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HOME > Classical Novels > History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin > CHAPTER VIII.
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(September and October 1535.)
The joy which then filled Geneva was not to be of long duration. The sky was fair, and yet certain signs indicated that the tempest was not far off. The Reformation which had been accomplished excited the most serious uneasiness at Turin, at Rome, and around the puissant Charles V. Hitherto a few desultory attacks had been made against the city: its territory had been laid waste, its provisions intercepted, and ladders had been placed against its walls: but now a regular campaign was about to be opened, and the enemy were decided not to lay down their arms until they had taken it and transformed it into a popish and Savoyard city. The partisans of Rome felt their danger; they saw that as Geneva was at the gates of France, Italy, and Germany, if the Reformation was settled there, it might compromise the existence of the papacy itself.[613] Accordingly all their thoughts were bent on putting down the revolt, though at the cost of much bloodshed, and of treating Geneva as Alby, 'of holy and illustrious memory,' had been treated formerly. Paul III., a friend of the world and of the fine arts, wished, however, to employ milder means at first—to reduce the city by famine. 'These Lutherans of four days' standing,'
he said, 'will soon be disgusted with their heresy.' He was deceived, but the duke of Savoy did not share his mistake. That prince, who showed a certain kindness towards his party, was hard, violent, and merciless whenever Geneva was concerned. He was to be the Simon de Montfort of the new crusade. 'It is impossible,' people said, 'that the Genevans can hold out in the face of the duke's alliances. On the one hand, there is his brother-in-law the emperor, his nephew the king of France, his father-in-law the king of Portugal, and his allies the Swiss; and then all his own subjects, who hem in Geneva for two hundred leagues round, as wolves surround a fold of helpless sheep. On the other hand, there is the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, and the priests, whose favor and support the bishop of Geneva possesses.'[614] The cabinet of Turin resolved, therefore, to set to work. On the 30th of August the duke publicly proclaimed Geneva as infected with the plague, forbade his subjects, under pain of death, to have any communication with its inhabitants, and promised hospitality in his states to all who desired to escape from the pestilence. It was thought in Piedmont that only a few mischief-makers would remain, and that one bold stroke would make the ducal army master of the city. Everything was prepared in the states of Charles IV. to strike a decisive blow.[615]
On the 28th of August and 24th of September, numerous companies came as far as the gates of Geneva, but the citizens drove them back. These were mere skirmishes of outposts: more formidable attacks were in preparation. Charles V., victorious over Barbarossa, called upon the Swiss League, assembled at Baden near Zurich, to give material help to the duke of Savoy. It was said in many quarters that
the plan of that ambitious monarch was to destroy four cities—Algiers, Geneva, Wittemberg, and Constantinople—two cities of the Koran and two of the Gospel. Did not an old prophecy speak of an emperor who was to achieve the conquest of the world, command 'the adoration of the cross under pain of death, and then be crowned at Jerusalem by an angel of God?'—'That emperor,' said many, 'is Charles V.'[616]
Alarm was beginning to creep over the Genevese people; the councils deliberated, but in vain, as to what could be done to save the city. Fathers and mothers sat by their firesides with downcast eyes, silent lips, and foreheads burdened with care; and groups collected here and there in the streets, talking earnestly about their misfortunes! 'All round the city there is nothing but fighting, blockade of provisions, plunder, and conflagration. Within the city correspondence on a large scale with the enemy. How can a handful of men resist such a multitude?' Then the preachers of the Word pointed to the glorious deliverances recorded in the Scriptures. 'God will do the same for you to-day,' they said, 'provided you place your whole trust in Him.' And lifted up by that mighty word, those men against whom princes took counsel together, exclaimed: 'We will place our hope and our refuge in God alone.'[617]
Charles III., encouraged by the emperor's support, sent his ambassadors to the Swiss Cantons, and demanded that the duke and the bishop, 'escorted by my Lords of Berne, should be brought back to Geneva, to resume all their pre-eminence therein; and that no person should make innovations.' Happily the deputies from Geneva—Lullin, Des Clefs, and Claude Savoye were there, and remained firm as rocks to uphold the rights of their country. The Swiss, finding the two parties
equally inflexible, withdrew, saying: 'This affair of Geneva tires us to death; get out of it the best way you can!' Lullin and Des Clefs returned to Geneva; but Claude Savoye, determined to obtain help, remained in the territories of the League.[618]
The hopes of this energetic reformer were not without some foundation. When the council of Berne had heard of the abolition of the mass at Geneva, they had rejoiced, and, on the 28th of August, had written a letter of congratulation to the magistrates: 'Seeing that you have learnt the truth,' they said, 'be watchful over it and persevere firmly. So doing, be not afraid that God will let you be destroyed at last.' Claude Savoye departed for Berne, and on arriving there went from house to house and appeared before the heads of the State, 'What!' said he, 'you sent us your minister Farel, and now that we have obeyed the Word which he preached to us, you deliver us up into the cruel hands of our enemies.' That noble reformer, Berthold Haller, supported him with all his strength, and called upon Berne 'not to abandon Geneva faint-heartedly.' Meanwhile the deputies from Turin canvassed the lords of the council on the opposite side. Self-interest prevailed among the patricians. 'Raise troops for your own defence,' they told Claude Savoye, 'provided it be not on our territory; all that we can possibly do for you is to commend you to God's grace.' And they ended with this expressive but familiar saying: 'The shirt is nearer to us than the coat.'[619]
When the Genevans heard of Berne's refusal, they were thunderstruck. Berne, reformed like themselves, abandoned them! The faith, so necessary to nations, began to waver in many hearts; but Farel endeavored
to strengthen those who were shaken. 'Certainly,' he said to them, 'my lords of Berne have sent us to a great and strong master—to God. He it is who will have all the honor of our deliverance, and not men. He has done mightier things than this. He always shows his power in what is desperate; and when it seems that all is lost, it is then that all is won.'[620]
The court of Turin did not think like Farel, and seeing the Swiss abandoning Geneva, it felt no doubt that the city, coveted so long, would soon fall into its hands. It was desirable to take advantage of the dejection of the citizens; and accordingly the Piedmontese cabinet hastily sent ambassadors to summon 'my lords of Geneva,' in the name of their masters, to expel heresy and the heresiarchs, to restore the bishop and clergy to their rights, and to set up the images again. But the Genevese, prouder still in misfortune than in prosperity, replied to the envoys: 'Noble lords, we will sacrifice our fortunes, our interests, our children, our blood, and our lives in defence of the Word of God. And sooner than betray that holy trust we will set fire to the four corners of our city, as our Helvetian ancestors once did.'[621] The ambassadors carried back this heroic answer to their master, and the duke pressed forward his preparations.
A danger not less great—possibly greater—threatened Geneva: discord. An implacable hatred 'like that which in old times existed between Cæsar and Pompey,' says Froment, divided the captain-general Philippe and the syndic Michael Sept; a fatal hatred whence proceeded great woes, with loss of goods, of honor, and of men, exile, and death. Some took part with Philippe, others with Michael Sept. 'When the eldest son of the captain-general,' said the former,
'was taken prisoner by the men of Peney, who offered to exchange him against a number of their comrades who were imprisoned in Geneva, Michael Sept answered: "No, it would be contrary to the interests of the state."'—'It is true,' replied the syndic's friends, 'but did he not add: "Let us redeem Philippe's son; I will give three hundred crowns as my share. If it were the case of my own child, my advice would not be different."' The council having refused the exchange in consequence of this advice, the captain-general, a liberal and brave but haughty, turbulent, and violent man, swore a deadly animosity against Michael Sept. He scattered fire and flame everywhere against that venerable magistrate, and sacrificing the interests of his country to his resentment, he retired murmuring to his tent. 'I am sick,' he replied, 'I will be captain-general no longer.' Extreme susceptibility may ruin a man and sometimes a state.
The retirement of the captain-general, in the serious position in which Geneva was now placed, as well as the divisions with which it was accompanied, greatly increased the danger of the city. Moreover, they did not know whom to appoint as Philippe's successor. Many named Baudichon de la Maisonneuve; but he was hasty and impetuous like the other, and the council would have liked a more sedate, more penetrating, more prudent character; they feared the eagerness and want of circumspection of that daring citizen. But his friends represented that nobody was more devoted to the cause of independence and of the Gospel; and that what they wanted now was a chief full of courage and zeal. De la Maisonneuve was appointed captain-general.
The new commander immediately called a muster of all the men who were ready to march out with him against the enemy. They were but four hundred in all. It mattered not. De la Maisonneuve grasped a banner
on which he had ordered some fiery tears to be emblazoned. Greater simplicity might have been more becoming at such a moment; yet it was a deep and true feeling of the tragical position in which Geneva was placed that animated the captain-general. He waved his standard before his four hundred soldiers, and exclaimed: 'Let every one be prepared to die. It is not common tears that we must shed, but tears of blood!'
On returning into the city, the little army went to the churches. Farel had as much ardor in praying as Baudichon in fighting. Every day there were sermons and prayers to the Lord. 'O God,' said the reformer, 'be pleased to defend thy cause!'[622]
In truth, it was not only the independence of Geneva that was threatened, but the Reformation. The Genevans enumerated their sufferings, outrages, poverty, famine, cold, loss of goods, furniture, and cattle, stolen by bands of plunderers; young children, and even men and women, carried off, maltreated, and put to death; attacks made at all hours, and so violently that it was scarcely possible to hold out longer. But greater misfortunes were still to come. Charles of Savoy, supported by the emperor, was recruiting old Italian and Spanish soldiers, and had selected to command them one of the cruellest captains of the age, employed somewhat later by Charles V. against the Protestants of Germany. The heads of the state, convinced of the danger, made this declaration on the 3d of October: 'Our enemies are preparing every day to attack us; so that, if God does not help us, we cannot escape their blood-stained hands.'[623]
During this time Claude Savoye, who was ............
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