Huguenot Heartland Montauban and Southern French Calvinism during the Wars of Religion by Philip Conner The book I am presenting here is ‘Huguenot Heartland: Montauban and Southern French Calvinism during the Wars of Religion’, by Philip Conner As the title suggests, this book deals with the rapid spread and influence of Calvinism in Southern France. The real focus is on the Midi-Region, and particularly the importance of the city of Montauban. The motivation of the author to talk about this specific subject is explained on page 4, I quote: It seems somewhat perverse that most studies of French Calvinism have focused on Northern France where Calvinism ultimately failed, whereas in the South, the Huguenot movement achieved a position of dominance that was not so easily relinquished. ” The author’s critique on the historiography of the French Wars of Religion is clearly that he thinks that the importance of the Huguenot movement in the South of France has been neglected. He also thinks this omission is all the more striking because of the Calvinist longevity in the South, which far surpassed that of the North.
Also, in his eyes the apparent negligence in historiography for the importance of the city of Montauban itself is unjust, I quote: “Nevertheless it seems preposterous that these Southern Huguenot strongholds continue to go unnoticed in the literature, particularly in Montauban’s case which boasted, as we have already seen, one of the largest concentrations of Protestant strength in the whole of France” The author also suggests three possible explanations for this apparent discrepancy: IThe City of Montauban today is relatively unimportant.
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Even though it is the capital of the departement Tarn-et-Garonne, its close proximity to Toulouse makes it relatively obscure. Toulouse lies 50 kilometers south of Montauban, and is the captial of the whole region, and the largest city in a wide radius. IIThe City of Montauban has also always been the smaller one between the other Southern Huguenot strongholds. Cities like Nimes, Montpellier and La Rochelle were giants in comparison to Montauban with its mere 12. 000 inhabitants in the 1560’s. IIIThe relative lack in archives makes the city less alluring for historians.
A city like Nimes quickly outshines Montauban thanks to its abundance in civic and ecclesiastical documentation. IVAs a fourth reason I would add the relative unimportance of the city. The city had an undeniably pivotal role in its immediate area, but it rarely was directly involved on the national level. Only once did the city send troops outside its region. In the Midi area Montauban was all the more important. To understand the politics of Montauban you would need to know the dealings of the major political bodies in the town.
In Montauban, this consisted of three bodies: 1: The Consulate, who actually governed the town 2: The Seneschal Court, the royal representation 3: The Consistory: this is a council of elders and deacons of the congregation (in this case, the calvinists of Montauban). Even though this is actually a ecclesiastical body, it also wielded significant political influence in the city, as the author points out. But, as mentioned before, the survival of the documents of these bodies are very rare. The minutes of the town council for example are largely missing for the time prior to the year 1581.
This is very sorry loss, for the three preceding decennia were arguably the most important ones. In this relatively short period of time, there was a wave of calvinist fervour sweeping the land. Because of this lack it is difficult to see how the town initally reacted to these turbulent times, and it would also have shown how it transformed itself in a very short period of time to a bastion of devout calvinism. Another potentially influential source, the records of the consistory, are only there for the years 1595-1598, which is another blow to a thorough investigation.
The archives of the Seneschal Court are simply non-existant. When the Edict of Fontainebleau was issued in 1685, in effect revoking the Edict of Nantes many Huguenots left the country, including a lot of those living in Montauban. The author points out that presumably they took a lot of the archives with them. He also thinks that during the French Revolution, a lot of archives were destroyed. But because the interaction between these political bodies is of such importance, the author tried rather unusual ways of recreating the framework of the political actions.
I quote: “However, the rich collection of notarial records has enabled me to accumulate evidence of the family networks and associations which illuminate communal decision-making” By using records that are on first sight useless, such as marriage alliances, loans, rental agreements, commercial transactions, purchases of land and real estate and testamentary evidence which were recorded by the town’s notaries, he was able to recreate the web of political power, and got hints on how the society evolved as a result of that.
This way he found out that godfatherhood was an important means for forging links between families and their respective interests. This way he identified a group of 11 families: Alies, Bardon, Bonencontre, Brassac, Brassard, Colom, Constans, Natalis, Pechels, Scorbiac and Vicose. These came all from a relatively modest origin as merchants teachers and notaries. Their political alliance and shared belief in the reformation on the contrary made them take the reins of the city and formed the backbone of the political power during the next decennia.
Also by using the notarial documents about godfatherhood, he noticed that during the 1550’s and 1560’s the names for the newborn children were heavily inspired by the Old Testament. Whereas before that names were usually inspired by Catholic saints. Jean and Pierre were common all the time, but names like Abraham, Daniel, David, Isaac, Samuel, Judith, Rachel and Suzanne were at once exceedingly popular. Yet after that the popularity of these names went somewhat down, in favour of the old ‘catholic’ favourites like Antoine, Bernard, Francois, Jacques, Marguerite and Catherine.
This is not explained by a decline in calvinist worship (there is evidence to the contrary), but rather a pragmatical realisation. After the St Bartholomew massacres the blind belief in France turning peacefully into a calvinist nation was shot, and such outwards signs of proclaiming one’s religious identity was not-done anymore. The number of nicodemites in comparison to real devout calvinists rose probably in the years following the massacre. The reason why these Old Testament names were so popular has it’s origin in the Huguenots who mirrored themselves to the Israelites.
They too had gone through hardship, but were God’s chosen people, and saw this as actively fullfilling a prophecy. Also thanks to his thorough research he was able to identify the names of many officials. Both Consuls, ministers and members of the consistory. This way he noticed that there was a great overlap in people having function in the different bodies. Again, many people of influential families dominated both the political and the ecclesiastic positions. Also very peculiar was how good these two bodies worked together.
This in stark contrast with what happened elsewhere. In Holland by example, there was a continuous power struggle between the church officials and the political governance. It would seem that once the immediate threat of invasion by the Spanish had receded, many people there weren’t willing to follow the rigid morals dictated by the consistories anymore. In Montauban in contrast, the danger was endemic. The proximity of Toulouse, a gigantic Catholic bulwark only 50 kilometers away, made the citizens of Montauban feel constantly in danger.
And not without reason. During the First War, Toulousian armies had laid siege on Montauban on three seperate occasions. This feeling of danger and loneliness (the closest other Huguenot cities of significant size were at least a seven day voyage away) made them cling to their own precious religious views, quite the contrary of what happened in the Netherlands. In Montauban however, the people were very pious and devout followers of their faith. Dancing and gambling were really forbidden (where in Holland the church officials reacted against that it in vain).
Even though there were incursions against this (as an example, Jean De Scorbiac, who was consul was reprimanded by the consistory for having hosted a masked ball), the followup was rigid. And this in an exceeding way. In 1584 Philippe du Plessis-Mornay visited Montauban. He was one of the Huguenot movements’ most valued leaders. Yet to the consternation of him and many in the Huguenot world, his wife Arbaleste was excommunicated here for her hairstyle which was deemed ‘vain’ by minister Michel Berauld.
This while she had visited many Protestand cities and had (by her own account) been praised for her humility. Montauban stood out against other Calvinist centers in many other ways. For Example; the identities of the different ministers the author was able to recreate, show that a disproportionate number of the town’s ministers were locally born. More then 80% of the ministers of the city had been born in Montauban or its sattelite villages. This figure is a lot higher then in other Huguenot centers. This is probably due to the location of the town.
Geneva sent out its ministers, as we have seen yesterday but they did rarely do so to Montauban. Geneva wanted foremost to sustain the fledgling and endangered communities in Northern France, and deemed the Southern French towns not a priority because of their relative safeness. The major military campaigns were in the North, where also the St Bartholomew day massacre had its most profound effect. Its position in the South of France procured also the problem of it not being easily reachable. The Southwestern cities like Nimes were a lot easier to reach from Geneva, then Montauban.
The cities on the Western seaboard like La Rochelle were easy to reach by sea, avoiding a perilous journey through the whole South of France. Also the regional dialect played a role. The distinct local dialect made it difficult for a foreign minister to communicate easily with his subjects. Especially for preaching from the pulpit was something that required certain oratory skill for sermons were supposed to strengthen the resolve of the churchgoers. These reasons are why such a great portion of the ministers of Montauban were locally bred. Yet it is also the cause of something else.
The author has devoted a whole chapter to this. “Montauban as ‘mother-church”. Montauban would effectively take the role of what Geneva did on a European scale, in its own region. As it was the largest Huguenot town in a great radius, and was at least ten times the size of the surrounding villages, it would effectively govern the surrounding villages, both ecclesiastically and politically. Another source Conner used for this book, is private correspondance. By consulting family archives of people who’s ancestors were prominent in those times, he was able to discover a whole arsenal of relevant documents.
Particularly correspondance between Henry Navarre and the powerful consul Guichard Scorbiac proved to be very useful in disentangling the polical maze that was Montauban. This also helped the author prove his stance on another historiographical issue: ‘The United Provinces of Midi’. This thesis that used to be generally accepted was that the Huguenot cities of the French South after the St Bartholomew day massacre formed some sort of Huguenot state-within-state. His research though proves that many local towns were all too kean on their provincialism and local independence that this scenario was simply not true.
I quote: “But the volatile circumstances to which the writing of the history of the French religious wars has been subjected and the lack of archival-based local studies should prompt the historian to question the validity of some of the assumptions that underpin the notion of a ‘United Provinces’ of the Midi, which increasingly appears as a historiographical fabrication. ” In effect he says that the concept of ‘United Provinces’ as a comparison between the French Midi and the Dutch rebellious provinces has no solid grounds, and deems it nothing more than a historiographical exaggeration.
There was no real sense of unity or common conscience, and for the different towns their own self-interest always stayed their main concern, over that of the Huguenot cause in general (unlike in the Dutch case). He sees his point of view reflected in the receptance of the Edict of Boulogne of 1573 by the elite of Montauban. The edict was unacceptable for the Huguenot cause in general, but held favourable terms for Montauban. Instead of resolutely refusing these terms, the Montalbanais were quick to preach peace and dialogue, trying to appease their infuriated and war-set fellow Huguenots in the other towns.
Another cause of this aberration is in the eyes of the author the outdated historiographical theory that was based on the dichotomy between Protestantism ??? decentralisation ??? freedom, on the one side, and Catholicism ??? centralisation ??? tyranny, on the other side. Personal Opinion: Personally I enjoyed reading this book, but for the wrong reasons. The author has made me really interested in the wider region of Montauban and its surroundings, but I can’t imagine that that is the goal the author envisioned. I think that the book itself was somewhat erratic.
The division in chapters of subjects that influenced Montauban and vice versa was not a very good choice in my opinion. The whole narrative would have been brought better if he had taken a more chronological approach. Also what I missed is more information about the Catholic minority (or the non-existance of it) of Montauban, which seems something quite important to me. Also, the author wasn’t able to convince me of the real importance of the city of Montauban. Sure, it had a great deal of influence in its own surroundings and a 50 kilometer radius, but nothing more !
Aside of funding, the role of Montauban on the national level was confined to once sending troops to a Huguenot army that by coincidence was in the area. Montauban was just an isolated city that had a peculiar dynamic of its own, influenced by, and influencing its own surroundings, but with little tangible effect. The Position of the writer: The author seems to have brought a balanced picture (as far as a possible Catholic or Calvinist bias would go) about the happenings in and around Montauban, yet in my opinion overstates the importance of the city itself.
One other clue about the opinion I got by skimming the book a second time. On the very first page of the book, he put the Latin text ‘Ut Unum Sint’. Translated this means: That they may be one. This is the name of an encyclical by pope John Paul II from 1995. This encyclical is part of an attempt by the Catholic Church to attain reunifacation with other Christian Churches to worm once again, one universal Christian Church. The fact that he run the title of this encyclical might be seen as evidence that the author is in fact a Christian (whether Catholic or Protestant), who very much favours dialogue and eventual reunification.