A royal marriage
The treaty of Saint-Germain in 1570 was a new attempt towards civil peace and brought the third war of religion to an end. However, it aroused the anger of the ultra Catholics who – led by the Guise family – esteemed it to be too favourable to Protestants.
The queen mother Catherine de Medici, hoping to establish national reconciliation for good, helped to bring about the marriage of Henri of Navarre, the future Henri IV, a protestant, to Marguerite de Valois, sister of Charles IX. Numerous protestant noblemen from the king of Navarre’s retinue came to Paris for the wedding, which took place on 18th August.
An eventual war against Flanders
The leader of the protestant party, Admiral de Coligny, a favourite of the king, urged him to take part in the war that was taking place in the Low Countries (or Flanders). His idea was for France to join forces with the prince of Orange and to support those who had risen up against Philip II of Spain. He was convinced that a war against Spain would be the best way of reconciling Catholics and Protestants, united against a common adversary.
An attempt on de Coligny's life
On 22nd August, an attempt was made upon the life of Admiral de Coligny as he was coming out of the king’s council at the Louvre palace. The attempt failed but the admiral was wounded. This was probably the work of the Guise family, who were very much opposed to the Flanders war ; and Spain may have taken in the plot.
The assassination of Protestant leaders
People were stunned by the news and the atmosphere in Paris was explosive.
During the night of the 23rd August, a royal council was held, at which the decision was taken to assassinate Admiral de Coligny and a certain number of Huguenot leaders. The bells of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois sounded the alarm.
The admiral was savagely killed in his home and his body thrown out of the window. Many Huguenot noblemen were massacred in the Louvre palace or in the streets of the capital; caught unawares at night, they were unable to defend themselves – as Théodore de Bèze wrote, they were killed “like sheep at the slaughterhouse”.
The massacre spread all over Paris
The massacre continued for three days throughout Paris – but the king was unable to control the situation. Violence was at its peak. The Catholics, recognized by the white cross they wore on their hats, attacked all the Protestants’ houses.
The streets were red with blood. The number of victims was estimated at about 4.000 in Paris. On 26th August the king stood up in Parliament and claimed responsibility for the massacre.
The massacre spread to the provinces
As the news spread, violence broke out throughout the provinces as well; local St. Bartholomew massacres took place from August to September 1572 in La Charité, Meaux, Orléans, Lyon, and other towns. In all, at least 10.000 people were killed in the provinces.
Pope Gregory XIII greeted the news with enthusiasm: he ordered masses of thanksgiving to be held and had a special medal made to commemorate the event.
The massacre of St. Bartholomew led to another war
The massacre of St. Bartholomew was the most tragic event in the wars of religion and can be remembered as sparking off the fourth of the wars between the Catholics and Protestants.
- BOURGEON Jean-Louis, Charles IX devant la Saint-Barthélemy, Droz, Genève, 1995
- CROUZET Denis, La nuit de la Saint-Barthélemy : un rêve perdu de la Renaissance, Fayard, Paris, 1994
- GARRISSON Janine, La Saint-Barthélemy, Complexes, Bruxelles, 1987
- BOURGEON Jean-Louis, "Pour une histoire, enfin, de la Saint-Barthélemy", Revue historique, 1989, Tome 127, p. 83-142
Théodore de Bèze (1519-1605)
Theodore Beza was one of the most prominent figures in the Reform movement. He supported Calvin and succeeded him as moderator, i.e. president, of the Company of pastors in Geneva. He relentlessly defended the Calvinist doctrine, the discipline of the Church and its synodal-Presbyterian organisation. He left noteworthy historic and literary writings. The only aim of his actions was to strengthen the Reform movement assaulted by Roman Catholicism and rivaled by German Lutheranism.
Gaspard de Coligny (1519-1572)
Gaspard de Coligny born in the influential Châtillon family, was naturally at the service of the King of France. However, after being made prisoner at the siege of Saint Quentin, he converted to the Reformation, then became one of the military commanders of the Protestant party, and fought against the Crown and the Guise. He was murdered during the Saint Bartholomew massacre in 1572.
The eight wars of religion (1562-1598)
In the 16th Century, France was to know a religious split : the great majority of the country remained faithful to Catholicism, whilst an important majority joined the Reformation. Coexistence of the two confessions throughout the Kingdom showed itself to be inapplicable. War could no longer be avoided and civil tolerance had failed.
Eight wars of religion were to succeed each other throughout 36 years, with periodic interruptions of fragile peace. The wars will cease with the Edict of Nantes (30th of April 1598), an edict that established a limited civil tolerance. The confessional duality established throughout France in 1598 was to wear away little by little until the revocation of the edict in 1685.
The Edict of Nantes (1598)
This was Henri IV’s major achievement : the terms of this edict ensured the peaceful coexistence of Catholics and Protestants and brought a stop to all hostilities in France after 36 years of civil warfare.
The United Provinces of the Midi
Strongly influenced by Calvinism, a political theory of State government was put into practice in the Midi for about twenty years. In this political system, the power comes from the rank and file.
Protestantism after 1562
In the second part of the XVIth century (1562-1598), in spite of persecution and long periods of civil war, the Reformed Churches became well organized. A political system, structured on much the same lines as the organisation of the Reformed Churches, was introduced in the United Provinces of the Midi.
Wars of religion on the death of Henri IV (1562-1610)
In the 16th century in France, a war between the Protestant minority and the Catholic majority could not be avoided. In 36 years, between 1562 and 1598 there were 8 wars interspersed with periods of fragile peace. In 1598, King Henri IV, a Protestant converted to Catholicism, issued the edict of Nantes which established religious coexistence between Catholics and Protestants. In 1610, Henri IV was assassinated.