A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century

By J. W. Allen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
THE CATHOLIC LEAGUE AND ITS ALLIES

§ 1. THE LEAGUE

FROM 1562 to 1572, Catholic absolutists and Catholic believers in limited or constitutional monarchy, alike saw the Huguenots as rebels and separatists, in spite of their vehement denial of these charges. The division of parties in France appeared, superficially, to be simple. On one side were the Catholics, on the other the adherents of the 'reformed religion'. For the most part the Catholic pamphleteers of this first period of civil war maintained a divine right and non-resistance doctrine which falls to be explained later. But after 1572 and still more completely after the death of Charles IX in 1574, the Catholic party split up. A large section of the Catholic royalist party had always been far more Catholic than royalist. Every royal edict under which a partial and localized toleration of Protestantism had been formally established, had been denounced from Catholic pulpits from 1560 onwards. Under Henry III those of the Catholics who had all along seen in the 'wars of religion' religious wars, developed theories of popular or of democratic sovereignty and maintained a right of rebellion against impious and 'tyrannical' princes.

The definitive starting-point of this development was the formation of the united League of 1576. It was a matter of course that it was joined by very many to whom religious feeling was a counter in a game and by many whose objects were in no sense religious. It is true that its formation was the work of men who were certainly not religious enthusiasts. But it would be a mistake to regard the Catholic League as in the main, or even to any very large extent, a mere result of the ambition and influence of the Duke of Guise. The Duke was a man of great capacity and strength of character, bold and wary, astute and unflinching. 'Lui seul est toute la Ligue' wrote of him, in 1588, the most clear-sighted and fair-minded of all the writers of that troubled time.1 But the Duke could not make bricks without

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1
Excellent et libre Discours sur l'état présent de la France, 1588. By Michel Hurault, a grandson of Chancellor L'Hôspital. It contains far the best contemporary appreciation of the situation that I have come across.

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