Page images

in which it is presented by Tavannes, that he expressed his satisfaction at the intelligence, and requested a list of the principal gentlemen who would undertake the levy, with the intention, says Capilupi, of including them in the massacre, but, as Coligny understood, of employing them in the war. *

That Tavannes, Nevers, Morvilliers, and other Catholics in the Council, were alarmed at the prospect of a Spanish war, and foresaw that, if successful, it must strengthen the Hugonot interest at court, is most certain. The numerous and urgent memorials they presented on the subject, afford the strongest proof of the reality and sincerity of their fears. But if the language and conduct of the Admiral in council had been such, as to disgust and offend the King, what ground had they for these apprehensions? Could the Admiral have declared war on Spain against the opinion of the King, and majority of the Council? They feared, and perhaps with truth, that Charles, instead of being irritated or provoked by the warmth of Coligny, was dazzled by the prospects of conquest and victory presented to his imagination, and inclined to enter heartily into the war. Even the misfortune of Genlis, who was surprised and defeated by the Spaniards, as he advanced to the relief of Mons, made no apparent impression on his mind. Instead of being discouraged by this reverse, he directed money to be advanced from his treasury to the Admiral, for the equipment of a new force under Villars, to repair the loss. That it had a different effect on the Queen-mother, is not improbable; nor is it at all impossible, that this inauspicious commencement of the campaign, joined with her jealousy of the influence Coligny seemed to be acquiring over her son, whom she had educated in such habits of dissimulation that she could place no confidence in his sincerity, hastened the execution of the mas sacre. +

No one has denied more positively than the Viscount de Tavannes the existence of a long premeditated project of the St Bartholomew. According to him, the massacre was occasioned by the fears and jealousy of the Queen-mother; § by the injudicious attempts of the Admiral to excite dissensions in the Royal Family; || by the pertinacity of the Hugonots in demanding war with Spain, and urging alliances with England

Mem. de l'Etat, i. 176.

† Mem. de l'Etat, i. 180. 193.-Tavannes, 413.

Tavannes, 372, 376, 377, 402, 412, 413, 417, 419, 439, 450. § Ib. 415, 416.

|| Ib. 376, 415.

and the Protestant States of Germany;* by their menacing and insolent language after the first attempt on the Admiral, † and by their suspicions that the Duke of Anjou was concerned in that affair. ‡ But Tavannes was anxious to exculpate his father from the imputation of having been the deviser of a measure held in execration by all mankind; and from the mistakes into which he has fallen, it is clear, that he was very imperfectly acquainted with the machinations that preceded the massacre. He makes the attempt on the Admiral's life to have been contrived by the Queen-mother, and Duke of Anjou, with two other counsellors, of whom his father was one; § but the Duke of Anjou tells us, that no one was concerned in it except himself, his mother, and the Dutchess of Nemours. He tells us it was the Duke of Aumale who found a convenient station for the assassin; the Duke of Anjou gives that office to the Dutchess of Nemours. He ascribes to the advice of Coligny the plan of sending the Duke of Anjou to Poland, ¶ a project originally conceived by the Queen-mother, and pursued with the greatest earnestness after the massacre. In the debates that preceded the St Bartholomew, he describes the Marshal de Retz as recommending a general massacre, not only of the Hugonot chiefs, but of the Montmorencies; and represents his father as combating that opinion, and saving, by his firmness and moderation, the King of Navarre and Prince of Condé.** The Duke of Anjou, on the contrary, makes de Retz the only person in the Council who opposed the massacre; and the account he gives of that nobleman's conduct on the occasion, is confirmed with many plausible arguments by Le Laboureur, who accuses Tavannes of disguising the truth, pour rejetter 6 sur lui (de Retz) ce qu'on doit attribuer aux autres. '++

[ocr errors]

The two Gaspards, Coligny, and Tavannes, were not merely political rivals, but personal enemies. When they entered Paris together in company with the King, the spectators, says the son of Tavannes, asked one another, à qui tromperoit son compagnon. A quarrel that followed between them may be considered either as evidence of a design already formed to assassinate Coligny, or as an incident that contributed to that event. High words having passed between them, in which the Admiral had not spared his opponent, a gentleman present, who knew the fiery temper of Tavannes, expressed to him afterwards his surprise at the forbearance he had shown in

*Tavannes, 372, 376, 415, 419.
+ lb. 417, 418.
Ib. ib.

+ Castelnau, ii. 28.

Ib. 417, La Popeliniere, ii. 64. Ib. 416. ¶ Ib. 415. ** Ib. 417, 418, 421. Tavannes, 379.


tolerating so public an affront in presence of the Court; in reply to which, il lui echappa de dire, qu'il en vouloit avoir une ' vengeance encore plus publique, et en peu de jours. ' * The son of Tavannes gives a different version of the story. He tells us, that the Admiral seeking a quarrel with his father, to have a pretext for killing him in a fray, took occasion to say to him in public, that the man who opposed a war with Spain was no good Frenchman, and had a red cross at his heart. Tavannes, seeing his opponent attended by a numerous body of friends, took advantage of his deafness, and made no reply; but said afterwards to one of his followers, un jeune 'homme s'y fut perdue ils ne m'y tiendront plus. This af fair, however, says the son, made his father doubly the enemy of Coligny, and added fears for his own life to his other motives for getting rid of his rival. †



That the threats and intemperate language of the Hugonots, after the Admiral was wounded, may have determined the moment, and accelerated the orders for the massacre, is not improbable. The violence of de Piles and Pardaillan, if not exaggerated by the apologists of the Court, was calculated to offend the pride of the King, who was jealous of his dignity, and to alarm the fears of the Queen-mother, who was conscious of her guilt. But that so extensive and barbarous an execution, if it had not been previously in contemplation, could have proceeded from so slight a cause, it is impossible to believe. Whispers, it is said, were heard among the Hugonots, accusing the Queen and Duke of Anjou of some knowledge or concern in the assassination; but it was against the Guises, who were publicly charged with the attempt, that they invoked the justice of their Sovereign, and no one suspected him of any participation in the guilt. Their demands of justice were loud, because they believed the King sincere in his professions of regret for the crime, and of indignation against the criminals. Their conduct to the last moment shows they had reliance on the King's word, and confidence in his protection.

But it is much more probable that the execution of the massacre was hastened, by the information received from a Hugonot of the name of Bouchavannes, that the Vidame de Chartres had twice proposed to his party to leave Paris in a body, and to carry away the Admiral in their ranks. this suggestion had not been overruled by Teligny, and objected to by the Admiral himself, it is probable that the greater

* Le Leboureur, apud Castelnau, ii. 530. † Tavannes, 437. † Thuan.


part of the Hugonot gentlemen would have escaped; for, being well armed and mounted, when once out of Paris, they would have had nothing to fear from any force that could have been collected against them on a sudden. Apprehensions, that if this proposal was renewed a third time it might be adopted, and that enemies collected with such art and patience might, by delay, escape from the toils prepared for them, will explain why a massacre so long projected was at last hurried on with so few precautions to direct its course or to restrain its fury, and why an execution planned and conducted by the Government, exhibited in its details all the confusion and disorder of a popular commotion.

One difficulty still remains. If the Court intended from the first a general massacre of the Hugonot chiefs, why attack the Admiral without the others? If the first attempt on Coligny had been successful, is it not probable that his friends would instantly have left Paris, and, consulting their safety in flight, have withdrawn themselves from the fury of their enemies?

Various solutions have been attempted of this difficulty.


It has been supposed by some, that the great object of the Court was the destruction of the Admiral, croyant tout le 'parti Huguenot consister en sa tête,' and provided he was disposed of, that the fate of his adherents was of secondary importance. This must have been the view of Francourt, Chancellor of Navarre, if it be true, as related by Tavannes, that among the Admiral's papers was found an admonitory letter from Francourt, foretelling exactly all that happened, that Coligny would be the first victim, and, if the attempt on him failed, that it would be followed by a general massacre of the party. * But, if the death of the Admiral had been the sole or chief object of the previous machinations of the Court, why defer it so long after his arrival at Paris? Why neglect the many opportunities that must have offered to assassinate him with certainty and ease? Why resort to the bungling expedient of hiring a man to shoot at him from a window as he was walking in the street, when he was every morning at the Louvre, in private conversation with the King, or unattended by his friends at the Council Board? Why attempt that secretly and by stealth, which might have been accomplished openly and by authority? And lastly, when the intended assassination had failed, why not employ the guards stationed round his lodging to murder him, without including his followers in the mas sacre?

* Tavannes, 419. 427.

Others, judging from the unprincipled policy and plotting character of Catherine, have pretended, that it was her object, in this attempt, to extinguish, by one stroke, the rival houses of Guise and Chatillon, both equally obnoxious to her, and competitors with her for power; that she directed the assassination of the Admiral, in the expectation that his friends, attributing the crime to the Guises, and confiding in the favour of the King, would take justice into their own hands, and, attacking the Duke of Guise in his hotel, afford the Court an opportunity to get rid of both factions at once. But this hypothesis, though adopted by Davila, seems too refined and uncertain a speculation even for the Queen-mother to have acted on. If the Admiral had been killed, it is infinitely more probable that his friends would have quitted Paris in dismay, and sought refuge in the provinces attached to their party. It must be observed, however, that when Coligny was wounded, some of his hotheaded adherents did propose to take immediate vengeance on the Guises, without waiting for the slow course of justice. But the Admiral forebad the attempt, saying, he put his confidence in the King. *

One other conjecture remains, that the King, though originally a party in the conspiracy, had vacillated before the moment arrived for its execution; that the Queen-mother, alarmed at the apparent progress Coligny was making in the confidence of her son, contrived the attempt on his life in the manner described by the Duke of Anjou, and, having failed in the enterprise, that partly by fear, and partly by insinuation, she brought back the King to his original design of despatching the Admiral and other Hugonot chiefs, and making such a slaughter of the party as to disable them from any future resistance to his will.

To judge of the probability of this conjecture, we must take into consideration the character of Charles and the dissensions that had prevailed for some years in his Court.

The King had been long envious of his brother's reputation, jealous of his influence, and suspicious of the preference shown to him by their mother. These sentiments, originally inspired by the Cardinal of Lorraine, sometimes showed themselves in coldness and estrangement to his brother, sometimes in abuse of his character and ridicule of his manners, and sometimes they broke out with a degree of violence that alarmed the

* MSS. Bibl. du Roi, 324, St Germ. p. 116. 147.

« PreviousContinue »