Martyrs and Murderers: The Guise Family and the Making of Europe.
This is a rather old-fashioned book: it examines a sixteenth-century aristocratic, indeed a princely family, and especially the wielding of power and influence by its great men. Though this approach has much to recommend it, it tends to ignore history from below, class conflict, mentalities, history as long duration, and more. Genealogical tables and several maps help the reader to keep from getting lost in abundant details, names, or dates, and a lively narrative style holds one's attention. Demonstrating how the Guise family operated as a clan wherein loyalty was demanded and rewarded, the author downplays to some extent the significance of a female member of the clan who continues to fascinate many other historians: Mary, Queen of Scots. Carroll's main focus is the multiple ways in which the Guise dukes and cardinals were major political players from the 1540s to the 1590s.
For Carroll, the Guise were not fanatical Catholics ready to put religious purity and orthodoxy above all other considerations. Their archrivals in power politics were fellow Catholics, the Habsburgs, rather than any Protestant family or dynasty. Like other prominent Catholic families, the Guise used appointment to Church benefices more as a means to accumulation of wealth than as an opportunity to function as religious leaders. By the 1540s, the French monarchy was taking a repressive approach to heresy, imagined as akin to sedition, but the Guise were politiques seeking a way to accommodate Protestant beliefs and even practices as long as they were private. And the Guise were among those who looked to the ecumenical Colloquy of Poissy, in 1561, for a way to relax tensions between Catholics and Protestants. But the Colloquy ended in failure, and few French Protestants were willing to confine their religion to a private sphere without public worship.
Assassination in 1563 of Francois, duke of Guise, by a Protestant, was central to a Guise shift to a more militant Catholicism. In the same year, the Council of Trent was coming to its conclusion, and the Guise would be henceforth strong advocates of its implementation, in various ways. But Carroll does not clarify whether or not Guise ecclesiastics put into practice what Trent said about putting an end to pluralism, that is, the holding of several benefices simultaneously. Carroll does point out that a Guise was commendatory abbot of Cluny all the way to the 1620s. Thus the degree to which Guise ecclesiastics were willing to adopt Trent's program for a more pastoral clergy, resident in dioceses and parishes, and active in preaching and sacramental ministry, is not altogether clear.
Did the Guise play a leading role in the 1572 St. Bartholomew's Day massacre of Huguenots? In general, Carroll concludes that they did not, but he allows that Henri, duke of Guise, may or may not have had "ultimate responsibility" (212) for ordering the assassination of Protestant leader Coligny.
Much more bloodshed was to come. Carroll is unequivocal in his assessment of Henri, duke of Guise, and his attitudes and actions toward King Henri III. While radicals of the Catholic League sought to overthrow what would be the last Valois monarch, the duke of Guise did not. Rather, the leader of the Guise family sought "to obtain proper recognition of his worth" (279) through appointment as the king's chief counselor and as Constable of France. By 1588, he was keen on such rapprochement with Henri III, largely because he did not want to be dependent on the Spanish monarch, Philip II, for support. But the French king did not trust the Guise. At the Estates General in Blois, Henri III had both the duke of Guise and his brother Cardinal Louis assassinated. Carroll highlights the naivete of the duke of Guise, who seems to have been impervious to warnings of grave danger to his person at Blois. The following year, Henri III himself would be assassinated--though not by the Guise--and with the end of the Valois line, the way was opened for Henri of Navarre to become Henri IV of France. While some Catholics continued to contest the legitimacy of Henri IV's reign, even after his 1593 conversion to Catholicism, Carroll points out that with only one exception the powerful men of the Guise family made peace with Henri and the Bourbon dynasty.
One way of judging a book is by the correspondence, or lack of it, between a book's title and subtitle and what is actually in the text. Martyrs and murderers? Carroll does an excellent and persuasive job of showing how the Guise were both of these, while most historians over the last four centuries have tended to focus only on one or the other of these roles. Carroll's subtitle may not be as apposite, for the book is less about the "making" of Europe than its fragmentation in the late sixteenth century. Still, the author shows that a large number of the members of the Guise clan played significant and varied parts in much of the political and religious turmoil of that age, and ought not to be consigned by historians to minor or one-dimensional roles in that drama. Some twenty-seven black-and-white illustrations accompany Carroll's narration and help to make it come alive today.
College of the Holy Cross
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2011|
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