Having dealt with the judicial murder of Michael Servetus, we continue:
Followers of Servantus [sic.], known as Libertines, were targeted by Calvin. In 1555 the Libertines attempted to displace Calvin. When their efforts failed Calvin had their leaders rounded up and executed.
Contrary to wherever Price got his ideas from, the Libertines were NOT followers of Servetus, but a political faction within Geneva who used Servetus to their own ends, and then dropped him when he was of no further use to them. It was finally the fact that Libertine magistrates voted to execute Servetus that ensured the Spaniard's death, and it was the Libertines, not Calvin, who chose to burn him to death rather than to behead him.
The Libertine party preceded Servetus' entry into Geneva and it was a political and not a religious party. By misrepresenting them as followers of Servetus, Price makes their executions seem an example of religious persecution when they were in fact the climax of a political power struggle. Perhaps he is aware of the fact that Servetus was alone killed in Geneva, and is trying to increase the numbers by illegitimately linking the executions of the Libertine leaders to Calvin. The facts are quite different, as we will show. We shall be posting a full bibliography of sources in due course, if any readers wish to know our sources of information. Suffice to say for the present that they are reputable printed sources.
It is extremely important in any discussion of the power that Calvin had in Geneva to bear in mind that Geneva was a democracy, albeit of a very young kind. Regular elections allowed the citizens within the franchise to choose their own rulers. Whilst there were no political parties of the modern kind, there were informal groupings of men. The two main parties in Calvin's Geneva were the Guillaumists and the Libertines, the former supporters of the Reformed ministers and their moral reforms, the latter opponents of those reforms.
The Libertines had wanted freedom from Savoy, but they also wanted freedom to indulge themselves. They were made up of old Genevan families who resented immigrants and refugees. Although they had initially supported the Reformation, they had done so more out of a desire to be free from Rome than out of a desire to reform the Church according to the Bible. Following the disgraceful conduct of Libertines in the Servetus case the citizens of Geneva showed their disgust at the Libertines' behaviour by voting overwhelmingly against their candidates at the next election.
Today when a party is defeated they go away and plan a return by democratic means. Even in a democratic state like Geneva, the 16th century method was different. Defeated party leaders were regularly accused of treason and exiled or killed.
But Calvin had no part in the prosecution of the Libertines, for their political opponents did not need him. After the crushing electoral defeat that followed the Servetus debacle, the leaders of the Libertine party and many of their followers drowned their sorrows with drink. In their speeches they blamed the immigrants for their defeat, and their followers became more and more inflamed with a xenophobic rage. They spilled out onto the streets crying 'death to the French!'
What followed was a drunken riot rather than a serious coup attempt. Whilst some people were wounded, no-one was killed. It had been too late at night for the streets to be thronged with immigrants, and the police had swiftly dealt with the sword-waving rioters.
Unfortunately Ami Perrin, the chief of the Libertines, had on two occasions tried to seize the baton of office from two senior Council officials, giving some colour to the claim that the Libertines were intending to stage an armed coup. The Council decided that they constituted a threat to the government and had those leaders they had arrested tortured and executed. They were tortured in an attempt to make them confess that they were indeed planning a coup. This was a barbaric thing to do, but the sad fact is that practically every state in Europe would have done the same at that time. A young democracy like Geneva could not afford to do anything other than execute the Libertine leaders who constituted a threat to its very existence. They were charged with treason, a capital offence in every part of Europe at the time. Their apparent contempt for the democratic government of Geneva, not their contempt for Calvin, led to their defeat and the execution of their leaders.
God willing, next time we shall deal with Calvin's alleged inquisition, the Consistory court.