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22 The search for origins comes naturally to historians, presumably because they attach special significance to the logic of temporality. Believing that the course of human affairs is influenced by all that went before, they are inclined to trace events back to the circumstances of their beginning in an effort to understand their import. Unfortunately, unraveling the fabric of history runs the risk of disrupting the semblance of coherence it presents to the world. A seemingly straightforward innovation may prove, on inquiry, to have assumed many guises. Each variation has, in turn, multiple points of origin, each with plausible but competing claims to precedence. Their paths of development, once reconstructed, turn out to be, not linear and continuous, but rather full of starts and stops, and these converge and combine in ways that further confound efforts to sort them out. Whether the historian’s subject is the stirrup and moldboard plow or the photographic image, the attempt to settle the question of origins in a definitive way often proves futile.1 Still, even when it proves impossible to settle the question once and for all, the search for origins can be an instructive exercise, if only for what it tells us about how history is written. In the case of the barricade, historians of France had arrived, by the late 1700s, at a consensual account of its invention. Over the next half century, popular histories even added romanticized engravings depicting the crucial moment of creation. The simplicity and drama of this story may have lent itself to retelling, but on close inspection, the consecrated version more nearly resembles an origin myth than well-documented historical fact. In the interest of restoring some of the complexity lost in the process of mythification, I will pres2 The First Barricades That [day in May 1588] taught Parisians the authentic method of fortifying themselves, each in his own quarter, far more sturdily and securely with barricades of this kind than by simply extending and stretching the chains. And you can well believe that even with the gates wide open, a hundred thousand men would have been unable to take the city by force. Anonymous The First Barricades 23 ent alternative accounts of the barricade’s beginnings in reverse chronological order, begging the reader’s indulgence for the fact that as we recede in time, the question of origins inevitably becomes more nebulous. VERSION 1: THE FIRST DAY OF THE BARRICADES, MAY 12–13, 1588 There is a certain comfort in being able to assign a precise date and location to an event of historical moment. The standard history of the barricade allows us to do still better, by specifying the individual widely credited with the invention of this novel technique of urban insurrection. Though Guillaume Girard could already claim in the middle of the seventeenth century that “all the world has heard of the barricades of Paris,” even today few will be familiar with the exploits of Charles II de Cossé, comte de Brissac, or with his role in the religious conflicts that beset France in the sixteenth century.2 From its beginnings in the German and Swiss states, the Protestant Reformation ’s progress across western Europe was uneven. Its early successes came mainly in the north, notably in the Netherlands and England, whose rulers’ attitude toward religious nonconformism was relatively tolerant. Spain and Italy became, on the contrary, strongholds of orthodox Catholicism, doing their utmost to suppress heresy in whatever form it appeared. France was intermediate in doctrinal as well as geographic terms. Even before the spread of Martin Luther’s example, Jacques Lefèvre d’Etaples developed an indigenous strain of Reformed thought and had already printed a vernacular version of the New Testament by 1523. A vigorous reaction, emanating from Paris, wiped out that first wave of French Protestantism; but it was followed in the 1540s and 1550s by a second, based on the teachings of John Calvin. This too was the object of intense persecution, initially carried out by the Paris parlement, which condemned scores of Huguenots to death. This culminated in the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572, which claimed the lives of more than 2,000.3 Among those present in the French capital was Henri de Bourbon, ruler of Navarre, a kingdom that spanned the slopes of the Pyrenees mountains between Spain and France, who was spared only because he agreed to convert on the spot to what the Church faithful called the “Catholic, apostolic, and...


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