The Huguenots and the Second Amendment

 

Francis1-1What I learned from yesterday’s Ask Me Anything was that overwhelmingly, Ricochet wants to know more about the history of the Huguenots and their relationship to the Second Amendment. (Or, at least, Tenacious D does.)

When Ben Carson suggested that an armed populace would have been better able to resist the Holocaust, he walked off the history cliff for two reasons. The first was his failure to appreciate what it took to defeat a modern engine of death like the Nazi war machine — one that rolled over armies comprised of millions of trained soldiers with guns, planes, tanks, and artillery in Czechoslovakia, Austria, Poland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Romania, Serbia, Yugoslavia, and Greece, and often did so in a matter of days.

He also missed a chance to explain to Wolf that in all likelihood, the Founders were thinking about the extermination of a European religious minority. But that minority wasn’t the Jews — it was the Huguenots.

What he should have said was, “Wolf, as you should know, if the Huguenots had been armed, their chances would have been a lot better. It all started with the Catholics taking away their weapons. Every American in the eighteenth century would have known that.”

And they would have.

Now, historians differ about the number of dead in the French wars of religion and even its exact dates. But they now estimate that between 1562 and 1598, the war claimed between two and four million lives, and could well be described, in modern vocabulary, as a Huguenot genocide.

We all know the background. The Reformation was spread by the invention of the printing press. For the first time, there was an inexpensive way to mass-produce and disseminate books. This fueled a wildcat spread of information — in all disciplines — across Europe’s borders. (Those familiar with this period know exactly why I wonder if we should just bomb the undersea cables before this Internet business gets out of hand.)

Francis I firmly opposed heresy, of course, given that he ruled by divine right, but he was genuinely unsure whether the early Lutheranism that arrived in France during his reign was heretical. (Catholic doctrine was as yet unclear.) Distracted, perhaps, by foreign affairs — he was building an alliance with the Ottoman Empire — he failed to see that of course this was heresy, and moreover, a revolutionary doctrine. As the schism developed, he attempted to steer a middle course. But in 1534, the Affaire des Placards woke him from his naive fantasy about “moderate Protestants.”

Overnight, posters appeared in public throughout France warning of “Genuine articles on the horrific, great and unbearable abuses of the papal mass, invented directly contrary to the Holy Supper of our Lord, sole mediator and sole savior Jesus Christ.” These directly attacked the Catholic conception of the Eucharist and supported Zwingli’s position on the Mass, denying the physical existence of Christ in the sacraments. Most terrifyingly, he awoke to find such a poster on the door of his bedchamber — an unthinkable security breach. It left him deeply shaken.

Fast-forward to 1535, when the ambassadors from the Ottoman Empire accompanied him to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris to share with him the satisfying sight of Protestant sympathizers burning at the stake.

His heir, Henry II, was in no doubt that he was dealing with a heresy. On June 27, 1551, he issued the Edict of Châteaubriand: Protestants would no longer be allowed to worship, assemble, nor even speak of religion. And the 1557 Edict of Compiègne imposed the death penalty on those who preached illegally — or even assembled to discuss it.

The repression only hastened the onset of the civil war. By 1560, violent religious extremists were destroying images and statues in Catholic churches. Huguenot rhetoric changed: At first, they had opposed the policies of the monarch. Now, they began opposing monarchy itself.

Eight wars ensued. Religion had been the basis of the European social consensus for a millennium; the entire social order rested upon the belief in a single faith. And the entire social order collapsed. France was laid to waste, the crops wiped out; citizens suffered a nightmare of destruction. Whole villages were massacred. Famine and disease killed the survivors. Details here.

Now, I confess that here my memory is failing me. I can’t remember when, exactly, the policy of disarming all but the Catholic nobility came into effect. But I do remember that it did. Does anyone on Ricochet remember? I know that it happened, but I can’t remember when.

In any event, Catherine de Medici — the king’s mother, an Italian, a Catholic, and a member of the family for whom Machiavelli wrote The Prince — is widely believed to have instigated the 1572 St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. (I believe some historians contest her role.) The king’s sister was to be married in Paris to a Protestant, Henry III. The wedding attracted France’s wealthiest and most prominent Huguenots. The king gave the orders that they be assassinated.

The extermination began suddenly, with the ringing of church bells. Admiral Coligny — the leader of the Huguenots — was stabbed and his body thrown out a window. There’s no evidence (as far as I know) that Charles IX and his mother intended the bloodshed to go beyond the assassination of the their leaders, but the murders inspired the mob to a frenzied massacre of Protestants that rocked the Continent. Catholic clergy were said to have fallen upon unarmed men, women, and children. Commoners began hunting Protestants throughout Paris, barricading the streets so they couldn’t escape. The bodies of the dead were collected in carts and thrown in the Seine. The fish were said to have been poisoned. The slaughter spread to other cities and the countryside. In the end, according to contemporary historical estimates, as many as 30,000 were killed.

The Huguenot movement was crippled by the loss of its leadership. Those who remained were radicalized; those who could, fled — to Germany, Switzerland, England, Ireland, and, of course, what was to become the United States.

Their descendents included George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and Paul Revere.

The history of the Second Amendment is of course complicated, and this was certainly not the only event on the Founders’ minds. But if Wolf Blitzer had interviewed them at the time, very likely this is how it would have gone:

Wolf: But to make the comparison, Mr. Washington, to Catholic France, the slaughter of millions of Huguenots by the Catholics, the devastation that erupted in Europe and around the world, to the United States of America, I want you to reflect on what that potentially means.

George Washington: I think the likelihood of the Catholics being able to accomplish their goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed. There’s a reason these dictatorial people take the guns first.

And about that, he would have been right.

Whether this has any relevance to America now, I don’t know. But if you’re going to argue this point from history, that’s the example you want.

Published in General, Guns, History
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  1. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    HVTs: Just to be clear, presumably you are not suggesting this blood feud is imaginary or inconsequential. Were that your premise I think it’s fair to say the burden of proof lies with you. That periods of “reasonable harmony” (which is simultaneously subjective and relativistic—a separate discussion in itself) have existed is not a refutation of the underlying instability, nor of its cause, is it? Neither does the fact a similar problem existed with a similarly totalitarian ideology which similarly claimed religious sanction for its actions. Indeed, that rather lends support to the original argument, does it not?

    No, it’s neither imaginary nor inconsequential. But to suggest it’s entirely causative is far too simple, and it allows people to be fatalistic and shrug and say, “Oh, it’s always been like that and it always will be.” It’s bad history and bad analysis, just as it is to say, “It’s all because of the oil,” or “It’s all because of imperialism,” or “It’s all about the class struggle,” or “It has nothing to do with religion.”

    Any theory that sees Sunni-Shia sectarianism as the monocausal determinant of the conflict we’re seeing now has to account for facts that don’t fit. Both armies in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war – which claimed one and a half million lives — were majority Shia. Iraqi Shias fought Iran fiercely, especially after 1982. So obviously the Sunni-Shia conflict in its current form is linked to other political changes in the region. Trying to explain Saudi-Iranian rivalry in terms of “ancient hatreds” doesn’t tell us why it’s happening now and not 50 years ago, 200 years ago, or in 2080. It doesn’t explain why it would have been perfectly safe for me to travel in Syria in 2009, but it isn’t now.

    This isn’t the resurgence of a 1,400-year-old conflict. Nothing now is the way it was 1,400 years ago, no matter what fantasies Islamic radicals have — and no matter how eager Westerners are to believe them. Sectarian foreign policy is has been used to maintain domestic regime stability. Regimes mobilize sectarian tension abroad as gambits in the region’s power politics, or to maintain domestic control. The Saudis are experiencing a succession crisis; they’re feeling the ramifications of cheap oil, and they’re running unprecedented budget deficits. All of this is part of the story — ignore any of it at your peril.

    Sectarianism today is intense, but to discount the effect of our invasion of Iraq and then our withdrawal, the Syrian civil war, and the Iranian nuclear deal in favor of “It’s just a timeless religious conflict” is taking the easy way out. Bad analysis makes for bad foreign policy.

    I could probably sell this kind of analysis to someone who didn’t know much about the Christian world. (It’s a parody, but it’s far more insightful than the author meant it to be.) Obviously, it would be missing many key points — and anyone trying to figure out how to devise foreign policy toward the regimes in question would be quite misled by it.

    This is an important message, well written, and far too rarely explained. Thank you.

    • #121
  2. jzdro Member
    jzdro
    @jzdro

    James Gawron: The youngest Bielski brother, Aron, was my landlord for six years. Aron confirmed the truth of the material. Of course, when I would ask him about the movie he would just roll his eyes and say “Hollywood” and laugh.

    That’s interesting, Mr. Gawron.  Apparently the fight against the tank was all Hollywood.  Nechama Tec’s book, Defiance: The Bielski Partisans, has seemingly every detail about the Bielski brothers scrupulously recorded, but does not make for vivid reading.  So I was glad to have seen the film prior to reading the book, which is not often the case.

    0195093909.01._SX142_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_

    • #122
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    August 2, 216 B.C. The Carthaginians killed from 40-60,000 Romans at Cannae in around 6-8 hours.

    Don’t overestimate how long it takes to run up a body count, even with ancient weapons.

    • #123
  4. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    Tommy De Seno:Matt White when a Catholic comes across a column baselessly accusing our church of gun confiscation and genocide you can certainly anticipate some chest thumping in response.

    The Catholic Church was guilty of genocide.   For a century a succession of Catholic French rulers determined to exterminate Protestants in French lands.   They were pretty much successful.

    As to the allegation of gun confiscation, I don’t know.

    As to the genocide, the French Catholic rulers had a rich heritage to build upon.  Consider the slaughter of the Cathars (aka Albigensian Crusade).

    • #124
  5. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    MJBubba:

    Tommy De Seno:Matt White when a Catholic comes across a column baselessly accusing our church of gun confiscation and genocide you can certainly anticipate some chest thumping in response.

    The Catholic Church guilty of genocide. For a century a succession of Catholic French rulers determined to exterminate Protestants in French lands. They were pretty much successful.

    As to the allegation of gun confiscation, I don’t know.

    As to the genocide, the French Catholic rulers had a rich heritage to build upon. Consider the slaughter of the Cathars (aka Albigensian Crusade).

    As did Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Prince William of Orange, and Oliver Cromwell  when it came to killing English and Irish Catholics. So maybe we should call it a draw.

    Although Irish Catholics had a sense of humor about William of Orange. His horse tripped in a gopher hole and William was thrown and died shortly afterwards from complications due to the fall. There is a toast in the Free State of Ireland that  remembers the event: “To the little man in the furry suit.”

    • #125
  6. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    Doug Watt:

    MJBubba:

    Tommy De Seno:

    The Catholic Church was guilty of genocide. …

    As did Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Prince William of Orange, and Oliver Cromwell when it came to killing English and Irish Catholics. So maybe we should call it a draw.

    Oh, yes, much blood was shed on both sides.   But the French came much closer to complete extermination, and it was the English who came up with Toleration (after nearly two centuries of slaughters).

    • #126
  7. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Doug Watt: Although Irish Catholics had a sense of humor about William of Orange. His horse tripped in a gopher hole and William was thrown and died shortly afterwards from complications due to the fall. There is a toast in the Free State of Ireland that remembers the event: “To the little man in the furry suit.”

    I may have to try that out on our next visit to Ireland, if a suitable occasion arises, and see if anybody knows what I’m talking about.  There are some who are willing to let bygones be bygones, but are not willing to let them be forgotten.

    • #127
  8. Tommy De Seno Contributor
    Tommy De Seno
    @TommyDeSeno

    MJBubba:

    Tommy De Seno:Matt White when a Catholic comes across a column baselessly accusing our church of gun confiscation and genocide you can certainly anticipate some chest thumping in response.

    The Catholic Church guilty of genocide. For a century a succession of Catholic French rulers determined to exterminate Protestants in French lands. They were pretty much successful.

    As to the allegation of gun confiscation, I don’t know.

    As to the genocide, the French Catholic rulers had a rich heritage to build upon. Consider the slaughter of the Cathars (aka Albigensian Crusade).

    Two sides having a war and one side winning isn’t a genocide, unless you drastically change the definition of genocide.

    The constant peace agreements signed by Catherine granting the right to practice to protestants completely belies the defining premise of genocide which would require a Catholic attempt to wipe them out.

    • #128
  9. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Tommy De Seno:

    MJBubba:

    Tommy De Seno:Matt White when a Catholic comes across a column baselessly accusing our church of gun confiscation and genocide you can certainly anticipate some chest thumping in response.

    The Catholic Church guilty of genocide. For a century a succession of Catholic French rulers determined to exterminate Protestants in French lands. They were pretty much successful.

    As to the allegation of gun confiscation, I don’t know.

    As to the genocide, the French Catholic rulers had a rich heritage to build upon. Consider the slaughter of the Cathars (aka Albigensian Crusade).

    Two sides having a war and one side winning isn’t a genocide, unless you drastically change the definition of genocide.

    I don’t think that MJ’s genocide claim was focused on wars. Louis XIV’s effort to cleanse France of Protestants domestically, for instance, was not a military effort. The executions of civilians were mostly conducted by civilians. Although it is true that the forced conversions were often engaged in by soldiers, this is generally not understood as a military activity, either. Similarly, while the French Wars of Religion included bona fide wars, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and similar atrocities were conducted in peacetime.

    I agree with you that the Albigensian Crusade reference was a little strong. There were massacres, but in general they were in the form that one finds in other clearly non-genocidal massacres (towns that particularly resisted sieges, for instance). There were a lot of deaths, but the numbers sometimes get inflated by sectarian hostility.

    The constant peace agreements signed by Catherine granting the right to practice to protestants completely belies the defining premise of genocide which would require a Catholic attempt to wipe them out.

    There were multiple treaties because France was not strong enough to kill and drive out all of its Protestants while maintaining wars abroad; they were smarter than Hitler. Eventually, there were able to achieve a nearly cleansed France by the end of the century that MJ refers to. You’re right that Catherine de’ Medici’s inconsistencies showed that they were not fanatical about murdering and converting their dissidents, but you are not correct to suggest that the periodic reductions in persecution shows that the end result was not the intent.

    • #129
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