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

Framed on the model of those of Freiburg and Bern


the years succeeding 1444 the hereditary loyalty to their bishops had to stand severe tests. Count Amadeus VIII. of Savoy, one of the most remarkable men of the fifteenth century,--he ascended the papal throne and resigned the Pontificate to become a hermit,--used his pontifical power to possess himself of the bishopric. From that date onwards the Bishop of Geneva was almost always a member of the House of Savoy, and the rights of the citizens were for the most part disregarded. The bishopric became an appanage of Savoy, and boys (one of ten years of age, another of seventeen) and bastards ruled from the episcopal chair.

After long endurance a party formed itself among the townspeople vowed to restore the old rights of the city. They called themselves, or were named by others, the _Eidguenots_ (_Eidgenossen_); while the partisans of the Bishop and of the House of Savoy were termed _Mamelukes_, because, it was said, they had forsaken Christianity.

In their difficulties the Genevans turned to the Swiss cantons nearest them and asked to be allied with Freiburg and Bern. Freiburg consented, and an alliance was made in 1519; but Bern, an aristocratic republic, was unwilling to meddle in the struggle of a democracy in a town outside the Swiss Confederacy. The citizens of Bern, more sympathetic than their rulers, compelled them to make alliance with Geneva in 1526,--very half-heartedly on the part of the Bernese Council.

style="text-align: justify;">The Swiss cantons, Bern especially, could not in their own interest see the patriotic party in Geneva wholly crushed, and the "gate of Western Switzerland" left completely in possession of the House of Savoy. Therefore, when the Bishop assembled an army for the purpose of effectually crushing all opposition within the town, Bern and Freiburg collected their forces and routed the troops of Savoy. But the allies, instead of using to the full the advantage they had gained, were content with a compromise by which the Bishop remained the lord of Geneva, while the rights of the Vidomne were greatly curtailed, and the privileges of the townsmen were to be respected (Oct. 19th, 1530).

From this date onwards Geneva was governed by what was called _le Petit Conseil_, and was generally spoken of as the Council; then a _Council of Two Hundred_, framed on the model of those of Freiburg and Bern; lastly, by the _Conseil General_, or assembly of the citizens. All important transactions were first submitted to and deliberated on by the _Petit Conseil_, which handed them on with their opinion of what ought to be done to the _Council of the Two Hundred_. No change of situation--for example, the adoption of the Reformation--was finally adopted until submitted to the _General Council_ of all the burghers.

It is possible that had there seemed to be any immediate prospects that Geneva would join the Reformation, Bern would have aided the patriots more effectually. Bern was the great Protestant Power in Western Switzerland. Its uniform policy, since 1528, had been to constitute itself the protector of towns and districts where a majority of the inhabitants were anxious to take the side of the Reformation and were hindered by their overlords. It made alliances with the towns in the territories of the Bishop of Basel, and enabled them to assert their independence. In May (23rd) 1532 it warned the Duke of Savoy that if he thought of persecuting the inhabitants of Payerne because of their religion, it would make their cause its own, and declared that its alliance with the town was much more ancient than any existing between Bern and the Duke.[43] But the case of Geneva was different. Signs, indeed, were not lacking that many of the people were inclined to the Reformation.[44] It is more than probable that some of the members of the Councils were longing for a religious reform. But however much in earnest the reformers might be, they were in a minority, and it was no part of the policy of Bern to interfere without due call in the internal administration of the city; still less to see the rise of a strong and independent Roman Catholic city-republic on its own western border.

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