French Huguenots Attacked – The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre cover

French Huguenots Attacked – The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre

Beginning on the 24th of August 1572, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre was undoubtedly one of the most horrendous and violent events in French Huguenot history. Lasting more than two months in total, this widespread murder of French Huguenots resulted in the loss of between five thousand and twenty-five thousand people.

Let’s take a closer look at this horrific event in French Huguenot history, why it happened, and what the repercussions were.

Wedding Celebrations In Paris

Starting in Paris, French Catholics, who were the dominant religious group in France at the time, feared a Huguenot uprising and planned to assassinate leading Protestants that were attending a royal wedding. Following years of religious tension in the country after the so-called “new teachings” of the Protestant Reformation, a series of conflicts took place throughout France. The Affair of the Placards became an armed conflict in 1562 triggering the beginning of the French Wars of Religion, which lasted from 1562 to 1592.

After the third war finally ended in 1570, the Catholic Queen Catherine de’ Medici hoped to bring peace to the country through the marriage of her daughter Margaret of Valois, a Catholic, to protestant Henry of Navarre. However, instead of bringing about peace, the event would turn bloody and violent.

Assassination Attempt On Huguenot Leader

The Royal wedding was to take place in Paris and influential Protestant leaders from all over the country were in attendance for the celebrations. This influx of Protestant leaders, unfortunately, saw tensions in predominantly Catholic Paris quickly rise culminating in the assassination attempt of Gaspard II de Coligny. Coligny was the Admiral of France and a prominent French Huguenot. An assassination on his life was attempted and although Coligny was wounded, he ultimately survived the attempt on his life.

French Huguenots Voice Their Anger

After the assassination attempt on Gaspard II de Coligny, the Protestants were outraged and let their feelings known. With the French Huguenots clearly upset by what had unfolded, Catherine de Medici and her son Charles IX of France, together with the Paris city council, authorized the targeted killing of Protestant leaders. Fearing an uprising, the French Catholics, believed that with so many prominent Huguenot leaders in Paris for the wedding, this was the perfect time to strike. Gaspard II de Coligny who had survived one assassination attempt would become the first to be executed on August 24th. Pulled from his sickbed by a group of Swiss Guards, he was attached with axes before his dead body was thrown into the courtyard below. Coligny was also beheaded, with his head being sent to the Louvre to prove that he was dead. Other Huguenot leaders followed in quick succession.

Huguenots Hunted Down Throughout Paris

Following the first killings in Paris, a string of murders began taking place throughout the city as French Huguenot leaders were hunted down one after another. Moving from one district to the next, going from one house to the next, thousands of French Huguenots were violently murdered by Catholic Parisians. Mobs even targeted their Huguenot neighbors in an effort to force them to renounce their heresy, murdering all those that refused. While many people tried to flee the city, they found that the gates had already been locked, trapping them inside.

The slaughter of French Huguenots in Paris continued for three days, finally coming to an end when the majority of the city’s Protestant population was suspected to be dead. Disturbing scenes were reported of carts piled high with bodies of men, women, and children being emptied into the river which ran red with blood, highlighting the atrocious violence that took place.

Killing Of Huguenots Spreads Nationwide

News of these targeted attacks quickly spread to other cities, inciting similar violence in a number of other cities throughout the country. Charles IX of France eventually called for peace but it was too little too late. The massacres had spread countrywide and they were now well and truly out of anyone’s control. There were mass killings of French Huguenots in cities such as Angers, Bourges, Rouen, Bordeaux, Gaillac, Lyon, Toulouse, Saumur, Orléans, Troyes, Mieux, and La Charité.

The Aftermath Of The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre

The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, to this day, is regarded by historians as one of the most bloody and violent religious massacres in human history. Although it may have been unplanned, it was viewed as an important victory for the Catholic Church. Pope Gregory XIII even celebrated the killings at the Vatican with masses of thanksgiving and a commemorative medal honoring the “Slaughter of the Huguenots 1572”. It’s said that King Philip II of Spain, laughed when he heard the news which was one of the few times he was ever known to have laughed.

These events would lead to the beginning of the fourth of the French Wars Of Religion beginning in November 1572, resulting in the loss of thousands of lives. Ending in the summer of the following year in the Edict of Boulogne, this new treaty would give French Huguenots amnesty for past acts, and were finally granted freedom of belief. However, the edict effectively restricted most Protestants from practicing their religious beliefs, undoing the rights they had been granted in the Peace of Saint Germain. This would lead to Catholics and Protestants continuing to battle for a further quarter of a century until the Edict of Nantes was ultimately signed in 1598.