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HOME > Classical Novels > History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin > CHAPTER XII.
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There was another man in Berne who had the cause of Geneva as much at heart as Nägueli. The reformer, Berthold Haller, bowed down with suffering, had only a few days to live. Yet as the army, before leaving Berne, wished publicly to pray for God's help, he left his sick-bed with some difficulty, and, supported by his friends, crawled into the cathedral pulpit. That man, so mild, so timid, so mistrustful of himself, showed on the approach of death an energy which had hitherto been foreign to him. 'Men of Berne,' he said, with a voice almost inaudible, 'be firm and courageous. Magistrates and people, officers and soldiers, remain faithful to the Word of God. Honor the Gospel, by behaving righteously, and follow up unshrinkingly for the love of God your intention to snatch from the destruction that threatens them our poor brethren of Geneva, hitherto sadly
forsaken of men.'[701] Then lifting his trembling hands towards heaven, Haller stretched them above the silent army, and exclaimed, 'May God fill your hearts with faith, and may He be your Comforter!' The whole army, the whole people, in the city, in the canton, and even in the upper valleys among the perpetual snows, repeated these words—the last the reformer uttered in public—which became the watchwords of this holy war.
On Saturday (January 22d) six thousand men left the city, marching with a firm step, not under their peculiar flags (for each city had its own), but under that of Berne alone, a symbol at once of strength and unity. A hundred cavalry and sixteen pieces of cannon accompanied the infantry. They all wore a white cross on a red field; the old mark of the crusaders was their only uniform. Haller's words had borne fruit. Those children of the mountains went to the help of their brothers with enthusiasm and with faith. The noble Nägueli rode at their head. He desired to make an evangelical and Helvetic country of the beautiful valley of the Leman. He was serious and silent, for he was meditating on the means of freeing Geneva completely, but at the cost of as little blood as possible. The soldiers marched after him, active and joyful, in the midst of a crowd of men, women, and children collected from the villages round about; and those bold Helvetians, with heads erect, made the road echo with their songs of war. The Chronicle of old Switzerland has preserved them for us:
Be silent, people all, and listen to my lay.
Sing, comrades, raise to heaven the well-known strain,
For the bear has left his mountain den, and following in his train
Stalk terror and alarm to all who try to bar his way.
With eager footsteps on he goes, the weeping ones to save,
Whom all the world hath left to sink unaided to the grave.
My gallant, gallant bear! God hath raised thee from the dead;
Bound in his chains, the scorn of men, the pope long held thee fast,
But Christ hath snapped thy bonds, and the night of slavery is passed.
Once more the light of day falls from heaven upon thy head.
What a crowd of joyous cubs swarms around thee in thy den,
For wondrous is the love God hath shown thee among men.
Cheer up, old mountain bear! and with head uplifted high,
Let him who tries to stop thee have a care!
Woe, woe to him that hateth thee, woe to the knaves who fear
To follow where thou leadest—to Rome and victory,
To dethrone the king of liars, at the hypocrites to laugh,
And their idolatries to scatter to the winds of heaven like chaff.
I await thee in the mountains, when the bloody strife is o'er,
And thou comest with the laurel wreath upon thy head;
Thou shalt drink our mountain streams, grassy meads shall be thy bed,
There thy wearied limbs shall rest, and thy heart be glad once more,
He who fighteth for the faith, findeth glory at the last,
And God shall crown the warrior for the dangers he has passed.[702]
On the first day the army reached the battle-field of Morat, which the soldiers hailed with enthusiasm. The contingents of Bienne, Nidau, La Neuville, Neuchâtel, Valengin, Château d'Œx, Gessenay, and Payerne, burning with affection for Geneva and the Reformation, joined the Bernese flag in the last-named town. Here the Avoyer de Watteville passed this noble army in review on the 24th of January, and administered the oath to it.
Geneva presented at this time a less showy spectacle. The famine, which for some months had distressed the city, was now prowling like a ghastly phantom in every street, frightening the women and children, and even the men themselves. Cold and sickness, the inevitable consequences of deprivation, filled the houses with suffering and mourning. These adversities were like a fierce torrent that sweeps away everything it touches. Even the brave began to grow dejected. At this conjuncture
a man arrived from Berne, the bearer of two messages. One, on paper, had been given him to avert suspicion in case he should be stopped by the governor of Vaud; it was a demand for Furbity's liberation. The other message was to be made verbally. 'Detain me here a prisoner,' said the Bernese, 'and put me to death, if my lords do not march out with their army to help you.' The people of Geneva could not believe him. 'In three days,' he added, 'you will see the castles of the country in flames. That will be the signal of Berne's coming.'[703]
When there was no longer any doubt of the arrival of the liberators, the Genevan population, so long afflicted, breathed and took courage. The most energetic men did not want to wait until their allies had arrived. Versoix, an important place belonging to the duke of Savoy, might stop the Bernese army. Fourscore citizens, manning a few boats, attacked it from the lake, put to flight the soldiers of Savoy by the fire of their cannon, and entered the fortress. The granaries were filled with corn, the cellars with wine, and the stalls with cattle: this was to the hungry citizens like the scene in the camp of the Syrians at the gates of Samaria.[704] The Genevese hastily removed to their boats all that they could carry away, and returning to the city displayed their booty in the market-place in the midst of an immense crowd. Wheat, barley, and cattle were sold at a low rate. Everybody ran and bought what he wanted; all rejoiced at this unexpected succor. And yet great danger still impended over Geneva.
It is true Berne was coming to her help; but more than that was required to save the city. The emperor's plan was (as we have seen) to crush the Reformation, which opposed his absolute sovereignty in Germany. It has been said that Francis I., attracted by the offer of Milan, had shown an inclination to let Charles V. do
what he liked. Could Berne resist that powerful monarch?[705] Would not the patricians, who more than once had shown themselves very cold with respect to Geneva, be found returning to their old system of compromises and delays? A great change in the relations and projects of the princes could alone, as it would appear, save the city. Now just at this very moment a series of events was taking place that suddenly transformed the political aspect of Europe.
Catherine of Aragon, aunt of Charles V., died. In consequence of her decease, the emperor relinquished his design of invading England, and kept the duchy of Milan, which he had offered to the king of France to induce him to combine against Henry VIII. Francis I., treated by the emperor as a person of no importance, swore that he would be avenged. But to reach Charles V. and seize Milan, it was necessary to march over the body of his uncle, the duke of Savoy. He did not hesitate to let this prince know 'how little he would be advantaged by not having France for a friend.'[706] Now, if the duke of Savoy, prince of Piedmont, is driven by the king of France beyond the Alps and further still, Geneva is saved.
At the sight of the danger which threatened him, Charles III. would have liked to renew the old alliance with his nephew; but the influence of his wife, who had 'led him into this dance,'[707] kept him bound to the cause of the emperor. In his embarrassment he formed a resolution that was not devoid of a certain cleverness, and which would make the conquest of Geneva and its annexation to the dominions of the emperor inevitable. Charles III. offered to cede to Charles V., in exchange for various Italian provinces, the western slopes of the
Alps, 'all the country he possessed from Nice to the Swiss League, including Geneva.'[708] By establishing the house of Austria between himself and France, the duke would raise an impassable barrier against his restless neighbor, and at the same time gratify the taste of the house of Savoy, which loved to extend itself on the side of Italy. By virtue of this exchange, the states of Charles V. would have bordered France everywhere from the Mediterranean to the North Sea. Francis I. was alarmed. 'I will not permit the emperor,' he said, 'to set up such a ladder[709] against my kingdom, in order to invade it from that quarter hereafter.'[710] All his hesitation ceased, and he determined to carry out without delay the plan he had formed of invading Savoy, Piedmont, and the Milanese. Thus at the very moment when the duke was preparing to crush Geneva, he saw a storm suddenly gathering which was at once to drive him from both slopes of the Alps and save the little city. Let us see whether such was really the result of that policy.
The Swiss army, commanded by Nägueli, had started from Payerne on the 24th of January and arrived the next day at Echallens, whence it was to march on Morges. The contingents of Orbe and Lausanne, desirous of taking part in the deliverance of Geneva, came to increase his force, which was thus raised to about ten thousand men. Sebastian de Montfaulcon, bishop of Lausanne, a proud, intriguing, domineering priest, inflamed with anger at seeing his people declare for Geneva, determined to raise troops to oppose the liberating army. His bailiff and secretary, going into the steep and narrow streets of the city, knocked at every door, and asked whether the inmates would take the side of the bishop or of the burgesses. Montfaulcon himself set out for his castle of Glérolles,
near St. Saphorin, in order to stir up the inhabitants of La Vaux. But Nägueli was to encounter in his march a more formidable obstacle than Montfaulcon and his extempore soldiers.
Medici, informed of the march of the Bernese army, had determined to attack it before it reached Geneva. He could see that if Nägueli were once established in that city, it would not be easy to take it. The plan of the Italian commander was to march by Thonon and Evian, carry his soldiers across the lake, give battle to the Bernese, and, after defeating them, turn upon Geneva, which would be incapable of resisting him. The character and antecedents of the devastating condottiere were sufficient to indicate the fate reserved for his conquest. The city would have been pillaged, perhaps burnt, in conformity with the habits of Giangiacomo.
That formidable chief had crossed the lake with his army in boats from Chablais, and had almost reached Morges; his intention being to give a solid base to his operations, not only by being master of Morges, which was under the duke's orders, but still further by taking possession, with the bishop's help, of Lausanne, whose liberal citizens were ready to join Nägueli. On the 27th of January, in the evening, a detachment started for that purpose under the orders of the Sieur de Colloneys. But the latter had not gone far when Medici perceived fires on the heights near the villages of Bussigny, Renens, and Crissier; it was the Bernese who were preparing to bivouac on the hills. The fugitive governor of Musso had no idea that the enemy was so near. He had not yet taken up his position and the Swiss were in sight. He called back the detachment, and early next morning sent out some of his cavalry to reconnoitre the Swiss army and skirmish with them. Nägueli, not doubting that the hour of battle had
arrived, drew up his formidable line on the heights of Morges; all his men were full of ardor.[711] Medici also desired to arrange his troops for the struggle, but was not blind to the disadvantages of his position. Nägueli was on the heights, while the Savoyard troops had their backs to the lake, into which they might be driven. The general, sent by the duke of Savoy to destroy Geneva, looked with astonishment at the army of the new crusaders. He found himself in presence of that valorous Nägueli who, as captain-general of the Leagues, had taken from him his castle of Musso and the lands he had seized by stratagem or force. More than once this robber-chief had said: 'What neither the emperor nor the king of France could do, that Switzer did.' And now, at the head of the troops of Piedmont and Savoy, and supported by Charles V., the late castellan of Musso had flattered himself with the hope of taking vengeance for the injury he had once endured; but it was the contrary that happened. Instead of rushing forward at the head of his veteran soldiers, he was confused; he hesitated, and his heart seemed to fail him.
How was that? Was it because the sight of the army of Berne in line of battle intimidated him? Was it because the gentlemen of Vaud and Gex, upon whom he had counted, remembering the valor of the Swiss at Gingins, had no desire to risk the chance of receiving a second lesson, and kept away? Was it because the reinforcements expected from Savoy had not arrived? Or was it because bad news reached him from Chambery, informing him that the duke could think of nothing but the defence of his hereditary states against the king of France? All these reasons had something to do with the trouble of the
former castellan of Musso; but the last was the strongest. What a vexation for Medici! He had vaunted that he would put an end to the interminable existence of Geneva; and at the first rencounter he has to retreat. He had reckoned on the pleasure of destroying a nest of heretics, and he cannot prevent Nägueli's saving it. At this critical moment, one of the most daring captains of the age seemed to become one of the most cowardly. There are people who, audacious in prosperity, lose their heads when the chances are against them. The flotilla in which the commander of the troops of Savoy had traversed the lake lay at anchor a little distance from Morges, on the side of Lausanne. Medici deserted the field of battle without striking a blow, and embarked a portion of his troops while the remainder stopped in Morges, a fortified city. Nägueli, seeing that the enemy was retiring, pushed the advanced guard of the Swiss down to the shore. The Italian captain, desiring at least to burn a few cartridges, discharged the guns of his fleet at the Bernese, who returned the fire; but it was not difficult for the latter to get............
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