The man stood to a side, his face half hidden by the shadows but clear enough for Louise to get a good look at it. He had sharp, hard features and his eyes moved shiftily back and forth as he scanned the smattering of people around him. Louise leaned towards her husband and murmured “who is that sinister looking man? And what does he want?”. Her husband, Prince William of Orange looked up and swiveled his head in the direction that his wife nodded towards. He took in the man Louise had brought to his attention and as he did so their eyes met. The Prince nodded once at the stranger and offered him a quick smile. He then motioned towards the entrance of the dining hall. The man bowed his head and began to weave his way out of the room with quick, agitated steps.
William then turned to his wife with a smile “that man” he said, “wants a passport and I intend to give him one”. With that, he stood up and strode out of the dining room. As Louise watched him leave a terrible foreboding settled over her like a cloud. Her mind raced back 12 years, taking her away from the grand dining hall in Delft to the streets of Paris, on a warm summer night in 1572.
She had been asleep in bed when she heard the shouts echoing up the stairs and bouncing off the walls. She had sat up with a start, faintly aware of the bells ringing all around her in the darkness. Her husband, not The Prince of Orange, but her first husband Henry de Teligny sat up next to her in the darkness.
“What is happening?” Louise whispered to Henry pushing back the terror that was beginning to envelop her. Why are the bells ringing? Her mind screamed as she became more and more aware of their persistent dirge. “Stay here” Henry whispered back pulling aside the covers and creeping out of bed. He opened the door a crack and Louise could hear the voices more distinctly.
“Merlin!” Louise’s heart skipped a beat at the sound of the familiar voice. “Papa” she whispered jumping out of bed “Papa!” Henry held her back from the doorway “Pray with me” her father continued and Louise heard the sound of her father and his minister Merlin kneeling in the room next door. Henry turned to her and grabbed her shoulders “Louise, stay here” he began but he was cut off by the sound of another voice. “My Lord Coligny” it was one of her father’s trusted friends “God calls us to himself!” Louise froze and her mind began to record the following sequence of events in slow motion. She heard her father’s voice calling back “I am prepared to die, I need no more the help of men, therefore save yourselves, my friends, if it is still possible”. In that instant Henry shoved her further into the room and left, slamming the door behind him.
Then there were shouts, muffled voices, gunshots.
The pattering of feet on the rooftop, the scattering of voices in the house, the shattering of a window by the bedside and the dull roar of the wind through the house.
All the gates of Paris were shut. All save two. Louise escaped through one of them. Running into the night. She arrived at the family home in Chatillon before news of the massacre had reached. Papa is dead, Henry is dead, Merlin is dead, every Huguenot noble she could think of was surely dead. There was no time to mourn, no time to think. Her family fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Louise managed to make it to Geneva with one of her cousins. While she was there the authorities in France wrote to her, offering to give back all of the de Coligny family assets that had been seized by the Crown when her father died. There was a single condition. They demanded that Louise recant her Protestant faith and accept the teachings of the Catholic church. Louise refused. She clung to the most precious gift her God-fearing parents had given her;
A faith based on the Word of God alone.
“Remember Louise” her father had once written to her “the loss of earthly property and goods, even though they are taken unjustly, mean nothing in comparison to the treasure you are laying up in heaven”
She chose to be a citizen of a better country.
Louise’s mind was brought back to the present abruptly. She glanced around trying to gain her bearings and reorient her mind, bringing it back from its dizzying trip down memory lane. She was in Delft and her husband William was issuing a passport to an extremely shifty man. Louise stood up from the dining table and began to make her way towards the door when a strange sense of deja-vu enveloped her. What is it? her mind queried clawing at her present surroundings and trawling through her memories all at once in an attempt to place the strange sensation. And then she realized what it was.
The muffled voices, the shouts, the gunshots.
Henry had been shot on the roof of the house in Paris on St. Bartholomew’s day 1572 and his body had rolled off onto the street below. He had lain there dead. Like a dog. Because he was a Huguenot.
But the gunshots she heard weren’t in her mind. They weren’t the gunshots that killed Henry twelve years ago.
No. She was hearing gunshots now.
Now. Here. At Delft.
And again Louise heard the pattering of feet across the floorboards and the scattering of voices in the hall and the shattering of screams through the palace as she stood watching William of Orange fall.
The man she had asked William about was Balthasar Gerard. A devout Roman Catholic, who had heard of the bounty that had been placed on the head of the Protestant Prince William of Orange by the Catholic King Philip II of Spain. Gerard wanted the money and the glory.
After William had signed his passport, Gerard pulled out a gun and shot him three times at point-blank range. William died that night on the 10th of July 1584.
Louise de Coligny’s story is harrowing in the best of lights. It is sad, heart-wrenching and painful to read. So why should it be told? Because in the telling of it we are reminded of Paul’s words in Acts 20:24;
But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself so that I might finish my course with joy and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.
I want to learn to stand for Jesus like Louise de Coligny did. Sisters (and brothers) will you stand with me?