The history of the Huguenots in France is extremely complex, with decades of entangled wars and politics as well as religious persecution. This book offers a unique view from the inside of a nobleman who barely escaped the St. Bartholomew's massacre and many other attempts on his life to serve the Huguenot political causes. It is told by his adoring wife, who faced many trials of her own and had to cope with her husband's extended absences on political/religious affairs.
The long introduction is invaluable to set the context. It shows how the Huguenot movement spread first among nobles, but especially among well-born women who generally had to run their households while their husbands were off fighting. Certainly this is true of de Mornay's wife Charlotte d'Arbalaste, who was devout and well read in the Bible, married for love to her extremely well-educated and religious husband with great political savoir faire. Both were aghast at the corruption of the Catholic church embedded in French higher society, and took every opportunity to inform their friends about the great need for religious reforms. Philippe was extraordinarily busy, a perpetual student, an appreciated author of many pamphlets, a diplomat and a warrior, spending years of devoted, and frustrating, service to Henri of Navarre.
One part of her story particularly struck me, especially in light of the many devout women who kept the Huguenot flame burning in these terrible times. At one point, Philippe moved his growing family to Montaubon, a relatively safe Huguenot city, for several years, even though it was far from their own lands and houses. But the ministers at Montaubon turned on his wife, forbidding the lord's supper to her and her household, because of her hair style! Evidently wearing a wig and gold wires, as women of the nobility often did, was considered decadent and immodest. Charlotte was not one to take this trivial persecution lightly, although it took much political pressure to get the ministers to accept her style. As if they did not have more important things--like survival--to worry about!
Obviously Charlotte is presenting her husband's life in the best light, yet there's no reason to believe that she departed from facts in the process. His succession of important positions and tasks shows that he was indeed respected and trusted by the most powerful men of France, and not just the huguenots. Yet his life was also often threatened, and he always gave God the credit for his escapes. A reader's head begins to swirl with all of the political intrigue and wars swirling around France, often sending him to other countries such as England and Holland, always working for peace without compromise of his principles at the highest levels. Yet, even though his wife rarely takes center stage (except for her standoff with the ministers of Montauban), she too comes through as one of those remarkable huguenot women who guaranteed that the faith in reform would not die with those who were killed in its name.
Reviewed by Ann M. Woodlief