The Devils of Loudun Page 47

To spur the over-cautious Laubardemont into action, the parson’s enemies now came forward with a new and graver accusation. Grandier was not merely a sorcerer, who had denied his faith, rebelled against God and bewitched a whole convent of nuns; he was also the author of a violent and obscene attack on the Cardinal, published six years earlier, in 1627, under the title, Lettre de la Cordonnière de Loudun. Almost certainly Grandier did not write this pamphlet; but since he was the friend and correspondent of the lady-cobbler after whom the lampoon was named, since he had once very likely been her lover, it was not altogether unreasonable to suppose that he might have written it.

Catherine Hammon was a bright and pretty little proletarian who, in 1616, while Marie de Médicis was staying at Loudun, attracted the Queen’s attention, was taken into her service and soon became, officially, the royal shoemaker and, unofficially, a royal confidante and factotum. Grandier had known her (all too intimately, it was said) during the period of the Queen’s exile at Blois, when the girl came home for a time to Loudun. Later on, when she returned to her post, Catherine, who knew how to write, kept the parson informed of what was going on at court. Her letters were so amusing that Grandier used to read their spicier passages aloud to his friends. Among those friends was M. Trincant, the Public Prosecutor and father of the delicious Philippe. It was this same M. Trincant, no longer his friend, but the most implacable of his enemies, who now accused Catherine Hammon’s correspondent of being the author of the Cordonnière. This time Laubardemont made no effort to conceal his feelings. What the Cardinal really thought about witches and devils might be uncertain; but what he thought about critics of his administration, his family and himself had never been in any doubt. To disagree with Richelieu’s political opinion was to invite dismissal from the public service, financial ruin and exile; to insult him was to run the risk of death on the gallows or even (since an edict of 1626 had declared that libellous pamphleteering was a crime of lèse-majesté) at the stake or on the wheel. For only printing the Cordonnière, a wretched tradesman had been sent to the galleys. If he were ever caught, what would be done to the author? Confident, this time, that his zeal would find favour in the sight of His Eminence, Laubardemont took copious notes of all that M. Trincant said. And meanwhile Mesmin had not been idle. Grandier, as we have seen, was an avowed enemy of the monks and friars, and with very few exceptions the monks and friars of Loudun were the avowed enemies of Grandier. The Carmelites had the most substantial reasons for hating Grandier; but the Carmelites were in no position to give effect to their hatred. The Capuchins had suffered less at Grandier’s hands, but their power to hurt him was incomparably greater. For the Capuchins were colleagues of Father Joseph, and were in regular correspondence with that Éminence Grise who was the confidant, chief adviser and right-hand man of the Cardinal. It was to the Grey Friars, therefore, and not to the White, that Mesmin confided the new accusations against Grandier. The response was all that he could have desired. A letter to Father Joseph was immediately drafted, and Laubardemont, who was on the point of returning to Paris, was asked to deliver it in person. Laubardemont accepted the commission and, the same day, invited Grandier and his friends to a farewell dinner, at which he drank the parson’s health, assured him of undying friendship and promised to do everything in his power to assist him in his struggle against a cabal of unscrupulous enemies. So much kindness, and offered so generously, so spontaneously! Grandier was moved almost to tears.

Next day Laubardemont rode to Chinon, where he spent the evening with the most sincerely fanatical believer in the parson’s guilt. M. Barré received the royal Commissioner with all due deference and, at his request, handed over the minutes of all the exorcisms, in the course of which the nuns had accused Grandier of bewitching them. After breakfast, on the following morning, Laubardemont was entertained by the antics of some local demoniacs; then, bidding farewell to the exorcist, he took the road to Paris.

Immediately after his arrival, he had an interview with Father Joseph, then, a few days later, a more decisive interview with the two Eminences, the scarlet and the grey, in consultation. Laubardemont read M. Barré’s minutes of the exorcisms, and Father Joseph read the letter in which his Capuchin colleagues had accused the parson of being the long-sought author of the Cordonnière. Richelieu decided that the matter was grave enough to be considered at the next meeting of the Council of State. On the day appointed (30th November 1633) the King, the Cardinal, Father Joseph, the Secretary of State, the Chancellor and Laubardemont assembled at Ruel. The possession of the Ursulines of Loudun was the first item on the agenda. Briefly but luridly Laubardemont told his story, and Louis XIII, who was a firm and terrified believer in devils, unhesitatingly decided that something would have to be done about it. A document was then and there drawn up, signed by the King, countersigned by the Secretary of State, and sealed, in yellow wax, with the Great Seal. By the terms of this document Laubardemont was commissioned to go to Loudun, investigate the facts of the possession, examine the accusations levelled by the devils against Grandier and, if they appeared to be well-founded, bring the magician to trial.

In the sixteen-twenties and thirties, witch trials were still of common occurrence; but of all the dozens of persons accused, during these years, of trafficking with the devil, Grandier was the only one in whose case Richelieu took a keen and sustained interest. Father Tranquille, the Capuchin exorcist who, in 1634, wrote a pamphlet on behalf of Laubardemont and the devils, declares that “it is to the zeal of the Eminentissimous Cardinal that we owe the first undertaking of this affair”—a fact to which “the letters he wrote to M. de Laubardemont sufficiently bear witness.” As for the Commissioner, “he never instituted any procedure for proving the possession without first fully informing His Majesty and my lord Cardinal.” Tranquille’s testimony is confirmed by that of other contemporaries, who write of the almost daily exchange of letters between Richelieu and his agent at Loudun.

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