Affair of the Placards
The Affair of the Placards (French: Affaire des Placards) was an incident in which anti-Catholic posters appeared in public places in Paris and in four major provincial cities: Blois, Rouen, Tours and Orléans, overnight during 17 October 1534. One was actually posted on the bedchamber door of King Francis I at Amboise, an affront and an alarming breach of security that left him shaken. The Affaire des Placards brought an end to the conciliatory policies of Francis, who had formerly attempted to protect the Protestants from the more extreme measures of the Parlement de Paris, and also of the public entreaties for moderation of Philip Melanchthon.
The placards carried the title "Genuine articles on the horrific, great and unbearable abuses of the papal mass, invented directly contrary to the Holy Supper of our Lord, sole mediator and sole savior Jesus Christ" This provocative title was a direct attack on Catholic conceptions of the Eucharist. They supported Zwingli's position on the Mass which denied the physical existence of Christ in the sacraments.
The individual who has been traditionally credited as the chief inspiration, if not the direct author of the placards, was the French Protestant leader Guillaume Farel, but it seems that Antoine de Marcourt, a pastor of Neuchâtel from Picardy, was the real author: Antoine Froment averred that "these placards were made at Neuchâtel in Switzerland by a certain Antoine Marcourd". Writing anonymously the following month, Marcourt took credit for the placards in the address to benevolent Readers of his anonymous "Most useful and salutary little treatise of the holy Eucharist", published at Neuchâtel, 16 November 1534, in which he avers "I have been moved by true affection to compose and edit in writing some true Articles on the unbearable abuses of the Mass. Which Articles I wish to be published and posted throughout the public places of the land..."
Processions were announced in all the parishes of Paris for the following Sunday. In Paris, the King himself stood under the canopy where the Body of Christ (the Communion Wafer) was usually carried- the political statement was clear.
Also, a reward of a hundred écus was advertised for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator or perpetrators, who were to be burned at the stake. Protestant sympathizers were soon identified and sent to the Châtelet. The first condemnations were pronounced 10 November; the first of those burned at the stake, 13 November, was a cripple named Barthélemi Milon.
The polemic against the Catholic Church was considered a severe insult to Catholics; and the King now publicly affirmed his Catholic faith. The immediate public outcry necessitated the flight of several prominent Protestant leaders, including John Calvin, and of scholars and poets like Clément Marot.
In another provocative action the following 13 January, when François had recently returned to Paris, broadsheets of a tract on the Sacraments were deposited in the streets and doorways of Paris. Later, printing was banned by royal decree.
- "Articles véritables sur les horribles, grans et importables abuz de la messe papale, inventée directement contre la Sainte Cène de notre Seigneur, seul médiateur et seul Sauveur Jésus-Christ".
- "ces placcards avoyent esté faicts à Neufchastel en Suysse par un certain Antoine Marcourd". Froment, manuscript Actes et Gestes, cahier 33, Geneva archives, noted under Number 485 of the Correspondance des réformateurs dans les pays de langue française: recueillie et publiée... by Aimé Louis Herminjard (1866), p 225, note 4.
- Herminjard's number 485, pp. 224ff, prints the address "aux bénévoles Lecteurs" of the anonymous Petit traicte tres utile et salutaire de la saincte Eucharistie... (Neuchâtel, 16 November 1534), which Herminjard attributes to Antoine de Marcourt.
- "j'ai esté esmeu par bonne affection de composer et rédiger en escript aucuns Articles véritables sur les importables abuz de la Messe. Lesquels Articles je desire estre publiéz et attachéz par tous les lieux publicques de la terre..."
- The Origins of the Modern Public, CBC Radio, Ideas
- Herminjard, p 227, note 6.
- The Body broken: the Calvinist doctrine of the Eucharist and the symbolization of power in sixteenth-century France By Christopher Elwood: pp=29-30