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The League

The League


The discontent produced by the Peace of Beaulieu (6 May, 1576), which restored the government of Picardy to the Xrotetestant Prince de CondÈ and gave him PÈronne to hold as a security, induced d'Humières, a Catholic who commanded the city of PÈronne, to form a league of gentry, soldiers, and peasants of Picardy to keep CondÈ from taking possession of the city. D'Humières also appealed to all the princes, nobles and prelates of the kingdom, and to the allies of the nations neighbouring to France. This League of PÈronne thus aspired to become international. From a religious point of view it aimed at supporting Catholicism in France politically at restoring the "ancient franchises and liberties" against the royal power. Its programme was spread throughout France by the efforts of Henri de Guise (see Guise), and Henry III, then on good terms with the Guises, declared himself its chief. Gregory XIII was apprised of the formation of the League by Jean David, an advocate of the Parliament of Paris, acting for the Guises, and he communicated the fact to Philip II. But when the Peace of Bergerac (17 September, 1577) between Henry III and the Protestants, curtailed the liberties accorded them by the Edict of Beaulieu, the king hastened to dissolve the League of PÈronne and the other Catholic leagues formed after its example. This dissolution was the cause of rejoicing to a certain number of royalists, who held that "all leagues and associations in a monarchial state are matters of grave consequence, and that it is impossibie for sujects to band themselves together without prejudicing the royal superiority". The nobility had lacked unanimity, and the cities had been too lukewarm to maintain this first league.


The death of the Duke of Anjou (10 June, 1584) having made Henry of Bourbon, the Protestant King of Navarre, heir presumptive to Henry III, a new league was formed among the aristocracy and the people. On the one hand, the Dukes of Guise, Mayenne, and Nevers and Baron de Senecey met at Nancy to renew the League, with the object of securing the recognition, as heir to the throne, of the Cardinal de Bourbon, who would extirpate heresy and receive the Council of Trent in France. Philip II, by the Treaty of Joinville (31 December, 1584), promised his concurrence, in the shape of a monthly subsidy of 50,000 crowns. At Paris, on the other hand, Charles Hotteman, Sieur de Rocheblond, "moved by the Spirit of God", PrÈvost, curÈ of Saint SÈverin, Boucher, curÈ of Saint Benoît, and Launoy, a canon of Soissons, appealed to the middle classes of the cities to save Catholicism. A secret society was formed. Rocheblond and five other leaguers carried on a propaganda, gradually organizing a little army at Paris, and establishing relations with the Guises. The combination of these two movements — the aristocratic and the popular — resulted in the manifesto of 30 March, 1585, launched from PÈronne by Guise and the princes amounting to a sort of declaration of war against Henry III. The whole story of the League has been told in the article Guise. We shall here dwell upon only the following two points.

A. Relations between the Popes and the League

Gregory XIII approved of theLeague after 1584, but abstained from committing himself to any writing in its favour. Sixtus V wished the struggle against heresy in France to be led by the king himself; the religious zeal of the Leaguers pleased him, but he did not like the movement of political independence in relation to Henry III. Events, however, drove Sixtus V to take sides with the Leaguers. The Bull of 9 September, 1585, by which he declared Henry of Bourbon and the Prince of CondÈ as Protestants, to have forfeited the succession, provoked so much opposition from the Parliament, and so spirited a reply from Henry, that the League, in its turn, recognized the necessity of a counterstrokc. Louis d'OrlÈans, advocate and a leaguer, undertook the defence of the Bull in the "Avertissement des Catholiques Angais aux Français Catholiques", an extremely violent manifesto against Henry of Bourbon. Madame le Montpensier, a sister of the Guises, boasted that she ruled the famous preachers of the League, the "Satire MÈnippÈe" presently turned them to ridicule, while in their turn the Leaguers from the pulpits of Paris attacked not only Henry of Bourbon, but the acts, the morals, and the orthodoxy of of Henry III. Such preachers were Rose, Bishop of Senlis, Boucher and PrÈvost, the aforesaid curÈs — the latter of whom caused an immense picture to be displayed, representing the horrible sufferings inflicted upon Catholics by the English co-religionists of Henry of Bourbon. Other preachers were de Launay, a canon of Soissons, the learned Benedictine GÈnÈbrard, the controversialist Feuardent, the ascetic writer Pierre Crespet, and Guincestre, curÈ of Saint-Gervais, who, preaching at Saint-BarthÈlemy on New Year's Day, 1589, made all who heard him take an oath to spend the last penny they had and shed their last drop of blood to avenge thr assassination of Guise. By these excesses of the Leaguers against the monarchical principle, and by the murder of Henry III by Jacques ClÈment (1 August, 1589) Sixtus V was compelled to assume an altitude of extreme reserve towards the League. The nuncio Matteuzzi having thought it his duty to leave Venice because immediately after the assassination of Henry III the Senate had decided to send an ambassador to Henry of Bourbon, the pope sent him back to his post, expressing a hope that the Venetians might be able to persuade Henry of Bourbon to be reconciled with the Holy See. On 14 May, 1590, the papal legate Caetani blessed, saluting them as Machabees, the 1300 monks who, led by Rose, Bishop of Senlis, and Pelletier, CurÈ of Saint-Jacques, organized for the defence of Paris against Henry of Bourbon; but, on the other hand, the pope manifested great displeasure because the Sorbonne had declared, on 7 May, that, even "absolved of his crimes", Henry of Bourbon could not become King of France. The Leaguers in their enthusiasm had denied to the papal authority the right of eventually admitting Henry of Bourbon to the throne of France. They found new cause for indignation in the fact that Sixtus V had received the Duke of Luxembourg-Piney, the envoy of Henry's party; and Philip II while in Paris, caused a sermon to be preached against the pope.

But when, after the brief pontificate of Urban VII, Gregory XIV became pope (5 December, 1590) the League and Spain recovered their influence at Rome. Several Briefs dated in March, 1591, and two "monitoria" to the nuncio Landriano once more proclaimed the downfall of Henry of Bourbon. The prelates who sided with Henry, assembled at Chartres, in September, 1591, protested against the "monitoria" and appealed from them to the pope's maturer infomation. The gradual development of a third party weakened the League and hastened the approach of an understanding between Rome and Henry of Bourbon (see HENRY IV). Briefly, the Holy See felt a natural sympathy for the Catholic convictions in which the League originated; but, to the honour of Sixtus V, he would not, in the most tragic moments of his pontificate, compromise himself too far with a movement which flouted the authority of Henry III, the legitimate king; neither would he admit the maxim: "Culpam non pænam aufert absolutio peccati" (Absolution blots out the sin, but not its penalty), in virtue of which certain theologians of the League claimed that Henry IV, even if absolved by the pope, would still be incapable of succeeding to the French throne. By this wise policy, Sixtus prepared the way far in advance for the reconciliation which he hoped for, and which was to be realized in the absolution of Henry IV by Clement VIII.

B. Political Doctrines of the League

Charles Labitte has found it possible to write a book on "La DÈmocratie sous la Ligue". The religious rising of the people soon took shelter behind certain political theories which tended to the revival of medieval political liberties and the limitation of royal absolutism. In 1586 the advocate Le Breton, in a pamphlet for which he was hanged, called Henry III "one of the greatest hypocrites who ever lived", demanded an assembly of the States General from which the royal officers should be excluded, and proposed to restore all their franchises to the cities. Ideas of political autonomy were beginning to take definite shape. The League wished the clergy to recover those liberties which it possessed before the Concordat of Francis I, the nobility to regain the independence it enjoyed in the Middle Ages, and the cities to be restored to a certain degree of autonomy. After the assassination of Guise, a crime instigated by Henry III, sixty-six doctors of the Sorbonne declared that the king's subjects were freed from their oath of allegience and might lawfully take arms, collect money, and defend the Roman religion against the king: the name of Henrv III was erased from the Canon of the Mass and replaced by the "Catholic princes". Boucher, curÈ of Saint-Benoît, popularized this opinion of the Sorbonne in his book "De justa Henriei Tertii abdicatione", in which be maintained that Henry III, "as a perjurer, assassin, murderer, a sacrilegious person, patron of heresy, simoniac, magician, impious and damnable", could be deposed by the Church; that, as "a perfidious waster of the public treasure, a tyrant and enemy of his country", he could be deposed by the people. Boucher declared that a tyrant was a ferocious beast which men were justified at killing. It was under the influence of these theories that upon the assassination of Henry III by Jacques ClÈment (1 August, 1589), the mother of the Guises harangued the throng from the altar of the church of the Cordeliers, and glorified the deed of ClÈment. These exaggerated ideas served only to justify tyranny, and did not long influence the minds of men. Moreover, the "Declaration" of Henry IV against seditious preachers (September, 1595) and the steps taken at Rome by Cardinal d'Ossat, in 1601, put a stop to the political preachings which the League had brought into fashion. The memory of the excesses committed under the League was afterwards exploited by the 1egists of the French Crown to combat Roman doctrines and to defend royal absolutism and Gallicanism. But, considering the bases of the League doctrines, it is impossible not to accord them the highest importance in the history of political ideas. Power, they said, was derived from God through the people, and they opposed the false, absolutist, and Gallican doctrine of the Divine right and irresponsibility of kings, such as Louis XIV professed and practised; and they also bore witness to the perfect compatibility of the most rigorous Roman ideas with democratic and popular aspirations.

It has been possible to trace certain analogies between the doctrines of the League and Protestant brochures like Hotman's "Franco-Gallia" and the "Vindiciæ contra tyrannos" of Junius Brutus (Duplessis Mornay), published immediately after the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. Indeed, both Huguenots and Leaguers were then seeking to limit the royal power; but in the Huguenot projects of reform the tendency was to favour the aristocracy, the optimates; they would not allow the mob — the mediastinus quilibet of whom the "Vindiciæ" speak so contemptuously — any right of resistance against the king; the Leaguers, on the contrary appealed to the democracy. The Huguenots permitted no uprising of the mere private individual save with "God's special calling"; the Leaguers held that every man was called by God to the defence of the Church, and that all men were equal when there was question of repelling the heretic or the infidel. Hence, in his work, "Des progrès de la rÈvolution et de la guerre contre l'Eglise" Lamennais felt free to write (1829): "How deeply Catholicism has impressed souls with the sentiment of liberty was never more evident than in the days of the League."

See the bibliography of Guise; also LABITTE, De la dÈmocratchez les prÈdicateurs de Ligue (Paris, 1841); WEILL, Les thÈories sur le pouvoir royal en France pendant les guerres du religion (Paris, 1891); TREUMANN, Die Monarchomachen; eins Darstellung der revolutionären Staatslehren des XVI. Jahrurderts, 1573-1599 (Leipzig, 1885).


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