The January Edict
After holding a plenary royal council, the king issued the January Edict on 17th January 1562. The king showed tolerance in this document, but only to a limited extent and on a short – term basis – (he was waiting to know the pope’s decision at the imminent Council of Trent). The Edict gave Protestants the right to gather together and hold services in the outskirts of the towns and in the countryside.
In this way the protestant faith was legally recognized, even though it was only on a temporary basis – this was already a step forward.
However, François, duke of Guise and many Catholics were totally opposed to the edict being enforced.
The massacre of Wassy
A protestant service was celebrated on the 1st of March in a “barn” at Wassy, in the Champagne country. This barn was probably situated within the town walls and thus illegal, according to the January Edict. The duke of Guise, escorted by a troop of soldiers, passed through the town, which was situated on his land. Arguments broke out, tempers flared, the situation became ugly and finally violence took over. The barn was attacked and more than fifty people, including women and children, were massacred – and a hundred and forty were wounded ; most casualties were Protestant.
For the Protestants, this attack appeared premeditated and the massacre is considered to be the beginning of the wars of religion. From the Catholics point of view, hostilities began with the attack on Orléans by Prince Louis of Condé, on the 2nd April 1562.
The massacre of Wassy (1562)
The protestant Museum in the Wassy barn
On the 1st March 1562, the Duc de Guise went to celebrate mass in Wassy and on his way back, forced open the doors of the barn where a thousand unarmed protestants were holding a religious service. The troops of the Duc de Guise killed at least a hundred men, women and children.
The rise of Protestantism in France (1520-1562)
Luther’s ideas began to spread in France from 1520 onwards. The authorities did their best to oppose them. From 1540, under Jean Calvin’s influence, a new Church took shape, but separate from the Roman Catholic Church.
The Colloquium of Poissy (1561)
In order to avoid a civil war between Catholics and Protestants, Catherine de Medici brought together theologians from both factions. However, the attempt failed.
The Amboise Conspiracy (1560)
Some members of the Reformation movement attempted to seize the king and shield him from the influence of the Guise family.
The posters incident (1534)
Tracts of an insulting nature to the Catholic Church were put up in Paris, throughout the provinces and even in front of the king’s rooms. The king decided on a policy of repression.