List Of Contents | Contents of Urbain Grandier, by Dumas, Pere
Next Page > >


By Alexandre Dumas, Pere




On Sunday, the 26th of November, 1631, there was great excitement in
the little town of Loudun, especially in the narrow streets which led
to the church of Saint-Pierre in the marketplace, from the gate of
which the town was entered by anyone coming from the direction of the
abbey of Saint-Jouin-les-Marmes.  This excitement was caused by the
expected arrival of a personage who had been much in people's mouths
latterly in Loudun, and about whom there was such difference of
opinion that discussion on the subject between those who were on his
side and those who were against him was carried on with true
provincial acrimony.  It was easy to see, by the varied expressions
on the faces of those who turned the doorsteps into improvised
debating clubs, how varied were the feelings with which the man would
be welcomed who had himself formally announced to friends and enemies
alike the exact date of his return.

About nine o'clock a kind of sympathetic vibration ran through the
crowd, and with the rapidity of a flash of lightning the words,
"There he is! there he is!" passed from group to group.  At this cry
some withdrew into their houses and shut their doors and darkened
their windows, as if it were a day of public mourning, while others
opened them wide, as if to let joy enter.  In a few moments the
uproar and confusion evoked by the news was succeeded by the deep
silence of breathless curiosity.

Then, through the silence, a figure advanced, carrying a branch of
laurel in one hand as a token of triumph.  It was that of a young man
of from thirty-two to thirty-four years of age, with a graceful and
well-knit frame, an aristocratic air and faultlessly beautiful
features of a somewhat haughty expression.  Although he had walked
three leagues to reach the town, the ecclesiastical garb which he
wore was not only elegant but of dainty freshness.  His eyes turned
to heaven, and singing in a sweet voice praise to the Lord, he passed
through the streets leading to the church in the market-place with a
slow and solemn gait, without vouchsafing a look, a word, or a
gesture to anyone.  The entire crowd, falling into step, marched
behind him as he advanced, singing like him, the singers being the
prettiest girls in Loudun, for we have forgotten to say that the
crowd consisted almost entirely of women.

Meanwhile the object of all this commotion arrived at length at the
porch of the church of Saint-Pierre.  Ascending the steps, he knelt
at the top and prayed in a low voice, then rising he touched the
church doors with his laurel branch, and they opened wide as if by
magic, revealing the choir decorated and illuminated as if for one of
the four great feasts of the year, and with all its scholars, choir
boys, singers, beadles, and vergers in their places.  Glancing
around, he for whom they were waiting came up the nave, passed
through the choir, knelt for a second time at the foot of the altar,
upon which he laid the branch of laurel, then putting on a robe as
white as snow and passing the stole around his neck, he began the
celebration of the mass before a congregation composed of all those
who had followed him.  At the end of the mass a Te Deum was sung.

He who had just rendered thanks to God for his own victory with all
the solemn ceremonial usually reserved for the triumphs of kings was
the priest Urbain Grandier.  Two days before, he had been acquitted,
in virtue of a decision pronounced by M. d'Escoubleau de Sourdis,
Archbishop of Bordeaux, of an accusation brought against him of which
he had been declared guilty by a magistrate, and in punishment of
which he had been condemned to fast on bread and water every Friday
for three months, and forbidden to exercise his priestly functions in
the diocese of Poitiers for five years and in the town of Loudun for

These are the circumstances under which the sentence had been passed
and the judgment reversed.

Urbain Grandier was born at Rovere, a village near Sable, a little
town of Bas-Maine.  Having studied the sciences with his father
Pierre and his uncle Claude Grandier, who were learned astrologers
and alchemists, he entered, at the age of twelve, the Jesuit college
at Bordeaux, having already received the ordinary education of a
young man.  The professors soon found that besides his considerable
attainments he had great natural gifts for languages and oratory;
they therefore made of him a thorough classical scholar, and in order
to develop his oratorical talent encouraged him to practise
preaching.  They soon grew very fond of a pupil who was likely to
bring them so much credit, and as soon as he was old enough to take
holy orders they gave him the cure of souls in the parish of Saint-
Pierre in Loudun, which was in the gift of the college.  When he had
been some months installed there as a priest-in-charge, he received a
prebendal stall, thanks to the same patrons, in the collegiate church
of Sainte-Croix.

It is easy to understand that the bestowal of these two positions on
so young a man, who did not even belong to the province, made him
seem in some sort a usurper of rights and privileges belonging to the
people of the country, and drew upon him the envy of his brother-
ecclesiastics.  There were, in fact, many other reasons why Urbain
should be an object of jealousy to these: first, as we have already
said, he was very handsome, then the instruction which he had
received from his father had opened the world of science to him and
given him the key to a thousand things which were mysteries to the
ignorant, but which he fathomed with the greatest ease.  Furthermore,
the comprehensive course of study which he had followed at the Jesuit
college had raised him above a crowd of prejudices, which are sacred
to the vulgar, but for which he made no secret of his contempt; and
lastly, the eloquence of his sermons had drawn to his church the
greater part of the regular congregations of the other religious
communities, especially of the mendicant orders, who had till then,
in what concerned preaching, borne away the palm at Loudun.  As we
have said, all this was more than enough to excite, first jealousy,
and then hatred.  And both were excited in no ordinary degree.

We all know how easily the ill-natured gossip of a small town can
rouse the angry contempt of the masses for everything which is beyond
or above them.  In a wider sphere Urbain would have shone by his many
gifts, but, cooped up as he was within the walls of a little town and
deprived of air and space, all that might have conduced to his
success in Paris led to his destruction at Loudun.

It was also unfortunate for Urbain that his character, far from
winning pardon for his genius, augmented the hatred which the latter
inspired.  Urbain, who in his intercourse with his friends was
cordial and agreeable, was sarcastic, cold, and haughty to his
enemies.  When he had once resolved on a course, he pursued it
unflinchingly; he jealously exacted all the honour due to the rank at
which he had arrived, defending it as though it were a conquest; he
also insisted on enforcing all his legal rights, and he resented the
opposition and angry words of casual opponents with a harshness which
made them his lifelong enemies.

The first example which Urbain gave of this inflexibility was in
1620, when he gained a lawsuit against a priest named Meunier.  He
caused the sentence to be carried out with such rigour that he awoke
an inextinguishable hatred in Meunier's mind, which ever after burst
forth on the slightest provocation.

A second lawsuit, which he likewise gained; was one which he
undertook against the chapter of Sainte-Croix with regard to a house,
his claim to which the chapter, disputed.  Here again he displayed
the same determination to exact his strict legal rights to the last
iota, and unfortunately Mignon, the attorney of the unsuccessful
chapter, was a revengeful, vindictive, and ambitious man; too
commonplace ever to arrive at a high position, and yet too much above
his surroundings to be content with the secondary position which he
occupied.  This man, who was a canon of the collegiate church of
Sainte-Croix and director of the Ursuline convent, will have an
important part to play in the following narrative.  Being as
hypocritical as Urbain was straightforward, his ambition was to gain
wherever his name was known a reputation for exalted piety; he
therefore affected in his life the asceticism of an anchorite and the
self-denial of a saint.  As he had much experience in ecclesiastical
lawsuits, he looked on the chapter's loss of this one, of which he
had in some sort guaranteed the success, as a personal humiliation,
so that when Urbain gave himself airs of triumph and exacted the last
letter of his bond, as in the case of Meunier, he turned Mignon into
an enemy who was not only more relentless but more dangerous than the

In the meantime, and in consequence of this lawsuit, a certain Barot,
an uncle of Mignon and his partner as well, got up a dispute with
Urbain, but as he was a man below mediocrity, Urbain required in
order to crush him only to let fall from the height of his
superiority a few of those disdainful words which brand as deeply as
a red-hot iron.  This man, though totally wanting in parts, was very
rich, and having no children was always surrounded by a horde of
relatives, every one of whom was absorbed in the attempt to make
himself so agreeable that his name would appear in Barot's will.
This being so, the mocking words which were rained down on Barot
spattered not only himself but also all those who had sided with him
in the quarrel, and thus added considerably to the tale of Urbain's

About this epoch a still graver event took place.  Amongst the most
assiduous frequenters of the confessional in his church was a young
and pretty girl, Julie by name, the daughter of the king's attorney,
Trinquant--Trinquant being, as well as Barot, an uncle of Mignon.

Next Page > >

Other sites: