The Devils of Loudun Page 62


“DULY constrained, the devil is bound to tell the truth.” Granted this major premise, there was literally nothing which could not be made to follow. Thus, M. de Laubardemont disliked the Huguenots. Seventeen devil-infested Ursulines stood ready to swear on the Blessed Sacrament that the Huguenots were Satan’s friends and faithful servants. This being the case, the Commissioner felt himself fully justified in disregarding the Edict of Nantes. The Calvinists of Loudun were first deprived of their cemetery. Let them bury the carcases of their dead somewhere else. Then came the turn of the Protestant College. The school’s commodious buildings were confiscated and handed over to the Ursulines. In their rented convent there had been no room for the crowds of pious sightseers who thronged the city. Now at last the good sisters could be exorcized with all the publicity they deserved and without having to traipse out in all weathers to Sainte-Croix or the Eglise du Château.

Hardly less detestable than the Huguenots were those bad Catholics who obstinately refused to believe in Grandier’s guilt, in the reality of the possession and in the absolute orthodoxy of the Capuchins’ new doctrine. Lactance and Tranquille fulminated against them from the pulpit. These people, they bawled, were no better than heretics; their doubt was a mortal sin and they were already as good as damned. Mesmin and Trincant, meanwhile, went about accusing the sceptics of disloyalty to the King and (yet worse) conspiracy against His Eminence. And through the mouths of Mignon’s nuns and the Carmelites’ lay hysterics, a score of devils announced that they were all magicians who had trafficked with Satan. From some of M. Barré’s demoniacs at Chinon came word that even the irreproachable Bailli, M. de Cerisay, was a dabbler in the Black Art. Another demoniac denounced two priests, Fathers Buron and Frogier, for attempted rape. On the accusation of the Prioress, Madeleine de Brou was charged with witchcraft, arrested and imprisoned. Thanks to their wealth and high connections, her relatives managed to get her released on bail. But after Grandier’s trial was over, Madeleine was re-arrested. An appeal to Messieurs des Grands-Jours (the judges of the peripatetic Court of Appeal, which travelled through the kingdom, looking into scandals and miscarriages of justice) brought an injunction against Laubardemont. The Commissioner retorted with an injunction against the appellant. Fortunately for Madeleine, the Cardinal did not think her important enough to justify a quarrel with the judiciary. Laubardemont was instructed to drop the case, and the Prioress had to forgo the pleasures of revenge. As for poor Madeleine, she did what her lover had dissuaded her from doing after her mother’s death—took the veil and disappeared for ever into a convent.

Other accusations, meanwhile, were flying as thick as dust on the wind. Now it was the local débutantes who were singled out for attack. In her playful way, Sister Agnes would declare that nowhere in the world was there so much unchastity as at Loudun. Sister Claire would name names and specify sins. Sister Louise and Sister Jane would add that all the girls were budding witches, and the proceedings would end with the usual indecent postures, filthy language and shrieks of maniacal laughter.

On other occasions respectable gentlemen were accused of having attended the Sabbath and kissed the devil’s rump. And their wives had fornicated with incubi, their sisters had bewitched the neighbour’s chickens, their maiden aunts had caused a virtuous young man to be impotent on his wedding night. And all the time, through the tiny air-holes in his bricked-up windows, Grandier was magically distributing his sperm sperm—to the witches as a reward, to the wives and daughters of the Cardinalists in the spiteful hope of bringing them to undeserved shame.

All these malignant ravings were recorded, verbatim, by Laubardemont and his clerks. Those who were accused by the devils—those, in other words, who were obnoxious to the Commissioner and the exorcists—were summoned to Laubardemont’s office, were questioned, browbeaten, menaced with legal proceedings that might cost them their lives.

One day in July, on a tip from Beherit, Laubardemont had the doors of Sainte-Croix closed on a considerable assemblage of young ladies. The girls were then frisked by Capuchins. But the pacts with Satan which they were all supposed to be carrying about their persons were not revealed by even the most thorough search. Although Beherit had been duly constrained, for some odd reason he had failed to tell the truth.

Week in, week out, Capuchins, Recollets and Carmelites yelled and gesticulated from every pulpit; but the sceptics were not convinced, the protests against the iniquitous handling of the case against Grandier grew louder and more frequent. Anonymous rhymers made epigrams on the Commissioner. Setting old tunes to new words, men sang about him derisively in the streets and over their wine in the taverns. Under cover of darkness, pasquinades against the good fathers were nailed to the church doors. Interrogated, Dog’s Tail and Leviathan named a Protestant and some schoolboys as the culprits. They were arrested; but nothing could be proved against them, and they had to be set free again. Sentries were now posted outside the churches. The only result was that the libels were pinned to other doors. On the 2nd of July the exasperated Commissioner issued a proclamation. Henceforth it was expressly forbidden to do or even say anything “against the nuns or other persons of the said Loudun, afflicted by evil spirits, or against their exorcists, or against those who assist the exorcists.” Anyone who disobeyed was liable to a fine of ten thousand livres or, if it should seem necessary, to yet graver pains, both financial and bodily. After this the critics became more cautious; the devils and the exorcists could give vent to their calumnies without risk of contradiction. In the words of the anonymous author of some contemporary Remarques et Considérations pour la Justification du Curé de Loudun, “God, who can only speak truth, is now dethroned and the Evil One put in His place, who utters nought but cheats and vanity; and this vanity must be believed as truth. Is not this to resuscitate paganism? People say, moreover, that it is most convenient that the devil should name so many magicians and sorcerers; for by this means they will be tried, their goods will be confiscated and a share will be given, if he likes, to Pierre Menuau, who, however, may be content, as may also his cousin, Canon Mignon, with the death of the parson and the ruin of the town’s most respectable families.”

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