|Le Midi Libre January 18, 2015|
Hammer of the Huguenots: A New Novel on the Wars of Religion in France, by Douglas Bond (P&R Publishing, 2015)
With tantalizing descriptions of local cuisine, French Gothic cathedrals, medieval walled cities, dark caves in the Cevennes, lush vineyards in the Côtes du Rhône, and the salt marshes of Aigues-Mortes, there can be no doubt this book was written in the south of France. When most Americans think of France their limited knowledge expires with food and fashion. But American writer Douglas Bond, author of more than twenty books, is not like most Americans. Neither is his latest book, Hammer of the Huguenots, like most books about France.
When pressed, your average American may think of the World Wars, and some may even think of Victor Hugo or Enlightenment philosophers. However, few indeed have any meaningful knowledge of the tragic history of the 16th century Wars of Religion.
Through careful academic, social, and gastronomical research, Bond has sought to uncover and convey this rich history and culture. And though set in the grim days of the mid-sixteenth century, no book about life in the south of France can be entirely dark. Writing on-location in 12th century La Roque-sur-Cèze, one of les plus beaux villages de France, and other locations in the south of France, Bond captured the quintessential warmth and atmosphere of these charming regions.
Using his genre of choice, historical fiction, Bond captivates his readers, draws them in, and places them into the center of a Huguenot family. Although sympathetic to the Huguenot cause, Bond follows the history where it leads.
Perhaps, it is best to reveal my own bias. Bond is my father. However, as one who has studied under him in writing and history classes, proof read manuscripts, and frequently discussed and debated
issues of politics and religion, I am well
placed to give both a predominantly objective and certainly intimate
description of the author.
|In the Calanques, south of France|
Having written numerous published books of historical fiction, biography, devotion, and theology, Bond has hit his stride as an author. For proof look no further than this book. Vivid descriptions and authentic characters with feelings like his readers, make Hammer of the Huguenots not just a joy to read, but make it seem to read itself—pulling the reader along as if an active participant in the living drama unfolding on the pages.
SUMMARY OF THE NOVEL
Contextually, this book spans the first three Wars of Religion from 1560 until 1570. Set initially in Aigues-Mortes, the story unfolds through the eyes of a Huguenot shipwright’s conflicted apprentice Philippe, bewildered by the prayers of his master Monsieur Beaune’s family. Bond’s protagonist wrestles with his confusion throughout the story: Why these drawn-out prayers over meals? What is the real bone of contention between the medieval Church and the Huguenots? And, why would anyone want to harm a family like his master’s?
Maurice, eldest Beaune son, passionate and adventurous, provides a fitting counterpart to the more introverted Philippe. Throughout the book, the young men’s relationship grows as they are drawn together by loyalty and peril. Meanwhile, Philippe’s friendship with Maurice’s charming sister Sophie also develops. To his bewilderment, this peace-loving Huguenot family Philippe comes to love, are the same people the medieval Church wanted to be rid of. As the story unfolds, the malicious designs of the enemy become unmistakably evident:
…the silence now broken by the clattering thunder of horses’ hooves pounding the cobblestones, the shouts and cries of men, echoing and reechoing off the narrow houses lining the streets that radiated from the church. Camargue horses, terrible in their whiteness, manes flowing, teeth champing…, and with every snorting stride, their riders spurring them on, straight toward Pastor Leclerc, the door of the church, and the worshipers within.
Forced into a conflict he does not understand and his friends do not want, Philippe joins the Huguenot cause out of friendship rather than conviction. But will that change?
CONFLICT AND CHANGE
Change could well be considered one of the overarching themes of the book. Peace changes to war; friendship ripens into love; Confusion gives way to clarity; convictions shift from Rome to Geneva. All of France is changed by the tumult of the Wars of Religion nearly 500 years ago. After more than a century of bloody religious conflict, it is little wonder that many in France today feel more comfortable with irreligious secularism. English-speaking readers feel the struggle of the Huguenots as if it were their own, despite the centuries that lie between. Although Bond gives a satisfying exploration of the historical moment, the novel probes timeless human themes.
Bond’s historical accuracy can be seen in his portrayal of the conniving, Italian-born, Catherine de Médici, a papal bull of March 15, 1569 calling for the annihilation of all Huguenots, repeated royal edicts professing peace--then broken by Charles IX, and massacres at Vassy and Sens.
WHAT WAS AT STAKE?
Deeply concerned with discovering the heart of the Huguenot cause, Bond lets readers hear excerpts from several sermons delivered by the oft-forgotten reformer Pierre Viret at Nîmes and Montpellier. The setting for one message Bond recreated by an episode from his own time exploring in Nîmes. Caught in a violent summer rain storm, Bond, his family, and dozens of others took cover in Cathédrale Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Castor de Nîmes. This real 2013 experience became the setting for a historical sermon preached by Pierre Viret to several thousand people there in 1561.
“All that is necessary for your salvation has been offered and communicated to us in Jesus Christ. He alone is given to us for our salvation, and ‘is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.’ …I plead with you this day. Put off your idols. Find refuge in Jesus Christ alone!”
|12th century village where a good deal of HH was written|
Along with vernacular preaching, another emblem of the Huguenots was their public Psalm-singing in French. True to history, at great risk, the Beaune family boldly sings—often louder than Philippe deems prudent:
Let God arise in all His might,
And put the troops of hell to flight,
As smoke that sought to cloud the skies
Before the rising tempest flies.
It is only natural that Bond gives the psalm singing its due place in the story of the Huguenots—Bond, a writer of hymns for the new reformation, has written six books about hymnody, and was a consultant for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s God’s Greatest Hits 2012 television series. When not writing or speaking at conferences, Bond teaches at a classical Christian high school in America, and for his teaching of writing was awarded the regional “2005 Teacher Award.”
Additionally, Bond and his wife Cheryl have led historical study tours in Europe since 1996—a source of many lasting friendships, several of which aided significantly with this book. One of these—a veritable modern-day Huguenot—Pastor Lionel Jauvert, direct descendent of Huguenots from the Cévennes, hosted the Bond family in his ancestors’ house, built in 1485, another source of inspiration for Hammer of the Huguenots.
WRITTEN WHERE IT HAPPENED
Many episodes in the book were written in either the exact location or a similar setting to the historical location. For example, one chapter has the protagonists taking refuge—as so many Huguenots were forced to do—in a cave in the Cévennes. Without the aid of road signs or trail markers, Jauvert led Bond to a remote cave where hundreds of Huguenots sought refuge to worship in safety. High above the village of Saint-Jean du Gard in the dark recesses of that cave, Bond drafted a fictional episode based on painfully genuine occurrences in that very cave five-hundred years prior.
|Montpelier's Cathedral: where Viret preached|
Another acquaintance, Gérard Mignard, resident of La Roque-sur-Cèze, and correspondent for Le Midi Libre, offered invaluable insight that helped Bond capture the local charm of his village, Provence, and the Côtes du Rhône. In addition to his regional expertise, Mignard introduced Bond to his local friends, gaining him entrance to a 12th century private chateau, yet another genuine setting for an episode in the book.
Food plays a central role in Hammer of the Huguenots. Bond and his family enjoyed many of the regional culinary delights of France, as evident throughout the book:
It was a meal he would never forget—steamed legumes; chevre cheese, blended with herbs and garlic; roast wild boar, killed that day in the hills above the farmhouse, dripping with herbes de Provence and butter sauce. Their host uncorked a bottle of local Grenache Noir; its dry complexity with a hint of spice lingering on the palate made Philippe wonder if miracles had ceased after all.
Although there are many delightful and even a few humorous episodes, the book’s historical context is grim and dark, indeed. Though France’s Wars of Religion have often been thought of as civil wars, Bond demonstrates otherwise. While King Charles IX rallied his forces against the Huguenots (influenced by his mother Catherine de Médici and his ruthless uncles, Duke of Guise and Cardinal of Lorraine), Bond makes the case that the conflict was not simply French against French, but far more the Holy Roman Empire with its multi-national mercenary army arrayed against France‘s Huguenot population, by some estimates, fully 40% of 16th century France’s population. Threatening severe censure against France, Emperor and King of Spain, Philip II was a significant force behind the violence against the French Huguenots. Not to be outdone, Pope Pius V, determined to end the conflict, issued a papal bull in 1569 calling for a crusade to exterminate all the French who aligned themselves with the Huguenot cause.
COMMENTARY ON RELIGIOUS CONFLICT TODAY
Like radical Islamists today, the mercenary armies of the empire ruthlessly engaged in their murderous holy war. Bond depicts historical accounts of Huguenot congregations attacked while singing in Sens and Vassy, surrounded and fired upon by François, Duke of Guise’s men. Volleys from arquebuses left scores of men, women, and children dead or wounded in Huguenot temples.
As hammer blows fell upon the beleaguered Huguenots, Bond demonstrates how, for a time, they grew stronger. “Tant plus à me frapper on s’amuse, tant plus de marteaux on y use!” It is from this well-known saying that Bond took the title Hammer of the Huguenots. Many Huguenots, to their
|15th century chateau: lived and wrote an episode here|
As Bond recounts the tragic history of France’s Wars of Religion, his bewildered protagonist continues wrestling with the questions that torment him. What he longs for is his Libération: escape from the complexity of life in a war-torn country. But, he realizes that he so desperately wants cannot be achieved by himself. Freedom—will Philippe ever find it? Perhaps in a manner he never anticipated.
Delicately weaving fact with fiction, Bond pulls his readers effortlessly through some of the most beautiful landscapes in France, places them at tables filled with traditional delicacies, and walks them through the valley of the darkest days in France’s history. How could a people be so cruel toward one another? How can someone be so sure in her belief that she would rather die than renounce her faith? What would make two young men care so much about a few captured Huguenot preachers that they would risk their lives to rescue them?
Read Douglas Bond’s Hammer of the Huguenots. These questions and more are explored in the captivating way that only well-crafted historical fiction can accomplish. This uncommon American writer has penned a refreshingly uncommon book for all to read.
Cedric C. M. Bond, a juris doctor candidate at Oklahoma City University School of Law, is son of Douglas Bond, author of Hammer of the Huguenots.