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Scarce Halberd of the Waldensian Militia, Mid-17th C

Reputedly founded by Peter Waldo in Lyon during the later part of the 12th C, the Waldensians (or Vaudois) were a Christian sect which disagreed with the Roman Catholic Church in its interpretation of scripture. By 1215, the Waldensians were declared heretical and subject to intense persecution and were confronted with organized and general discrimination in the centuries that followed. During the Reformation they merged into the larger Protestant movement and formally became a part of the Calvinist tradition. They were primarily located in the mountainous regions of France and Northern Italy. In 1545 Francis I of France sent an army against the Waldensians, resulting in the massacre of Merindol and adjacent settlements, decimating their numbers and scattering survivors. In January 1655, the Duke of Savoy commanded the Waldensians to attend Mass or relocate to the upper valleys of their homeland, giving them only twenty days in which to sell their lands. Rather than submit to the Church, the Waldensians fled into the mountains despite difficult winter conditions. Not content with the results, the Duke sent troops to quarter with the Waldensians under the guise of false reports of Waldensian uprisings. To keep the peace, the Waldensians allowed this, but it only allowed the Duke’s troops easy access to the population and on 24 April 1655, at 4 a.m., the signal was given for a general massacre. An estimated 1,700 Waldensians were slaughtered and the massacre was so brutal it aroused indignation throughout Europe. According to one report by a Peter Liegé:

"Little children were torn from the arms of their mothers, clasped by their tiny feet, and their heads dashed against the rocks; or were held between two soldiers and their quivering limbs torn up by main force. Their mangled bodies were then thrown on the highways or fields, to be devoured by beasts. The sick and the aged were burned alive in their dwellings. Some had their hands and arms and legs lopped off, and fire applied to the severed parts to staunch the bleeding and prolong their suffering. Some were flayed alive, some were roasted alive, some disemboweled; or tied to trees in their own orchards, and their hearts cut out. Some were horribly mutilated, and of others the brains were boiled and eaten by these cannibals. Some were fastened down into the furrows of their own fields, and ploughed into the soil as men plough manure into it. Others were buried alive. Fathers were marched to death with the heads of their sons suspended round their necks. Parents were compelled to look on while their children were first outraged [raped], then massacred, before being themselves permitted to die."

By the time of the massacre, Waldensian militias had been formed in anticipation of an attack. This is a halberd of the Waldensian militia dating to the period of the massacre. It is blacksmith made with a two-pronged military fork where a single spike would normally be found on traditional halberds. Roughly forged, it is stamped with primitive decorations on the axe blade and beak. Integrally forged ferrule and mounted on round-section wood shaft, with light blue pastel paint and a red wool tassel. Unusual weapon unique to the Waldensians, with surviving examples being extremely scarce. Length of metal 20 ˝"; overall 93".

PH1489 $1895   SOLD

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