Story of Europe - H. E. Marshall

Reformation Period Switzerland and France

Very quickly the new religion spread to other lands. Yet, save that it was Luther who, with unconscious courage, first showed the way, the Reformation in other countries had little connection with that of Germany.

In Switzerland the Reformation was led by Ulrich Zwingli. At this time the position of Switzerland was different from that of any other country in Europe. It had wrung itself free from the Empire and from the house of Austria, but it had not yet become a consolidated nation. Each of the thirteen cantons of which it was now composed had its own government, these governments varying considerably one from the other. There was thus not even the shadow of a central government, such as Germany had through the emperor, or Italy through the pope. They had not even a common language.

But in fact Switzerland was far more united than either Germany or Italy. Each canton was independent, yet each was a member of a federal league. They used a common flag, a white cross on a red ground, and a common motto, "Each for all, and all for each."

Since their war of independence the Swiss had had few wars of their own. Yet in nearly all the wars of Europe the Swiss took part, even at times a decisive part. For since their victorious struggle the Swiss had earned the reputation of being the best foot soldiers in Europe. And when by degrees paid soldiery took the place of feudal armies, warring kings and princes were eager to hire Swiss soldiery to fight for them. The sense of nationality was still feeble; one nation had as yet little sense of another nation's rights. It shocked none to find the men who had won their own liberty selling their swords and fighting a tyrant's battles.

The pope was one of the chief hirers of Swiss soldiery, and besides fighting in his army they formed his bodyguard, so that intercourse between Rome and Switzerland was constant. But this intercourse was purely commercial, and so far as religion was concerned Switzerland was singularly free from papal interference.

The Swiss Reformation began in the canton of Zurich, and soon spread to Berne. It began as in Germany with an attack on the sale of Indulgences. But although the movement spread rapidly, many in the Forest Cantons clung to the Romish faith. Soon the controversy between the two parties became so bitter that it led to civil war.

In 1531 the battle of Kappel was fought, in which the Protestants were defeated and Zwingli himself killed. After this a treaty was drawn up between the cantons, which left each free to settle its own religious matters.

John Calvin

Now that Zwingli was dead John Calvin became the leader of the Reformation in Switzerland, and Geneva took the place of Zurich as the centre of the movement. Calvin was a young Frenchman who had become a Protestant, and had been forced to flee from France to escape persecution. After Luther he was the greatest of the reformers, and his influence was far more wide reaching. The French Protestants and the English Puritans alike looked to him as their guide. John Knox was his follower, and taught his doctrine to the Scottish people, and the Pilgrim Fathers carried it across the Atlantic to the New World.

Calvin was himself a scholar, and he gathered many other scholars to Geneva, making it the stronghold of Protestantism and the centre of its teaching. It was from Geneva that the first trained teachers and pastors went forth to teach and preach the new faith. But the doctrine they taught was cold and narrow. For Calvin, although a learned man, was harsh and severe. He had none of the human kindliness of Luther, nor the open-mindedness of Zwingli.

Persecution of Protestants in France

In France the new religion met with terrible opposition. Yet there it was never a national movement, the Protestants always representing a minority, although a strong one. One reason for this was that the movement was not so much with them a political revolt against secular interference by the Pope as it was with other peoples. For ever since the "Babylonish Captivity," when the popes had been more or less subject to the French king, France had been more free than other nations from papal interference, and the headship of the French Church had belonged more to the French king than to the pope. So it came about that not being a national movement, in time opposition and persecution were able practically to wipe out the Protestants of France.

By the Treaty of Crespy Francis I had bound himself to crush heresy within his dominions. Far less than Charles V had he himself any religious convictions, and was personally inclined to tolerance. But his complicated alliances drove him into many inconsistencies. So while he had not hesitated to ally himself with the Protestant princes of Germany against his enemy Charles, and even with the infidel Turk, to ingratiate himself with the pope he entered upon a cruel persecution of the Protestants of Provence.

These unoffending, devout, and loyal people were denounced as heretics and barbarously slaughtered. Neither age nor sex was respected, and three thousand men, women, and children were put to death. Others were sent to the galleys, and their villages laid in ruins.

In 1547 Francis died. Throughout his reign he had been stable in one thing—in his hatred of the house of Austria. In that he had shown wisdom. For the menace of Austria was a menace to all Europe, and not to France alone. In combating the desire for world dominion Francis had, in a sense, fought for Europe. He left France, moreover, actually increased in territory, stronger and more compact than before. He left her also more beautiful and advanced in culture. For he was the patron of both artists and men of letters, and many of the splendid castles which are still the glory of the Loire valley date from his reign.

Francis was succeeded by his son Henry II. He was a mediocre and feeble prince, and allowed himself to be guided by ambitious counsellors, chief among them the Guises.

Before long he was in league once more with the Protestant princes of Germany against his father's old enemy Charles. But now fortune had forsaken Charles, and from the walls of Metz he retired beaten.

During this reign the Reformation made great progress in France. Men high in office, and even princes of the royal blood, joined the movement. Growing bolder in consequence, many who formerly had only worshipped in secret openly confessed their adherence to the new faith, and in 1555 the first Protestant church was established in Paris.

Henry looked upon the spread of the new faith with fear and anger, and once more persecutions began. But these persecutions only made the Protestants cling more firmly to their faith.