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France: Religious War of the 16th century
France: Religious War of the 16th century

One should get acquainted with the history of religious wars in France in the 16th century not only as a direct confrontation between two worldviews. Social and dynastic problems in the kingdom directly influenced the unleashing of bloody troubles.

Reformation in France: Huguenots and Catholics

The situation around the French kingdom in the middle of the 16th century, to put it mildly, was not easy. Reformation in Germany and subsequent serious clashes within the empire, tensions with the Spanish Habsburgs and, finally, the long and grueling Italian Wars (1494-1559).

The ideas of the German theologian Martin Luther were supported by part of the French clergy and humanist scholars. In the first decades of the 16th century, thanks to the philologist and theologian Jacques Lefebvre d'Etaple and the future bishop Meau Guillaume Bristone, a circle of evangelists, supporters of the renewal and reform of the church, was formed.

The courtiers, bureaucrats, petty nobility, lower clergy, merchants and artisans joined the new intellectual and spiritual movement. As a rule, reformist ideas were most widespread in the south and southwest of France. The courtyard of Margaret of Navarre, sister of King Francis I, became a place of attraction for Protestants in 1530-1540.

Jean Calvin

Jean Calvin. Source:

John Calvin's activities gained widespread popularity in the kingdom. Many sections of the population found the theologian's ideas convenient and understandable. But already in 1534 the king began to be bothered by leaflets in which the Catholic Mass was insulted. The monarch was no longer satisfied with such a situation: Calvin was expelled from the country, and repressions were applied to the supporters of his faith. Already in 1547, the authorities created the "Chamber of Fire", which set itself the goal of eradicating the supporters of the ideas of the Reformation: Calvinists were equated with heretics.

In June 1559, immediately after the end of the Italian Wars, King Henry II signed the Edict of Ecuan, which made it possible for special commissioners to apply repressive measures against Protestants. Nevertheless, the influx of Calvinists from Geneva only increased.

Wedding celebrations in the king's family (his sister and daughter were married), which consolidated the position of the Cato-Cambresian world with the Spanish crown, ended in tragedy. On June 30, 1559, Henry II was mortally wounded at the tournament.

In fact, from that moment on, one can mark the beginning of an open confrontation between the two camps. The opposition never called itself "Huguenots": this is, in fact, a curse against the Protestants invented by their opponents. In turn, the supporters of the new doctrine left their enemies the nickname "papists".

The leaders of the Huguenots (from German: Eidgenossen - associates) were the princes of the blood from the Bourbon dynasty - the descendants of the famous monarch Saint Louis IX. Antoine of Navarre, his son Henry, Louis Condé and three Coligny brothers - Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, François d'Andelot and Cardinal de Chatillon became the most influential figures in the French Protestant camp. The lateral branch of Valois considered itself unfairly removed from the dynastic politics of the royal court.

Antoine of Navarre k

Antoine Navarre to the photo Source:

With regards to the "papists", the main characters in this camp were the Dukes of Guise of Lorraine (Duke François of Guise and his brother Cardinal Charles of Lorraine) and Queen Regent Catherine de Medici, who chose for herself the role of arbiter in this turmoil.

The Huguenot Wars: From the Amboise Conspiracy to the War of the Three Henrys

In historical science, it is customary to talk about eight religious wars from 1559 to 1598, which at different intervals were replaced by truces from one to four years. The long history of religious confrontation in France should be divided into three stages.

Combat map

Combat map.Source:

After the death of Henry II, the young Francis II (1559-1560) ascended the throne, under which the affairs of the royal court fell into the hands of the Gues. Open persecutions against the Huguenots began: for secret religious gatherings, Protestants were threatened with the death penalty. In 1559, the councilor of the Paris Parliament, de Boer, was hanged. The Protestant opposition prepared a conspiracy plan: under the leadership of the nobleman La Renaudie, the Huguenots intended to arrest Guise and kidnap the king in the vicinity of Amboise. However, the “papists” found out about the plans of the opponents and on March 8, 1560, they issued an edict prohibiting religious persecution.

But such measures did not satisfy the Huguenots: the rebels organized a gathering near the royal court, but were defeated by detachments under the control of Giza and the king. The March Edict ceased to be in effect: the persecution resumed with renewed vigor. The Prince of Condé fell into the hands of the Guise, and death awaited him, but the imminent departure of Francis II on December 5, 1560, saved the prince from execution.

Execution of de Boer

Execution of de Boer. Source:

With the accession to the throne of Charles IX, the situation changed: both Prince Condé and Antoine of Navarre, who was appointed lieutenant general of the kingdom, were in favor. In parallel, Catherine de Medici initiates a number of meetings and events to reconcile the warring parties. The fruits of the States General in Orleans in 1560 and in Pontusa in 1561, as well as the dispute in Poissy in 1561, was the Edict of Saint Germain (January) of 1562, which allowed the Huguenots to conduct divine services outside the city walls and in private homes.

Charles IX

Charles IX. Source:

Giza, meanwhile, formed a "triumvirate", which included the Duke François and supporters of the late Henry II - Constable de Montmorency and Marshal Saint-André. The "Papists" began to seek an alliance with Spain and even attracted Antoine of Navarre to their side.

At the first stage of the religious wars (before St. Bartholomew's night on August 24, 1572), the Huguenots, although they were in the minority, were confident that they could convert all of France to the new faith and establish close ties with the royal court.

The year 1562 was rich in events: open hostilities began between the parties, Giza captured Charles IX and Catherine de Medici at Fontainebleau, they also achieved the abolition of the January Edict, defeated the Huguenots in Champagne (Vassi town) and defeated Condé on December 19 at Dre - the Huguenots and their German allies were defeated. At the same time, Montmorency and Marshal Saint-André were killed during the battle. François Guise, besieging Orleans and pursuing Admiral Coligny, fell at the hands of an assassin. In this situation, the leaders of the warring parties, through the mediation of Catherine de Medici, concluded the Amboise Peace, which confirmed the provisions of the January edict.

Battle of Dre

Battle of Dre. Source:

The campaign of the Spanish Duke of Alba to the Netherlands and the aggravation of relations with the Huguenots forced the regent-queen to gather a large army, ostensibly to guard the borders. In 1567 she sent him to the Protestants of France. The brother of the king, Henry of Anjou, also joined the struggle. Although the Huguenots were defeated, the Condé army was able to retreat to Lorraine and enlist the support of German Protestants, led by the Count Palatine Johannes Casimir. The Catholics were driven back to Paris, and in 1568 Catherine de 'Medici was forced to sign a new truce.

Until 1570, the confrontation continued: the queen regent did not want to endure the growing power of the Huguenot leaders. After a series of battles, the government of Charles IX made concessions and signed the Peace of Saint-Germain, which gave the Huguenots the right to freedom of religion throughout France except Paris, as well as the right to hold public office. In addition, the fortresses of La Rochelle, Cognac, Montauban and La Charite were transferred to the Protestants.

In order to strengthen the previously concluded peace, Catherine de Medici decided to arrange the wedding of her daughter Marguerite de Valois with Henry of Navarre. The union of a Catholic and a Protestant was supposed to end the enmity of the two confessions. In August 1572, a huge number of guests came to Paris, representatives of both trends.

Although the Giza were removed from the court, they nevertheless prepared an attempt on the life of Admiral Coligny, who at that moment had a great influence on Charles IX. The indignation of the Huguenots and the generally uneasy situation in Paris pushed Catherine de Medici and her advisers to convince the king to deal with the protestant troublemakers in one fell swoop: they were afraid of their revenge for the murder of one of the leaders of the movement.

Catherine de Medici after St. Bartholomew's Night

Catherine de Medici after St. Bartholomew's Night. Source:

On August 24, 1572, on the night of St. Bartholomew, a massacre took place, in which more than 2 thousand people died. The capture of Henry of Navarre in the Louvre did not change anything: the Huguenots resisted desperately.

St. Bartholomew's night

St. Bartholomew's night. Source:

In Nimes, in 1575, the Huguenot Confederation was created in the south of France with its own army and government. The second stage of the conflict gradually moved away from religious contradictions towards dynastic politics. Henry III (1574-1589), the last king of the Valois family, was looking for a way to take control of the situation that had developed in his state. In 1576, he led the Sacred League, created with the help of the Guise and part of the Catholic nobility of France. Despite the fact that there were separate hotbeds of tension and local wars were fought, Henry III managed not to disturb the peace between the Catholic north and the Huguenot south until 1584.

Henry III

Henry III. Source:

War of the Three Hens: End

In 1584, the king's brother Francis of Alencon, the last direct heir to the French throne, passed away. Henry III had no children and Henry of Navarre became a probable contender for the throne. This situation angered the league: supporters of Heinrich of Guise turned to the Spanish king Philip II for help. The Edict of Nemours of the same year, issued by the king under pressure from Guise, again outlawed the Huguenots, but did not abolish the rights to the throne of Henry of Bourbon.

Elizabeth I Tudor

Elizabeth I Tudor. Source:

The main hostilities took place only in 1587. Henry of Navarre was generously helped by his "brothers in faith": the English queen Elizabeth I sent him a large sum of money, with which the Huguenots were able to hire a large army of German Protestants. The military actions of the Huguenots went on with varying success: Henry of Navarre defeated the royal units at Coutras, but the German mercenaries were defeated by Gizami at Vimori.

Heinrich Giese

Heinrich Giese. Source:

Henry III lost influence in the capital: "Day of the Barricades" in May 1588 forced him to flee Paris. The king also began to seek an alliance with the Huguenots. On December 23-24 of the same year, being in a difficult situation and accepting all the demands of the Ligists, the king gave the order to kill Heinrich of Guise and the Cardinal of Lorraine. The States General were dissolved on May 15, 1589. But on August 1, the king was killed by an agent of the league - the monk Clement.

While in Normandy at the time, Henry of Navarre declared himself the new king of France.

The Ligists put forward their candidacy for the French throne in the person of Cardinal Bourbon Charles X. The victory of Henry of Navarre remained a matter of time. The Huguenots, led by Henry IV, defeated the troops of the new head of the League of the Duke of Mayenne in the battles of the Arch on September 21, 1589 and Ivry on March 14, 1590. Protestants also laid siege to Paris twice.

Paris is worth mass

By 1593, Paris was in the hands of Spanish troops and League supporters. For Henry IV, the issue of gaining the throne was not closed until the end until 1598: not all of France wanted to accept the "heretic" king. But many Catholic nobles sought a compromise with the only legitimate heir to the French monarchy.

Henry IV of Navarre

Henry IV of Navarre. Source:

In July 1593, Henry of Navarre renounced Protestantism and entered the fold of the Catholic Church. The famous words "Paris is worth the Mass" is attributed to Henry after renouncing his faith. The coronation took place the following year in Chartres, because the "anointing center of the French monarchs" Reims was in the hands of the League.

Nevertheless, Paris opened its gates for the new king. Henry IV continued the war with the Spanish interventionists and achieved the conclusion of the Peace of Verven in 1598 on the terms of the status quo.

Edict of Nantes

Edict of Nantes. Source:

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