Louis De Berquin was a member of a noble family. He was a Huguenot at the court of Francis I. Three times he was charged with heresy and imprisoned, and finally burned at the stake.
He shared his time between Paris and his estate near Abbeville. He visited homes around his estate and in neighboring villages. He would bring his Bible with him and teach people the new faith.
Berquin was reported to Beda, who worked for the Sorbonne. Beda began persecuting Berquin. Berquin was arrested and denounced as a heretic May 13, 1523. His library was seized. Much of his work was burned. Berquin was asked to retract his errors, which he refused to do. He was taken back to prison to await execution.
Margaret and her brother—the king—interceded and set Berquin free.
Berquin returned to his home at Artois. He continued to preach the doctrine of salvation by Christ alone. He condemned priestly celibacy as unBiblical.
From 1523 to 1526, France was filled with trouble. They lost at the Battle of Pavia. This resulted in King Francis I’s imprisonment in Madrid. Meanwhile, the queen mother, Louise of Savoy, felt that her son’s capture was due to their leniency on the Protestants. She therefore aided the Sorbonne in tracking down heretics. She issued an edict that all Protestants should be handed over for trial. Berquin fell victim to this. In January, 1526, he was imprisoned a second time.
Margaret pleaded unsuccessfully for Berquin’s release. Louise thought that she was buying papal support by burning Reformers. On the day of Francis I’s return, he sent word to release Berquin. His new freedom gave Berquin courage. He believed that Francis was truly on the Protestant side.
Berquin believed that if he, Erasmus, and Francis could work together, their strategy could not fail. It was his goal to convert all of France to Protestantism. He felt that he had the king’s favor. Before moving forward, Berquin asked for the aid of Erasmus. Erasmus advised him to stay quiet, but if he must attack Rome, he should first obtain the king’s consent.
Meanwhile, Francis had imprisoned Beda for refuting Erasmus’ Paraphrases and Annotations. Berquin prepared twelve propositions against Beda and brought them to the king. He promised to pass them to the Sorbonne. Francis held up his promise. This encouraged Berquin further.
However, Francis was caught in a dilemma. He was in need of money to pay the fine at Madrid. He appealed to the bishops, who suggested the extermination of Lutherans in exchange for money.
In 1529, before the French Council of Sens disbanded, news spread of a crime. The statue of the Blessed Virgin and Child in the Quartier St. Antoine, had been desecrated. The council the king, and all of Paris were enraged. This gave the Sorbonne the upper hand. Berquin’s friends urged him to flee but he considered this cowardice.
Berquin was imprisoned a third time. The Sorbonne was determined to make him pay. Twelve judges were appointed to Berquin. Berquin saw an opportunity to appeal to the king once more through Margaret. However, a letter he had earlier written to a friend was used against him. He was accused of belonging to the Lutheran sect, and of writing wicked books.
Berquin’s sentence was to be imprisoned for the rest of his life. Berquin tried again to plead to the king, but this time Francis ignored him. The judges changed their sentence to strangling and burning. As many as twenty thousand people may have attended his execution, April 17, 1529. Theodore Beza later remarked: “He might have been the Luther of France had Francis been a Frederick of Saxony.”
This article is adapted from Gideon and Hilda Hagstoz’ Heroes of the Reformation.