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Reviewed by:
  • Catholic Activism in South-West France, 1540–1570
  • Mark Greengrass
Catholic Activism in South-West France, 1540–1570. By Kevin Gould. [St Andrews Studies in Reformation History.] (Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Co.2006. Pp. viii, 190. $99.95. ISBN 0-7546-5226-2.)

In the recent flurry of monographs on the regional and local dimensions of the "wars of religion" in France, we have not had any study dedicated to the problem of Catholic mobilization early in the wars of religion. Kevin Gould seeks to fill that gap in this energetically researched and interesting monograph, the published version of his 2003 Warwick University doctoral thesis. His argument is that Catholic "activism"was a mutually supportive composite of formal, urban-based organizations (legal fraternities, syndicats for urban defense purposes, oath-bound leagues, and crusades) and more informal networks, [End Page 374] particularly orchestrated by local nobles in positions of influence. His argument is supported by a close analysis of a particularly interesting region. The southwest of France was a crucible for sectarian conflict in the early civil wars, but Catholic activism there owed little to the influence of the Guise clan, the aristocratic lineage traditionally seen as the movers and shakers of Catholic reaction. Gould finds its local and indigenous roots in the urban elites, and his book is a carefully constructed examination of the related developments in Bordeaux,Agen, and Toulouse. They were very far from being simply a defensive copycat reaction to Protestant militancy, but had their own particular forms of organization and mechanisms for rallying support. Particularly interesting is his emphasis on the legal fraternities that became politicized in Bordeaux and (albeit in a rather different fashion) Toulouse through their conflicts with the Protestant-inclined arts-faculty students. Gould sees these as providing the origins for the syndicat in Bordeaux, an organism that emerged in the course of the summer of 1561 to provide a measure of protection to the city against Protestant subversion from within or incursion from without. Those implicated in its activities shared a conviction that the Catholics of the southwest had been left to their own devices, and they cultivated, as in Agen and Toulouse, a sense that the French monarchy and its representatives in Guyenne and upper Languedoc simply did not understand how dangerous was the threat of militant Protestantism in their midst. Its attempts at mediation before the civil wars were misunderstood or traduced, just as its efforts to establish the edicts of pacification and pluralist local government were held in suspicion and frustrated at every turn. If the periods of military conflict had lasted longer, we might have seen Catholic urban activism in the southwest become more than the para-institutional shadows that Gould skillfully recovers for us. If so, they would have undoubtedly become even more dependent on the regional Catholic noble military commanders who, in periods of military conflict, did not trouble to keep their oath-bound leagues a secret and whose strength lay in their capacity to mobilize support from across a whole locality. Blaise de Monluc, the best-known Catholic noble of the southwest, emerges as by far the most shrewd and successful manipulator of the various brands of Catholic activism of this region. But to understand more fully the social antagonisms faced by the nobility of the southwest in this period, and their inclination to seek for support across the Pyrenees, this study now needs to be read alongside Serge Brunet's magisterial "De l'Espagne dans le Ventre!". Les catholiques du sud-ouest face à la Réforme (1540–1589) (Paris: Champion, 2007). Gould's picture is, however, of a mainly lay Catholic activism. He is less convincing on its clerical dimension. Few people reading this study would realize the importance of Cardinal Georges d'Amboise's role as Archbishop of Toulouse in the mobilization of Catholic forces there, or the significance of the Jacobin Melchior Flavin's preaching (mediated, in part, through the publications of the ultra-Catholic Colomièz press in Toulouse) in mobilizing Catholic opinion. [End Page 375]

Mark Greengrass
University of Sheffield


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