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(October 12th 1535.)
Diplomacy and war are the two means employed to decide international differences. It is customary to speak disparagingly of both, and not without cause. All who care for their fellow-men and desire the material and moral prosperity of nations, look upon war as a crime against humanity; and yet a people, invaded by an unjust and ambitious conqueror, who desires to despoil them of their independence and nationality, have as much right to defend themselves as the man attacked on the highway by a robber bent on depriving him of his purse or his life.
Diplomacy has its faults, like war. Its object being to conciliate jarring interests, it falls easily into narrow and selfish views, while it should possess that broad wisdom which reconciles differences with impartiality. Fully acknowledging the tact with which in ordinary times it adheres to the path it ought to follow, we think that it gets confused and goes astray in periods of transition, when society is passing from one phase to another. Seamen on a distant voyage have observed that in certain latitudes and on certain days the compass-needle is so agitated that the steersman cannot make use of it to direct his course: it turns, perhaps, to the right when it should point to the left. This is just the case with diplomacy in those great epochs, when, as in the sixteenth century, society is
turning on its hinges and entering into a new sphere. In such a case diplomacy acts first in a direction contrary to the impulses which prepare the future: it devotes all its care to maintain what has been, while the normal character of the new epoch is precisely that what has been must give place to what is to be. Governments, naturally enough, always begin by opposing the new developments of social, political, and religious life. This is just what the powerful aristocracy of Berne did at first with regard to Geneva: we have seen it once and we shall see it again. But if there is a bad diplomacy, there is also a good one. Would it be out of place to remark here, that if the château of Coppet, where some of the facts of our history occurred, was in 1535 the seat of bad policy, it became afterwards the centre of a liberal statesmanship?[650]
The Council of Berne had kept themselves carefully informed of the proceedings of Claude Savoye. They had learnt that about four hundred and fifty men, 'among whom were several of My Lords' subjects,' were crossing the Jura to succor Geneva, 'not without danger, because of the smallness of their number.' The Council knew that these men would have to fight the nobles and other people of the country, brought together from every quarter in the villages and on the roads, to the number of more than three or four thousand. The Bernese magistrates wished, besides, to avoid war. They had, therefore, deputed Louis of Diesbach and Rodolph Nägueli to the Pays de Vaud, with instructions to order the volunteers to return home. The two Bernese ambassadors had made their way to the castle of Coppet, situated between Geneva and Gingins.[651]
There was just then a great crowd in that feudal residence, which has since been replaced by a modern château. That place, which was one day to be the asylum of letters and of liberty, was now, by a singular contrast, the head-quarters of a rude and ignorant gentry, who desired at any price to maintain feudalism, and destroy in Geneva light, independence, and faith. Monseigneur de Lullin, governor of the Pays de Vaud in behalf of the duke, had taken up his abode there with his officers and several gentlemen of the district.
On Saturday, 29th October, the day when Wildermuth and his band reached the village of Saint Cergues, the ambassadors from Berne had arrived at the castle of Coppet, with the intention of coming to some understanding with the governor of Vaud on the means of preventing the battle that was imminent. Here they learnt that it was nearer than they had imagined, and that the Swiss were expected on the following morning. The Savoyard and Bernese chiefs immediately entered into a conference on these serious matters, and they were still in discussion when Claude Savoye, who had only two or three leagues to pass over, arrived on his panting courser. The daring Genevan was fully conscious that it was very imprudent to show himself in the castle occupied by the commander-in-chief of the enemies of Geneva; but it mattered not to him; he wanted to obtain from Diesbach, at any risk, a promise that he would not stop the troops that Claude was bringing to the help of his fellow-citizens.
The Sire de Lullin, being informed of his arrival, was surprised and exasperated: there was a stormy scene in the conference, and that clever but hasty and passionate administrator ordered the heretical and rebellious Genevan to be seized. The latter, escorted by armed men, soon appeared before him in the principal hall of the castle. To the Savoyards about the governor, a huguenot of Geneva was a kind of monster
which aroused alike their curiosity and horror. Savoye, finding himself in the lion's jaws, presented the paper that D'Allinges had sent him. This put a climax to the governor's passion. 'By what right,' he asked that chief, 'do you give a safe-conduct?'[652] Lullin, imagining that the noble Savoyard might be a traitor in correspondence with the enemies of his highness, ordered both the bearer and the giver of the passport to be locked up. The ambassadors of Berne did not think it their duty to offer any opposition: the main thing for them was to obtain a promise from the governor to do all in his power to hinder the arrival of the Swiss band. They therefore asked him to set out with them the next morning (Sunday, October 10th) at daybreak, to climb the mountain on whose top they hoped still to find Wildermuth and his followers, and to make them return.[653] De Lullin would not consent to this proposition. He wished to suffer the little Swiss force to descend into the plain, not doubting that the soldiers under his orders would crush them to pieces. An opportunity offered of giving a sound lesson to those adventurers who dared measure themselves against the duke of Savoy: not one of those rash men should return home. But the Bernese were still more decided than the Savoyard governor, and after many efforts succeeded in bringing him round to their views. 'We came to the conclusion, after much trouble,' they said in their report, 'to go and meet them and make them retire in confidence to their own country, at the expense of My Lord of Savoy.'[654]
Very different thoughts occupied the dwellers in the castle during the night which followed these deliberations.
While the Bernese were reflecting on the means of preventing a battle, the governor examined his plans: he had three to four thousand soldiers, fresh, vigorous, and ready for the combat, while the Swiss were only four or five hundred tired and starving men. Not to take advantage of such an opportunity of punishing those 'heretics and mischief-makers,' appeared to him a serious fault. Without breaking his promise, it was possible (if he procrastinated) that the Swiss would have time to come down from the mountains and be cut to pieces by the Savoyards. On Sunday morning Diesbach and Nägueli were stirring at daybreak, but Lullin made them wait a long time for him. When he appeared, the Bernese told him they were ready to start, according to their agreement. 'Excuse me, gentlemen,' said the governor, 'I must hear mass first: we catholics never begin a journey without it.'[655] The mass was very tedious; at length the Bernese, seeing the governor return, thought their long trial was ended; but Lullin, convinced as ever that by giving time to his troops they would destroy Wildermuth's band, said to them: 'Gentlemen, they are about to serve up a collation: it is impossible to start without breakfasting.'[656] The collation had to be waited for: Lullin and his officers talked much and with extreme amiability. 'Really, the governor and his gentlemen are keeping us a little too long this morning,' said the ambassadors,[657] who were quite wearied with these delays. At length they sat down to table, and would no doubt have sat there long, but that suddenly a noise like discharges of musketry was heard. The Bernese ambassadors sprang to their feet. There was no more room for doubt: the battle had begun, and it was perhaps too late to fulfil their
commission. They determined, notwithstanding, to ride to the field of battle. The Savoyard governor, thinking that, in consequence of all his delays, his men-at-arms would have had time to cut the Swiss to pieces, raised no more difficulties. They went down into the courtyard of the castle, where for several hours thirty horses had been stamping impatiently, and a great number of officers, guards, and servants had been gossiping. 'Bring me the Genevan's fine Spanish horse,' said the governor, 'and give him a donkey.'[658] They brought Savoye's noble courser to the Sire de Lullin. 'Give me also his arquebuse,' added the sharp-witted Savoyard, 'for I am sure it is a good one.' The troop fell in: the thirty horsemen and the governor's guards surrounded the Sire de Lullin, his officers, the Bernese, and poor Savoye mounted on his humble quadruped. They could not go very fast in consideration of the heretical donkey, which Lullin would not leave behind. Claude did not allow himself to be vexed by the ridicule with which the governor tried to cover him, and sooner than stay at Coppet he preferred they should laugh at him and treat him as a common prisoner.
Meanwhile, the governor and his escort kept advancing, looking before them and trying if they could not discover the Swiss. Suddenly, at a short distance from Gingins, the strangest and most unexpected sight met their eyes. Soldiers were flying in every direction—along the highway, through the lanes, across the fields: everywhere terror, confusion, and all the marks of a signal defeat. The governor looked attentively: it was useless trying to deceive himself, the runaways were his own soldiers. He had expected to see the hostile band destroyed, and he found those who were to accomplish his designs fleeing in confusion. Incensed by such cowardice, he approached some of the fugitives and
cried out: 'What are you doing, you poltroons? Stop! why are you running away? Are you not ten times as numerous as the heretics? Turn back and help me to hang them!'[659] But the Savoyards, smitten with a panic terror, passed near him almost without seeing him. It was impossible to check their flight.
What was to be done at such a strange conjuncture? There was but one course to be taken. The governor had flattered himself with the hope of seeing the Swiss crushed or of crushing them himself, and he had found them victorious. Instead of having recourse to the sword, he must make up his mind to an humble prayer. It appears that neither Lullin nor Diesbach had any hope of seeing a third attack succeed. The Bernese ambassadors, commissioned by their Council to act as mediators, must therefore advance and stop the terrible band. De Lullin gave them some of his horsemen as an escort, and they galloped off. At one time they were stopped by bands of fugitives, at another they fell into the midst of the Savoyard cavalry marching forward to rejoin their colors: at last they arrived on the field of battle. It was the moment when the Swiss, having gained two victories and returned thanks to God, had perceived that fresh troops were approaching, and were preparing to renew the combat for a third time.[660] But at the sight of the lords of Berne they halted. This important circumstance was about to give a new and unexpected turn to events.
During this time what was the Genevan doing on his donkey? The chroniclers do not tell us: he disappeared, he vanished. We may conjecture that, seeing
Lullin occupied in rallying his troops, still hoping that another battle would be fought, and comprehending the necessity of informing the Councils of what was going on, he took advantage of the general confusion to make for Geneva, to call his fellow-citizens to take part in this heroic affair, and unite with the Swiss. However that may be, the news of the battle of Gingins was brought to Geneva by Savoye, or some other person, on the 11th of October, the day after the fight, and the whole city was in commotion. A deadly combat (they said) has taken place between our liberators and our oppressors. Four hundred Savoyards were left on the field, but the Swiss, surrounded by numerous troops, are shut up near Nyon, and in great danger of being cut to pieces!
Then arose a cry in the free city! They knew the number of the Savoyards, and even exaggerated them; but the Swiss must be saved at any cost. Besides, there could be no doubt that if that little band was destroyed, Lugrin, Mangerot, and the other chiefs would turn against Geneva. The Genevese did not hesitate: they had already fought many a battle, and were ready to fight others. The strong man is he who struggles continuously. The swimmer who ceases to make head against the current is swept away by the stream and disappears. The people whose liberty or faith is threatened, must, like the strong man, struggle until the last, for fear the rushing waters should overwhelm him. This was the example long given by the small city of Geneva: for ages she had been struggling for her independence; for ages to come she struggled for her faith.
Baudichon de la Maisonneuve, the captain-general, summoned all the citizens to arms. There was no difficulty in collecting them. They talked in Geneva of the unheard-of difficulties which the Swiss had had to overcome in traversing the Jura. Such sufferings, toils, diligence, and love (said the people); such signal
services; the great dangers to which those brave men have been exposed on our account—shall we repay them only with ingratitude?[661] The Genevans resolved to deliver the Swiss or to die with them. In an instant they were under arms; 'about two thousand men,' says Froment, placed themselves, fully equipped, under the orders of Baudichon de la Maisonneuve; other documents speak of five hundred only—a number which seems nearer the truth. Froment, probably, counted all who took up arms: the oldest, who remained in the city to defend it, as well as the youngest, who left it to march to the aid of Wildermuth's band. Eight pieces of artillery were taken out of the arsenal,[662] and the army having been divided into three corps under separate captains, Baudichon de la Maisonneuve took the command-in-chief.[663]
They departed. The soldiers of Geneva advanced enthusiastically towards the Pays de Vaud, and hastened their steps for fear they should arrive too late. At the sight of Baudichon's little army the scattered Savoyards, whom fear had brought as far as Versoix and the neighborhood of Coppet, and who were still trembling at the thought of yesterday's combat, imagined that everything was lost. 'We are all going to be killed,' they said, 'and the country conquered.' Some fled in different directions across the fields; others, fearing there would be no time to run, hid themselves in the courtels or inclosed gardens in the vicinity of Coppet; while others more frightened still, wishing to put the lake between them and their enemies, jumped into some boats moored to the bank, and for want of oars employed their halberds, and thus, rowing with all their might, reached the shore
of Savoy. The Genevans, without stopping to pursue the fugitives, arrived to within a short distance of Coppet. 'If once we are united with the Swiss, which can be easily done,' they said, 'our country is saved.'[664]
On Sunday evening and Monday morning diplomacy had done its work. The envoys of Berne, arriving on the field of battle at the moment when the Swiss were going for a third time to rush upon the Savoyard army, had stationed themselves in front of that band of heroes, and, faithful to the diplomatic spirit which at that time prevailed in the council............
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