The Struggles in France

The Reformation in France did not take the same shape as in Switzerland.There, the nobility were staunch Catholics and eager to maintain their power over any possibility of Protestant nobility gaining strength. John Calvin had sent out hundreds of missionaries to France resulting in a Protestant population of near 2 million by 1550 although it has been said that not all were followers of Calvin. Francis I had tolerated the Huguenots for much of his reign (1515-1547) until he realized that there was little they could do for him personally or politically. When he died, Henry II commenced persecution of the Huguenots, among whom were brilliant military leaders such as Gaspar de Coligny and Anthony, King of Navarre, their arch enemies, the Guise family. The young king, Francis II came heavily under the influence of this family.

When Francis II died in 1560, Catherine Medici became regent for her son, Charles IX. She being a foreigner, initially encouraged the rise of the Huguenots to balance her position against the Guises, who had ambitions for the crown themselves. Eventually, civil war broke out between the Guises and the Huguenots. Catherine, fearing Coligny’s influence on her son, sided with Henry, Duke de Guise.

In 1562, Henry de Guise was passing through the area of Vassy on the way to his estates and decided to stop for mass. He encountered a group of Huguenots gathered for service in a barn. Some of his men tried to enter but were repulsed. When a stone hit him in the head, he decided to burn the church, killing and injuring near 163 people. This attack was seen as a breach of the Edict of St. Germain which Catherine had proposed earlier to maintain peace between the two sides. The Huguenots set about creating forts along the Loire River preparing for what would become “The French Wars of Religion”.

One of the most notorious atrocities during these wars was the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572. It was actually only one of many “mob attacks” on the Protestants which spread across France in the days that followed. Catherine Medici and Henry de Guise are thought to have instigated it. The Protestant prince, Henry of Navarre was to marry Margarite de Valois in an attempt at reconciling the opposing sides.  On August 18, many Protestant nobles, including Gaspar de Coligny arrived in Paris to celebrate the wedding. This seemed fortuitous to Catherine and de Guise. On August 24, Coligny was captured at his lodgings and thrown to the street where the ritualistic killing began with castration and disfigurement. He was dragged through the street before being burned by the crowd.  An estimated 10,000 people died in the coming days.

The riots provoked further military action with sieges being laid on Sommierres, Sancerres and La Rochelle. In this seige of La Rochelle in 1572, the leader, Henry of Anjou was called away, to defend Poland against further Protestant attacks. The resulting Treaty of Boulogne resulted in La Rochelle , Montaubin and Nimes being allowed restricted freedom of worship.  Anjou failed to do what Richelieu did and that was to create a successful barrier into the harbor.

In 1588, Henry III, fearing the power of the Guise family, had  de Guise assassinated. He joined forces with Henry of Navarre who was Protestant. When he was killed, Navarre became king, France’s first Protestant king.  Under Henry, the Huguenots would gain some security under the Edict of Nantes. Freedom of worship was granted to 100 communities across France, particularity in the south. They were also given political independence but they could only worship in private. That political independence was lost when Louis XIII came to the throne in 1610. Their religious freedom was completely lost in 1685 when Louis XIV, France’s absolute monarch, reigned.

Jean Beauchamp, my 7th great grandfather, was born in Nanthieul, Perigord, France in 1579 and died in La Rochelle in 1630 as did his wife, Louise de Lanterna. They would have lived through the Great Siege of La Rochelle, dying just a few years after it was over. They are buried in unmarked graves, no cause of death known at present. They may have even caught a glimpse of “the Red Eminence” as he paraded into the city when it was all over.

Jean and Louise’s only recorded child, Michel, married that same year, a curiosity to me. It is noted at Fichier Origine that his wife Marie Roullet’s parents were married in the Great Temple in La Rochelle. One assumes that Michel would have been Protestant as well.  Marie and Michel had 6 children before they emigrated, 4 of whom came to Montreal, Quebec as pioneers. Before she came in 1559, Marie Dardeyne Beauchamp, had lost an infant, Marie (1658) and a son William, at 6 years (1652). She would have 8 more children in Canada.





A Teachable Frame of Mind

The period of history known as “the Renaissance” opened the door to inquiry, expression and not a little controversy. It had it’s roots in Florence, Italy between 1350 and 1400 AD. among the wealthy who had access to Roman and Greek writing. The idea of “humanism” began to develop. That is, the power of  critical thinking and evidence over acceptance of dogma or superstition. During the Middle Ages, most people felt that hardship and war were their lot in life but gradually the teachings of the great Latin and Greek books gained ground. Simply put, it created a ground for the Protestant reformation.

The Catholic Church had tried but failed to implement it’s own reforms. It continued using the Inquisition as a control against heresy. This was an official court within the church which handed out penalties of torture and death to anyone even suspected of dissent. In many cases it was used to dispose of people who were political enemies.  The most common punishment was burning at the stake. Out of this environment, a few unlikely men rose, Luther being one of them. Another was John Calvin.

Luther was about 25 years old at the time Calvin was born in Noyon, France in 1509, his birth name, Jehan Cauvin. His father, Gerard,  a notary for the church,  intended that he and his 2 brothers should become priests. By age 12, he was already employed as a clerk to the bishop. Under the patronage of a wealthy family,  he studied Latin and then Philosophy until his father decided that studying Law would be more profitable.

At this point he came into contact with a professor who sparked his interest in humanist ideas. He learned Greek in order to read the New Testament and  in 1533, he experienced a “conversion”.  In his description of it he describes God as bringing his mind into a “teachable frame”.  Calvin felt that he was being called to be part of the reform of the church and effectively broke away from it. In the autumn of 1533, one of Calvin’s friends,  a reformer,  gave an address on church reform which was pronounced heretical. Calvin was implicated and had to go into hiding . Eventually he had to leave France after Reformists came under heavy fire for posting placards denouncing the Catholic Mass (the Day of the Placards).

The manner in which ideas spread during these times was largely by publishing pamphlets which were spread around. If you were a theologian, you would write your ideas and publish them. In 1536, Calvin wrote an apologia or an explanation for his beliefs. This became  known as ” The Institutes of the Christian Religion”, which he regularly added to. Later he would set up the organization of the church which would become Presbyterian.

He traveled to Ferrara, Italy where he worked for Princess Renee of France and then returned home to Paris to sort his father’s affairs. He decided he could not live there anymore when it was declared that all people had to decide within six months to remain Catholic (the Treaty of Courcy).  He headed for Strasbourg,  a haven for reformers but had to detour to Geneva because the French army was present.

In Geneva, something significant happened in that Calvin was forced to make a decision by another French reformer, William Farel. Like so many called before him, Calvin just wanted to live quietly and in peace. Farel was having none of it. He demanded that Calvin stay and help the movement in Geneva. Let us say that Farel was able to persuade him. The two worked together until disagreements with the city council arose over bringing uniformity to church services. Calvin and Ferel were asked to leave after protesting the serving of unleavened bread for Eucharist.

On to Strasbourg (1538-41) where Calvin married Idolette de Bure, a widow and continued to revise the Institutes and preach. In Geneva, church attendance began to dwindle because of disagreements with Bern, their supporting city.  When they were asked to return to the Catholic faith, Geneva started to reconsider its expulsion of Calvin and asked him to return. Though this is not what he wanted, he felt the call of duty and agreed to a six month stay. When he returned,  he worked on setting up the actual church, working along side city council, each deciding what powers and duties it would have.  This is something that would never happen in France where royalty was staunchly Catholic. The reformed church also did not enforce celibacy, feeling that it distracted from giving full attention to church duties. Sadly, Idolette had a son prematurely and he died. She died a few years later leaving a vacuum in Calvin’s life.

One of the well known stories about John Calvin is his confrontation with a group of “libertines”. The Libertines, being ultra-humanist, used the idea of being granted “grace” to exempt themselves from church and civil law. One of them was brought to court for disobeying the law against dancing . The council overturned Calvin’s decision against them. When a group of them turned up at a service and approached the table for sacrament, he shouted “These hands you may crush, these arms you may lop off, my life you may take, my blood is yours, you may shed it; but you shall never force me to give holy things to the profaned, and dishonor the table of my God.”  They quickly left. The libertines had among them some very powerful people and this was a great test for Calvin.

Calvin faced another challenge in the person of Michael Servitus, a Spanish physician and theologian. Servitus was on the run from church authorities after he denied the existence of the Trinity. There were letters exchanged between him and Calvin. In fact Servitus had had the nerve to write in the margins of a copy of the Instructions annotating his differences with Calvin’s doctrines. This infuriated Calvin and when Servitus was finally caught and charged he only made a minor effort to have the sentence of burning commuted to beheading.  Some say that there was no scriptural backing for the final decision, a source of controversy to this day.

In 1553, two things happened to further secure the reform in Geneva. A decision was made that the church could continue to decide on excommunication and an uprising of libertines was put down, the leaders were forced to flee the city while the remainder were executed by Calvin. The issue of the libertines was resolved.

In Calvin’s final years, he did much to support the spread of Protestantism. He sheltered refugees from the reign of Mary Tudor in England and helped them build their own church from where they left to spread reform in England and Scotland. He had disagreed with Luther on how the Eucharist was to be viewed. He had set up a grammar school and advanced school which is today known as the College Calvin and Geneva University. To France he sent 100 missionaries funded by the church and tried to help build churches there. What the Puritan was in England, the Covenanter was in Scotland and the Huguenot was in France.  Today, you might call them Calvinists or Presbyterians.

In 1564, Calvin died at age 54.  He was buried in an unmarked grave although a commemorative one was erected in the Cimitierre des Rois , Geneva.  Below, a map showing Geneva in relation to Paris.

Map of Geneva




One Man

Martin Luther, when he posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517, could not have known the impact his actions would have. This, along with the invention of the Gutenberg printing press which allowed him to spread his ideas through pampleteering and later on, his translation of the Bible from Latin to German, set in motion what would become the Protestant Reformation. What started out as a religious movement would eventually become a political one as people started to rebel against the power of the Catholic Church.

When a peasants revolt of 300,000 people broke out in 1525,  Luther sided with royalty, purportedly to keep order but also because he was dependent on them for church support. The revolt was crushed and royalty began to side with the Protestants, one of the first among them was Grand Master Albert Hohenzollern, a Teutonic knight who controlled eastern Prussia. Luther convinced Albert to transform his Prussian holdings into a hereditary duchy under King Sigismund I of Poland, allowing for a continuation of Protestant rule in that country. Albert formed the Duchy of Prussia and the first Lutheran Church.

Some of the tenets of the Lutheran Church were and still are:

  • Man shall live by “faith alone” (sola fide). Actions cannot atone for sin. You are saved by the grace of God alone.
  • Infant baptism is not mandated by the Bible.
  • Man can reach God through Scripture and does not need an intermediary, such as a priest.
  • Although the Lords Supper is upheld, the bread and wine do not literally change into the body and blood of Christ.
  • The sacraments were meant as an aid to the spirituality of the person receiving them.
  • All believers may be redeemed through Christ.
  • The Scriptures are the only guide to life. If it is not in the Bible it is not true.
  • Altars and vestments are to be maintained but there is no set order to liturgical service.

The interior of the church was somewhat austere with emphasis on the pulpit, people stood rather than sat.

European aristocracy did not take long to realize that breaking with the Roman church would have great benefit to them.  They would be able to seize church land, of which the Catholic church owned at least one-third in Europe and of course, the great wealth contained within the monasteries. They would also be able to collect the church taxes. This in turn would make them more powerful in war. In fact, Max Weber, in his book  “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” claims this as the start of modern capitalism.

Whatever, the outcome, Protestantism broke Europe up into many different kingdoms under Christianity. There were many “spin-offs” to Lutheranism, including Calvinism which became dominant in France These differentiations became a source of trouble in themselves. At the extreme were the Anabaptists  (Mennonites) who were for many years persecuted. For now, we will concern ourselves with Calvinism and see how it came to France and affected my ancestors.





Know Thine Enemy Part 2

Disagreement without and within the Catholic church circulated primarily around it’s doctrines or beliefs and teachings. Probably the most disputed was that of the Holy Trinity, the belief that although there is only one God, there are three Persons in Him, the Father, the Son (Christ) and the Holy Spirit. Each is individual but still God.

Regarding sin and salvation, man was born to share his life with and for God but this plan was ruined by Adam’s disobedience. The result, man is born with “original sin”, again a point of contention, leading to disagreement over infant baptism. If a child died without baptism, he could not enter heaven.

Christ (still God) came to earth as a ransom for our sins and those who believe and repent may yet be saved. Again, the concept of a priest mediating between the person and God was a source of disagreement. Roman Catholics do not believe that salvation was complete when Christ died. He appointed apostles to form church communities where people could be “brought to salvation”.

Roman Catholics do not believe that life ends at death but that the spirit goes to heaven, hell or purgatory. When the world ends on Judgement Day, the soul and body will be reunited. Hell is seen as a condition of complete despair and the endless absence of God. If you have rejected God and your sins have not been forgiven (by a priest) this is how you end up, again, a source of controversy.

Next we will look at how the Reformation started and how it came to France. Again, the Huguenots were part of the Reformation in France.

Source for this article-Encyclopedia Brittanica- Roman Catholic article written by Reverend Walter J. Burghardt

Know Thine Enemy

As we see evidence that the family Beauchamp had at least some segment of it who were Protestant, it would be good to know something about how they came to be and what they were fighting against.

The term “Huguenot” was first used in Germany as “ieguenot” or confederate. It later came to be used in Geneva to describe the early Protestants and later the Calvinists. In France, it was used as a derogatory term in combination with various accusations of wrong doing.  The term was also connected to Hugh Capet, first king of the Franks who haunted the town of Tours, France at night while the Huguenots prayed in secret, thus earning them the name of “Huguenots” or llittle Hugos. After a time, the name lost some of its negative connotation to just signify the Protestants. (1) Put in simplest terms, the Protestant Reformation was a “protest” against the abuse of power by the Catholic Church. You often hear the term “Roman Church” or the old term “Romanish” but who were the Catholics and how did they come to power?

The Early Church
The beginnings of the early church can be traced to Palestine where according to the Bible, Christ told the apostles to preach the gospel to all peoples. However, the first Christians were the Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah or saviour. Although the early church separated from Judaism, it accepted the Jewish scriptures as both a record and a guide  leading to Jesus Christ.

Under the leadership of the apostle Paul, whose mission it was to minister to the Gentiles, many churches were established. By the time of his death in 67 AD, Christianity gradually spread from Jerusalem to Antioch, Syria, Alexandria in Egypt and especially, Rome. The Romans however, believed that loyalty to the Emperor involved honouring Roman gods as well as the Emperor. This led to the persecution of the Christians but did not stop the growth and development of Christianity.

Even at this point, (c. 200 AD), there was trouble within the Church itself as different factions developed their own ideas of what Christianity meant. When this countered basic Christian beliefs, they became known as “heresy”, the most significant one known as “Gnosticism“.

The apostle Peter was chosen to settle questions of doctrine and church government. After the apostles died, the church turned to the New Testament as a guide for doctrine (beliefs held and taught by the Church), then they set up the basic orders for the Ministry (bishops, presbyters (later to become priests) and deacons) . Local councils of bishops strengthened the major issues of the Church.

Under Constantine the Great, the converted Roman emperor, Christianity, along with other religions was allowed freedom of worship. Other than pressure from the Arians, the Church grew and was now able to influence civil law and expand its missionary work. In 335, the first council of Catholic bishops met and condemned the teachings of Arius. This period saw the development of great literature and monasticism. It was also the time of Leo I (440-461), who persuaded the Huns and the Vandals to halt their attacks on Italy. Leo emphasized that popes were successors to Saint Peter and thus had supreme authority in the Church. For various reasons, during the 400’s, the eastern churches separated from the west.

The Middle Ages
In 476 AD the western Roman Empire collapsed under German barbarians who were Arians. In 590 AD, Pope Gregory set out to recover Western Europe, using the papacy and monasticism. The papacy, rather than the emperor became the central authority and the building of  monasteries created centres of Christian society. The Benedictine monasteries were established at this time. When Clovis I, king of the Franks, was converted, it stopped the spread of Arianism and brought Gaul, then including Belguim, France and Western Germany into the church. During attacks by the Muslims on western Europe, the Catholic church was a main force in unifying the West.

During the Middle Ages, Charlemagne, the great king of the Franks, became protector of the popes and was thus made Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by Pope Leo III. He laid the  foundations for a civilized western Europe using the ideals of 1) orderly government,  2) religious reform and 3) expansion of the Christian world by conquest and missionary work. (You will note the second ideal of religious reform).The Holy Roman empire consisted chiefly of German and Italian states ruled by German emperors. In the 900’s, France started to show itself as a centre for religious reform when the monks of the abbey in Cluny, France, changed the way the monasteries were run and routed out practices such as “simony” , the buying and selling of church offices and artifacts.

The Catholic popes were extremely wealthy men. Innocent III (1198) was feudal lord over much of Europe. When he called the Lateran Council, he established policy for the church that would last for hundreds of years, including what constituted heresy. This led to the creation of the Inquisition, the heresy court.

In 1309, the pope moved to Avignon, France from Rome. Boniface VIII proclaimed that the nation was subject to the emperor and the emperor was subject to the pope. All people must be subject to the pope to reach salvation.

From 1378 to 1417, the Church became deeply divided over the question of rightful claim to the throne by 3 different men. This became known as the Great Schism. A council of bishops elected Martin V. It was a time of great turbulence and the seed was sewn over the question of papal authority.

During this time as well, the Renaissance started. People began to question the order of things. Temporal existence became the focus of attention and the church began a moral decline. Religious mysticism and different schools of thought arose. In 1438, the Council of Florence reunited some of the eastern churches with the west but this did not last. The Muslims captured Constantinople (now Istanbul), in 1438 and ruled over Eastern Christians until the 1800’s. Out of all this rose the Protestant Reformation.

To Be Continued

Main source for this post: Encyclopedia Britannica-Roman Catholic Church