to the French envoy. Neither party in this solemn farce was deceived, but both wanted peace. Catharine would have been even more vexed than surprised had Elizabeth confessed the truth, and so necessitated a resort to open hostilities. As the honor of the government was satisfied, even by the notoriously false story of Winter’s compulsion, there was no necessity for pressing the question of its veracity to an inconvenient length.
[Sidenote: Fruitless sieges and plots.]
The cold winter of 1568-1569 pa.s.sed without signal events, excepting the great mortality among the soldiers of both camps from an epidemic disease–consequent upon exposure to the extraordinary severity of the season–and the fruitless siege of the city of Sancerre by the Roman Catholics. Five weeks were the troops of Martinengo detained before the walls of this small place, whose convenient proximity to the upper Loire rendered it valuable to the Huguenots, not only as a means of facilitating the introduction of their expected German auxiliaries into central France, but still more as a refuge for their allies in the neighboring provinces.
The bravery of the besieged made them superior to the forces sent to dislodge them. They repulsed, with great loss to their enemies, two successive a.s.saults on different parts of the works, and, at last, gaining new courage from the advantages they had obtained, a.s.sumed the offensive, and forced Martinengo and the captains by whom he had been reinforced to retire humiliated from the hopeless undertaking. Meantime, in not less than three important cities which the Huguenots hoped to gain without striking a blow, the plans of those who were to have admitted the Protestants within the walls failed in the execution; and Dieppe, Havre, and Lusignan remained in the power of the Roman Catholic party.
[Sidenote: Growing superiority of Anjou’s forces.]
At the opening of the spring campaign the Prince of Conde found his position relatively to his opponents by no means so favorable as at the close of the previous year. His loss by disease equalled, his loss by desertion exceeded, that of the Duke of Anjou; for it was impossible for troops serving at their own expense, however zealous they might be for the common cause, to be kept together, especially during a season of inaction, so easily as the forces paid out of the royal treasury. Besides this, the Duke of Anjou had received considerable reinforcements. Two thousand two hundred German reiters, under the Rhinegrave and Ba.s.sompierre, had arrived in his camp. They were the first division of a force of five thousand six hundred men who had crossed the Rhine, near the end of December, under Philibert, Marquis of Baden, and others. The young Count de Tende brought three thousand foot soldiers from Provence and Dauphiny, and smaller bodies came in from other parts of France. Conde, on the contrary, had received scarcely any accessions to his troops. The “viscounts,” whose arrival had turned the scale at the conclusion of the last war, lingered in Guyenne, with an army of six thousand foot soldiers and a well-appointed cavalry force, preferring to protect the Protestant territories about Montauban and Castres, and to ravage the lands of their enemies, as far as to the gates of Toulouse, rather than leave their homes unprotected and join Conde. A dispute respecting precedence had not been without some influence in causing the delay, and M. de Piles, who had been twice sent to urge them forward, had only succeeded in bringing a corps of one thousand two hundred arquebusiers and two hundred horse. It was now expected, however, that realizing the vital importance of opposing to Anjou a powerful Protestant army, the viscounts would abandon their short-sighted policy; and it was the intention of Conde and Coligny, after effecting a junction, to march with the combined armies to meet the Duke of Deux-Ponts. Antic.i.p.ating this plan, the court had despatched the Dukes of Aumale and of Nemours to guard the entrance into France from the side of Germany. There seemed to be danger that the precaution would prove ineffectual through the jealousy existing between the two leaders; but this danger Catharine attempted to avert by removing the royal court to Metz, where she could exert her personal influence in reconciling the ambitious rivals. In order to prevent the threatened union of Conde and the viscounts, the Duke of Anjou now left his winter quarters upon the Loire and moved southward. On the other hand, the Prince of Conde left Niort, and, pursuing a course nearly parallel, pa.s.sed through St. Jean d’Angely to Saintes, thence diverging to Cognac, on the Charente.
[Sidenote: The armies meet on the Charente.]
The Charente, although by no means one of the largest rivers of France, well deserves to be called one of the most capricious. For about a quarter of its length it runs in a northwesterly direction. At Civray it abruptly turns southward and flows in a meandering course as far as Angouleme, receiving on the way the waters of the Tardouere (Tardoire), and with it almost completely inclosing a considerable tract of land. At Angouleme, the old whim regaining supremacy, the Charente again bends suddenly westward, and finally empties into the ocean below Rochefort, through a narrow arm of the sea known as the Pertuis d’Antioche. The tract of country included between the river and the sh.o.r.es of the Bay of Biscay, comprising a large part of the provinces of Aunis and Saintonge, was in the undisputed possession of the Huguenots. They held the right bank of the river, and controlled the bridges. Here they intended to await the arrival of the viscounts. Jarnac, an important town on this side, a few miles above Cognac, Admiral Coligny with the advance guard of the prince’s army had wrested from the enemy. They had also recovered Chateauneuf, a small place situated higher up, and midway between Jarnac and Angouleme.
In pursuance of his plan, the Duke of Anjou, after crossing the Charente near Ruffec, had moved around to the south side, determined to prevent the junction of the two Huguenot armies. Once more Chateauneuf fell into his hands; but the garrison, after retreating to the opposite bank, had destroyed the bridge behind them. This bridge the Roman Catholics set themselves at once to repair. At the same time they began the construction of a bridge of boats in the immediate vicinity. While these constructions were pushed forward with great vigor, the royal army marched down as far as Cognac and made a feint of attack, but retired after drawing from the walls a furious cannonade. It was now that prudence demanded that the Protestant army should withdraw from its advanced position with only the Charente between its vanguard and the far superior forces of the enemy.
This was the advice of Coligny and of others in the council of war. But Conde prevented its prompt execution, exclaiming: “G.o.d forbid that it should ever be said that a Bourbon fled before his enemies!”
[Sidenote: Battle of Jarnac, March 13, 1569.]
The bridges being now practicable, almost the whole army of Anjou was thrown across the Charente under cover of the darkness, during the night of the twelfth and thirteenth of March, only a small force remaining on the left bank to protect Chateauneuf and the pa.s.sage. So skilfully was this movement effected that it escaped the observation even of those divisions of the Protestant army that were close to the point of crossing.
When at length the admiral was advised that the enemy were in force on the northern bank, he at once issued the order to fall back toward Conde and the main body of the Huguenots. Unfortunately, the divisions of Coligny’s command were scattered; some had been discontented with the posts a.s.signed them, and had on their own responsibility exchanged them for others that better suited their fancy. The very command to concentrate was obeyed with little promptness, and the afternoon was more than half spent before Coligny, and D’Andelot, who was with him, could begin the retreat. Never was dilatoriness more ill-timed. The handful of men with the admiral, near the abbey and hamlet of Ba.s.sac, fought with desperation, but could not ward off the superior numbers of the enemy. La Noue, in command of the extreme rear, with great courage drove back the foremost of the Roman Catholics, but was soon overpowered and taken prisoner. His men were thrown in disorder upon D’Andelot, who, by an almost superhuman effort, not only sustained the shock, but retook and for a short time held the abbey. D’Andelot was, however, in turn forced to yield the ground.
Meantime Coligny had called upon Conde for a.s.sistance, and the prince, leaving his infantry to follow, had hurried back with the few horse that were within reach, and now took position on the left. But it was impossible for so unequal a struggle to continue long. The Huguenots were outflanked and almost enclosed between their adversaries and the Charente.
It was a time for desperate and heroic venture. Coligny’s forces had lost the ground which they had been contesting inch by inch about a raised causeway.
Conde himself had but three hundred knights. One of his arms he carried in a sling, because of a recent injury. To render his condition yet more deplorable, his thigh had just been broken, as he rode up, by a kick from the unmanageable horse of his brother-in-law, La Rochefoucauld. The prince was no coward. Turning to his little company of followers, he exclaimed: “My friends, true n.o.blesse of France, here is the opportunity we have long wished for in vain! Our G.o.d is the G.o.d of Battles. He loves to be so called. He always declares Himself for the right, and never fails to succor those who serve Him. He will infallibly protect us, if, after having taken up arms for the liberty of our consciences, we put all our hope in Him. Come and let us complete what the first charges have begun; and remember in what a state Louis of Bourbon entered into the combat for Christ and for his native land!” Thus having spoken, he bent forward, and, at the head of his devoted band, and under an ensign bearing for device the figure of the Roman hero Marcus Curtius and the singularly appropriate motto, “Doux le peril pour Christ et le Pays,” he dashed upon a hostile battalion eight hundred strong.
[Sidenote: Death of Louis, Prince of Conde.]
The conflict was, in the judgment of that scarred old Huguenot warrior, Agrippa d’Aubigne, the sharpest and most obstinate in all the civil wars. At last Conde’s horse was killed under him, and the prince was unable to extricate himself. The day was evidently lost, and Conde, calling two of the enemies’ knights with whom he was acquainted, and the life of one of whom he had on a former occasion saved, raised his visor, made himself known, and surrendered. His captors pledged him their word that his life should be spared, and respectfully endeavored to raise him from the ground. Just at that moment another horseman rode up. It was Montesquiou, captain of Anjou’s guards, who came directly from his master, and was charged–so it was said–with a secret commission. He drew a pistol as he approached, and, without inquiring into the terms of the capture, shot Conde in the back. The shot penetrated between the joints of his armor, and caused almost instantaneous death.
So perished a prince even more ill.u.s.trious for his courage and intrepidity than for his exalted rank–a prince who had conscientiously espoused the reformed faith, and had felt himself constrained by his duty to his G.o.d and to his fellow-believers to a.s.sert the rights of the oppressed Huguenots against illegal persecution. “Our consolation,” wrote Jeanne d’Albret a few weeks later, “is that he died on the true bed of honor, both for body and soul, for the service of his G.o.d and his king, and the quiet of his fatherland.” So magnanimous a hero could not be insensible to the invasion of his claims as the representative of the family next in the succession to the Valois; but I cannot agree with those who believe that, in his a.s.sumption of arms in three successive wars, he was influenced solely, or even princ.i.p.ally, by selfish or ambitious motives. His devotion to the cause which he had espoused was sincere and whole-souled. If his love of pleasure was a serious blot upon his character, let charity at least reflect upon the fearful corruption of the court in which he had been living from his childhood, and remember that if Conde yielded too readily to its fascinations, and fell into shameful excesses, he yet bore with meekness the pointed remonstrances of faithful friends, and in the end shook off the chains with which his enemies had endeavored to bind him fast. As a soldier, no one could surpa.s.s Conde for bravery. If his abilities as a general were not of the very first order, he had at least the good sense to adopt the plans of Gaspard de Coligny, the true hero of the first four civil wars. The relations between these two men were well deserving of admiration. On the part of Conde there was an entire absence of jealousy of the resplendent abilities and well-earned reputation of the admiral. On the part of Coligny there was an equal freedom from desire to supplant the prince either in the esteem of his followers or in military rank. Coligny was inflexible in his determination to accept no honors or distinctions that might appear to prejudice the respect due by a Chatillon to a prince of royal blood.
The Prince of Conde was, unfortunately, not the only Huguenot leader murdered in cold blood at the battle of Jarnac. Chastelier-Pourtaut de Latour, who, having lately brought his flotilla back in safety to La Roch.e.l.le, had hastened to take the field with the Protestants, was recognized after his capture as the same n.o.bleman who, five years before, had killed the Sieur de Charry at Paris, and was killed in revenge by some of Charry’s friends. Robert Stuart, the brave leader descended from the royal house of Scotland, who was said to have slain Constable Montmorency in the battle of St. Denis, was a.s.sa.s.sinated after he had been talking with the Duke of Anjou, within hearing and almost in sight of the duke, by one of the constable’s adherents.
[Sidenote: Henry of Navarre remonstrates against the perfidy.]
These flagrant violations of good faith incurred severe animadversion. A letter is extant, written by young Prince Henry of Navarre, or in his name, to Henry of Anjou, on the twelfth of July, 1569, about four months after the battle of Jarnac. He begins by answering the aspersions cast upon his mother and himself, and by a.s.serting that, if his age (which, however, is not much less than that of Anjou) disqualifies him from pa.s.sing a judgment upon the present state of affairs, he has lived long enough to recognize the instigators of the new troubles as the enemies of the public weal. It is not Henry of Navarre, whose honors and dignities are all dependent upon the preservation of France, who seeks the ruin of the kingdom; but, rather, they seek its ruin who, in their eagerness to usurp the crown, have gone the length of making genealogical searches to prove their possession of a t.i.tle superior to that of the Valois, “and have learned how to sell the blood of the house of France against itself, _constraining the king_, as it were, _to make use of his left arm to cut off his right_, so as more easily to wrest his sceptre from him afterward.” In reply to the statement of Anjou that Stuart alone was killed in cold blood, Henry of Navarre affirms that he can enumerate many others. “But I shall content myself with merely reminding you of the manner in which the late Prince of Conde was treated, inasmuch as it touches you, Sir, and because it is a matter well known and free of doubt.
For his death has left to posterity an example of as noted treachery, bad faith and cruelty as was ever shown, seeing that those, Sir, who murdered him could not be deterred from the perpetration of so wicked an act by the respect they owed to the greatness of your blood, to which he had the honor of being so nearly related, and that they dealt with him as they would have done with the most miserable soldier of the whole army.”
The Huguenot loss in the battle of Jarnac was surprisingly small in the number of men killed. It is probable that, including prisoners, they lost about four hundred men, or about twice as many as the Roman Catholics. But the loss was in effect much more considerable. The dead and the prisoners were the flower of the French n.o.bility. Among those that had fallen into the enemy’s hands were the b.a.s.t.a.r.d son of Antoine of Navarre, Francois de la Noue, Soubise, La Loue, and others of nearly equal distinction. Of infantry the Huguenot army lost but few men, as the regiments, with the exception of that of Pluviaut, did not enter the engagement at all. Coming up too late, and finding themselves in danger of falling into the hands of the enemy’s victorious cavalry, they evacuated Jarnac, crossed to the left bank of the Charente, and, after breaking down the bridge, retreated leisurely toward Cognac. Admiral Coligny, meantime, upon whom the command in chief now devolved, diverged to the right, and conducted the cavalry in safety to Saintes. The Roman Catholic army, apparently satisfied with the success it had gained, made no attempt at pursuit.
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