History fact, October 18 in Paris: the Affair of the Placards

Published by Manon C. · Updated on 20 October 2021 at 10h21 · Published on 7 October 2021 at 15h01
In the night of October 18, 1534, posters vehemently criticizing the catholic service are put up in the streets of Paris by Protestants. The Affair of the Placards marks a milestone in the fights between Catholics and Protestants and signs the end of Francis I’s conciliation with Reformers.

In the night from October 17 to 18, 1534, Huguenot posters vehemently criticizing the catholic service are hung in several cities in France including Paris. The Affair of the Placards marks the beginning of the Protestants’ persecution under the reign of Francis I and debuts the many wars of religion to come.

From the early days of his reign, on January 25, 1515, king Francis I does not really take care of the pandemonium between Catholics and Protestants disturbing the country and seems neutral when it comes to the Reformation marking the separation of the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church showing a certain open-mindedness and not hesitating to create alliances with Protestants from Germany and Switzerland.

Started in the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation first only tackles the clergy’s mores; and at the court of Margaret of Navarre, the king’s sister, these new ideas find an echo without the king being worried about it, the latter going all the way up to protecting the first Protestants of France against the clergy. But between 1527 and 1534, the Huguenot opinions take a new turn.

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In the night of Thursday October 18, 1534, Paris public places and abroad, like in Rouen and Tours, are clandestinely covered by French Protestants with anti-Catholic posters – then called “placards” – so everyone can see them. A poster is even hung on the king’s chamber door at the Château de Blois, while the Court’s residencies in Orléans and Amboise are also covered in posters.

Vehemently criticizing the Catholic mass, the authors of these insulting pamphlets vivaciously deny the doctrine of the transubstantiation during the Eucharist, namely the transformation of the bread and wine into the blood and body of Jesus Christ during the service, one of the pillars of the Catholic religion. Posters carried the following title: “Genuine articles on the horrific, great and unbearable abuses of the papal mass, invented directly contrary to the Holy Supper of our Lord, sole mediator and sole savior Jesus Christ”.

Accusing the mass rituals of witchcraft and accusing the pope, bishops, priests and monks of lying and blaspheming, posters created by French Calvinist-inspired pastor Antoine Marcourt, exiled in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, where he printed them. The Affair of the Placards marks the first hostile event between Catholics and Protestants in France.

Persécution des protestants durant le règne de François Ier, en 1534 Gravure sur cuivre de Matthäus Merian l’Ancien (1593–1650)Persécution des protestants durant le règne de François Ier, en 1534 Gravure sur cuivre de Matthäus Merian l’Ancien (1593–1650)Persécution des protestants durant le règne de François Ier, en 1534 Gravure sur cuivre de Matthäus Merian l’Ancien (1593–1650)Persécution des protestants durant le règne de François Ier, en 1534 Gravure sur cuivre de Matthäus Merian l’Ancien (1593–1650)

For Francis I, this anti-papist affront hurts the ecclesiastic institution and the divine right of kings, marking the end of his conciliation policy with Protestants and partisans of the Reformation. The king’s reaction to this lese-majesty crime threatening his very authority is quick and brutal: wishing to keep the kingdom away from heresy, he starts a radical repression against the “faith heretics”, not without publicly confessing his Catholic faith.

Many Huguenots suspected of being behind the placards are arrested, jailed, judged and executed for some, while others quickly flee away from Paris and France, while the king promises 200 ecus to anyone who will report the placards authors. Between two and three hundred people are arrested, some are burnt alive including Antoine Augereau accused of having printed the posters, and Etienne de La Forge, friend of jurist and Reformer Jean Calvin – the latter had to go into exile in Basel to escape from reprisal.

Several people from the king’s entourage and especially his sister Margaret of Navarre – won over Reformers’ idea and protector of Jean Calvin – are suspected. Repression continues in January 1535 with the creation – as demanded by Francis I – of a special commission, the Chambre Ardente (fiery chamber) aiming at banning insurrectional books while an edict bans printing and closes bookstores, marking the first act of censure since print has been invented. On January 21, 1535 a great public expiatory procession is held in the streets of Paris by the Catholic church that the king attends. It ends with the killing of six heretics at the stake.

Anne du Bourg, conseiller du Parlement de Paris bruslé a S. Ian en Greue le 21. Decembre 1559.Anne du Bourg, conseiller du Parlement de Paris bruslé a S. Ian en Greue le 21. Decembre 1559.Anne du Bourg, conseiller du Parlement de Paris bruslé a S. Ian en Greue le 21. Decembre 1559.Anne du Bourg, conseiller du Parlement de Paris bruslé a S. Ian en Greue le 21. Decembre 1559.

For the next twenty-five years, many violent actions against Protestants are committed although the death of Francis I on March 31, 1547 is a small respite against intolerance. But from 1562, France goes into the bloody period of the wars of religion.

Practical information

Location

Paris
75 Paris

More informations
Iconographies :
En-tête : Exemplaire subsistant des placards incriminés, conservé à la BNF.
Persécution des protestants durant le règne de François Ier, en 1534. Gravure sur cuivre de Matthäus Merian l’Ancien.
Anne du Bourg, conseiller du Parlement de Paris bruslé a S. Ian en Greue le 21. Decembre 1559.

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