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 FROM the windows of his ancient castle, Gaspard de Coligny
could look out over miles of mountain and stream and
forest, all of which belonged to him.
Coligny seemed to have everything that the heart of man
could wish. He was rich and eminent. His family had
been great in France for more than four hundred years.
Indeed, he traced back his ancestry to the first
soldier who followed Clovis into the water of baptism.
For Clovis, king of the wild Franks, in the fifth
century, made a vow in the midst of a battle that if he
won the victory he would become a Christian; and he did
win the victory, and was baptized, and three thousand
of his warriors with him. The first man to step down
 into the water after the king, was the forefather of
His mother, being left a widow, had given great care to
the education of her four sons. They were taught the
knightly games of tilt and tourney, in which they
played at war, and learned how to give blows and take
them. They were trained in the courteous manners of the
time. They could sing the ballads which celebrated the
courage of the heroes of Charlemagne, and could read
them in the pages of the books. Also they could read
the New Testament, which had just been translated into
French. One of the boys was made a cardinal, at the age
of sixteen; one died; the other two, Gaspard and
Andelot, were brought to the court of King Francis the
Here was a gay life of balls and tournaments, with an
occasional experience of real fighting, in the wars
which were always going on. Here Coligny met young
 Francis of Lorraine, known later as the Duke of Guise,
and the two became fast friends, jousting in the same
tournaments, dancing at the same parties, wearing the
same colors, white and green, and each planning to
become the greatest captain of his age. Already the two
friends showed the qualities which afterwards made them
enemies. Guise desired to have his pleasure; Coligny to
do his duty. Guise was an aristocrat, caring only for
persons of high birth and wealth; Coligny cared for the
So years passed, and Francis died and Henry the Second
came to the throne, with Catherine de' Medici his wife.
Henry and Cather, Guise and Coligny, were all young
together. It was Guise who held the town of Metz
against the tremendous forces of Charles the Fifth. It
was Coligny who brought order and discipline into the
army of France.
The soldiers who fought for France
 came from various countries for the sake of the French
pay. They were wild and lawless, and their only
interest was to get whatever spoil they could. When war
was in progress they fought the enemy, but in the
intervals of peace they fought among themselves. They
were as uncontrolled as savage animals. These soldiers
Coligny brought under stern rule. He hated disorder. He
hated still more the oppression of the weak at the
hands of the strong. Every robber, he promptly hanged.
Men who committed lesser offenses were beaten with the
hafts of pikes. Even swearing was punished with the
pilory. Thus the general saved the people from the
soldiers, and introduced into the army a drill, a
discipline, a life under severe rule, such as is common
enough now, but which had not then been known since the
time of the old Caesars.
At the age of thirty-three, Coligny was made Admiral of
France. But the
for-  tunes of war now turned against him. At the siege of
St. Quentin, he was taken prisoner by the Spaniards.
During the quiet months of his imprisonment, while he
waited for the ransom by which he was released, he had
opportunity to think, not only about war, but about
religion. He became a Huguenot.
The Huguenots were the Protestants of France. The name
indicates their position as a people already
prosecuted. One of the gates of the city of Tours was
named for old King Hugo, about whom there were many
pleasant ghost-stories. The king was said to be in the
habit of coming out of his grave by night, and
wandering about the streets. The Protestants of the
city, being in fear of their neighbors, used to meet at
King Hugo's gate, under the cover of darkness. They
were called Huguenots in derision, because like the
ghostly king they appeared only at night.
 Protestantism had come with France gradually, assisted
by many influences: by the lives of the clergy, which
suggested the common phrase, "as idle as a priest"; by
the desire of the monks for money; by the enlightenment
of the new learning; by the sermons of Luther, and by
the satires of Rabelais; by the teaching of Calvin.
Little by little, the new opinions made their way.
First in this town, then in that, those who thus agreed
in the necessity of changing religion for the better
came together and founded Protestant societies.
These people had no leader. No Luther, no Cranmer, no
Calvin had appeared in France. But they had their
heroes. One of their first martyrs was a poor
wool-carder of Meaux, named Leclerc. A papal bull had
been posted on the cathedral door, promising the usual
indulgences to those who should repeat certain prayers.
Leclerc tore it down.
 He was three times publicly whipped for this offense
and his forehead was branded with the fleur-de-lis. In
spite of these punishments, hearing that a procession
was starting to go to a saint's shrine outside the
city, he hurried out before the people and destroyed
the shrine. When the procession arrived, they found the
image of the saint in pieces. For this, they cut off
Leclerc's right hand, tore his face and breast with
pincers, and finally put upon his head a red-hot band
of iron. He made no groan nor cry, but continued, so
long as he had breath, to recite the text, "Their idols
are silver and gold, the work of men's hands." And
there were many like him; but most of them were plain
people. The nobles, the bishops, the scholars held, for
the most part, to the old ways.
When Henry the Second became king he entered upon a
vigorous course of persecution, treating the Huguenots
as if they
 were poisonous weeds in a garden. But this seemed only
to increase their number. Every martyr converted a
hundred indifferent or hostile persons into disciples.
Torture had no terror for them. Men, women, and
children marched to their punishment as if they were on
their way to a merry festival, singing as they went. As
they died, they turned their faces toward Geneva,
blessing God for John Calvin.
For the Huguenots were Calvinists. They liked the
methods of Calvin better than the methods of Cranmer.
There are two ways of dealing with a tree which has
ceased to bear good fruit. One way is to take a
pruning-knife, and lop off some of the dead branches,
and a grafting-knife, and set new branches in their
place. That is what Cranmer did. He kept the old
service, only making it more simple and translating it
into English. He kept the old Church, only
sub-  tracing the pope, who, after all, had been added to the
apostolic order in the Middle Ages.
The other way is to take an ax. The tree bears no good
fruit: cut it down, and plant another. That is what
Calvin did. He put away the book which contained the
old prayers, and told the ministers to make new prayers
for themselves, out of their own hearts. He put away
the bishops, and told the ministers that they were each
as good as any bishop. Thus he established new
societies of Christians; in France, called Huguenots;
in Scotland, called Presbyterians.
In his prison, Coligny became a Huguenot. He brought to
the service of these people the might of his own
personality, and the strength of his high position.
When the war was over, and the Admiral's ransom was
paid, and he was free, he found himself at the head of
the Protestant party in France; the papal party was
 led by his old companion, the Duke of Guise.
Between these parties was the Queen-mother, Catherine
de' Medici. She was the ruler of France. After the
death of her husband, Henry the Second, her sons came
to the throne: first Francis the Second, at the age of
sixteen; and after his death, Charles the Ninth, at the
age of ten. The real power was in her hands.
At a meeting of the Assembly of Notables to consider
the condition of the kingdom, Coligny presented a
petition, "the supplication of those who, in divers
provinces, invoke the name of God, according to the
rule of piety." It was a request that the Huguenots
might be permitted to practise their religion without
"But," cried Guise, "the petition is unsigned."
"I will get fifty thousand signatures in Normandy
alone," said Coligny.
 "And I," said Guise, "will give five hundred thousand
who will oppose it with their blood."
It was finally agreed to call a national parliament to
discuss the matter, and after some years, and many
obstructions put by the Guises in the way, such an
assemblage was gathered together. An edict was passed
giving the Protestants the right to meet, under the
protection of the law. And there were those who hoped,
that in France as in England, the men of the old
learning and the men of the new, might somehow get
along in peace.
But one day, six weeks after the issuing of the edict,
the Duke of Guise, with an escort of gentlemen and
soldiers, was riding on his way to Paris. And they came
on a Sunday morning to the little town of Vassy. And
the Huguenots of Vassy, in the freedom which the law
had given them, were holding a religious service in a
 "What is this?" said the Duke of Guise.
"It is a Huguenot meeting," said somebody who stood by.
"I will Huguenot them," cried the Duke. And thereupon
he marched his soldiers against the barn; they broke
the doors, and fired upon the people, men, women, and
children, all unarmed and defenseless, till more than
sixty of them were killed, and two hundred were
This was the beginning of a series of wars of religion
which lasted for ten years. Then men of the old
religion were strong in the cities; the strength of the
men of the new religion was in the villages. Neighbors
fought against neighbors. Soon, two armies were in the
field, and there were bloody battles, sometimes with
success on one side, sometimes with success on the
other. Guise was the leader of the Catholics, Coligny
of the Protestants. The forces seemed to be
 evenly matched. The whole land was in distress.
Then, one day, a young Huguenot soldier and spy,
pretending to be a Cathoic, got admission to the
household of the Duke of Guise and shot him, and then
said that he had been sent to do that deed by Admiral
Coligny. The Admiral denied it. He confessed that he
was glad that the Duke was dead, for he believed him to
be an enemy of God, but he declared that he had no part
in killing him. They who have examined the matter most
carefully find him innocent. But the tragedy added
bitterness to a situation which was already bitter
So campaign followed campaign across the fair land of
France, each leaving a wall of burned houses and
desecrated churches and dead bodies. Coligny's brother
Andelot, after valiant service in the Huguenot armies,
died of fever. Coligny's splendid castle was sacked,
 his books, his pictures, all his treasures were
destroyed. His fortune was gone. He had given to the
cause of religion all that he had. When the news came
of the plunder of his castle he wrote to his boys, "We
must not count upon what is called property, but rather
place our hope elsewhere than on earth." Suddenly, with
an army which increased like a rolling snowball, he
marched on Paris. And Catherine, in great fear, made
terms of peace. She granted what Coligny had been
fighting for, liberty in religion.
So there was peace in France, but only on the surface.
The land was filled with rumors of disorder. At any
moment, the old enemies might fall to fighting. It
seemed to Coligny that there was only one way to unite
the people of France, and to secure the lasting safety
of the Huguenots. That was to go to war with Spain.
Spain was the ancient foe of France, and was occupied
just then in putting down
 a Protestant revolution in the Netherlands. Coligny
proposed that the armies of France should direct their
energies towards the Netherlands. Thus should Spain be
humbled; the Netherlands would be added to the domains
of France; and the cause of Protestantism would be
greatly strengthened in Europe. This he said, day by
day, to the young king. And in this he was day by day
opposed by Catherine de' Medici, the king's mother. She
was against the war; and especially she was against
sending French forces to help the Dutch Protestants
resist the Spanish Catholics.
In the midst of these discussions, all the nobility of
France came crowding into Paris to attend a wedding.
Margaret of Valois was to be married to Henry of
Navarre. Henry was a Protestant, Margaret was a
Catholic, and the union of the two seemed to represent
the peace of the divided nation. The heart of Coligny
 was filled with hope. As he walked in the church of
Notre Dame, after the wedding was over, he waved his
hand toward the flags which hung upon the walls,
memorials of Huguenot defeats, and said to a companion,
"Soon shall these be pulled down, and better flags put
in their places." It was plain, however, to observant
persons, that Coligny was in danger. He was warned
again and again to leave Paris. There were cautious
friends who begged him to escape while he could from a
city wherein Catherine was the ruler, and the young
Duke of Guise had succeeded to his father's place. But
Coligny trusted the king.
At last, one day, when the wedding festivities, the
banquets, and the masquerades were over, Coligny met
the king on his way to play a game of tennis, and went
with him and looked on. As he started to go home, a man
handed him a petition and he walked slowly along the
 reading as he went. Suddenly came the report of a gun,
and Coligny felt himself struck by bullets in his right
hand and his left arm. It was evident that an assassin
had tried to kill him. The house was searched, from
whose window the gun was fired, but nobody was found.
Coligny was carried to his lodgings, and a physician
was summoned. The king came to visit the wounded man,
and so did Catherine. The people suspected the Duke of
Guise. There were threatening cries against him in the
The visit of sympathy was followed by a hasty meeting
of the Council. What should be done? The Huguenots were
demanding that the murderer be found and punished, and
were declaring openly that the real murderer was Guise
himself. The civil war seemed likely to begin again.
Again there would be armies in the bloody fields, and
Frenchmen would be killing Frenchmen. Again the
 be led against the Catholics. It seemed to Catherine
that for the sake of the nation and for the sake of the
Catholic religion, there was only one thing to be done.
That was to put to death not Coligny only, but all the
Huguenot leaders then in Paris. Such an operation of
surgery, she thought, might save France. "The dead do
not make war."
So a massacre was planned. The young king, who was more
than half disposed to take the counsels of Coligny, and
had listened to him with regard and affection, was
reluctantly persuaded. The Catholics were to wear a
white handkerchief around the left arm. The Duke of
Guise was to have the responsibility of murdering the
Admiral. The houses of the Huguenots were marked. Even
then the victims did not suspect the intentions of
their enemies. So midnight passed, and the hands of the
clock pointed to three or four of the morning of August
24, the feast of St.
Bartho-  lomew. Then the king, urged by his mother, gave the order
to ring the bell of the church of St. Germain.
Immediately, the attack began. The house of Coligny was
assaulted, and an entrance made. The wounded man was
lifted up by his servants, while the noise of the enemy
increased. A Huguenot minister prayed beside him.
Coligny commended his soul in faith to God. Then they
broke in, and killed him, and threw his body out of the
window into the courtyard, where the Duke of Guise was
Then, for three days, blood ran in the gutters of
Paris. Under the protection of the court, and with the
aid of soldiers, the Catholics hunted the Protestants
in the streets. Almost all of the Huguenot leaders were
killed; and of the people, nobody knows how many: two
thousand, six thousand, eight thousand, in Paris; and
in the country, ten to twenty thousand.
 When the news reached Rome, the city was illuminated
during the nights of the greater part of a week, the
guns of the Castle of St. Angelo were fired, the pope,
with all the ambassadors and cardinals in their robes,
marched in procession to the church, where a mass of
thanksgiving was celebrated. The choir sang the
twenty-first psalm: "The king shall rejoice in thy
strength, O Lord; exceeding glad shall he be of thy
salvation. Thou hast given him his heart's desire, and
hast not denied him the request of his lips. All thine
enemies shall feel thine hand: thy right hand shall
find out them that hate thee." Every word seemed
appropriate. A papal medal was struck to commemorate
This rejoicing of Christian men over the bodies of
their enemies seems almost as horrible as the massacre
itself. Other Christians, Catholic as well as
Protestant, denounced it. One of the last thundering
 sermons of John Knox was preached against it. To the
pope, however, the news came like the tidings of
victory in battle. He overlooked the black treachery of
it in honest gratitude that the enemies of the Church
Thus Coligny died a martyr, and the cause to which he
gave his noble life died with him. For a time, the
Huguenots were tolerated in their weakness. Finally, by
the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, they were driven
out of France.
The Reformation failed in France for many reasons, but
chiefly because the people did not want it. When the
Reformation was over in Europe, and all the battles had
been fought and all the armies were disbanded, and the
smoke had blown away enough to make it possible to see
the resulting situation, it was found that the line
between the countries in which the new religion failed
and in which it succeeded ran along national and racial
 boundaries. On one side were the people who spoke
German, and languages like German, such as Dutch and
English. On the other side were the people who spoke
languages which were derived from Latin, such as
French, Spanish, and Italian. The inference is that the
Reformation naturally attracted those who cared greatly
for freedom, and repelled those who cared greatly for
order. It was in accordance with the idea of the
liberty of the individual; it was not in accordance
with the idea of the authority of the institution.
Anyhow, the northern nations received it, and the
southern nations refused it.
As for Coligny, his cause failed; but courage and
devotion never fail. The men who do battle for the sake
of truth and right may be defeated, but their memory
becomes a priceless possession. The example of a man
who gives up ease, and wealth, and the pleasures of
comfortable success, and life itself for a good cause,
 is an inspiring influence to all time. Coligny's name
is a great victory. Men have ever since been braver and
better because of him.