John Milton's Sonnet Calling for God's Vengeance
Peter Waldo (c. 1140 – c. 1218) was a 12th- to 13th-century Catholic who founded a spiritual movement that came to be called the Waldensians (French: Vaudois) and that was declared heretical for rejecting clerical authority. The movement became a sect and survived in Piedmont under protection of the Duke of Savoy and his descendants, though often persecuted. The sect gravitated toward Calvinism during the Protestant Reformation, and in 1655, the then Duke of Savoy demanded their return to Catholicism. Upon their refusal, he attacked them with a combined Catholic army of Irish, French, and Italians.
Times being what they were (much like today, actually, with our own religious fanaticisms), John Milton wrote a prayer to God imploring vengeance, but perhaps also seeking more mundane sources of revenge since he wrote the prayer as a sonnet for publication:
You can click on the underlined words to read Thomas Luxon's notes. I call attention to "Mother with Infant," for Luxon cites John Carey, and I have an edition of the work cited, John Milton: Complete Shorter Poems (London: Longman, 1971), which on page 410 tells us:Avenge O Lord thy slaughter'd Saints, whose bones
Lie scatter'd on the Alpine mountains cold,
Ev'n them who kept thy truth so pure of old
When all our Fathers worship't Stocks and Stones,
Forget not: in thy book record their groanes
Who were thy Sheep and in their antient Fold
Slayn by the bloody Piemontese that roll'd
Mother with Infant down the Rocks. Their moans
The Vales redoubl'd to the Hills, and they
To Heav'n. Their martyr'd blood and ashes sow
O're all th' Italian fields where still doth sway
The triple Tyrant: that from these may grow
A hunder'd-fold, who having learnt thy way
Early may fly the Babylonian wo.
[Thomas H. Luxon, ed., The Milton Reading Room, April 17, 2008]
Cromwell's agent, Sir Samuel Morland, in his account of the massacre (History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piedmont (1658) 333-384) records that the wife of Giovanni, son of Pol Parise, was hurled down a precipice with her baby in her arms -- the baby survived (363); that Jacopo Pecols's wife and son were thrown down the rocks at Taglioretto (368); and that a woman and her baby were hurled down a precipice in the mountains of Villaro (374).At least three mother-and-child atrocities are thus recorded. Milton, however, uses the singular. I suppose that the plural would be less effective -- a single death being a tragedy, multiple deaths being a statistic -- but I also wonder if the expression "Mother with Infant" might be a subtle, ironic thrust at the Catholic soldiers who revered the Madonna and Child but killed the "Mother with Infant."
The longer expression "Mother with Infant down the Rocks" reminds me of Leonardo da Vinci's Virgin of the Rocks, but there's surely no association to that in Milton's mind.