15 APRIL 1916, Page 15




Is the very interesting and instructive essay with which Mr Bodley has prefaced the English translation of M. Batiffore Century of the Renaissance, he draws attention both to the alleged ignorance of French history which prevails in England, and to the paucity of English works dealing with the subject. In proof of the ignorance, Mr. Bodloy alludes to the fact that, in the 0011FS0 of a House of Lords debate on the Parlia- ment Bill in 1910, Lord Morley stated that the "Day of Dupes," which constituted an episode in Richelieu's time, occurred during the French Revolution, and he expresses surprise because none of the Peers present, when the statement was made, appear to have been better informed than Lord Morley. Mr. Bodley has done an involuntary, but perfectly excusable, injustice to the historical knowledge possessed by the House of Lords. As a matter of fact, the mistake was noticed at the time, and Lord Morley's attention was drawn to it on the morning following the debate, with the result that he wrote a letter to the Times correcting his error. The inadequacy of English books dealing with French history is certainly to be deplored. There is not even a good English history of the French Revolution. Carlyle's rhapsodical work, in spite of its unquestionable shortcomings, is, indeed, highly instructive, but it may be regarded rather as a philosophical treatise intended to show bow an inexorable Nemesis dogs the footsteps of human folly than as a history properly so called.

It is greatly to be hoped that Mr. Bodley's wish will be realized, and that, as a result of the present war, an interest in the past history of France will be stimulated on this side of the Channel. There are, indeed, some special reasons why that interest should be evoked. The theatre of war, henceforth hallowed for all time by the countless graves of England's sons of every degree who have fallen in defending the soil of France from barbarous attack, is replete with localities, now mentioned daily in the English Press, which are closely associated with the past history, not only of France herself, but of the whole of Europe. It was at St. Quentin that the Huguenots met with one

• Ths Century of the Renaissance. By Louis BatIlTol. Translated from the French by Elsie Finnimore Buckley. London: William Balnemann. Va. Id. neLl

of their greatest reverses, to the joy of Philip II., who thereupon built the Escurial in gridiron shape in honour of St. Lawrence, under whose patronage the victory was supposed to have been won. It was at Cambrai that the League against the Venetians was signed in 1508, and that, in 1529, Louise of Savoy and Margaret of Austria concluded the arrangement known as the "Ladies' Peace." It was at Cambrai

also that Fenelon, to escape the storm raised by his Mazimes des Saints, retired to write, but without any intention of publishing, the work on

which his posthumous fame principally rests. His Egeria, Madame Guyon, was interned at Meaux until convinced by Bossuet of the error of her ways. "The Meaux Cathedral has now," Mr. Bodley says," a new title to fame since the first anniversary of the battle of the Marne was celebrated at the high altar under circumstances not anticipated by the Eagle of Meaux, when Mass was sung by a gallantLientenant on leave from active service, who in civil life was a Jesuit Father." Arras, the birthplace of Robespierre, is, from an ethnological point of view, remotely connected with England, for some of its inhabitants, the Atrebates, of whom frequent mention is made in Caesar's Commentaries, migrated to this country and settled in the valley of the Thames. In the immediate neighbourhood of Guinea, now swarming with khaki- clad British soldiers, Henry VIII. and Francis I. exchanged, amidst the gorgeous foolery of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, promises of friendship which were scarcely less hollow and insincere than those given by the latter monarch to Charles V. in order to escape from his Spanish prison.

Noyon was the birthplace of that gloomy fanatic Calvin, whose judicial murder of the Spanish doctor Serveto did not justify, but in some degree excused, the persecution which his co-religionists had to suffer from those Roman Catholics who were animated by a spirit no less fanatical than his. La Fontaine, in his early youth, studied for the priesthood at Reims, the shattered remains of whose noble Cathedral will ever constitute a convincing proof to posterity of German vandalism.

Few periods can vie with the interest excited by the history of the sixteenth century. The whole of Europe was in travail. The newly invented art of printing had rendered learning accessible to all. Columbus, by discovering a new world, had enlarged the views of mankind. The researches of Copernicus had revolutionized the ideas previously current as regards the framework of the universe. The Ottoman Turks, after the capture of Constantinople, assimilated all the worst vices of Byzan- tinism, unwisely expelled from their midst the Greeks, whose precept and example might perhaps have eventually led to Turkey being admitted into the comity of civilized nations, and thus began that world drama of whose final act the present generation is a witness. The representatives of Greek learning became the heralds of the Renais- sance and the tutors of the rest of Europe. The new learning was bitterly opposed by the Church. "What," a priest indignantly asked, "could be said for a ruffian who translated Herodotus ? " Luther, in the words of Erasmus, "hatched the fighting cock" of which he had himself laid the egg, and commenced that campaign which was to undermine the very foundations of ecclesiasticism. It was under such auspices that the contest between mediaevalism and modernity com- menced. The first result was to give an immense impulse to art and learning. Morality lagged behind. In the conduct of the affairs of nations, duplicity was regarded as the highest art of the statesman. The annals of the times record a succession of ruthless massacres. Assassination became a recognized instrument of government. Every premature or unexpected death of an important personage was attributed to the use of poison One of the most singular circumstances connected with this period is the commanding influence exercised by women in the field of politics. But they were women of a very different type from those whose features live in the portraits of Lely, or from the Pompadours and Du Barrys of a later period in France. Diane de Poitiers undoubtedly exercised a great influence over her youthful admirer, Henry II. Brantome awards the highest praise to her. Miss Sichel, in her Women and Men of the French Renaissance, scouts the idea that she was the King's mistress; neither, although M. Batiffol speaks doubtfully on the point, is it incon- ceivable, considering the great disparity of age between the man and the woman, that Miss Sichers view is correct. Catherine de Medicis, although as a neglected wife she naturally hated her rival, said that "her position was altogether honourable." But Diane was less typical of the times in which she lived than other contemporary women. Mary Stuart may perhaps have used some feminine wiles to establish her sway over the hearts of men, but the minds and dispositions of Jeanne D'Albret, Catherine de Medicia, and Elizabeth of England were cast in an eminently masculine mould. They ruled, or sought to rule, by sheer strength of character and force of will. Of the fiery Jeanne, d'Aubigne said : "She was a great Queen, who had nothing feminine about her except her sex. Her whole soul was absorbed by virile interests, and she had a heart that was undaunted by adversity."

Two circumstances dominated the political history of France during the sixteenth century. The first was that, on the death of Louis XI. in 1483, his successors abandoned the wise and cautious policy of that unsympathetic but singularly astute monarch. They were intoxicated by what M. Batiffol calls the "smoke and glory of Italy." Charles VIII. conceived the mad project of acquiring possession of Naples with a view ultimately to advancing to Constantinople. His Italian policy was continued by Louis X_II., who succeeded to the throne in 1498. That frivolous King and highly incompetent peKticiaa, Francis L

(1515-47), a knowledge of whose character the present generation derives largely from Le Roi s'4mu8e and from Verdi's opera of Rigoletto, laid claim to Milan by reason of the rights acquired from his marriage

to Louis XII.'s daughter, Claude, whose name still survives in the French for "greengages." Undaunted by the disaster of Pavia, and heedless of the solemn promises given to Charles V., he continued the fatal policy of his predecessors till the day of his death. It was not until, during the reign of Henry IL, the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis was signed in 1559, that the rulers of France at last learnt wisdom and abandoned all idea'; of territorial extension in Italy.

It was, indeed, high time to pay exclusive attention to the domestic affairs of France, for shortly after the French Government was relieved

of the Italian burden the serious of religious wars broke out which were to torment the country, until finally, in 1593, Henry IV came to the conclusion that "Paris valait hien une messe," and shortly afterwards gave eighty-seven years of peace to France by the issue of the statesman- like Edict of Nantes.

In the days of Francis I., who was himself inclined to toleration, Lutheranism, in the eyes of a large number of Frenchmen, merely meant the right to criticize Roman Catholicism, but this indulgent phase of thought lasted but a very short time. The idea of toleration was hateful alike to Roman Catholics and Protestants. A conversation which took place, in 1586, between Catherine de Medicis and the Vicomte de Turenne, Henry of Beam's envoy, affords the keynote to the sanguinary politics of the period. "The King," Catherine said, "will have but one religion in France" ; to which the envoy replied : "We are of the same mind, Madam, but it must be our religion."

What was the part played by Catherine de Medicis during all this stormy period ? Did she really second the efforts of the statesmanlike Repaid to ensure religious toleration for all alike, or was she a fellow.

conspirator of the fanatical Alva, and did she merely play with the Hugnenota and use them as a counterpoise to the influence of that "brood of false Lorraine," who were denounced in Macaulay's spirited verses on the battle of Ivry ? Did she instigate the attempted murder of Coligny, which was the immediate cause of the St. Bartholomew Massacre ? How far was she responsible for that ruthless deed of shame Was she an accessory to the murder of Henri de Guise, or did Henry keep his mother in ignorance of the plot ? All these questions have been hotly debated for more than three centuries. By some she is still regarded as "an indefatigable peacemaker," and is wholly acquitted

of the numerous crimes laid to her charge. This is the view adopted by Colonel Young in his exhaustive history of the Medici family. By others she has been looked upon as the incarnation of all the vices of the age in which she lived. M. Lavisse holds that she was personally responsible for the attempt on Coligny's life, and gives the name of the hireling assassin. Mr. Bodley thinks that she encouraged Charles IX. to countenance the massacre of St. Bartholomew, and connived at the

murder of Henri de Guise. The whole truth can never be known. The best sources of information of the events of this period are the despatches of the Venetian envoys then resident at Paris. Unfortu- nately, those which deal with all the incidents of the St. Bartholomew Massacre are not forthcoming. It will, however, repay the historical student to read what- M. Batiffol has to say on these subjects. He pronounces no very positive verdict, but his opinions generally appear to lean to the side of judging Catherine's conduct with leniency. There is deep pathos in the fact which he records that when, on January 5th, 1589, her eventful life came to a close, the Parisians "paid no more heed to it than they would have done to the death of a goat, and declared that if her body were brought to Saint-Denis they would throw it out into the gutter."

Few Englishmen probably know that an interesting relic of this much- Wended and violently vituperated lady exists in this country. The wealthy Italian, who was always regarded as a bourgeoise by the French nobility, brought with her from her native country some pearls of great value. On the occasion of the marriage of Francis IL to Mary Stuart, Catherine gave these pearls to her daughter-in-law. They were eventually appropriated by Queen Elizabeth, and now adorn the crown of the Kings of England. CROMER.