Monday, January 12, 2015

St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre

By Francois Dubois
The 16th century became rattled by religious divide throughout Europe. The Holy Roman Empire became divided over the Protestants and the Catholics. France, the other major power other than Spain, also became embroiled in bitter religious wars between Catholics and the French Calvinist Protestant called Huguenots. In 1572, it appeared that the worst was over until suddenly, Paris and the whole of France was shocked with violence that was known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.

The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre began with a peace between the Protestants and the Catholics. After the Protestant Reformation began during the early 1500’s, Europe became divided by the clash of different faiths. The Holy Roman Empire fell in disarray. Henry VIII of England divided his kingdom with his desire to be the head of England’s church, which became the Anglican Church. In Spain, the Spanish Inquisition intensely crashed any signs of Protestantism within the kingdom. France was not spared. At the start of the second half of the 16th century, French Protestants, known as the Huguenots, began to fight against the discriminations of the Catholics who held authority. For over a decade, France was plunged into a civil war.

Signs of peace, however, arrived in 1570. In Saint Germain a peace was forged between the Crown and the Huguenots. Under the Peace of St. Germain, freedom of worship was accepted throughout the whole Kingdom except in Paris. Huguenots were allowed to receive government appointments. In addition, the Huguenots would have control of four cities.

To cement the terms of the 1570 Peace of Saint Germain, it was agreed that Huguenot prince was to be married to a princess of the royal French family. It was decided that the prominent Huguenot Henry of Navarre was to marry Princess Margaret of Valois, the sister of King Charles IX.

By the middle of 1572, the wedding was on the way. Henry of Navarre was in Paris alongside with other leaders of the Huguenots. Placed in charge of the wedding was the influential and powerful Admiral Gaspard de Coligny. Coligny was a striking figure. He was close to Henry. De Coligny’s influence was striking most especially to the Queen Regent of the King of France, the formidable and ruthless Catherine de Medici. De Medici saw that Coligny’s power could threaten their position once Henry married Princess Margaret of Valois. She could not sacrifice the marriage because it would ensure peace. And so she decided to assassinate Admiral de Coligny on August 22, 1572, a day after the wedding ceremony.

The assassination was carried out on that day. However, it failed. Paris then grew agitated and tensions began to rise. Catherine feared of retaliation. But before the retaliation occurred, she decided to strike first by instigating a riot that would eradicate de Coligny and the rest of Protestant leaders. On August 24, the feast day of St. Bartholomew, at the sound of bells, Parisian disgusted by the presence of the Protestants, launched a violent wave of riots throughout Paris and the whole of France.
Blood spilled throughout France. Catholic Parisian gone berserk and attacked all Protestants they saw. Chaos engulf the French. De Coligny’s household was attacked and the Protestant leader was killed. Other Protestant leaders also fell to cold blooded killings. Some of Henry of Navarre’s entourage were also killed. Henry himself might have been killed if he was not protected by his in-laws and wife from danger. The killings only ended on the following day after King Charles IX issued an edict that ordered the end of the violence and mayhem.

The end of the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre brought thousands dead. Over 4,000 to 8,000 Protestants were killed in Paris alone. Another 10,000 to 20,000 were killed out Paris and throughout France.  

The aftermath of the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre was chaotic. Europe was shocked by the barbarism displayed in the capital of a major power. Pope Gregory XIII hailed, celebrated, and commemorated the event very well. He even commissioned a mural by Giorgio Vasari to depict the butchery as a glorious triumph against the Protestants. In France itself, it achieved nothing good. Although many prominent Protestant leaders were dead, many Protestants wanted revenge and another two decades of religious war followed in the wake of the Massacre. It only ended with the Edict of Nantes in 1598 under the same Henry of Navarre who became King Henry IV.

The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre was the illustration of confusion during the 16th century. It displayed how a wicked tactic resulted to further violence that lasted for decades. The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre left a legacy of cold blood that humanity should always try to avoid. 

See also:
Rape of the Sabine Women
Stockholm Bloodbath

Bely, L. The History of France. Paris: Jean-Paul Gisserot, 2001.

Flinn, F. Encyclopedia of Catholicism. New York: Facts On File, Inc, 2007.

Melton, J. G. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Protestantism. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005.

Wagner, J. & S. Walters (ed.). Encyclopedia of Tudor England. California: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2012.

“This Day in History: Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.” History. Accessed January 12, 2015.

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