DU PLESSIS-MORNAY, dü”ples”sî’-mēr”nê’, PHILIPPE.


Early Life and Education (§1).

First Public Services, 1569-77 (§ 2).

Enters Service of Henry of Navarre (§ 3).

Defense of Henry’s Claim to the Succession (§ 4).

Activities as Governor of Saumur (§ 5).

His Great Polemic (§ 6).

His Influence and Importance (§ 7).


1. Early Life and Education. Philippe Du Plessis-Mornay (called also Philippe de Mornay, Seigneur du Plessis-Marly, Baron of La Forêt-sur-Sèvre), French Protestant statesman, soldier, theologian, and controversialist; b. at Buhy (Normandy) Nov. 5, 1549; d. at La Forêt-sur-Sévre (Poitou) Nov. 11, 1623. He was destined for the priesthood, and at an early age was sent to the Roman Catholic college of Lisieux at Paris in spite of the fact that his mother had been won over to the practise, though not to the public acknowledgment, of the Reformed faith. In 1559 the father died, a convert to Protestantism, which was now openly professed by the widow and her children. Mornay prosecuted his studies at Paris for a number of years, then, on the outbreak of the second war of religion in 1567, he made ready to join the Huguenot forces under Condé, but was prevented from carrying out his intention by a fall from his horse. A poem on the horrors of civil strife, composed at this time and addressed to the Cardinal of Chatillon, gained him the friendship of that prelate, at whose advice he undertook in 1568 a long journey abroad for the purpose of completing his education under the best foreign teachers. Through Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and England he traveled, devoting his time with characteristic seriousness of purpose to linguistic and juridical studies, acquainting himself with political, ecclesiastical, and social life and the great men of the different countries, and preserving the results of his observations in a carefully kept diary.


2. First Public Services, 1569-77. At Cologne he came into contact with Dutch refugees, whose accounts of Alva’s rule stirred the ardent young Protestant to vehement hatred against Roman Catholic Spain and convinced him of the unity of interests between the adherents of the Reformed faith in France and Holland. Two pamphlets addressed to the Dutch people, exhorting them to cast off the Spanish yoke, gained him the attention and friendship of William the Silent. Coligny, too, discerned the splendid promise of his talents, and a memorial composed by Du Plessis, urging the expediency of rendering aid to the Dutch provinces, was laid by the great admiral before Charles IX.


He narrowly escaped the massacre of St. Bartholomew, and with great difficulty made his way to England, where he remained till the end of 1573, acting for a time as the agent of William the Silent and the Duke of Alençon and Anjou. Summoned by la Noue to France, he took part in the unsuccessful Huguenot attempt at Saint Germain in Mar., 1574, was defeated at Nantes, went on a diplomatic mission to Louis of Nassau, and was taken prisoner in the battle of Dormans in Oct., 1575,but escaped recognition and, ransomed for a small sum, took up his residence at Sédan. There he made the acquaintance of Charlotte Arbaleste, a young widow of deeply pious character and an ardent Huguenot, whom he married in Jan., 1576. It was characteristic of her that she requested a literary dissertation as a marriage gift, and Du Plessis accordingly composed his Discours de la vie et de la mort (Lausanne, 1576; Eng. transl. Discourse of Life and Death, by Edward Aggas, London, 1577, six later editions).


3. Enters Service of Henry of Navarre. In the sixth civil war, which broke out in 1577, Du Plessis took little share. la Noue had presented him to Henry of Navarre, who sent him on a mission to England, where he remained for more than a year, composing his Traité de l’église London, 1578; Eng. transl. A Treatise of the Church, by I. Feilde, 1579, 2d ed., 1581). From 1578 to 1582, with the exception of a brief sojourn in England, he represented the interests of Henry of Navarre in the Netherlands, residing at Antwerp, and, after 1580 at Ghent. In the latter city he completed an ambitious theological work, the Traité de la verité de la religion chrétienne contre les Athées, Epicuriens, Payens, Juifs, Mahumedistes, et autres Infideles (Antwerp, 1581; Eng. transl. A Worke Concerning the Trewnesse of the Christian Religion, by Sir Philip Sidney and A. Golding, London, 1587,4th ed., 1617). In 1582 he was recalled to France by the king of Navarre, and from that time dates the friendship between the two that was to last until Henry’s conversion to Roman Catholicism. With consummate energy and fine literary talents he became Henry’s mouthpiece and public defender. He was his most trusted counselor and a fearless, though respectful, critic where he believed the prince untrue to himself. His presence at court was felt in a general chastening of manners, and a monument of his peculiar part in this friendship was the remarkable essay, Règlement de la façon de vivre, composed for the king in Jan., 1583. In the differences existing between the heads of the Huguenot party and Henry of Navarre, Du Plessis acted as a mediator. At the Synod of Vitré in May, 1583, suspicion of Henry’s ambitions was rife among the delegates, whose views were largely tinged with the spirit of Calvinistic democracy; Du Plessis was instrumental in bringing about the agreement that a number of deputies of the synod should be assigned to the presence of the prince to be consulted on all ecclesiastical affairs. The project of a union of the Protestant churches of Europe which received some discussion at the same synod was very close to his heart, and at the synods of Gap in 1603, La Rochelle in 1607, and Tonneins in 1614 he was an ardent advocate of the scheme, although he achieved not the slightest success.


4. Defense of Henry’s Claim to Succession. The death of the Duke of Anjou in June, 1584, brought Henry of Navarre next in succession to the throne, and the health of the childless Henry III. was such as to make his death at any moment a probable event. By the mass of the French nation the accession of a Protestant king was regarded as out of the question, and the League, in alliance with Spain, entered on a period of renewed activity. In the war of pamphlets that ensued, Du Plessis naturally appeared as the most prominent defender of the legitimate claims of Henry of Navarre. With untiring energy he poured forth a succession of state documents, letters, instructions, and formal argumentations, all expressive of devoted faith in a prince to whom he looked as the coming disseminator of Evangelistic teaching throughout the world. In the war of the Three Henrys which followed the Edict of Nemours in 1585, Du Plessis acted as governor of the important fortress of Montauban and took part in the battle of Coutras (Oct. 20, 1587), Henry’s first great victory, and in the unsuccessful siege of Saint-Nazaire. At the political assembly of the Huguenots at La Rochelle in 1588, he exercised his accustomed function of mediator between Henry and the Protestant leaders, and was elected president of the council entrusted with the management of the affairs of the party and its representation at court. The assassination of the Guises at Blois in December of the same year led to a temporary alliance between Henry III. and the king of Navarre against the League, negotiated by Du Plessis, who received the command of the important city of Saumur, which had been assigned as a stronghold to the Huguenots. He fought by the side of Henry of Navarre at Ivry (March 14, 1590) and was present at the siege of Rouen, in the course of which he made a journey to England to solicit the aid of Elizabeth.


5. Activities as Governor of Saumur. The resistance of the League had convinced Henry of Navarre that the crown of France was not to be gained so long as he remained a Protestant, and the problem became one merely of rendering his change of religion as little odious as possible. In the negotiations that preceded the king’s abjuration of the Huguenot faith Du Plessis appears as the victim of Henry’s double dealing. Fond as he was of theological disputation, he felt convinced that an open debate on the rival merits of the warring confessions, could not but serve to strengthen the king in his hereditary faith, and in this spirit of confidence he negotiated with the representative of the League a treaty by which Henry agreed to place himself under Roman Catholic instruction in order to test the truth of the doctrines of the Church. Too late Du Plessis discovered that his project of a public disputation was not to be realized and that Henry had used him for his own ends. The old friendship between the two was thereby destroyed, and though Du Plessis remained in Henry’s service and was concerned in many important affairs of state, he was no longer the spokesman of the king. The loss of royal favor, however, brought no end to the active career of Du Plessis. As governor of Saumur he devoted himself to the strengthening of the fortress and the improvement of the surrounding district. With his own means he founded in 1593 the Protestant university of Saumur, which, till its suppression by Louis XIV. in 1685, was the most important and influential of Protestant theological schools in France. As arbitrator between the Huguenots and the king, he was an especially important figure during the years preceding the promulgation of the edict of Nantes, when the favor shown by Henry IV. to the great Roman Catholic nobles roused among the Huguenots fear of the resumption of persecution. At the assembly of Nantes in 1593 the first steps toward the Edict of Nantes were taken in the formulation of the Huguenot demands. Of greater importance was the Synod of Sainte Foy in the following year, where the organization of the Huguenot party was carried out in accordance with the plans formulated by Du Plessis. Although he took no share in the negotiations leading up to the Edict of Nantes or in the drafting of that document, its provisions must be regarded as largely the result of his long activity in the councils of the king. As the most prominent among Protestant statesmen and theologians Du Plessis received at this time the nickname of the Huguenot Pope.


6. His Great Polemic. In July, 1598, Du Plessis published at La Rochelle De l’institution, usage et doctrine du saint sacrement dé l’eucharistie en l’eglise ancienne (Eng. transl., The Institution, Usage, and Doctrine of the Holy Sacrament, London, 1600), a work representing many years of labor and comprising in addition to the main attack on the mass, a polemic against other Roman Catholic doctrines. Over 5,000 quotations from the Scriptures, the Church Fathers, and the medieval theologians constituted a formidable array of evidence and bore testimony to the learning of its author. It was regarded not only as a monumental apology for the Reformed faith, but as the reply of the Protestants to the king’s conversion. The Roman Curia and the Sorbonne expressed their condemnation of the work and many rejoinders were published. In 1600 Davy Duperron, bishop of Evreux, formulated the charge against Du Plessis that a large proportion of the citations adduced by him were either entirely false or incorrectly quoted. Du Plessis thereupon challenged his critic to a public disputation which occurred in the presence of the king and his court at Fontaine-bleau on May 4, 1600. Du Plessis, as a matter of fact, had not made use of the best editions in compiling his references and was, moreover, unequal in theological learning and dialectic to his opponent; but what principally led to the latter’s triumph was the disingenuous action of the authorities in allowing Du Plessis a single night for the preparation of his side of the case. Deeply humiliated by the result of the disputation, Du Plessis retired to Saumur, where he busied himself with the recasting of his work, which, sanctioned by a general synod, appeared in a second edition at Saumur in 1604.


7. His Influence and Importance. The death of his only son in 1605 and that of his wife in the following year were severe blows, although they did not draw him away from the sphere of active church politics. After the assassination of Henry IV. (1610), he persevered in his attitude of loyalty to the royal house notwithstanding the machinations of the regent Mary de’ Medici against the Huguenots. His influence was still exerted for peace, and when Conde took up arms in 1615, he was successful in restraining the majority of the Protestants from resorting to violence. The court showed little gratitude. On the outbreak of the religious war of 1621 Du Plessis, in spite of his well-known pacific attitude, was deprived of his governorship of Saumur. Wounded in spirit and half-blind, he retired to his castle of La Forêt-sur-Sèvre where he died two years later. His principal works, in addition to those mentioned above, were as follows: Lacrimcæ (Paris, 1606; Eng. transl. by J. Healey, London, 1609), a threnody on the death of his son; Le mystère d’iniquite, c’est à dire, l’histoire de la papauté (Saumur, 1611; Eng. transl., The Mysterie of Iniquitie that is Historic of the Papacie, by S. Lennard, London, 1612); and Discours et méditations chrétiennes (3 vols., Saumur and La Forêt, 1609-24). His religious writings show no original contributions in the field of theology; he was too much the polemist to be the pioneer. His importance rests rather in the multifarious activities of his eventful life and in the high example he set of unselfish and steadfast devotion to a cause of the merits of which he was thoroughly convinced.



BIBLIOGRAPHY: The Sources are: D. Licques, Histoire de la vie de . . . Philippe de Mornay, Leyden, 1647; Mémoires et correspondence. . . de la Fontenelle, vols. i.-xii., Paris, 1824-25; earlier collections of Mémoires appeared at La Forêt, 1624-52, and Amsterdam, 1652-1653; a complete collection of the letters is a desideratum. The best account of the life is in E. Stähelin, Der Uebertritt. . . Heinrich’s IV. . . . zur katholischen Kirche, Basel, 1856; for English readers, H. M. Baird, The Huguenots and Henry of Navarre, New York, 1886, is very valuable and is detailed. Consult also: G. de Félice, Hist. de protestants de France, Paris, 1850; E. and É. Haag, La France Protestante, vol. vii. ib. 1857; P. de Félice, Les Protestants d’autrefois, 4 vols., Paris, 1897-1902. His literary activity is well characterized in A. Savous, Études littéraires sur les écrivains de la Reformation, vol. ii., Paris, 1841.