- That Men Would Praise the Lord: The Triumph of Protestantism in Nîmes, 1530-1570
Because the southern French city of Nîmes was one of the success stories of French Protestantism, it has been the subject of many scholarly works; Allan Tulchin's contribution is one of the best. It is more than a history of how Nîmes became Protestant; it becomes, for Tulchin, a test study of how religious conversion takes place in a hostile society.
After a short but essential introduction to the social, political, and economic structures of Nîmes at the mid-sixteenth century, in which he shows that law professionals were the most powerful group in the city (a valuable appendix further explicates his methodology),Tulchin examines the religious atmosphere of that era, concluding that although there were as yet no Protestants among the elite, they clearly were dissatisfied with the Catholic Church and its clergy. In setting the scene for the rise of Protestantism, he provides an excellent summary of the interpretations of Eucharist and its importance for the people of that time. He gives due attention to the arrival of humanism in Nîmes but identifies the problem of poverty and the inability of the Catholic clergy to remedy it as more crucial in allowing Protestants to gain a toehold in the town, especially as bad harvests and other economic problems drastically increased the number of poor in the 1550s. More seriously the 1557 flood put severe pressure on the city's ability to cope while serving as a portent of God's wrath. Compounding the problems were the monarchy's tax demands as it waged war on the Habsburgs, which caused loyalty to it and its institutions, including the Catholic Church, to fray.
Tulchin does not assume that these circumstances explain the rise of Protestantism in Nîmes; he provides a highly detailed analysis of the process of conversion. One valuable opportunity for the Protestants came when the [End Page 791] king convoked the Estates general in 1560, which required the drawing up of cahiers des doléances to petition the monarchy. The author shows how Protestants on the city council used the third Estate's cahier to formulate the grievances of the vast majority of townspeople, thus identifying themselves with popular resentments and desires. It was "powerfully seductive" (p. 119). Tulchin turns to anthropology for the concept of betweenness—a way to measure social networking, for which he draws from the vast number of surviving notarial contracts (and provides a valuable discussion of how he used them in a lengthy appendix). Protestants among the city's elites, he demonstrates, showed a substantially higher connectedness than those who remained Catholic; conversions most often occurred within a family or a social network, and converts with a broad social network were most likely to bring in larger numbers of additional converts. Less persuasive, however, is Tulchin's use of cognitive dissonance, another social science construct.
The book shows how Catholic efforts to derail Protestant growth floundered on inconsistency in royal policy after King Francis II's death in 1560 and the rapid turnover in royal officials in Nîmes's region. By late 1561, the Protestants felt bold enough to attack Catholic churches and priests. Still, the city was relatively peaceful during the First War of Religion, but in the second, Nîmes was the site of a violent Protestant uprising and massacre of Catholics known as the Michelade (for the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, September 29) in 1567. Tulchin can give only an estimate of Catholics killed, but with the names he could determine, he demonstrates that about half were clergymen, and most of the rest were from the Catholic lay elite. Thus he concludes that politics were as essential to the event as religion: "It seems clear that one cause of the Michelade was that the Protestants of Nîmes felt deprived of what they saw as...