The Development of the Political Situation in France




In-Sub Ahn



At the beginning of the sixteenth century France was the greatest power in Europe. France was not only a united nation in contrast to Germany, but also a strong king-centric monarchy in comparison to democratic Switzerland. The Valois kings were in struggle with the German emperors for the hegemony of northern Italy. The government already had become a royal absolutism. The Estates General were ineffective and the nobility*s resistance was powerless. The Church alone kept a measure of independence through the fifteenth century. Through the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges in 1438, the French Church was largely autonomous. Important elements of papal taxation were discontinued and the authority of ecclesiastical councils was affirmed. The prelates were elected by the due processes of canon law. In spite of the repudiation by Pope Pius II in 1460, this concordat remained in a large part effective. Louis XII (1498-1515), moreover, reaffirmed it as a measure of resistance to the Papacy in 1499.[1]

However, it is Francis I (1515-47) who subdued the French church and co-ordinated it, in order to secure the absolute system. If the church was not free, the system could be set up easily. After the victory over Italy at Marignano in 1516, Francis made a treaty at Noyon (the Concordat of Bologna in 1516) with the ministers of the emperor Charles V. Francis persuaded Pope Leo X to yield to him the control over the elections of bishops and abbots in France. This agreement meant the abrogation of the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges (1438), and it was as injurious to the Church as it was advantageous to the king. Despite of the remonstrance of the Parlement and the theologians in Paris the absolutism of Francis* rule was reinforced. The king made full use of his vast authority, so that the clergy whom he appointed became his grateful instruments. The king did not hesitate to distribute benefices to his lay political servants. The authority of the Church was no longer affirmed, and canonical election of bishops made place for royal appointment. Francis considered the Church an instrument of the monarchy. He would not like to accept any change, since it would imperil his control.[2]

Thus Francis I*s religious policy was superficially tortuous. Francis had lost some of his mastery of France through a late defeat. In order to get financial support from the clergy, he consented to suppression and began to issue edicts of persecution against the evangelicals. After the Cop incident on 1 November 1533, the persecution that had driven away Calvin and so many others in 1534 continued sporadically, with the persecuting edicts. During the late rule under Francis (and his son Henry) there were a number of burnings of protestants. The theory of the monarchy can be summarized as &one law, one faith, one king.* On the one hand, Francis persecuted Protestants in his own domains. On the other hand, he supported Protestants abroad against the Pope and the emperor. Since Francis was entangled in a Continental policy in which hostility to the emperor was basic, he at times negotiated with the emperor*s Lutheran opponents.[3]

In the spring of 1535 Francis negotiated with the German reformers, although the elector of Saxony refused to co-operate. In order to clear the decks for the coming invasion of Italy, Francis issued the edict of Coucy on 16 July 1535, delaying heresy prosecutions for half a year, to give heretics time to return.[4] It was at this time that Calvin*s first Institutes went to the press. Calvin, who was also a French exile in Basel, appealed to King Francis on behalf of the persecuted.

After the war, persecution resumed within France. Two royal edicts (in June of 1539 and in 1540) gave heresy jurisdiction to secular courts. After Francis I*s death, his successor Henry II(1547-59) re-established the persecutions. A special tribunal of the Paris Parlement, namely the Chambre, was instituted late in 1547.[5] Only during the war against the Habsburgs Henri II*s campaign against heresy was restricted until the Peace of Cateau-Cambresis on 3 April 1559.

However, the years witnessed increasing organization of churches. The hope of a Protestant France seemed to appear, even though there was no way to effect this by constitutional means. Until the Edict of Nantes (1598), there were a series of bitter struggles. During that period, according to McNeill, the Reformed Church sometimes seemed to stand ※on the eve of a general success,§ at other times ※on the verge of extinction.§[6]

[1]) J.T. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism (New York/Oxford, 1954), 95-6 and 237.

[2]) Ibid., 96, 238.

[3]) T.H.L Parker, John Calvin: A Biography (London, 1975), 145. ; E. Cameron, The European Reformation, 286-87 ; J.T. McNeill, The History and Character of Calvinism, 241, 243.

[4]) E. Cameron, The European Reformation, 238.

[5]) It issued a number of edicts against heresy, and indicted over 300 individuals in the three years of its existence. By the edict of Chateaubriant of 27 June 1551, which was a comprehensive manual for State persecution, those who were accused of heresy were deprived of all municipal or judicial offices. See E. Cameron, The European Reformation, 287-88.

[6]) J.T. McNeill, The history and Character of Calvinism, 245-47.