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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Taken out of a magazine,
Dated, May 1812, England
About the year 1684, being a short time before the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the French Government, after adopting various measures, indicative of persecuting principles, completely threw off the mask, and avowed their intention.
At that time soldiers were spread all over France; particularly the dragoons, these being the boldest and most resolute of all the king's troops. Before them marched terror, with its hatred train; and as the king now declared, that he would no longer permit any Protestants in his kingdom, an universal panic seized those who were to be the ill-fated victims.
The dragoons began with Bearn; after which the other provinces of the kingdom, (not excepting the city of Paris,) had their sad share of calamities. The first thing enjoined the various intendants, or comptrollers of the provinces was, for them to summon the several cities and corporations; when they assembling all such inhabitants as were Protestants, acquainted then with his Majesty's will, viz. that they must immediately turn Roman Catholics; and that, in case of refusal, force would be employed.
The unhappy Protestants, thunderstruck with such an alternative, replied, that they were ready to sacrifice their lives and fortunes for his Majesty; but that, as God had a right over their conscience, they could not dispose of it in this manner.
Instantly the dragoons, who were not far off, marched up; when they immediately seized upon all the avenues to, and the gates of the several cities. Next, guards were posted in all the roads; and the dragoons often marched into towns, sword in hand, crying, in a rage, Turn Catholics! or die! These dragoons, being quartered in the houses of Protestants, where they were to live at discretion, strictly commanded all persons not to quit their homes, not to secure their goods or effects, upon severe penalties; and forbidding all Roman Catholics harbouring, or assisting them, in any manner.
These tyrants used to pass the first days, in devouring all the provisions of their respective hosts; and in tearing from them, all their money, rings, jewels, and every thing of value. They nest exposed every family to plunder; and invited, not only the papists of the place, but likewise all those of the neighbouring towns and villages, to come and purchase of them, all clothes, furniture, and other things of which they might stand in need.
They then fell upon their persons; on which occasion they employed every cruelty, in order to oblige them to apostatize from their religion. These blood-thirsty dragoons, with shouts, oaths, and blasphemies, would hang men and women, by the hair of the head; or, by the feet, to the ceilings of rooms. They fastened them, like so many criminals who are put to the torture; when, by means of a funnel, they poured wine down their throats; till such times as the fumes of the liquor, intoxicating and depriving them of their reason, they consented to abjure their religion. They beat them with clubs; and after bruising them all over, dragged them to the popish churches; when their forced presence was considered as an abjuration.
They deprived them of their sleep, during seven or eight days together; the persecutors relieving one another, in order to watch them day and night; and keep them awake, either by throwing water in their faces; by tormenting them a thousand ways; or by holding over their heads, brass kettles, on which they used to make a horrid din, till these victims had quite lost their senses. Whenever they found men or women, confined to their beds in burning fevers, they had the barbarity to get together a great many drummers, who beat round their beds during weeks together, without ceasing, till the sufferers gave their word to abjure the Protestant faith.
In case any persons, after such horrid treatment, still refused to turn, they were imprisoned; and thrown into dark, loathsome, infected dungeons, where every cruelty was exercised upon them. In the mean time their houses were pulled down, their lands were laid waste, their timber felled, and their wives and daughters thrown into convents.
When the dragoons had devoured every thing in a gentleman's house in the country, the farmers supplied them with necessaries; and these, in order to indemnify themselves, used to sell, (by authority,) the goods and chattels of such gentlemen; and often purchase them for their own use. If any persons, for conscience' sake, and to escape the tyranny of those barbarians, fled from their abodes, they were pursued through the fields and woods, and shot at like so many wild beasts.
For this purpose, the sheriff's officers were commanded to scour the country; and the magistrates, in the several districts, were ordered to seize them indiscriminately. They then were carried back to the places they came from, and treated in the same manner. Their lands were ravaged; and their houses, both in town and country, plundered, and razed to the ground; their woods cut down; their children carried off; and their persons exposed to the inhumanity of the dragoons.
Neither age, sex, nor quality, was spared, whenever the command for turning papists, was not complied with; the same violence being practiced universally. Some persons who had employment in the parliaments, were used in the like inhuman manner; and treated like the rest. Several persons of quality, and others, fled to Paris, or the court, in hopes of meeting protection there; instead of which, they were ordered to return, in four days, to their respective homes; and all persons forbid, upon very severe penalties, to harbour them; and others who presented petitions to the king, were sent to the Bastile, and cruelly persecuted there.
These things were done openly; but the Romanists put to death great numbers secretly, besides those who rotted and perished in loathsome dungeons. Some they transported to Canada, (as they falsely declared;) but really drowned most of them, when they were got some leagues out at sea; and if any proceeded so far as Canada, they perished in dungeons there. In a word, such a variety of other torments were inflicted, on the French Protestants, that only God, and themselves, knew them all.
In almost all the provinces of France, there marched, at the head of the infernal legions (besides the military commanders,) the intendants and bishops, in their respective dioceses, with crowds of missionaries, priests, and friars. The intendants used to see the orders of the court executed in their full rigour; and would rouse the dragoons to farther cruelty, if any of them happened to be moved with compassion.
The missionaries, friars, etc. would excite and encourage the dragoons, to execute a command, which was so pleasing to the church; and so glorious (as they declared) to God and the king. With respect to the bishops, they assisted merely to keep open table; to receive the abjurations; and to be as so many severe general inspectors; in order that every thing might be executed agreeably to the intention and inclination of the popish clergy. Farther, whenever a party of dragoons had forced, by their cruelties, some Protestants to comply; the former were sent, and quartered in those houses of such as still stood, by which means, those Protestants, who resisted longest, were quite ruined, by the great number of soldiers quartered upon them.
Again, before the dragoons were sent to any considerable town, the inhabitants had privately taken care, to win over several Protestants to the popish religion; who promised to assist in corrupting their brethren, so as soon as the soldiers should arrive. When any master of a family, in order to prevent the dragoons from being quartered upon him, turned Roman Catholic; in case any of his family refused to follow his example, or fled, those military tyrants would come and live at discretion in his house. When some Protestants had signed a gentle form of abjuration, which they imagined might be done with a safe conscience; a few days after, another, infinitely more explicit, was brought, and (a most impudent circumstances,) they therein were made to declare, that they embraced the Romanish religion freely, and without compulsion.
Having proceeded thus far, if such persons made any difficulty to go to mass; if they did not receive the sacrament; assist at processions; go to confession; say their beads; or if by any voluntary sign, discovered the least reluctance, they were loaded with fines, and the dragoons were again quartered upon them. Lastly, whilst the soldiers were thus laying waste the provinces, the frontiers and ports were so strictly watched, that few Protestants could escape out of the kingdom.
Not one of them had leave to depart. The most exact search was made on board of foreign ships; the coasts, the bridges, the passages of rivers, and the highways were guarded; the night was not more favourable than the day; and some neighbouring states were ordered not to give shelter to any more Protestants, but to send those back who had already fled to them; and attempts were made, to carry off some out of foreign countries.
All this having been done, preparatory to the revocation of the edict of Nantes, when it was repealed, words can never describe the perils to which they were exposed, whom, the rage of persecution forced from their dwellings, their possessions, and even their native country. Never were severer orders given, nor more strictly put in execution, than those enacted against these unhappy Protestants. The government commanded guards to be again posted at several ports, towns, highways, and passages of rivers; all the provinces were overspread with soldiers; and even the peasants were armed, and commanded to stop all persons who should attempt to escape; and, in case of opposition, to treat them ill.
All custom-houses were forbid to enter, or to let pass, any clothes, goods, merchandise, or other effects, belonging to the Protestants. In a word, every artifice was made use of, to prevent the escape of these unhappy victims; insomuch that almost all correspondence, with the neighbouring countries, was cut off.
By this means, the several prisons in the kingdom were soon crowded; for the panic raised, in the Protestants, by the dragoons; the horrors they felt, on the reflection that their conscience would be forced; the dread of seeing their children torn from them; as well as their being compelled to reside in a county, where they were treated with greatest injustice and inhumanity, obliged every one to think seriously of retiring, and leaving their effects, on order to save their persons.
Such as were committed to prison, were used with unheard of rigour; were thrust into dungeons; loaded with heavy chains; almost starved, and deprived of all conversation, except that of their persecutors. Several were thrust into convents, and treated in them, with no less cruelty. Some were so happy to expire under their tortures; others sunk at last, under the weight of temptation; whilst others again, by the extraordinary aid of Heaven, resisted them with a courage truly heroic.