1655: Massacre of Waldensians

On this date in 1655, Catholic forces under the Duke of Savoy carried out a notorious massacre of Waldensians* in the Piedmont.

This interesting, excommunicate sect had persisted for centuries in those hard-to-reach places in Alpine foothills, intermittently ignored and hunted. After Martin Luther, many Protestants inclined to see them as a proto-Reformation movement, or even a counter-papal apostolic succession reaching back to ancient Christianity.

At any rate, they sure weren’t Catholic.

And our friend the Duke decided — perhaps piqued by the murder of a missionary Catholic priest, or for whatever other reason — to mount one of those heresy-extirpating sorties and make them Catholic in 1655.

On April 17, the Marquis of Pianezza appeared with an overwhelming force of mixed Piedmontese, French, and Irish** troops. They conducted a few skirmishes, then made nice with the Waldensian civic leaders and induced them to quartering their troops temporarily further to some expedient pretext.

Alas! alas! these poor people were undone. They had received under their roof the executioners of themselves and their families. The first two days, the 22d and 23d of April, passed in peace, the soldiers sitting at the same table, sleeping under the same roof, and conversing freely with their destined victims …

At last the blow fell like a thunderbolt. At four of the clock on the morning of the 24th April the signal was given from the Castle of La Torre. But who shall describe the scenes that followed? On the instant a thousand assassins began the work of death …

Little children were torn from the arms of their mothers, and dashed against the rocks; or, more horrible still, they were held betwixt two soldiers, who, unmoved by their piteous cries and the sight of their quivering limbs, tore them up into two halves. Their bodies were then thrown on the highways and the fields. Sick persons and old people, men and women, were burned alive in their own houses; some were hacked in pieces; some were bound up in the form of a ball, and precipitated over the rocks or rolled down the mountains … Some were slowly dismembered, and fire applied to the wounds to staunch the bleeding and prolong their sufferings; some were flayed alive; some roasted alive; others were disembowelled; some were horribly and shamefully mutilated, and of others the flesh and brains were boiled and actually eaten by these cannibals.

Source, whose atrocity accounts channel those in this French tome

Without doubting the capacity of man’s inhumanity to man, the cannibalism charge reminds that we’re dealing with propaganda alongside historiography. And what great propaganda — like, babies-torn-from-incubators great.

Thumbnails (click for a larger, disturbing view) of selected images of this date’s atrocities from Samuel Morland’s The History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piedmont

And there’s little doubt as to the overall savagery of the affair, which could well have become the opening salvo in a full-scale sectarian cleansing campaign. (A later addendum to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs narrates the ensuing Piedmontese armed struggle, petering out before any definitive resolution in the field.)

Outrage at this hecatomb spread in Protestant Europe — which would also refer to the day’s doings as the “Bloody Easter,” since it corresponded with the eve of that celebration as reckoned by the Julian Calendar (source).

It was felt especially in Protectorate England, which intervened diplomatically.

A “day of solemn fasting and humiliation” was promulgated in Albion, along with collections for the relief of the survivors. Oliver Cromwell personally put £2,000 into the kitty.

More importantly, he dispatched diplomat Samuel Morland† to force the House of Savoy to lay off the persecution; in fact, he threatened to disrupt high statecraft between England and France unless the French twisted arms on behalf of the Waldensians.

Written correspondence for Morland’s diplomatic tour addressed to Louis XIV of France and various other continental potentates, as well as a fiery bit of oratory that Morland delivered to Savoy, all seem to have originated from the pen of Republican scribbler John Milton — the future author of Paradise Lost.‡

Milton, for whom the whole thing was more than just a day job, was further moved to put his umbrage at the slaughter into sonnet form:

Avenge O Lord thy slaughter’d Saints, whose bones
Lie scatter’d on the Alpine mountains cold,
Ev’n them who kept thy truth so pure of old
When all our Fathers worship’t Stocks and Stones,

Forget not: in thy book record their groanes
Who were thy Sheep and in their antient Fold
Slayn by the bloody Piemontese that roll’d
Mother with Infant down the Rocks. Their moans

The Vales redoubl’d to the Hills, and they
To Heav’n. Their martyr’d blood and ashes sow
O’re all th’ Italian fields where still doth sway

The triple Tyrant: that from these may grow
A hunder’d-fold, who having learnt thy way
Early may fly the Babylonian wo.

* The Waldensians in question here are interchangeably known as the Vaudois for their geographic region, actually above the Piedmont and abutting the Swiss region also known as Vaud. (These pages have visited the latter.)

** Fresh from being on the receiving end of another infamous massacre.

† Morland is more regarded for his post-Restoration labors as an inventor; he created an early calculator and internal combustion engine.

‡ The speech in particular is not definitively attributed; see Robert Fallon, “Milton in Government: Denmark and Savoy,” Milton Quarterly, May 1989.

On this day..

13 thoughts on “1655: Massacre of Waldensians

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  2. The Roman Church has killed over 100 million Christians. I have seen many of the bones and skulls under Rome in the catacombs. That church has not changed I warn you. The Bible Sabbath is Saturday God’s day of rest, Sunday is the papal sabbath. Important? Very important!!

  3. The author doubts the veracity of the recorded history. There are the first person accounts of this in the archives of Cambridge University. It would be wise not to try to re-write the first person accounts of what actually happened, to suit one’s own whims. In the book, readily available, The History of the Waldenses, by J. A. Wylie, 1860, it quotes the two books, written in 1658 and 1669, which give these autobiographical accounts. Oliver Cromwell, who declared a national day of fasting in England over these atrocities, sent his Ambassador, Sir Samuel Morland, who visited the Vaudois’ valleys, and came away horror struck at what he saw. He said, “If the tyrants of all times and ages were alive again, they would doubtless be ashamed to find that nothing barbarous nor inhuman, in comparison of these deeds, had ever been invented by them. …”. Please, sir, do not speak of the one responsible for this as “our friend”. And do not try to re-write history according to your liking.

  4. Even more interesting is the description of the horrors inflicted against Children and Babies. The Irish Rebellion claimed babies ripped from wombs and thrown to dogs, pluse a whole load of other horrors.
    Then you have almost the same description of the terrible crimes committed by Cromwell’s men.
    Then we come to the Waldensians and their descriptions comply comepletely to the ‘Manual of Massacre’
    It makes you think that they all used the same publicist!

    It’s a bit like the seaside Photos with a cut out for your face to go in. The massacre remains the same and the locations and people differ.

    Something that often bothers me is the lack of Archaeology. Where are the Bodies hidden, and, if you were the conqueror, why bother to hide them?

    3rd September 1650. Battle of Dunbar. A win for Cromwell.
    Same day, Venice. The English Ambassador reports that Cromwell has been defeated and King Charles is marching to the Border with 50,000 men to take back his Throne. Lying sod!

  5. “And what great propaganda — like, babies-torn-from-incubators great.”

    The roots of the Holocaust Denial is the Denial of the Catholic massacres. Cahna Bahl is the origin of the world “cannibal”, the priests of Baal burning and eating flesh of babies. Catholic priests are descendants of the Cahna Baal.

  6. And now I’m I’m reminded again how the idea of there being a God is nuts in itself. Grow up people. Hundreds of years on and we’re still suffering from this mumbo-jumbo? Even the idea of a deity-based religion is horrible, let alone the reality.

    • Humans putting other humans to death in horrible ways proves there is no God? That’s interesting logic.

      Humans don’t need a belief in God to practice the most heinous crimes against his fellow man. Just read of Soviet Russia or Red China and see that more have been killed under the banner of atheism than under any religion.

  7. Now I Know why the scripture says “Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” (Psalm 137:8-9)

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