The Devils of Loudun Page 19

Such a man was perfectly fitted to understand and appreciate Urbain Grandier. Himself devoted to the sex, he viewed the parson’s peccadilloes with sympathetic indulgence. Himself a fighter, he admired pugnacity even in an underling. Besides, the parson talked well, refrained from cant, had a fund of useful information and amusing anecdotes, and was altogether a most agreeable companion. “Il vous affectionne bien fort,” d’Armagnac wrote to the parson, after the latter’s visit to M. de Sourdis in the spring of 1631, and the liking soon found a practical expression. The Archbishop gave orders that the case should be reviewed by the Officiality of Bordeaux.

All this time the great nationalistic revolution, initiated by Cardinal Richelieu, had been making steady progress and now, almost suddenly, it began to affect the private life of every personage involved in this petty provincial drama. To break the power of the Protestants and the feudal magnates, Richelieu had persuaded the King and Council to order the demolition of every fortress in the realm. Innumerable were the towers already razed, the moats filled in, the remparts transformed into tree-lined alleys. And now it was the turn of the castle of Loudun. Founded by the Romans, rebuilt and enlarged again and again throughout the Middle Ages, it was the strongest fortress in all Poitou. A circuit of walls defended by eighteen towers crowned the hill upon which the city was built, and within this circuit was a second moat, a second wall and, over-topping all the rest, the huge mediaeval keep, restored in 1626 by the present Governor, Jean d’Armagnac. The repairs and interior remodelling had cost him a pretty penny; but he had received private assurances from the King, whom he served as first lord of the bedchamber, that, even if the rest of the castle were destroyed, the donjon would be left standing.

Richelieu, meanwhile, had his own views on the matter, and they did not coincide with the King’s. For him d’Armagnac was merely an unimportant little courtier and Loudun a nest of potentially dangerous Huguenots. True, these Huguenots had remained loyal during all the recent uprisings of their co-religionists—in the South under the Duc de Rohan, at La Rochelle in alliance with the English. But today’s loyalty was no guarantee against tomorrow’s rebellion. And anyhow they were heretics. No, no, the castle must be razed and along with the castle must go all the ancient privileges of a town which, by remaining predominantly Protestant, had proved itself unworthy of them. The Cardinal’s plan was to transfer these privileges to his own town, the neighbouring and still hypothetical city of Richelieu, which was now building, or to be built, around the home of his ancestors.

At Loudun public sentiment was strongly against the demolition of the castle. It was a time when domestic peace was still a precarious novelty. Deprived of their fortress, the townspeople, Catholic as well as Protestant, felt that they would be (in d’Armagnac’s words) “at the mercy of all kinds of soldiery and subject to frequent pillage.” Moreover, rumours of the Cardinal’s secret intentions were already abroad. By the time he had done with it, poor old Loudun would be no better than a village—and a half-deserted village at that. Because of his friendship with the Governor, Grandier was unequivocally on the side of the majority. His private enemies, almost without exception, were Cardinalists, who cared nothing for the future of Loudun, but were only concerned to curry favour with Richelieu by clamouring for demolition and working against the Governor. At the very moment when Grandier seemed about to score a final victory, he was threatened by a power enormously greater than any with which he had yet had to cope.

All this time the parson’s social position was oddly paradoxical. He had been interdicted a divinis; but he was still the curé of St. Peter’s, where his brother, the first vicar, acted on his behalf. His friends were still kind; but his enemies treated him as an outcast, beyond the pale of respectable society. And yet, from behind the scenes, this outcast was exercising most of the functions of a royal governor. D’Armagnac was compelled to spend the greater part of his time at court, in attendance upon the King. During his absence he was represented at Loudun by his wife and a faithful lieutenant. Both the lieutenant and Mme. d’Armagnac had been given explicit orders to consult with Grandier on every important issue. The disgraced and suspended priest was acting as the town’s vice-governor and the guardian of the family of its first citizen.

In the course of that summer of 1631 M. Trincant retired into private life. His colleagues and the public at large had been profoundly shocked by the revelations made at Grandier’s second trial. A man who was prepared, for the sake of private vengeance, to commit perjury, to suborn witnesses, to falsify written testimony, was obviously unfitted to hold a responsible legal position. Under quiet but persistent pressure Trincant resigned. Instead of selling (as he was entitled to do) the reversion of his post, he gave it away to Louis Moussaut—but gave it on a condition. The young lawyer would not become Loudun’s Public Prosecutor until after his marriage with Philippe Trincant. For Henri IV, Paris had been worth a Mass. For M. Moussaut a good job was worth his fiancée’s lost virginity and the ribaldry of the Protestants. After a quiet wedding, Philippe settled down to serve her sentence—forty years of loveless marriage.

In the following November Grandier was summoned to the Abbey of Saint-Jouin-de-Marnes, one of the favourite residences of the much-beneficed Archbishop of Bordeaux. Here he learned that his appeal from M. de la Rochepozay’s sentence had been successful. The interdiction a divinis was lifted and he was free once again to exercise his functions as curé of St. Peter’s. M. de Sourdis accompanied this announcement with some friendly and eminently sensible advice. Legal rehabilitation, he pointed out, would not disarm the fury of his enemies, it would tend rather to intensify it. Seeing that these enemies were numerous and powerful, would it not be wiser, more conducive to a quiet life, to leave Loudun and start afresh in some other parish? Grandier promised to consider these suggestions, but had already made up his mind to do nothing about them. He was the parson of Loudun and at Loudun he intended to stay, in spite of his enemies—or rather because of them. They wanted him to go; very well, he would remain, just to annoy them and because he enjoyed a fight, because, like Martin Luther, he loved to be angry.

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