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The report brought back was so favourable, that Louis said, * They are better Christians than we are.' He commanded the goods taken from them to be restored, and the papers, which gave them authority to prosecute these ' better Christians,' to be cast into the Rhone.
Nor was this all. About the year 1510 Louis invited the French clergy to meet him in council at Tours. He seemed to anticipate a reform; and had it taken place during his reign, the whole of France might have become Protestant. The council declared that he had the right to wage war upon the Pope, and that all Popes were under the authority of the general councils. From Tours came very much to talk about in the university, the city, and the court; and a deep impression must have been made on the mind of young Farel, who had lately come to Paris. But what would the courtiers, the royal heir, and a certain young princess, think of all this conduct of the king?
If a wicked woman deserves to go unmentioned, then Louisa of Savoy should be treated with that silence which condemns. The less written of her profane character, the purer our page. The shame is, that she had great influence in the kingdom. The honour is, that one of her two children, growing up in the court of Louis, was so unlike her as to merit a place in church history. No thanks to her for this, but to the truth of God. Her son was a prince of tall stature, striking features, and so strong a will, that the king often said,' That great boy will spoil all.' This was Francis, the cousin of Louis. 'His beauty and address, his courage and love of pleasure, made him the first knight of his time. He aspired, however, at being something more; he desired to be a great and even a good king, provided everything would bend to his sovereign pleasure. Valour, a taste for letters, and a love of gallantry, are three terms that will express the character of Francis and the spirit of the age.' Learned men gathered around him; and the strange thing is, as we shall see, that he did not join with the reformers, for a tender and gentle being at his side held over him a guardian power.
This gentle being was his sister, two years older than himself, and so queenly in her personal excellence, that all her titles seemed to add nothing to her greatness. To be Margaret of Valois, then Duchess of Alencon, then Queen of Navarre, was little honour compared to that of being a fervent Christian, the protector of the Protestants, the patron of young Calvin, and the devoted friend of Lefevre, who passed the seven last years of his life in the refuge of her home, and there died at the age of nearly a hundred years.
But she is young now, and she does not dream of these honours. Her cousin Louis spares no pains in her education; her mother's example is warning enough against the temptations that beset a princess ; her brother tenderly loves her, or rather sends back a tithe of the flood that pours upon him from her own heart; and all wonder that such a bad woman as Louisa could have so good a daughter as Margaret. What is it to be the most beautiful, intelligent, witty, amiable, and influential princess of her time? What is it to be gifted with poetry, accomplished in literature, and exalted in station? What is it to be esteemed by scholars, visited by ambassadors, and consulted by her king? A happiness that thousands would covet, and think worthy the risk of their souls. But she is intent upon something far better. To prevent evil and to do good is her ruling passion. And when the gospel comes, it is hailed as good news from heaven, as bread to the hungry soul, and as her defence against the evils of a corrupt court. Certain ladies tell her of the new doctors; they lend her the new little books; they tell her of the ancient Church and the word of God; she listens, reads, and believes. She walks out to breathe the fresh air of the revival morning, and catches some glimpses of the Light of the world. She talks with Lefevre, Farel, and Roussel; she is struck with their pure morals, their piety, and their earnestness, and she is entered on the list of friends to the new movement. The Bishop of Meaux becomes her guide in the path of faith. Francis was crowned in 1515, and there was some hope that he would go beyond Louis', his father-in-law, and extend his shield to those brave men who were using spiritual weapons against Popery. He invited learned reformers into his kingdom, and heard them talk with delight. He founded professorships of Greek and Hebrew, to the great joy of Beza. He listened to his affectionate sister, and was almost persuaded to be a Christian. But the court thought it would never do for the king to lend his hand m turning the world upside down. These reformers must be treated with contempt, and even persecution might teach them silence. Margaret's new opinions were whispered to the courtiers j their surprise was great, their talk was loud, their ridicule was keen. 'What! the sister of the king take part with these new people! It must not be!' It seemed for the moment that her doom had come. She was denounced to Francis 1. He, as her brother, pretended to think that the charge was untrue. Then her noble character silently rebuked her reprovers. They could not resist the charm of her good deeds. Every one loved her, says Brantome; 'she was very kind, mild, gracious, charitable, affable, a great almsgiver, despising nobody, and winning all hearts by her excellent qualities.'
No preacher could have done what Margaret was doing among the better minds at the French court. Her life pleaded the cause of the gospel with that eloquence which consists in actions more convincing than words. The new doctrine was gaining upon the nobles of France. If the king had followed his persuading sister, the nation might have opened its gates to Christ, and Margaret's conversion saved it from those storms which afterwards drenched that beautiful land with the blood of the Huguenots.
Not that Margaret was a saint,—far from it. In her writings were blots, in her character blemishes, and in her devotion appear tinges of Romanism. But even a clouded star was a wonder in that court of darkness. If she wavered between her brother and her Saviour, it was because she turned to the one in order to give him light, and to the other to receive life. We shall soon see how true were Beza's words, when he said that God raised her up to overthrow, as far as possible, the cruel designs of Louisa, Anthony Duprat, the Chancellor of France, and their associates, when they excited the king against the so-called heretics.
When wounded by the arrows of sin, and by the thorns of the court, she fled to her lonely retreat, and laid bare her sorrows to the eye of her crucified Lord. Her poetry then became prayer:
'O Thou, my Priest, my Advocate, my King,
These thorns, how sharp! these wounds of sin, how deep!—
The tramp of the forest explorer calls the hungry lion from his lair; and so the march of these French reformers brought out the most cruel foes to track them along every new path of truth. They needed not to be ferreted out by spies, for these friends were not hiding away, as if ashamed of their doctrines. All was open, and broadly proclaimed. They were well known by the lamps which they held forth in the night of error. By their light we may see who were their bitterest foes.
Louisa, the mother of Margaret and the king, loved her iniquities so well, that she naturally hated the word of God, and all who set it above the traditions of the Romish Church. She was the more to be feared, on account of her great influence over her son. But she had a favourite even worse than herself, whom she had put forward as chancellor of the kingdom; and he was now the cruel power behind the throne. This was Anthony Duprat, represented as 'the most vicious of all bipeds.' He had enriched himself at the expense of justice, and then taken 'holy orders,' so as to get his hands upon the richest livings, and increase his wealth at the expense of religion. Two such depraved characters might well seek to wash away their own lust and avarice in the blood of the 'heretics.' Devoted to the Pope, and pleading for his absolute power over the Church, they sharpened the sword and kindled the fire, and hoped to make short work of the reformers. This was the enmity of the State.
Still more fearful was the enmity of the Church. The dignified Sorbonne joined hands with the profligate court.