Accessible Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton March 13, 2013

“D'une plume de fer sur un papier d'acier”: faith, nationalism and war in the poetry of the first French War of Religion

S. K. Barker


The arrival of Protestantism in mid-sixteenth century France prompted the redefinition of an emerging national identity hitherto built around the twin concepts of inherent national Catholicism and monarchical legitimacy. In the popular writing of the day, poets deliberately used overtly nationalistic languages of weaponry, fidelity and treason to define religious groups. This article traces the evolution of languages of loyalty, treason and war in the exchange of polemical poems between Pierre de Ronsard and his protestant critics and discusses their efficiency in establishing enduring tropes which outlived the sixteenth century. It argues that Catholic and Protestant poets subverted the medieval image of France as the “most Christian” nation to achieve the vilification of their religious opponents, establishing a religious core to national identity which sustained French life up to and beyond the Revolution. It then considers the reflection of civil unrest in the use of languages of war and weaponry. Enabling men who were not soldiers to “fight” away from the battlefield, it also saw poets engaging in single combat in the defence of their faith, consciously referring to the codified rules of the duel.

University of Exeter, UK

Published Online: 2013-03-13
Published in Print: 2013-03-22

©[2013] by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston