The Devils of Loudun Page 17

The episcopal prisons of the said Poitiers were situated in one of the towers of his lordship’s palace. Here Grandier was consigned to the gaoler, Lucas Gouiller, and locked up in a dank and almost lightless cell. The date was 15th November 1629. Less than a month had passed since the quarrel with Thibault.

It was bitterly cold, but the prisoner was not allowed to send for warm clothes and when, a few days later, his mother asked permission to visit him, it was refused. After two weeks of this horribly rigorous confinement he wrote a piteous letter to M. de la Rochepozay. “My lord,” it began, “I had always believed and even taught that affliction was the true road to heaven, but I had never made trial of it until your goodness, moved by fear for my perdition and a desire for my salvation, flung me into this place, where fifteen days of misery have brought me nearer to God than forty years of previous prosperity had ever done.” This is followed by an elaborately literary passage, full of conceits and Biblical allusions. God, it seems, has “happily conjoined the face of a man with that of the lion, in other words your moderation with the passion of my enemies who, wishing to destroy me like another Joseph, have brought about my advancement in the kingdom of God.” So much so that his hate has been turned into love, his thirst for vengeance into a desire to serve those who have wronged him. And after a flowery paragraph about Lazarus, he concludes with the plea that, since the end of punishment is amendment of life and since, after two weeks in prison, his own life has been amended, he should forthwith be released.

It is always hard to believe that frank and unaffected emotion can find expression in the curious devices of a laboured style. But literature is not the same as life. Art is governed by one set of rules, conduct by another. The early seventeenth-century absurdity of Grandier’s epistolary manner is perfectly compatible with a real sincerity of feeling. There is no reason to doubt the genuineness of his belief that affliction had brought him nearer to God. Unfortunately for himself, he knew too little about his own nature to realize that a renewal of prosperity would infallibly (unless he made enormous and persistent efforts) undo the work of affliction, and undo it, not in fifteen days, but in the first fifteen minutes.

Grandier’s letter did not mollify the Bishop. Still less did the letters he now received from M. d’Armagnac and M. d’Armagnac’s good friend, the Archbishop of Bordeaux. That this odious little man should have such influential friends was bad enough. But that these friends should venture to dictate to him, a de la Rochepozay, a scholar compared with whom the Archbishop was no better than one of his own horses, that they should presume to advise him what to do with an insubordinate priestling—this was absolutely intolerable. He gave orders that Grandier should be treated even worse than before.

The parson’s only visitors, during all this unhappy time, were the Jesuits. He had been their pupil and they did not now desert him. Along with spiritual consolations the good fathers brought him warm socks and letters from the outside world. From these last he learned that d’Armagnac had won over the Attorney General, that the Attorney General had ordered Trincant, as Public Prosecutor of Loudun, to reopen the case against Thibault, that Thibault had come to d’Armagnac with a view to an accommodation, but that Messieurs les esclezeasticques (the Governor’s orthography is consistently astounding) had advised against any compromise, since it would faire tort à vostre ynosance. The parson took new heart, wrote another letter to the Bishop about his own case, but got no answer; wrote yet another, when Thibault directly approached him with an offer to settle out of court, and still got no answer. Early in December the witnesses who had been paid to accuse him were heard at Poitiers. Even upon judges prejudiced in their favour, the impression they made was altogether deplorable. Next it was the turn of Grandier’s vicar, Gervais Meschin, and the other clerical Peeping Tom who had seen him in the pew with Mme. de Dreux. Their testimony turned out to be almost as unconvincing as that of Bougreau and Cherbonneau. To find anyone guilty on such evidence seemed impossible. But M. de la Rochepozay was not the man to be turned aside from his course by such trifles as equity or legal procedure. On the third of January, sixteen hundred and thirty, judgment was finally pronounced. Grandier was condemned to fast on bread and water every Friday for three months and was forbidden, for five years in the diocese of Poitiers and for ever in the town of Loudun, to exercise the sacerdotal function. For the parson this sentence spelled financial ruin and the blasting of all his hopes of future preferment. But meanwhile he was a free man again—free to live once more in his own well-warmed house, to eat a good dinner (except on Fridays), to talk with his relatives and friends, to be visited (with what an infinity of precautions!) by the woman who believed herself to be his wife—and free, finally, to appeal from M. de la Rochepozay to his ecclesiastical superior, the Archbishop of Bordeaux. With copious expressions of respect, but none the less firmly, Grandier wrote to Poitiers announcing his decision to take the case to the metropolitan. Incensed beyond measure, M. de la Rochepozay could yet do nothing to prevent this intolerable affront to his pride. Canon law—could anything be more subversive?—conceded that worms had rights and even permitted them, in certain circumstances, to turn.

To Trincant and the other members of the cabal, the news that Grandier intended to appeal was most unwelcome. The Archbishop was on intimate terms with d’Armagnac, and disliked M. de la Rochepozay. There was every reason to fear that the appeal, if made, would be successful. In which case Loudun would be saddled with the parson for ever. To prevent that appeal from being made, Grandier’s enemies themselves appealed—not to the higher ecclesiastical court, but to the Parlement of Paris. The Bishop and his Officiality were ecclesiastical judges and could impose only spiritual punishments, such as fasting and, in extreme cases, excommunication. There could be no hanging, no maiming or branding, no condemnation to the galleys, except at the decree of a civil magistrate. If Grandier was guilty enough to merit interdiction a divinis, then most certainly he was guilty enough to be tried before the high court. The appeal was lodged and a date at the end of the following August was set for the trial.

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