The portraits presented have been selected amongst the best known or – as with Claude du Chastel – amongst the most picturesque.
They were witnesses of their times. Their lives were deeply affected by troubled years from the early days of the Reformation in France until the end of the wars of religion in 1598, when King Henri IV imposed the Edict of Nantes.
Coligny was assassinated on Saint Bartholomew’s Night in 1572. Others managed to escape the massacre.
Some – such as Bernard Palissy and Claude Goudimel – died for their faith. Many had to take refuge abroad, e.g. Jean Calvin, Clément Marot, Robert Estienne, François Hotman.
In 1593 Henri IV’s conversion to Catholicism raised passionate controversies. Some, such as Sully, had encouraged this conversion, whereas others had severely criticised it ; amongst the latter featured Agrippa d’Aubigné and Jean de Sponde. But finally the latter also converted to Catholicism !
St. Bartholomew's Day (24th August 1572)
Charles IX had tried to reconcile the two religious parties, but when this failed, he was driven by the Guise family to authorize the Catholics to assassinate the Protestant leaders; the situation degenerated into a massive massacre.
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.
Claude du Chastel (1554-1587)
A rich Huguenot heiress coveted by a Catholic nobleman, or Romeo and Juliet during the wars of religion…
Clément Marot (1496-1544)
The famous 16th century French poet put into verse the biblical Psalms that were to be sung all over France and become the well-known Huguenot Psalter.
Maximilien de Béthune, Baron of Rosny and Duke of Sully, became a close companion of Henri de Navarre at a very early age. He became his most valuable adviser and his government minister.
Ambroise Paré (1509-1590)
Initially an army surgeon, he made discoveries in such fields as anatomy, physiology and therapeutics.