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Magical emasculation, popular anticlericalism, and the limits of the Reformation in western France circa 1590.

Although popular mentalities have become a subject of close scrutiny by historians of early modem France, few studies of the French Reformation have been rooted in the ethnography and folklore of the regions most affected by this epochal shift in religious comportments.(1) And while scholars investigating the scope of magical beliefs held by French people of the ancien regime have made signal progress in distinguishing variances among popular and elite conceptualizations of the supernatural, no similar precisions as yet capture the varieties of anitclericalism espoused and developed by different social groups in pre-modern France.(2)

In preliminary fashion, this essay seeks to bridge these gaps in the history of French mentalities by presenting a concerted study of indigenous folk magics and perdurable anticlerical attitudes characterizing the residents of La Rochelle and its hinterland, key actors embroiled in this important theater of the French Reformation. Exploring the magical basis of deep popular disdain for clergymen adds a vital dimension of contemporary cultural conflict to the political and material antagonisms between clergy and laity usually identified as the primary catalysts of anticlerical opinions among early modern Europeans.(3)

This method of inquiry moves away from critiques of the clergy propounded by highly literate elite participants in the controversy toward more common denunciations of churchmen inspired by tenacious, less articulate public fears of bewitchment. In the process, magical folkways and anticlerical attitudes can be better appreciated as interconnected components within unitary, popular systems of belief antedating, challenging, and dynamically interacting with more orthodox religious movements like the Reformations.


The pays of the French west country, like the environs of La Rochelle, have received comparatively little attention from scholars intent on describing the progress of Protestantism in France.(4) Standard histories of the French Reformation thus mistakenly refer to La Rochelle as a bastion of the new faith where a majority of citizens were united in their devotion to Calvinism and its agents.(5) In reality, this isolated, heavily fortified port town on the wild French Atlantic frontier was long a haven for heretics offensive to Rome and Geneva alike. Municipal archives and printed matter produced locally reveal a laity not only contemptuous of misbehavior by Catholic priests, but also persistently irreverent toward the teachings of Protestant pastors. In these parts, clerics of either confession were treated with deep and abiding suspicion by ordinary townspeople and country dwellers.

In and around La Rochelle, many westerners, within various ranks of rural and urban society, commonly regarded clergymen, Catholic or Calvinist, as devious practitioners of the blackest magic, as sorcerers capable of causing hailstorms, infesting fields with vermin, sickening farm animals, and sabotaging the vital consummation of marriages. Within La Rochelle and the adjacent provinces of Aunis and Saintonge, ministers of both faiths frequently became subject to popular derision, and not simply for the usual clerical sins of gluttony, greed, or fornication with trusting parishioners lampooned in polemical Reformation texts of the era. Here, native residents strongly suspected clergymen of more nefarious sexual tamperings: casting spells even within the rituals of church marriage intended to render grooms impotent and new households liable to discord, mockery, and dishonor.

Even many decades after the onset of the local Reformation, superstitious Calvinist authors published in La Rochelle commonly exhorted their brethren to scrupulous performance of private Protestant rites not purely as an obligation for salvation, but rather as a reliable means of protection against the conjurings of malevolent fellow dissenters subtly operating within the city's Reformed congregations.

This apparently popular fear of magical subversion within Calvinist religious institutions brings to light the durability of indigenous belief systems, largely unaffected by local changes in canonical religious practices. Even among relatively secure town dwellers, new doctrinal religious practices could not eliminate the unorthodox opinions of preternaturally distrustful littoral populations convinced of their vulnerability to the myriad hazards of a demonic marine environment.(6)

And here the hopes of devout French Protestant leaders for winning disciplined converts throughout the kingdom foundered on these shoals of west country spiritualism. The new Calvinist faith, eradicating whole orders of the regular clergy and concentrating direction of church affairs in a far narrower pastorate, could ill-afford congregants predisposed to see and distrust their own ministers as potential warlocks. Yet, such suspicions did arise and circulate, gravely compromising effective Calvinist confessionalization campaigns in western France.

Following spiritual guides like John Calvin, who anathematized all popular superstitions as illusions and the work of the devil, most orthodox advocates of French Protestantism held no spiritual common ground with a laity widely accepting the efficacy of ancient incantations, good luck charms, and evil hexes. Synodal officials of the embattled French Calvinist churches, struggling even to assure correct performance of fundamental Protestant rites, devoted little time in their national colloquies to the repression of superstitious practices among ordinary congregants. When dignitaries of the Reformed Church briefly gave attention to such matters, they merely castigated wayward parishioners for a want of faith inducing their irrational credence in "illusions." Church authorities did not proceed to consider how such "illusions" might compromise ministerial vocations or lead to popular defamation of pastors as evil magicians working in league with the devil.(7) And French Calvinist church consistories, responsible for local policing of the faithful, issued remarkably few censures against brethren dabbling in sorcery, although ethnographic studies clearly indicate that popular fascination with the supernatural was just as pronounced in Protestant enclaves as in preponderantly Catholic regions of France and Europe.(8)

The relative inaction of Protestant authorities on this battlefront contrasts sharply with frequent attacks on lay spiritualism mounted by French Catholic dogmatists.(9) Defenders of French Catholic institutions from Jean Bodin to JeanBaptiste Thiers, while acknowledging the reality of magicians sabotaging human reproductive powers, demonized and often feminized practitioners of the black arts, in the process shielding and exculpating a celibate male priesthood from public accusations of magical turpitude. Without similar defenses, isolated French Protestant clergymen had even more difficulty than Catholic prelates in overcoming inveterate lay suspicions of the first estate's malevolent magical powers. Their ministries suffered accordingly and remained incomplete even though, in desperation, a few French Calvinist clerics appropriated Catholic polemics denouncing female sorcery in an effort to exonerate a male pastorate from popular accusations of bad magic.


To formulate a working definition of anticlericalism in keeping with my sources, I wish to amalgamate and build upon explanations of the term recently put forth by Robert Scribner and Gerald Strauss. Strauss had characterized early modern anticlericalism as "a bundle of unorganized perceptions on the part of ordinary people, perceptions expressed in attitudes and externalized as a certain kind of behavior, but never asserted as principled opposition to a sacerdotal presence in the community."(10) This interpretation coheres well with my findings of antipathies toward the clergy broadly diffused amidst French west country populations willing to change their ministers, but not to eradicate this caste entirely from their communities.

Of course, complete removal of the first estate would have been unthinkable to early modern French congregants who frequently expected their ministers to perform vital, quasi-magical rituals, like field rogations, blessings of farm animals, exorcisms, and relic parades, to protect the community from epidemic diseases, threatening weather, and material or spiritual harm. Post-Tridentine religious reformers worked to discourage participation by clerics in many such rites, subject to conflation in the public mind with manifestations of beneficial white magic. Indeed, official strictures against ministerial practice of such rites formed another pretext for antipathies between clergy and laity by thwarting popular expectations that priests would employ their good magical powers for the benefit of all.(11)

Scribner maintains that anticlericalism "involves a perception of and reaction to the power wielded by the clergy as a distinctive social group, power which expressed itself in the economic, political, legal, social, sexual, and sacred spheres of daily life."(12) Here, I would add that popular expectations and apprehensions of priestly power in the magical sphere of daily life also prompted skeptical reactions to clerical prerogatives among many segments of France's early modem population. Within the context of French old regime society, anticlericalism can thus be construed as a gamut of sensibilities and challenges manifest throughout the population toward the material, juridical, honorary, intellectual, spiritual, and supernatural advantages ascribed to the clergy as a separate estate.

One of the most striking characteristics of the early modem populations inhabiting the region of La Rochelle was their ambivalence toward churchmen. Since the early fourteenth century, residents of La Rochelle and neighboring communities, to combat mounting priestly financial demands, had joined in mass refusals to pay the dimes on agricultural and commercial production assessed by Catholic prelates. Arable lands in the immediate vicinity (banlieue) of La Rochelle fell subject to dimes imposed by distant abbeys and absentee churchmen. Between 1310 and 1405, vineyard workers in La Rochelle's hinterland proclaimed themselves immune to tithes demanded by the bishop in the adjoining town of Saintes. They ultimately attained almost complete exemption from such fees.(13) Local congregants used legal action to oppose tenaciously an effort by the cure of Bignay, southeast of La Rochelle, to raise his dime in 1421. When a band of highwaymen later took over the cure's church, the parishioners simply set fire to the structure, happy to be rid of a common lair for robbers.

The French west country is marked by a long history of material confrontations between clergy and laity. As late as 1868, rumors circulating in the vicinity of La Rochelle about a plot hatched by the city's bishop to reimpose clerical dimes on the populace precipitated massed, iconoclastic attacks on local ecclesiastical institutions. Enraged parishioners attacked neighborhood churches, seeking to destroy secret, legitimating symbols of the hated clerical levies they discerned in the personal escutcheons the new bishop had ordered to be affixed over the doors of each sanctuary in his diocese. Priests barring the way fell under the blows of angry congregants.(14)

The incompetence and scandalous misconduct of local clerics also encouraged the laity's irreverence towards them. Records of disciplinary cases prosecuted in the officialite, or ecclesiastical court of the bishopric of Saintes, from 1545 to 1552 reveal that Catholic priests from La Rochelle were officially censured for insolence toward parishioners, neglect of parochial duties, and the consecration of bigamous marriages arranged between spouses allowed to wed without proper examination.(15) In 1546, it also came to light that nuns at the local convent of Saint Claire had been leaving their cloister without authorization, conducting sacrilegious love affairs, and even marrying(.16)

Enduring popular allegiance to ancient folkways and widespread beliefs about the good and bad magical powers of clerics also compromised church discipline among French westerners. Throughout the provinces of Aunis and Saintonge surrounding La Rochelle, the laity treated Catholic clergy reservedly, not only as potent intermediaries with heaven, but also as potentially dangerous sorcerers easily capable of using spells to kill farm animals, to conjure up plagues of locusts, and to unleash disastrous hailstorms. Among the Saintongeais peasantry, the association of malevolent cures with devastating storms produced the indigenous phrase "priests' shanks" (jambes de pretres) to describe rays of sunlight shining through thick, lowering cloud banks.(17) Many parishioners firmly believed that their cures could climb into the sky, ride the darkening nimbus, and call down storms on laymen at will. In 1791, for example, in the adjoining Angoumois region, National Guardsmen had to take into custody four cures to save them from lynching by an angry mob of local residents accusing them of magically inducing a severe hailstorm.(18) Nearby, the unfortunate cure of ChampagneMouton barely escaped assassination in July 1838 after his farming parishioners denounced him as the sorcerer instigating a calamitous series of thunderstorms which had ruined their harvest.(19)

Communities throughout early modem France shared westerners' apprehensions over the capacity of priests to inflict material losses on lay people through malevolent magics. However residents of provinces on the French mid-Atlantic coast (Normandy, Poitou, Aunis, Saintonge, and Angoumois) manifested exceptional dread of priestly hexes that rendered new grooms impotent and new households discordant. Locally, the nouement de l'aiguillette (literally "the knotting of the cord") became one of the most feared incantations allegedly practiced by clerical and lay sorcerers. Public anxiety over such magical attack was not uniformly spread over the kingdom of France in early modern times. The charm appears to have been unknown in Artois, Hainault, the Jura, Lorraine, and Picardy.(20) By contrast, early modem sources identify Poitou, the French mid-Atlantic littoral, and the coastal districts of Languedoc as regions whose inhabitants often practiced and greatly feared the nouement.(21)

In the French west country, local folklorists have recorded various castings of the spell, most directed by vengeful magicians against fiances on their wedding day and involving the recitation of malefic formulas along with the tightening of knots in a cord or lace.(22) The prime objective of this ritual was to render husbands magically impotent and incapable of consummating their marriages. The immediate environs of the church where the wedding was to take place were popularly regarded as the most propitious venue for the sorcerer's effective perpetration of the curse. Common knowledge held that priests could easily "knot the cord" either by secret recitations of the hexes or by discrete modifications or omissions in the normal office of marriage.(23) The doctors of the Catholic Church readily accepted the actual existence of nouements, wisely eschewing a full-scale campaign to eradicate such a deeply ingrained popular conviction while anathematizing the practitioners of the charm and seeking to establish a priestly monopoly over the combat against this sorcery.

Provincial towns in the ambit of La Rochelle gained the dubious distinction of harboring many adept practitioners of the nouement among clergy and laity. Circa 1590, Francois Crespet, in his treatise on diabolical magic entitled Deux livres de la haine de Satan, identified the town of Niort (50 kilometers northeast of La Rochelle) as a place where malefactors had long been inflicting magical castration and sexual discord on the newly married.(24) Individuals within most ranks of the regional population shared the conviction that the nouement really caused serious bodily harm. The eminent jurist and west country native Jean Bodin, officiating at the extraordinary sessions (grands jours) of Poitou's sovereign courts held in Poitiers in 1562, while lodging with a distinguished townswoman, heard from her an elaborate account of more than fifty ways to cause impotence or castration magically through the nouement.(25)

Other revealing examples show the extent to which the region's urbane governing elite identified with folkways usually considered typical of lowlier rural residents. In November 1574, Michel Le Riche, a royal magistrate (avocat du roi) in the town of Saint-Maixent, also northeast of La Rochelle, commemorated in his diary the marriage of his son, Jacques. At the time of his nuptials, the younger Le Riche held office as an attorney in town and was preparing a successful bid to become a city councilman. He married the highly educated daughter of the king's prosecutor for fiscal affairs in the neighboring town of Parthenay. In his diary entry, the erudite Michel Le Riche remarks that the couple espoused themselves (and presumably consummated their union) two days before their official church wedding. They did so, the approving father notes, "for fear of the noueries de l'aiguillettes which are commonly practiced in this part of Poitou to disunite husbands and wives."(26) Guillaume Bouchet, a voluble apothecary in Poitiers who served as master of ceremonies for a private debating club of local erudits, recorded in his Les serees (1584), the written transcripts of these convivial meetings, that a wide majority of his literate friends firmly believed in the reality and pernicious effects of the nouement.(27)

Even affianced notables sought to minimize their vulnerability to the nouement, considered greatest at the moment of their most elaborate church wedding when surrounded by all too familiar, secretly vindictive family, friends, neighbors, and clergy. Escape from this danger came through informal commitment rites or clandestine, often nocturnal marriages celebrated with the fewest possible witnesses in small parish churches or backwoods chapels before priests with no prior knowledge or prior grievances against the betrothed.(28) Such stratagems, legitimating the couple's commencement of sexual relations before their grandest church wedding service, gave them another measure of protection against the nouement since the curse was widely regarded as harder to effect on partners with carnal knowledge of one another.(29) Thus, throughout the populations of the French west country various forms of premarital sexual relations had an enduring magical impetus: a persistent, popular apprehension of the nouement.

Among all potential magical aggressors against wedded bliss, it was cures whom French westerners and southwesterners singled out as the most redoubtable assailants practicing the nouement. Since the fifteenth century at the latest, communities in Normandy and adjacent provinces had been riven by accusations of witchcraft raised by ordinary congregants against their priests.(30) According to depositions recorded in October 1632 by a royal notary in Saint-Maixent (Poitou), Jean Desmaisons, cure for the neighboring burg of Azay-le-Brule, had been repeatedly accused by a couple among his flock of rendering the groom magically impotent while marrying them in a church ceremony.(31) Further to the south, near Saugues in the bishopric of Mende, visitation records of 1650 report on an elderly cure accused by neighbors and congregants of inflicting the nouement and commonly charging those who thought themselves so bewitched exorbitant fees for reversing the hex (an operation commonly referred to as a denouement).(32) Even as late as 1867, such accusations remained virulent and deadly in the French west country. That year, the cure of La Loupe (northwest of Orleans) was murdered by one of his male parishioners who had accused him of casting nefarious spells.(33)

Exasperated by public innuendoes about their allegedly injurious magical acts, some Catholic clerics even resorted to defamation suits against their accusers brought before local presidial courts and other secular provincial legal tribunals. In 1658, for example, Manuel de Servegnes, the cure of Saint Hilaire (Loire), swore out complaints before secular magistrates against at least two parishioners who had abused him as a "sorcier et noueur d'esguillette."(34) According to the Abbe Jean Baptiste Thiers, church authorities redacting synodal statutes for the western French dioceses of Bourges (in 1583) and Tours (in 1608), aghast at castings of the nouement even within churches, took the lead in condemning this black art and anathematizing its practitioners.(35)

Fearful of priestly hexes causing sexual dysfunction, residents of the French mid-Atlantic littoral developed a wide variety of counter-magics and salvific gestures, many of which privileged women as charmed protectors of their husbands and households. In Poitou and the Haute-Vienne, grooms on their wedding day could protect themselves against the nouement by placing a little salt in one of their pockets. In Perigord, the mother and father of the groom, on their son's wedding day, had the duty to place a coin in the shoes of each spouse to ward off all enchantments. In the Gironde, specifically to check any nouement attempted during the nuptials by an officiating priest, all the fiancee had to do was to place some seeds of millet in her shoes. No clerical warlock could ever utter injurious spells equivalent in number to the plant's myriad, infinitesimal protective grains.(36) By repeatedly striking the kneeling bridal couple on the soles of their feet, roistering witnesses at southwestern wedding ceremonies (Poitou, Quercy, and Rouergue) could also protect them against ministerial black magic).(37)

And around La Rochelle, in the provinces of Aunis and Saintonge, it was the bride herself who was expected to precede her future husband toward the altar, kneel first for the benediction, and quickly slip a corner of her richly embroidered matrimonial apron over the altar steps upon which her betrothed could then place his knees. This womanly dexterity shielded the groom against all magical attacks on his virility. The bride's protective apron would later be used by the godfather of the couple's firstborn child to wrap the infant safely against potentially dangerous exposure to the local priest at baptism.(38)

In the French southwest, the potency popularly attributed to female magics defending kith and kin can, in part, be understood as concomitant with women's more independent and assertive status amidst coastal and upland communities where men, through seafaring and seasonal migrations in search of work, commonly spent long periods of time away from home.(39) Here, it is appropriate to consider how prevailing regional rhythms of work and the human displacements (physical and psychological) they entailed influenced not only male and female comportments, but also indigenous magical practices and beliefs. It is striking to me that public apprehensions of the nouement in early modern times appear to be strongest within French urban and rural communities located on the coastal plains of the country's Atlantic and Mediterranean seaboards, areas where maritime employments normally kept men off shore for weeks and months at a time.

During such voyages, priests, whom French mariners commonly regarded as bringing such bad luck to crews that they even prohibited clerics from coming aboard vessels to bless them, remained behind as solitary males in disproportionately female territories. Although speculative, it is plausible to argue that the endurance of magical beliefs about hexing priests and shielding women among shore populations (and those affected by transhumance) stems, in part, from ambient masculine anxieties about wives and households left behind, and therefore vulnerable to clerical meddling, spiritual and sexual. Absent males could draw a large measure of comfort from abiding credence in local magics denigrating priests as warlocks, warning all members of the commune against too intimate fraternization with them, and rewarding married women as steadfast, faithful partners to their husbands in combat against the alien cure's malevolent supernatural powers.(40)

Clearly, allegiance to such beliefs would make littoral populations, and especially women within them, primary targets for orthodox Catholic confessionalization campaigns intending to heighten cures' authority over their flocks. Indeed, demonizing not simply those who practiced the nouement, but also those who employed traditional white magics to counter it became one of the chief strategies by which French Catholic officialdom, especially in the southwest, sought to strengthen its hold over the hearts and minds of ordinary communicants. And, as will be shown below, at least one prominent Calvinist cleric in the region attempted the same trick.


However, French shore communities' deep-seated fears of clerical black magic disrupted the efforts of both Catholic and Protestant evangelists to reform the laity. Primary evidence from La Rochelle shows that French Calvinist churches long remained vulnerable to congregants' persistent suspicions about the malevolent magical powers of their pastors.

By the early 1540's, manifestations of Protestant religious dissent among the Rochelais had become notorious enough to prompt prosecutions of local heretics by the Parlement of Paris. Regional martyrdoms galvanized the resolve of dissenters to expand proselytization through clandestine, nocturnal assemblies of new believers. With the aid of zealous, Genevan-trained pastors infiltrating the French west country, a Calvinist church became fully operational in La Rochelle on 17 November 1558. Numerous distinguished members of La Rochelle's wealthy, mercantile governing elite rallied to the new faith, enabling a small cadre of ministers to establish a complete panoply of Calvinist religious institutions in the city, including multiple congregations and a consistory, or church governing body, comprised of lay elders and deacons over which the pastors presided.

Winning a disproportionate number of influential converts among the city's patriciate controlling the town council, local ministers quickly assimilated themselves into this exclusive segment of the urban population, acquiring well-dowered brides from notable native town families in record time for outsiders. Early patrician members of the nascent Rochelais Calvinist church also rapidly monopolized access to all offices of deacon and elder within the consistory. In sharp contrast to the annual terms of service established for these offices in other French Calvinist communities, notable members of the Rochelais Reformed church served uninterruptedly as deacons and elders for decades, long preventing townsmen of more modest rank from gaining access to key posts of local church government.(41)

The close sociopolitical identification of the Rochelais pastorate with the city's wealthy, lay governing elite and the patrician complexion of the Calvinist church administration in town complicated effective discipline of the faithful. Between 1575 and 1625, errant members of the patriciate, like the successful mayoral candidate who had fathered at least one illegitimate child or the nominally Protestant mayor who espoused religious opinions completely at odds with the most basic Calvinist tenets, escaped censure by the consistory and enjoyed prestigious public careers. In some cases of gross public misbehavior by citizens profaning Calvinist doctrines or offending ministerial sensibilities, lay magistrates intervened either to assert their own municipal police powers or to protect kinsmen and proteges, bringing consistorial disciplinary proceedings to a complete halt.(42)

Pastor Jacques Merlin, who meticulously chronicled Rochelais affairs in a private diary he kept between 1589 and 1620, noted the strong congregational sympathies of ordinary Rochelais believers, but more frequently castigated humbler members of his urban flock for myriad violations of church teaching and irreverence toward ministerial authority. Merlin likened the large, volatile laboring segment of La Rochelle's population to "a raging sea."(43) Antipathies between the Rochelais pastorate and unenfranchised middle and lower ranking Protestant citizens boiled over in a bloody 1614 coup d'etat directed by ordinary merchants and artisans against the old regime of town government and its allied Calvinist ministers.(44) Public insults and repudiations of the pastorate, especially for meddling surreptitiously in town politics, now became so heated that more than half of the city's Calvinist clergymen sought to leave town at once. Only Merlin's cajoling and the unwillingness of the consistory to authorize the departures prevented the mass flight of Calvinist clerics. After 1614, ministerial influence over civic affairs evaporated.(45)


It is within this context of popular religious heterodoxy and growing sociopolitical antagonisms between clergy and laity that La Rochelle's foremost Calvinist printer, Hierosme Haultin, published a most unusual work in 1591. That year, Haultin produced an eighty-seven page text entitled: Traite de l'enchantement qu'on appelle vulgairement le nouement de l' esguillette, en la celebration des marriages en l'Eglise reformee & des remedes a l'encontre pour le soulagement des fideles.(46)

Referenced without commentary in only one survey of La Rochelle's bibliographic history by Louis Desgraves, the Traite de l'enchantement has been ignored until now by every other ancient and modern historian of the city.(47) This neglect is especially unfortunate because the Traite reads like a printed sermon (it may very well have been declaimed in some fashion by its probable author), and we know precious little about the culture of Protestant preaching in La Rochelle and the rest of France.

The Traite's overall format and essential evidence within its preface provide multiple clues to the true identity of the text's likely author. Although the title page is without attribution, the preface, besides containing a dedication of the work to the ministers and elders of La Rochelle's Reformed church, ends with the author's self-identification as "Your very humble brother and servant."(48) This closing salutation is followed by the cryptic initials "L.H.H.M.D.L.'E." A prior owner of the Bibliotheque Nationale's only copy has inked in beneath this passage the supposition that it should read, in part, "Hierosme Haultin, Ministre de l'Evangile." However, as Desgraves notes, this attribution to Haultin, the actual printer of the text, is extremely dubious.(49) It strikes me as entirely erroneous since it ignores the "L" of the abbreviation and ascribes to Haultin the status of a minister which the printer, albeit a zealous Protestant, we know never held.

The Traite's preface indicates a much more likely author. Its writer confesses to residing in La Rochelle precisely for the last five years and six months.(50) Moreover, the writer admits to arrival in La Rochelle as a refugee in consequence of contemporary warfare (outbreak of the Ligue wars in 1585). This information, coupled with the highly learned nature of the text (multiple citations in Hebrew), its author's characterization of himself as "a brother" to La Rochelle's clergymen, and the initials "L.H." leading the abbreviation at the end of the preface, all combine, I think, to implicate the visiting Calvinist pastor Louis Hesnard as the most probable author of the Traite de l'enchantement.

Hesnard's biography fits the chronology of the preface exactly. A former student of theology in Geneva, Hesnard assumed a post as minister to the congregation of Le Vigan in Languedoc. Having previously sought refuge in La Rochelle in troubled times (1568-69 and 1572-73), Hesnard returned to his known safe haven during the Ligue campaigns. Between 1585 and 1591, Hesnard took up all the duties of a minister in La Rochelle, serving its congregations "par emprunt," that is on a temporary basis because he had no dispensation from his former church consistory nor from the regional Calvinist synod to take a permanent post in La Rochelle. Lacking a fixed assignment in La Rochelle and miffed that the Rochelais had commenced a search for a permanent replacement without consulting him, Hesnard left the city in late 1591, obtaining accreditation to the province of Poitou and taking up a pastorate at Fontenay.(51)

What does Hesnard's treatise on the nouement tell us about the existence of this superstition among urban Protestant congregants and about Calvinist clerics' reactions to the prevalent charm? First, Hesnard, like contemporary Catholic demonologists, accepts the reality of the nouement, but emphasizes more strongly that it is a trick of the devil played on those of wavering faith. By this admission, Hesnard himself violates the contemporary Calvinist doctrine holding that the nouement was purely and simply an illusion terrifying the faithless.

Second, Hesnard commiserates with his fellow pastors, lamenting that a general fear of the nouement "in the celebration of marriages," continues to afflict ("affliger") their entire Protestant church.(52) He vehemently denounces this "covert error" poisoning his flock. According to Hesnard, many local Protestants, from all ranks of urban society, "in fearful superstition," feel themselves highly vulnerable to this hex. Even worse, Hesnard relates that other Reformed congregants in town, rich and poor, apparently convinced that "ordinary ecclesiastical assemblies are full of sorcerers," slip away stealthily ("a la derobee") to celebrate their Calvinist marriages at the oddest times and places, in small ceremonies, at night, in the fields, and in tiny neighboring villages where they are unknown.(53)

Third, somewhat contradictorily, while expressing both chagrin and surprise, Hesnard repeatedly qualifies his fellow Calvinists' general credence in the nouement as an "erreur renouvelle," a resurgent, retrograde conviction amongst parishioners, apparently unexpected by their clergy and primarily attributable to the devil's refurbishment of old snares and to the imperfect faith of worried new believers.(54) Hesnard attacks this threatening, recrudescent misbelief because, as he ruefully admits, as yet (1591) no other learned Protestants have taken up the challenge.(55) Evidently, an entire generation has passed since the commencement of the Rochelais Reformation (1558), and no one in the local Reformed camp had so far bothered to combat folkways clearly antithetical to the perfection and salvation of Calvinist congregants under ministerial direction.(56) It appears that Protestant churchmen's largely successful displacement of Catholicism from La Rochelle gave them a false sense of security, leading them to believe wrongly that an eradication of "Papist" dogmas would naturally entail public abandonment of other pernicious superstitions like belief in the nouement.

Fourth, although Hesnard in his treatise never admits the veracity of historical allegations against churchmen as the worst practitioners of the nouement, he does present many arguments implicitly countering such accusations. All of these exculpations celebrate pastors' commanding role in the battle against Satan and his tricks. Hesnard consistently emphasizes pastors' deep respect for holy matrimony, an evident solicitude rendering them incapable of any deviltry subverting fruitful marriage. According to Hesnard, apostate Catholic priests and new pastors have "flocked to the true church to become members of Christ, renouncing idolatrous celibacy to acknowledge and honor the holy institution of matrimony ... toward which they have recourse as a legitimate means for the conservation of humanity."(57) Celebrating "the word of God as the instrument by which we are delivered from the greatest enemies and protected against so many dangers," Hesnard quickly identifies "the apostles, evangelists, doctors, and pastors in His church" as the most adept utilizers of that instrument, capable through their ministries of triumphing over all demons and enchantments.(58) Pastors comprehend the truth, they are possessed and purified by it, forsaking all devilish behavior as obedient subalterns of the Lord. While couples may remain vulnerable to the malevolence of the laity on their wedding day, they should have no superstitious fear of their own ministers as possible saboteurs of their matrimonial harmony.

Hesnard, throughout his treatise, implicitly argues for greater public trust of the Reformed clergy as allies of the laity in a collective struggle against Satan. He does this, in part, by appropriating local folklore but denying the efficacy of popular talismans and rituals reputed to ward off the nouement. Pockets full of salt will in no way protect newlyweds against Satanic magicians.(59) The good pastor also denounces local shamans practicing supposedly countervailing white magics as frauds with whom the credulous "fornicate." Hesnard's choice of condemnatory terms cloaks these healers in the mantle of womanly wiles and lusts. There is no such thing as a good witch. All necromancers are sirens and lieutenants of the devil in disguise, who, with "filching words," coax poor ignorant men toward perdition.(60)

These local minions of the devil, whose ranks would include many female seers, thrive, Hesnard argues, because many new Protestants lack absolute fidelity to their adopted creed.(61) They do not recognize that there are only three infallible remedies for the nouement: the appearance and sacrifice of Jesus Christ; his gifts and graces distributed by means of holy writ; and Christian faith in these efficacious protections as manifest through prayer. Many good people afflicted by the nouement, Hesnard asserts, deliver themselves from this curse by recourse to God through faith and "ardent prayer."(62) Jesus, in concert with the preachers of his word, comes to the rescue of sorcery's victims, protecting them against a common foe: "les enchanteurs et noueurs d'esguillette leurs ennemis."(63) However, lay participants in this joint battle must remember, Hesnard concludes, that no promise from God, especially his benediction of fruitful marriage as a legitimate means of procreation, will necessarily be fulfilled without the ordinary believer's justification of godly assistance through vibrant faith. And from this divine moral economy, illustrated perfectly in Moses' relations with God, Hesnard derives the additional lesson that the "most excellent fruit of the most excellent faith" is humility on the part of the faithful.(64)

Finally, Hesnard also puts local lay authorities on notice that their conduct of official duties should always obediently conform to the norms of communal discipline laid down by clerics. The departing pastor severely chastises Rochelais magistrates for conniving at "impieties" and turning a deaf ear toward "the daily scandals in the Church caused by those who have recourse to enchanters and soothsayers in remedy of the nouement."(65) Apparently, Hesnard had witnessed frequent congregational disorders caused by volatile public fears of witches and warlocks operating among the faithful. Hesnard's tart rebuke of local ruling elites further suggests that multiple ranks of La Rochelle's citizenry commonly believed in the capacity of Protestant ministers to launch magical attacks on male potency.

Unfortunately, Hesnard's 1591 treatise on the nouement did little to neutralize citizens' fears of priestly cabals and enchantments. Besides acknowledging the reality of the nouement, Hesnard also freely admitted that sacred assemblies of every size might contain malevolent magicians and that couples marrying within Reformed churches could easily find themselves afflicted by the nouement. Anxious to recommend a stalwart faith as the true believer's best protection against devilish enchantments, Hesnard contrasted two couples married simultaneously before the same Calvinist congregation. The groom of one pair, knowing that several practitioners of the nouement had infiltrated the assembly, nonetheless, in a firm voice, invited the pastor to proceed with the nuptials, proclaiming to the entire audience his unshakable faith in God's protections of matrimony against all contrary magics. This couple emerged from the ceremony with no ill effects whatsoever. However, the more circumspect Protestant pair, unwilling to voice such bold and faithful defiance of secret warlocks, found themselves afflicted with the nouement after their church wedding.(66)

Hesnard, perhaps raising doubts among skeptical readers about his own frequentations, even went so far as to repeat in print confessions he had personally received from the noueurs themselves, expressing shock and surprise that their blanket curses had various effects depending on the variable faith of their targets.(67) Such ill-chosen discursive strategies probably worked just as much to heighten as to diminish literate congregants' credence in the folk magics by which westerners battled the nouement and through which they avoided complete identification with the Calvinist Reformation and its local actors.

But the dutiful Hesnard had no choice. Obligated to preach a theology of empowerment to the laity, predicated upon the willfulness of men and the rewards of faith, he could only encourage - not command - his flock's abandonment of irreverent ancient magics widely accepted as protective. Moreover, the election of a single, supernatural creed over all others could not be easily achieved by merely offering local believers a choice among salvific practices, especially in an environment where the laity had long shown singular creativity in combining dogmas and superstitions into coherent, unorthodox cosmologies of individual and collective defense.

Persistent local belief in the necessity of such defenses can be found in public denunciations of the Rochelais pastorate made by the nominally Protestant advocates of the 1614 rebellion who broke the political power of the city's old governing elite and the moral influence of local clerics over civic life.(68) Enduring popular doubts about the rectitude and trustworthiness of Rochelais pastors surface in the lexicon of rebel protesters. Pastors meddling too intimately in the affairs of the citizenry were repeatedly humiliated and forced to beg pardon from rebellious congregants who vilified them as preachers of false doctrine, as "conspirators" holding office by subterfuges, as "calumniators," and as "enemies of the people."(69) Such vehement and subversive rebel phrases, recorded in his diary by an outraged pastor Merlin to whom they were directly addressed by protestors, identify Calvinist clerics as cursing men.

The rebels' effective rhetorical attacks on the clergy resonated clearly with latent popular fears of ministers' malefic magic powers - just as Hesnard's treatise had done, albeit implicitly. The personal reputations and public personas of local pastors shrank after 1614. And while these stinging, insurrectionary rebukes to the pastorate do not prove a conviction among the Rochelais that their ministers actually practiced the nouement, by their wording such denunciations certainly manifest deep public suspicions about the conspiratorial and potentially malicious behavior of Protestant clerics.


In his treatise on the nouement, pastor Hesnard not only broke ranks with his co-religionists by accepting the reality of the charm, he also joined with Catholic dogmatists in a combined assault on female magicians aimed at reducing male clerics' vulnerability to charges of magical turpitude. However, Hesnard's maladroit solo foray against noueurs de l'aiguillette in and around La Rochelle contrasts sharply with more sustained, more authoritative, and, in the long-term, probably more effective Catholic campaigns against such misbelief. As historians of the French Counter-Reformation have noted, missionaries of post-Tridentine Catholicism, unconstrained by allegiance to the priesthood of all believers, focused their zeal on enhancing clerical control over all the sacraments of the church.(70) Reinforcement of priestly authority in the sacrament of marriage became a primary objective of renewed Catholic confessionalization offensives gaining momentum after 1600. Indeed, the ever growing specificity of episcopal ordinances and synodal statutes on the proper clerical conduct of Catholic nuptials reveals the French Catholic Church's commensurate ambition to raise the priesthood above public calumny while eliminating from all official weddings vestigial folk rites of fecundity perpetuating an indigenous anticlericalism.

As Andre Burguiere notes, the French Catholic Church throughout the seventeenth century progressively broke older compromises with lay spiritualism seeking "to impose a new form of piety, one that would be quiet, chaste, and scrupulously subservient to the guidance of the church."(71) The French ecclesiastical wedding ceremony lost its former regional variations and grew in fidelity to Pope Paul V's authorized Roman version. All crucial acts of marriage: betrothal, parental consent, and wedding, now had to transpire in a church. And only the presence of a priest could legitimate and sanctify the union. Priestly ritual vocabulary accordingly grew in potency.

Synodal and diocesan ritual books also reminded Catholic clergy to avoid all concord or connivance with the laity's older protective magics. Private betrothals, nocturnal weddings, and consummations of unions prior to official church nuptials were roundly condemned by the provincial Catholic council meeting in Reims in 1583, by the 1587 synodal statutes for the diocese of Orleans, and by the new ritual book for the diocese of Saint Brieu redacted in 1606.(72) Cohabitations of any kind by couples prior to their church wedding before a priest were reclassified as sins meriting excommunication in the 1606 edition of the ritual book authorized by the bishop of Evreux and in the Rituels de Paris for 1615 and 1630.(73) Multiple church services joining the same couple in matrimony were prohibited and the essential singularity of the commitment articulated before a priest stressed.

The Catholic church hierarchy battled the lay conviction that priestly benediction of multiple wedding rings also preserved new couples from malevolent magic by stipulating that clergymen officiating at church weddings could bless no more than one ring for each partner.(74) The provincial church council of Tours (1583) and diocesan assemblies at Evreux (1606 and 1621) anathematized all brides and grooms who, as a subterfuge to ward off nouements and other evil charms, conspired to cause their rings to fall on the floor before placing them on their partner's finger.(75) Priests received orders to inform such credulous "prestidigitators" that they profaned holy altars and courted damnation with such futile tricks against the nouement.

Catholic synodal decrees ordered officiating priests to maintain a sharp surveillance over the conduct of all wedding ceremonies down to the smallest details. Clerics had the duty to keep wedding companies at bay, preventing them from ostentatious gift giving while in church, from noisy, salacious outbursts during the ceremony, and from jostling the betrothed or touching them in any way deemed efficacious against malevolent spells. In a clear strike by the church against the potency traditionally ascribed to protective female magics, parish priests were ordered to prohibit brides and their attendants from making any similar prestidigitations or rearrangements in their wedding garb designed to check evil incantations.(76)

As summarized by Thiers, all unorthodox means employed against the nouement "are condemned by the church which prohibits anyone from removing one malefice with another and which excommunicates those who try." This admonition punctuates Thiers' most extensive rebuke of those sinners who seek "to unknot the cord ... by any vain or superstitious practice."(77) In the French west country, magically adept females now ran a progressively greater risk of censure by the Catholic clergy at all levels.

And while Burguiere is certainly correct to emphasize that French Catholicism's long acceptance of the nouement as a diabolical charm capable of causing real harm amounts to an institutional modus vivendi with an older magical realm of folk belief, we should not construe this as some sort of static compromise.(78) By acknowledging the reality of the nouement and the dangers posed by those who sought to do (and undo) it, ecclesiastical authorities maintained a wide battle front against popular heterodoxy, conserving strategic theaters of operation where the salvific powers of priests could be exalted against the allegedly black arts of their traditional competitors in the supernatural realm: malevolent sorcerers and female healers. Reiterated Catholic acknowledgments of the nouement's actual potency offered priests far more status-enhancing opportunities for intervention in the daily lives of parishioners than did the prevalent Protestant conceptualization of the nouement as an "illusion" attributable to the imperfect faith of individual congregants. Indeed, remedies for the nouement comprised one of the most contested fields wherein a male priesthood sought its own legitimation by challenging more insistently the capacity of women to protect kith and kin.

The curiosity or awkwardness of Pastor Hesnard's treatise on the nouement lies precisely in his effort to amalgamate these two antithetical confessional opinions about the nouement as a threat to a well-ordered Christian community. Borrowing generously from his Catholic cohorts, Hesnard accepts the actuality of the nouement while simultaneously recommending the enhancement of faith, under ministerial direction, as the best remedy for the ubiquity of bad magic. With this unorthodox argument Hesnard may also have sought to convince his audience that Protestant pastors could more competently provide the communal protection through good magic parishioners had traditionally expected from their priests. However, by so doing, Hesnard left himself and his fellow pastors vulnerable to an inveterate suspicion among the Rochelais laity, namely that clergymen themselves practiced the nouement with devastating effect. Specific expository schemas developed by Hesnard in his sermon-like text implying a ministerial cognizance of supernatural malefactors without consequent official action against the wrongdoers only further undercut the pastorate's bid for greater respectability within the urban community.

In contrast, male west country Catholic jurists and demonologists, like Pierre de Lancre operating out of Bordeaux, abetted the priesthood's drive for greater public authority by identifying assertive, unruly, and devilish females with ominous destabilizing effects within nature's realm.(79) As noted by Monter, such interventions in Catholic regions of France and Switzerland worked after 1600 to keep witchcraft prosecutions of females accused of tampering with the weather at levels significantly higher than in predominantly Protestant areas.(80) In places like the French west, where priests had been more traditionally suspected of magically causing meteorological disasters, similar achievements undercut popular faith in the protective benevolence of feminine healers to the benefit of masculine judges and clerics.

Rural women and city women, whose inherent magical powers were dismissed by Protestants and criminalized by Catholics, steadily lost what Robert Muchembled has called their "privileged rapport with the body" under a barrage of disparagement from potent male ecclesiastical authorities.(81) Confrontations between clergymen and female parishioners over communal defense against the nouement contributed to the process by which women were divested of their magical prowess. The professionalization of French medicine in the nineteenth century further advanced this masculine redefinition of bodily wisdom.

To a more limited extent, Protestant pastors like Louis Hesnard sought the advancement of their own caste through denunciations of traditional folkways and implicit denigration of the charming women who preponderantly gained spiritual stature from continued wide public credence in the old magics even long after the French Reformation began. In La Rochelle, such ministerial bids for supreme command over spiritual defense of the laity went seriously awry when disenfranchised bourgeois and laboring families closed ranks against scheming patricians and their distrusted clerical allies, eventually overthrowing the old regime of town government. Spiritual rifts aggravated in the urban body politic by self-aggrandizing Calvinist ministers helped to radicalize succeeding civic administrations dominated by the rebels. Sharper, unresolved tensions between clergy and laity, especially over public attitudes toward old magical practices like the nouement, sapped the unity of increasingly embattled French Protestants, ultimately hastening destruction of the fundamental alliances upon which the security of the Gallic Reformation depended.

Department of History Indianapolis, IN 46202-5140


The author wishes to thank the Journal's editor and anonymous reviewers who provided excellent, precise, and polite suggestions for improvements in earlier drafts of this article.

1. Older standard and regional histories of the French Protestant Reformation make no references to the folklores of the pays where Calvinism attracted large numbers of converts. See for example, Auguste Lievre, Histoire des protestants et des eglises reformees du Poitou, 3 vols. (Paris, 1856-1860); and John Vienot, Histoire de la reforme francaise des origines a l'Edit de Nantes (Paris, 1926). More recent studies either ignore the topic or devote scant attention to it. See Janine Garrisson-Estebe, Protestants du Midi 15591598 (Toulouse, 1980), 265-268; idem, Les protestants au XVIe siecle (Paris, 1988), a text more heavily emphasizing French Protestants' battles against Catholic superstitions; and Henry Heller, The Conquest of Poverty: The Calvinist Revolt in Sixteenth-Century France, Studies in Medieval and Reformation Thought, vol. 35 (Leiden, 1986), a collection of articles on French Calvinism richly informed by social historical methods of inquiry but offering no analysis of interactions between ancient French folklore and new modes of orthodox religious devotion. Jean Delumeau's innovative article, "Les reformateurs et la superstition," Actes du colloque L'Amiral de Coligny et son temps (Paris, 1972), 451-487, focuses almost exclusively on critiques of heretical spiritualism put forth by the learned leaders of the European Reformations. The impact of indigenous folk magics on Calvinist confessionalization is not considered.

2. On the various attitudes toward magic typifying early modern French populations see the major works of Robert Muchembled, including: Culture populaire et culture des elites dans la France moderne (Paris, 1978); La Sorciere au village (Paris, 1979); and, in particular, his articles reworked and collected in Sorcieres, justice et societe aux 16e et 17e siecles (Paris, 1987), especially "Sorcellerie, culture populaire et christianisme," 33-59, and "Sorcieres du Cambresis," 89-205. Unfortunately, the most recent and scholarly compendium devoted to the history of anticlericalism in early modern Europe contains articles mainly focused on critiques of the clergy penned by erudite German and central European participants in Reformation controversies. See Peter A. Dykema and Heiko A. Oberman, eds., Anticlericalism in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe, Studies in Medieval and Reformation Thought, vol. 51 (Leiden, 1993). Many recent studies of "popular religion" in early modern France remain rooted in sources generated by institutionalized churches themselves and seek to chart only the acculturation of the laity to official dogmas. See for example M.-H. Froeschle-Chopard, La religion populaire en Provence orientale au XVIIIe siecle (Paris, 1980).

3. Most of the articles collected by Dykema and Oberman in their admirable survey of central European anticlerical opinions reiterate material, political, and intellectual causes for strife between clergy and laity in early modern times. See, for examples, Robert J. Bast, Je geistlicher ... je blinder: Anticlericalism, the Law, and Social Ethics in Luther's Sermons on Matthew"; Scott H. Hendrix, "Considering the Clergy's Side: A Multilateral View of Anticlericalism"; and Hans-Christoph Rublack, "Anticlericalism in German Reformation Pamphlets," all in Dykema and Oberman, Anticlericalism, 367-378, 449459, and 461-489.

4. No studies similar to Garrison-Estebe's detailed investigation of Protestantism in the Midi have been carried out for the French mid-Atlantic coast. Gregory Hanlon's excellent empirical study of seventeenth-century Catholic and Protestant religious behavior in the Agenais has not been emulated for the French Atlantic littoral. See Hanlon's Confession and Community in Seventeenth-Century France (Philadelphia, 1993). Antiquarian studies of local or regional Protestant churches, such as Lievre's Histoire des protestants et des eglises reformees du Poitou, have not been superseded by new works of greater sociological or ethnographic sophistication. More general modern histories of the region and its principal cities offer no close analysis of local folkways or the impact of these belief systems on institutionalized religious practices. See, for examples, Marcel Delafosse, ed., Histoire de La Rochelle (Toulouse, 1985); and Edmond-Rene Labande, ed., Histoire du Poitou, du Limousin et des pays charentais: Vendee, Aunis, Saintonge, Angoumois (Toulouse, 1976). Although of limited scope, a more trustworthy guide to the social history of La Rochelle's Reformation is Judith Pugh Meyer's Reformation in La Rochelle, Travaux d'Humanisme et Renaissance, vol. 298 (Geneva, 1996). However, Meyer's recent study does not incorporate relevant ethnographical material on La Rochelle or its region.

5. See, for example, Jacques Le Goff and Rene Remond, eds., Histoire de la France religieuse, 4 vols. (Paris, 1988-1992), "Du christianisme flamboyant a l'aube des lumieres," vol. 2, 285-295; and Louis Perouas, Le diocese de La Rochelle de 1648 a 1724 (Paris, 1964), 130-144.

6. See Alain Corbin, The Lure of the Sea (Cambridge, MA, 1994), 1-18. Corbin here describes in detail how profound fears of the sea gripped early modern Europeans. For coastal populations, proximity to the ocean and it meteorological disturbances continually reinforced popular apprehensions of this primordial element. On the toxic emanations early modern Europeans commonly attributed to arms of the sea, especially in clement weather, see Alain Corbin, The Foul and the Fragrant (Cambridge, MA, 1986). Judging by the environmental opinions of pre-modern French people Corbin has dredged up, no part of the French Atlantic coast was considered more dangerous than the bogs around La Rochelle; Foul and Fragrant, 13, 21-24, and 34. Contemporary theological discussions of the sea could only exacerbate popular suppositions of the physiological and psychological injuries it inflicted on humans. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the French, like many Europeans, still commonly regarded the sea as the eery, unfathomable dregs of God's punishing flood. The proximity of the sea would not have been reassuring for citizens in La Rochelle who shared the popular belief that the end of the world would commence with oceanic inundations of the earth. Early modern popular rhymes and folk tales of the French mid-Atlantic coast describe the sea as the devil's playground and foretell the sea's raging destruction of local towns. See Jean Delumeau, La peur en occident (Paris, 1978), 31-42; and Paul Sebillot, Legendes de la mer, 1, "La Mer et le rivage" (Paris, 1886), 303-304.

7. During the national synods of the French Reformed Church meeting at Montauban (1594) and Montpellier (1598), ecclesiastical deputies merely chastised the "weakness" and "unbelief" of Calvinists who affirmed the reality of magical spells and the capacity of sorcerers to cause others bodily harm. See John Quick, Synodicon in Gallia Reformata: Or the Acts, Decisions, Decrees, and Canons of Those Famous National Councils of the Reformed Churches in France, vol. 1 (London 1692), 164-165 and 193. On similar, infrequent pronouncements by regional church assemblies in Languedoc, see Garrisson-Estebe, Protestants du Midi, 265-267.

8. On the paucity of official church sanctions through consistories against congregants practicing witchcraft and other deviltry see Philippe Chareyre, "'The Great Difficulties One Must Bear to Follow Jesus Christ': Morality at Sixteenth-Century Nimes," and Raymond Mentzer, "Marking the Taboo: Excommunication in French Reformed Churches," both in Raymond Mentzer, ed., Sin and the Calvinists: Morals Control and the Consistory in the Reformed Tradition, Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies, vol. 32 (Kirksville, MO, 1994), 63-96 and 97-128. And on the propensity of French Calvinists to share in public convictions about the ubiquity of evil spirits see Elisabeth Labrousse, "Le demon de Macon," in Giancarlo Garfagnini, ed., Scienze, credenze occulte, livelli di cultura (Florence, 1982), 249-275; and Stuart Clark, "Protestant Demonology: Sin, Superstition, and Society (c. 1520-c. 1630)," in Bengt Ankarloo and Gustave Henningsen, eds., Early Modern European Witchcraft: Centres and Peripheries (Oxford, 1990), 45-81.

9. Although Stuart Clark has argued that "[n]othing distinguishes Protestant demonology more than its preoccupation with popular magical technique - that is with the enormous repertoire of rituals for good health, healing, and fertility, for preventing misfortune, and for divination which existed outside or along the borders of official religion" ("Protestant Demonology," 62), his evidence for this assertion derives almost entirely from German and English sources. In France, at the levels of local consistorial police, synodal policy making, and orthodox textual combat of popular "superstitions," I find less pronounced Calvinist activity. This comparative inaction, especially in contrast to more robust Catholic propaganda against similar popular belief systems, significantly diminished the capacity of Calvinist church authorities to maintain the integrity of Reformed doctrine in the French kingdom.

10. Gerald Strauss, "Local Anticlericalism in Reformation Germany," in Dykema and Oberman, Anticlericalism, 625-637. See in particular 626-627.

11. On the unorthodox dimensions of seventeenth-century folk devotion in southwestern France among Catholics and Protestants, see Hanlon, Confession and Community, 152-156. Philip Hoffman tracks rising popular ire against regular and secular Catholic clerics in the early modern Lyonnais who followed episcopal instructions to censure traditional folk entertainments and quasi-magical rites; see Hoffman's Church and Community in the Diocese of Lyon, 1500-1789 (New Haven, CT, 1984), 139-166.

12. Bob Scribner, "Anticlericalism and the Cities," in Dykema and Oberman, Anticlericalism, 147-166. The citation appears at 147.

13. See Louis-Etienne Arcere, Histoire de la ville de La Rochelle et du pays d'Aunis, vol. 1 (La Rochelle, 1756; reprint Marseille, 1975), 265-266; and Francois Julien-Labruyere, Paysans charentais. Histoire des campagnes d'Aunis, Saintonge et bas Angoumois, vol. 2 (La Rochelle, 1982), 130.

14. See Julien-Labruyere, Paysans charentais, vol. 2, 134-135; and Alain Corbin, The Village of Cannibals, Rage and Murder in France, 1870 (Cambridge, MA, 1992), 15-19. The cure of Sigogne (Charente), southeast of La Rochelle, coming to the defense of his church, was attacked by a crowd of congregants, beaten unconscious, stripped naked, and tied to a stake for burning. Only timely intervention by the gendarmes of Cognac saved the cleric from incineration.

15. Bibliotheque Municipale de La Rochelle (henceforward BMLR), MS 241, registre of the officialite of La Rochelle, July 1545-December 1552. See also Leopold Delayant, Histoire des Rochelais, vol. 1 (La Rochelle, 1870), 193-194.

16. Arcere, Histoire de La Ville de La Rochelle, vol. 1, 328.

17. J. L.-M. Nogues, Les moeurs d'autrefois en Saintonge et Aunis (Saintes, 1891), 123, 128-130, and n. 1, 130. Nogues' survey of folklore and popular pastimes on the French mid-Atlantic littoral is still one of the best ethnographies of the region penned by a local erudit scrupulous about the regional specificity of the rites and locutions he describes. Nogues treats the phrase "jambes de pretres" as a very common and traditional remark about threatening weather heard in the region for generations. Paul Sebillot, Le folklore de France, vol. 4 (Paris, 1905-1907), 236-238, associates such phrases with a popular fear of priestly malfeasance variously manifest in France since the thirteenth century and circulating especially in the southwest well before the anticlerical diatribes of the French Revolution.

18. Marc Leproux, Medecine, magie et sorcellerie. Contributions au folklore charentais (Paris, 1954), 273.

19. Ibid., 274. Modern ethnographers investigating the folklore of French westerners have uncovered a lingering popular suspicion that priests can employ multiple forms of black magic especially to harass and ruin their humblest laboring congregants. See, for example, Ellen Badone, "Breton Folklore of Anticlericalism," in idem, ed., Religious Orthodoxy and Popular Faith in European Society (Princeton, 1990), 140-162. From twentieth-century informants in the Monts d'Arree region of Brittany (contiguous with the Rochelais hinterland), Badone has recorded a strong belief among villagers and residents in small towns that priests have "manipulated the supernatural to persecute the poor and ignorant, particularly those who attended mass sporadically or voiced opposition to the church." See Badone at page 155.

20. On the absence of the nouement curse in the Jura see E. William Monter, Witchcraft in France and Switzerland (Ithaca, NY, 1976), 165-166 and n. 81; on its rarity in the north of France see Pierre Villette, La sorcellerie et sa repression dans le nord de la France (Paris, 1976), 102-103; and E. Delcambre, Les jeteurs de sort notamment dans l'ancienne Lorraine (Nancy, 1950), 79. These precisions must qualify Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's unfounded supposition that fear of the nouement de l'aiguillette constituted a peril felt by the public "almost everywhere in France." See Le Roy Ladurie, "The Aiguillette: Castration by Magic," in The Mind and Method of the Historian (Chicago, 1978), 84-96.

21. See Nogues, Moeurs d'autrefois, 7-8 and n. 1; Henri Gelin, "Les noueries d'aiguillette en Poitou," Revue des etudes rabelaisiennes 8 (1910): 122-133; Robert Favreau, "La sorcellerie en Poitou a la fin du moyen age," Bulletin de la societe des antiquaires de l'ouest 4th Series, 18 (1985): 133-154; J. Bruyn Andrews, "Traditions, superstitions et coutumes du Mentonnais (Alpes-Maritimes)," Revue des traditions populaires 9 (1894): 213-263; Robert Jalby, Sorcellerie et medicine populaire en Languedoc (Nyons, 1974), 132-135; and J.-P. Pinies, Figures de la sorcellerie languedocienne (Paris, 1983), 99.

22. Leproux, Medicine, magie, et sorcellerie, 222-225; idem, Du berceau a la tombe. Contributions au folklore charentais (Paris, 1959), 172-175; and A. Lamontellerie, "Carte mythologique de la France: departement de la Charente-Maritime," Bulletin de la societe de mythologie francaise 26 (April-June 1957): 52-53.

23. Nogues, Moeurs d'autrefois, 7; and Lamontellerie, "Carte mythologique," 53.

24. Francois Crespet, Deux livres de la Mine de Satan (Paris, 1590), 276.

25. Jean Bodin was born at Angers in 1530. See his De la demonomanie des sorciers, first impression Paris, 1580. I have used the 1586 Antwerp edition. See here Book II, 97-100.

26. See A.D. de la Fontenelle de Vaudore, ed., Journal de Guillaume et de Michel Le Riche, avocats du roi a Saint-Maixent de 1534 a 1586 (Saint-Maixent, 1846; reprint Geneva, 1971), 209-210.

27. Guillaume Bouchet, Les serees, vol. 1 (Paris, 1873-1882), 184-195.

28. See Jean Baptiste Thiers, Traite des superstitions qui regardent les sacrements, vol. 4 (Paris, 1700-1704), 567-594. The erudite Swiss patrician Thomas Platter (brother to the renowned physician Felix Platter), while studying medicine at Montpellier and travelling the French Midi in the late 1590's, reports wide public apprehension of the nouement in the vicinity of Uzes compelling local brides and grooms to avoid city churches and obtain their nuptial benediction with the fewest possible witnesses in the little sanctuaries of neighboring villages. The newlyweds returned to town only for celebration of a marriage banquet. Felix Platter's own widely influential medical opinions about the reality and incurable nature of the nouement may also have formed during residence in Languedoc and exposure to ambient public fears of the curse. See Felix et Thomas Platter a Montpellier 1552-1559-1595-1599. Notes de voyage de deux etudiants Balois (Montpellier, 1892), 376-377.

29. Bodin, De la demonomanie, Book II, 99.

30. See Thomas de Cauzons, La magie et la sorcellerie en France, vol. 2 (Paris, 1901-1913; reprint Osnabruck, 1974), 459-463, "Les sorciers en Normandie." Cauzons gives multiple examples of local cures accused of and reprimanded for magically affecting the health of their parishioners.

31. Gelin, "Les Noueries," 132.

32. Jalby, Sorcellerie et medicine populaire, 134. See also Revue des traditions populaires 16 (1907): 132.

33. See Sebillot, Le folklore de France, vol. 4, 237-238 and n. 1,238.

34. See Archives Departementales de la Loire, Series B 1277 (1658). See also Alice Taverne and Robert Bouiller, "Medicine populaire et sorcellerie en roannais et forez," Cahiers du musee forezien, 3 (1976): 35-39.

35. Thiers, Traite des superstitions, vol. 4, 576.

36. Sebillot, Le folklore de France, vol. 3, 456.

37. Arnold Van Gennep, Manuel de folklore francais contemporain, vol. 1, part 2 (Paris, 1937-1958), 459.

38. Lamontellerie, "Carte mythologique," 52-53 and n. 1, 53.

39. On the greater ordinary social freedoms of French women in southwestern parts of the country and on the ways such liberties made them more vulnerable to persecution as witches, see Joseph Klaits, Servants of Satan: The Age of the Witch Hunts (Bloomington, IN, 1985), 70. See also Gerhild Scholz Williams, Defining Dominion: The Discourses of Magic and Witchcraft in Early Modern France and Germany (Ann Arbor, 1995), 89-115, especially 113-114 on mounting accusations of witchcraft made by secular and sacred authorities against the "half-year wives" of mariners and shepherds, workingmen often absent for long periods from southwestern French communities on shore and slope.

40. Judith Devlin, The Superstitious Mind: French Peasants and the Supernatural in the Nineteenth Century (New Haven, 1987), 4-6, notes that local nineteenth-century erudits surveying the incidence of magical beliefs among the populations of Herault (region of Montpellier) were surprised to discover that coastal communities, although more proximate to cosmopolitan networks of education and communication, displayed more extensive credence in folk magics than less accessible inland settlements. Ancient displacements of male laborers and attendant demographic tensions between laity and clergy on the littoral may have left their mark on local belief systems well into the French industrial age.

41. See Archives Departementales de la Charente-Maritime (henceforward ADCM) Series I, Protestant etat civil, 1-2; and BMLR, MS 97, 5-6. The social composition of Calvinist consistories in other French Reformed towns was significantly more diverse than in La Rochelle, see J. Estebe and B. Vogler, "La genese d'une societe protestante: etude comparee de quelques registres consistoriaux Languedociens et Palatins vers 1600," Annales E.S.C. 31 (1976): 362-388. For more detailed description of the Reformation's sociopolitical history in La Rochelle see my book City on the Ocean Sea: La Rochelle 1530-1650. Urban Society, Religion, and Politics on the French Atlantic Frontier (Leiden, forthcoming).

42. BMLR, MS 150, fol. 20.

43. Jacques Merlin, "Diaire ou recueil des choses plus memorables qui se sont passees en ceste ville," BMLR, MS 161, fol. 242r.

44. See my recent article on this uprising, "The Social Mechanisms of Urban Rebellion: A Case Study of Leadership in the 1614 Revolt at La Rochelle," French Historical Studies 19, no. 2 (1995): 559-590.

45. Merlin, "Diaire," fols. 236r-239v.

46. See the unique copy of the original edition, Bibliotheque Nationale, Res. D2 13667. For reasons to be explained below, this text will henceforward be cited in this article as: Hesnard, Traite.

47. Louis Desgraves, L'Imprimerie a La Rochelle, 2, Les Haultin 1571-1623 (Geneva, 1960), xxxvii and 78.

48. Hesnard, Traite, 5.

49. Desgraves, Les Haultin, xxxvii.

50. Hesnard, Traite, 3.

51. See the entry on Louis Hesnard included in Eugene Haag and Emile Haag, La France protestante, 2nd ed., vol. 6 (Paris, 1877-1888), 75-82. Here the spelling of the pastor's last name is given as "Esnard." However, as Etienne Trocme notes, local records in La Rochelle show that Hesnard always signed his name with an "H." Etienne Trocme, "L'Eglise reformee de La Rochelle jusqu'en 1628," Bulletin de la societe de l'histoire du Protestantisme francais 99 (1952): 136-199. See in particular Trocme's entry on Hesnard, 157-158. The abbreviation ending the preface of Hesnard's Traite (L.H.H.M.D.L.'E.) can now be construed to read "Louis Hesnard Hadjoint [sic] (or perhaps Haultrement [sic]) Ministre de l'Evangile," a phrase neatly designating Hesnard's temporary adjunct status in the Rochelais ministry or his departure before publication of the text by Haultin.

52. Hesnard, Traite, 4.

53. Ibid., 4.

54. Ibid., 6, 8, and 14.

55. Ibid., 6.

56. Hesnard's prior service as a minister in Le Vigan, a town situated in the valley of the Herault river leading to the coastal plain of Languedoc (regions where popular belief in the nouement was also quite strong), may have made him particularly sensible to the persistence of similar folk magics among Protestants inhabiting La Rochelle and its littoral.

57. Hesnard, Traite, 13.

58. Ibid., 38-40.

59. Ibid., 50.

60. Ibid., 50.

61. "Ils'ensuit qu'il n'y a que l'infidelite qui donne force et vigeur a Satan et ses ministres," ibid., 48. Here, Hesnard espouses the official church explanation for the persistence of folk magics (articulated earlier in regional synods of Calvinist churchmen meeting in Languedoc), a preemptory opinion tending to minimize Calvinist clerics' reflection on both the threats of such misbelief to their own ministries and on the development of more effective counter-arguments.

62. Ibid., 46.

63. Ibid., 66.

64. Ibid., 76.

65. Ibid., 55.

66. Ibid., 80-81.

67. Ibid., 81.

68. See Robbins, "Social Mechanisms of Urban Rebellion," for a fuller discussion of this revolt and its vocabulary.

69. Merlin, "Diaire," fols. 234r-244r and 259r-261v.

70. See, for examples, Andrew E. Barnes, "Ces Sortes de Penitence Imaginaires: The Counter Reformation Assault on Communitas," in Andrew Barnes and Peter Stearns, eds., Social History and Issues in Human Consciousness: Some Interdisciplinary Connections (New York, 1989), 67-84; Andrew E. Barnes, "From Ritual to Meditative Piety: Devotional Change in French Penitential Confraternities From the 16th to the 18th Centuries," Journal of Ritual Studies 1 (1987): 1-26; Robin Briggs, Communities of Belief, Cultural and Social Tension in Early Modern France (Oxford, 1989), in particular Chapter 9, "Idees and mentalites. The Case of the Catholic Reform Movement in France"; and Denis Richet, De la Reforme a la Revolution, etudes sur la France moderne (Paris, 1991), especially the section entitled "La Contre-Reforme catholique en France dans la premiere moitie du XVIIe siecle," 83-95.

71. Andre Burguiere, "The Marriage Ritual in France: Ecclesiastical Practices and Popular Practices (Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries)," in Robert Forster and Orest Ranum. eds., Ritual, Religion and the Sacred: Selections from the Annales (Baltimore, 1982), 8-23.

72. Thiers, Traite des superstitions, vol. 4, 501-502.

73. Ibid., 509.

74. Ibid., 511-512.

75. Ibid., 514-515.

76. Ibid., 521.

77. Ibid., 584.

78. Burguiere, "Marriage Ritual," 21-22. See also Thiers, Traite des superstitions, 574580, for reiterations by seventeenth-century French Catholic synodal assemblies that the nouement did indeed cause bodily suffering among the laity and was a sin meriting the excommunication of its perpetrators.

79. See Pierre de Lancre, Tableau de l' inconstance des mauvais anges et demons (1612), ed. Nicole Jacques-Chaquin (Paris, 1982). See in particular Book 1, Discourse III, "Pourquoi il y a pius des femmes sorcieres que d'hommes," 89-93. Williams, Defining Dominion, 90, notes that "Lancre was entirely convinced of woman's inclination toward witchcraft and of the universal threat to the individual, the community, and the state caused by this proclivity."

80. Monter, Witchcraft in France and Switzerland, 153-157.

81. Robert Muchembled, "Le corps, la culture populaire et la culture des elites en France (XVe-XVIIIe siecle)," in Arthur Imhof, ed., Leib und Leben in der Geschichte der Neuzeit (Berlin, 1983), 141-153. In an earlier article, Muchembled develops the related theme of a progressive popular estrangement from female seers-healers in northern France over the course of the seventeenth century, a process diminishing the magical stature of females as forces of communal order to the advantage of male judges and clergymen. See Muchembled, "The Witches of the Cambresis," in James Obelkevich, ed., Religion and the People 800-1700 (Chapel Hill, 1979), 221-275, esp. 255.
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