This is the first of eleven themed epigrams on the St Bartholomew's Day Massacres that were first published in Melville's Carmen Mosis of 1573/4 (see introduction to d2_MelA_005 for further details). The 'martyrs' here are the French Protestants slaughtered during the massacres which began in Paris on the eve of the Feast of St Bartholomew in 1572, when Protestant and Catholic leaders alike were gathered in the city for the wedding celebrations of the Protestant Henri de Navarre to Charles IX's sister, Princess Marguerite de Valois. The wedding itself was part of an attempt, spearheaded by the king and his mother, Catherine de Medici, to foster reconciliation between the two religious factions. On 22 August, a botched assassination attempt was made against Gaspard de Coligny, admiral of France and military leader of the Huguenots (see d2_MelA_018). Coligny had 4,000 troops stationed outside Paris, and the royal council feared reprisal in the form of a Protestant assault against the city. Sometime during the night of 23-24 August, at a meeting of the royal council, a decision was made to organize a pre-emptive strike against all Huguenot leaders resident in the town. Though who proposed this course of action will never be known with certainty, it is unlikely (as Protestant propaganda reported) that the decision was solely taken by Charles IX, or that he was pushed into it by his mother. The king's Swiss guard and the bodyguards of the Duke of Anjou - about 100 men in total - were dispatched to carry out the assassinations under cover of darkness. However, the commotion triggered a wave of spontaneous and horrific slaughter of Protestants by the Catholic populace which lasted for three days. Barbara Diefendorf, Natalie Davis and other social historians have convincingly argued that the scale and itensity of the violence, often carried out with religious rituals of purification such as burning or drowning, was an attempt by Catholics to cleanse the French body politic of the Huguenot pollution that had afflicted it since the early sixteenth century. From Paris, the violence spread to other urban centres in France and continued intermittently until early October 1572, resulting in the brutal deaths of thousands of Huguenot men, women and children, including the Protestant leadership. See Mack P. Holt, The French Wars of Religion 1562-1629 (Cambridge, 1995); R. J. Knecht, The French Wars of Religion 1559-1598 (New York/London, 1989 et seq.); Barbara B. Diefendorf, Beneath the Cross: Catholics and Huguenots in Sixteenth-Century Paris (Oxford, 1995); Natalie Zemon Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France (Stamford, CT, 1975); and Robert M. Kingdon, Myths about the St Bartholomew's Day Massacres 1572-1576 (Cambridge, MA/London, 1988). Metre: elegiac couplets.
Ad novissimos Galliae martyres, 1572
Ad novissimos Galliae martyres, 1572
Qua Rhodanus rapidis, et Arar clementibus undis,
qua Liger, et tortum Sequana sulcat iter:
et qua sanguineo fluctu Garumna Pyrenen 1
linquit, et infami Nerea tingit aqua:
excussae vi multa animae: mactataque ferro,
truncaque raptatis membra cadaveribus.
Vosne solo deleta? Polo dignata perenne
nomina? Vosne pati vulnera? Vosne crucem?
Illustres animae: caelestia pignora, nusquam
caeli porta patet nobiliore via.
To the newest French martyrs, 1572
Where the Rhône, a and the Saône, with calm, flowing waves, where the Loire, and the Seine plough a twisted route: and where with a bloody flood the Garonne leaves the Pyrenees, and stains Nereus' water with infamy: souls have been driven out with much violence: their corpses destroyed,and their broken limbs mangled with the sword. Have you been wiped out from the earth? Have your names been deemed perpetually worthy of heaven? Are you to suffer the whipping blows? Are you to suffer the cross? Illustrious spirits: heavenly symbols, nowhere does the gate of heaven stand open in a more noble way.