Illustration by Sanne Boekel

‘Sire, save us…please!’ On solidarity in times of crisis in early modern Privas
Rozanne M. Versendaal // Medieval and Early Modern French Literature The year is 1629. La Rochelle, once the main Protestant fortress in all of France, has been reconquered by King Louis XIII (1601-1643) and his army, making it bi-confessional again, Catholic and Protestant. These events also affect Privas, a small but important strategic Protestant stronghold in the south of France, where Catholics and Protestants lived together at odds. The Huguenots[Textbox 1] endure desperate times because of the fall of La Rochelle. Despite Louis XIII and his army having moved to Italy for a military campaign, the Huguenots fear the King’s wish to eliminate all the remaining Huguenot resistance in southern France. Earlier, he had shown restraint and clemency in his treatment of La Rochelle’s inhabitants. Would he show the same mercy to the citizens of Privas? He did not. In May 1629, the King returned from Italy and decided to make an example of Privas. The town was besieged for two weeks, during which over 600 defenders were killed. After Privas’ capitulation, royal troops pillaged the town and burned it to the ground. ‘Not a house […] escaped the flames’,(1; 357) reported Cardinal Richelieu, the King’s right hand. Sixty prisoners were hanged, and hundreds of people who had previously fled were imprisoned. The property of the town’s inhabitants was confiscated or burned. When news of Privas’ defeat spread, other Huguenot towns in the region quickly surrendered.(2; 152) The destruction of Privas brought an end to a decade of severe religious tensions between Protestants and Catholics during the years of the Huguenot rebellion (1620-1630).(3) This article will study these tensions from the perspective of solidarity. It will discuss if solidarity existed between the Protestant and Catholic communities of Privas, and if this was the case, it will analyse how this solidarity took shape. First, the notions of ‘solidarity’ and ‘crisis’ will be investigated in relation to the early modern period. Then, the context of the conflict in Privas will be outlined. The article will conclude with an analysis of contemporary documents, asking if solidarity is a fruitful concept for the study of this specific early modern community in crisis. Solidarity in times of crisis?
The term ‘solidarity’, which derives from the French word solidarité, the ‘sentiment that encourages mutual support within a group’, according to the Larousse Dictionary, entered into widespread usage only in the 19th century with the rise of social movements in response to the industrial revolution. However, solidarity as a phenomenon can be discerned in other time frames as well, for example in the early modern era (±1500-±1800).(4) The idea that solidarity played an important role in times of peace in both urban and rural communities in this period is not contested by socio-economic historians.(5,6) David Vassberg has for example noted that ‘throughout Europe, people displayed a profound sense of loyalty to their natal village […]’ in the 16th and 17th century.(7; 11) Particularly in autonomous towns or villages that were essentially self-governing, feelings of local solidarity and territoriality were relatively strong.(7; 11) The lively artisanal guilds, religious brotherhoods, confraternities and neighbourhood associations that existed in all of Western Europe are prime examples of solidarity in this period.(8,9) However, the early modern city also formed a highly fragile society, even at the best of times. Urban communities in particular consisted of groups of individuals, whose competing interests and inclinations were sometimes difficult to harmonise.(9,10) It is therefore still debated if solidarity continued to exist in times of conflict and crisis in early modern Europe. Crisis can be defined as ‘a time of intense difficulty or danger’ (Oxford Dictionary) and for the early modern period in particular, there is ‘no question that a local crisis occurred whenever the customary routines and practices of a community were threatened or disrupted in a serious and sudden way’.(10) According to Christopher Friedrichs, it would therefore be even more difficult to sustain the solidarity of the community in times of crisis.(10; 275) It is often argued, however, that times of crisis could create greater social stability among all social levels by encouraging mutual help in order to endure difficulties.(11; 138) Historian Jonathan Healey thinks that micro-historical research[Textbox 2] could shed new light on this matter.(5) The reason why Privas has been chosen for an explorative study of solidarity in times of crisis, is because the religious conflicts were at their peak in this town, and because the local events in the early 17th century have been documented very well in royal chronicles, contemporary letters, journals and religious pamphlets. The town therefore forms an excellent case study. From family intrigue to civil crisis
‘Disruptions of routines and practices’ were quite common in many towns in 16th and 17th-century France because of fierce religious conflicts between Huguenots and Catholics. In Privas, organised warfare would break out time and time again between the two opposite parties.(12) From 1534 onwards, the Swiss reformist Jacques Valery had many followers in southern France, among them a considerable number of nobles. He converted many Catholics, mainly in Privas.(13; 23) In the following years, the town of Privas became a Protestant stronghold.(13; 23) From that moment on, the municipal government of Privas was dominated by Huguenots.(14; 156-162) When Paule de Chambaud, a widow and Calvinist noblewoman of Privas, entered negotiations to remarry in 1619, an uproar ensued among the 2700 Protestant inhabitants of the city.(15; 81) De Chambaud was the daughter of a prominent Huguenot military leader in southern France. Her deceased husband, René de La Tour-Gouvernet, was also a Protestant who played an important role in Privas’ politics. Despite these Protestant affiliations, Paule de Chambaud seriously considered marrying a young Catholic nobleman, Claude de Hautefort, Viscount of Cheylane. Paule de Chambaud’s apparent defection from Protestant practice and her proposed intermarriage with a Catholic were a bitter disappointment to Privas’ Huguenots. Even more disappointing to the noble Huguenot leaders, however, were the religious-political implications of this marriage.(14; 156-162) De La Tour-Gouvernet had been governor of the town and château of Privas. His new marriage with De Hautefort would mean that this key military office would pass to her new Catholic husband. Despite all the protests, de Chambaud and the vicomte married in 1620, after which the religious tensions remained high. Both Protestants and Catholics continued accusing each other of committing acts of violence. For example, Protestants were often accused of attacking Privas’ Catholic soldiers, while the Catholics were accused of attacking innocent Protestants at the marketplace on a regular basis.(14; 156-162) It is not surprising that the Protestant nobles who had important functions in Privas’ government protested against the marriage and the unacceptable transfer of the political control of their community to their confessional enemies, as they feared for their positions. However common people in general did not perceive the religious differences as problematic. On a day-to-day basis, people of different faiths managed to live together in peace. The level of tolerance of both groups was relatively high, simply because both parties often needed each other, for example for commercial reasons. Even intermarriages were not uncommon.(12) This is what Philip Benedict describes as ‘religious coexistence’ and ‘toleration’.(16; 279-308) How do contemporary sources on the situation in Privas reflect on the perception of religious differences and solidarity? Religious practice and political rhetorics
Contemporary printed pamphlets, historical overviews and chronicles offer a window into the religious tensions in Privas.(17; 31) The inventory of the materials that concern the situation in Privas show that pamphlets were written by both Catholic and Protestant nobles and leaders, often in name of the entire Protestant or Catholic court. For example, in one pamphlet, signed in 1620 by the Protestant heads of the municipal government of the town,(18, 19) the Huguenot consuls express their severe grievances. They state that the inhabitants of the town are heavily shocked by the ‘violence and the arms of Sieur Vicomte de Chailanne’;(19) fifteen or twenty citizens were killed on the marketplace; many Protestants were severely wounded, and the citizens are still ‘cruelly persecuted’.(19) This suggests that in the local community, the Protestants faced violent confrontations initiated by the Catholics. This is why the consuls desperately beg their king for help, exclaiming: ‘Sire, save us from those violators, please!’(19, 20) If one studies another pamphlet written by a Catholic, the situation appeared to be completely reversed: here, the Protestants are called ‘rebels’ who shamelessly destroyed the ‘walls of the town’ and who should therefore pay an enormous fine to rebuild them.(9) In this pamphlet, the Protestants are accused of initiating violent acts. In the official royal chronicles, which were written in name of the king, the same pattern can be discerned as in the latter pamphlet. Although the two groups are described objectively as ‘habitans […] fais[ant] profession de la Religion Prétendue Réformée’ (habitants expressing the Reformed Religion) and ‘[ceux] attaché à la Religion Catholique’ (those attached to the Catholic Religion),(Catholics,21; 97) the Protestants are portrayed as troublemakers.(21; 97-100) The discrepancy in the two different perspectives on the situation in Privas is remarkable, but not surprising. From the angle of solidarity, their use of the personal pronouns ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘them’ in the Protestant and Catholic pamphlets is particularly striking. It suggests that a collective sense of community and a sense of being ‘us’ existed among the citizens of Privas, both among the Protestants and the Catholics. However, this might also be considered a religious and political rhetorical strategy. For the Huguenot nobles, the capture of the Château of Privas was not objectionable from a primarily religious point of view, but rather from a political perspective. In the years after the infamous marriage of Paule de Chambaud, the shared religious views of the Protestant citizens became more and more an excuse for the Protestant nobles to justify and commit violent acts to reclaim the strategic military fortress, in order to establish control over the population in the urban spaces in Privas.(14; 156-162) This political rhetoric is for example expressed by the words ‘we have to fortify and defend ourselves, while waiting for your […] protection, your Majesty’.(19) Although this might seem like an innocent claim at first glance, it implies that the confrontations in Privas were apparently not primarily religious: the authors apparently suggest that all Protestants were victims and that they all saw the other as their enemy, in order to maximise the impact of their pleas. In the chronicles, the pronouns are absent, but the distinction between the ‘reformers’ and the ‘loyal subjects’ also adds to a very specific idea on solidarity. The collective feelings among the inhabitants of Privas seemed to have been based on their shared religion, but in fact, political views and rhetorics probably dominated the situation. The Protestant inhabitants apparently grouped together and formed a front under the leadership of several Huguenot nobles against the ‘violators and perpetrators of the public faith’: the Catholics. The Catholics formed a group by identifying themselves as royalists while depicting the Protestants as rebels and supporters of the Reformed faith. Accordingly, the Huguenot community of Privas can be characterised by their anti-Catholic confessional solidarity, in which Calvinist orthodoxy and strict beliefs seem to have taken precedence over other kinds of community solidarity. In the case of the Catholics, solidarity is created by shared royalist and anti-Protestant sentiments.(12) However, in relation to the aforementioned concept of religious coexistence, especially the pamphlets could give a wrong impression of religious practice and the assumed confessional solidarity. As stated before, the pamphlets seem to express certain religious and political rhetorics, which shows that confessional and political allegiances were highly intertwined during the Reformation. It is not unlikely that the printed pamphlets and letters were spread among the common people by the town’s governors and nobles to create and encourage confessional solidarity for a political cause, although these common people still lived together in harmony. Therefore, it would be inaccurate to depict the religious solidarity among the common Protestants and Catholics too strongly. In addition, during the 1629 siege and the destruction of Privas, the sovereign did not reproach his subjects for their Protestant religion, which was guaranteed by the Edict of Nantes,[Textbox 3] but for their disrespect of his authority. According to Hauser, the king observed that the Reformation increasingly tended to be a political and social revolution.(22) Conclusion
Solidarity can be a useful concept to understand times of political and religious crisis, at least for the situation in early modern Privas, although contemporary sources can also be particularly misleading. The study of contemporary writings shows that in fact the solidarity in Privas could, similar to the crisis, be characterised as being both religious and political of nature, but one should take into account that the religious practice was still based on religious coexistence, while the religious and political rhetoric indeed display a religious and political solidarity. It was mainly the Protestant religion and the anti-Catholic feelings that formed the base for solidarity among the nobles in Privas. On the Catholic side, solidarity was rooted in royalist and anti-Protestant feelings. Among the Huguenot and Catholic nobles, political issues thus also played an important role in their definition of solidarity. Pamphlets that were written in the name of religion were disseminated by Protestant and Catholic leaders among the citizens to encourage social cohesion within the community and to create solidarity for a specific political cause. However, this supposed confessional solidarity among the inhabitants therefore called sometimes forth among the common people both courageous expressions of faith and vicious acts of violence.
Textbox 1: ‘Huguenots’ is another term for French Protestants who were inspired by the writings of John Calvin in the 16th and 17th century. The Huguenots endorsed the reformed tradition of Protestantism and revolted against abuses and other forms of corruption in the Roman Catholic church. They united in their criticism of (images of) saints. Due to religious persecution, many Huguenots fled France to other countries. The exact origin of the word Huguenot is unknown.(23 ; 1-2)
Textbox 2: Microhistory is the intensive historical investigation and a particular methodological approach of a smaller unit of cultural or social history. It studies most often a single event, a community or a village, a family or a person. The French historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie is one of the best known micro-historians of the century. In his narrative of medieval Montaillou (Montaillou, village occitan de 1294 à 1324, 1975), he explores larger questions that played a role in French medieval society, while specifically studying the town of Montaillou.(24)
Textbox 3: The Edict of Nantes, signed in 1598 by King Henry IV of France, granted the Huguenots freedom of worship alongside the Catholic majority of France.(12)
References 1. Shergold Browning. 1845. A history of the Huguenots. Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard. 2. Terry-Fritsch, Allie, and Erin Felicia Labbie. 2012. Beholding Violence in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. London: Ashgate Publishing. 3. Cook, Chris, and Philip Broadhead. 2012. The Routledge Companion to Early Modern Europe, 1453–1763. London: Routledge. 4. Clarke, Paul Barry and Joe Foweraker. 2003. Encyclopedia of Democratic Thought. London: Routledge. 5. Healey, Jonathan. 2014. The First Century of Welfare: Poverty and Poor Relief in Lancashire, 1620-1730. Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer. 6. See for example: Rosser, Gervase. 2015. The Art of Solidarity in the Middle Ages: Guilds in England 1250-1550. Oxford: Oxford University Press; Black, Christopher F. and Pamela Gravestock. 2006. Early Modern Confraternities in Europe and the Americas: International and Interdisciplinary Perspectives. London: Ashgate Publishing. 7. Vassberg, David E. 2002. The Village and the Outside World in Golden Age Castile: Mobility and Migration in Everyday Rural Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 8. Rosser, Gervase. 2015. The Art of Solidarity in the Middle Ages: Guilds in England 1250-1550. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 9. 1620. Réduction de la ville de Privaz à l’obéissance du roi, par monseigneur le duc de montmorancy, grand amiral de France, contre les rebelles dudit lieu ; avec l’institution de la messe, qui y a été célébrée le jeudi dernier d’avril, et comme les murailles de la ville ont été prêtes d’être rasées, et eux condamnés à l’amende de cent cinquante mille écus : le tout représenté par une lettre du sieur de Raget à un sien cousin de la ville d’Annonay (4 mai). Lyon: Tournon. 10. Friedrichs, Christopher R. 2014. The Early Modern City 1450-1750. London: Routledge. 11. Kamen, Henry. 2000. Early Modern European Society. S.l.: Psychology Press. 12. Beik, William. 2009. A Social and Cultural History of Early Modern France. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 13. Stufflebean, Debra Guiou. 2011. A French Huguenot Legacy. S.l.: s.n. 14. Wade, Mara R. 2013. Gender Matters: Discourses of Violence in Early Modern Literature and the Arts. Amsterdam: Rodopi. 15. Benedict, Philip. 1991. The Huguenot Population of France, 1600-1685: The Demographic Fate and Customs of a Religious Minority. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. 16. Benedict, Philip. The Faith and Fortunes of France’s Huguenots, 1600-1685. Aldershot: Asgate Publishing, 2001. 17. Anon. 2010. The Reformation: Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 18. List of the texts that were consulted: S.d. Factum pour les habitans de la ville de Privas qui font profession de la reli gion P. réformée. S.l. : s.n. Bibliothèque nationale de France, LD176-252. S.d. Plan de la ville de Privas avec les fortifications d’icelle assiégée par le Roy le 14.me de may 1629. S.l. : s.n. (online access). 1620. Lettre des habitans de Priuas, au Roy. S.l.: s.n. Bibliothèque interuniversitaire Sainte-Geneviève, 8 Q 72 INV 951 RES (p. 36). 1620. Réduction de la ville de Privaz à l’obéissance du roi, par monseigneur le duc de montmorancy, grand amiral de France, contre les rebelles dudit lieu ; avec l’institution de la messe, qui y a été célébrée le jeudi dernier d’avril, et comme les murailles de la ville ont été prêtes d’être rasées, et eux condamnés à l’amende de cent cinquante mille écus : le tout représenté par une lettre du sieur de Raget à un sien cousin de la ville d’Annonay (4 mai). Lyon: Tournon (online access). 1621. Récit véritable de ce qui s’est passé à Privas, depuis le 23, 24 et 25 janvier jusques à présent, et de l’entreprise sur icelle. S.l. : s.n. Bibliothèque nationale de France, 8-LB36-1582. 1621. Discours veritable de ce qui s’est passé sur l’occurrence des mouvemens de la ville de Privas au pays de Vivarois. Lyon : Claude Armand. Bibliothèque nationale de France, 8-LB36-1561. 1629. Lettre envoyée à la Royne mère du Roy. Contenant ce qui s’est passé en la prise de Privas. Et la reduction de cinq ou six autres places rebelles. Bordeaux : Pierre de la Cour. Bibliothèque nationale de France, 8-LB36-3760. 1629. Déclaration du roy [Louis XIII], contre les habitans qui estoient cy-devant en la ville de Privas, par laquelle ils sont déclarez avoir encouru les peines portées par les déclarations & tous leurs biens acquis & confisquez à sa Majesté. Paris: A. Estiene. Bibliothèque nationale de France, F-46966 (6). 1720. Histoire du règne de Louis XIII, Roy de France, et des principaux événemens arrivez pendat ce Regne, dans tous les Pais du Monde. Contenant l’Histoire de ce qui s’est passe depuis 1619. Tôme XIV. Paris: François Montalant (online access). 19. Garniet et Chadelle. 1620. Lettre des habitans de Priuas, au Roy. S.l.: s.n. Bibliothèque interuniversitaire Sainte-Geneviève, 8 Q 72 INV 951 RES (p. 36). 20. Petitfils, Jean-Christian. 2014. Les Rois de France : Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI. S.l: EDI8. 21. 1720. Histoire du règne de Louis XIII, Roy de France, et des principaux événemens arrivez pendat ce Regne, dans tous les Pais du Monde. Contenant l’Histoire de ce qui s’est passe depuis 1619. Tôme XIV. Paris: François Montalant. 22. Hauser, H. 1899-1900. ‘La Réforme et Les Classes Populaires En France Au XVIe Siècle’. Revue D’histoire Moderne et Contemporaine, 1900 1899, 24-37. 23. Gwynn, Robin D. 2001. Huguenot Heritage: The History and Contribution of the Huguenots in Britain. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press. 24. Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. 1975. Montaillou, village occitan de 1294 à 1324. Paris: Gallimard.
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Issue 9 / May 2017 / ISSN 2214-6083

Edition: 500 copies

 

Honours Review is a publication of students at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands.

2017 - Honours Review

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