The French Protestant Reformation: Religious Wars (1562-98)


Figure 1.--The Duke of Guise ordered the slaughter of the Huguenots on St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. His instructions were, "When the clock of the Palais de Justice shall sound upon the great bell, at daybreak, then each good Catholic must bind a strip of white linen round his arm and place a fair white cross in his cap." This Millais painting dramaticaly depicts a Huguenot lover caught up in the delimma of loving a Catholic. The woman begs him to wear a Catholic badge to protect himself.

The persecution and religious intolerance on the part of many Catholics resulted in reprisals from the the Protestants. The result was a civil war in France. Catholics slew some 1,200 Huguenots at Vassy (1562). This ignited the the Wars of Religion which would last three decades and devestate the country. There were eight outbreaks of fighting separated by formal peace treaties. There was open war, attrocities. brutal acys, assainations, trachery and other acts during the civil war (1562-98). The Huguenot forces were led by Louis I de Boubon Prince de Condé and Admiral Gaspard de Coligny and later Henry de Navarre (Henry IV). The Catholic forces were led by Duc de Guise (Henry I de Lorraine) and Catherine de Médicis and later by Henry III. As in Germany, foreign troops were involved in the fighting. Soldiers from England, Germany, and Switzerland. The Catholics were supported by primarily by Spain. The treaties that end the various outbreaks granted the huguenots various levels of toleration. Afterwards the French royal Government attempted to repudiate or ignore these pledges resulting in renewerd hostilities. The essential problem was both the intolerance of the time and the conviction on the part of Catholic monarchs that Protestants would not be loyal, fully trusted subjects. The Wars were not finally ended until Henry of Navarre converted and finall was ceowned as Henry IV and subsequently issued the Edict of Nantes.

The Hugenots

French Protestants became known as Huguenots. German Protesrants are primarily Lutheran. The French Protestants in contrast were mostly Calvinists. French reformer John Calvin (Jean Cauvin) played an important role in the Protestant Reformation, second only to Martin Luther. John was born in Noyon, Picardy (France) (1509) and grew up there. He wrote the influential Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536). It was Calvin who created the “presbyterian” model of church government. Historians describe him as the “organizer of Protestantism" as a result of his pastoral efforts in Strassburg and Geneva. Woking in Geneva he was protected from the Counter Reformation and was able to influence religioys thought in not only Wsitzerland and other countries, but also his native France. Geneva is in the French-speaking area of Switzerland and on the French border. Thus Calvin could easily promote the growth of Protestantism in France. Calvinism had significant appeal in France. The majority of the French population remained Catholic, but a substantial minority converted. This included notable indivifuals among leading French nobel families. Thus the Hugenots acquired an importance out of proportion to their actual numbers. The French Reformed Church was formally established by John Calvin (1550). At the first national synod (council), 15 churches participated (1559). At the second synod over 2,000 churches participated (1561). The term Huguenot is a term of unknown origins was used to describe French Protestants. The first known use of the term appears in court cases in which "heretics" were procecuted by Catholic and Royal officials (1550). There are several theories as to the origins of the term. It was at first a derisive term, but over time has come to be the name for a brave people resisting religious persecution.

Overview

The persecution and religious intolerance on the part of many Catholics resulted in reprisals from the the Protestants. The result was a civil war in France. The the Wars of Religion would be fought over three decades and devestate the country. There were eight actual wars or outbreaks of fighting divided by formal peace treaties. There was open war, attrocities. brutal acyt, assainations, treachery and other acts during the civil war (1562-98). The Huguenot forces were led by Louis I de Boubon Prince de Condé and Admiral Gaspard de Coligny and later Henry de Navarre (Henry IV). The Catholic forces were led by Duc de Guise (Henry I de Lorraine) and Catherine de Médicis and later by Henry III. As in Germany, foreign troops were involved in the fighting. Soldiers from England, Germany, and Switzerland. The Catholics were supported by primarily by Spain. The treaties that end the various outbreaks granted the huguenots various levels of toleration. Afterwards the French royal Government attempted to repudiate or ignore these pledges resulting in renewerd hostilities. The essential problem was both the intolerance of the time and the conviction on the part of Catholic monarchs that Protestants would not be loyal, fully trusted subjects.

First Stage of the Religious Wars (1562-70)

The Religious Wars began when followers of the Duke of Guise, leader of the Catholic party, launched attacks on Protestant worshippers. This was the First Fench Religious War (1562-63). Catholics slew some 1,200 Huguenots at Vassy (1562). Protestant armed themselves and seized many French cities with strong Protestant populations. This was followed by a4-year period of relative peace. Then Huguenot armies at Meaux attemptef to capture and control the king which launched the Second Religious War (1567-68). The Third Religious War was fought largely in south-western France from 1568 to 1570 with foreign intervention. (1568-70). Spanish troops intervened in the fighting.

Truce (1570)

Catherine for a time played the two parties off against the other. Catherine decided to end The Third War of Religion and had Charles sign the peace of Saint-Germain which granted freedom of worship to the Huguenots and allowed them several fortified towns, including La Rochelle (1570). France next fought an undeclared war with Spain in Flanders where support was given the Protestants. Catherine finally came to resent the growing influence of the Protestants. Some historians believe that Protestant leader Admiral Gaspard de Coligny's increasing influence with the young King was the reason that Catherine to preserve her position decided to act. Catherine made a point of maintaining friendly relations with Huguenot leaders, especially Admiral Gaspard de Coligny. She often calling de Coligny to court to seek his advise. Lulled into a sence of security, the Protestants were totally unprepared for what was to transpire.

St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (1572)

The most notable attrocity of the civil wars was the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in Paris. The King was the very young Charles IX. The real power continued to be his mother, Catherine deMidici. Catherine for a time played the two parties off against the other. She finally came to resent the growing influence of the Protestants. Catherine and her son Charles IX signed a peace treaty with the Huguenots granting freedom of worship (1570). They made a point of maintaining friendly relations with Huguenot leaders, especially Admiral Gaspard de Coligny. She often calling de Coligny to court to seek his advise. Lulled into a sence of security, the Protestants were totally unprepared for what transpired. The action against the Protestants was carfully orcestrated. She offered her daughter, Marguerite de Valois, to the highest ranking Huguenot--Henry of Navarre (future Henry IV). Huguenot leaders flocked to Paris to celebrate the historic wedding which seemed auger religious peace and reconciliation. Catherine ploted with the extreme Catholic party led by members of the powerful ducal family of Guise. Catherine convinced Charles to order a masacre of the leading Huguenots in Paris and other French cities. The Catholics struck on St. Bartholomew's Day (August 24, 1572). The Duc de Guise personally killed Admiral Coligny. The Governor of Picardy was another prominant victim. Henry was seized, but not killed when he agreed to convert. The Paris mob took up where the Duc fe Guise's killing squads left off. More than 8,000 Huguenots (estimates vary). Whole families were killed, includung the women and children. Virtually all the Huguenots in Paris were murdered. The Massacre suceeded in killing many Huguenot leaders. The impact, however, was not to end the religious wars, but to intensify the Huguenot resistance. It convincd the Hugenots that military resistance was their only option.

Renewed Fighting

Charles IX died (1572). His brother Henry became king as Henry III. The Religious Wars continued including serious outbreaks of violence during the reign of Henry III. The Huguenots led by Henry of Navarre decisively defeated the Catholic forces at Coutras (1587). The Huguenots were aided by infighting among the Catholics. The Duc de Guise was assainated by other Catholics (1588) as was Henry III himself (1589). With Henry's death the House of Valois became extinct and of all people, the Protestant leader Henry of Navarre became the leading claimnat. His claim was severly resisted by the Catholic party backed by the pope and Spain. The Catholic were determined to prevent this at all cost. Henry waged a successful war gainst the Catholics and beseiged Paris. The city was on the point of capitulation when Phillip II ordered his army in the Netherlands to relieve the city. It would be the last major Spanish military action in Europe.

Henry IV

Henry seeing that he was not strong enough to take Paris and seized the criwn, decided to convert. This end the religious wars and Henry became the first monarch of the Bourbon line. He proved to be one of the great kings of France.

Edict of Nantes (1598)

The Religious Wars including the eight outbreaks of violence occurred during the reign of Henry III who succeeded Charles IX. The Huguenots led by Henry of Navarre defeated the Catholic forces at Coutras (1587). The Huguenots were aided by infighting among the Catholics. The Duc de Guise was assainated by other Catholics (1588) as was Henry III himself (1589). With Henry's death the House of Valois became extinct and of all people, the Protestant laeder Henry of Navarre became king, the firsr monarch of the Bourbon line. To end the destructive civil wars, Henry converted to Catholocism (1593). He issued the Edict of Nantes granting almost complete religious freedom on the Protestants. With this freedom during the reign of Henry, the Protestants grew to be a major force in France. The Edict of Nantes was signed by Henry IV (1598). This ended the Wars of Religion. Under the terms of the Edict, the Huguenots were permitted to freely practice their faith in 20 specified French "free" cities. France was again became united and a decade of peace followed. Henry IV was murdered (in 1610)








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Created: 8:26 AM 5/8/2009
Last updated: 7:01 PM 8/5/2018