The Devils of Loudun Page 16

Next morning the Public Prosecutor and the Lieutenant Criminel mounted their horses and rode at their leisure to Poitiers. There they called on the Bishop’s legal representative, the Promoter of the Officiality. To their great delight they found that Grandier was already on the diocesan black list. Rumours of the parson’s amorous exploits had reached the ears of his superiors. And to lubricity and indiscretion had been added the graver sin of uppishness. Only recently, for example, the fellow had had the insolence to encroach on episcopal authority by granting, and being paid for, a dispensation to marry without the preliminary publication of banns. It was time to clip the cockerel’s wings. These gentlemen from Loudun had arrived most opportunely.

Carrying a letter of recommendation from the Promoter of the Officiality, Trincant and Hervé trotted off to see the Bishop, who was residing in his splendid castle of Dissay some four leagues out of town.

Henry-Louis Chasteignier de la Rochepozay was that rare phenomenon, a prelate by grace of noble birth who was at the same time a man of learning and the author of portentous works of Biblical exegesis. His father, Louis de la Rochepozay, was the patron and lifelong friend of Joseph Scaliger, and the young lord and predestined bishop had had the advantage of being tutored by that incomparable scholar, “the greatest intellect,” in Mark Pattison’s words, “that has ever spent itself in acquiring knowledge.” It is greatly to his credit that, in spite of Scaliger’s Protestantism and in the teeth of the Jesuits’ abominable campaign of slander against the author of De emendatione temporum, he remained steadfastly loyal to his old master. Towards all other heretics M. de la Rochepozay showed himself implacably hostile. He detested the Huguenots, who were so numerous in his diocese, and did everything in his power to make their lives uncomfortable. But like charity, like the rain which falls on the garden parties of the just as well as on those of the unjust, bad temper is divinely impartial. When his own Catholics annoyed him, the Bishop was ready to treat them just as badly as he treated the Protestants. Thus, in 1614, according to a letter written by the Prince de Condé to the Regent, Marie de Médicis, there were two hundred families encamped outside the town and unable to return to their houses because their pastor, plus meschant que le diable, had ordered his arquebusiers to shoot at them if they tried to pass through the gates. And what was their crime? Fidelity to the Governor appointed by the Queen, but disliked by M. de la Rochepozay. The Prince asked Her Majesty to punish “the unheard-of insolence of this priest.” Nothing, of course, was done, and the good Bishop continued to reign at Poitiers until, in 1651, at a ripe old age, he was carried off by an apoplectic stroke.

A testy aristocrat and petty tyrant, a book-loving scholar, for whom the world beyond his study door was merely a source of maddening interruptions to the serious business of reading—such was the man who now gave audience to Grandier’s enemies. In half an hour he had come to a decision. The parson was a nuisance and must be taught a lesson. A secretary was sent for and an order for Grandier’s arrest and transfer to the episcopal prisons at Poitiers was drawn up, signed and sealed. The document was then handed over to Trincant and the Lieutenant Criminel to be made use of at their discretion.

In Paris, meanwhile, Grandier had lodged his complaint with the Parlement and been received (thanks to d’Armagnac) in private audience by the King. Deeply moved by the parson’s recital of his wrongs, Louis XIII gave orders that justice should be done with all possible expedition, and within a matter of days Thibault was served a summons to appear before the Parlement of Paris. He set out immediately, taking with him the order for Grandier’s arrest. The case was heard. Everything seemed to be going in favour of the parson, when Thibault dramatically produced the Bishop’s warrant and handed it to the judges. They read it and immediately adjourned the case until such time as Grandier should have cleared himself with his superior. It was a triumph for the parson’s enemies.

At Loudun, in the meantime, an official inquiry into Grandier’s behaviour was being conducted, at first under the impartial presidency of the Lieutenant Civil, Louis Chauvet, and later, when Chauvet had resigned in disgust, under that, pre-eminently partial, of the Public Prosecutor. Accusations now poured in from all sides. The Reverend Meschin, one of Grandier’s vicars at St. Peter’s, affirmed that he had seen the parson sporting with women on the floor (surely a little too stony for such amusements) of his own church. Another clergyman, the Reverend Martin Boulliau, had hidden behind a pillar and spied upon his colleague while he talked to Mme. de Dreux, the deceased mother-in-law of M. de Cerisay, the Bailli, in the family pew. Trincant improved this testimony by substituting the words, “committing the veneric act,” for the original statement, in which there was merely a question of “speaking to the said lady while laying his hand upon her arm.” The only persons who did not bear witness against the parson were those whose testimony would have been the most convincing—the easy-going servant girls, the dissatisfied wives, the all too consolable widows, and Philippe Trincant, and Madeleine de Brou.

On the advice of d’Armagnac, who promised to write on his behalf to M. de la Rochepozay and the Promoter of the Officiality, Grandier decided to present himself voluntarily before the Bishop. Returning secretly from Paris, he spent only a single night at the parsonage. Next day, at sunrise, he was in the saddle again. By breakfast time the apothecary knew everything. An hour later, Thibault, who had returned to Loudun two days before, was galloping along the road to Poitiers. Going directly to the episcopal palace, he informed the authorities that Grandier was in town, trying to avoid the humiliation of arrest by a show of voluntary submission. At all costs he must not be allowed to play such a trick. The Promoter of the Officiality agreed with him. As Grandier left his lodging to walk to the palace, he was arrested by the King’s Sergeant and led off, protesting, but sans scandale, ès prisons episcopales dudict Poitiers.

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