Doug Bonds The Hammer of the Huguenots is a compelling historical novel about the early reformation period in France when the doctrines of grace were winning many converts amongst the majority Roman Catholic and the Huguenots, as the French Protestants came to be known, were increasingly victims of widespread persecution. The events in the novel are mostly centered in the period which my old French seminary dean, the late Pierre Courthial, liked to refer to as the Golden Age of the Reformation in Francethat period between 1555 and 1562 when the Spirit of God was acting powerfully and many were coming to the faith in the midst of intense opposition by the Roman Church. Through the lives of some fictional characters, Bond leads the reader on a tour of France through the events and intrigues that accompanied the faithful during those heady days of the Reformation when the faithful were forced to choose between the suitcase of the coffin even while a significant percentage (some historians have gone as high as 40%) of the French population was won over to the reformed faith. The story is both well-written and informative on several levels. In addition to the well-seasoned references to historical characters including the Huguenot martyr Jean Langlois, the duplicitous Queen Mother Catherine de Medicis, the preacher Pierre Viret etc., whom Bond sets rightfully in their historical roles, the obviously well-researched story includes enlightening observations of 16th century French life from the social and gastronomical customs right down to the chirping of the cicadas in the southern French countryside. But its the political and religious intrigue which retains the readers attention as we learn about the effective preaching of the likes of Calvins contemporary Viret and the opportunistic political maneuverings of the wily Catherine de Medici who strives to consolidate political power for her son (the young Charles IX) in the midst of the religious wars which pitted the Roman Catholic faction headed by the Guise family (including a war lord and a bishop). Bond captures the faith of the Huguenots signing Psalms in the midst of persecution and the contrastingly misguided spirit of the age à la John 16:2 (
whoever kills you will think hes rendering a service to God
). In the words of a Roman Catholic priest named Bagneti who warns some reluctant colleagues: It is the call of the Almighty upon us
to crush the religious pretenders! If we do not they will destroy you and your city with you!.... Kill the heretics! (p.62). Pitted against this murderous zeal is the longsuffering Huguenot faction headed by the Prince de Condé and Admiral Coligny. It was the commitment of the latter at the bequest of his wife, the well-intentioned Charlotte de Laval, which led to the full-scale religious wars starting in 1562 following the massacre of innocent Huguenots worshipers at Wassy. For many, this was the beginning of the end of the Huguenot cause in France. For as long as the Protestants accepted to be persecuted, the church continued to grow. But as soon as they took up arms to defend themselves, the situation soured. The relentless persecution and heroic resistance of the Huguenots is reflected in the novels title, taken from a Huguenot saying: Tant plus à me frapper on samuse, tant plus de marteaux on y use (The more one strikes me, the more hammers he wears out). Bonds narrative contains all these historical elements en filigrane, woven as it were, through the lives of several characters who live the events and which incited the reader to run to his encyclopedia to corroborate complete the historical backdrop of the novel with more information. As far as this reader can see, everything is exact. Bonds story captures ones attention and makes the reader eager to know more about the historical characters in question and the tragic circumstances that makes France the only country to have had a significant measure of the Reformation and to have rejected it.
Hammer of the Huguenots is a gripping story about life in 16th century France. Bonds skillful blend of fact and fiction draws the reader into the religious wars of that era, and at the same time exposes the theological and ethical issues faced by the Huguenots in their response to the brutality of those who were determined to destroy all who were committed to the Reformed faith. This book provides insight into a little known, but important time in the history of the church.
"Hammer of the Huguenots demonstrates the great advantage of a historical novel. Bond captures all of the emotions, fears, and struggles in such detail so the reader is gripped with the true reality of the brave suffering and the faithful affection for Christ of the 16th century Reformed Protestants in France."
The summer of 2013 I was pleased to meet Douglas Bond in my village, La Roque sur Cèze, in Provence. He was working on his next book dealing with the religious and tragic events which occurred in this part of France a few centuries ago. One reason (among many others) for Douglass talent as a novelist is his immediate ability to feel and to give back the particular atmosphere of our villages as well as the temper of their inhabitants (Cévennes, Ardèche, Provence). In this precious book, authenticity oozes on every page, with a clever use of French colloquial expressions, thanks to his great literary abilities. In Hammer of the Huguenots, readers will discover and learn more about the tragedy which divided French people a few centuries ago. Thank you, Douglas, for your wonderful work!