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The Sorceress, by Jules Michelet, [1939], at

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1633, 1634

IN the Mémoires d’État composed by the renowned Father Joseph, known to us only in fragments, having doubtless been prudently suppressed as too instructive, the worthy Father explained how in the year 1633 he had had the good fortune to discover a heresy, an enormously widespread heresy, affecting a countless multitude of confessors and directors of consciences.

The Capuchins, an admirably organised legion of defenders of the Church, good watch-dogs of the holy flock, had scented out and unearthed, not in the deserts, but in mid-France, in the centre, at Chartres, in Picardy and everywhere, a formidable quarry, the alumbrados of Spain (illuminati or Quietists), who too fiercely persecuted in that country, had taken refuge in France, and who among women, and above all in the nunneries, were instilling the soft poison ticketed later on with the name of Molinos.

The wonder is the thing had not been discovered sooner. It could not very well be hidden, being so widely disseminated; the Capuchins swore that in Picardy alone (a land where the women are weak and the blood more fiery than in the South itself) this mania of mystic love had sixty thousand professors. Was the whole body of clergy involved then? all the confessors, all the directors? It must no doubt be understood that the official directors of consciences were supplemented by a great number of laymen burning with the same zeal for the salvation

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of female souls. One of this class, who was conspicuous at a later date no less for talent than for bold originality, was the author of the Délices Spirituelles (Spiritual Joys), Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin.


It is impossible to realise or understand the enormous power exercised by the Confessor over nuns, a hundred-fold more absolute at this time than in any previous age, unless the new conditions of the period are taken into account.

The reforms decided upon at the Council of Trent with regard to the closer seclusion of the inmates of Religious Houses, which had been largely ignored under Henri IV., when nuns entertained their fashionable friends, gave balls and danced at them, etc., these reforms began to be seriously enforced under Louis XIII. Cardinal de la Rochefoucauld, or rather the Jesuits who acted through him, insisted upon a high degree of external propriety. Need we say all entry into convents was prohibited for the male sex? One man, and one man only, went there every day, penetrating not only into the house, but wherever he wished, into each cell,—this comes out clearly in several cases, especially in the evidence given by David at Louviers. This reformation, this close seclusion, shut the door in the face of the world at large and excluded all inconvenient rivals, giving the right of familiar intercourse with Religious Women and the exclusive opportunity of influencing their minds to the Father Confessor.

What was likely to follow? This may be problematical, a matter of speculation, to dreamers; but practical men, and doctors, know better. As early as the sixteenth century the physician Wyer makes it clear enough to us by very plain examples. In his Book IV. he cites numerous cases of nuns having gone mad with love; while in Book III. he mentions a well-reputed Spanish priest, who having gone by chance when at Rome into a convent of nuns, left it a maniac, declaring that as brides of Christ, they were his, those of the priest, Christ's Vicar.

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[paragraph continues] He had Masses said praying that God might grant him the grace to wed soon with the convent in question. 1

If a mere passing visit could produce such an effect, we can understand what must have been the state of mind of the regular Director of nunneries of women, when he was alone with them, in the seclusion of the cloister, could spend all day with them, and receive at any hour the perilous confidences of their languors and weaknesses.

Nor are temptations of the senses the only factor to be reckoned with in these cases. We must likewise take account of the ennui and the irresistible craving to vary the conditions of existence, to escape from a monotonous life by the indulgence of some caprice or some fancy. Then what an age of new discoveries, of novelties of all sorts, it was! Travel, the Indies, discoveries of new worlds! Printing! last but not least, Romances! . . . When everything is on the move out of doors, every mind on the stretch, how suppose it possible to endure the crushing uniformity of monastic life, the long, weary services, unrelieved by anything more exciting than a dull sermon intoned through the nose?


Even laymen, in the midst of so many distractions, demand insistently of their confessors the pleasing variety of an occasional escapade, absolution for a certain degree of inconsistency of life.

The priest is hurried along by the current, and constrained to concede point after point. A vast, various, and learned literature develops out of Casuistry, or the art of making everything permissible,—a rapidly progressive literature moreover, in which yesterday's leniency would seem stern severity to-day.

Casuistry was for the laity, Mysticism for the cloister.

The complete suppression of individuality and the death of free will, this is the great principle of Mysticism. Desmarets gives us very clearly the true moral purport of it all. The pious

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devotee, he says, sacrificed in and for himself and annihilated, exists henceforth only in God. Henceforth he can do no wrong. His higher part is so divinely perfect, he has no consciousness left of what the other part is doing. 2

One would have supposed that the zealous Father Joseph, after uttering so loud a cry of alarm against these corruptors of morals, would not have stopped there, that a full and searching inquiry would have been held, that this countless host, that in one province alone numbered sixty thousand Doctors of the Church, would be made known and minutely scrutinised. But no! they simply disappear, and no news is to be heard of them. Some, it is said, were cast in prison; but no trial was held, nothing done to break the deep silence. To all appearance, Richelieu had no mind to fathom the matter. For all his tenderness for the Capuchins, he was not so blinded by partiality as to follow their lead in a matter which would have put into their hands the duty of making inquiry into the conduct of all the confessors in the country.

As a rule, the monk both envied and hated the secular clergy. He was absolute master of the women of Spain; but was less appreciated by their French sisters on account of the dirtiness of his person; they preferred to call in the priest, or the Jesuit Father, an amphibious director, so to speak, half monk, half

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man of the world. If once Richelieu let loose the pack on Capuchins, Recollets, Carmelites, Dominicans, and the rest, no one would be safe among the clergy either. What director, what priest, however well meaning, had not on occasion used—yea, and abused—the pleasant jargon of the Quietists when dealing with his penitents?

Richelieu took good care not to worry the clergy at a time when he was already preparing for the General Diet at which he asked for a contribution for the war. One prosecution was allowed the monks, and only one, against a curé,—but a curé accused of Magic, which made it competent to confuse issues (as in the Gauffridi affair) to such good purpose that no single confessor, no single director, recognised the case as being like his own, and each could say in perfect security, "I have nothing to do with it."


Thanks to these judicious precautions, a certain degree of obscurity really envelopes the case of Urbain Grandier. 3 The historian of the affair, the Capuchin Tranquille, proves conclusively and satisfactorily he was a Sorcerer, and more than a Sorcerer, a Devil, and he is entitled in the documents of the trial (as they might have said of the goddess Ashtoreth) Grandier of the Dominations! 

Ménage, on the contrary, taking a diametrically opposite view, is almost ready to rank him in the list of great men falsely accused of Magic, among the martyrs of liberty of conscience.

To see somewhat more clearly into the affair, we must not

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isolate Grandier, but let him occupy his proper place in the great diabolic Trilogy of those days, of which he and his doings formed only the Second Act; we must seek enlightenment on his case from the First Act, played out in Provence, as we have seen, in the dreadful business of La Sainte-Baume that ruined Gauffridi, and further enlightenment again from the Third Act, the affair of Louviers, which was a copy of Loudun (in the same way as Loudun had copied La Sainte-Baume), and which in its turn produced a Gauffridi and an Urbain Grandier.

The three affairs are one and identical. In all of them the libertine Priest, in all the jealous Monk and the maniac Nun by whose mouth they make the Devil speak,—and all end in the same way, by the death of the Priest at the stake.

One difference throws a strong light on these matters, and lets us have a clearer view than we can ever obtain in the fetid darkness of the Spanish and Italian monasteries,—the fact that while the nuns of these lands of Southern sloth were astonishingly passive and readily submitted to the life of the seraglio and worse things still, 4 their French sisters were of a very different temper. Their personality was vigorous, ardent, exacting; very devils (in no figurative sense) at once of jealousy and hate, they were equally indiscreet, loquacious, and spiteful. Their revelations were very precise, so extremely so towards the end as to arouse universal shame and disgust, the result being that in the course of thirty years three several scandals, forced into prominence by sheer horror and indignation, eventually died out drearily and ignominiously amid the groans of sick repulsion.

It was hardly at Loudun, in mid-Poitou, among the Huguenots and exposed to their scrutiny and jeers, in the very town where they held their great National Synods, that we should have expected a great scandal for the Catholics to have occurred. But it was just in these old Protestant towns that the latter were accustomed to live like conquerors in a subdued country, allowing themselves a very wide liberty of action, not unnaturally

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supposing that people so often massacred and only recently defeated, would enter no protests. The Catholic inhabitants,—magistrates, priests, monks, a few nobles and a handful of artisans,—lived apart from the rest of the population quite like a colony of conquering aliens. This colony was further subdivided, as might be guessed, by the opposition existing between priests and monks.


The monks, a haughty and numerous band, as missionaries among a heretic population took the wall of the Protestant inhabitants, and acted as confessors to the Catholic ladies of the town. Such was the state of things when one day there arrived from Bordeaux a young curé, a pupil of the Jesuits, a cultivated and agreeable man, writing well and speaking better. He made a sensation in the pulpit, and soon afterwards in society as well. He was a native of Mantes and a born dialectician, but by education a Meridional, with the well-oiled tongue of Bordeaux and all the boasting, light-hearted effrontery of a Gascon. In a very short time he had contrived to set the whole of the little town by the ears, having the women on his side, the men against him,—all or very nearly all. He waxed superb, insolent, and insupportable, lost to all sense of proper reverence. He rained torrents of sarcasm at the Carmelites, and held forth publicly in the pulpit against the monks in general. The crowds were suffocating when he preached. Dignified and richly dressed, he paraded the streets of Loudun like a Father of the Church, while by night in a quieter way he would be lurking down back alleys or slipping in by back doors.

The women were at his beck and call. The wife of the "Avocat du Roi" was not insensible to his graces, and far more so the daughter of the "Procureur Royal," who had a child by him. Nor was this enough; this triumphant squire of dames, pushing his advantage farther and farther, began to assail the denizens of the nunneries.

There were to be found everywhere at that period Sisters of

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the Ursuline Order, nuns vowed to the education of the young, lady missionaries in a Protestant land, expert at flattering and winning over the mothers and drawing the little girls under their influence. The Ursulines of Loudun formed a small convent of the daughters of poor but noble houses. The convent itself was ill supplied with this world's goods; the community having been endowed, at its first foundation, with little more than the house itself, a former Huguenot college. The Lady Superior, a person of good family and very well connected, burned with zeal to raise the status of her convent, to increase its numbers, to enrich and make it famous. She would very possibly have chosen Grandier, the man of the hour, for Confessor and Director, if she had not already had in these capacities a priest who possessed influence in the district for quite other reasons, being nearly related to the two principal magistrates. The Canon Mignon, such was his name, had no little influence over the Lady Superior. Both he and she learned in confession (the Ladies Superior of Convents used to confess the inmates) the hateful truth that the younger nuns dreamed of nothing else but this Grandier who was so much talked about.

Thus the Confessor whose authority was menaced, the husband whose honour was attacked, the father whose feelings were outraged, all these united their jealousy and indignation at the wrong done to family life, and swore a great oath to be Grandier's undoing. To attain this object, they had only to give him rope enough, as the saying is, and he would hang himself. Nor was it long before a scandal exploded that made noise enough to shake the town down pretty nearly.


The nuns, in the old Huguenot mansion they were settled in, did not feel altogether at their ease. Their boarders, children of the townsfolk, the younger Sisters possibly helping them, had found it a diverting amusement to terrify their companions by playing at ghosts, phantoms, and apparitions. Discipline was not over-strict among this miscellaneous collection of little girls,

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the spoilt children of rich parents. At night they would be scampering up and down the corridors, till they frightened both themselves and each other. Some were really ill with the effects, if not in body, at any rate in mind. But the object of all these terrors and illusions, complicated by the town talk they heard only too much of during the day, the ghost of these agitated nights was always Grandier. Several declared they had seen him, felt him of nights at their side, venturesome and victorious, and that they only awoke to full consciousness when it was too late. Was it all a case of self-deception,—or some trick of the novices? Was it really Grandier, who had bribed the portress or boldly climbed the convent walls? The matter has never been cleared up.

However, from that moment the three champions of family honour felt they had their man in their power. First of all they got from among the number of their humbler protégées two worthy souls to make declaration they could endure no longer to have as curé a debauchee, a sorcerer, a demon, a freethinker, who at church "bent one knee only and not two," a man who laughed at rules and regulations, and granted dispensations contrary to the Bishop's prerogatives. This last cleverly imagined charge set the Bishop of Poitiers against him, otherwise the natural defender of the priest, while giving up the latter to the malevolence of the monks.

The whole case was got up with consummate ability, it must be confessed. While having him accused by a couple of poor parishioners, it was found a further help to get him cudgelled by a nobleman. In this age of duelling the man who took a cudgelling inevitably lost ground with the public and was humiliated in the eyes of the fair sex; and Grandier fully realised the severity of the blow his prestige had received. Loving notoriety as he did, he went straight to the King himself, and throwing himself on his knees, claimed satisfaction for the insult to his cloth. The King was a pious king, and would probably have granted what was asked, had there not been people about him who told

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his Majesty it was a question of intrigue and the reprisals of injured husbands.

Brought before the Ecclesiastical Tribunal of Poitiers, Grandier was condemned to penance and to be banished from Loudun, in other words, degraded and dishonoured as a priest. However, the Civil Tribunal reopened the case, and found him innocent. He had, moreover, on his side the superior ecclesiastical authority to which Poitiers was subordinate, viz. the Archbishop of Bordeaux, Sourdis. This warlike prelate, an admiral and a gallant sailor quite as much as a priest, or more so, merely shrugged his shoulders at the tales of these peccadilloes. He acquitted the curé, but at the same time gave him the very judicious advice to go and live anywhere else rather than at Loudun.

This was just what the proud priest had no sort of mind to do. He was for savouring his triumph on the scene of battle and marching past before the ladies. He re-entered Loudun in broad daylight,—drums beating and flags flying; he carried a laurel brand as he walked, and all the fairest eyes of the city looked at his progress from the windows.


Not satisfied with this silly triumph, he now began to threaten and hint at compensation. His enemies, thus driven to bay and now in peril themselves, remembered the Gauffridi affair, in which the Devil, the Father of Lies, had been duly and honourably rehabilitated and accepted in court as a good truth-telling witness, worthy of credit and belief on the part both of the Church and the King's servants. In their desperate strait, they invoked a devil; and he came prompt to command, putting in his first appearance in the Ursuline convent.

The thing was risky, of course, but then, how many were interested in its success! The Lady Superior very soon found her convent, poor and obscure till now, attracting the eyes of the Court, the provinces, the whole world of France. The monks saw in it the triumph of their cause over their rivals the priests;

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and an opportunity for reviving those fights with the Devil so popular in the preceding century, very often (as at Soissons) held before the church doors, and in which the populace with mingled terror and exultation beheld God's victory over his diabolic adversary, the admission "that God is in the elements" dragged reluctantly from the Devil, and the Huguenots convinced and brought to confusion out of the Demon's own mouth.

In this tragi-comedy the exorcist represented Almighty God, or if not quite that, at any rate the Archangel treading down the Dragon. He would step down from the platform, exhausted and dripping with sweat, but triumphant, to be borne shoulder high by the crowd and receive the blessings of the women who wept for joy to see such things.

This was why something of Sorcery must always be an ingredient in legal cases of this sort; the Devil supplied the only really interesting motif. Of course he could not always be shown leaving the accused's body in the form of a black toad, as at Bordeaux in 1610; but at any rate the mise en scène was grand and imposing enough. The grim loneliness of poor Madeleine, the honours of La Sainte-Baume, in the Provence business, were no insignificant factors of success. Loudun had for its part the noisy rout and delirious frenzy of a whole army of exorcists distributed among several different churches. Last but not least, Louviers, as we shall see presently, by way of reviving interest in these rather out-of-date proceedings, inaugurated a series of midnight episodes, where, by the flickering torchlight, the devils, disguised as nuns, dug pits and extracted from them the magic talismans that had been there secreted.


The Loudun affair began with the Lady Superior and a lay Sister in attendance upon her,—who fell into convulsions and indulged in long diabolic rigmaroles. Other nuns copied them,—especially one bold spirit who recreated the rôle formerly played by Sister Louise at Marseilles, representing the same devil, Leviathan, the head demon of all cunning and calumny.

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The little town is shaken to its foundations. The monks of all colours take possession of the nuns, divide them between them, proceed to exorcise them by threes and fours. They partition the churches between them, the Capuchins alone possessing themselves of two. These are crowded to excess, the whole female population flocking thither, and among the frightened, excitable congregation thus formed, more than one woman is heard screaming she also feels devils working within her. Six young women of Loudun are possessed; while the mere recital of these dreadful doings produces a like effect on two more at Chinon.

Everywhere it formed the absorbing subject of conversation,—at Paris, at Court. The Queen of France, a Spaniard by birth and a woman of ardent imagination and enthusiastic piety, sends her own Almoner; more important still, Lord Montagu, the old papal partisan and her Majesty's faithful servant, who saw everything and believed everything, reported everything to the Pope. The miracle was proved and confirmed; with his own eyes he had seen the wounds on a nun's body, the stigmata impressed by the Devil on the hands of the Lady Superior.

What had the King of France to say to it all? All his devotion was turned in the direction of the Devil, to Hell, to religious fear; and it is said Richelieu was delighted to keep it concentrated there. I doubt this myself; the devils were essentially Spanish and of the Spanish faction,—if they had talked politics at all, it would have been against Richelieu. It may be this was what he dreaded; at any rate he paid them the compliment of sending his niece to display a proper interest in the matter.


The Court was ready to believe; but it was not so on the spot, at Loudon. The local devils, wretched plagiarists of the demons of Marseilles, merely repeated by rote in the morning what had been taught them overnight from the well-known Manual of Michaëlis. They would never have known what to say, had not secret exorcisms, carefully rehearsed every evening

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for next day's comedy, taught them the proper graces of deportment and style for an effective appearance in public.

A firm and determined magistrate, the Bailli of the town, detected the fraud and came in person to expose its perpetrators, threatening and denouncing them. The Archbishop of Bordeaux tacitly coincided, when Grandier appealed to him. He sent an order to regulate the exorcists’ zeal at any rate and put an end to their arbitrary proceedings; more than this his surgeon, who visited the young women, declared them not to be possessed at all. According to him they were not mad, not even touched with insanity,—but undoubted impostors and arrant shams.

Thus the century continues the great duel of Doctor against Devil, of Science and Enlightenment against the spirit of Falsehood and Obscurantism. We saw its commencement with Agrippa and Wyer; and now another physician, a man called Duncan, gallantly continued the same struggle at Loudun, and fearlessly printed the statement that the whole affair was only deserving of ridicule.

The Devil, reputed so stubborn, showed the white feather and uttered not another word. But the angry passions of both sides were too much excited for things to stop here. The tide flowed so strong in Grandier's favour that those attacked now became the attacking party. A kinsman of the accusers, an apothecary, was brought to book by a rich and well-born lady of the town, whom he had stated to be the curé's mistress, and was condemned, as a common slanderer, to make proper reparation.

The Lady Superior felt herself on the verge of ruin. It could easily have been proved, what an eye-witness saw later on, that her so-called stigmata were merely painted on, the colouring being freshened up every day. But she was related to a member of the King's Council, Laubardemont, and he saved her. At the moment he was entrusted with a commission to clear the

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ground at Loudun; and he now got himself nominated to bring Grandier to trial. The Cardinal was given to understand that the accused priest was the curé and friend of the Cordonnière de Loudun, one of the numerous agents of Marie de Médicis; that he had constituted himself secretary to his parishioner and had under her name composed a scandalous and unworthy pamphlet.

For the matter of that, Richelieu would gladly have shown himself magnanimous and treated the matter with contempt, but it was hardly possible for him to have done so. The Capuchins and Father Joseph speculated on this; for Richelieu would have given him a fine hold over him with the King, if he had shown a want of proper zeal. A certain M. Quillet, who had kept a careful eye on things, went to see Richelieu and warned him. But the Cardinal was afraid to listen to him, and appeared so ill-disposed towards his would-be benefactor that the latter judged it prudent to take refuge in Italy.


Laubardemont arrives on December 6th, 1663, with unlimited discretionary powers,—and his arrival marks the commencement of a reign of terror. He is the King's direct representative, wielding the whole weight of the Government of France,—a grim, ponderous sledge-hammer, to crush a fly.

The magistrates felt the affront; and the Lieutenant Civil notified Grandier of his intention to arrest him on the morrow. The latter paid no heed, and was duly arrested, instantly hurried out of the place without legal formalities of any sort, and thrown into the dungeons of Angers. Subsequently he was brought back again and confined (of all places in the world) in the house and bedchamber of one of his personal enemies, who had the windows walled up in an attempt to suffocate him. The detestable examination carried out on the suspected Sorcerer's person by driving in needles to discover the Devil's mark, was conducted by the very hands of his accusers themselves, who

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thus exacted a preliminary vengeance on him, a foretaste of more deadly penalties to follow.

He is dragged to churches to confront the mad women, to whom Laubardemont's arrival has restored the power of speech. There he finds a band of furious Bacchanals whom the condemned apothecary was busy intoxicating with his potions, throwing them into such paroxysms of rage that on one occasion Grandier came near perishing under their nails.

Unable to vie with the eloquence of the Devil-possessed Louise of Marseilles, they made up for the want of it by impudent cynicism. A vile sight truly!—young girls, taking advantage of the devils supposed to be prompting them to let loose the floodgates of their sensual delirium for the public delectation! For it was this and nothing else that attracted such crowds; they came to hear from women's mouths things that no modest female lips ever dare to utter.

And the absurdity of these scenes increased pari passu with the odiousness. The scraps of Latin that were whispered in their ears they pronounced all wrong. The public said scornfully that the devils had not passed their Fourth Standard. The Capuchins, not in the least disconcerted, replied that if the demons were weak in Latin, they spoke Troquois to perfection and very fine Double Dutch.


This ignoble farce, when seen from a distance of sixty leagues, from Saint-Germain or the Louvre, appeared something miraculous, terrifying, and appalling. The French Court wondered and shuddered; while Richelieu (no doubt to win popularity) condescended to a cowardly proceeding, having both exorcists and nuns paid for what they did.

So signal a favour encouraged the cabal, which now lost all sense of decorum and moderation. Words of senseless folly were succeeded by shameful acts. The exorcists, under pretext of the fatigued condition of the nuns, sent them on pleasure excursions

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outside the town, sometimes themselves accompanying them. The result was one of the number became enceinte, or at any rate seemed to be so. At the end of the fifth or sixth month this appearance vanished completely, and the demon that was in her confessed the trick he had played, in order to bring discredit on the poor nun by an illusory pregnancy. It is the learned historian of Louviers who supplies us with this fragment of the history of Loudun. 5

It is credibly affirmed that Father Joseph arrived incognito, but seeing the case was hopeless, quietly withdrew again. The Jesuits also came, performed sundry exorcisms without much success, noted which way the wind of public opinion blew, and likewise beat a retreat.

But the monks, the Capuchins above all, were so deeply involved that only one course was left them, to save their own skins by inspiring terror in their neighbours. They laid cunning snares to catch the stout-hearted Bailli and his lady, whom they would fain have ruined and so stifled any retributive measures on the part of justice. Lastly, they urged the Commission to press the case against Grandier to a conclusion. Things were at a standstill, even their allies the nuns failing them at this crisis. After their fearful orgy of carnal frenzy and their shameless cries for human blood, two or three of them had swooned away, and filled with a sick disgust at their own vileness, became a horror and a loathing to themselves. In spite of the awful fate they must expect if they spoke out, in spite of the certainty of ending in a dungeon, 6 they openly declared within the church walls that they were lost souls, that they had played into the Devil's hands, that Grandier was an innocent man.

They ruined themselves, but did nothing to stop the course of events; and a general protest addressed by the town to the King was equally unavailing. Grandier was condemned to be burned (August 18th, 1634). So savage was his enemies’ temper

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that before he went to the stake, they insisted on a second application of the needle to every part of his body in search of the Devil's mark. One of the judges would actually have liked his nails to be torn off, but the surgeon refused.

His persecutors dreaded the final scene and the victim's last words from the scaffold. Having found among his papers a written argument against the celibacy of the clergy, the same men who had pronounced him a Sorcerer, now thought him a freethinker. They remembered the bold words the martyrs of freedom of thought had hurled at their judges’ heads, recalling the last, tremendous words of Giordano Bruno 7 and Vanini's dying defiance. So they arranged a compromise with Grandier. He was told that, if he kept a judicious silence, he should be spared the flames and should be strangled before the pile was kindled. The weak priest, a man of the flesh, yielded yet another and a last concession to the feeble flesh, and promised not to speak. He never opened his lips either on the road to his death or on the scaffold itself. Then when they saw him securely tied to the stake, everything ready and the embers so arranged as to wrap him swiftly in flame and smoke, a monk, his own confessor, without waiting for the executioner, set light to the faggots. The deluded victim had only time to exclaim, "Ah, you have cheated me!" before the rolling smoke rose round him and through the furnace of his torment only his shrieks were audible.

Richelieu in his Memoirs passes lightly over the affair, being evidently ashamed of the whole matter. He leaves it to be understood that he acted according to the reports supplied him, following the voice of public opinion in what he did. But there can be no doubt that by subsidising the exorcists, by giving the rein to the Capuchins’ violence and ensuring their triumph throughout the country, he had directly encouraged knavery and imposture. Gauffridi, whose rôle had been recreated by Grandier, is

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soon to appear once more under still fouler circumstances in the affair of Louviers.

This very year of 1634 the devils, driven out of Poitou, appear in Normandy, copying and recopying the old absurdities of La Sainte-Baume, devoid equally of originality, fresh initiative, and creative imagination. The wild, fierce Leviathan of Provence, as travestied at Loudun, has lost his southern verve, and can only conclude the affair by making nuns and virgins speak volubly the vile language of the Cities of the Plain. Alas! presently, at Louviers, he will lose even this much of his old audacity; we shall find him succumbing to the heaviness of the northern atmosphere and growing a poor, mean-spirited creature of tricks and subterfuges.


191:1 Wyer, bk. iii. ch. 7.

192:2 A very old doctrine, which reappears frequently in the Middle Ages. In the seventeenth century it is common in the French and Spanish cloisters, nowhere more clearly and naively expressed than in the lessons of a Normandy angel to a nun, reported in the papers relating to the Louviers affair (see following chapter). The angel teaches the nun in the first place "contempt for the body and indifference to the flesh. So much did Jesus despise the flesh that He exposed it naked to flagellation and open to the eyes of all men. . . ." He teaches her "complete abandonment of soul and will, holy, blessed, purely passive obedience; for example, the Blessed Virgin, who feared not Gabriel, but obeyed, and conceived. . . . Herein she exposed herself to no risk. For a spirit can cause no impurity. Quite the contrary, he purifies." At Louviers this noble doctrine was in the ascendant as early as 1623, and was taught systematically by a confessor of ripe age and well-supported authority, Father David by name. The gist of his teaching was "to kill sin by sin, the better to return to a state of innocence. This is what our first parents did." Esprit de Bosroger (Capuchin), La Piété affligée (Piety Afflicted), 1645; pp. 167, 171, 173, 174, 181, 189, 190, 196.

193:3 The work entitled L’Histoire des diables de Loudun (History of the Devils of Loudun), by the Protestant Aubin, is a serious and painstaking book, and its statements are confirmed by the Official Reports even of Laubardemont. On the contrary, Tranquille's book is a grotesque production. The Procédure is in the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris. M. Figuier has given a lengthy and excellent account of the whole matter (Histoire du merveilleux,—History of the Miraculous). I am, as the sequel will show, against the judges, but by no means in favour of the condemned. It is absurd to make a martyr of him, out of dislike for Richelieu. The fact is he was a fool, a fop, and libertine, who deserved, not the stake, but imprisonment for life.

194:4 See Del Rio, Llorente, Ricci, etc.

204:5 Esprit de Bossuet, p. 135.

204:6 Such was still the custom. See Mabillon.

205:7 These words, which he addressed to his judges after hearing his sentence pronounced, were: "This sentence, delivered in the name of a God of mercy, is perhaps more a cause of fear to you than to me." He was burned at the stake at Rome, February 17th, 1600.

Next: 20. The Nuns Of Louviers and Satanic Possession—Madeleine Bavent (1640-1647)