Chapter 21: Persecutions of the French Protestants in the South of France, During the Years 1814 and 1820 (6/9)
At Sommieres, about ten miles from Nismes, the Catholics made a splendid procession through the town, which continued until evening and was succeeded by the plunder of the Protestants. On the arrival of foreign troops at Sommieres, the pretended search for arms was resumed; those who did not possess muskets were even compelled to buy them on purpose to surrender them up, and soldiers were quartered on them at six francs per day until they produced the articles in demand. The Protestant church which had been closed, was converted into barracks for the Austrians. After divine service had been suspended for six months at Nismes, the church, called the Temple by the Protestants, was re-opened, and public worship performed on the morning of the twenty-fourth of December. On examining the belfry, it was discovered that some persons had carried off the clapper of the bell. As the hour of service approached, a number of men, women, and children collected at the house of M. Ribot, the pastor, and threatened to prevent the worship. At the appointed time, when he proceeded towards the church, he was surrounded; the most savage shouts were raised against him; some of the women seized him by the collar; but nothing could disturb his firmness, or excite his impatience; he entered the house of prayer, and ascended the pulpit. Stones were thrown in and fell among the worshippers; still the congregation remained calm and attentive, and the service was concluded amidst noise, threats, and outrage.
On retiring many would have been killed but for the chasseurs of the garrison, who honorably and zealously protected them. From the captain of these chasseurs, M. Ribot soon after received the following letter:
January 2, 1816.
“I deeply lament the prejudices of the Catholics against the Protestants, who they pretend do not love the king. Continue to act as you have hitherto done, and time and your conduct will convince the Catholics to the contrary: should any tumult occur similar to that of Saturday last inform me. I preserve my reports of these acts, and if the agitators prove incorrigible, and forget what they owe to the best of kings and the charter, I will do my duty and inform the government of their proceedings. Adieu, my dear sir; assure the consistory of my esteem, and of the sense I entertain of the moderation with which they have met the provocations of the evil-disposed at Sommieres. I have the honor to salute you with respect.
SUVAL DE LAINE.”
Another letter to this worthy pastor from the Marquis de Montlord, was received on the sixth of January, to encourage him to unite with all good men who believe in God to obtain the punishment of the assassins, brigands, and disturbers of public tranquillity, and to read the instructions he had received from the government to this effect publicly. Notwithstanding this, on the twentieth of January, 1816, when the service in commemoration of the death of Louis XVI was celebrated, a procession being formed, the National Guards fired at the white flag suspended from the windows of the Protestants, and concluded the day by plundering their houses.
In the commune of Anguargues, matters were still worse; and in that of Fontanes, from the entry of the king in 1815, the Catholics broke all terms with the Protestants; by day they insulted them, and in the night broke open their doors, or marked them with chalk to be plundered or burnt. St. Mamert was repeatedly visited by these robberies; and at Montmiral, as lately as the sixteenth of June, 1816, the Protestants were attacked, beaten, and imprisoned, for daring to celebrate the return of a king who had sworn to preserve religious liberty and to maintain the charter.
Further Account of the Proceedings of the Catholics at Nismes
The excesses perpetrated in the country it seems did not by any means divert the attention of the persecutors from Nismes. October, 1815, commenced without any improvement in the principles or measures of the government, and this was followed by corresponding presumption on the part of the people. Several houses in the Quartier St. Charles were sacked, and their wrecks burnt in the streets amidst songs, dances, and shouts of Vive le Roi! The mayor appeared, but the merry multitude pretended not to know him, and when he ventured to remonstrate, they told him, ‘his presence was unnecessary, and that he might retire.’ During the sixteenth of October, every preparation seemed to announce a night of carnage; orders for assembling and signals for attack were circulated with regularity and confidence; Trestaillon reviewed his satellites, and urged them on to the perpetration of crimes, holding with one of those wretches the following dialogue:
Satellite. “If all the Protestants, without one exception, are to be killed, I will cheerfully join; but as you have so often deceived me, unless they are all to go I will not stir.”
Trestaillon. “Come along, then, for this time not a single man shall escape.”