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de Mornay, Seigneur du Plessis-Marly
"the Huguenot Pope"
Philippe de Mornay was born in Buhy, Normandy, on November 5, 1549. His mother had Protestant leanings, but his father tried to counteract her influence by sending him to the College de Lisieux in Paris. After the death of his father in 1559, however, the family formally adopted Protestantism and he was allowed to return home. He studied law and jurisprudence at Heidelberg in 1565, and Hebrew and German at Padua in 1566.
Mornay joined the army of Conde upon outbreak of the second French War of Religion in 1567, but a fall from his horse prevented him from taking an active part in the campaign. In 1572, he offered his services to the Protestant Reformers in France, and collaborated with Gaspard de Coligny in plans for war against Spain. He managed to escape the Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day of 1572 and took refuge in England.
Returning to France in 1573, Mornay joined the army of Henry of Navarre and soon became one of Henry's most respected councillors, serving as Henry's diplomatic agent in England (1577-1578 and again in 1580) and in the Low Countries (1581-1582).
About 1588, Mornay became leader of the Protestant movement in France, and soon became known as "the Huguenot Pope." He sought to unite all Frenchmen under a religious system that would either give free reign to the Reformed Churches or establish a national church on the Anglican model, and sought to turn royal policy against the Catholic League and against Spain.
Following the assassination of King Henry III in 1589, Mornay again joined Henry of Navarre's army and participated in all the major campaigns that ultimately led to Henry being crowned King Henry IV. For his service Mornay was made Governor of the Huguenot stronghold of Saumur, where he built the greatest of the Huguenot academies. He remained a part of King Henry's circle of advisors until 1593, when the king renounced Protestantism and converted to Catholicism.
In 1598, Mornay was a key contributor in the negotiations which led to the Edict of Nantes. Signed by King Henry on April 13, 1598, the Edict gave French Protestants (Huguenots) complete freedom of worship in about 75 towns, as well as equal rights with Catholics as citizens.
Also in 1598, Mornay published De l'institution, usage et doctrine du sainct sacrement de Veucharistie en l'église ancienne, which contained about 5,000 citations from Scripture. In 1600, Jacques Davy Duperron, bishop of Evreux, accused him of misquotation in this work. A public disputation was conducted at Fontainebleau, which resulted in his discomfiture, with Henry IV putting finals touches to it.
Mornay opposed Louis XIII's policy of rapprochement with the papacy and with Spain, a position which put him at definite odds with the king. In 1618, he was chosen a deputy to represent the French Protestants at the Synod of Dort, but was prohibited from attending by Louis XIII. He was removed from his position at Saumur in 1621.
Philippe de Mornay died at his estate of La Foret-sur-Sevre on November 11, 1623.
Some of His Writings
Discours au roi Charles (1572)
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This page was last updated on June 13, 2017.