Thursday, 7 March 2013

The French Refugees

Here is another extract from "Jersey in the 15th and 16th centuries" (1931),  by A.C. Saunders.  It shows how a literate and powerful group of immigrants could dominate the Island's culture.

A wave of immigration from France caused by persecution led to alien practices and ways being imposed on the Islanders. The Huguenots were, as Saunders notes, very clever people, but they were also driven by a fierce religious fanaticism. Once they had settled in Jersey, they began to impose their ideas on the people, and effectively they could use legal means to impose their moral imperatives on the local population, with the Royal Court supporting them. There was no means of easily appealing to a higher authority. John Kelleher comments that: "In a faith which paid strict attention to spiritual, moral and social discipline the distinction between religious and secular became blurred and, with the support of the State, the Church extended its Jurisdiction to all areas of private and public life."

Jersey was in the firm grip of a Calvinist regime, and effectively a law unto itself, going its own way, with no interference from England. This was understandable; a firm Protestant regime was a good bulwark against invasion from the French, and while the Jersey people and those from Normandy shared a common tongue, they were divided by religion. As John Kelleher noted: "Because of the Island's unique circumstances, the English Crown showed itself willing to tolerate Calvinism as opposed to uniformity with the Church of England."

It was not until the aftermath of the Civil War in England that the law was used by Puritans to impose morality, but in Jersey, the puritanical regime began much earlier, and lasted longer. The attempt to legislate morality is always done from the best of motives, but it invariably results in oppression. It's a lesson that seems very difficult for those in authority to learn.

The French Refugees
by A.C. Saunders
On the 23rd August 1572, Catherine de Medici, Queen Dowager of France, held a secret Council with the Dukes of Anjou, Guise, Nevers and other Catholics and they decided that the best way to bring peace to France was by a wholesale massacre of the Huguenots. The Protestants had been so called since the year 1560, when a monk at Tours ridiculed the members of the new creed as such because they were accustomed to hold their meetings at night near the gate of King Hugo.
The Protestants had become a power in the land and were ready to fight for what they called " La Cause " against their opponents who, as Roman Catholics, were ready to defend " La Sainte Ligne." It has been stated that, about this time, there were some 2,500 reformed congregations in France and that nearly one quarter of the population had adopted the Reformed religion; at first among the lower classes, then by those of middle rank and afterwards by some of the most powerful nobles in the land.
It was a bitter fight and France suffered accordingly. The Church resented the increasing opposition to their authority, but Charles IX, a young king, aged 22 years, had the idea that he would like to rule as a great king. After the battles of Jarnac and Moncontour, he made flattering approaches to the Huguenots, and Henry of Navarre, the nominal leader of the Protestants, was offered in marriage Marguerite, the daughter of Catherine de Medici. The marriage took place with great pomp and ceremony at Paris.
Two incidents should have warned them of the unscrupulousness of their hosts; Jeanne d'Albert, the mother of Henry the bridegroom, was taken ill soon after her arrival in Paris, and it was suggested her death had been caused by wearing a pair of poisoned gloves sent to her by the Queen Mother, and an attempt was made to assassinate Admiral Coligny, the leader of the Huguenots.
The difficulty the conspirators had was to get the young King to sign the necessary warrant for the massacre. Weak as he was, he hesitated to legalize such a monstrous crime and, with quill in hand, he for a long time refused to authorise the massacre of those who had fearlessly accepted his hospitality. But the Queen Dowager and her supporters gradually overcame his scruples, and as soon as the Warrant was signed, the gates of Paris were shut and at midnight of the 24th the bell in the Tower of the Royal Palace gave the necessary signal to those awaiting and the massacre commenced.
Hundreds of Catholics with a white cross on their hats were awaiting the signal to exterminate the thousands of Protestants who had accepted the hospitality of a faithless King and his mother. It has been stated that no fewer than 6,ooo persons were killed in cold blood in Paris alone, and that in France some 50,000 Protestants thus lost their lives. We hear of the miserable King, having overcome his scruples (he was noted as a sportsman), taking aim from his palace windows at the Protestants attempting to escape. Some six or seven Governors of provinces refused to obey the orders to kill their opponents, and great honour is due to the Governor of Bayonne, who dared to reply that there were many loyal subjects in that city, but no executioner.
Henry of Navarre, the bridegroom, saved his life by pretending to adopt the Catholic faith. On the 24th of August, Charles attended in great state a service of thanksgiving in Notre Dame; and at Rome a year of jubilee was proclaimed as "Recognition of the fact that God had put it into the hearts of his faithful subjects to purge the earth of heretics." When Philip of Spain heard the news, he smiled.
The massacre was a great blow to the Huguenot party. Many of their leaders were dead and the country was overrun with Catholic soldiers who needed no warrant to commit any crime against the unfortunate Protestants. Northern France ceased to be a stronghold, and those who did not find their to La Rochelle had to flee the country. Charles never forgot the fact that his was the hand which authorised the massacre, and within a couple of years he was dead - supposed to be another poison victim of his unnatural mother-but even to the last day of his life fully realising the enormity of the crime he had committed.
Many Huguenots fled to Jersey, and among those we find the names of de la Ripaudie, du Val, Brevint, Mesnier, Maret, Riche, Alex, Dolbel, Baudin, Herault, Mauger and others. Many of the Nobility and Gentry followed suit and some of their descendants still live in the Island.
Among those who fled to the Island was Gabrielle, Count of Montgomerie and Seigneur de Lorges, a great leader of the Protestant party. Montgomerie was a remarkable man, who, when a young knight, had the misfortune, on the 30th June, 1559, to mortally wound in a tournament the husband of Catherine de Medici - King Henry II of France. Fleeing to his estate in Normandy this young nobleman became an ardent reformer and, as one of the leaders of the party, he defended Rouen from September to October, 1562, when the city was captured by the Constable of France and Montgomerie getting into a boat, escaped down the river. He was one of the Protestants who attended the marriage of Henry of Navarre and the Princess Marguerite, but having his lodging on the south side of the river he was warned in time and, although pursued for many miles, managed to find his way to Jersey, where he remained for some time.
But a lazy life did not suit so active a man and we hear of him in charge of stores from England to the Huguenots at La Rochelle. Then we hear of his defence of Domfort which he tried to defend against vastly superior forces, but unfortunately the town was captured and Montgomerie made prisoner and taken to Paris. Catherine had a good memory and rejoiced that the man who had killed her husband was now her prisoner, and this gallant gentleman went to the block to satisfy the vengeance of the de Medici.
With the increase of educated theologians in the Island, the Calvinists in Jersey became more and more powerful and tolerated no opposition to their will. They had been intolerant before but now they had the majority of the States on their side and those who objected to their rule found it wise to keep quiet. Even as early as the 25th May, 1562, we find the States directing that all " breviares et legendes " shall be thrown into the fire, and a man who was found with such was forced to carry wood to St. Helier's Market and burn all his religious books. They gradually made Calvinism the religion of the Island and little by little they wore down the use of the " Booke of Common Prayer " and introduced a form of religious government and a book of discipline of their own " which they caused Ministers, Jurats and other people to swear."
We have already seen that Sir Amyas declined to set a good example to the people by refusing to adopt such a code as " incommodious without warrant " but the ministers and Elders still continued their autocratic ways, and when Mr. Messervy, a Jersey scholar from Oxford, was appointed by the Governor to one of the Jersey rectories, they refused to admit him as one of their ministers unless he promised to conform to the discipline they had established. Messervy refused to do so and gave as his reason that he did not consider they had any warrant to impose conditions which were contrary to the Church laws established in England.
But they still continued their Church government and showed little mercy to those who opposed them and every breach of the discipline they had set up was severely dealt with. This was especially noticed against those who still clung to the ancient faith and we hear of Regnauld Baudyn, Clement Herault, Jacques Le Moignan, Clement Baudyn, Reg Griffon, Edmond Filleul and Philip and Jacques le Feuvre of the parish of St. Clement being sent for punishment to the Castle for having refused to abandon Mass and shown great insolence to the minister of the parish, and Edmond Nicolle, John Le Cornu, John Vauldin, Raulin de la Haye, Etienne Macho, Coll le Masurier and Michel Vauldin were condemned to be punished for having been found outside Church during Service and contrary to the orders of the Jurats.
Even the social life of the people was not their own but was subject to the little Star Chamber which had been set up by these French refugees and the Court, composed of men who had no chance against the eloquence of these educated men, supported the tyranny of the ministers.
Poor Janette Jouin made certain accusations against Jean Robin, but, Robin having influence, the Court condemned her conduct and she was ordered to appear the following Sunday, covered with a winding sheet at divine service at St. Peter's Church, where she was to remain until she confessed her crime and showed signs of a contrite heart by pleading with the people to join her in prayer to God to forgive her misdeed-and. the following - Sunday-she had to appear in Church to hear judgment as to how she had proved her penitence.
Even family life did not escape the attention of these ministers as poor Susan Gavey found to her cost. Her parents had promised her in marriage to Simon Bisson but she did not like the man and refused to marry him and therefore the Church stepped in and excommunicated her. This did not frighten her and having treated the Order with the contempt it deserved, the ministers brought her before the Royal Court and the learned Jurats decided that she must appear at Church the next Sunday and after service ask pardon of her lover and beseech him to take her as his wife, otherwise she would be publicly whipped. Evidently she became Mrs. Bisson and it is to be hoped that Bisson found full reward for his chivalrous conduct.
And thus life under this religious tyranny became more and more unbearable until in the year 1580 a deputation was sent to England to complain of the terrible oppression by the Ministers and the good offices of the Bishop of Winchester and Archbishop of Canterbury were asked for.


James said...

You have this wrong, Tony. The Calvinists arrived a generation before the 1572 massacre: indeed it was in 1570 that Jersey was removed from the Diocese of Coutances and brought under the wing of Winchester specifically as a result of Calvinist ascendancy.

TonyTheProf said...

Yes but as Saunders said:

"With the increase of educated theologians in the Island, the Calvinists in Jersey became more and more powerful and tolerated no opposition to their will. They had been intolerant before but now they had the majority of the States on their side and those who objected to their rule found it wise to keep quiet. "

It was the greater influx that caused the tipping point.

The removal from Coutances was not just because of Calvinist ascendancy, but also because the Bishop of Coutance was pressing for an increase in his dues!

TonyTheProf said...

The islands were already in the process of establishing their own churches, using French Calvinist forms of worship and a fully synodical system of church government. From 1576 the islanders governed themselves without reference to episcopal authority, which was not to be re-established, in Jersey, until the reign of James I, and in Guernsey that of Charles ii. When challenged the islanders defended their position by claiming that they were indeed part of the diocese of Coutances, and that they were following the best practice of the reformed churches in that diocese.

TonyTheProf said...

The best study is "Presbyerianism in the Channel Islands" by CSL Davies (1999) who demonstrates that the long continuation of Coutance was because ecclesiastical jurisdiction was very much thought of in monetary terms, in collecting dues within the island for the Bishop. It was largely a property rights issue, and the Bishop even pressed his case in the Guernsey and Jersey courts.