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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 2 of 2)

The Cordeliers decapitated his portraits


Since

the murder of the Guises, Paris had been a caldron of seething excitement. The whole population, "_avec douleur et gemissements bien grands_," had assisted at the funeral service for "the Martyrs," and the baptism of the posthumous son of the slaughtered Duke had been a civic ceremony. The Bull "monitory" of Pope Sixtus V., posted up in Rome on May 24th, which directed Henry III. on pain of excommunication to release the imprisoned prelates within ten days, and to appear either personally or by proxy within sixty days before the Curia to answer for the murder of a Prince of the Church, had fanned the excitement. Almost every day the Parisians saw processions of students, of women, of children, defiling through their streets. They marched from shrine to shrine, with naked feet, clad only in their shirts, defying the cold of winter. Parishioners dragged their priests out of bed to head nocturnal processions. The hatred of Henry III. became almost a madness. The Cordeliers decapitated his portraits. Parish priests made images of the King in wax, placed them on their altars, and practised on them magical incantations, in the hope of doing deadly harm to the living man. Bands of children carried lighted candles, which they extinguished to cries of, "_God extinguish thus the race of the Valois._"

Among the most excited members of this fevered throng was a young Jacobin monk, Jacques Clement, by birth a peasant, of scanty intelligence, and rough, violent

manners. His excitement grew with the perils of the city. He consulted a theologian in whom he had confidence, and got from him a guarded answer that it might be lawful to slay a tyrant. He prayed, fasted, went through a course of maceration of the body. He saw visions. He believed that he heard voices, and that he received definite orders to give his life in order to slay the King. He confided his purpose to friends, who approved of it and helped his preparations. He was able to leave the city, to pass through the beleaguering lines, and to get private audience of the King. He presented a letter, and while Henry was reading it stabbed him in the lower part of the body. The deed done, the monk raised himself to his full height, extended his arms to form himself into a crucifix, and received without flinching his deathblow from La Guesle and other attendants (Aug. 1st, 1589).[227]

The King lingered until the following morning, and then expired, commending Henry of Navarre to his companions as his legitimate successor.

The news of the assassination was received in Paris with wild delight. The Duchess de Nemours, the mother of the Guises, and the Duchess de Montpensier, their sister, went everywhere in the streets describing "the heroic act of Jacques Clement." The former mounted the steps of the High Altar in the church of the Cordeliers to proclaim the news to the people. The citizens, high and low, brought out their tables into the streets, and they drank, sang, shouted and danced in honour of the news. They swore that they would never accept a Protestant king[228] and the Cardinal de Bourbon, still a prisoner, was proclaimed as Charles x.


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