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Governing PassionsPeace and Reform in the French Kingdom, 1576-1585$

Mark Greengrass

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199214907

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199214907.001.0001

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The Estates of Blois and the Bien Public

The Estates of Blois and the Bien Public

(p.66) 3 The Estates of Blois and the Bien Public
Governing Passions


Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the estates general of Blois, a national assembly summoned at the Palace Academy of Henry III of France on November 15, 1576. The delegates arrived equipped with cahiers which had carefully considered the issues of peace and reform, committed to a sense of the ‘commonwealth’. The chapter looks at what the deliberations at the estates general mean about the depth of commitment to the reformation of the French kingdom, and why the estates were a failure. The debate over catholicity at Blois is discussed, along with the delegates' concern to live up to the expectations of reform of the common weal that had been laid upon them, the so-called Gallican liberties of the French Catholic Church, dilemmas confronting the monarchy and the estates general in working together for the common good (bien public), and the engagement of the deputies in diplomacy in hopes of achieving the bien public.

Keywords:   France, estates general, reformation, peace, national assembly, catholicity, common weal, commonwealth, diplomacy, Catholic Church

So far, we have concentrated on the Palace Academy of Henri III, emphasizing that its moral philosophy was not an escape from the emerging national crisis of 1576, but an approach to the kingdom’s reformation. It is now time to examine the estates general of Blois, summoned there for 15 November 1576. As an instrument for the pacification and reformation of the realm it proved a broken reed, incapable of delivering the reformation implied in the discussions at the academy. Yet contemporaries had high hopes of what it could achieve. Its delegates arrived equipped with cahiers which had carefully considered the issues of peace and reform, committed to a sense of the ‘commonwealth’. What can their deliberations tell us about the depth of commitment to the reformation of the kingdom more broadly in the kingdom? Why were the estates a failure?


The convocation of an estates general was a rare event in Renaissance France. It had only occurred twice in living memory for those deputies summoned to Blois, and only three times in the previous century. Ten months of deliberations over a period of a century hardly count as an institution. And, since the estates general had only reached maturity towards the end of the fifteenth century, the delegates at Blois had the distinction of being the first summoned by a king in the plenitude of his power. The rarity of the event should be contrasted, however, with the near-universal beneficence accorded it. If the estates was not a well-established institution, it was a powerful idea. Its rarity merely contributed to further the fiction that its convocation was a beacon of counsel and a balm to every ill in society.

Sixteenth-century French society was composed of a variety of corps. Each created its own sense of belonging, and with it, responsibilities—these latter being what Renaissance humanists never tired of describing in Ciceronian (p.67) terms as an ‘office’. The benefit ascribed to the estates general was that it embodied the corps mystique of the kingdom, the sum total of the offices that constituted its organic whole. The fiction of the health-giving effects of holding the estates general was as compelling for royal servants as anyone else in public life in sixteenth-century France. Only anachronistic nineteenth-century liberal notions of ‘government’ and ‘opposition’ have misled us into thinking otherwise. When the chancellor of the kingdom, Michel de L’Hospital, rose to address the estates general summoned to Orléans in 1561, he won the approval of his audience with an evocation of their fundamental utility and necessity. We shall probably never know exactly what he said. But a contemporary protestant presented his arguments in terms that would find repeated echoes in the pamphlet literature of the later 1560s.1 French kings of old held frequent estates general, allowing them to consult their subjects on important matters of state, take counsel from them, hear and answer their petitions. The people received ‘great good’ thereby, and not at the expense of the king’s authority, since it never diminished a king to do justice. The estates revealed the truth about the government of the realm to kings from whom it was often hidden by their close servants. Royal advisers who set their face against the estates were self-interested flatterers who sought to concentrate power in their own hands. The ‘bien commun’ accorded the estates was thus centrally located in important myths about royal counsel, civilized rule, and the dangers of tyranny.

The estates general summoned to Orléans in December 1560 and then again to Pontoise in August 1561 reflected this beneficent fiction in its cahiers. In the subsequent civil wars of the 1560s, the summoning of the estates general became a central tenet of protestant political demands, justified by the manifest corruption in the kingdom and the exclusion of the nobility from its ‘natural’ role in the councils of the realm by malevolent, cunning Italians installed in high favour around Catherine de Médicis. This was not the first time in the history of the French polity that such themes had been deployed. The movement against Louis XI led by the dukes of Bourbon, Berry, Dunois, Nevers, and Armagnac almost a century earlier in 1465, and known as the War of the Public Weal, served as model, justification, and manifesto for the protestant opponents to Charles IX. In the Mémoires des occasions de la guerre (1567), the reference points were transparent. As in the fifteenth century, ‘bad government’ had resulted in disorder in the state which only the estates (p.68) general (as in 1484) would remedy.2 The ‘Memoirs’ in the title were the Cronique et hystoire of Philippe de Commynes. An accompanying pamphlet, De la nécessité d’assembler les états (1567), linked citations from the same source with extracts from the speeches of Michel de Marillac, archbishop of Vienne, to the Assembly of Notables at Fontainebleau in August 1560 and Michel de L’Hospital’s discourse before the estates of Orléans in December 1560 to argue that the assembly of the estates was a necessary prelude to the reform of the state.3

The virtues of the estates general were thus well established in contemporary minds before the writings of François Hotman saw the light of day. The latter used this to make a fundamental point that the estates general was a Frankish birthright. He argued in the preface to his famous Francogallia, published in 1573, that the French commonwealth had flourished for a thousand years with a constitution in which a ‘public council of the people’ (‘publicum gentis consilium’) had played a determining role in its affairs.4The abandonment of the ‘orders’ (‘ordines’) of the estates had led to its ‘inward corruption’. With the restoration of the estates general, ‘we may confidently trust that our commonwealth will return to health when it is restored by some act of divine beneficence unto its ancient and, so to speak, its natural state’.5 In successive chapters, Hotman explored the chroniclers of Merovingian Gaul to prove that the estates had protected the kingdom’s laws and deposed kings who failed to abide by them, or who were on the slippery slope (‘lubricum locum’) towards tyranny.6 Towards the close of his book (chapter 18 of the original edition) he turned his attentions briefly to the more recent history of France under Louis XI. The estates general remained ‘sacrosanct’ until that ‘most shrewd and crafty’ of kings.7 Since he proved unwilling to accept the necessary advice of the estates general, the magnates of the kingdom assembled an army to (in the words of Philippe de Commynes) ‘secure the public welfare and be able to show the king by force the corruption of his administration of the commonwealth’.8 The addition of the ‘vi’—‘by force’—was made to the second Latin edition of Francogallia, published in the late spring of 1576, a chilling grace-note to contemporaries who were at that very moment watching a king being brought reluctantly to the peace table to (p.69) concede the summoning of an estates general by the military forces of the ‘confederates’.

Hotman’s argument was powerful because his views about the estates general were shared across a spectrum of political opinions and the religious divide. On the eve of Henri III’s accession to power in 1574, the lieutenant-general in Burgundy reported that the provincial estates wanted the estates general to be summoned.9 The same demand was presented as the key to reforming the kingdom by the confederate princes who joined forces with the protestants in revolt in 1574–5. Henri de Montmorency-Damville’s ‘Declaration’ of 3 November 1574 culminated in the rallying cry of the estates general.10 That of François d’Alençon, the king’s brother, dated 18 September 1575, said that the estates general was a route to the reformation of the kingdom that was sanctified by precedent.11 Like his brother (now Henri III), François d’Alençon understood well enough the link between an aristocratic ‘reversionary interest’ and the clarion call for reformation. From 1576 onwards, Alençon served as a pole of attraction for reformist sentiments, an ‘esprit vif et ambitieux’ who had, as the Venetian ambassador Lippomano noted, ‘toujours montré le désir de reformer le royaume’.12 Both Damville and Alençon linked the estates general with the closely allied myth of the summoning of a French council of the church to resolve, once for all, the religious discords that divided France.13

Sceptics mainly kept their opinions to themselves. Writing in his private diary, the royal secretary, Jules Gassot, was equivocal.14 Thinking heads of the clerical order knew only too well their wealth and privileges had come under threat at Orléans and Pontoise. They could hardly say so publicly, but it could happen again. One of their number, probably Jehan Le Monnier, archdeacon of Sablé in the diocese of Le Mans, sub-dean of the cathedral chapter of Chartres, vicar-general to the Cardinal de Bourbon at the abbey of Notre Dame de La Coulture, put his doubts on paper. He recognized that the estates general was generally regarded as a good thing. But, in times of religious strife, it could be used for political ends. Protestants would seek to have the free exercise of their religion enshrined by the estates general. The other two orders would probably accept the proposition in order to keep the (p.70) peace. Heretics would thus become recognized in the state and the catholic church would be emasculated. Protestants would demand the payment of their ministers from clerical resources and their exemption from tithes, and challenge the separate status of the clerical order in the estates. Was that not the inevitable implication of Hotman’s presentation of the estates general in Francogallia?15 In any estates general, clerical revenues were under threat, ‘car cest laumosne ou tant de chevaulx harissent’.

It is essential to keep these fears in mind alongside the chorus of optimism that greeted the convocation of the estates general in August 1576. The latter was a clear recognition of a national crisis.16 ‘Chacun crie après l’assemblee des Estats, comme après l’vnique remede de tous nos maux,’ wrote Philippe Du Plessis Mornay.17 The estates general became a vehicle for hopes and desires that no such institution, even one more mature and less subject to political management and interference than that summoned to Blois, could realize.


The estates general at Blois in 1576 was the only national assembly whose convocation was the result of an edict. That edict was the only pacification inextricably to link religious peace and reformation. The king signed the edict of Beaulieu, later known as the peace of Monsieur, on 6 May of that year. By clause 58, the king bound himself to summon delegates to a forthcoming assembly within six months. The agent for the summoning of the estates general, the peace of Monsieur was also responsible for its failure. The edict of Beaulieu, as I have argued elsewhere, was based on principles that were different from all the other attempts at state-inaugurated religious pacification in the wars of religion. The edict proposed a genuine religious pluralism, unrestricted by place and unfettered by legal definition.18 The (p.71) principle it enunciated was not privilege but equality. The protestants were to be ‘compatriotes’ with the catholics and to have the same rights of worship as catholics. The principle of equality was extended to the legal system and, in protestant demands, the estates general. It was these principles that lay at the heart of the hostile reactions that it generated in the minds of catholics.

The edict was hastily registered in the Parlements on the grounds of political prudence and necessity. In reality, however, there was a dichotomy in the months afterwards between the public acceptance of its terms on the one hand, and private hostility on the other. That antipathy became more public in the secure places where the protestants were given rights of garrison under the edict. Angoulême and Bourges refused to have any protestant troops in their midst before the signing of the peace. They were joined shortly afterwards by the Picardy frontier stronghold town of Péronne. In the articles particuliers of the peace of Monsieur, the king had granted the governorship of the province of Picardy to the young protestant prince of Condé, where the latter had much of his landed wealth and family’s influence.19 Péronne was destined to be a pledge of security for Condé and the protestants of Picardy. But the local gentry around Péronne saw the situation differently. They argued (as they had successfully in 1563) that to hand the town to a protestant garrison weakened northern frontier defences, and the more so since Don John’s imminent arrival in the Low Countries was expected to provoke an expatriation of that region’s protestants who would look to places like Péronne for their survival. Fortified by the success of that earlier petition, Péronne sought to achieve exemption from the terms of the pacification. Our knowledge of how it did so comes from evidence provided by a cathedral canon of the city, Gabriel Du Préau. In 1581, he completed a ‘general and universal’ history of the ‘state and success of the church’, publishing it two years later.20 Du Préau’s first publication, as it happened, had been a treatise on ethical philosophy in 1559.21 In it, he presented a detailed picture of the soul and the role of the passions within it and revealed the considerable influence upon him of Neoplatonic and Hermetic philosophy. It would have made interesting reading to the members of the Palace Academy. His history, however, was a more mature work, a mirror of the deformity of the times and the means to their reformation. Princes should remember that their deeds would be judged. Tyranny was always and ever the same. Tyrants came to a (p.72) bad end. God’s providence protected his church from them, and equally from false prophets and heretics. And, in the apparitions and strange events that he chronicled, Du Préau detected a pattern. These were signs of a cataclysmic change. In such periods, realms were humbled, people renounced their kings, rulers were governed by favourites, and disordered human passions reigned. When it came to contemporary events, the evidence that he was living at the end of an age was overwhelming. The events at Péronne in 1576 were one manifestation of it.

Organizing the petition to exclude Péronne from the terms of the peace of Monsieur were two of the more wealthy local gentry around Péronne, Antoine d’Estourmel, sieur de Pleinville, and Jacques de Moujan, sieur de Morlevront and Ablincourt (var.: Happlincourt). Du Préau describes in detail how they went about it.22 It proved to be a frustrating business, not least because the local lieutenant, Jacques d’Humières, was under instructions to assist in the handover of the stronghold. But d’Estourmel and Ablincourt rallied the nobility in the town, where they agreed upon a covenant of association. Du Préau does not give its precise terms, but there was something in writing, probably a signed formulary, that they submitted to d’Humières, who forwarded it to the king.23 But by then, the Péronnais were acting as a public conduit for the wider disquiet in northern France. Almost despite itself, the so-called ‘League of Péronne’ had been born.

Jean-Marie Constant has referred to it as the ‘mystery’ of Péronne.24 In reality, it is a double mystery. What exactly were the terms of the formulary? And how far did its influence extend? Two contemporary pamphlets were published without imprint or authorization in the name of the ‘prelates, nobles, gentlemen, captains, soldiers and inhabitants of the towns and countryside of Picardy’.25 In the first (the Articles), they seemingly agreed on oath to commit themselves to the last drop of their blood ‘pour la conservation de ladicte ville et de toute la province en l’obéissance du roi et en l’observance de l’Eglise catholique apostolique et romaine’. To do so, they established a ‘saincte et chrestienne union, parfaicte intelligence et correspondance de tous les fidèles, loyaux et bons subjects du roi’. A local militia was envisaged, led by a military chief who would also be advised by a council which would keep in contact with others in the province as well as its neighbours in the (p.73) Southern Netherlands. They would keep a gentleman at court, and a secret roll of signatories to the League. The second text (the Conspiration) amplified the reasons for wanting to oppose Condé. In recent years, however, doubts have been expressed about these texts’ authenticity.26 No signed originals of the articles exist, the printed versions have no provenance, and they are first highlighted by the protestant historian La Popelinière in his Histoire de la France published at La Rochelle in 1581.27 Internal evidence marks them out as protestant-inspired propaganda pieces, repackaging recent confederate ideas in catholic wrapping and seeking to discredit the catholics in the immediate prelude to the estates general. If so, it is significant that Du Préau devoted so much energy in his ‘History’ to counter La Popelinière’s account, and the privilege to the 1583 edition explicitly mentioned that it was to be stocked by booksellers in preference to the latter. Should we not see Du Préau as seeking to set the record straight, and especially in so far as events at Péronne were concerned? In which case, he succeeded, but only up to a point. In a panorama of world history which placed God at the heart of events, the local legitimacy of the Picardy nobility was defended. But there had been a league. Whether it involved local militias, councils, signatories, and paramilitary paraphernalia, or whether this was a protestant propagandist gloss, we shall probably never know. But we should not dismiss the testimony of the mayor and aldermen (échevins) of Amiens, eyes and ears of the capital of Picardy, who warned the king in the middle of July of levies of men and money in various places by ‘many gentlemen in this country’ who sought to ‘pratiquer’ the towns to join their ‘party’.28

How far did such sympathies extend? It is difficult to know for sure. The League spread like clover in grass, underneath the veneer of apparent public compliance with the terms of Beaulieu. The king wrote of ‘leagues’ in Picardy centring on Abbeville, Amiens, Saint-Quentin, Beauvais, and Corbie and the Venetian ambassador Morosini had word of similar movements too.29 In Poitou, there was something similar ‘in imitation of certain other provinces’.30Henri III sought to defuse the movement with a tactical retreat, of which some Picard nobles already had word on 12 July.31 Saint-Jean d’Angély was substituted for Péronne as Condé’s guarantee stronghold. Letters were (p.74) dispatched in July and August to the échevins of Amiens, Montdidier, and elsewhere, urging them to stay loyal and requiring others not to ‘entendre aux praticques de ces turbulens et factieux’.32 Signed affidavits were exacted from the dukes of Guise, Mayenne, and Nemours on 2 August to the effect that they would not oppose the terms of the edict of pacification, and copies of them sent on to Condé as a pledge of good faith towards its implementation despite the leagues.33 But, by the end of August, the Péronne League had spread further. L’Estoile reported its existence in Paris in October.34 Its activities threatened the electoral season of the forthcoming estates general, whose convocation was proclaimed at Blois on 6 August.35

The summons specified the holding of estates in which the petitions, complaints, and grievances of everyone ‘sans exception de personnes’ would be heard.36 It was important, therefore, that the elections were not manipulated. In the summer of 1576, catholics with a long memory remembered the elections for the estates general of Pontoise sixteen years earlier. Then, sensing destiny on their side, the protestant minority had bent the electoral process to their own advantage.37 Pre-formulated protestant articles of grievances were circulated for localities to insert into their cahiers. Protestant nobles turned up in arms to their seneschalcy meetings. At Poitiers they tied their handkerchiefs to their hats and around their necks in order to be identified by their coreligionists. In various places protestants acted as a ‘party’ to ensure that candidates favourable to their cause were elected to the estates, especially among the third estate. Péronnais sympathizers used the memory of such tactics to their advantage. One of the memoranda in circulation in the late summer of 1576 was to the effect that the Huguenots already had a league, within and without the realm, and that catholics should not await the outcome of such ‘designs’ but anticipate them.38 But how was the king to intervene to prevent manipulation without himself being charged with interference in the arcane electoral procedures?39

So Henri III acted circumspectly. To Picardy, he dispatched François Le Roy, sieur de Chavigny, with orders to assemble those overseeing the elections (p.75) and cahiers of the estates.40 Chavigny had seen military service with the duke of Guise, been a king’s lieutenant in the Touraine, and was currently one of the two captains of the gentlemen of the king’s household.41 He was Loyalty Writ Large. To the assembled estates of the government of Péronne, whom he met on 7 September, he announced that the king knew of their illegal associations. His Majesty suspected that the artifices of wicked men ‘pour troubler vn chacun & seruir à leurs passions’ had deflected their true loyalty. He would protect the catholic church, his nobility, and his poor subjects, and together they would reform the realm. Meanwhile, the evidence was growing that something was up in Normandy, Champagne, and Brittany and envoys were dispatched there too to find out what was happening.42 A general letter sent out on 5 October to all provincial governors and lieutenants sought to ensure that everyone was given the opportunity to attend the meetings and submit what cahiers they wanted, without political interference.43

What was the impact of these leagues and associations on the elections? Protestants had no doubt that there was a systematic effort to exclude them. They had anticipated a parity of delegates at the estates general but, by September 1576, when they presented a petition to the king, they feared being excluded altogether.44 The protestants of Paris, amongst others, complained of sharp practices.45 Some of their fears were self-induced. They had the opportunity, if they wished, to deposit billets de plaintes at the hôtel de ville and Henri III insisted on 28 September that the prévôt des marchands establish ‘un coffre ayant ouverture en forme de tronc’ at the town hall to receive all such bills anonymously.46 It is possible that the king had seen the celebrated bocca or stone postboxes erected in Venice to receive anonymous complaints about the Venetian state. These were the architectural adjuncts of the Roman ‘censors’ that humanist-trained French notables like Pierre Ayrault admired (p.76) and wanted to see adopted in France.47 But the reality was that, after the massacre of St Bartholomew, the protestants in northern France had been reduced to a minority which the procedures of electoral colleges and the drafting of cahiers would marginalize.

Many protestant nobles may well have been frightened off by the prospects of attending an electoral convention in person. Baillis and seneschals, however, appear often (as at Le Mans and Montdidier, for example) to have done their best to ensure that proceedings did not descend into public quarrels or brawls.48 Even so, there were threatening incidents in various localities, such as one recorded by the curé of Provins, Claude Haton, where catholic nobles attending the noble convocation of the bailliage of Provins found the demands of the protestant minority too much to bear. Some of them reached for their swords and invited the Huguenots on the spot to armed combat, demanding that the first clause of their cahier declare the protestants ‘une pure menterie et ydolâtrie’.49 Not surprisingly, protestant nobles often attended by proxy. But in Blois, Poitiers, and probably elsewhere, these proxy votes were disallowed. So the protestant perception that there was a conspiracy to exclude them gathered strength.

The preparations for the estates general, in short, raised political consciousness at a local level. Election meetings could act, as at Péronne, as a magnet for a league, but they could also demonstrate solidarity against one. When, for example, the sieur d’Eschelles, seigneur d’Ouches, one of the small number of protestant nobles attending the convocation of the bailliage of Blois, sought to raise the question of the edict of pacification, he was silenced by his compatriots: ‘Nous avons résolu de ne toucher et ne parler en aucune manière du fait de la religion; cependant nous vous tenons pour bons parents, voisins et amis.’50 Even so, such issues had a tendency to take over. There must have been many instances where, rather than the catholic League influencing the elections for the estates general it was the reverse; the preliminary convocations of the latter provided a point of crystallization for opinions that had not taken shape up to that point. Discussions in and outside the electoral colleges were bound to take place and, as they did so, opinions consolidated. Individuals took the opportunity to rally their (p.77) kin and demonstrate their solidarities. So, perhaps with memories of the Huguenot handkerchiefs of a quarter of a century earlier in the sénéchaussée of Poithou and Maillezais, Georges de La Trémoïlle, marquis de Royan, wrote to his brother Louis III de La Trémoïlle to encourage him to attend the forthcoming Poitiers convocation on 8 October 1576.51 Louis de La Trémoïlle, already pulling the strings of the incipient catholic association in Poitou, answered the call. Two protestant gentlemen were in attendance, claiming that they had proxies from their coreligionists. After the election of Georges de La Trémoïlle as the deputy, the protestants petitioned the duke to the effect that they had been misled, but he overruled them.52Noble connections and catholic kinship networks had gathered support from across this straggling seneschalcy, and the protestants in Poitou felt cheated.53

The same subtle ralliement occurred in the convocation of the Picardy prévôté of Montdidier, which is where the frontier towns of Péronne and Roye submitted their cahiers. In the surviving procès verbal of the convocation, Jacques d’Humières, responsible for summoning the electoral college as governor and prévôt, was keen to demonstrate that everything was done by the book.54 The process of summons to the meeting on 12 September was recorded in great detail. With over sixty clerical delegates (including a large contingent of curés), thirty-seven nobles, and over 250 representatives of the third estate (syndics, mayors, élus, and a fair number of laboureurs) in attendance, a large crowd gathered.55 These delegates were then responsible for drafting the cahiers. Over a month was allowed for the submission of billets de remontrance before the college was reconvened on 23 October. Attendance at that second meeting was thin and a further summons was issued for the following week on 30 October, with instructions that church bells were to call the local inhabitants after mass to prepare their cahiers and with assurances that, if they brought their billets with them to the meeting, they would be heard.

(p.78) On the afternoon of 30 October, the local estates of Montdidier set about confirming the cahier its deputies would carry to Blois. The most revealing debates occurred in the council chamber, which is where the nobility deliberated.56 There, Jehan de Poix, seigneur de Séchelles, rose to say that he had ‘charge from many protestant gentlemen’ to read out a cahier, a copy of which he also handed to the clerk of the proceedings.57 The copy of this document that accompanies the procès verbal is significant since it is one of the very few surviving protestant petitions prepared for the estates. It called for the estates to commit themselves to the peace of Monsieur.58 The king should agree to summon a ‘National Council’ within three years ‘pour paruenir a quelque Reunion ou Refformation de doctrine et ceremonies’, its form to be determined by a council of suitably appointed advisers. Meanwhile, clerics and pastors would formally agree to guarantee one another’s safety. The church should be required to assume the burden of royal debts—with the proviso that they could appoint their own financial agents to do so and that they would be free of royal taxes (décimes). Jean de Rivery, sieur de Pothonville (var.: Botonville), the noble delegate already elected to represent the circumscription at Blois, politely declined to include these demands in the cahier on the technical grounds that Séchelles’s document was presented in the name of the third estate as well as the nobility (and he could not be expected to represent the views of the former) and also on behalf of the protestants of the whole province of Picardy, and not just Montdidier. Séchelles offered to redraft it, but Pothonville responded with a catholic cahier ‘quil a dit auoir este dressez et accordez par ung bon nombre des gentilzhommes dudit ressort’. Its key petition was that the kingdom should be declared a catholic realm and protestants should be invited to abjure their religion and return to the catholic faith. Those that did not wish to do so could sell their property and depart. This clause evidently circulated around many bailliages as a formulary, promoted by the catholic associations. It would be the central plank of the debates about catholicity in the forthcoming estates. Although it probably represented the core response of the majority of the local nobility present, it was not easy to look a fellow nobleman in the eye and vote for his exclusion from the local patrie and his inherited patrimony. Some doubtless felt uneasy as the discussion proceeded until one of their number, (p.79) Jehan de Mailly, rose to ‘moderate’ the proposed clause.59 Protestants who refused to abjure could stay in their lands and property so long as they were ‘paisibles’.60 This went down much better, and the amendment was ‘received and approved by all’. Four protestant gentlemen besides Séchelles, unable to sign the resulting cahier, put their names to a revised version of what had been presented in their name. When it was not accepted, they asked for a signed statement to that effect. So, even among the Péronnais nobility, translating the catholic association into a cahier for the estates was not easy. The king asked for a copy of these proceedings to demonstrate that, even in Picardy, the elections had been ‘libres et seures pour tous ceulx qui y sont intervenus’.61

Electoral rallying was accompanied by manifestos in print and manuscript. A printed catholic ‘advertissement’, for example, was ‘envoyé en cachette par toutes les Prouinces du Royaulme’.62 The protestant Nicolas Pithou copied out one such anonymous handbill from Troyes.63 Its author portrayed the League as a stalking ‘Troyan’ or ‘Trojan’ horse that used religion as a mask to disguise political ambition. The outcome would be the creation of an ‘infinité de Roitelets’ and ‘un vray turquisme’. The rich motifs of the politics of pretence, a mirror world where nothing is quite as it seems, of underlying and sinister plots to subvert the order of things and impose an oriental despotism all made their appearance in political literature on the eve of the estates general.64 According to Madame de Mornay, her husband circulated ‘mémoires secretz’ among delegates at preliminary assemblies for Blois.65This was in addition to his Remonstrance aux Estatz pour la Paix, a substantial pamphlet that saw print runs in Lyon and Rouen as well as Paris before the year was out. In its opening pages, it read as the work of a moderate lay catholic (which was apparently why it was given an imprimatur by the (p.80) chancellor).66 Only recently has Philippe Du Plessis Mornay been confirmed as its author beyond doubt. He argued for a free estates general to consolidate peace and reform the realm, two elements which marched hand in hand.67He cited an old proverb to the effect that good laws were never heard above the noise of trumpets.68 Much of the text was devoted to defending the necessity, if not the desirability, of religious pluralism in the realm. Given recent history, it was evident that the war against the protestants could not be won at an acceptable cost. Those who refused to accept this necessity were creating castles in the air.69 Since what everyone wanted, namely unity around one religion, could not be achieved, ‘il faut vouloir ce qu’on peut, si on ne peut tout ce qu’on veut’.70 Protestants were Christians who shared the same God, sought the same Christ, believed in the same Bible as their catholic compatriots, with whom they shared the same paternity in the French kingdom. Like catholics, they also sought a fundamental reformation, the only difference being that they wanted to extend it to include the church. There were some catholics who accepted that some changes were needed there too. But such a reformation could only be achieved—in the state as in the church—by reasoned debate: ‘sur la teste, & sur le cerveau, il n’y a prise que par les oreilles.’71 The estates general of Orléans back in 1560 had been a missed opportunity. Such a tragedy must be avoided a second time. Why was there so much controversy about granting protestants the right to worship everywhere, in French cities as well as the countryside? What is ‘tolerable’ in the countryside ought to be equally ‘tolerable’ in the towns. The latter were dominated by markets and there ought to be a market economy in religions, a laissez-faire in truth. Contemporary examples from Germany, Poland, and elsewhere demonstrated that political entities could survive a plurality of religions. What they could not survive was corruption, and those who sought to frustrate or deflect the forthcoming estates misjudged the seriousness of the situation.72 The only remedy was ‘vne reformation en cest Estat’ and this is what the estates general must accomplish. In reality, however, as the issues became more politicized, so the likelihood of a successful outcome to the estates receded. The small and unrepresentative sample of surviving cahiers de remonstrance that accompanied the delegates to Blois reveals both a (p.81) longing for peace and reformation, and profound divisions on how to achieve either.73


The inauguration of the estates general was an occasion for political theatre. By 26 November, many delegates had arrived and, on Friday, 30 November, official proceedings commenced with the invocation of God’s blessing.74Delegates processed from the church of Saint-Sauveur to the royal palace where a selection of senior clerics accompanied the king to the chapel to hear mass and watch him receive the sacrament.75 There they heard Guillaume Ruzé, bishop of Angers and royal confessor, preach on the text: ‘Fear God. Honour the king. Seek Fraternity’.76 Drawing together the season of Advent and the estates, he reminded delegates that all reformation of life began with penitence, inspired by a ‘filial’ fear of God’s wrath (a fear of displeasing God), rather than a ‘servile’ one (a fear of being punished).77The delegates at the estates general represented the realm, and God would hear and answer their prayers if they were truly penitent. Corruption from within was more insidious than threats from without. He reminded them of a remark by the cardinal of Lorraine to the effect that ‘il ne craignoit point que jamais les Hereticques nous puissent surmonter mais bien craignoit que de nous mesmes nous puissions nous deffaire’.78 The French were descended from the Trojans and they should remember that the Trojan horse was their weakness. In the remainder of his sermon, he highlighted the immensity of the task confronting them. Delegates sniggered at his ponderous comparison of them to Jonah in the whale, discovering repentance.79

The inauguration of the estates took place on Thursday, 6 December in what was already known as ‘the great hall of the estates’ of the palace at Blois. Artus de La Fontaine-Soliers, baron d’Ognon, a former client of the Constable Anne de Montmorency and lieutenant of his military company, (p.82) superintended every aspect of the preparations.80 He was a stickler for detail (not for nothing courtiers joked about ‘getting into Onion’s order’) and every aspect was meticulously planned.81 Henri III involved himself personally in the details.82 It was perhaps the nearest he would ever come to realizing his ideal of a well-ordered royal commonwealth. The ‘bien public’ (common wealth) was a notion as widely diffused as it was capable of different connotations. Who could possibly be against it? As Jean de La Haye, a leading confederate in Poitou, is reputed to have said in 1574, ‘il aymoit mieux estre chef d’vn bien public que d’vn mal public’.83 Its common denominator was the allusion to the ‘well-ordered’ state which it inspired. Jean Bodin’s Six livres de la république, published less than four months before the inauguration of the estates general, had this as its reiterated leitmotif, linking it in the closing chapter to the geometric ‘harmonies’ that underpin such a state. The delegates that took their seats in the great hall on 6 December looked forward to embodying it in their deliberations.

In civic festival entries, the king was a silent participant. By contrast, the inauguration of the estates general culminated in an address from the throne, a moment for the assembled notables to be beguiled by royal eloquence. Henri III’s speech was, by common consent, a triumph; the first major royal success of his reign. Jacques-Auguste de Thou recalled that it was rumoured to have been written by the former keeper of the seals, Jean de Morvillier, bishop of Orléans.84 Whoever drafted it, they could not choreograph the performance and, as Bodin said, it was delivered ‘d’une grace & action tres-belle’.85 Pierre de Blanchefort compared it favourably with that of chancellor de Birague who followed him.86 It moved Guillaume de Taix, dean of the cathedral chapter at Troyes and abbot of Basse-Fontaine, to tears.87 Guillaume Royer, one of the two deputies from the third estate of the bailliage of Dijon, a barrister at its Parlement, was rapturous in his report to the city’s mayor.88 (p.83) Speeches of this kind made convenient printed pamphlets, and Henri III’s was widely distributed.89 It became a manifesto of royal commitment to peace and reform.

The king dexterously aligned himself with the ‘bien public’. The delegates (‘tant de gens de bien d’honneur & experience’) had the task of assisting him to restore it. The source of the malaise lay in the ‘estrange changement’ that had occurred in the realm since the days of his father. The ignorant often attributed everything that went wrong in a state to the mistakes of their prince. In reality, the situation was more complex. He had inherited fundamental divisions that neither his brother Charles nor his mother had been able to pacify. Since coming to the throne he had been compelled to resort to ‘extreme remedies’ in order to restore his authority, knowing all the while the ills that civil war fostered. This was why he had decided to pursue the way of ‘douceur & reconciliation’ (the nearest the speech comes to mentioning the peace of Monsieur). But the realm was full of corruption and division. The task of the estates was to secure the foundations of a secure peace, eliminate corruption, and ‘renger tous estats en bon ordre & discipline’. He called on the delegates to put ‘toutes passions … en arriere’ and ‘repurger les mauuaises humeurs de ce Royaume, pour le remettre en sa bonne santé, vigueur & disposition ancienne’. He committed himself to these endeavours, confident that nothing could prevent the ultimate success of their joint efforts. The next three months would prove the extent to which this was illusory.


The sources for what happened at the estates of Blois are inadequate. The foreign ambassadors to the French court, generally so fertile in reporting the latest rumours, were kept some distance from Blois. Each delegate swore to preserve the secrecy of their deliberations.90 Fortunately, in addition to the procès verbaux of the proceedings at the clerical and third estates—the formal record of their conclusions—there are three extant private diaries from delegates. That of Guillaume de Taix records the atmosphere and debates of the clerical order from the perspective of an intelligent, Gallican-minded, chapter dean and royal almoner. The diary of Pierre de Blanchefort (p.84) is a detailed account of the activities of a noble deputy who was genuinely interested in the prospects for reform by restoring the nobility to their traditional role in government and society.91 Jean Bodin, the delegate from the sprawling bailliage of Vermandois in the Île de France, not only kept a diary but published it the following year, partly to justify his conduct in the controversies over catholicity and the alienation of the royal domain in which he became embroiled. One further diary from this period is of exceptional interest: the extracts from that kept by Louis de Gonzague, duke of Nevers, during the period that he was at court during the estates are a unique record of the conseil d’en haut (so called because it generally met in the royal apartments on the first floor of royal palaces) that advised the king. The duke was a distinctive, even idiosyncratic, figure, never shy of committing his conscience, or his grand, reformist thoughts, to paper. His diary was perhaps compiled to defend himself from the faint mockery that his commitment to a grand crusading enterprise against the protestants evoked, even at court. It certainly exaggerates his personal influence. But it helps us to document the king’s own evolving political strategies in relation to the estates at this crucial time.

The debate over catholicity absorbed all three estates for the first month of the deliberations at Blois. It went to the heart of the issues raised by the peace of Monsieur, signed by the king scarcely six months previously. It is customary to interpret this as the impact of politically inspired ‘League’ delegates who had exploited the electoral process to their particular advantage. But this, as we have seen, fails to understand the widespread and deep-rooted convictions of many delegates or the complexity of the political choice that faced them. Truth was one and indivisible. Ecclesiastical and secular authorities had long been responsible for punishing those who strayed from its path. To correct religious error was as necessary as to punish blasphemy or take steps against witchcraft. It was part of the necessary policing of a Christian society. To permit heretics to persist in their erroneous beliefs was morally reprehensible, since it condemned them to eternal damnation. Indulgence did them no favours. There was an elaborate edifice of Christian doctrine to support the view that religious coercion was necessary for the eventual salvation (‘wholeness’) of a sinner, and that of society at large. Persecution was by no means always a manifestation of ‘holy violence’, resulting from eschatological tensions or millenarian concerns, in the wars of religion. It was also an integral (p.85) part of the necessary policing of a Christian society, a way of governing the disorderly passions that heresy necessarily implied. It relied on an active, reforming magistracy in town and country as well as an engaged, pastoral theology. One did not need to belong to the catholic League to subscribe to these fundamental beliefs, or to regard the peace of Monsieur as a recipe for inevitable chaos and continuing anarchy in the state.

The immediate question facing delegates was how they interpreted their local mandate on the issue of catholicity in the light of the political circumstances that they confronted. That was not easy. Even the clerical order had its divisions over the issue for, if they voted for catholicity, were they not thereby committing the church and its resources to funding the subsequent war that would most likely occur? Had not the seriousness of the civil wars already revealed that military campaigns did more damage to the church than an admittedly compromised peace? These doubts clearly existed and the cardinal de Bourbon held separate meetings of deputies in his lodgings at the beginning of the estates, anxious that the clerical order should preserve its unity and moral authority.92 Similar hesitations over the catholicity issues also beset the noble order.

Catholic grandees and senior prelates sought to influence individual delegates. ‘Messieurs de Guise’—most of the members of the Guise clan—arrived in Blois in the second week of December with an armed entourage of 1,000–1,200 cavalry.93 These military escorts so alarmed the king that he mustered additional companies of cavalry in the environs of Blois, much to the disquiet of deputies. Once installed, the grandees and senior clerics began to influence delegates. Pierre de Blanchefort, the noble deputy from the Nivernais and Donziois, was not alone in being subjected to it. On 29 November he was invited to a ‘conference’, with others from his order, at the lodgings of ‘ung Prelat de ce royaulme’.94 A ‘certain formulaire d’association’ (the terms of the catholic League) was read out and those present were invited to sign up to it. The document in question circulated widely around the deputies at the estates.95 It was a repackaging of what had probably been the Articles of Péronne for noble delegates at the estates general. The preamble painted a picture of a monarchy that had become too weak to defend the catholic faith. It needed the assistance of its natural defenders (the nobility) who must swear an oath to restore it, if necessary with their lives.96 They (p.86) promised to obey the king’s provincial governors and lieutenants, or such individuals ‘qui sera esleu pour nostre chef’. If the latter proved complicit with the king’s enemies, they would be deposed and others elected in their place.97Each viscounty or locality within the bailliages should elect a gentleman of sufficiency to advise the elected provincial lieutenant, four of whom would serve as colonels of provincial cavalry units. They agreed to hold themselves in armed readiness to fight in the cause either in their own province or elsewhere, arrangements being sketched out for their reimbursement. Each provincial association would stay in touch with the others and devote themselves to the work of the estates general ‘pour faire une reformation des abbus et desordres qui ont continué de long temps en cedict Royaume esperant que Dieu nous enuoya une bonne reformation par une sy bonne et grande Assemblée’.98Their oath was to be sworn in the name of the Holy Trinity, the eucharistic body of Christ, on the Bible, and on the strength of an individual’s goods and possessions. The document was carefully designed to appeal to noble delegates, implying a promise to perform specific services in anticipation that God would grant his grace and keep France catholic. It echoed the votive obligations of crusading knights.99 The solemnity of the oath-taking in the proposed association was itself an attempt to recover the sanctity of the oath as the basis for a godly commonwealth, an attempt that would readily resonate with clerical ideals and noble self-perception.

That appeal was not universal. There is no evidence that Blanchefort had seen or read the document before it was read out at the meeting, but he was ready with his own answer to it: ‘[s]eullement Je dis qu’il me sembloit que le Roy ne deuoit estre conseillé a la Guerre pour la playe trop recente du Royaume qu’elle a apporté que celuy qui se plaist ez Guerres Ciuilles nest de Dieu, et fault prier pour luy.’100 Like many provincial nobles, Blanchefort had a good knowledge of his Bible. Christ had not instructed us, he replied, to pull out the tares from the field but rather to leave them to God to winnow them out at the final harvest. He was also well read in the extensive literature dating back to the early civil wars in defence of religious pluralism. The examples of Germany and Switzerland proved that it was not necessary to impose one religion by force. The attempts to exterminate protestantism in France had gone on for over a generation and, since they had not achieved their objective, they did not carry God’s approval. The word of God had (p.87) not been spread by the sword but by persuasive preaching and the exemplary lives of the apostles. What was needed was ‘Une reformation en nostre Esglize Catholique Appostolicque et Romaine … par laquelle les hereticques peuuent estre vaillamment Combatus et ne fault douter que nous humiliants deuant Dieu il ne fasse par la assouppir et esteindre touttes heresies schismes diuisions et differents’.101 Such a reformation might occur through a national council of the Gallican church. The recent peace of Monsieur was not a ‘Paix extorquée’ but the measure of a magnanimous king, recognizing that sometimes peace is more important than victory. At all events, he could not in good conscience sign the League and be a king’s servant. When it came to the vote on the issue of catholicity on 19 December, the protestant noble deputy from Saintonge, Mirambeau, led the opposition on the grounds that the edict of pacification had been a legitimate, sovereign decision of the king.102Blanchefort, too, opposed it on the grounds that his cahier specifically said the opposite and he regarded a vote for catholicity as a proxy declaration of renewed civil war. Although we do not know exactly how many nobles voted with him, he mentions four others by name from the neighbouring governments of the Orléanais and Burgundy.103 The nobility, in other words, were not unremittingly bellicose in their attitudes.

The most complex debates occurred among the third estate, since their numerous delegations had to reach a consensus view on the basis of their different mandates within the twelve lobbies, or gouvernements, into which each order was geographically divided. I have already analysed elsewhere these debates, which culminated in the crucial decision in favour of catholicity on 26 December 1576.104 They graphically reveal the personal, geographical, and political divisions of the deputies over a crucial issue on which they were being subtly manipulated from several quarters. 26 December was a day of dupes in an estates general that has been described as a ‘prolonged day of dupes’.105 It is difficult to be sure what the king was up to, and that obscurity was intentional. The king had come to regard the recent peace as unjust, because it had been signed under duress. The provincial leagues were a means of overturning it and, at the same time, neutralizing their potential danger. He would put himself at their head and be the principal beneficiary of the (p.88) explicit oaths of association and loyalty that they existed to create. With their support, the estates general would become the true incarnation of the will of the realm. If each estate committed itself solemnly to catholic reunification, then (in due course) they would have to will the resources, military, moral, and financial, with which to carry it out. The king would graciously assent to the petitions of the three estates and declare the promises which he had made in May 1576 at the peace of Monsieur contrary to his coronation oath and the express will of his people. The protestant military leadership would have to take note of the incorporated will of the realm which was of one resolve on the matter, rallied in resources, strategy, and initiative behind the king. But, if this was his strategy, it was dissimulation on a grand scale. Anjou, the king’s brother, would have to be carried along. The queen mother, who had negotiated the peace, would have to be convinced. The provincial leagues had to be encouraged, but by stealth. There must be no hint of the king bowing to the inevitable, still less of creating an instrument by which individuals would, in the fullness of time, be committing themselves and their wealth to a cause the full implications of which would not be immediately evident to them. The formula and proposed oath for these catholic ‘associations’, as they would be known, was drafted around 2 December and circulated to various provinces. Deputies at the estates only knew of these documents through individual approaches to sign up to them. The king must have been reasonably sure that things were going in the right direction by the meeting of his close advisers on the weekend before Christmas Day. On the same day as the third estate’s debate, arrangements were set in train for Nevers to write a speech by which the grand almoner would announce the catholicity decision to the assembled delegates. But Henri III was keenly aware that a public announcement in the estates general could readily be turned into a so-called inviolable law that would tie his hands and those of his successors. So in the end the announcement was made to his council on 29 December.106 The peace of Monsieur was never formally abrogated. Delegates came to hear of the king’s declaration before the council by the process of court gossip.107And that can only have heightened their concerns that they were pawns in an elaborate game in which the logic behind each move was as baffling as the (p.89) stakes were clearly high. If peace and reform failed at the estates of Blois, it was because they were hijacked by other short-term considerations.


These internal divisions indicated a fundamental difficulty. How could 350 deputies from different backgrounds and divided into three chambers confer about peace and reform, especially when these were issues on which there were such divergent opinions. They were aware, of course, of the past history of failure at the estates general and were concerned to live up to the expectations of reform of the common weal that had been laid upon them. This led them to explore unusual avenues. Their failure was an important element in the eventual impotence of the estates general.

The official records of the proceedings of the estates highlight their formal deliberations. At least as important, however, was the opportunity to meet informally. Inchoate notions of the bien public evolved into practical propositions over a dinner table. Members from different estates but the same government met to discuss how best to orchestrate their petitions or how to advance a cause in concert. The corridors of power were enlarged beyond the royal palace to embrace the whole town, its taverns and its lodgings, its churches and chapels. Our difficulty is that we only have fleeting glimpses of the conversations and informal conferences that were the life and soul of the estates general. The diary of Pierre de Blanchefort, noble deputy from the Nivernais, allows us to glimpse the social calendar of a deputy at the beginning of the estates.

Blanchefort arrived in Blois on 11 November from Paris. Over a week later, on 23 November, he reported his first informal meeting with other nobles. Their discussions revolved around the sale of office and, in particular, whether one could use the gages that the abolition of office would release to compensate office-holders for their original purchase. They also touched on the exceptional fiscal privileges enjoyed by some towns such that they were now almost ‘villes franches’. At such moments deputies developed their political vocabulary. Blanchefort noted after this first meeting: ‘Jay appris ce mot, que cappituler auec son Roy apres s’estre contre luy esleué et faict guerre est vray felonnie fort subjects a punition.’108 The next day, he (p.90) was the lunch guest of Gratien de Pontville, sieur de Vuleismes, the noble deputy from the bailliage of Sens. There were over a dozen round the table, including various noble delegates at the estates, mainly from Burgundy and Champagne.109 Blanchefort drafted a memorandum of twenty-eight points concerning judicial reform.110 He included ambitious proposals to recover the independence of seigneurial justice from interference by royal judges and the repatriation of justice to the localities. Blanchefort wanted to see regular assizes (grands jours), with judges chosen on an annual or triennial basis by the provincial estates and holding court for up to six months at a time. He also proposed creating more Parlements, with the present judges distributed to posts in them and joined by an equal number of others, chosen by the localities where the new Parlements were based. Elected judges would be deployed in areas where they had no family connections or local influence. Blanchefort’s line was practical. The superfluity of royal judges led those who purchased their offices not to contribute to the productive wealth of the kingdom. The election of judges on an unpaid basis meant, on the other hand, that ‘les subiects du Roy espargneront plus de temps pour employer en marchandise labeur ou manufacture…’. Subject to scrutiny at the end of their terms of office, they would deliver prompt and expedient justice. Like his compatriots, Blanchefort was establishing his credentials, engaging in the business of the kingdom, and making contacts with like-minded individuals of his order. Proposals for reform were an integral part of these informal discussions.

On 27 November, he was invited to join one of the two presidents of the noble order for dinner.111 This time the discussion turned to the question of how the orders should present their cahiers. Deputies remembered the difficulties experienced at the estates general of Orléans and Pontoise in 1561. Blanchefort wanted the king to grant the estates the authority to nominate members of his council with whom they would then negotiate the ordinances that would subsequently be passed to the Parlement for approval.112 He was not trying to limit the authority of the king on a permanent basis so much as provide a means whereby the estates general could achieve reform without hindrance. They were joined after dinner by various deputies from the third estate and managed to agree informally that each government should draft (p.91) its own common cahier before trying to concoct an overall set of petitions. There was a gathering sense of confidence and common purpose in their discussions.

The next day, it was the turn of François de Pons, sieur de Mirambeau, to invite deputies to his table. The conversation turned to the history and precedents of the estates general. Was not the king a member of their noble order, ‘incorporate’ in the estates but not above them? Could they not raise a glass to the king’s health, confident that he was ‘made of the same wood’ as they were?113 Then Mirambeau steered the conversation towards the recent edict of pacification. Should deputies not make it a fundamental law of the kingdom? Others argued differently. All laws were subject to future change ‘pour la Congruitté du temps’. There was no such thing as a ‘fundamental law’ that could not, at some stage in the future, be altered when circumstances required. Having eaten well, the deputies dispersed. But it was not long before one of them was told in no uncertain terms that the king had been told of the ‘contrarietté qui estoit en cette conference’.114 It had even been rumoured that Mirambeau had said a protestant grace whilst his guests had followed it with a catholic grace. Blanchefort did not know which to deplore more; the fact that one of their number had apparently revealed their discussions, or such malicious rumours. But it was an incontrovertible sign that the informal activities of the deputies were under scrutiny in high places.

On 7 December, deputies divided into their respective governments to begin harmonizing their petitions. That day, a proposal for the three estates to undertake the work of reform in concert with the king’s council emerged—the result of informal discussions over the previous fortnight. It was presented by Joseph Eymar, the Bordeaux magistrate. Erudite and respected, he was probably the person who gave Blanchefort a copy of the coronation oath of Pepin from an old Latin chronicle that he had found. This ‘thresor fort singulier et antique’, as Blanchefort calls it, proved to his satisfaction the ‘antiquité et authorité des Estats’.115 Eymar proposed a nominated commission of councillors from each order to work with nominated members of the king’s council to oversee the adoption of their petitions as ‘inviolable laws’ of the kingdom.

Overcoming their hesitations, twelve deputies from each order were nominated on 9 December and the ‘Conference of 36’ had its first meeting. None of (p.92) its deliberations has survived and we cannot even reconstruct its membership. Our only knowledge of its affairs comes from Guillaume de Taix who attended it on behalf of the clergy. Pierre d’Épinac, archbishop of Lyon, became its moderator and spokesman. The estates general was a place where intelligent and articulate clerics could make an impact, and Épinac was determined to do just that. He was from a relatively modest noble family in the Forez, albeit one with excellent connections. He was already dean of the prestigious chapter of Saint-Jean at Lyon when his uncle Antoine d’Albon resigned the archbishopric to him in 1573.116 Épinac had important rivals at court for the prestigious see and the succession had not been a smooth one. However, his colleagues in the clerical order voted him unanimously as the president of their order. He was neither a privy councillor nor a courtier. His energies and ideas as a diocesan reformer were directly reflected in the way he approached the reformation of the realm and the advancement of the bien public.

The proposal that the Conference considered in detail on 10 and 11 December was straightforward enough. Where the three orders found themselves in agreement upon a reform, it should be automatically adopted by the king and referred to the Parlement of Paris as a ‘loi inviolable’.117 Where they were not in agreement, the king should be asked to nominate a member of his council to act as an arbiter. The Conference should meet with this (or these) royal councillor(s) to resolve matters of reform in the interests of the public weal. These propositions led to an animated debate on 11 December. Arnaud de Pontac, bishop of Bazas, spoke in favour, supporting it with instances from the past.118 He was followed and supported by a noble deputy whilst the succeeding third estate delegate disagreed. Some argued that, since the king could not know in advance what reforms the estates general might agree upon, he would be signing away his sovereignty. The king would demean his authority if he consented to having his council determined by others, becoming no more than ‘le valet des états’. Others replied that the estates would only agree measures of reform that were to the honour of God and in the interests of the public weal, and thus in the king’s interests as well. If the delegates were merely there to ‘bailler papiers de doléances’, they were no more than glorified messengers. The realm’s difficulties had been caused by the ‘mauvais conseil du roi’. It could hardly be right, therefore, that these same councillors should also be the judge of their proposed reforms. (p.93) The estates general was merely exercising the legitimate right of récusation, accorded in all sovereign courts to suitors who believed that a judge could not be held to be impartial in his own cause. Had not the king himself, in his opening speech to delegates, declared that they were ‘councillors’ in his kingdom?119 It was legitimate that they should expect to have a voice in the king’s council.

Pierre de Gondi, bishop of Paris, provided a way forward. The Conference should not commit its views to paper. Better than a memorandum, why not explore the possibilities with the king in an audience? So it was that the Conference waited upon the king before lunch on 12 December. Épinac, their spokesman, presented a ‘fort gentille & belle petite harangue’ along the lines of what they had discussed. The king, evidently primed (perhaps by Gondi), replied with a deft combination of firmness and tact.120 He had no intention of being constrained to surrender his legitimate authority to the delegates. But he knew them to be loyal and faithful subjects.121 He believed all his councillors to be ‘gens d’honneur et de bien’ and he consented to provide them with a full list of them. They could then choose whomsoever they wished to handle the affairs of the estates, the king being pleased to know in due course ‘quel soupçon on pourroit avoir sur les autres’. Although it was not the ordinary way of doing business, the king was content that a small number of delegates from the estates join with his council. With a final remark to the effect that he expected their petitions shortly, the deputies went down once more on their knees and the audience was over. The momentum for reform had been preserved from being sidelined by a futile debate over royal sovereignty and the estates. Delegates to the Conference reported back to their estates in due course and they resumed the complex task of drafting their cahiers de doléances.122 On 16 December, a list of the 134 councillors of state was duly presented to the presidents of the estates and copies of it made for each of the ‘governments’.123

On 17 December, Jean de La Guesle, procureur-général to the Parlement of Paris, spoke before the delegates of each of the chambers in turn.124 La Guesle was a known royal quantity. His father had outgrown his Auvergne roots, thanks to his service as Catherine de Médicis’s maître d’hôtel. Under her continued protection he had blossomed in judicial service.125 His speech (p.94) was to the effect that delegates should understand the ‘goodwill’ of the king towards reform. The king was naturally inclined to exercise a sovereign rule in his state to the end that good should come thereby. But when it came to positive proposals for reform, he was content to share his authority with others. Delegates should know that royal authority was a holy power, however, and he went on to remind them of examples of divine vengeance that befell those who interfered with it. Ozam, king of Israel, had the temerity to touch the Ark of the Covenant and his hand consequently withered away with leprosy. Theopompus was blinded by his deliberate misreading of the Book of Moses. Guillaume de Taix was probably not alone among clerical delegates in musing privately that these examples had a double edge. Did they not also highlight the misfortune awaiting kings who did not protect true religion?126

Then La Guesle produced from his pocket a copy of a ‘cahier de réformation’, in reality, two documents that he deposited with each estate in turn.127 These constituted an elaborately conceived project of reform of royal authority as it affected the church (on the one hand) and the judiciary (on the other). As he explained to delegates, they originated in the documents that Henri had drafted for consideration by the royal council of his brother Charles IX before he departed for Poland—the ‘testament of youth’ that we have already examined.128 The renewed troubles in the kingdom had prevented their being carried forward. But, with the coming of peace in May 1576, the king had returned to them, drafting the proposed articles ‘de sa propre main, et vus exactement par lui seul’ for the estates. His intention was not to stifle their debates but to demonstrate his commitment to reform. The estates requested that the documents be read out to them and then ordered that copies be distributed to each of the twelve ‘governments’ for their deliberations.

The proposals in the document relating to the clerical order still survive in a contemporary copy, probably one that was made for the governments.129 In thirty-seven clauses, substantial changes were suggested for senior benefices in the church that were within the gift of the crown. No nomination to a senior benefice would be considered before at least six weeks following the resignation of the previous incumbent. The procureur-général was charged (p.95) to investigate locally on the suitability of a nomination, and candidates must conform to the relevant canonical qualifications for office. In addition, each candidature must have certificates from two doctors of theology as to the catholicity of their doctrine. Once they had received their letters of nomination, they must proceed to obtain papal provisions within six months.130 Ecclesiastical ‘reservations’ (i.e. nominations in favorem in advance of an ecclesiastical incumbency becoming vacant) were declared illegal, and pensions on a benefice in favour of the crown or its servants were outlawed. Abbeys and priories held by custodi nos and œconomes, straw men for their real holders, were to be investigated by bishops and archbishops and their reports submitted to the chancellor for further action in six months time.131

Several clauses encouraged senior clergy to repair churches whilst urging local judicial officials to prosecute those who had obtained rights to cut wood from ecclesiastical forests for repairs, only to divert the proceeds to their own benefit. Bishops and archbishops should take a lead in ecclesiastical reformation by organizing preaching in their cathedrals and holding provincial councils ‘pour la reformation des abbus et vices’.132 The crown and senior clerics should collaborate to ensure that parish clergy were canonically appointed. The law officers should bring any cleric suspected of simony before the royal courts.133 Those found to be absent from their benefices without good cause risked seizure of their revenues.134 Bishops and senior clergy were to ensure that benefice income was adequately distributed and that pluralism was eradicated.135 Clergy serving in noble households were reminded that they were not to act as part-time legal solicitors for their patron.136 Several clauses addressed the vexed problem of recovering ecclesiastical property illegally acquired by laymen during the troubles.137 A final set of proposals hinted at limiting the rights of foreigners to benefices in the French church and summarized a miscellany of clerical reform issues.138

In his reply, Épinac reminded the king that the difficulty lay in the execution of reform and not in its proposition. Henri III had not been the only person to draft reform proposals for the church in 1573. The cardinal of Lorraine had proposed a plan too.139 But what had happened? They were passed to the Sorbonne and the Parlement, who approved them. The king had signed up to them too. But the chancellor never drafted the edict and (p.96) they remained a dead letter. If ecclesiastical reform had stalled, it was not the fault of the clerical order. For his part, Taix noted that the king’s draft made ‘little or no mention’ of local and autonomous clerical election. If the king hoped to head off contentious debate over reform among the clerical order, he would be mistaken.

The document on judicial reform, preserved for us by Blanchefort, was even longer. A summary of La Guesle’s speech, such as might have been recorded by a deputy taking notes as he spoke, hastily scribbled down and then folded into a pocket or hat-band, contains additional suggestions.140It began with various changes to strengthen the internal discipline of the judiciary, proposing a greater role for the procureurs généraux.141 The ‘judicial ordinances’ (presumably the ordinances of Moulins, February 1566) were to be read out in court every six months. The king’s law officers should report to the chancellor every six months on contraventions. Formal sessions in which all law courts should inspect their own procedures should be held four times a year and the law officers should report on them to the chancellor. The document went on to propose detailed measures relating to court jurisdictions and particular crimes.142 In his speech, he suggested that the much criticized police officers, the prévôts des maréchaux, should be replaced with a ‘cappitaine de justice en chasque bailliage, par eslection et pour trois ans seullement’.143He also voiced the case for two new Parlements (in Lyon and Poitiers), and a grands jours in Troyes. On the issue of venality, all royal offices sold since the estates at Orléans should be subject to progressive repurchase. Royal judges should be appointed by the king on nomination from the localities.144Seigneurial offices of justice should be forbidden for sale. Payments to judges, the hours of sessions, judicial absence, and the conduct of cases were the subjects for the remaining paragraphs.145 He raised the question of selling parts of the royal domain to unmortgage the remainder. He suggested that contracts made with partisans and tax-farmers as well as all royal gifts in the preceding twenty years should be scrutinized for malversation and interest reduced to a maximum of                    The Estates of Blois and the Bien Public                per cent (denier 12). The ordinance of Philipe V requiring all gifts over 150 livres to be registered at the Chambre des Comptes should be revived. In military and provincial life, there were substantial (p.97) changes also to be considered. The number of marshals could be reduced by a third, down to two as had been the case in the reign of François I. The gendarmerie should be capped at a realistic level (3,000 hommes d’armes) and infantry companies maintained at what was regarded as the optimum number in sixteenth-century Europe of 300. The proliferation of regional governors must be reversed and the traditional twelve large governments reinstated. The estates general should be held every five years and its unanimous resolutions, if accepted by the king, should become law without additional scrutiny by the sovereign courts.146 This reformist zeal from a senior law officer with a document in the king’s own hand was a green light to considering changes of all kinds. The following day, clerical deputies approved the notion of a common cahier of reform and agreed that they would circulate each chapter of their document to each of the other orders.147

In retrospect, this marked the high point of cooperative reform between the king and the estates general. Over the next fortnight, internal debates within the orders as well as the divisive effects of the catholicity decision fractured this unity of purpose. The three estates moved at different speeds through the chapters of their cahiers. The Conference of 36 apparently met one last time on 28 December.148 The third estate sent delegates but declined to participate any further. They had not remotely finished drafting the first chapter of their cahier and they were concerned about being lured into a common cause that, far from advancing the bien public, made them fund an anti-protestant crusade. And when the nobility and clergy sought to harmonize their two drafts on the first chapter, it proved impossible, not least because of their disagreements over the reform of the church.


In retrospect, it is not surprising that the reception of the decrees of Trent should have caused dissension at the estates general at Blois. Forty years later, the issue would wreck its successor in 1614–15. The ‘canons’ of Trent were the most authoritative attempt by the catholic church to address the doctrinal and disciplinary issues raised by the protestant reformation. The authority of the Holy Spirit was ascribed to them and their application was (p.98) to be universal. In France, however, the decrees became controversial. At a council of notables summoned to Fontainebleau in Lent 1564, leading figures from the Parlement of Paris voiced opposition that varied from considerable to outright.149 They objected to the disciplinary decrees since they raised questions about the French crown’s regalian rights, the authority of the papacy within France, and the relationship of the laity to the church in France. The jurist Charles Du Moulin was more forthright, publishing over 100 objections to the decrees and canons.150 He was briefly imprisoned by the Parlement for his outspokenness. The reception of the decrees of the Council of Trent had all the makings of a battle royal in 1564. That it did not become so was quite simply because the crown never engaged in the lists. To have done so would have been to compromise peace with the protestants. It would have thrown into question well-established regalian rights which its law officers told Catherine de Médicis were coterminous with royal authority. She had no desire to be compromised by the decrees of a council which had failed to resolve France’s discords. From 1564 onwards, the reception of the decrees of the Council of Trent remained, therefore, a live issue, but without resolution and focus. In that limbo, and with the assistance of the cardinal of Lorraine and a group of senior clerics around him, the decrees became gradually symbolic of something much larger—a commitment to intransigent, militant catholicism. The debates at Blois in 1576–7 became a turning point in their ‘politicization’.

Those who opposed the reception of the Tridentine decrees were accused of turning their back on the defence of the church militant. In reality, the issues were more complex. The French monarchy had long nourished opposition to papal primacy. During the Papal Schism and the Hundred Years War, it had become focused into statements of the ‘Gallican liberties’ of the French church. These were chiefly delineated in terms of supposed freedoms and exemptions, justified on the grounds of canon or public law and reinforced by conciliar theory. These defined France as separate from and independent of the jurisdiction of Rome in certain areas. This royal support for ‘Gallican liberties’ ended with the Concordat of Bologna (1516). But the traditions of ‘Gallican liberties’ were reconstructed by French jurists and scholars into a mos gallicus of French law, history, politics, and (ultimately) citizenship, infiltrating little by little into fundamental debates over the nature of French (p.99) monarchical authority. Had such views penetrated further among lawyers and jurists by 1576, the divisions at the estates general of Blois on the issue of ecclesiastical reform would have been even more pronounced.

As it was, the divisions were mainly confined to the clerical order. Clerical deputies from the corporations of the French church, especially its cathedral chapters and abbey foundations, interpreted ‘Gallican liberties’ in terms of an inherited Christian tradition, associated with their founding saints and an apostolic lineage independent of the papacy.151 Kings of France, however, regarded such elections as little more than an invitation for local power-brokers to exploit ecclesiastical wealth. This did not stop deans and chapters from dreaming of recovering a golden age of locally elected clerical worthies. And this added substance to their dislike of courtier prelates, royal nominee abbots, and absentee clerics which surfaced in billets circulating at Blois.152 Divisions emerged when the clerical order came to debate the issue of the Tridentine decrees on 18 December.153 D’Avançon put the case for a clause in their cahier for their acceptance. He argued that this was what the other two orders expected from the clergy. One of the cathedral deans responded that the Council of Trent decrees were a mixture of doctrine, customs, and discipline. Representatives of France’s cathedral chapters had not been present at Trent and, had they been, they would not have accepted them since they were repugnant to Gallican liberties.154 At this point, the bishop of Évreux intervened. Claude de Sainctes was an able theologian but a brutal controversialist. He drew on St Augustine as well as scriptural testimony to insist that you could not pick and choose in a text. Those who wanted to accept some parts of the decrees of Trent but not others behaved like protestants towards authority; indeed they were ‘pire que huguenots et heretiques’.155 That brought Guillaume de Taix, dean of the cathedral of Saint-Pierre in Troyes, to his feet, ‘piqué au possible’ at this insulting suggestion. He was just one in a queue of deans and canons waiting to say their piece. Louis Séguier, dean of the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, told delegates that he was mandated to oppose their publication. Gabriel le Genevois, dean of the cathedral chapter of Saint-Mammès in Langres (which had exercised its powers of election well into the fifteenth century), challenged Claude de Sainctes’s credentials. ‘Qui estes vous?’, he demanded. (p.100) ‘Que pensez-vous estre? Vous n’avez point de place icy.’156 As the debate turned acrimonious, Épinac called for an early lunch.

During the brief recess, the bishops put their heads together to produce an emollient response. When they reconvened, the learned and venerable Pierre de Villars, archbishop of Vienne, rose to say that, in accepting the decrees of Trent, he did not seek to increase his authority over his chapter and that he was prepared, for the common good, to put that fact in writing. The bishop of Évreux followed him to say that he had already given such an undertaking. But cathedral deans were far from reassured. Such documents would not bind their successors. The temperature of the debate began to rise once more. Vienne intervened to propose that the decrees of Trent be recommended for publication as law in France with the reservation that a petition from all the clergy in France to the papacy should be drawn up in defence of the liberties of the Gallican church. What would happen, however, if the Tridentine decrees were accepted in France but the petition to Rome was refused? Deputies were divided, aware of the risk that the king might decide to accept the decrees of his own accord, and conscious of their responsibility to the other orders to give a lead on the issue. The bien public had become a matter of conscience, and the sum of the consciences present produced an impasse. The best they could decide was that it should be left pending just as deputies were being invited to make up their mind on the fundamental issue of catholicity.157

The clerical order returned to the issue in their debate on 23 December; it spilled over to Christmas Eve. Even the proposition ‘qu’on supplieroit le roi de le faire publier, sans toutefois prejudicier aux libertez de l’Eglise Gallicane, priuileges, exemptions, & franchises, des Eglises Cathedrales’ was opposed by five governments. When Picardy changed its mind, this became six governments, thus splitting the clergy down the middle.158 When the clerics attempted once more to get to grips with it on 26 December, various deputies complained that their cahiers gave them no lead on the matter. The bishops ‘vouloient à cors et à cry, qu’il fust publié’ but Taix was among several who held out until, towards lunchtime on 26 December, they reluctantly gave way, aware that the king could always decide to implement the decrees of Trent independently of them, that the bishops were unanimously in favour, and that the other orders expected a positive lead on the subject from them.159But Taix and others still wanted a separate clause on clerical elections. It (p.101) was a matter of conscience and the ‘bien de l’église’.160 History was on their side—the race of Charlemagne had died out because of its interference in clerical elections. The Capetians had survived for three hundred years because they had accepted the limitations of their authority over clerical appointments. The estates of Orléans had already demanded clerical elections and so it was simply a matter of reiterating an important petition. To leave the nomination of senior clerics in the hands of the king was to be ‘traistre à nostre religion’. The bishops replied with the political argument to the effect that the king would never sanction such a clause. But the argument carried little weight since delegates had heard the contrary from La Guesle only the previous week. So Claude de Sainctes went further and argued that royal power to nominate to clerical benefices was a jure divino sovereign right. But Pierre Daffis, provost of the metropolitan church of Saint-Étienne in Toulouse, proved more than a match for him. He cited various texts to dismiss the proposition, including a preface to one of Claude de Sainctes’s own works.161 In the end, the clause on clerical elections was accepted into the cahier. The clergy had preserved their unity, albeit at a price. Their division was widely advertised to the other orders. It contributed to the collapse of the Conference. Third estate and noble delegates had to recognize the intractable issues that it raised. Delegates had come to Blois seeking to realize the ‘bien public’ in the king’s name and on his behalf. They discovered that the ‘bien de l’église’ was a minefield.


Programmes for change surfaced at estates general or assemblies of notables. Jules Gassot remembered the assembly of notables at Moulins in 1566 as the moment when ‘projectors’ first surfaced with neat ideas to reform the kingdom, associating it with the influence of Florentine and Luccan bankers at the French court.162 Like many half-truths, it was not without some foundation since patents for developments, inspired by economically advanced north Italy, were often given an airing at the French court. But ‘invention’ was synonymous with fiscal devices. ‘Enterprise’ was a hazardous military engagement. Some delegates to Blois had clauses in their petitions advising the king to reject the ‘malicious inventions’ of ‘foreigners’.163 The (p.102) dislike for ‘inventions extraordinaires’ became widespread over the following years, linked to a cabal of court financiers who sought to exploit royal indebtedness for private gain at the expense of the public purse.164 In the light of such scepticism, it is therefore all the more remarkable that Henri III was prepared to endorse just such an ‘invention’ before the estates—namely, a project to reform fundamentally the way in which taxation was collected. For a week, what was known as the proposal for a ‘taille égalée’ was given an airing before delegates.165 The scheme was eventually rejected, but it reveals a good deal about the dilemmas confronting the monarchy and the estates general in working together for the bien public.

Royal indebtedness lay at the heart of the crisis that almost overwhelmed the French monarchy in 1576. The problems were so grave that even the members of the conseil des finances were unwilling to contemplate them squarely.166 Persuading the delegates at the estates general of the seriousness of the problem was the task assigned to Antoine Nicolaï (var.: Nicolay), premier président of the Chambre des Comptes in the closing days of 1576.167Armed with information drawn from summaries of previous accounts, Nicolaï toured each of the chambers at the estates to present a summary account of the crown’s financial position. He painted a sombre picture of the state of affairs. The capital debt was over 100 million livres, compared to 11 million livres on the death of Henri II in 1559.168 It absorbed the majority of royal revenues. He invited the estates to consider the matter in greater detail and they formed a mixed commission of inquiry composed of one delegate from each of the participating twelve governments in each order. The inquiry’s initial task was to investigate the accounts back to the previous estates general. The figures cited by Nicolaï were treated with scepticism by delegates. According to the papal nuncio, it was commonly supposed that the figure of over 100 million livres of capital debt had been exaggerated for political purposes (the reality being, they thought, closer to 70 million).169 When Épinac, the president of the clerical estate, reported on 9 January that royal revenues amounted, (p.103) following the accounts that the inquiry had been shown, to 12,609,000 livres, Guillaume de Taix (one of its number) noted in his diary that ‘toutesfois vn mien amy m’a dist secrettement qu’il montoit à seize millions’.170 Delegates’ suspicions were not allayed by the fact that they were not allowed to see the original accounts.171 Pierre de Blanchefort copied into his diary some calculations undertaken by Pierre de Thouars, the noble deputy from Maine, on 1 January 1577.172 These were ‘back of the envelope’ figures and they give us a fascinating picture of how much a deputy at Blois thought royal income and expenditures amounted to (see Table 1).

Thouars’s estimates were round numbers, the expenditures based on crude multiples. His, or perhaps Blanchefort’s, arithmetic was sometimes faulty. Blanchefort himself noted his own doubts about their reliability in the margins. The costs of the royal household were difficult to quantify and there were other expenditures that had been budgeted for, but not fully paid. He estimated royal expenditures to be of the order of 12 million livres. On the revenue side, it was even more difficult to know what the true picture was. Thouars relied on rough calculations, backed up by gossip. A gentleman had

Table 1. Pierre de Thouars’s estimates of the royal budget per annum (in livres tournois)


Pierre de Thouars’s estimate

Military expenditure

7, 630, 000

Naval expenditure

500, 000

Artillery expenditure

500, 000

Dowry and appanage costs

1, 500, 000

Judicial costs

500, 000

Household guards and royal archers

275, 000

Foreign pensions

500, 000

Stables, post-horses etc

100, 000


80, 000

Grand Prévôt

50, 000

Royal household expenses

610, 000

Total royal expenditure

12, 085, 000

Total ordinary royal income

12, 000, 000

Additional extraordinary income


Alienations of revenue and debts

Budget surplus/deficit

(at least) 7,500,000


Table 2. Royal budget (état par estimation) for 1577

Categories (summarized)

(rounded to 000s)

Ordinary and extraordinary income

12, 922, 000

Charges and assignations on that income

10, 166, 000

Net revenue clear of commitments

2, 257, 000

Military expenditure

3, 377, 000

Naval expenditure

276, 000

Artillery and fortifications

600, 000

Foreign pensions

420, 000

Royal houshold costs

assured him that a year ago the king had told him his ordinary revenues were worth 17 million livres.173 He accepted that there were various deductions to be made to this figure, bringing it down to 12 million, although none of this was ‘certain’. With extraordinary revenues counted in as well, overall royal income reached 20 million livres. So deputies started with the suspicion that eight million livres was disappearing into a black hole. It was not the case that the deputies were unwilling to be of service, or that they were completely ignorant of the public finances. But they had no appreciation of the scale and debilitating effects of royal debt. That failure of appreciation was heightened by the reluctance of the French monarchy to reveal the full details of its accounts and Blanchefort was not alone in suspecting that the financiers were dragging their feet.174 Even when a more detailed projected budget was circulated among delegates on 12 or 13 January, it was not taken at face value. Many believed it would be better to dispatch commissioners to each financial generality and find out the truth.

To concentrate their minds, the royal council dispatched the first gentleman of the chamber, René Villequier, to each estate in turn with a stark message. They must prepare for the possibility of war, and decide how to assist the king financially.175 He came with a prospectus of fourteen propositions for new levies (‘partis’) drawn up by a consortium of royal financiers and under review at the council of finances. They would raise an estimated 11 million livres and, after six years, replace the taille altogether.176 It was an ambitious proposal and, since delegates knew that their cahiers demanded no new taxes, (p.105) they were faced with a dilemma.177 In addition, there were rumours of other creations of offices, with perhaps more on the way.178 These suspicions divided the orders at the estates and paralysed the commission of inquiry at a crucial juncture. Villequier returned to the council to report that there was no likelihood of a positive response to the initiative.179 Meanwhile, the security situation was worsening by the day. News came in of the capture of Bazas in south-west France by protestant forces on 12 January, followed the next day by the fall of Gap in Dauphiné. The king repeated his determination to pursue catholicity before his council on 13 January, but the contradiction between ends and means that this created became more evident with each passing day. While the duke of Nevers and others busied themselves with strategic plans for capturing the protestants’ main strongholds on the basis of optimistic assessments of the resources available for war, other generals like Cossé were fundamentally pessimistic about their ability to find the means to do so. As Catherine de Médicis said in one of her perambulations around the gardens at Blois where, despite the winter weather, she discussed policy: ‘Les Estats les voient mis à la guerre, sans leur bailler le moyen d’en sortir.’180

The taille égalée project was a means of squaring the circle. The first references to it occur just before Christmas on 20 December.181 It was promoted by a consortium of financiers and had some support in high places. The attractiveness of the project was that it did not abolish the fiscal exemptions of the clergy and nobility. Instead, it concentrated on the abolition of the tailles and indirect taxes on salt and wine. The proposal replaced them with a single tax, based on fiscal feux, or households, graduated in accordance with wealth. The households would be assessed into one of thirty tax-bands and pay tax accordingly. Those in the lowest tax-band would pay no more than 1 sol. Those in the highest category would not be expected to contribute more than 50 livres. It was important to know, however, how many individuals would be likely to be assessed into each category. To establish this, the scheme’s projectors undertook a pilot study. Their attempts to quantify the anticipated yield varied from 25 million to 35 million livres, the discrepancy resulting from variations in the estimated numbers of feux (p.106) in the kingdom.182 On Christmas Eve, 1576, the plans were put before the council of finance. On 22 January, the scheme was introduced before the commission of inquiry at the estates and, the following day, the king invited the heads of delegation from the governments at the estates to an audience. There he outlined the ‘necessity of his affairs’ and the proposed solution.183 Shortly thereafter, the full details of it were presented before each of the estates in turn and copies made for the governments to consider in detail.184

The delegates at the estates general were men of experience. They saw through the project’s naive optimism. How were individuals to be assessed into the various proposed tax-bands? They welcomed the removal of paid, royal tax assessors (élus), with their inflated salaries, ‘festins, bancquetz & buvettes’. But would their replacement work? What was proposed was that local baillis and juges ordinaires would publish the ‘neuf ordres ou classes’ with the attached descriptors for each category. These same local magistrates would then require parish priests to organize the election of a dozen or so individuals to act as assessors whose task would be to assign each individual in the parish into one of the tax-bands.185 A register would then be prepared, which would include the names of all those gentry or ecclesiastical households which were exempt and a copy of the register would be kept in the parish chest. A nominated local collector would take the assembled revenues, along with a copy of the tax register, to the royal receveur for the élection. Each collector would receive a quittance and 4 deniers per livre for his pains, but those serving as assessors would receive nothing. Cases of fraudulent underassessment or over-assessment would be brought before local magistrates. Privately, some delegates were more persuaded by the scheme than they were prepared to admit in public.186 But they doubted the statistical basis of the propositions. And the majority of the deputies for the third estate were from towns with extensive fiscal immunities which the proposed reform removed. Third estate delegates had not been dispatched to Blois to wave goodbye to local privileges and exemptions. When the twelve government heads of delegation reported back to the plenary session of the third estate on 29 January, it was to recommend that they had no authority to make any commitments.187 The king received the formal response from the estates (p.107) on 1 February and asked it to reconsider, but it was to no avail.188 The project was dead in the water. A delegate reported back to his friends back home that the only result was that the third estate had decided to put a clause in their petition asking the king ‘ne pas receuoir Inuention d’impostz nouveaulx qu’avec un licol au col de ceulx qui les proposent’.189 In the end, they decided not to pass a motion of censure against the leading proponent of the scheme because he had supplied them with a memorandum against corrupt financiers. It was a signal lesson in how difficult fundamental reform of the French taxation system would be.


Henri III’s announcement of his decision to reunite the realm behind the catholic faith was to his council. It was there, rather than the estates general, that he looked for advice upon its implementation. Even before his accession to the throne, Henri III had resorted at critical junctures to having the views of his councillors in writing.190 The written avis was a device that invited a councillor to commit himself to a particular policy outcome, the failure for which he might subsequently be held responsible, while at the same time preserving the king’s own freedom of decision. Sixteen councillors were invited to submit their opinion on how to implement the king’s catholicity decision.191 They included key members of the royal family, princes of the blood, leading dukes and peers of the realm, military figures, the chancellor, the keeper of the seals, and the surintendant des finances. They submitted their avis in the first few weeks of 1577, aware of the political engagement that it represented.192 Some of them (Montpensier and his son; and Charles, duke of Mayenne) wrote sparingly and in general terms. The duke of Guise (p.108) sheltered behind his youth.193 Bellièvre blamed his brevity on his recent illness.194 Biron was one of the few to ‘prendre la hardiesse d’escrire ce que I’en pense’.195 Nevers, too, lived up to his idiosyncratic temperament of thinking with his pen, submitting the longest memorandum of all in favour of an anti-protestant mobilization, albeit with qualifications.196

Nevers’s advice was the most distinctive. It is tempting to imagine that Louis de Gonzague, duke of Nevers, ten years the king’s senior and a dominant intellectual mentor during his adolescence, was closer to Henri III than was the case.197 As we have seen, he enjoyed high favour in the aftermath of the massacre of St Bartholomew and during the siege of La Rochelle. He accompanied him to Poland and, with Albert de Gondi, comte de Retz, enjoyed his confidence.198 Henri’s hasty departure from Cracow on the night of 18–19 June 1574, however, was undertaken without any prior consultation with the duke, apparently on the grounds that Nevers would have opposed it for the dishonour that such an ignominious flight represented.199 As they returned through northern Italy, Nevers resented the fact that his services in Poland had gone unrewarded and that he was being humiliated before his compatriots.200 Even his advice about how the king should conduct himself in Italy went unheeded. Those now high in favour—Roger de Saint-Lary, duke of Bellegarde, and Emanuele Philibert, duke of Savoy—represented an implicit shift in French attitudes to northern Italy as Henri III abandoned claims to intervene across the Alps in favour of concentrating on France’s complex domestic agenda. The losers were France’s allies to the east of Savoy, especially the dukes of Mantua, Louis de Gonzague’s relatives, and Nevers himself who was relieved of his command of French forces beyond the Alps.

Nevers retired from the French court for over a year until September 1575 when the crisis that threatened to engulf the French monarchy reactivated his former loyalties to Henri III. His strategy for reinsertion at the French court, supported by huge investments in loans to the crown, had an agenda that included reform. His starting point was that the monarchy was living (p.109) through a critical juncture.201 The king must seize the moment and become a charismatic leader. To Nevers, the royal coronation oath was a sacred vow to God.202 Personal vows overrode other public commitments, such as those that he had made in the lit de justice at the Parlement of Paris for the registration of the peace of Monsieur in May 1576.203 In his coronation oath, Henri III had vowed to extirpate heresy. If he carried out his vow, God would protect him; if he failed to do so, his destruction was assured.204 His subjects, summoned to obedience, would assist him to carry it out. Those who refused to do so demonstrated by their disobedience that they were the enemies of the king and his realm. They must be defeated by force in a holy war to preserve God’s honour and the health of the realm.

For Nevers, the reformation of the kingdom was therefore subsumed into a crusade. The rise to prominence of the reformist endeavour at the court of Henri III must be seen in part as the result of his renewed influence. The estates general was not up to the task and the king must look to other means. On the basis of rather speculative figures, he thought the minimum forces necessary for the army to fight the protestants in Gascony would cost 250,000 livres a month or three million livres for a year’s campaign. In addition, there would have to be an army in Dauphiné (140,000 livres a month), the mustering of the gendarmerie (a similar sum), and more to hire mercenaries. How were such resources to be raised? Nevers held out for a default on existing royal debts, loans from German bankers, assistance from the papacy and the French clergy, advances from the towns, and the mobilization of local military and political support, especially through the catholic associations. Above all, there must be no delay. War was the only way to make ‘une saincte paix’ after which there would be time for reform and reconstruction.205

For a monarchy that had just declared before the estates a capital debt of around 100 million livres, Nevers’s advice pointed firmly towards Jerusalem via Neverland. Although the other royal councillors did not question catholicity outright, they doubted that the means existed to achieve it on the scale envisaged by Nevers. Pomponne de Bellièvre, the surintendant des finances, could hardly bear to contemplate the cost implications of catholicity.206 Birague was also pessimistic about funding anything but a very short campaign, the corruption in the state being so widespread that it was (p.110) fundamentally enfeebled.207 He was one of the few councillors to hold out hopes for a contribution from the estates general, although he admitted that it might be building castles in the air.208 Cheverny and Morvillier feared that time was not on their side.209 Cheverny, the keeper of the seals, was particularly concerned at the possible collapse of civil society from a prolonged war.210 Meanwhile, the queen mother pinned her hopes on a diplomatic outcome that centred on negotiations with Henri, king of Navarre.211 Here again, opinion around the table was divided. Lenoncourt thought there was a chance that Navarre would be persuaded by protestant war-weariness to make concessions; but Biron was pessimistic.212 Anjou thought it would depend on how the issues were presented to his former partners in the confederacy—and reminded everyone that it was not just Navarre who would have to be persuaded.213 Everyone agreed that Henri de Montmorency-Damville, the confederate leader in Languedoc, needed to be treated with kid gloves. Queen Catherine said that she feared him ‘the most’.

When it came to the royal ‘associations’, royal councillors were similarly divided in their views. Nevers regarded them as useful agents to hold the northern provinces loyal, perhaps defending them against foreign incursion and thus freeing up forces for the southern ‘crusade’.214 Louis, cardinal of Guise, stressed their political significance.215 Charles, duke of Mayenne, and François, duke of Anjou, were more sceptical. They would only become useful when they were paid by the state—and the implication was that this would not happen.216 Queen Catherine, too, was inclined to disregard them.217 Jean de Morvillier thought that they would quickly disband unless they were promptly mobilized.218 Lenoncourt was openly hostile to them as fundamentally alien to a monarchical state.219 As Henri III mulled over their advice, he would have gathered that Louis de Gonzague’s advice was out on a limb. Among the rest, there was no consensus beyond the fact that diplomacy should be given a chance and that (in the event of war) the estates were unlikely to come to his aid. From all quarters, the news was that protestant fears for their safety were being manipulated in favour of hostilities. An ordinance of 30 January 1577 somewhat desperately urged governors and lieutenants to assemble moderate protestants, give them written guarantees (p.111) of their personal safety, and invite them to nominate catholic friends to stand surety for their well-being.220 Henri III kept his own views to himself. Only one autograph letter to his secretary Villeroy, now surviving in a private collection, gives us any clue as to his thoughts. As was generally the case with these missives, it is undated and we may tentatively assign it on internal evidence to January 1577.221 The king expressed his frustration: ‘Le diable opere bien avec ses huguenots [i.e. protestants: but also, perhaps, the deputies at the estates general], il use du mensonge et en emplit la bouche de ceulx qui prennent la parole.’ There remained one final way in which the estates might prove a useful weapon in securing a new peace on royal terms.


What arguments would convince the French protestant leadership that the realm could be reunited in the catholic faith without bloodshed? How could such a mission be successful? The idea of sending a delegation from the estates to Navarre, Condé, and Damville was canvassed shortly after the king’s announcement to his privy council on 27 December.222 The incorporated realm, united once more in the catholic faith, would declare its will before the protestant leaders. If they chose to reject it, they would be exposed for the rebels they were. If they accepted it, their personal well-being and the security of their supporters would be guaranteed, even though rights to worship in public granted in the peace of Monsieur would be withdrawn.

The novelty of sending envoys from the estates general should not be underestimated. Nothing in their mandates gave them authority to act as plenipotentiaries on a matter of peace and war. It was an open question whether they had any powers beyond those of representing the views of the estates to the grandees in question. It was not even evident who would pay for their missions. If they had no authority to negotiate, the chances of success for their mission were surely slim. It was soon made clear that they would be accompanied by royal envoys with instructions to negotiate separately from those of the estates.223 In which case, were not the latter in danger of being manipulated? Several delegates (including Bodin himself) refused to serve as envoys. (p.112) Even the drafting of the letters of instruction proved controversial.224 The delegations left Blois on 6–8 January and the estates general was kept in session three weeks after its cahiers were delivered in order to await their responses.

The deputation to Condé arrived in Saint-Jean d’Angély in time to be handed a copy of his ‘Protestation’ of 23 January, a document for circulation around Huguenot gentry and protestant courts abroad.225 It savaged the legitimacy of the estates general. Condé drew on reservoirs of indignation, the harbinger of righteous revolt among the French higher nobility. When granted an audience on 28 January, the deputies arrived to find Condé surrounded by various protestant nobles. Three times, the archbishop presented his letters of accreditation, only to be humiliated, accused of belonging to a corrupt, puppet estates.226 Sweet revenge from a prince who had been denied the strongholds in Picardy and then left to stew in his own juice of debt. Before the deputies left, he made no secret of the fact that he was preparing for war.

The deputies to the king of Navarre arrived in Agen on 25 January 1577. The king had already decided to treat with them.227 Navarre expected protestant deputies and their catholic allies to congregate in a political assembly in Montauban that Henri III had sanctioned before the close of 1576. What better way to counter the corporate legitimacy of the deputies of the estates general at Blois than to introduce them to a mirror image of themselves at Montauban? As it was, Henri III countermanded the assembly at the eleventh hour and so Navarre returned from his siege of Marmande to greet them in the company of his councillors. Navarre was adept at what Montaigne called ‘la science de l’entregent’, or ‘interpersonal skills’.228 The deputies were received in state on 26 January.229 The archbishop of Vienne reminded the king of the importance of their mission. The estates had been summoned for the ‘establissement d’une bonne & perpetuelle paix, par sy long temps desirée’ and for ‘le Reglement de ce qui peult concerner lestat bien et grandeur de ce Royaulme’.230 As the ‘troisieme personne de ce royaume’ he knew that (p.113) ‘le Royaume se void sy extremé et menassé dune sy Grande Chrise que sil ny estoit promptement pourveu lon ne pourroit qu’en bref attendre un entier deffallement et extinction avec la suppression mesmement de lhauthorité du Roy et de ceux qui y approche et y ont plus d’Intherets comme ledit sieur Roy de Navarre’.231 The deputies held Navarre in high regard and were disappointed that he had not attended their proceedings in person. The archbishop then expatiated on the crisis in the realm. Navarre, knowing that his every gesture would be reported back to the estates, had tears in his eyes at this point.232 The estates general attributed its misery to two principal causes: ‘la diversitté de Relligion’ and ‘la desunion des Princes et seigneurs et Grands du Royaume’. Deputies were convinced that ‘les hystoires anciennes et modernes’ taught that religious pluralism brought in its wake ‘une perpetuelle Guerre et enfin la Ruyne des uns et des autres pour servir de proyes et trophée a ceux qui auront enuye den triompher’. The archbishop highlighted the difficulties that had occurred in implementing the peace.233Deputies accepted that the edict of pacification had been made under the ‘foy et parolle dun Roy’, a ‘precieux tresor et Gage’.234 But the king could not ‘donner sa foy au prejudice de tout son Estat et contre les antiennes et louables coustumes du Royaulme et de chacun pays’, more especially since the catholic faith represented not only the ancient customs of the kingdom but ‘la principalle et fondamentalle loy du Royaume et forme essentielle qui donne le nom et tiltre de Chrestien a nos Roys’. There was an important distinction to be drawn between the fundamental laws of an empire, such as the Holy Roman Empire, and those of a kingdom like France. The former were declared in the Diets of the Empire. In the latter, they were implicit in the investiture of a king. At the coronations of Clovis and Charlemagne, the catholic faith was accepted ‘des trois estats avec serment et promesse reciproquement faictes tant par les Roys que les subjects de n’en authoriser permettre ne tollerer autre’.235 Ever since, at each successive coronation and reception of every officer of the crown, they made a solemn oath on the crucifix to uphold the catholic faith. It could therefore hardly be doubted that ‘ils ne peuvent plus varrier pour quelque cause occasion et pretexte que ce soit, non plus que de la loy salique estant ladite loy de Relligion bien plus fondamentalle que n’est celle la, et du tout Inviolable’.236 The fealty offered by deputies to the king was on the basis of his coronation oaths (p.114) and they could not advise him to break them without undermining the foundations of his state. Of course, French kings claimed absolute authority in their kingdom.237 But they never claimed that their authority was contrary to reason and the laws of the kingdom, which is why all edicts had to be registered in the Parlements before any obedience to them could be required. And the Parlements were ‘une forme des trois estats racourcie au petit pied’. In any case, the recent peace of Monsieur had been extorted by force and violence and was, as a result, inequitable. Even the king of Navarre did not allow a plurality of religious beliefs in his own principality. The deputies invited Navarre to obey the king’s decision, reassuring him of their pledge to maintain protestants in their wealth and possessions.238 Finally, the archbishop associated the estates general with the king’s attempts to appease the ‘desunion et deffiances’ among his princes and invited the king of Navarre to join with the estates general and solemnly swear to obey these decrees, promising that, in so doing, ‘luy acquira une Gloire Immortelle de la paix et repos du Royaume’.239

The king’s reply came verbally, reinforced by a letter and instruction to the estates.240 In the letter, he regretted that he could not attend the estates in person and assist its ‘haute entreprise’ to restore the realm.241 It was in need of sound advice and he was much afraid that individuals were exploiting the estates for their own ends. In which case, the restoration of the realm would not occur and the assembly’s noble purpose, to which (as first prince of the blood) he was committed, would stay elusive. Just as the ‘sage Medecin’ knew that he must adjust his physic in accordance with the condition of the patient, just so a ‘bon Juge & legislateur ne sarreste tant a la substilité comme a lEquitté et utilitté publique et au salut commun quy doibt estre & servir de loy publique a tous Royaume et Republiques’.242 So the question was ‘non seullement ce quilz desireroient mais ce que ce pauvre Royaume peult comporter & ce quil peut faire’. Blanchefort commented in the margin of his copy of the instructions at this point: ‘laffection doibt ceder a l’utilitté’. He took the point. Passions must be governed by expediency. Even a state in healthy condition would hardly tolerate ‘un si soudain changement dune extremitté a une autre sans danger d’estre du tout renversé, beaucoup moins doncques le pourroit souffrir le nostre quy est sy mallade, sy basté (p.115) et sy foible’.243 Delegates should remember that they proposed to deny to protestants precisely that which ‘faict mal au cœur des Catholicques’, namely the ‘jouissance de lexercice de leur Relligion’. The protestant experience was that, when they were denied the exercise of their religion, the catholic religion ‘n’a rien amendé, ains beaucoup empiré’. They referred to protestantism as ‘erreur et heresye’ which it was not. Such matters of faith were properly a question for ‘un Concille general libre & legitimement assemble ou bien par un Nationnal auquel touttes parties soient ouyes’.244 As for his own principality of Béarn, he had already introduced religious pluralism there.245On the question of his own conversion to catholicism, the assembly would need to demonstrate to him the ways in which his religion was not the right one. In the meantime, he trusted that deputies at Blois would, in equity, allow protestants and their catholic allies to hold their own assembly shortly in Montauban, from which he would take further advice. In the meantime, they would find him ‘tousjours tres enclin et affectionné à tout ce qui appartient vrayement a lhonneur de Dieu au service du Roy et au repos de ce Royaume’.246 Navarre’s response was a model of tact and studied moderation, calling the estates’ bluff when it came to the possibility of excluding him from the succession to the throne.

The deputies to Damville carrying an autograph letter from the king in addition to their instructions were received in Montpellier by him and his council on 8 February.247 Damville’s council was mi-partie, a mixture of protestants and catholics. The protestants were nominated by the political assembly of lower Languedoc, and they were complemented by catholic appointments by the marshal himself. The deputies presented their case. The king wanted only one religion in his kingdom. He was entitled to abrogate the edict of pacification since it had only been conceded until the convocation of the estates and the protestants had failed to uphold its terms.248 The protestants on Damville’s council lost no time in contradicting the latter claim. Both catholics and protestants cited the oaths that they had solemnly entered into with one another in Béziers at the meeting of the provincial estates of Languedoc to uphold the pacification.249 To abrogate those oaths would be to break the civil peace in the province. In (p.116) Languedoc, religious pluralism was a fact of domestic, as well as civil, life. Cross-confessional marriage was a reality and the rupture of the edict of pacification ‘n’ameneroit seullement guerre es villes et campagnes mais aux familles’. Damville’s reply and accompanying instructions of 8 February back to the estates reflected these views.250 Addressed to ‘messieurs de l’assemblee en la ville de Blois’, he subtly threw doubt upon their legitimacy. As a ‘true and natural councillor’ of the king, he had a duty to offer his advice to the king and his councillors. Catholicity threatened ‘nous plonger au gouffre des mal-heurs’. It was God’s will that, for our sins and wickedness, there was now a difference of religion ‘dans le cœur des hommes’. The heart was a realm that ‘la force des hommes ne peut maistriser & domter’. Damville’s own heart was catholic in affection and will. His father had lost his life in defence of the catholic faith and he would willingly do the same. But protestants had hearts too. They had paid for their religion with their blood too. They could not be expected to depart from what had cost them so dear, or sacrifice what they judged as their ‘seul remede pour les faire vivre & demeurer en ce monde’. The edict of pacification had been solemnly entered into with the intercession of foreign princes. In Languedoc, it was being implemented with some success. In fact, in his province they have ‘prins telle habitude ensemble […] qui se voyent meslez és villes, lieux, maisons, familles, voire iusques au lict, esquels il faudroit mettre vn entier diuorce’ if the edict were abandoned. To do so would be an act of violence. Damville turned the mission into a political lesson in the underlying realities of the situation in Languedoc.

The envoys returned to Blois in successive groups. Condé’s were received in private on 2 February to avoid embarrassment.251 Navarre’s were given a public hearing on 15 February and deputies agreed that they would not ‘enter into conference’ further with him. The essence of Damville’s response was known through an advance dispatch of the sieur Fogasse from the delegation, who found his way to Blois on 19 February.252 The deputies themselves returned on 26 February. By then, the reaction of deputies to the diplomatic failure was apparent. On 25 February, Pierre de Blanchefort drafted a remonstrance that about half the nobility still at the estates put their names to.253 In it, they reaffirmed their adherence to the principle of catholicity. At (p.117) the same time, they accepted that there was an essential contradiction between the inevitable military conflict that this entailed and the task of reformation.254They in no way approved of protestantism; ‘mais comme une fiebvre Intermittente est plus cappable a une medecine et a receuoir sa Curation qu’une continue, semble que deues laisser respirer les trop hastes et connoistre que les cendres des feux de ce tant accablé Royaume sont encore sy chaudes qu’il n’est possible les tenir en sa main sans ce brusler les doibts’.255 The experience of heresy in the past was that ‘lextermination ne se doibt viollenter mais abbolir par le temps’.256 A day or so later, Jean Bodin, Émery Bigot (the deputy from Rouen), and Joseph Eymar from Bordeaux drafted a similar remonstrance from the third estate. War achieved nothing. The king should seek to reunite his subjects by ‘les plus doux & gracieux moyens que vostre Majesté aviseroit, en paix, & sans guerre’. On Thursday, 28 February, thirty-two third estate deputies committed to catholicity attempted to meet ‘secretly’ to oppose the petition, but they were disturbed by Jean Bodin, who reminded them that it was a capital offence to assemble without the king’s mandate to discuss questions of peace and war.257 That afternoon the grand finale took place. Louis de Bourbon, duc de Montpensier, who had also been dispatched to Navarre, entered the estates to present his advice. Bodin attempted to take it down verbatim.258 It was a powerful statement from the king’s uncle and it had an undoubted effect on the delegates present. War had achieved nothing but the enfeeblement of the state. Its disastrous impact was everywhere to be seen. He had received en route petition after petition from catholics and protestants begging him to alleviate its impact. The estates had been deflected from their objective: ‘un amandement de nos vies, auec une bonne reformation en tous les Estats de ce Royaume, laquelle est tres-necessaire’. Charles V had made peace with his protestant subjects in Germany. Philip II was in the process of offering the same to the protestant rebels of the Northern Netherlands. Henri III should do likewise. Montpensier returned from Navarre with the impression that he was willing to renegotiate, but not abrogate, the previous edict. As he finished speaking, president Eymar from Bordeaux broke rank and rose to thank him personally for what he had said.

Montpensier’s intervention could not have been better timed. Each estate withdrew to consider its reactions. Épinac drew up a formal reply on behalf (p.118) of the clergy, a defensive restatement of a hard-line position.259 In the third estate, the petition that had been drafted the day before was agreed upon a majority vote in a rowdy meeting. Some catholic delegates stayed away, and others expressed their dissent. Bodin was jostled and, at one point, thought he would be hustled out of the room. But their remonstrance was presented to the king before the end of the day along with that from the nobility, the last material act of the estates general of Blois. Ushered into the king’s cabinet, Blanchefort was gratified to learn that he was no longer out of favour. The king read their remonstrances attentively and, in the presence of the chancellor, was heard to say: ‘voyla une chose que ie trouue fort bonne et la garderay bien. Je connois bien mes bons seruiteurs.’ Montpensier interjected that, had it not been for the influence of ‘tel et tel’, all the nobility would have signed up to the remonstrance; to which the king replied: ‘Je le croy bien & scay qu’il y a bien des Brigues la dedans.’260 The engagement of the deputies in diplomacy had begun as a demonstration of collective will. It ended as an uncomfortable political education in the complexities of achieving the bien public in a divided polity. Reformation and pacification proved an elusive goal.


Delegates at Blois had failed to achieve either peace or reformation. The fact was noted by their localities. Delegates were in regular contact with their provinces. Taking advantage of their proximity to the court, individuals and corporations routinely asked their delegates to help them secure favour and access the latest gossip. As news of the royalist catholic associations began to circulate in the provinces, deputies faced searching questions. The articles of association left the decisions about how many troops each province would raise, and how they were to be funded, to the localities. How were these to be decided? The size of the potential burden was considerable. Local enthusiasm for the associations evaporated as the full impact of what was proposed began to sink in, replaced by prevarication. Many deputies faced awkward questions from their localities, who wanted to know how best to offer the appearance of conforming to the royal will without making commitments they might come to regret. The English ambassador Sir Amias Paulet caught the mood at the end of January: ‘The provinces begin to disavow their deputies, the (p.119) deputies to disavow their speakers, the country cannot abide to hear of war.’261 Deputies, sensing they were compromised, took their leave of the assembly in increasing numbers.

The most documented case was that of the delegates from Paris, especially Pierre Versoris. Versoris’s family originated from Normandy and it was his grandfather’s brother who had first Latinized the family name of Le Tornœur. Pierre Versoris followed his father into the law and had made a reputation for himself as an advocate.262 He may well already have become the convenor of the council that managed the duke of Guise’s affairs. His ample girth suggested he enjoyed the pleasures of the table. Versoris was a bustling figure at Blois who made no secret of his commitment to the local associations. He was a natural choice to be the orator for the third estate and present the loyal address to the throne on 17 January. Such speeches were carefully rehearsed and memorized by heart. Versoris went through it with the deputies of the third estate two days before the formal event; they asked him to add four critical points, all of which probably modified both the tone and substance of his proposed text. The king should be asked to achieve a reunion of the realm under the catholic religion by ‘soft means and without war’, to seek to maintain his people in peace, to reconcile the princes with one another, and to be mindful of the miseries of civil war.263

Two days later, deputies found themselves once more in the great hall of the estates. The only change to the layout of 6 December was a small desk placed facing the king, in front of which the orators of the estates were called to kneel and present their loyal addresses. Pierre d’Épinac, archbishop of Lyon, spoke first for an hour and a quarter. If the subsequently published text is what he said, it was a carefully constructed harangue, highlighting the main themes of the forthcoming clerical cahier.264 France was like a ship that had barely recovered from being battered by a terrible storm. Fortunately it had a prince who understood its misfortunes and listened to the petitions of his people. The estates represented such a dialogue, the prolegomenon to reformation. Religion in a state could not be altered without fundamental difficulty and it could not be construed as reforming the state to seek to do so. Since that was the objective of the protestants, their pastors must be expelled and the public profession of their faith curtailed. But this must be (p.120) accompanied by an internal reformation of the clergy. He promised a cahier containing ‘vne reformation si canonique, que Dieu en demeurera loué’.265Aware of the sensitivities that had emerged in the estates, he coupled the request to enact the decrees of Trent with a petition to allow the election of prelates in conformity with the canons of the church.266 On the issues of what he termed ‘police’, he stressed how the bien public was linked to the establishment of ‘concorde’ among his subjects. He proposed a law of ‘amnesty’ and coupled it with an additional ‘loy generale du consentement des Estats’, one which would have the same authority as the Salic Law, to the effect that, in future, no individual could make a treaty with a foreign power and solicit them to invade the kingdom without being automatically regarded as guilty of treason (lèse-majesté).267 With trenchant remarks on the reform of law and the magistracy, he returned to the question of foreigners in the French state, a leitmotif of his address. The invasion of the barbarians had signalled the decline of the Roman empire. All ‘well-ordered republics’ had laws that clearly distinguished between their native citizens and foreigners and limited the activities of the latter—he cited Lacedemonia, Rome, and, most recently, Venice. He recounted France’s debates on this during the Hundred Years War. Laws restricting the activities of foreigners in French public life were, he concluded, an important means to its reform. Although he went on to make some important comments on reforming royal finances, it was his remarks on foreigners that accorded with the mood of delegates.268épinac had managed to sound positive without committing his order to new impositions. He had not explicitly supported or condemned the local associations, though he had managed to sound unenthusiastic about them. Épinac’s speech was a defining moment in reformist rhetoric.269

He was followed by the spokesman for the nobility, Nicolas de Bauffremont, sieur de Sennecé, whose discourse lasted barely a quarter of an hour. He devoted himself to praising his order’s fidelity, recommending the need to incorporate the nobility into the state’s affairs, advocating military reform, and commending the forthcoming noble cahier.270 He expressed no enthusiasm (p.121) for local associations. His speech would be published and, significantly, reprinted in 1585 as a contribution to anti-League rhetoric. Finally came the turn of Versoris. It is never easy to speak last and he was not helped by being kept on his knees for the first half-hour of his discourse. Some said he spoke for two hours and others for an hour and a half—but the message was the same: he had gone on for too long. We have to reconstruct the speech from the comments made by those present since, although it was published, no copy of it has survived. They all agreed that he struck the wrong note. On the reforming agenda, there was little that had not already been said by Épinac. On catholicity, he did not change his original text to reflect the views of other delegates. Although he conformed to the best advice of the day, which was that the advocate should never be untrue to himself, he was easily construed as not reflecting the views of others. And, in a phrase that would be used against him in the weeks and months to come, he let his oratory get the better of him, promising that the third estate would commit themselves ‘guts and entrails and all’ to the support of catholicity.271

His colleagues in the third estate were dismayed. Bodin, no admirer of Versoris, expressed it diplomatically: he ‘had not measured up to the hopes that they had entertained of him’. Unusually, he was openly criticized in a debate on 30 January.272 Three days later, Versoris and Nicolas L’Huillier, prévôt des marchands of the city of Paris and heads of their delegation, left, unwilling to spend a moment longer in Blois. Not that they would be greeted as heroes of the hour when they returned—indeed L’Huillier reportedly knew he would be criticized.273 Perhaps neither of them was prepared for the ridicule reserved for them in handbills and writings at the Palais de Justice. L’Estoile, who collected them, thought they had probably been written by protestants, though the reaction was more probably linked to the opposition in the Parlement to making individual oaths to the association.274 Versoris (p.122) became ‘ce gros porc venerable’, ‘ce porceau Versoris’, ‘ce mignon Versoris, Procureur General des Badaux de Paris’. He conjoined the qualities of a worm (‘ver’) with a mouse (‘souris’). One set of verses said that the church had offered its tears, the nobility its blood, and the third estate its guts and entrails—a dainty dish to excite the king to arms.275

Behind this ridicule, which may have been contrived, lay real concerns that the deputies at the estates general had not stood up for what was important and that, in some way, they had been duped to support a war that was not for the bien public. When the engrossed cahiers from each estate were finally presented to the king on Saturday, 9 February, the event was less the accomplishment of a purpose and more the realization of a disillusionment. The task of reformation had been sidelined. As one placard, attached to the gates of the town hall in Paris on 22 January, said: ‘If war is reignited, justice and peace will be overturned. … Peace strengthens a state; foreign war weakens it, and civil war ruins it completely. Fools could not do it better.’276 Another sonnet, not in L’Estoile’s collection, expressed the ambiguity of the moment:277

  • La paix est ung grand mal la guerre est ung grand bien
  • La paix est notre mort, la guerre est notre vye
  • La paix tue les bons la guerre est leur soutien
  • Paix est propre au meschant la guerre au vray experience […]
  • Je ne suys toutesfoys de la paix ennemy
  • Je suis du bien publicq zelateur & amy
  • J’ay en horreur les maulx qui regnent sur la terre
  • Mais j’ose maintenir que nous estant pippez
  • Plusieurs foys par la paix et par guerre eschappez
  • Pour restablir la paix qu’il fault faire la guerre.

The estates general of Blois had politicized the issues of peace and reformation in the kingdom. It was left to Henri III and his advisers to see what they could make of the aspirations that had been raised.


(1) Descimon (ed.), Michel de L’Hospital: Discours, 73 f.

(2) Mémoires des occasions de la guerre (1567).

(3) De la nécessité d’assembler les estats (1567), unpag. Cf. Commynes, bk. 5, ch. 18.

(4) Giesey and Salmon (eds.), Hotman: Francogallia, 136–45.

(5) Ibid. 143.

(6) Ibid. 155.

(7) Ibid. 441.

(8) Ibid.

(9) Tavannes (ed.), Mémoires, in Michaud and Poujoulat, viii. 466–7.

(10) Devic and Vaissète, xii. cols. 105–111, esp. col. 111.

(11) Declaration de Monseigneur Francois fils & frere du Roy (1575).

(12) Tommaseo (ed.), Relations, ii. 625; 627.

(13) Patterson, ‘The Huguenot Appeal for a Return to Poissy’, 247–57.

(14) Gassot, 29.

(15) BN MS Fr 5303 fo. 191v [endorsed in another hand: ‘Aduis de plusieurs grandz et notables personages pour scavoir sil estoit expedient de faire une assemblee generalle des troys estatz de france en la ville de bloys en lan 1566 regnant henry 2 de ce nom’—on internal evidence, it dates from 1579].

(16) BN MS Fr nouv acq 7738 fo. 288 [‘Protestation faite par ceux de la Relligion sur la tenuë des Estats generaux de france’]; cf. Jacques de Bauquemare in October 1576—Robillard, i. 233.

(17) [Philippe Du Plessis Mornay], Remonstrance avx Estatz pour la Paix (Lyon, 1578), 42.

(18) Greengrass, ‘Pluralism and Equality’.

(19) Neuschel, Word of Honor, esp. ch. 5.

(20) The preface is dated: Péronne, 1 November 1581.

(21) Préau, De la cognoissance de soymesme (1559).

(22) Greengrass, ‘Pluralism and Equality’.

(23) Préau, Histoire de l’estat, ii, fos. 632–4; LH3, ii, Nos. 1879–80.

(24) Constant, La Ligue, 70.

(25) Articles de la ligue & association (1576); Conspiration faicte en Picardie (1576).

(26) Orlea, La Noblesse, 37–8; Carroll, Noble Power during the French Wars of Religion, 163.

(27) La Popelinière, fos. 319–21.

(28) AC Amiens BB 42 fo. 131; cf. Pichon, Analyse, 37.

(29) LH3, ii, No. 1886; BN MS It 1729 fo. 757 (copy).

(30) La Popelinière, ii, fo. 316.

(31) Préau, Histoire de l’estat, ii, fo. 637v.

(32) AC Amiens, BB 42 fo. 133 [Henri III to the mayor and aldermen of Amiens, Paris, 24 July 1576]. Cf. Beauville, Recueil, i. 227.

(33) L’Estoile, ii. 50; LH3, iii, No. 1999.

(34) L’Estoile, ii. 60.

(35) Charleville, Les États généraux de 1576, 21–31.

(36) Ibid. 23; cf. individual letters of convocation in Lalourcé and Duval, Forme générale, ii, No. 6 (pp. 12–14).

(37) Valois, ‘Les États de Pontoise’.

(38) Leroy (ed.), Chronique de Troyes, ii. 818.

(39) Major, The Deputies … in Renaissance France.

(40) Préau, Histoire de l’estat, ii, fos. 640 f. Cf. AC Amiens BB 42 fo. 135 [report of his arrival on 16 August 1576].

(41) Le Roux, La Faveur du roi, 74; 77; 113; 189.

(42) BN MS Fr 3321 fo. 35 [Henri III to Louis de Bourbon, Paris, 2 September 1576]—in Nevers, i. 110–13.

(43) BN MS Fr 3329 fo. 114 [Henri III to François Gouffier de Bonnivet, sieur de Crèvecœur, Paris, 5 October 1576].

(44) BN MS Fr 4765 fos. 79–107 [‘Cayer des articles concernans le faict de la paciffication Presentees au Roy estant a Paris le mars 1576 de la part de Monseigneur le duc dallencon Par les deputtez des prouinces Associez’], esp. ¶ 75 (fo. 93); BN MS Fr 7738 fos. 288–91; cited at 289v–290.

(45) La Popelinière, ii, fos. 332 f.

(46) Laalourcé and Duval, Forme général, ii. 311–12. The idea was also adopted at Blois (Bergevin and Dupré, Histoire de Blois, ii. 105).

(47) Ayrault, De l’ordre et instruction justiciaire (1576); Parsons, ‘The Roman Censors’. A proposal for a ‘petit coffret’ at the estates was, however, rejected—Lalourcé and Duval, ii. 122–3.

(48) Cauvin, états du Maine, 13–17; BN MS Fr 3329 fo. 40.

(49) BN MS Fr 11575 fos. 683v–684—cited in Orlea, La Noblesse, 90.

(50) Bergevin and Dupré, Histoire de Blois, ii. 108–9.

(51) Marchegay and Imbert (eds.), Lettres missives, 238–9.

(52) BN MS 23986 fos. 258–60.

(53) Only a fraction of the delegates who attended were acknowledged protestants. François de Pons, seigneur de Mirambeau (sénéchaussée of Saintonge), and Claude de La Croix (bailliage of Sézanne, Champagne) were acknowledged protestant nobles, but protestant localities (the government and bailliage of La Rochelle, the sénéchaussée of Beaucaire in Languedoc, the town of Montpellier, the county of Armagnac, etc.) failed to send their quota. Du Plessis Mornay may not have been alone in being elected by his bailliage (Senlis) but refusing to attend.

(54) BN MS Fr 3329 fos. 20–44 [‘L’an mil cincq cens soixante seize le mercredy douziesme jour de septembre’—endorsed in a later hand: ‘Proces Verbal sur la commission des Estatz’]. Edited Loutchizkii, Feudal Aristocracy, pièce justificative No. 1.

(55) Ibid., fos. 20–38.

(56) Orlea, La Noblesse, 94–5.

(57) BN NS Fr 3329 fos. 28 and 43. Jean de Poix had been a follower of the prince of Condé since 1561 (Potter, ‘The French Protestant Nobility’, 319).

(58) BN NS Fr 3329 fos. 48–9 [headed ‘Mémoire pour les Etats’].

(59) Probably Jehan de Mailly, sieur Denviller[?], a modest nobleman with lands of a declared value of 60 livres in the ban et arrière-ban of 1575 (ibid., fo. 89).

(60) Ibid., fo. 43v.

(61) Pichon, Analyse, 37 (analysis of a letter from François de Conty, seigneur de Rocquencourt, to d’Humières, 28 October 1576).

(62) BN MS Fr 23040 fos. 51 f.

(63) Leroy (ed.), Chronique de Troyes, ii. 819–30.

(64) In late October 1576, the ‘memorandum’ of the Parisian lawyer Jean David circulated in Paris before appearing as two complementary pamphlets, published in Lyon in November under the titles Abrégé d’un discours faict avec sa Saincteté and Extraict du conseil secret. They exploited the ‘Menippean’ device of a confidential audience with the pope in order to reveal Guise’s hidden ambitions. Specialists have always regarded them as ‘vrais faux’ protestant pamphlets, albeit ones that may have influenced the king (Feist, ‘Le Mémoire de David’; Orlea, La Noblesse), 39–40; Constant, La Ligue, 73–5).

(65) Daussy, Les Huguenots et le roi, 130.

(66) Mémoires de Madame de Mornay, i. 109–10.

(67) Daussy, Les Huguenots et le roi, 118–19.

(68) Remonstrance avx Estatz pour la Paix (Lyon, 1576), 3.

(69) ‘ou le zele, ou la passion, ou le peu qu’ilz ont paty’ had led them astray, ‘Entant qu’en eux est des passions, ou illusions, qui leur ont iusques icy faict voir vne chose pour l’autre’. Ibid. 10.

(70) Ibid. 6.

(71) Ibid. 12.

(72) Ibid. 52.

(73) Almost no clerical cahiers appear to have survived. I have examined six for the nobility, and twenty-three from the third estate. The preliminary cahiers from the Touraine and around Troyes are analysed in Constant, ‘Le Langage politique paysan en 1576’.

(74) Similar prayers, public processions, and fasts had been ordered by the king from Thursday, 29 November—LH3, iii, No. 2128 [Henri III to Pierre d’épinac, 24 November 1576].

(75) Taix, 8–9.

(76) 1 Peter 2: 17.

(77) BN MS Fr 16250 fos. 60–64v; Taix, 9.

(78) BN MS Fr 16250 fo. 63.

(79) Ibid., fos. 59v–60.

(80) Bodin, fo. 4 and v; BN MS Fr 3324 fo. 90 [endorsed ‘Advis enuoyé de la court durant lassemblee de Bloys’]; Le Roux, La Faveur du roi, 184.

(81) Le Roux, La Faveur du roi, 184.

(82) See BN MS Fr 3328 fo. 6 [Henri III to Simon Fizes, Blois, 4 December 1576, copy] and accompanying ordinance—BN MS Fr 16250 fos. 378–81.

(83) [Pierre Brisson], Histoire etvray discours (1578), D iiij.

(84) De Thou, vii[bk. 63]. 448. The speech was attributed to Morvillier—see, e.g. the papers of Foucault de Saint-Just, de Thou’s contemporary as president in the Parlement at Rennes—BN MS Fr 11469 fo. 34. Morvillier had certainly drafted the king’s speech to the Parlement of Paris in August 1575—see BN MS Fr 5172 fo. 19 and Baguenault de Puchesse, Jean de Morvillier, 330–2.

(85) Bodin, fo. 4v.

(86) BN MS Fr 16250 fo. 91v.

(87) Taix, 20.

(88) Garnier, Correspondance de la mairie de Dijon, i. 62 [No. 305]; cited Drouot, La Première Ligue, 98.

(89) Many copies came off the provincial presses in Orléans, Tours, Troyes, and Poitiers. Two Latin translations were also published in Paris.

(90) e.g. the decision of the clerical order, Lalourcé and Duval, ii. 108.

(91) Holt, ‘Attitudes of the French Nobility’.

(92) BN MS Fr 3324 fo. 91.

(93) Ibid., fo. 90v.

(94) BN MS Fr 16250 fo. 54v.

(95) Ibid., fos. 384v–391v.

(96) Ibid., fos. 385v–386.

(97) BN MS Fr 16250 fo. 54v.

(98) Ibid., fo. 387.

(99) Brundage, ‘The Votive Obligations of Crusaders’, 77–118; Billacois, The Duel, esp. 201–2.

(100) BN MS Fr 16250 fo. 387.

(101) BN MS Fr 16250 fo. 58.

(102) Ibid., fo. 133.

(103) Ibid., fo. 194v [Louis du Bueil, seigneur de Racan (deputy, bailliage of Amboise and the Touraine); Pierre Damas, sieur de la Mothe Marcilly (deputy, bailliage of Autun); René de Jousserand, sieur de Landigny (deputy, seneschalcy of Angoumois), and Jean de Languedoc, sieur de Vussay (var.: Pussay, deputy, bailliage of Étampes)].

(104) Greengrass, ‘A Day in the Life of the Third Estate’.

(105) Chevallier, Henri III, 341.

(106) BN MS Fr 16250 fos. 179–80; L’Estoile, ii. 87.

(107) So, for example, deputies at Blois quickly became aware of the substance of what had happened (Blanchefort recording it in his diary that same day—BN MS Fr 16250 fos. 177v–178); but the English ambassador, resident along with the others at Saint-Dié, only reported it on 3 January 1577 (CalSPFor (1577), 474).

(108) BN MS Fr 16250 fo. 35.

(109) BN MS Fr 16250, fo. 43v.

(110) Ibid., fos. 44v–49v.

(111) Either Adrien de Tiercelin, sieur de Brosses, the noble deputy from Amiens, or Charles de Malain, sieur de Laury.

(112) Ibid., fo. 51.

(113) Cited Jouanna, L’Idée de race en France, i. 373–4.

(114) BN MS Fr 16250 fo. 53v.

(115) Ibid., fo. 77; Blanchefort copied the passage into his diary—to use if the legitimacy of the estates general were called into question.

(116) Richard, La Papauté et la Ligue française, chs. 1–3.

(117) BN MS Fr 16250 fo. 93v.

(118) Taix, 29.

(119) In fact, the king had been less specific.

(120) Taix, 33; cf. BN MS Fr 16250 fos. 94v–95.

(121) Taix, 34.

(122) Lalourcé and Duval, ii. 122; iii. 204.

(123) Ibid., iii. 204; BN MS Fr 16250 fos. 162–165v.

(124) Taix, 35; BN MS Fr 16250 fos. 100v f.

(125) Popoff, Prosopographie, 72–3.

(126) Taix, 35.

(127) Lalourcé and Duval, ii. 124; Taix, 36.

(128) See above, Ch. 1.

(129) BN MS Fr 16263 fos. 359v–364v [headed in a later hand: ‘Cayer du Roy envoyé à l’assemblée des estats par son Procureur General, 1577’]; Lalourcé and Duval, iii. 461–75.

(130) BN MS Fr 16263 arts. 1–3.

(131) Ibid., arts. 4–6.

(132) Ibid., arts. 7–13.

(133) Ibid., art. 14.

(134) Ibid., arts. 15–16.

(135) Ibid., arts. 17; 21.

(136) Ibid., art. 20.

(137) Ibid., arts. 22–7.

(138) Ibid., arts. 30–7.

(139) See below, Ch. 9.

(140) BN MS Fr 16250 fos. 112–131v [‘le Cahyer presenté aux Estats par monsieur de la Guelle … sur la pollice et Refformation de Justice’]. MS Fr 17310 fo. 54 and verso [headed in a later hand ‘Articles pour la Reformation de l’Estat de la Guesle’].

(141) BN MS Fr 16250 fos. 112–114v.

(142) Ibid, fos. 115–21.

(143) BN MS Fr 17310 fo. 54.

(144) BN MS Fr 16250 fo. 122.

(145) Ibid., fos. 123–31.

(146) BN MS Fr 17310 fo. 54 and v.

(147) Lalourcé and Duval, ii. 130.

(148) Taix, 50–2, although he confusingly terms it ‘l’assemblée generalle’ and dates it by a typographical error to 18 December.

(149) Dumesnil, Advertissement (Lyon, 1564); cf. Martin, Le Gallicanisme, ch. 2.

(150) Mignot, Histoire de la réception, i. 212–334.

(151) Tallon, Conscience nationale et sentiments religieux, esp. ch. 1.

(152) Guillaume d’Avançon had been a royal councillor since the accession of Henri III to the throne—BN MS Fr 3321 fos. 21 f.

(153) Martin, Le Gallicanisme, 132–6.

(154) Taix, 37.

(156) Taix, 38. The intervention echoed the response in Tertullian to those who sought to persecute Christians in Rome: ‘Quid estis, de unde venistis …?’

(157) Ibid. 38–9.

(158) Ibid. AA.

(159) Ibid. 45.

(160) Ibid. 45

(161) Ibid. 48.

(162) Gassot, 41.

(163) e.g. BN MS Fr 16250 fo. 202v.

(164) Drouot, La Première Ligue, 142; Robillard, i. 7; Sée, ‘Les états de Bretagne au XVIe siècle’, 205.

(165) Greengrass, ‘The Project for the ‘Taille égalée’.

(166) As Jean de Morvillier reported to his nephew: ‘Lon n’oze mestre le nez au fond, tant on craint de veoir le mal quel il est’ [Morvillier to Ormesson, Blois, 10 December 1576], in Baguenault de Puchesse, Jean de Morvillier, 431–2.

(167) Lalourcé and Duval, iii. 44; BN MS Fr 16250 fos. 179v–182.

(168) Bodin, 24; Lalourcé and Duval, ii. 145; Taix, 296; Blanchefort reports the speech before the nobility differently—BN MS Fr 16250 fo. 181v.

(169) ANG, xii. 576.

(170) Taix, 69.

(171) Bodin, 25.

(172) BN MS Fr 16250 fos. 183v–187. Taix, 93.

(173) BN MS Fr 16250, fo. 185v.

(174) Ibid., fo. 214.

(175) Ibid., fos. 216v–217 (11 January 1577); Taix, 75.

(176) Ibid., fos. 253v–255.

(177) Taix, 74; cf. BN MS Fr 16250 fo. 212v.

(178) The issue had originally been raised on 12 December by a third estate deputy from the Orléanais (Lalourcé and Duval, iii. 203). The proposed offices were the regrateurs et revendeurs du sel, edicted in November 1576—F46853 —3, published on 9 February 1577; also the proposed village clerks (greffiers) in each parish.

(179) Lalourcé and Duval, iii. 53.

(180) Ibid. 61.

(181) Ibid. 19.

(182) Lalourcé and Duval, iii. 27, 44.

(183) Bodin, 54; cf. La Popelinière, fo. 345.

(184) BN MS Fr 16250 fos. 479v–514; BN MS Fr 7007 fo. 148.

(185) BN MS Fr 7007 fo. 154.

(186) Taix, 100.

(187) Bodin, 58; La Popelinière, fo. 345.

(188) Lalourcé and Duval, iii. 88.

(189) BN MS Dupuy 333 fo. 93v [Letter to ‘Monsieur’, Blois, 7 February 1577, copy]. The allusion is to the law code of Solon which proposed that those who suggested innovations in the state should do so with a cord around their necks to remind them of the dangers of change—a frequent allusion in French reformist literature.

(190) e.g. BN MS Fr 3177 fo. 139 [‘Advis et deliberation qui ont precedde la Bataille de Maucontour, pris sur les propres originaux’—contemporary copy]. For the aviso in Spanish government circles, see Ezquerra, ‘Unas “Reglas generales para remitir memoriales” del siglo XVI’.

(191) These avis exist in numerous copies with minor variants (e.g. BN MS Fr. 17299; 6548) and printed in Nevers, i. 179–289.

(192) The only avis to have dates are those of Nevers and Morvillier (2 January 1577) (Nevers, i. 181; 267); internal evidence suggests that they were submitted before the end of January.

(193) Ibid. 247. He celebrated his 26th birthday on 31 December 1576 — making him a year older than Henri III.

(194) Ibid. 284.

(195) Ibid. 255.

(196) Ibid., esp. 216–17.

(197) Champion, La Jeunesse de Henri III, i. 75–6.

(198) Champion, Henri III, roi de Pologne, i. 11; BN MS Fr 3258 fo. 5 [Charles IX to Nevers, Paris, 14 March 1574] and fo. 7.

(199) Champion, ‘La Maison et l’entourage de Henri III en Pologne’, 305; cf. Boltanski, ‘Les Nevers’, ii. 487.

(200) BN MS Fr 3174 fos. 96–100; Cf. Sealy, The Palace Academy of Henri III, 22.

(201) Nevers, i. 216.

(202) Ibid. 184.

(203) Ibid. 182–4.

(204) Ibid. 184. Jackson, Vivat Rex!, ch. 3.

(205) Nevers, i. 215–16.

(206) Ibid. 284.

(207) Nevers, i. 258–61.

(208) Ibid. 265.

(209) Ibid. 265–6; 281–3.

(210) Ibid. 282.

(211) Ibid. 228.

(212) Ibid. 277; 254.

(213) Ibid. 235.

(214) Ibid. 194–6.

(215) Ibid. 244–5.

(216) Ibid. 236; 249.

(217) Ibid. 233.

(218) Ibid. 264–5.

(219) Ibid. 278–9.

(220) BN MS Fr nouv acq 7178 fo. 520 [‘Ordonnance du Roy sur le faict de ceux de la nouuelle opinion & leurs associez’, Blois, 30 January 1577, copy].

(221) LH3, iii, No. 2269.

(222) Lalourcé and Duval, ii. 144.

(223) Armand de Gontaut, baron de Biron, was sent to Navarre; Artus de La Fontaine, baron d’Ognon, accompanied the delegation to Damville; and Camille Feré set forth with the delegates to Condé. The latter was criticized in protestant circles—CalSPFor (1577), No. 116 [‘Affairs in France’]. A copy of the instructions to d’Ognon, dated 1 January, is in BN MS Fr 15534 fos. 280 and 282, summarized in LH3, iii. 124–5 n. 1; a draft of them in Bellièvre’s hand (undated) survives in BN MS Fr 15890 fos. 473–5. They were partially superseded by additional letters, also dated 1 January (LH3, No. 2219). Those to Biron are in a copy, dated 6 January 1577—CalSPFor (1577), No. 1181.

(224) LH3, ii. 148; Bodin, fos. 9; 10v; 11.

(225) La Popelinière, ii, fos. 233v–234 (n. d.); copy (dated 23 January 1577) in CalSPFor (1577), No. 1198, 488–9 [SP 70/142 fo. 143]; cf. BN MS Fr 16250 fos. 519v-523.

(226) Bodin, fo. 16v.

(227) Berger, i. 124–6; BN MS Fr 16250 fos. 317 and v.

(228) Montaigne, i, ch. 13, p. 90.

(229) Bodin, fo. 31v.

(230) BN MS Fr 16250 fo. 319.

(231) Ibid., fo. 320.

(232) Bodin, fo. 32 and La Popelinière, ii, fo. 348.

(233) BN MS Fr 16250 fo. 325 and v.

(234) Ibid., fo. 325v.

(235) Ibid., fo. 326 and v.

(236) Ibid., fo. 327.

(237) BN MS Fr 16250, fo. 327 and v

(238) Ibid., fos. 330v–331.

(239) Ibid., fo. 333.

(240) Bodin, fos. 32v–33; Berger, i. 129–31; La Popelinière, ii, fo. 348; BN MS Fr 16250 fos. 335–346v.

(241) Ibid. La Popelinière reads ‘saincte’; the others ‘haulte’.

(242) Ibid., fos. 339v–40.

(243) Ibid., fo. 340v.

(244) Ibid., fo. 341v.

(245) Ibid., fo. 342.

(246) Ibid., fo. 345.

(247) LH3, iii, No. 2226. An eyewitness account of the audience is in BN MS Fr 5045 fo. 62 [‘Nouvelles de Montpellier du x février’].

(248) The deputies referred explicitly to protestant preaching discovered in the city of Paris.

(249) AN H748(16) fo. 97.

(250) Bodin, fos. 41 f.; BN MS Fr 16250 fos. 362v–364; cf. CalSPFor (1577), No. 1253, 512–13.

(251) BN MS Fr 16250 fos. 300v–301.

(252) Ibid., fos. 338 and v.

(253) Ibid., fos. 367–72 [‘Remonstrance au Roy et a luy presentée au nom de ceux de lordre de la Noblesse depputtez aux Estatz y ayant soubscript’]. Blanchefort indicates most of those who signed it.

(254) Ibid., fo. 368v.

(255) Ibid., fo. 370.

(256) Ibid., fo. 370v.

(257) Bodin, fo. 46 and v

(258) Ibid., fos. 47–48v, repeated by La Popelinière, fos. 350v–351; Blanchefort, BN MS Fr 16250 fos. 275 and v.

(259) Lalourcé and Duval, ii. 217.

(260) BN MS Fr 16250 fo. 376.

(261) CalSPFor (1575–7), No. 1213.

(262) Descimon, Qui étaient les seize?, 122.

(263) Bodin, fos. 16v–17.

(264) d’épinac, Harengve (Lyon, 1577); Lalourcé and Duval, iv, No. 47 (pp. 384–448); cf. the summary, perhaps by another delegate in BN MS Fr 5045 fos. 56–7.

(265) d’épinac, Harengve, 25.

(266) Ibid. 26.

(267) Ibid. 28.

(268) His began a debate—BN MS Fr 3177 fos. 152–76 [‘Remonstrances au Roy, sur ce qui a esté traité aux Estatz à Blois contre les estrangers, par Monsr l’Archevesque de Lyon’, n.d.].

(269) Highlighted e.g. by the sieur de Foultray in his selection of historical ‘lessons’ for the young Louis XIII on 20 June 1619: ‘Sire cette belle harangue merite bien destre veue et consideree par V. M. qui apprendra par Icelle la plus part de ce que les bons Roys doibuent observer’ [BN MS Fr 4805 fo. 164v].

(270) Bauffremont, Proposition (1577).

(271) Bodin, fo. 17 and v; Taix, 85.

(272) The physician Paris de Luat, deputy from Limoges, accused him of going against the will of the third estate by not saying that they advocated catholicity ‘par douce & sainctes voyes’. Jacques Colas from Montélimar defended Versoris but other deputies from the Lyonnais and Guyenne weighed in with their own criticism. The leader of the Paris delegation, Nicolas l’Huillier, was president. He wanted Luat ejected, but finding himself in a minority, ignominiously withdrew by a door at the back of the stage—Bodin, fos. 22v–23.

(273) BN MS Dupuy 333 fo. 93v (7 February 1577) ‘Il eschappe au president de dire apres lassemblee quil soit bien fessee a son Retour a Paris’ to which a Norman deputy replied ‘avec grande risee de tout. … quil nen auroit guere car Il feroit beau cul.’

(274) BN MS Fr nouv acq 7178 fo. 526 [‘Ce qui se passa au Parlement en suite de ladite association’, copy, 25 February 1577].

(275) L’Estoile, ii. 89–98.

(276) Copied by L’Estoile from the door where it was posted—ibid. 99.

(277) BN MS Fr 17310 fo. 87.