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The Reaction of the Papacy to French Absolutism 1589-1685

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Kim, Sang Woo
Term Paper, AP European History Class, November 2007

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Henri IV. Issued the Edict of Nantes 1598
III. Richelieu's Conflicts with the Huguenots
III.1 The Peace of Alais
III.2 The Intervention of France in theThirty Year's War
IV. Louis XIV's Religious Policy
IV.1 The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes
IV.2 The Persecution of Jansenists
IV.3 Gallican Liberties
V. Notes
VI. Bbliography

I. Introduction
            In European history, since the early middle ages, kings depended for their coronation (legitimation) on the church, for their political and military authority on the nobility.
            Absolutism is the kind of philosophy that kings rule alone regardless of the intervention of church and the diet (1). Kings tried the religious policy, provoked the religious war to eliminate the power of churches. In addition, kings attempted to reduce the power of the diet through mercantilism by raising their revenues and making themselves independent of the taxes approved by the diet. In this paper, we would talk about the religious and political policy French kings between respectively their ministers 1598 and 1685 pursued to establish their strong royal authority and the papal reaction to it.

II. Toleration of the Huguenots according to the Edict of Nantes 1598-1624
            Policy : Henry IV and his advisor, the Duke of Sully are believed to lay the foundations for absolutism in France. By the period of Henry IV's succession (1589), wars of religion between Catholics and Calvinists (Huguenots) were going on in France. There were 9 wars during the Huguenot wars; Massacre of Vassy in 1562, St. Bartholomew's Day in 1572, the assassination of Duke Henri de Guise by Henry III in 1588 marking major events in them. After King Henri III was killed by the monk Jacques Clement in July 1589, the king Henry the Navarre succeeded to the throne.
            By the time of Henri's succession, it was generally recognized that only a strong personality, independent of faction, could guarantee the unity of the state, even though the unity meant religious toleration for the Protestant minority. Henry guaranteed the Huguenots freedom of conscience and the right to practice their religion publicly in certain prescribed areas of the country. Although the problem of religion was not finally settled by the Edict of Nantes, Henri did succeed in effecting an extended truce during which he could apply himself to the task of restoring the royal position.

            Reaction : Catholics including the pope were very annoyed with the Edict of Nantes. Pope Clement VIII said "This crucifies me," after hearing the Edict (2). However, he should accept the fact that French Protestants gain religious freedom. This did not mean that he simply accepted the existence of Protestantism. He expanded the Index of Forbidden Books and used the Inquisition to have condemned and executed controversial philosopher Giordano Bruno.(1600).

III. Richelieu's Conflicts with the Huguenots

III.1 The Peace of Alais (1629)
            Policy : Henry IV's reign (-1610) was followed by the regency of his widow, Marie de Medicis, who ruled on behalf of their young son Louis XIII. Richelieu first came to the attention of the king in 1614, when he was chosen to present the address of the clergy at the meeting of Estates General. His eloquence won him the notice of Marie de Medicis, who later appointed him her secretary. He became a cardinal in 1622 and gained access to Louis XIII's council in April 1624. Richelieu was intent on securing absolute obedience to the monarchy.
            In order to strengthen royal absolutism, Richelieu began to conflict with the Huguenots. He thought that the Huguenots' right to maintain armed fortresses under the Edict of Nantes and their rapid growth of military and political power weakened the king's position. For this reason Richelieu described the Huguenot organization as a "state within a state," a separate republic that threatened his power just as much as any rival European nation did.
            Protestant rebellions in 1625 and 1627 instigated the cardinal to prepare direct confrontation against the Huguenots. In 1627, the major Huguenot citadel of La Rochelle was attacked by the royal troops. La Rochelle was defended against royal troops under Mayor Jean Guiton in hopes of a rescue by British naval forces. Cardinal Richelieu, however, blocked the harbor with a makeshift dam, eliminating the possibility of British intervention, and waited the surrender of the starving Huguenots. The town finally capitulated in October of 1628. Another royal army attacked Languedoc, where the Huguenot forces were concentrated, and overcame them. The Peace of Alais was concluded in 1629.
            The Peace of Alais allowed the Huguenots to enjoy their religious freedom, but their defensive fortifications were razed, and their military forces were disassembled, bringing their military capabilities to an end. With the revocation of their immunity within the strongholds, the Huguenots were rendered incapable of continuing the rigid structure that had for decades allowed them to expand and cope with the opposition of a stronger Catholic majority. La Rochelle was a rich port city that brought great profit to local merchants through continual trade with the British who, largely Protestant themselves, had supported Huguenot activities in France. La Rochelle's status as a Protestant center meant that many of the merchants who resided there were Huguenots. The loss of the city therefore caused a decrease in profits to many of the key members of the French Protestant movement, further damaging the Huguenots' economic status and chances of regaining political sway in France.

            Reaction : The Church in France, welcomed this Richelieu's religious policy and called the peace of Alais as the Edict of Grace. The Church more and more stimulated by the beneficent influence of the Council of Trent due thanks to the Peace of Alais, opposed Huguenots with vigorous and learned controversialists, with prudent and zealous preachers, such as Sirmond, Labbe, Coton, St. Francis de Sales, Cospean, Lejeune, S?nault, Tenouillet, Coeffeteau, de Berulle, Condren, whose success was manifested in numerous conversions. These conversions took place especially in the higher circles of society; the great lords abandoned Calvinism, which retained its influence only among the middle classes.

III.2 The Intervention of France in the Thirty Years' War
            Policy : The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 had brought a temporary relief in the religious conflict in the German states by recognizing Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Calvinists were still not admitted in this treaty, but Calvinism had subsequently made gains in a number of states.
            In Bohemia, the diet elected Ferdinand of Styria as a king of Bohemia.(1617) Ferdinand was a member of the Habsburg family, and soon became Holy Roman Emperor as Ferdinand II. (1619) Bohemian Calvinists were worried about the election of Ferdinand because he was the ardent supporter of the Catholic Counterreformation. The Bohemian revolt began when two Catholic members of Royal council were thrown from a window (the Defenestration of Prague 1618). The rebels drove out the representatives Ferdinand II and elected a new king called Frederick V. The Protestant Union sided with the Bohemian rebels. Ferdinand II got the support from Maximilian I, the Duke of Bavaria and the leader of the Catholic League. Troops of the Emperor and of Bavaria attacked Bohemia, and eventually won in November 1620 at the Battle of the White Mountain.
            The Bohemian war now escalated into a war between Catholic League and Protestant Union, engulfing the entire Empire. The Protestant Union, aware of the military superiority of the Catholic League, brought in foreign allies, first Denmark (1625-1629), then Sweden (1630-1648). However, Sweden was too poor to finance the campaign against Ferdinand II by herself. France supported Sweden by paying subsidies (1630 and following). Richelieu wanted to undermine the power of Habsburg and Ferdinand II, too, but France in the mid-1630's was fearful of a strong Holy Roman Empire. France had an inadequate supply of men, money and commanders to sustain a long military campaign. France was also out-of-touch with the more modern methods of fighting that were coming to the surface in the Thirty Years War. In this situation, Sweden could provide France with the necessary military expertise, and France could support the finance to Sweden. France signed the Treaty of Compiegne (1635) with Sweden, and France began to intervene directly in the 30 Years War.
            Eventually, France aided Sweden, and Thirty Years War was concluded with the Peace of Westphalia. The Peace of Westphalia expanded the Peace of Augsburg to include Calvinists as well as Catholics and Lutherans.

            Reaction : The outcome of the Peace of Westphalia was very disappointing for Pope Innocent X. He vainly condemned the parts of the agreements which stated the end of the universal role of the Church. in November 1648, He issued the bull Zelo Domus Dei in which he declares as null and void those articles of the Peace of Westphalia which were detrimental to the Catholic religion.

IV Louis XIV.'s Religious Policy

IV.1 The Revovacation of the Edict of Nantes 1685
            Policy : Louis XIV believed that the unity of the state was difficult to make if there two or more churches were tolerated. That is why Louis strengthened the persecution of Protestants. Churches were destroyed, certain professors were unable to contact with the Huguenots, and Protestant children were taken away from their parents and brought up as Roman Catholics. Finally, in 1685, the Edict of Nantes was revoked in order that Louis could claim that he had succeeded in extirpating Protestantism from his realm.

            Reaction : Catholic opinion in France was more or less united in welcoming the revocation of Edict of Nantes. Harlay de Champvallon, the archbishop of Paris and the Francois de La Chaize, the king's Jesuit confessor praised the measure; Bossuet called Louis the new Constantine; Madame de Sevigne considered that it was the most memorable deed that Louis ever did. Abroad, Catholic opinion was muted or even hostile. Pope Innocent XI was reported to have wept at the forcing of consciences.

IV.2 The Persecution of Jansenists
            Policy : Jansenius did not have any purpose to publish his writings, and they were not published while he was alive. His writings were rather clear and orthodox in doctrine. Among his writings, the most primary ones are "Pentateuchus, sive commentarius in quinque libros Mosis" (Louvain, 1639), "Analecta in Proverbia Salomonis, Ecclesiasten, Sapientiam, Habacuc et Sophoniam" (Louvain, 1644); "Tetrateuchus, seu commentarius in quatuor Evangelia" (Louvain,1639). (3)
            The book that brought stir in French society was a volume entitled "Alexandri Patricii Armacani Theologi Mars Gallicus seu de justitia armorum regis Galliae libri duo" that Jansenius published in 1635, under the pseudonym of Armacanus, This writing was a bitter satire against the foreign policy of Richelieu, which was about the Christian nation constantly allying themselves with the Protestants, in Holland, Germany, and elsewhere, in order to destroy the House of Austria.
            The same zeal for uniformity made Louis attack the Jansenists. The theological position of the Jansenists is difficult to define; but Louis confirmed that Jansenists took up an unorthodox position that threatened the unity of the state.

            Reaction : In 1653, Pope Innocent X condemned five propositions from Jansen's doctrine, but the movement grew in strength with notable adherents, including Jean Francois-Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz, and the great mathematician Blaise Pascal. In 1705, Pope Clement XI published the bull Vineam Domini, (4) which further condemned the writings of Jansen; but the archbishop of the Paris, Louis Antoine Cardinal de Noailles, appeared ready to lead the Jansenist forces in opposition to the pope. Under the influence of his confessor, Pere Michel Le Tellier, Louis decided to ask the pope for another formal condemnation of the creed. Finally, in 1713, the famous bull Unigenitus was promulgated. (5)

IV.3 Gallican Liberties
            France had a long tradition of Gallicanism. This was a movement with two distinct strands: The first is Episcopal Gallicanism, which stressed the rights of French bishops (as opposed to the pope) in church government, and the second is Judicial or Royal Gallicanism, which emphasized the powers of the secular authorities (especially the crown).
            The accession of Louis XIV. (1661) marked a new era in the history of the Gallican Liberties. He was young, headstrong, anxious to extend the territories of France, and determined to assert his own supreme authority at all costs. With Louis XIV. firmly seated on the French throne, and with the Jansenist party intriguing in the Parliament of Paris, which had shown itself hostile to papal claims, it was not difficult to predict that the relations with the Holy See were likely to become unfriendly, and the Gallicanism would develop further.

            Policy : Church Louis XIV. issued a royal mandate (1673-75), claiming for himself the Regalia in all dioceses of France. By the term Regalia was meant the right of the King of France to hold the revenues of vacant Sees and abbacies, and to appoint to benefices during the vacancy. Such a privilege was undoubtedly bad for religion, and though it was tolerated for certain grave reasons by the second General Council of Lyons (1274), a decree of excommunication was leveled against anyone, prince or subject, cleric or layman, who would endeavor to introduce it or to abet its introduction into those places where it did not already exist. Many of the provinces of France had not been subject to the Regalia hitherto, but in defiance of the law of the Church Louis XIV asserted for himself the Regalia in all dioceses of France, and commanding bishops who had not taken the oath of allegiance to take it immediately and to have it registered. The king, regardless of protests, proceeded to appoint to benefices in their dioceses on the ground that they had not registered their oath of allegiance.

            Reaction : Bishops Pavillon of Alet and Caulet of Pamiers protested against this royal encroachment and in consequence they were persecuted by the king. All the efforts of Innocent XI to induce King Louis to respect the rights of the Church were useless. In 1682, Louis XIV convoked an Assembly of the French Clergy which, on 19 March, adopted the four famous articles, known as "Declaration du clerge français" (6). These were,
      (1) That Saint Peter and his successors have received jurisdiction only over spiritual things. Kings are not subject to them in temporal matters, nor can the subjects of kings be released from their oath of allegiance by the Pope.
      (2) That the plenitude of power in spiritual things by the Holy See does not contradict the decrees of the fourth and fifth sessions of the Council of Constance, which decrees, having been passed by a General Council and approved by the Pope, were observed by the Gallican church.
      (3) That the apostolic authority of the Roman Church must be exercised in accordance with the canons inspired by the Holy Ghost, and with the rules, constitutions, and customs of the Gallican Church.
      (4) That though the Pope has the chief part in determining questions of faith, and though his decrees have force in the entire Church and in each particular church, yet his decisions are not irreformable, at least until they are approved by the verdict of the entire Church. Innocent annulled the four articles in his rescript of 11 April, 1682, and refused his approbation to all future episcopal candidates who had taken part in the assembly.


(1)      KMLA course in Modern European History : Absolutism, 1660-1790, narrativces
(2)      Article Edict of Nantes, from Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 4 p.360
(3)      Article Jansenism, from Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 8 pp 310-312
(4)      Article France in the Early 17th century, in Encyclopedia Britannica pp 481-486
(5)      ibid.
(6)      Article Gallicanism, in Encyclopedia Britannica Vol.7 p 418


Note : websites quoted below were visited in October-December 2007.
1.      Article : France in the Early 17th century, in Encyclopaedia Britanica, 15th edition, Micropaedia Vol.4 pp.481-486
2.      Article Edict of Nantes, in Catholic Encyclopedia, published 1910, Vol.4 pp360-362.
3.      Article Hugenots, in Catholic Encylcopedia published in 1910 Vol 7 pp250-252
4.      Article Jansenius and Jansenism, in Catholic Encylopedia, published in 1910, Vol8 pp310-312,
5.      French Absolutism, from Dr. Sanderson's History Courses,
6.      The Rise of Bourbon Absolutism: Henri IV, Richelieu and Louis XIII (1598-1643), by Jeremy Popkin.
7.      One faith, one law, one king ? : Louis XIV, Gallicanism and the Protestants, by R.J. Bonney,
8.      Richelieu, cardinal and duke of (1585-1642), from Web Gallery of Art,
9.      Pope Innocent X., from A Rome Art-Lover's Webpage
10.      KMLA course in Modern European History Narratives : Absolutism, 1660-1790,
11.      Article Gallicanism, in Encyclopedia Britanica, 13th edition, Micropaedia Vol.7 pp418
12.      Jotham Parsons The Church in the Republic: Gallicanism & Political Ideology in Renaissance France, Washington, D.C. The Catholic University of America Press, 2004"

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