Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

AVIGNON.

Avignon and its country are monuments of what the abuse of religion, ambition, knavery, and fanaticism united can effect. This little country, after a thousand vicissitudes, had, in the twelfth century, passed into the hands of the counts of Toulouse, descended from Charlemagne by the female side.

Raymond VI., count of Toulouse, whose forefathers had been the principal heroes in the crusades, was stripped of his states by a crusade which the pope stirred up against him. The cause of the crusade was the desire of having his spoils; the pretext was that in several of his towns the citizens thought nearly as has been thought for upwards of two hundred years in England, Sweden, Denmark, three-fourths of Switzerland, Holland, and half of Germany.

This was hardly a sufficient reason for giving, in the name of God, the states of the count of Toulouse to the first occupant, and for devoting to slaughter and fire his subjects, crucifix in hand, and white cross on shoulder. All that is related of the most savage people falls far short of the barbarities committed in this war, called holy. The ridiculous atrocity of some religious ceremonies always accompanied these horrid excesses. It is known that Raymond VI. was dragged to a church of St. Giles’s, before a legate, naked to the waist, without hose or sandals, with a rope about his neck, which was held by a deacon, while another deacon flogged him, and a third sung miserere with some monks — and all the while the legate was at dinner. Such was the origin of the right of the popes over Avignon.

Count Raymond, who had submitted to the flagellation in order to preserve his states, underwent this ignominy to no purpose whatever. He had to defend by arms what he had thought to preserve by suffering a few stripes; he saw his towns laid in ashes, and died in 1213 amid the vicissitudes of the most sanguinary war.

His son, Raymond VII., was not, like his father, suspected of heresy; but he was the son of a heretic, and was to be stripped of all his possessions, by virtue of the Decretals; such was the law. The crusade, therefore, was continued against him; he was excommunicated in the churches, on Sundays and holidays, to the sound of bells and with tapers extinguished.

A legate who was in France during the minority of St. Louis raised tenths there to maintain this war in Languedoc and Provence. Raymond defended himself with courage; but the heads of the hydra of fanaticism were incessantly reappearing to devour him.

The pope at last made peace because all his money had been expended in war. Raymond VII. came and signed the treaty before the portal of the cathedral of Paris. He was forced to pay ten thousand marks of silver to the legate, two thousand to the abbey of Citeaux, five hundred to the abbey of Clairvaux, a thousand to that of Grand-Selve, and three hundred to that of Belleperche — all for the salvation of his soul, as is specified in the treaty So it was that the Church always negotiated.

It is very remarkable that in this document the count of Toulouse constantly puts the legate before the king: “I swear and promise to the legate and to the king faithfully to observe all these things, and to cause them to be observed by my vassals and subjects,” etc.

This was not all. He ceded to Pope Gregory IX. the country of Venaissin beyond the Rhone, and the sovereignty of seventy-three castles on this side the same river. The pope adjudged this fine to himself by a particular act, desirous that, in a public instrument, the acknowledgment of having exterminated so many Christians for the purpose of seizing upon his neighbor’s goods, should not appear in so glaring a light. Besides, he demanded what Raymond could not grant, without the consent of the Emperor Frederick II. The count’s lands, on the left bank of the Rhone, were an imperial fief, and Frederick II. never sanctioned this exaction.

Alphonso, brother of St. Louis, having married this unfortunate prince’s daughter, by whom he had no children, all the states of Raymond VII. in Languedoc, devolved to the crown of France, as had been stipulated in the marriage contract.

The country of Venaissin, which is in Provence, had been magnanimously given up by the Emperor Frederick II. to the count of Toulouse. His daughter Joan, before her death, had disposed of them by will in favor of Charles of Anjou, count of Provence, and king of Naples.

Philip the Bold, son of St. Louis, being pressed by Pope Gregory IX., gave the country of Venaissin to the Roman church in 1274. It must be confessed that Philip the Bold gave what in no way belonged to him; that this cession was absolutely null and void, and that no act ever was more contrary to all law.

It is the same with the town of Avignon. Joan of France, queen of Naples, descended from the brother of St. Louis, having been, with but too great an appearance of justice, accused of causing her husband to be strangled, desired the protection of Pope Clement VI., whose see was then the town of Avignon, in Joan’s domains. She was countess of Provence. In 1347 the Provençals made her swear, on the gospel, that she would sell none of her sovereignties. She had scarcely taken this oath before she went and sold Avignon to the pope. The authentic act was not signed until June 14, 1348; the sum stipulated for was eighty thousand florins of gold. The pope declared her innocent of her husband’s murder, but never paid her. Joan’s receipt has never been produced. She protested juridically four several times against this deceitful purchase.

So that Avignon and its country were never considered to have been dismembered from Provence, otherwise than by a rapine, which was the more manifest, as it had been sought to cover it with the cloak of religion.

When Louis XI. acquired Provence he acquired it with all the rights appertaining thereto; and, as appears by a letter from John of Foix to that monarch, had in 1464 resolved to enforce them. But the intrigues of the court of Rome were always so powerful that the kings of France condescended to allow it the enjoyment of this small province. They never acknowledged in the popes a lawful possession, but only a simple enjoyment.

In the treaty of Pisa, made by Louis XIV. with Alexander VII., in 1664, it is said that, “every obstacle shall be removed, in order that the pope may enjoy Avignon as before.” The pope, then, had this province only as cardinals have pensions from the king, which pensions are discretional.

Avignon and its country were a constant source of embarrassment to the French government; they afforded a refuge to all the bankrupts and smugglers, though very little profit thence accrued to the pope.

Louis XIV. twice resumed his rights; but it was rather to chastise the pope than to reunite Avignon and its country with his crown. At length Louis XV. did justice to his dignity and to his subjects. The gross and indecent conduct of Pope Rezzonico (Clement XIII.) forced him in 1768 to revive the rights of his crown. This pope had acted as if he belonged to the fourteenth century. He was, however, with the applause of all Europe, convinced that he lived in the eighteenth.

When the officer bearing the king’s orders entered Avignon, he went straight to the legate’s apartment, without being announced, and said to him, “Sir, the king takes possession of his town.”

There is some difference between this proceeding and a count of Toulouse being flogged by a deacon, while a legate is at dinner. Things, we see, change with times.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:25