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HOME > Classical Novels > History of the Reformation in Europe in the Time of Calvin > CHAPTER XIII.
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(From February to the end of March 1536.)
There was now to be an interview between the liberators and the liberated. Berne and Geneva, united by a common faith, were to embrace each other. The members of those two republics loved one another not only as allies but as brothers. On Thursday (February 3d) the Council of Two Hundred assembled; many other citizens were present, and the hall was full. Nägueli appeared, accompanied by his principal officers and the representatives of the Council of Berne. The assembly gave utterance to its joy, and all eyes were fixed on the valiant general.
'Most honored lords,' he said, 'this long while past we have heard your complaints. For these twenty months we have been making great efforts at Lucerne, Baden, and even Aosta; and having thus exhausted all the means of peace, we have drawn the sword, and the enemy has fled on every side. Now we will do whatever you command us, for we are here to fulfil the oaths that unite Geneva and Berne.' Such noble language moved the assembly. 'May God do the same for you,' replied the premier syndic. Then desiring the work to be perfect, he added: 'Now, gentlemen, march onwards; pursue the enemy until the end; we are ready to give you all necessary assistance.' It was decided that the army should make itself master of Chablais on the left shore of the lake, and push forward on the other side as far as Chambery. In all those districts they would circulate the Word of God.[725]
There was first another task to be completed. For centuries the castles had obstructed the progress of civilization, and in later years that of the gospel. It was from those eyries, perched on their lofty rocks, that the vultures swooped down upon the plain. Bishops even had been known to entreat the princes to destroy, 'for the love of God and the honor of the blessed Mary, those buildings constructed by the inspiration of Satan.'[726] This the evangelical Nägueli was about to do, and henceforth the husbandman would drive his plow in peace through fields from which he would no longer fear to see the fruit of his labors swept away.
The inhabitants of the castles had disappeared: fear of the Bernese had depopulated the country. Men, women, and children had taken refuge in the miserable
chalets of the Salève, Voirons, Mole, and Jura. Priests and monks, hurriedly abandoning their parishes and their convents, threw off their frocks and assumed the garb of the peasantry. 'Not one man in all the country dared represent himself as a priest or a monk.' Every now and then one of them dressed in a coarse gray coat would leave his hiding-place, and mysteriously entering some half-deserted hut, would ask the affrighted peasant 'what the bear of Berne was doing.' 'But take care,' he added, 'you tell nobody that I am a priest.' The clerical and lay despots of the Middle Ages learnt in their turn what it was to tremble.
At length a great spectacle of desolation, which was to be the last, began. A judgment—may we not call it a judgment of God?—was accomplished. Here and there at first a few flames were seen flashing forth, and these soon became an immense conflagration. Detachments, consisting of Bernese and Genevans, issued from the city: some turned to the right, others to the left; the ancient walls of some old towers were their aim. 'It was from thence,' said the Genevans, 'that rapine and death have so often rushed out upon us.' The building was surrounded, the most impetuous made their way into the interior and set fire to it, and when the flames had caught they rushed off for another execution. These detachments were followed by a numerous troop of men, women, and boys, who had their share also in the business. The judgment of God swept over the country, as of old over the land of Canaan. The fortresses of Gex, Gaillard, and Jussy, those terrible scourges of Geneva; the castles of Coppet, Prangins, Bellerive, Vilette, Ville-la-Grand, and many others, fell a prey to the flames. They were in all, according to Froment, from a hundred to a hundred and forty. Geneva was sometimes surrounded by a circle of fire. The longer and crueller the offence, the more terrible was the punishment. No one was put to death, but those feudal lairs, which crumbled away in
the midst of the flames, were a sacrifice offered by the Swiss to the shades of the citizens immolated by their former possessors.
There was one castle in particular whose destruction the Genevans desired: it was Peney. On the 8th of February some Bernese, accompanied by a few horsemen and gunners of Geneva, started for this purpose. The blood shed by the Peneysans and their numberless outrages made them cry out unanimously, 'No mercy for Peney!' The almost abandoned fortress was easily occupied. A fire was kindled in that courtyard where the victims had been so cruelly tortured. The castle was soon in flames, and there remained nothing but dismantled towers and blackened walls; but that was not enough. Those walls still seemed guilty, and the Genevans so completely destroyed the ill-omened ruin that not a trace of it can now be found. All the country was at length swept clean of a long-continued brigandage; but (we repeat) it does not appear that one of those gentlemen or of their dependents suffered death or even imprisonment for their crimes. The device of Geneva and of Berne during this remarkable expedition was: 'Spare the tyrants, but destroy their dens.'[727]
At the same time peace reigned within. A spirit of pardon seemed to have descended upon the Genevans. Happiness enlarged all their hearts. On Sunday (February 6th) sermons were preached in the different churches by the reformers; after which the great bell, Clémence, reserved for solemn occasions, summoned all the people to St. Pierre's. It was, as it were, the first day of the new republic. 'Citizens,' said one of the syndics, 'in order that the city may prosper we must believe what the Gospel teaches and live according to
its commandments. Accordingly—and this is our new decree—let all the animosities which sprang up during the war be renounced; all offences pardoned, all quarrels forgotten, all lawsuits given up. Let us drop all hateful names. Let no man henceforth say to another, "You are a papist," or the latter reply, "You are a Lutheran." But let us all live according to the Holy Gospel of God,' Such were the first fruits of the Reformation. 'We will! we will!' shouted the people. They then proceeded to the election of the four syndics who were to be at the head of the new republic. The assembly chose the energetic Claude Savoye, the amiable and persevering Ami Porral, and the zealous Etienne de Chapeaurouge, men on the side of the Reformation but especially of political experience. The people, wishing to have among their magistrates one man purely evangelical, named Ami Levet, the husband of the pious Claudine, although he was not on the list proposed by the senate. Shortly afterwards the Two Hundred elected the twenty-five members of the Council, and Balard, as well as Richardet, Roman-catholics but good citizens, preserved their seats. In the hour of their greatest enthusiasm the Genevans behaved justly and without party-spirit—a thing rarely witnessed in the annals of nations.[728]
On the evening before, Nägueli, at the head of the army, augmented by a Genevese contingent, had marched out in order to follow up his victory as far as Chambery and farther. Ambitious thoughts may then perhaps have stirred the hearts of some of the Bernese. For the triumph of the Reformation (they might possibly have said for the grandeur of Berne) they thought that Savoy, and even the north of
Italy, ought to be conquered. Let there be formed in the centre of Europe, on both sides of the colossal citadels of the Alps, a great confederation of independent and evangelical people, which shall circulate liberty and truth through Germany, France, and the Italian peninsula. Therefore forward to Chambery, and farther!
The dream was to melt away as soon as formed. The general was riding in front, calm and pensive, followed by some of his officers. He turned his head—there was no army to be seen. Nägueli galloped back towards Geneva, and found his soldiers drawn up in a square in a large field and deliberating democratically. What was the cause of such a breach of military discipline? The soldiers, satisfied with having delivered Geneva, did not care to follow their captain in his daring schemes. They deliberated therefore, as they were wont to do in their valleys. Should they march forward or turn back? 'To Berne,' cried many; 'to our fields, our flocks, our mountains!' Nägueli succeeded, however, in getting the army to march. Was he not their good Franz?[729]
On Saturday, 12th of February, the Swiss advanced guard had reached Rumilly, near the lake of Bourget, eight leagues from Chambery, when M. de Villebon, grand provost of Paris, arrived in great haste at the camp. 'The king my master,' he said, 'has a quarrel with the duke of Savoy, his uncle, about his mother's rights. Yesterday (February 11th) he signed at Lyons the commission given to the Sire de Brion-Chabot, admiral of France, to attack Savoy. Eight hundred French lances, a thousand light horse, twelve thousand infantry, six thousand lansquenets, two thousand French adventurers, three thousand Italians, and a powerful artillery are about to enter the states of the duchy; and when Savoy is conquered, the
French army will invade Piedmont. I require you, therefore, in the name of the king, to proceed no farther.' Nägueli, already shaken by the demands of his soldiers, answered that as the King of France had rights over those countries, the Swiss would discontinue their advance.[730]
Other hands than those of Switzerland were to deal the last blows destined to secure the Reformation and independence of Geneva. Villebon had hardly got back to Lyons, when the army of Francis I. moved forward, overran Bresse and Savoy, then invaded Piedmont, and afterwards the Milanese. The duke, always irresolute, had taken no steps to check the French. It was in vain that at the last moment he called Medici to his aid; that captain, who had been unable to destroy Geneva, could not save Piedmont. Charles III., abandoned by the emperor, his brother-in-law, found himself, after spending thirty years of his life in hunting down Geneva, robbed in four months of his states, which he never entered again, and driven to bay on the shores of the Mediterranean. All kinds of disasters fell upon him at once. His country was devastated by the plague; his friends turned against him; the emperor showed him no pity; his son, the heir to his crown, was taken away by death; his beautiful and haughty wife, Beatrice of Portugal, pierced............
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