The massacres and murders already mentioned to have been committed in the valleys of Piedmont, nearly depopulated most of the towns and villages. One place only had not been assaulted, and that was owing to the difficulty of approaching it; this was the little commonalty of Roras, which was situated upon a rock.
As the work of blood grew slack in other places, the earl of Christople, one of the duke of Savoy's officers, determined, if possible, to make himself master of it; and, with that view, detached three hundred men to surprise it secretly.
The inhabitants of Roras, however, had intelligence of the approach of these troops, when captain Joshua Gianavel, a brave Protestant officer, put himself at the head of a small body of the citizens, and waited in ambush to attack the enemy in a small defile.
When the troops appeared, and had entered the defile, which was the only place by which the town could be approached, the Protestants kept up a smart and well-directed fire against them, and still kept themselves concealed behind bushes from the sight of the enemy. A great number of the soldiers were killed, and the remainder receiving a continued fire, and not seeing any to whom they might return it, thought proper to retreat.
The members of this little community then sent a memorial to the marquis of Pianessa, one of the duke's general officers, setting forth, 'That they were sorry, upon any occasion, to be under the necessity of taking up arms; but that the secret approach of a body of troops, without any reason assigned, or any previous notice sent of the purpose of their coming, had greatly alarmed them; that as it was their custom never to suffer any of the military to enter their little community, they had repelled force by force, and should do so again; but in all other respects, they professed themselves dutiful, obedient, and loyal subjects to their sovereign, the duke of Savoy.'
The marquis of Pianessa, that he might have the better opportunity of deluding and surprising the Protestants of Roras, sent them word in answer, 'That he was perfectly satisfied with their behavior, for they had done right, and even rendered a service to their country, as the men who had attempted to pass the defile were not his troops, or sent by him, but a band of desperate robbers, who had, for some time, infested those parts, and been a terror to the neighboring country.' To give a greater color to his treachery, he then published an ambiguous proclamation seemingly favorable to the inhabitants.
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:1. To ask pardon for taking up arms.
2. To pay the expenses of all the expeditions sent against them.
3. To acknowledge the infallibility of the pope.
4. To go to Mass.
5. To pray to the saints.
6. To wear beards.
7. To deliver up their ministers.
8. To deliver up their schoolmasters.
9. To go to confession.
10. To pay loans for the delivery of souls from purgatory.
11. To give up Captain Gianavel at discretion.
12. 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.1. Their estates to be seized
2. Their houses to be burned.
3. Themselves to be murdered.
Exasperated at this message, the marquis sent them this laconic epistle: To the Obstinate Heretics Inhabiting Roras