Pamphleteering by Hand

By Panagiotis Georgakakis |

The Bibliothèque de Rennes Métropole, one of our PWRB partners, is the home of a significant number of rare printed materials published during the sixteenth century. Yet, unexpectedly for this blog, today we will not be analysing a printed item in their collection. Rather, we will focus on a manuscript about the sack of Lyon. But, let’s start our story by returning to 1562:

On 1 March 1562, the Duke Francois de Guise, a prominent Catholic leader, discovered that the Protestants of the city of Wassy [Vassy] celebrated their worship in the city and not outside, as the edict of January 1562 directed. The Protestants had transformed a barn into their congregation; not only that but they managed to repulse Duke’s soldiers when they tried to intervene. De Guise could not let this insolence go unanswered. His troops set fire to the barn, killing 63 unarmed Huguenots and wounding over a hundred. Things escalated quickly. Massacres of Huguenots followed at Sens, Tours, Maine and Anjou. Francois de Guise had just triggered the first War of Religion.

Nevertheless, Huguenots were not caught unprepared. The prince of Condé, the champion of the Protestant faith, was already aware of the fragility of the cease. Surprisingly, Huguenot armies started to seize many large cities; one of them was Lyon. Lyon was a wealthy and cosmopolitan city full of bankers, merchants and printers. The latter published vernacular works and practical manuals, as well as celebrated authors. Their workshops, like those of booksellers, became places of scholarly encounters between humanist correctors and many illustrious guests. As a result, Lyon had been transformed into a Renaissance hub, counting a significant number of Huguenot citizens. During the 1550s, Lyon had become the most prestigious city of the realm outside Paris, a second ‘oeil de France’, the ‘clef et coeur du Royaume’.

In the night of 29 to 30 April 1562 Francis Beaumont, the Baron of Adrets, started the siege of the city. Soon, most of the city had fallen. On 2 May, Huguenots engaged in iconoclastic destruction. Finally, the castle Scize, the only place that had not yet fallen in Huguenot hands, was taken on 7 May. Lyon became the capital city of the Protestant nation. Despite the sacking of the city, the presses continued to print.

One of the works Protestants printed in Lyon in the days after the city’s occupation detailed the sacking. It was a ten-page pamphlet printed in octavo format on 12 May 1562. Both the author and the printer are unknown. Its title is La Prinse de Lion par les Protestans and until now, we believed that the sole-surviving printed copy was held by the Bibliothèque de Rennes Métropole. Many bibliographies, dating as far back as the nineteenth century, refer to this item as a printed booklet or pamphlet. But instead of the single surviving printed copy, the library actually contains a manuscript copy of the first printed edition (USTC: 59330).

Title page of Rés. 32627
Manuscript title page of La Prinse de Lion par les Protestans, Rés. 32627. Image courtesy of The Bibliothèque de Rennes Métropole. 

The manuscript was written sometime during the eighteenth century and is probably a copy of the first edition of the pamphlet. This conclusion is based on its first page, which transcribes ‘Imprime a Lion le douzième de May 1562’. The first page also contains a quote from the psalm CXXVII, the well-known as The Song of Degrees of Solomon. Not surprisingly, the quote refers to the fall of the city: Si le Seigneur ne garde la cite, celui qui sa garde veille pour nient [If the Lord does not keep the city, the keeper watches in vain]. The manuscript belongs to a bound collection of twenty printed pamphlets that were published during the sixteenth century at the time of the religious wars.

La Prinse de Lion par les Protestans, Rés. 32627
Manuscript transcription of La Prinse de Lion par les Protestans, Rés. 32627. Image courtesy of The Bibliothèque de Rennes Métropole.

As for La Prinse de Lion par les Protestans, we know that it was reprinted in at least two other forms. Firstly, it was reprinted as a chapter in the third volume of Des memoires de Condé, ou recueil pour server a l’ histoire de France […] in 1743 in London or The Hague. In this edition, the title is slightly changed to La prinse de Lyon par les fideles, au nom du Roy, le dernier d’Avril 1562. Yet, it is unknown if the editor of this chapter was familiar with the printed pamphlet or a manuscript copy, like the one held by the Bibliothèque de Rennes Métropole. Furthermore, in 1831 the pamphlet was reprinted alongside one that was also printed in Lyon in 1562. The second pamphlet is entitled Histoire des triomphes de l’eglise lyonnaise, avec la prinse de Monbrison. It is an eight-page pamphlet that was also printed in octavo format and, not surprisingly, the author and printer are unknown. Both titles were reprinted under the same title: Prinse de Lyon et de Montbrison, par les Protestans, en 1562, printed in 1831 by J.M. Barret in Lyon.

Manuscript transcription of La Prinse de Lion par les Protestans, Rés. 32627. Image courtesy of The Bibliothèque de Rennes Métropole.

As we have seen elsewhere on this blog, the survivals of printed sources are often a matter of luck. But unlike many of the sole-surviving works the PWRB blog has explored, we do not have an ephemera collector to thank for passing La prinse de Lyon par les protestans down to us, but rather an anonymous manuscript copyist. The copying of the original imprint information is a testament to a now lost pamphlet, but Bibliothèque de Rennes Métropole’s amazing manuscript also serves to remind us of the complex and lively exchanges between print and manuscript cultures.


Panagiotis Georgakakis is a PhD student at the University of St Andrews. His research focuses on the French-language gazettes that were published in the Dutch Republic from 1677 to 1720. His interests are grounded in the history of identities and the transfer of political ideas and propaganda throughout 17th-century Europe. You can follow him on Twitter @Pangeorg08.

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