Story of Liberty - Charles Coffin

How Liberty Began in France

Thirty years have passed since Doctor Luther nailed his paper upon on the door of the Wittenberg church. During this time men have been thinking for themselves in France as well as in Germany. In the old town of Meaux men first began to be independent in thought. It was a wicked place, and the priests were no better than the people—drinking wine and leading dissolute lives.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


One day a man came to Meaux bringing a Bible which a priest—James Lefevre—had translated into the French language. He told the people that they must repent of their wrong-doing and live righteously, and preached so faithfully that in a short time the place became one of the most orderly in all France. Instead of swearing, the peasants sung psalms. In-stead of carousing after the work of the day was over, they held prayer-meetings. Some of the peasants became preachers, and went into other towns, and so the new religion began to spread. One of those who accepted the new faith was Bernard Palissy, a poor potter. He could set glass, draw portraits, and used to paint images of the Virgin. He travelled from village to village, getting a scanty living. He went down into the south-west corner of France, to Saintes. One day he saw an enameled teacup, of Italian manufacture. Nobody in France could make such a clip. How was the glazing put on? It must be by heat. What was it composed of? He would find out. He built a furnace, made experiments, but the glazing would not melt. He sat six nights in succession watching the furnace, but the enamel would not fuse. He was in despair. The fuel was giving out. He must have more heat. What should he do? He had no time to go after more wood; besides, he had no money to pay for it. He seized the chairs, broke them up, and hurled them into the furnace. Still the glazing did not melt. Then he split up the table. His wife and children looked oil in amazement. Was he crazy? "More wood! More wood Y' That is his only answer. Victory! He has discovered the secret. The glazing melts, and from this time on there will be a new era in the manufacture of earthen-ware.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The potter turns preacher. Others imitate him. Churches are gathered. It is a crime to read the Bible. But the printing-presses are at work; and peddlers are carrying the book in their packs, selling copies here and there, which the people read secretly; and so the new religion gets a foothold all over the kingdom.

Those who accept the new faith no longer spend their time in carousing, but sing psalms instead. Those who laugh at them for being so religious call them Huguons—people who sing in the streets. They soon are known as Huguenots.

The priests cannot tolerate the heretics. One day a company of soldiers, led by priests, enter the town where the potter is at work. The soldiers are blood-thirsty wretches.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


"Where are the heretics? Let us cut their throats!" they shout.

They seize the unresisting inhabitants, cut out their tongues, gash their faces, or cleave their heads open. Some are thrust into prison, fourteen burned to death, others maimed for life.

From Meaux the soldiers and priests go on to the town of Merindol. The soldiers are let loose upon it. They plunge their spears into the breasts of the defenceless, unresisting people; hurl men and women from the walls upon the rocks below; seize all the goods; tear down the houses, and leave it a scene of indescribable desolation. Have the people revolted? No. Have they committed any crime? No. Are they not law-abiding and peaceful? Yes. They have only stayed away from mass, have been reading the Bible, and worshipping God in their, own way. That is all.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


"All printing must he stopped!"

And now to go back a little. We have previously seen that, after Ferdinand of Spain had driven the Moors out of that country, he made war upon the Queen of Navarre, and seized the southern half of her kingdom, because she was weak, he powerful, and because he wanted it. In his estimation, might made it right.

The Queen of Navarre had a son, Henry, who was only seven years old at the time, and who all through life tried to recover what Ferdinand and Isabella had stolen from him, but failed. His life was one long disappointment. He had a beautiful daughter, Jeanne d'Albret, who was married to Anthony of Bourbon, brother of Antoinette, who married the Duke of Guise, whom we saw at the Field of the Cloth of Gold with Francis I., King of France. There came a day when the gray-haired man, whose life had been so bitter, held a babe in his arms—a grandson.

"Ah! this is the boy who will redress my wrongs! To make him strong, I will give him a little good old wine and garlic," says the delighted grandfather; and he pours wine into the babe's mouth, and rubs its lips with garlic.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


Eight years pass, and Jeanne d'Albret and her boy Henry go to Paris to attend a wedding. The grandson of Francis I. is to be married—a boy sixteen years old, named for his grandfather, Francis. His mother is the baby who was born in Florence about the time the kings and nobles met at the Field of the Cloth of Gold.

She is the niece of Leo X., and her name is Catherine de' Medici. She is Queen of France. Her confessor in childhood was one of the men who obey orders—a Jesuit priest; and she believes, with them, that if a thing is good in itself, it is right to use any means to attain it. Catherine has four children—Francis (the oldest), Charles, Henry, and Marguerite, a wilful girl, seven years old. Who is the bride? A beautiful girl from Scotland, Mary by name. Her mother is sister of the Duke of Guise, whom we saw at the Field of the Cloth of Gold; and her grandmother was Margaret, sister of Henry VIII., who spent a night in the old manor-house at Scrooby, when she was on her wedding-journey. She has been several years in France. She can write Latin, French, and English, and speak the languages fluently. She can sing, is quite a poet, and is very beautiful. Among the guests from Scotland is a learned man, George Buchanan, who composes a nuptial poem:

"To the brave youth a royal kindred lent,

True to thy tender cause, a glad consent,

That dearly made a sister queen a wife,

The gentle partner of thy throne and life;

While beauty, birth, and virtue, nobly fair,

And plighted faith and mutual love, were there."

The King of France, Henry, is greatly pleased with the strong, brave boy from the Pyrenees.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


"Will you be my son?" the king asks.

"No, sir. There is my father, Anthony of Bourbon," the boy replies,

"Ha! ha! you are a brave boy! Will you be my son-in-law, then?"

"Oh yes, sir."

Perhaps the boy has already taken a fancy to little Marguerite; but, be that as it may, the answer so pleases the king that Henry of Navarre and Marguerite are betrothed on the spot.

The wedding takes place, and there is great rejoicing. The King of France holds a tournament, and himself enters the lists against the Duke of Montgomery, from Scotland; but the Scotchman's lance breaks, a splinter pierces the king's eye, who reels from his horse and tumbles to the ground. Nevermore will Henry I., King of France, lead his soldiers to battle. Death comes; and Francis II. and Mary of Scotland are king and queen.

Francis is a spendthrift. He borrows money, lays it out in rich dresses for himself and Mary, and lavishes it upon his favorites. The people come for their pay, and the king laughs in their face. They grow importunate.

"Pay us!" they say.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


"Help yourself, if yon can."

"You have our money. Pay us!"

"Take yourself off, or the king will have you hanged," says the Cardinal of Lorraine, who sets the carpenters to work building a gibbet in flout of the Palace of Fontainebleau.

The cheated creditors hear the sound of the axe and hammer, and turn sadly away. Liberty for the king, but none for the people. In their anger, some who were Catholics turn Huguenots; and so the Huguenots become a political party.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The priests erect statues of the Virgin Mary along the streets, and watch to see who bows down and worships, and who passes by. The passers-by have a black mark set against their names. War breaks out. The Duke of Guise, who commands Francis's troops, is hard-hearted. He strings Huguenot captives on pales, and throws them into the river Seine. Some die firmly, without a quivering of the lip or trembling of the eyelids.

"How brazen-faced and mad these wretches are! Death does not abate their pride," says the Cardinal of Lorraine.

The Huguenot leaders are exasperated. They resolve to rid the country of the Guises, and seize the king, who is in the castle at Blois. But a traitor reveals the plot, and the Guises remove Francis to the Chateau of Aniboise, on the banks of the Loire, and seize the Huguenots. What a spectacle is that which Catherine de' Medici, Francis, and Mary, and Catherine's two younger sons, Henry and Charles, witness as they stand on the balcony of Amboise! In the yard before them are gibbets, with corpses dangling beneath them; stakes are driven into the ground, and Huguenots are roasting in the flames; soldiers are hacking unarmed men to pieces, and pitching the dead bodies into the river, till it is choked with corpses. Twelve thousand Huguenots are put to death.

Francis has been king fifteen months. There comes a day when there is a commotion in the royal palace. Francis has an abscess above his ear, and the has fainted. The doctors come, but their skill is of no avail. By the bedside of the dead king stands Mary of Scotland. The brief days of happiness are ended; henceforth her life will be full of trouble and sorrow.

Charles IX. is king—a boy ten years old. Mary must return to Scotland. With tearful eyes she bids farewell to France—to its joys and pleasures, its sunny skies and blooming fields. She has been tenderly cared for—servants in livery to wait upon her, to carry her sedan. She sails to Scotland from Calais. She sits upon the deck of the vessel, gazing sadly, till the land is lost to view, and then writes an

Adieu to France

"Farewell to thee, thou pleasant shore!

The loved, the cherished home to me,

Of infant joy—a dream that's o'er;

Farewell! dear France, farewell to thee!

"The sail that wafts me bears away

From thee but half my soul alone;

Its fellow-half will fondly stay,

And back to thee has faithful flown.

"I trust it to thy gentle care;

For all that here remains to me

Lives but to think of all that's there,

To love and to remember thee!"

While Mary is thus sailing to her distant home, where we shall see her by-and-by, the boy who was fed on wine and garlic is quietly pursuing his studies in Paris, preparing himself for the duties of life, little knowing the part which he is to play in the great drama of history.