While these events were taking place, a less conspicuous but vastly more significant conflict had developed. In 1517, Martin Luther, the obscure monk, had hurled defiance at the Church of Rome, arraigning Leo X. for corrupt practices; especially the enrichment of the Church by the sale of indulgences. Germany was shaken to its centre by Protestantism, and the reign of Charles V. was to be spent in ineffectual conflict with the Reformation, which would ultimately tear the Empire asunder.
The new heresy had found congenial soil in France. England was openly and avowedly Protestant, while Spain and Italy remained unchangeably Catholic.
For Francis, destined to spend his life in fruitless contest with the more able, wily, and astute Charles V., the religious question upon which Europe was divided meant nothing except at he could use it in his duel with the emperor. He was in turn the ally of Henry VIII. or the willing tool of Charles V. If he needed the English king’s friendship, the Protestants had protection. If he desired to placate Charles V., the roastings and torturings commenced again.
In 1547 Francis and Henry VIII. each went to his reward, and a few years later Charles V. had laid down his crown and carried his weary, unsatisfied heart to St. Yuste. The brilliant pageant was over; but Protestantism was expanding.
The conversion of Henry VIII., because the pope refused to annul his marriage with Catharine, aunt of Charles V., was not the proudest, but one of the most important triumphs of the new faith. Had Catharine’s charms been fresher, or Anne Boleyn less alluring, the course of history would have been changed. Henry VIII., as persecutor of heretics, would have found congenial occupation for his ferocious instincts, and the triumph of Protestantism would have been long delayed. But no such cause existed for the success of the Reformation on French soil. The slumbering germs of heresy, left perhaps by Abelard, or by the heretics in Toulouse and Provence, were quickly warmed into life. It may be also that the memory of her desertion by the Church, once her only friend and champion, gave such intensity to the welcome of a “Reformation” by the people. At all events, whatever the explanation, a religious war was at hand which was going to stain the fair name of France more even than the treacheries of her civil war.
The question at issue was deeper than any one knew. Neither Luther nor Leo X. understood the revolution they had precipitated. Protestants and Papists alike failed to comprehend the true nature of the struggle, which was not for supremacy of Romanist or Protestant; not whether this dogma or that was true, and should prevail; but an assertion of the right of every human soul to choose its own faith and form of worship. The great battle for human liberty had commenced; the