1535: Six Protestants for the Affair of the Placards

Add comment January 21st, 2013 Headsman

The Affair of the Placards was the September 11 of the early French Reformation when the overnight posting of anti-Catholic placards sent the polity off the rails, claimed six victims on this date in 1535.

The formerly indulgent Renaissance-king Francis I was obliged by this late-1534 effusion of propagandizing to dissociate violently from heretical tolerance.

And maybe that would have been that. But the first placard incident was repeated by a follow-up posting on the night of Jan. 12-13 of an anti-sacramental pamphlet by Antoine Marcourt — the anthrax mailings to the hijacked planes, as it were — charging (French) that the Catholic “Mass has plunged half the world into an abyss of public idolatry.”

Francis flipped out. He closed bookstores and suppressed publishing. “One does not argue with heretics,” the Sorbonne agreed. What, do you want the terrorists to win?

So on this date in 1535, a grand Catholic procession — representing all the city’s guilds, all its religious orders, all its holy relics, and all its princes of the blood, with Francis himself modestly carrying a penitential taper to absolve his capital — wound through the city, punctuated by the torching of six accused Protestants.

At the ensuing feast, the king announced his intention to destroy heresy.

The procession of January 1535, with the inclusion of the sacrament, the number of holy objects transported, and the involvement of so many notables, was unprecedented. The elaborate character of the ritual is a good indication of the seriousness with which the authorities viewed this most recent evidence of the inclusion of heresy into French territory. The posting of the placards was regarded as a pollution of the king’s realm, the perceived danger being that the disease contaminating and “infecting some of his subjects” would multiply, undermining the very constitution of the social body … An attack upon the holy sacrament, according to the logic of the symbolism employed in the procession, presents a direct threat to the sacral character of the community, to the nation’s well-being, and hence amounts to an oblique attack on the person of the sovereign. Given the close association established between the sacrament and the monarch, it is no wonder that those implicated in the affair of the placards were regarded as being guilty not only of heresy but also of lese-majeste. (Source)

And maybe early modern France had a point with that weird old sacred-monarch stuff. The very same date two and a half centuries later saw a Parisian mob which had clearly lost any sense of the sacral sovereign behead the king himself.

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1535: Etienne de la Forge, John Calvin’s friend

Add comment February 16th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1535, as a 25-year-old religious dissident named John Calvin fled Paris, the merchant who had hosted his circle’s Protestant salons was reduced to ashes in Paris.

Though France would ultimately remain Catholic, the Protestant Reformation found rich soil and enjoyed a measure of early official tolerance for reasons of statecraft.

But a sharp crackdown was provoked when Protestants engineered the placement of anti-Catholic posters in several towns during a single night in October 1534 — the so-called Affair of the Placards.

This spelled the end of the circle of dissidents who met at the Rue Saint-Martin.* Young Calvin high-tailed it out of town — a period of wandering and living incognito that would wash him up on the shores of Lake Geneva — but the owner of that Rue Saint-Martin house, Etienne de la Forge (aka Stephanus Forgeus) was denounced to the authorities.

The date for this execution comes from The Century of the Renaissance, a public domain book available free from Google. It’s also backed in the roster of execution dates from Michelet’s Histoire de France. This looks to me as if it comes from primary documentation, but Feb. 15 is sometimes also reported.

* Calvin apparently had an appointment during this period in Paris to meet a scholar he would later execute, Michael Servetus, but the tete-a-tete never came off.

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1534: Barthélemi Milon, for the Affair of the Placards

2 comments November 13th, 2009 Headsman

On this date* in 1534, a crippled shoemaker’s son went to the stake … the harbinger of many a pyre that would swallow many a French soul in the internecine struggle over religion that lay ahead.

A relatively chilled-out start to the Protestant Reformation under the tolerant King Francis I had the moderate reformers thinking go-along, get-along.

But churchbound Frenchmen and -women on Sunday, Oct. 18 in Paris and a number of towns around France found that someone had engineered the simultaneous posting of incendiary anti-Catholic placards denouncing the “idolatrous rite” of mass. In an ominous breach of security, one was even left outside the monarch’s own bedchamber.

The Affaire des Placards was a public relations master stroke by any standard … and it got Catholic France up in arms against the heretics in its midst. Overnight, every evangelical had become a terrorist.

[R]umors spread like wildfire throughout the city. Some said that the heretics were going to burn down the churches and massacre the faithful during mass; others that the Louvre would be sacked. Foreigners, especially those who spoke German, were targeted by frightened Parisians, and a Flemish merchant was lynched by a mob.

Many with the means and the prudence fled; it was this event drove John Calvin from Paris to Switzerland, there to root out heresies of his own.

Those that stayed saw several of their number burn.

Milon (didactic French link), paralyzed from the waist down, was the first. He had been found with the treasonable poster in his possession.

As the martyrology filled in the years ahead and France hurtled towards the Wars of Religion that would shape the 16th century, the Affair of the Placards in retrospect came to mark** a decisive turning point for the House of Valois towards an ultimately self-defeating violent repression of Protestantism.

This affair in the context of its time is treated in the free (and Protestant) History of the rise of the Huguenots of France.

* Some sources (this one French) give November 12 as Milon’s execution date.

** Perhaps somewhat glibly; the state’s wavering policies on the day’s religious conflict tracked the everyday vicissitudes of statecraft — competing factions in the court; competing geopolitical priorities abroad.

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