Yet, the very day after this plausible proclamation, and specious conduct, the marquis sent five hundred men to possess themselves of Roras, while the people as he thought, were lulled into perfect security by his specious behavior.
Captain Gianavel, however, was not to be deceived so easily: he, therefore, laid an ambuscade for this body of troops, as he had for the former, and compelled them to retire with very considerable loss.
Though foiled in these two attempts, the marquis of Pianessa determined on a third, which should be still more formidable; but first he imprudently published another proclamation, disowning any knowledge of the second attempt.
Soon after, seven hundred chosen men were sent upon the expedition, who, in spite of the fire from the Protestants, forced the defile, entered Roras, and began to murder every person they met with, without distinction of age or sex. The Protestant captain Gianavel, at the head of a small body, though he had lost the defile, determined to dispute their passage through a fortified pass that led to the richest and best part of the town. Here he was successful, by keeping up a continual fire, and by means of his men being all complete marksmen. The Roman Catholic commander was greatly staggered at this opposition, as he imagined that he had surmounted all difficulties. He, however, did his endeavors to force the pass, but being able to bring up only twelve men in front at a time, and the Protestants being secured by a breastwork, he found he should be baffled by the handful of men who opposed him.
Enraged at the loss of so many of his troops, and fearful of disgrace if he persisted in attempting what appeared so impracticable, he thought it the wisest thing to retreat. Unwilling, however, to withdraw his men by the defile at which he had entered, on account of the difficulty and danger of the enterprise, he determined to retreat towards Vilario, by another pass called Piampra, which though hard of access, was easy of descent. But in this he met with disappointment, for Captain Gianavel having posted his little band here, greatly annoyed the troops as they passed, and even pursued their rear until they entered the open country.
The marquis of Pianessa, finding that all his attempts were frustrated, and that every artifice he used was only an alarm signal to the inhabitants of Roras, determined to act openly, and therefore proclaimed that ample rewards should be given to any one who would bear arms against the obstinate heretics of Roras, as he called them; and that any officer who would exterminate them should be rewarded in a princely manner.
This engaged Captain Mario, a bigoted Roman Catholic, and a desperate ruffian, to undertake the enterprise. He, therefore, obtained leave to raise a regiment in the following six towns: Lucerne, Borges, Famolas, Bobbio, Begnal, and Cavos.
Having completed his regiment, which consisted of one thousand men, he laid his plan not to go by the defiles or the passes, but to attempt gaining the summit of a rock, whence he imagined he could pour his troops into the town without much difficulty or opposition.
The Protestants suffered the Roman Catholic troops to gain almost the summit of the rock, without giving them any opposition, or ever appearing in their sight: but when they had almost reached the top they made a most furious attack upon them; one party keeping up a well-directed and constant fire, and another party rolling down huge stones.
This stopped the career of the papist troops: many were killed by the musketry, and more by the stones, which beat them down the precipices. Several fell sacrifices to their hurry, for by attempting a precipitate retreat they fell down, and were dashed to pieces; and Captain Mario himself narrowly escaped with his life, for he fell from a craggy place into a river which washed the foot of the rock. He was taken up senseless, but afterwards recovered, though he was ill of the bruises for a long time; and, at length he fell into a decline at Lucerne, where he died.
Another body of troops was ordered from the camp at Vilario, to make an attempt upon Roras; but these were likewise defeated, by means of the Protestants' ambush fighting, and compelled to retreat again to the camp at Vilario.
After each of these signal victories, Captain Gianavel made a suitable discourse to his men, causing them to kneel down, and return thanks to the Almighty for his providential protection; and usually concluded with the Eleventh Psalm, where the subject is placing confidence in God.
The marquis of Pianessa was greatly enraged at being so much baffled by the few inhabitants of Roras: he, therefore, determined to attempt their expulsion in such a manner as could hardly fail of success.
With this view he ordered all the Roman Catholic militia of Piedmont to be raised and disciplined. When these orders were completed, he joined to the militia eight thousand regular troops, and dividing the whole into three distinct bodies, he designed that three formidable attacks should be made at the same time, unless the people of Roras, to whom he sent an account of his great preparations, would comply with the following conditions:
To ask pardon for taking up arms.
To pay the expenses of all the expeditions sent against them.
To acknowledge the infallibility of the pope.
To go to Mass.
To pray to the saints.
To wear beards.
To deliver up their ministers.
To deliver up their schoolmasters.
To go to confession.
To pay loans for the delivery of souls from purgatory.
To give up Captain Gianavel at discretion.
To give up the elders of their church at discretion.
The inhabitants of Roras, on being acquainted with these conditions, were filled with an honest indignation, and, in answer, sent word to the marquis that sooner than comply with them they would suffer three things, which, of all others, were the most obnoxious to mankind, viz.
Their estates to be seized.
Their houses to be burned.
Themselves to be murdered.
Exasperated at this message, the marquis sent them this laconic epistle:
To the Obstinate Heretics Inhabiting Roras;
You shall have your request, for the troops sent against you have strict injunctions to plunder, burn, and kill.
The three armies were then put in motion, and the attacks ordered to be made thus: the first by the rocks of Vilario; the second by the pass of Bagnol; and the third by the defile of Lucerne.
The troops forced their way by the superiority of numbers, and having gained the rocks, pass, and defile, began to make the most horrid depradations, and exercise the greatest cruelties. Men they hanged, burned, racked to death, or cut to pieces; women they ripped open, crucified, drowned, or threw from the precipices; and children they tossed upon spears, minced, cut their throats, or dashed out their brains. One hundred and twenty-six suffered in this manner on the first day of their gaining the town.
Agreeable to the marquis of Pianessa's orders, they likewise plundered the estates, and burned the houses of the people. Several Protestants, however, made their escape, under the conduct of Captain Gianavel, whose wife and children were unfortunately made prisoners and sent under a strong guard to Turin.
The marquis of Pianessa wrote a letter to Captain Gianavel, and released a Protestant prisoner that he might carry it him. The contents were, that if the captain would embrace the Roman Catholic religion, he should be indemnified for all his losses since the commencement of the war; his wife and children should be immediately released, and himself honorably promoted in the duke of Savoy's army; but if he refused to accede to the proposals made him, his wife and children should be put to death; and so large a reward should be given to take him, dead or alive, that even some of his own confidential friends should be tempted to betray him, from the greatness of the sum.
To this epistle, the brave Gianavel sent the following answer.
My Lord Marquis,
There is no torment so great or death so cruel, but what I would prefer to the abjuration of my religion: so that promises lose their effects, and menaces only strengthen me in my faith.
With respect to my wife and children, my lord, nothing can be more afflicting to me than the thought of their confinement, or more dreadful to my imagination, than their suffering a violent and cruel death. I keenly feel all the tender sensations of husband and parent; my heart is replete with every sentiment of humanity; I would suffer any torment to rescue them from danger; I would die to preserve them.
But having said thus much, my lord, I assure you that the purchase of their lives must not be the price of my salvation. You have them in your power it is true; but my consolation is that your power is only a temporary authority over their bodies: you may destroy the mortal part, but their immortal souls are out of your reach, and will live hereafter to bear testimony against you for your cruelties. I therefore recommend them and myself to God, and pray for a reformation in your heart.
-- JOSHUA GIANAVEL.
This brave Protestant officer, after writing the above letter, retired to the Alps, with his followers; and being joined by a great number of other fugitive Protestants, he harassed the enemy by continual skirmishes.
Meeting one day with a body of papist troops near Bibiana, he, though inferior in numbers, attacked them with great fury, and put them to the rout without the loss of a man, though himself was shot through the leg in the engagement, by a soldier who had hid himself behind a tree; but Gianavel perceiving whence the shot came, pointed his gun to the place, and despatched the person who had wounded him.
Captain Gianavel hearing that a Captain Jahier had collected together a considerable body of Protestants, wrote him a letter, proposing a junction of their forces. Captain Jahier immediately agreed to the proposal, and marched directly to meet Gianavel.
The junction being formed, it was proposed to attack a town, (inhabited by Roman Catholics) called Garcigliana. The assault was given with great spirit, but a reinforcement of horse and foot having lately entered the town, which the Protestants knew nothing of, they were repulsed; yet made a masterly retreat, and only lost one man in the action.
The next attempt of the Protestant forces was upon St. Secondo, which they attacked with great vigor, but met with a strong resistance from the Roman Catholic troops, who had fortified the streets and planted themselves in the houses, from whence they poured musket balls in prodigious numbers. The Protestants, however, advanced, under cover of a great number of planks, which some held over their heads, to secure them from the shots of the enemy from the houses, while others kept up a well-directed fire; so that the houses and entrenchments were soon forced, and the town taken.
In the town they found a prodigious quantity of plunder, which had been taken from Protestants at various times, and different places, and which were stored up in the warehouses, churches, dwelling houses, etc. This they removed to a place of safety, to be distributed, with as much justice as possible, among the sufferers.
This successful attack was made with such skill and spirit that it cost very little to the conquering party, the Protestants having only seventeen killed, and twenty-six wounded; while the papists suffered a loss of no less than four hundred and fifty killed, and five hundred and eleven wounded.
Five Protestant officers, viz., Gianavel, Jahier, Laurentio, Genolet and Benet, laid a plan to surprise Biqueras. To this end they marched in five respective bodies, and by agreement were to make the attack at the same time. The captains, Jahier and Laurentio, passed through two defiles in the woods, and came to the place in safety, under covert; but the other three bodies made their approaches through an open country, and, consequently, were more exposed to an attack.
The Roman Catholics taking the alarm, a great number of troops were sent to relieve Biqueras from Cavors, Bibiana, Feline, Campiglione, and some other neighboring places. When these were united, they determined to attack the three Protestant parties, that were marching through the open country.
The Protestant officers perceiving the intent of the enemy, and not being at a great distance from each other, joined forces with the utmost expedition, and formed themselves in order of battle.
In the meantime, the captains, Jahier and Laurentio, had assaulted the town of Biqueras, and burnt all the out houses, to make their approaches with the greater ease; but not being supported as they expected by the other three Protestant captains, they sent a messenger, on a swift horse, towards the open country, to inquire the reason.
The messenger soon returned and informed them that it was not in the power of the three Protestant captains to support their proceedings, as they were themselves attacked by a very superior force in the plain, and could scarce sustain the unequal conflict.
The captains, Jahier and Laurentio, on receiving this intelligence, determined to discontinue the assault on Biqueras, and to proceed, with all possible expedition, to the relief of their friends on the plain. This design proved to be of the most essential service, for just as they arrived at the spot where the two armies were engaged, the papist troops began to prevail, and were on the point of flanking the left wing, commanded by Captain Gianavel. The arrival of these troops turned the scale in favor of the Protestants: and the papist forces, though they fought with the most obstinate intrepidity, were totally defeated. A great number were killed and wounded, on both sides, and the baggage, military stores, etc., taken by the Protestants were very considerable.
Captain Gianavel, having information that three hundred of the enemy were to convoy a great quantity of stores, provisions, etc., from La Torre to the castle of Mirabac, determined to attack them on the way. He, accordingly, began the assault at Malbec, though with a very inadequate force. The contest was long and bloody, but the Protestants at length were obliged to yield to the superiority of numbers, and compelled to make a retreat, which they did with great regularity, and but little loss.
Captain Gianavel advanced to an advantageous post, situated near the town of Vilario, and then sent the following information and commands to the inhabitants.
That he should attack the town in twenty-four hours.
That with respect to the Roman Catholics who had borne arms, whether they belonged to the army or not, he should act by the law of retaliation, and put them to death, for the numerous depredations and many cruel murders they had committed.
That all women and children, whatever their religion might be, should be safe.
That he commanded all male Protestants to leave the town and join him.
That all apostates, who had, through weakness, abjured their religion, should be deemed enemies, unless they renounced their abjuration.
That all who returned to their duty to God, and themselves, should be received as friends.
The Protestants, in general immediately left the town, and joined Captain Gianavel with great satisfaction, and the few, who through weakness or fear, had abjured their faith, recanted their abjuration and were received into the bosom of the Church. As the marquis of Pianessa had removed the army, and encamped in quite a different part of the country, the Roman Catholics of Vilario thought it would be folly to attempt to defend the place with the small force they had. They, therefore, fled with the utmost precipitation, leaving the town and most of their property to the discretion of the Protestants.
The Protestant commanders having called a council of war, resolved to make an attempt upon the town of La Torre.
The papists being apprised of the design, detached some troops to defend a defile, through which the Protestants must make their approach; but these were defeated, compelled to abandon the pass, and forced to retreat to La Torre.
The Protestants proceeded on their march, and the troops of La Torre, on their approach, made a furious sally, but were repulsed with great loss, and compelled to seek shelter in the town. The governor now only thought of defending the place, which the Protestants began to attack in form; but after many brave attempts, and furious assaults, the commanders determined to abandon the enterprise for several reasons, particularly, because they found the place itself too strong, their own number too weak, and their cannon not adequate to the task of battering down the walls.
This resolution taken, the Protestant commanders began a masterly retreat, and conducted it with such regularity that the enemy did not choose to pursue them, or molest their rear, which they might have done, as they passed the defiles.
The next day they mustered, reviewed the army, and found the whole to amount to four hundred and ninety-five men. They then held a council of war, and planned an easier enterprise: this was to make an attack on the commonalty of Crusol, a place inhabited by a number of the most bigoted Roman Catholics, and who had exercised, during the persecutions, the most unheard-of cruelties on the Protestants.
The people of Crusol, hearing of the design against them, fled to a neighboring fortress, situated on a rock, where the Protestants could not come to them, for a very few men could render it inaccessible to a numerous army. Thus they secured their persons, but were in too much hurry to secure their property, the principal part of which, indeed, had been plundered from the Protestants, and now luckily fell again to the possession of the right owners. It consisted of many rich and valuable articles, and what, at that time, was of much more consequence, viz., a great quantity of military stores.
The day after the Protestants were gone with their booty, eight hundred troops arrived to the assistance of the people of Crusol, having been despatched from Lucerne, Biqueras, Cavors, etc. But finding themselves too late, and that pursuit would be vain, not to return empty handed, they began to plunder the neighboring villages, though what they took was from their friends. After collecting a tolerable booty, they began to divide it, but disagreeing about the different shares, they fell from words to blows, did a great deal of mischief, and then plundered each other.
On the very same day in which the Protestants were so successful at Crusol, some papists marched with a design to plunder and burn the little Protestant village of Rocappiatta, but by the way they met with the Protestant forces belonging to the captains, Jahier and Laurentio, who were posted on the hill of Angrogne. A trivial engagement ensued, for the Roman Catholics, on the very first attack, retreated in great confusion, and were pursued with much slaughter. After the pursuit was over, some straggling papist troops meeting with a poor peasant, who was a Protestant, tied a cord round his head, and strained it until his skull was quite crushed.
Captain Gianavel and Captain Jahier concerted a design together to make an attack upon Lucerne; but Captain Jahier, not bringing up his forces at the time appointed, Captain Gianavel determined to attempt the enterprise himself.
He, therefore, by a forced march, proceeded towards that place during the whole, and was close to it by break of day. His first care was to cut the pipes that conveyed water into the town, and then to break down the bridge, by which alone provisions from the country could enter.
He then assaulted the place, and speedily possessed himself of two of the outposts; but finding he could not make himself master of the place, he prudently retreated with very little loss, blaming, however, Captain Jahier, for the failure of the enterprise.
The papists being informed that Captain Gianavel was at Angrogne with only his own company, determined if possible to surprise him. With this view, a great number of troops were detached from La Torre and other places: one party of these got on top of a mountain, beneath which he was posted; and the other party intended to possess themselves of the gate of St. Bartholomew.
The papists thought themselves sure of taking Captain Gianavel and every one of his men, as they consisted but of three hundred, and their own force was two thousand five hundred. Their design, however, was providentially frustrated, for one of the popish soldiers imprudently blowing a trumpet before the signal for attack was given, Captain Gianavel took the alarm, and posted his little company so advantageously at the gate of St. Bartholomew and at the defile by which the enemy must descend from the mountains, that the Roman Catholic troops failed in both attacks, and were repulsed with very considerable loss.
Soon after, Captain Jahier came to Angrogne, and joined his forces to those of Captain Gianavel, giving sufficient reasons to excuse his before-mentioned failure. Captain Jahier now made several secret excursions with great success, always selecting the most active troops, belonging both to Gianavel and himself. One day he had put himself at the head of forty-four men, to proceed upon an expedition, when entering a plain near Ossac, he was suddenly surrounded by a large body of horse. Captain Jahier and his men fought desperately, though oppressed by odds, and killed the commander-in-chief, three captains, and fifty-seven private men, of the enemy. But Captain Jahier himself being killed, with thirty-five of his men, the rest surrendered. One of the soldiers cut off Captain Jahier's head, and carrying it to Turin, presented it to the duke of Savoy, who rewarded him with six hundred ducatoons.
The death of this gentleman was a signal loss to the Protestants, as he was a real friend to, and companion of, the reformed Church. He possessed a most undaunted spirit, so that no difficulties could deter him from undertaking an enterprise, or dangers terrify him in its execution. He was pious without affectation, and humane without weakness; bold in a field, meek in a domestic life, of a penetrating genius, active in spirit, and resolute in all his undertakings.
To add to the affliction of the Protestants, Captain Gianavel was, soon after, wounded in such a manner that he was obliged to keep his bed. They, however, took new courage from misfortunes, and determining not to let their spirits droop attacked a body of popish troops with great intrepidity; the Protestants were much inferior in numbers, but fought with more resolution than the papists, and at length routed them with considerable slaughter. During the action, a sergeant named Michael Bertino was killed; when his son, who was close behind him, leaped into his place, and said,
"I have lost my father; but courage, fellow soldiers, God is a father to us all."
Several skirmishes likewise happened between the troops of La Torre and Tagliaretto, and the Protestant forces, which in general terminated in favor of the latter.
A Protestant gentleman, named Andrion, raised a regiment of horse, and took the command of it himself. The sieur John Leger persuaded a great number of Protestants to form themselves into volunteer companies; and an excellent officer, named Michelin, instituted several bands of light troops. These being all joined to the remains of the veteran Protestant troops, (for great numbers had been lost in the various battles, skirmishes, sieges, etc.) composed a respectable army, which the officers thought proper to encamp near St. Giovanni.
The Roman Catholic commanders, alarmed at the formidable appearance and increased strength of the Protestant forces, determined, if possible, to dislodge them from their encampment. With this view they collected together a large force, consisting of the principal part of the garrisons of the Roman Catholic towns, the draft from the Irish brigades, a great number of regulars sent by the marquis of Pianessa, the auxiliary troops, and the independent companies.
These, having formed a junction, encamped near the Protestants, and spent several days in calling councils of war, and disputing on the most proper mode of proceeding. Some were for plundering the country, in order to draw the Protestants from their camp; others were for patiently waiting till they were attacked; and a third party were for assaulting the Protestant camp, and trying to make themselves master of everything in it.
The last of them prevailed, and the morning after the resolution had been taken was appointed to put it into execution. The Roman Catholic troops were accordingly separated into four divisions, three of which were to make an attack in different places; and the fourth to remain as a body of reserve to act as occasion might require.
One of the Roman Catholic officers, previous to the attack, thus haranged his men:
"Fellow-soldiers, you are now going to enter upon a great action, which will bring you fame and riches. The motives of your acting with spirit are likewise of the most important nature; namely, the honor of showing your loyalty to your sovereign, the pleasure of spilling heretic blood, and the prospect of plundering the Protestant camp. So, my brave fellows, fall on, give no quarter, kill all you meet, and take all you come near."
After this inhuman speech the engagement began, and the Protestant camp was attacked in three places with inconceivable fury. The fight was maintained with great obstinacy and perseverance on both sides, continuing without intermission for the space of four hours: for the several companies on both sides relieved each other alternately, and by that means kept up a continual fire during the whole action.
During the engagement of the main armies, a detachment was sent from the body of reserve to attack the post of Castelas, which, if the papists had carried, it would have given them the command of the valleys of Perosa, St. Martino, and Lucerne; but they were repulsed with great loss, and compelled to return to the body of reserve, from whence they had been detached.
Soon after the return of this detachment, the Roman Catholic troops, being hard pressed in the main battle, sent for the body of reserve to come to their support. These immediately marched to their assistance, and for some time longer held the event doubtful, but at length the valor of the Protestants prevailed, and the papists were totally defeated, with the loss of upwards of three hundred men killed, and many more wounded.
When the Syndic of Lucerne, who was indeed a papist, but not a bigoted one, saw the great number of wounded men brought into that city, he exclaimed, "Ah! I thought the wolves used to devour the heretics, but now I see the heretics eat the wolves." This expression being reported to M. Marolles, the Roman Catholic commander-in-chief at Lucerne, he sent a very severe and threatening letter to the Syndic, who was so terrified, that the fright threw him into a fever, and he died in a few days.
This great battle was fought just before the harvest was got in, when the papists, exasperated at their disgrace, and resolved on any kind of revenge, spread themselves by night in detached parties over the finest corn fields of the Protestants, and set them on fire in sundry places. Some of these straggling parties, however, suffered for their conduct; for the Protestants, being alarmed in the night by the blazing of the fire among the corn, pursued the fugitives early in the morning, and overtaking many, put them to death. The Protestant captain Bellin, likewise, by way of retaliation, went with a body of light troops, and burnt the suburbs of La Torre, making his retreat afterward with very little loss.
A few days later, Captain Bellin, with a much stronger body of troops, attacked the town of La Torre itself, and making a breach in the wall of the convent, his men entered, driving the garrison into the citadel and burning both town and convent. After having effected this, they made a regular retreat, as they could not reduce the citadel for want of cannon.