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The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor

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THE PRINCE OF CONDÉ KILLED

[288] AFTER, the death of Francis II., his brother Charles, a boy of only ten years old, became king.

The Guises offered to support the queen-mother as regent if she would allow them to put the King of Navarre and the Prince of Condé to death.

This Catherine de Medici refused to do. Without making terms with the Guises she became regent, and ruled France for her little son, Charles IX.

At first the regent tried to pacify the Huguenots by giving them liberty to worship as they pleased, but she did not altogether quarrel with the Guises, although she thwarted their wishes in many different ways.

The hatred between the Catholics and the Huguenots was not ended by the regent's kinder treatment, and quarrels between the two parties were constantly breaking out. Sometimes it was the Huguenots who suffered, sometimes the Catholics, for whichever side was stronger cruelly persecuted the other.

At length matters came to a crisis. One Sunday, in March 1562, the Duke of Guise was riding with his troops past the little town of Vassy. Hearing the sounds of bells, he stopped and asked for what purpose they were rung.

"To call the Huguenots to their barn," was the answer.

"Have they many meeting-houses?" asked the duke.

"They are growing up in every town and village of France," he was told.

Then the duke began to mutter and to put himself in [289] a white heat, gnawing his beard as he was wont to do when he was enraged or had a mind to take vengeance.

However, he went quietly enough to a monastery in the little town and had dinner before he rode down to the barn where the Huguenots were assembled.

The minister was preaching, and the duke ordered him to stop.

But the people, interrupted in their worship, turned fiercely upon the duke, and began to throw stones at him. One hit him, when his troops at once fired on the unarmed Huguenots, and refused to stop, even at their master's command, until they had killed more than fifty persons and wounded two hundred. Nor was their rage satisfied even then. For they next tore in pieces all the French bibles they could find, pulled the pulpit into fragments, and utterly destroyed the barn.

This terrible massacre at Vassy was the introduction to the long religious wars, which lasted for twenty years, and caused great misery throughout France.

When the regent heard of the massacre she forbade the Duke of Guise to come to Paris. But he paid no attention to her command, and entered the capital with as much magnificence as if he had been king. But the massacre of Vassy roused the Huguenot chiefs.

Admiral Coligay and Condé, together with their troops, hastened to Fontainebleau, where the little king then was. They intended to take him away from the influence of the Catholics.

But the Guises had been quicker than the admiral, and had already carried Charles IX. to Paris, telling the regent she might follow or not as she pleased.

Led by the Prince of Condé, the Huguenots then besieged the town of Orleans and took it. Making it for the time their headquarters, they formed themselves into a league, "For the honour of God, for the liberty of the king, and for the maintenance of the pure worship of God."

[290] Both the regent and the Huguenots hoped for foreign help, the Catholics from Spain, the Huguenots from the Protestant German princes and from Elizabeth, Queen of England.

In the war that now began, the Huguenots were at first so successful that they began to think they would soon be the rulers of the country.

Their triumph, however, did not last long. The Catholics were really the stronger, and they soon retook town after town, and at last laid siege to Rouen, one of the strong-holds of the Huguenots.

The King of Navarre, who had, for the time, joined the Catholics, was wounded before the walls of the city, and soon after died, leaving his brave wife, Jeanne d'Albret, to bring up their son Henry, the little Prince of Beam, as he was called from the place of his birth. At this time, 1562, the prince was only nine years old. Being of the house of Bourbon, Henry might possibly succeed to the throne of France.

Rouen fell into the hands of the Catholics in spite of all the Huguenots could do; and now, of the many towns they had taken, Lyons and Orleans alone were left in their possession.

In December 1562 the two armies met on the field of Dreux, where a great battle was fought. From one o'clock until five the conflict was fierce, the leaders on both sides being always in the very centre of the fight.

Montmorency was wounded and taken prisoner, while, on the Huguenot side, the Prince of Condé was also captured. The troops were then led by the Duke of Guise and Admiral Coligny, both brave and tried soldiers. Guise, however, won the day, and at once marched to Orleans and besieged the city. Before long it was on the point of being taken. Then the Duke of Guise left the camp to ride to a castle a short distance away. As he rode along, confident that on his return Orleans would be his, a shot rang out. [291] Some one, hidden by a hedge, had hit the duke. He fell forward upon his horse's neck, trying in vain to draw his sword.

The wound was fatal. As the duke lay dying, he begged the queen-mother to make peace with the Huguenots; then, saying that he forgave his murderer, he breathed his last.

But Poltrot, the assassin, was captured; and, while he was being tortured, he declared that his crime had been done by the order of Admiral Coligny.

Coligny denied that he had anything to do with the murder of the duke, but the crime of which he was accused was made an excuse for the terrible fate that soon overtook the admiral and his followers.

Poltrot was put to death, but he was not sorry for the cruel deed he had done; for before he died he was heard to murmur, "For all that, he is dead and gone, the persecutor of the faithful, and he will not come back again."

The regent, with her constable a prisoner, Guise dead, and Orleans still untaken, was wise enough to follow the advice the duke had given her.

By the Edict of Amboise, March 1563, she made peace with the Huguenots, allowing them to worship God in their own way. But shortly after this Catherine brought an army of Swiss mercenaries to Paris, and when the Prince of Condé demanded what she intended to do with her army, the only answer she would give was, "We shall find good employment for them."

The young king, Charles IX., who was now thirteen years of age, was declared to be old enough to rule by himself. He was a tall lad, graceful, intelligent, but easily influenced, and even more easily roused to fits of great anger, when he scarcely knew what he did. And those courtiers and favourites who surrounded the young king were not the ones to mould his character wisely.

For three years after the Edict of Amboise there was peace; then in 1567 a feeling of unrest began to spread [292] throughout the country. Catherine de Medici was no longer regent, but she still ruled the country through her son. It was whispered that she intended to seize the admiral and the Prince of Condé, that the Swiss soldiers had orders to crush the Huguenots.

The suspense was intolerable, and the Reformers determined to fly to arms to be ready for whatever might happen.

Coligny and the prince therefore set out for Paris with a small force, hoping to besiege the capital and starve it into submission.

But the constable, who was no longer a prisoner, sallied out of the city, determined to dislodge the enemy. He was however killed, and it was his son, the Marshal Montmorency, who forced the Huguenots to retreat.

A short peace followed, but a year later the armies were again on the field, and a great battle was fought at Jamac.

The old constable being no longer there to lead the royal army, the command was given to Henry, Duke of Anjou, the queen-mother's third son, while by his side fought the young duke, Henry of Guise, eager to avenge his father's death and to win his spurs. Admiral Coligny and the Prince of Condé commanded the Huguenot forces.

Condé, as he prepared to charge the column led by the Duke of Anjou, received a kick, which broke one of his legs. His arm was already crushed by a fall.

Brave and determined as ever, the prince, first showing his wounded limbs to his men, waved above him his standard bearing the words, "Sweet is danger for Christ and for Fatherland," and cried, "Nobles of France, this is the desired moment." Then, with only three hundred horse, he charged the eight hundred lances of the Duke of Anjou.

For a moment the royal forces staggered, so fierce was the attack; but fresh bands of soldiers arrived, one after the other, to support the Duke of Anjou, until Condé's men were pushed back.

The prince's horse had been killed, and he was unable [293] to mount another because of his broken limbs. Twelve of his comrades gathered round to defend their leader, but, covered with wounds, they were soon taken prisoners.

Condé was left alone, his back against a tree, still defending himself. Feeling that he was growing faint, he surrendered to two Catholic soldiers. The men, whom the prince had helped in other days, swore to save his life.

But the Duke of Anjou's guards, easily known by their red cloaks, were riding hard in the direction of the prince.

Condé saw them, and, feebly raising his arm, pointed toward his enemies.

"Hide your face, prince," cried one of the Catholic soldiers who was guarding him.

Alas, as the captain of the guard galloped by, he heard what the soldier said, and, pulling sharply up, turned, rode back, and shot the helpless prince.

A little later the Huguenots had lost the battle of Jarnac. The Catholics rejoiced when they heard of the death of the great Prince of Condé. Throughout the land thanksgiving services were held in their cathedrals and churches.


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