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114
CAMISARDS

continued to narrate events and prodigies in which the author saw the intervention of God, and thus strengthened the courage of his adherents. This religious enthusiasm, under the influence of Du Serre, was manifested for the first time in the Dauphiné. Du Serre, who was a pupil of Jurieu, communicated his mystic faith to young children who were called the “petits prophètes,” the most famous of whom was a girl named “La belle Isabeau.” Brought up on the study of the prophets and the Apocalypse, these children went from village to village quoting and requoting the most obscure and terrible passages from these ancient prophecies (see Antichrist). It is necessary to remember that at this time the Protestants were without ministers, all being in exile, and were thus deprived of all real religious instruction. They listened with enthusiasm to this strange preaching, and thousands of those who were called New Catholics were seen to be giving up attendance at Mass. The movement advanced in Languedoc with such rapidity that at one time there were more than three hundred children shut up in the prisons of Uzès on the charge of prophesying, and the Faculty of Medicine of Montpellier, which was entrusted with their examination, went so far in their ignorance as to pronounce these irresponsible infants guilty of fanaticism. After the peace of Ryswick, 1697, the fierceness of the persecution was redoubled in the South. “I will show no mercy to the preachers,” wrote the terrible Baville, the so-called “king of Languedoc,” and he kept his word. The people of the Cévennes were in despair, for their loyalty to the king had been remarkable. In 1683 on the 6th of September an assembly composed of fifty pastors, sixty-four noblemen and thirty-four notables, held at Colognac, had drawn up a statement of its unalterable loyalty to Louis XIV. It is important to notice that the revolt of the Cévennes was essentially a popular movement. Among its leaders there was not a single nobleman, but only men of the people, a baker, a blacksmith, some ex-soldiers; but by far the most extraordinary characterisic is the presence, no longer of children, but of men and women who declared themselves inspired, who fell into religious ecstasies and roused in their comrades the most heroic bravery in battle and at the stake.

The assassination of the abbé du Chayla marks the beginning of the war of the Cévennes. The abbé, a veteran Catholic missionary from Siam, had been appointed inspector of missions in the Cévennes. There he introduced the “squeezers” (which resembled the Scottish “boot”), and his systematic and refined cruelty at last broke the patience of his victims. His murder, on the 23rd of July 1702, at Pont de Monvert, was the first blow in the war. It was planned by Esprit Séguier, who at once began to carry out his idea of a general massacre of the Catholic priests. He soon fell, and was succeeded by Laporte, an old soldier, who, as his troop increased, assumed the title of “the Colonel of the Children of God,” and named his camp the “Camp of the Eternal.” He used to lead his followers to the fight, singing Clement Marot’s grand version of the 68th Psalm, “Que Dieu se montre seulement,” to the music of Goudimel. Besides Laporte, the forest-ranger Castanet, the wool-carders Conderc and Mazel, the soldiers Catinat, Joany and Ravenel were selected as captains—all men whom the théomanie or prophetic malady had visited. But the most important figures are those of Roland, who afterwards issued the following extraordinary despatch to the inhabitants of St André:—“Nous, comte et seigneur Roland, généralissime des Protestants de France, nous ordonnons que vous ayez à congédier dans trois jours tous les prêtres et missionnaires qui sont chez vous, sous peine d’être brûlés tout vifs, vous et eux” (Court, i.p. 219); and Jean Cavalier, the baker’s boy, who, at the age of seventeen, commanded the southern army of the Camisards, and who, after defeating successively the comte de Broglie and three French marshals, Montrevel, Berwick and Villars, made an honourable peace. (See Cavalier, Jean.)

Cavalier for nearly two years continued to direct the war. Regular taxes were raised, arsenals were formed in the great limestone caves of the district, the Catholic churches and their decorations were burned and the clergy driven away. Occasionally routed in regular engagements, the Camisards, through their desperate valour and the rapidity of their movements, were constantly successful in skirmishes, night attacks and ambuscades. A force of 60,000 was now in the field against them; among others, the Irish Brigade which had just returned from the persecutions of the Waldenses. The rising was far from being general, and never extended to more than three or four thousand men, but it was rendered dangerous by the secret and even in many places the open support of the people in general. On the other hand their knowledge of a mountainous country clothed in forests and without roads, gave the insurgents an enormous advantage over the royal troops. The rebellion was not finally suppressed until Baville had constructed roads throughout this almost savage country.

Montrevel adopted a policy of extermination, and 466 villages were burned in the Upper Cévennes alone, the population being for the most part put to the sword. Pope Clement XI. assisted in this work by issuing a bull against the “execrable race of the ancient Albigenses,” and promising remission of sins to the holy militia which was now formed among the Catholic population, and was called the Florentines, Cadets of the Cross or White Camisards. Villars, the victor of Hochstädt and Friedlingen, saw that conciliation was necessary; he took advantage of the feeling of horror with which the quiet Protestants of Nimes and other towns now regarded the war, and published an amnesty. In May 1704 a formal meeting between Cavalier and Villars took place at Nimes. The result of the interview was that a document entitled Trés humble requête des réformés du Languedoc au Roi was despatched to the court. The three leading requests for liberty of conscience and the right of assembly outside walled towns, for the liberation of those sentenced to prison or the galleys under the revocation, and for the restitution to the emigrants of their property and civil rights, were all granted,—the first on condition of no churches being built, and the third on condition of an oath of allegiance being taken. The greater part of the Camisard army under Roland, Ravenel and Joany would not accept the terms which Cavalier had arranged. They insisted that the edict of Nantes must be restored,—“point de paix, que nous n’ayons nos temples.” They continued the war till January 1705, by which time all their leaders were either killed or dispersed.

In 1709 Mazel and Claris, with the aid of two preaching women, Marie Desubas and Elizabeth Catalon, made a serious effort to rekindle revolt in the Vivarais. In 1711 all opposition and all signs of the reformed religion had disappeared. On the 8th of March 1715, by medals and a proclamation, Louis XIV. announced the entire extinction of heresy.

What we know of the spiritual manifestations in the Cévennes (which much resembled those of the Swedish Raestars of Smaland in 1844) is chiefly derived from Le Théâtre sacré des Cévennes, London, 1707, reprinted at Paris in 1847; A Cry From the Desert, &c., by John Lacy, London, 1707; La Clef des prophéties de M. Marion, London, 1707; Avertissements prophétiques d’Élie Marion, &c., London, 1707. About the date of these publications the three prophets of the Cévennes, Marion, Durand-Fage and Cavalier (a cousin of the famous Jean Cavalier) were in London and were objects of lively curiosity. The consistory of the French church in the Savoy sent a protest to the lord mayor against “cette secte impie et extravagante” and the matter was tried at the Guildhall. Misson, author of the Théâtre sacré, declared in defence of the accused, that the same spirit which had caused Balaam’s ass to speak could speak through the mouths of these prophets from the Cévennes. Marion and his two friends Fatio, a member of the Royal Society of London, and Daudé, a leading savant, who acted as his secretaries, were condemned to the pillory and to the stocks. Voltaire relates (Siécle de Louis XIV. c. 36) that Marion wished to prove his inspiration by attempting to raise a dead body (Thomas Ernes) from St Paul’s churchyard. He was at last compelled to leave England.[1]

The inspiration (of which there were four degrees, avertissement,

  1. This curious affair provoked a lengthy controversy, which is described in “La Relation historique de ce qui s’est passe a Londres au sujet des prophètes camisards” (Republique des Lettres, 1708), in the study of M. Vesson, Les Prophètes camisards à Londres (1893), and also in the book Les Prophètes cévenols, ch. iii. (1861) by Alfred Dubois.