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Template:History of France The French Wars of Religion (1562–98) is the name given to a period of civil infighting and military operations, primarily fought between French Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots). The conflict involved the factional disputes between the aristocratic houses of France, such as the House of Bourbon and House of Guise (Lorraine), and both sides received assistance from foreign sources.

The exact number of wars and their respective dates are the subject of continued debate by historians; some assert that the Edict of Nantes in 1598 concludes the wars, while a resurgence of rebellious activity following this leads some to believe the Peace of Alais in 1629 is the actual conclusion. However, the Massacre of Vassy in 1562 is agreed to begin the Wars of Religion and the Edict of Nantes at least ended this series of conflicts. During this time, complex diplomatic negotiations and agreements of peace were followed by renewed conflict and power struggles.

At the conclusion of the conflict in 1598, Huguenots were granted substantial rights and freedoms by the Edict of Nantes, though it did not end hostility towards them. During the wars it is estimated that the population of France, at between 16 and 18 million people in 1600, fell by 2 to 4 million through a combination of famine, disease and combat. The wars weakened the authority of the monarchy, already fragile under the rule of Francis II and then Charles IX of France, though it later reaffirmed its role under Henry IV.


Growth of Calvinism

Francis I's deliberations over heresy allowed the teachings of Martin Luther to circulate for over a year

Protestant ideas were first introduced to France during the reign of Francis I (1515-47) in the form of Lutheranism, the teachings of Martin Luther. Although Francis firmly opposed heresy, the difficulty was initially in recognising what constituted it; Catholic doctrine and definition of orthodox belief was unclear.[1] Luther's writings circulated for more than a year around Paris. Despite this, French Protestants began to desire more radical reforms than those taught by Lutheranism; in January 1535 it was observed that all "Lutherans" in France were actually Zwinglians, followers of Huldrych Zwingli.[2]

The Affair of the Placards in 1534, in which anti-Catholic posters appeared in public places, turned Protestantism into "a religion of rebels". It helped to define heresy, and the attitude of the French monarchy hardened in the wake of the incident.[2][3] John Calvin, a Frenchman, escaped from the persecution to Basle, where he published the Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536.[4] In the same year, Calvin visited Geneva, but was forced out for trying to reform the church. When he returned on invitation in 1541, he wrote the Ecclesiastical ordinances, the constitution for a Genevan church, which was passed by the council of Geneva. This theological system, Calvinism, though not begun by Calvin, was influenced most by him.

In the 1550s, Geneva played an important role in influencing the disorganised French Calvinist (Huguenot) church; between 1555 and 1562 it sent eighty-eight missionaries into France.[5] The 1540s had seen an intensification in the fight against heresy, with an increase in heresy prosecutions and the compilation of an Index of forbidden books.[6] As a result of this persecution, Protestants gathered in secret to worship.[7] However, by the middle of the century, the Huguenot population expanded greatly, as the nobility in particular were converted to Calvinism; it is estimated that over half of the nobility were Calvinist in the 1560s, and that there were between 1,200 - 1,250 Calvinist churches and 2 million Calvinists at the outbreak of war in 1562. The inclusion of a substantial number of the nobility gave the church a "military element" in the words of historian Knecht.[8]

During the reign of Henry II (1547 - 1559), persecution continued intermittently as Calvinism grew, escalating towards the end of his reign with the formation of a new court to trial heresy, labelled la chambre ardente (the "burning chamber") by Protestants.[9] Calvinism had proved attractive to people from across the social hierarchy and occupational divides, and was highly regionalized with no coherent pattern of geographical spread. In 1559, delegates from 66 Calvinist congregations in France met secretly at Paris in a national synod, which drew up a confession of faith and a book of discipline.

Growth of faction

The accidental death of Henry II in 1559 created a political vacuum that the faction around the powerful, and ultra-Catholic, House of Guise was able to exploit as kinsmen of King Francis II’s wife, Mary, Queen of Scots.[10]

The "Amboise conspiracy", or "Tumult of Amboise"

In March 1560 a group of disaffected nobles (led by Jean du Barry, seigneur de la Renaudie) attempted to abduct the young Francis II and eliminate the Guise faction. Their plans became discovered before they could succeed and hundreds of plotters were executed.[11] The Guise brothers suspected Louis I de Bourbon, prince de Condé of leading the plot. He was arrested but eventually freed for lack of evidence, adding to the tensions of the period. (In the polemics that followed, the label "Huguenot" for France's Protestants came into widespread usage.[12])

Iconoclasm and civic disturbances

Looting of the Churches of Lyon by the Calvinists, in 1562. Antoine Carot.

Traces of iconoclasm at Eglise Saint Sauveur, in La Rochelle.

The first instances of Protestant destruction of images and statues in Catholic churches occurred in Rouen and La Rochelle in 1560. The following year, these disturbances extended to over twenty cities and towns, and would, in turn, incite Catholic urban groups to bloody reprisals in Sens, Cahors, Carcassonne, Tours and other cities.[13]

Death of Francis II

In December 1560 Francis II died, and his mother Catherine de' Medici became regent for her second son, Charles IX. Inexperienced and faced with the legacy of debt from the Habsburg-Valois conflict, Catherine felt that she had to steer the throne carefully between the powerful and conflicting interests that surrounded it, embodied by the powerful aristocrats who led essentially private armies. Although she was a sincere Roman Catholic, she was prepared to deal favourably with the Huguenot House of Bourbon in order to have a counterweight against the overmighty Guise. She nominated a moderate chancellor, Michel de l'Hôpital, who urged a number of measures providing for civic peace so that a religious resolution could be sought by a sacred council.[14]

The Colloquy of Poissy and the Edict of Saint-Germain

This council of clergy was formed in 1561, during the Estates-General of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, when the national council of prelates accepted the crown's request for Huguenots to be given a hearing. The Protestants were represented by 12 ministers and 20 laymen, led by Théodore de Bèze. Neither party aimed at toleration, but at reaching some form of concord on which a new unity could be based. A meeting between Bèze and the Cardinal of Lorraine, of the House of Guise, seemed promising, both appeared ready to compromise on form, however by the end of the Colloquy in October 1561 it was clear that the divides between Catholic and Protestant ideas were already too wide.[15]

In early 1562, the regency government attempted to quell escalating disorder in the provinces, only encouraged by factional feuds at court, by instituting the Edict of Saint-Germain, also known as the Edict of January. The legislation sought to give concessions to the Huguenots in order to avoid their rebellion, and allowed them to worship publicly outside of towns and privately inside of them. On March 1, however, a faction of the Guise family's retainers attacked a Calvinist service in Wassy-sur-Blaise in Champagne and massacred the worshippers. The Huguenot Jean de la Fontaine put it this way:

"The Protestants were engaged in prayer outside the walls, in conformity with the king's edict, when the Duke of Guise approached. Some of his suite insulted the worshippers, and from insults they proceeded to blows, and the Duke himself was accidentally wounded in the cheek. The sight of his blood enraged his followers, and a general massacre of the inhabitants of Vassy ensued."[16]


The "first" war (1562–63)

The Massacre of Vassy, as this became known, provoked open hostilities between the two religions. The Bourbons, led by the prince of Condé, and proclaiming that they were liberating the king and regent from ‘evil’ councillors, organised a kind of protectorate over the Protestant churches and began to seize and garrison strategic towns along the Loire. Although the Huguenots had begun to mobilise for war before Vassy,[17] Condé used the massacre as evidence that the Edict had been broken lending further weight to his campaign, and as hostilities broke out, the Edict was in fact revoked, under pressure from the Guise faction.

The major engagements of the war occurred at Rouen, Dreux and Orléans. At the Siege of Rouen (May–October 1562), the crown regained the city at the cost of Antoine de Navarre, who died of his wounds. The Battle of Dreux (December 1562), saw the capture of Condé by the Guises and Montmorency, the governor general, by the Bourbons. In February 1563, at the Siege of Orléans, Francis, Duke of Guise was shot and killed by the Huguenot Poltrot de Méré; the Guise considered this an assassination on the orders of the duke's enemy, Admiral Coligny, as it was outside of direct combat. The popular unrest caused by the 'assassination', coupled with the fact that Orléans was holding out in the siege, led Catherine to mediate a truce and the Edict of Amboise (1563).

The "Armed Peace" (1563–67) and the "second" war (1567–68)

The Edict of Amboise was generally regarded as unsatisfactory by all concerned, the Guise faction being particularly opposed to what they saw as dangerous concessions to heretics. Nonetheless the crown looked to re-unite the two factions in its efforts to re-capture Le Havre which had been occupied by the English as part of the Treaty of Hampton Court between the Huguenot leaders and Elizabeth I. The English were successfully expelled that July and the next month Charles IX declared his legal majority, ending Catherine de' Medici’s regency. His mother continued to play a principal role in politics, however, and she joined her son on a Grand Tour of the kingdom between 1564 and 1566, designed to reinstate crown authority.

Reports of iconoclasm in Flanders led Charles IX to lend support to the Catholics there, leading to fears among the French Huguenots of a Catholic re-mobilisation against them. Philip II of Spain’s reinforcement of the strategic corridor from Italy north along the Rhine added to these fears and political discontent grew. Protestant troops then made an unsuccessful attempt to capture and take control of King Charles IX in the Surprise of Meaux, a number of cities, such as La Rochelle, declared themselves for the Huguenot cause and Catholics, both laymen and clergy, were massacred the following day in Nîmes in what became known as the Michelade.

This provoked the Second War, the main military engagement of which was the Battle of Saint-Denis where the crown's commander-in-chief and lieutenant general, the seventy-four year old Anne de Montmorency died. The war was brief, ending in another truce, the Peace of Longjumeau (March 1568), which granted significant religious freedoms and privileges to Protestants.

The "third" war (1568–70)

In reaction to the Peace, Catholic confraternities and leagues sprang up across the country in defiance of the law throughout the summer of 1568. Huguenot leaders such as Condé and Coligny fled court in fear of their lives, many of their followers were murdered, and in September the Edict of Saint-Maur revoked the Huguenots' freedom to worship. In November William of Orange led an army into France in order to support his fellow Protestants, but the army being poorly paid, he accepted the crown's offer of money and free passage to leave the country.

Nevertheless, the Huguenots gathered together a formidable army under the command of Condé, aided by forces from south-east France, led by Paul de Mouvans, and a contingent of fellow Protestant militias from Germany — including 14,000 mercenary reiters led by the Calvinist Duke of Zweibrücken.[18] After the Duke was killed in action, his troops remained under the employ of the Huguenots who had raised a loan from England against the security of the queen of Navarre’s crown jewels.[19] Much of the Huguenots' financing came from Queen Elizabeth of England, who was likely influenced in the matter by Sir Francis Walsingham.[18] The Catholics were commanded by the Duke d'Anjou (later King Henry III) and assisted by troops from Spain, the Papal States and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.[20]

Battle of Moncontour, 1569.

The Protestant army laid siege to several cities in the Poitou and Saintonge regions (to protect La Rochelle), and then Angoulême and Cognac. At the Battle of Jarnac (16 March 1569), the prince of Condé was killed, forcing Admiral de Coligny to take command of the Protestant forces, nominally on behalf of Condé's 15-year-old son, Henry, and the sixteen-year old Henry of Navarre, who were presented by Jeanne d’Albret as the legitimate leaders of the Huguenot cause against royal authority. The Battle of La Roche-l'Abeille was a nominal victory for the Huguenots, but they were unable to seize control of Poitiers and were soundly defeated at the Battle of Moncontour (October 30, 1569). Coligny and his troops retreated to the south-west and regrouped with Gabriel, comte de Montgomery, and in spring of 1570 they pillaged Toulouse, cut a path through the south of France and went up the Rhone valley up to La Charité-sur-Loire.[21] The staggering royal debt and Charles IX's desire to seek a peaceful solution[22] led to the Peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (8 August 1570), which once more allowed some concessions to the Huguenots.

St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre and after (1572–73)

Painting of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre by François Dubois.

Despite this shaky truce, anti-Protestant massacres of Huguenots at the hands of Catholic mobs continued, in cities such as Rouen, Orange and Paris. Matters at Court were further complicated as King Charles IX openly allied himself with the Huguenot leaders — especially Admiral Gaspard de Coligny. Meanwhile, the Queen Mother became increasingly fearful of the unchecked power wielded by Coligny and his supporters, especially once it became clear that Coligny was pursuing an alliance with England and the Dutch rebels.

Coligny, along with many other Calvinist nobles, arrived in Paris for the wedding of the Catholic Princess Marguerite de Valois to the Protestant Henry of Navarre on August 18. On August 22, an assassin made a failed attempt on Coligny's life, shooting him in the street from a window. While historians have suggested a likely identity for the assassin (Charles de Louvier, sieur de Maurevert), the source of the order to assassinate Coligny has never been determined (it is improbable that the order came from Catherine).[23]

Amidst fears of a Huguenot coup, the Duke of Guise and his supporters acted and, in the early morning of August 24, killed Coligny in his lodgings with several of his men. Coligny's body was thrown from the window into the street, and was subsequently mutilated, castrated, dragged through the mud, thrown in the river, suspended on a gallows and burned by the Parisian crowd.[24] For the next five days the city erupted into a full-scale massacre of Calvinist men, women and children, and the looting of their houses, which was neither approved of nor predicted by the king.[25] Over the next few weeks the disorder spread to more than a dozen cities across France. Perhaps 2,000 Huguenots were slaughtered in Paris and, in the days that followed, thousands more in the provinces; in all, perhaps 10,000 people were killed.[26] Henry of Navarre and his cousin, the young prince of Condé, managed to avoid death by agreeing to convert to Catholicism; both would repudiate their conversions once they managed to escape Paris.

Both Philip II of Spain and Pope Gregory XIII, who had been informed that a Huguenot coup had been barely thwarted, celebrated the outcome, which[clarification needed] provoked horror and outrage by their religious opponents throughout Europe. In France, Huguenot opposition to the crown was left seriously weakened.

The 'fourth' war (1572–73)

The Siege of La Rochelle (1572-1573).

The massacres set off further military action, which included Catholic sieges of the cities of Sommières (by troops led by Henri I de Montmorency), Sancerre and La Rochelle (by troops led by the duke of Anjou). The end of hostilities was brought on by the election (11 - 15 May 1573) of the Duke of Anjou to the throne of Poland and by the Edict of Boulogne (signed in July 1573) which severely curtailed many of the rights previously granted to French Protestants. Based on the terms of the treaty, all Huguenots were granted amnesty for their past actions and the freedom of belief. However, they were permitted the freedom to worship only within the three towns of La Rochelle, Montauban, and Nîmes, and even then only within their own residences; Protestant aristocrats with the right of high-justice were permitted to celebrate marriages and baptisms, but only before an assembly limited to ten persons outside of their family.[27]


Death of Charles IX and the 'fifth' war (1574–76)

In the absence of the duke of Anjou disputes between Charles and his youngest brother, the duke of Alençon, led to many Huguenots congregating around Alençon for patronage and support. A failed coup at Saint-Germain (February 1574), allegedly aiming to release Condé and Navarre who had been held at court since St Bartholemew’s, coincided with rather successful Huguenot uprisings in other parts of France such as Lower Normandy, Poitou and the Rhône valley, which reinitiated hostilities.[28]

Three months after Henry of Anjou's coronation as King of Poland, his brother Charles IX died (May 1574) and his mother declared herself regent until his return. Henry secretly left Poland and returned via Venice to France, where he faced the defection of Montmorency-Damville, ex-commander in the Midi (November 1574). Despite having failed to have established his authority over the Midi, he was crowned King Henry III, at Rheims February 1575, marrying Louise Vaudémont, a kinswoman of the Guise, the following day. By April the crown was already seeking to negotiate,[29] and the escape of Alençon from court in September prompted the possibility of an overwhelming coalition of forces against the crown, as John Casimir of the Palatinate invaded Champagne. The crown hastily negotiated a truce of seven months with Alençon and promised Casimir's forces 500,000 livres to stay east of the Rhine [30] but neither action secured a peace. By May 1576 the crown was forced to accept the terms of Alençon, and the Huguenots who supported him, in the Edict of Beaulieu, known as the Peace of Monsieur.

The Catholic League and the 'sixth' war (1576–77)

Armed procession of the Catholic League in Paris in 1590, Musée Carnavalet.

The Edict of Beaulieu granted many concessions to the Calvinists, but they were short-lived in the face of the Catholic League which the ultra-Catholic, Henry I, Duke of Guise, had formed in opposition to it. The House of Guise had long been identified with the defense of the Roman Catholic Church and the Duke of Guise and his relations — the Duke of Mayenne, Duke of Aumale, Duke of Elboeuf, Duke of Mercoeur and the Duke of Lorraine — controlled extensive territories that were loyal to the League. The League also had a large following among the urban middle class. The Estates-General of Blois (1576) failed to resolve matters, and by December the Huguenots had already taken up arms in Poitou and Guyenne. While the Guise faction had the unwavering support of the Spanish Crown, the Huguenots had the advantage of a strong power base in the southwest; they were also discreetly supported by foreign Protestant governments, but in practice, England or the German states could provide few troops in the ensuing conflict. After much posturing and negotiations, Henry III rescinded most of the concessions that had been made to the Protestants in the Edict of Beaulieu with the Treaty of Bergerac (September 1577), confirmed in the Edict of Poitiers passed six days later.[31]

The 'seventh' war (1579–80) and the Death of Anjou (1584)

Despite according his brother the title of Duke of Anjou, the prince and his followers continued to create disorder at court through their involvement in the Dutch Revolt. Meanwhile, the regional situation disintegrated into disorder as both Catholics and Protestants armed themselves in 'self defence'. In November 1579 Condé seized the town of La Fère leading to another round of military action which was brought to an end by the Treaty of Fleix (November 1580), negotiated by Anjou.

The fragile compromise came to an end in 1584, when the Duke of Anjou, the King's youngest brother and heir presumptive, died. As Henry III had no son, under Salic Law, the next heir to the throne was the Calvinist Prince Henri of Navarre, a descendant of Louis IX whom Pope Sixtus V had excommunicated along with his cousin, Henri Prince de Condé. When it became clear that Henri of Navarre would not rennounce his Protestantism the Duke of Guise signed the Treaty of Joinville (December 1584), on behalf of the League, with Philip II of Spain, who supplied a considerable annual grant to the League over the following decade to maintain the civil war in France, with the hope of destroying the French Calvinists. Under pressure from the Guise, Henri III reluctantly issued the Treaty of Nemours (July) and an Edict, suppressing Protestantism and annulling Henri of Navarre's right to the throne.


The "War of the Three Henrys"

The King at first tried to co-opt the head of the Catholic League and steer it towards a negotiated settlement. This was anathema to the Guise leaders, who wanted to bankrupt the Huguenots and divide their considerable assets with the King. The situation degenerated into open warfare. Henry of Navarre again sought foreign aid from the German princes and Elizabeth I of England. Meanwhile, the solidly Catholic people of Paris, under the influence of the Committee of Sixteen were becoming dissatisfied with Henry III and his failure to defeat the Calvinists. On 12 May 1588, the Day of the Barricades, a popular uprising raised barricades on the streets of Paris to defend the Duke of Guise against the alleged hostility of the king, and Henry III fled the city. The Committee of Sixteen took complete control of the government, while the Guise protected the surrounding supply lines. The mediation of Catherine de'Medici led to the Edict of Union, in which the crown accepted almost all the League's demands; reaffirming the Treaty of Nemours, recognising Cardinal de Bourbon as heir, and making the duke of Guise Lieutenant-General.

The Estates-General of Blois and Assassination of the Guise (1588)

Refusing to return to Paris, Henry III called for an Estates-General at Blois in September of that year. During the Estates-General Henry suspected that the members of the third estate were being manipulated by the League and became convinced that Guise had encouraged the duke of Savoy's invasion of Saluzzo in October. Viewing the House of Guise as a dangerous threat to the power of the Crown, King Henri decided to strike first. On December 23, 1588, at the Château de Blois, Henry of Guise and his brother, the Cardinal de Guise, were lured into a trap by the King's guards. The Duke arrived in the council chamber where his brother the Cardinal waited. The Duke was told that the King wished to see him in the private room adjoining the royal chambers. There guardsmen seized the duke and stabbed him in the heart, while others arrested the Cardinal who later died on the pikes of his escort. To make sure that no contender for the French throne was free to act against him, the King had the Duke's son imprisoned. The Duke of Guise had been highly popular in France, and the Catholic League declared open war against King Henry. The Parlement of Paris instituted criminal charges against the King, who now joined forces with his cousin, the Huguenot, Henry of Navarre, to war against the League.

The assassination of Henry III (1589)

It thus fell upon the younger brother of the Guise, the Duke of Mayenne, to become the leader of the Catholic League. The League presses began printing anti-royalist tracts under a variety of pseudonyms, while the Sorbonne proclaimed that it was just and necessary to depose Henri III, and that any private citizen was morally free to commit regicide. In July 1589, in the royal camp at Saint-Cloud, a Dominican monk named Jacques Clément gained an audience with the King and drove a long knife into his spleen. Clément was killed on the spot, taking with him the information of who, if anyone, had hired him. On his deathbed, Henri III called for Henry of Navarre, and begged him, in the name of Statecraft, to become a Catholic, citing the brutal warfare that would ensue if he refused. In keeping with Salic Law, he named Henri as his heir.

Henry IV’s ‘Conquest of the Kingdom’ (1589-1593)

The situation on the ground in 1589 was that the new Henry IV of France, as Navarre had become, held the south and west, and the Catholic League the north and east. The leadership of the Catholic League had devolved to the Duke de Mayenne, who was appointed Lieutenant-General of the kingdom. He and his troops controlled most of rural Normandy. However, in September 1589, Henry inflicted a severe defeat on the Duke at the Battle of Arques. Henry's army swept through Normandy, taking town after town throughout the winter.

The King knew that he had to take Paris if he stood any chance of ruling all of France. This, however, was no easy task. The Catholic League's presses and supporters continued to spread stories about atrocities committed against Catholic priests and the laity in Protestant England (see Forty Martyrs of England and Wales). The city prepared to fight to the death rather than accept a Calvinist king.

The Battle of Ivry, fought on March 14, 1590, was another decisive victory for Henry against forces led by the Duke of Mayenne. Henry's forces then went on to lay siege to Paris, but the siege was broken by Spanish support (under the command of the Duke of Parma), by the end of August; a situation which was repeated at the Siege of Rouen (November 1591-March 1592).

War in Brittany

Meanwhile, Philippe Emmanuel, Duke of Mercoeur, whom Henry III had made governor of Brittany in 1582, was endeavouring to make himself independent in that province. A leader of the Catholic League, he invoked the hereditary rights of his wife, Marie de Luxembourg, who was a descendant of the dukes of Brittany and heiress of the Blois-Brosse claim to the duchy as well as Duchess of Penthievre in Brittany, and organized a government at Nantes. Proclaiming his son "prince and duke of Brittany", he allied with Philip II of Spain, who sought to place his own daughter, infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, on the throne of Brittany. With the aid of the Spanish, Mercoeur defeated Henry IV's forces under the Duke of Montpensier, at Craon in 1592, but the royal troops, reinforced by English contingents, soon recovered the advantage.

Towards peace (1593–98)


Henry IV, as Hercules vanquishing the Lernaean Hydra (i.e. the Catholic League), by Toussaint Dubreuil, circa 1600. Louvre Museum.

Despite the campaigns between 1590 and 1592, Henry IV was "no closer to capturing Paris".[32] Realising that Henry III had been right and that there was no prospect of a Protestant king succeeding in resolutely Catholic Paris, Henry agreed to convert, reputedly stating "Paris vaut bien une messe" ("Paris is well worth a Mass"). He was formally received into the Catholic Church in 1593, and was crowned at Chartres in 1594 as League members maintained control of the Cathedral of Rheims, and, sceptical of Henry's sincerity, continued to oppose him. He was finally received into Paris in March 1594, and 120 League members in the city who refused to submit were banished from the capital.[33] Paris' capitulation encouraged the same of many other towns, while others returned to support the crown after Pope Clement VIII absolved Henry, revoking his excommunication in return for the publishing of the Tridentine Decrees, the restoration of Catholicism in Béarn, and appointing only Catholics to high office.[33] Evidently Henry's conversion worried Protestant nobles, many of whom had, until then, hoped to win not just concessions but a complete reformation of the French Church, and their acceptance of Henry was by no means a foregone conclusion.

War with Spain (1595–98)

By the end of 1594 certain League members were still working against him across the country, but all relied on the support of Spain. In January 1595, therefore, Henry declared war on Spain, in order to show Catholics, that Spain was using religion as a cover for an attack on the French state, and Protestants, that he had not become a puppet of Spain through his conversion, while hoping to take the war to Spain and make territorial gain.[34] The conflict mostly consisted of military action aimed at League members, such as the Battle of Fontaine-Française, though the Spanish launched a concerted offensive in the spring of 1596 capturing Calais and Ardes by April. Following the capture of Amiens in March 1597 the crown laid siege until its surrender in September. After the Siege of Amiens Henry's concerns turned to the situation in Brittany, the king sent Bellièvre and Brulart de Sillery to negotiate a peace with Spain. The war was only drawn to an official close, however, after the Edict of Nantes, with the Peace of Vervins in May 1598.

Resolution of the War in Brittany (1598–99)

In early 1598 the king marched against Mercoeur in person, and received his submission at Angers on March 20, 1598. Mercoeur subsequently went to exile in Hungary. Mercoeur's daughter and heiress was married to the Duke of Vendôme, an illegitimate son of Henry IV.

The Edict of Nantes (1598)

Henry IV was faced with the task of rebuilding a shattered and impoverished Kingdom and uniting it under a single authority. Henry and his advisor, the Duke of Sully saw the essential first step in this to be the negotiation of the Edict of Nantes, which, rather than being a sign of genuine toleration, was in fact a kind of grudging truce between the religions, with guarantees for both sides.[35] The Edict can be said to mark the end of the Wars of Religion, though its apparent success was not assured at the time of its publication. Indeed, in January 1599, Henry had to visit the Parlement in person to have the Edict passed. Religious tensions continued to affect politics for many years to come, though never to the same degree, and Henry IV faced many attempts on his life; the last — a Catholic who believed the king had failed in his Christian duty — succeeding in May 1610.

17th and 18th centuries

The French fleet captured the Huguenot Île de Ré in the Capture of Ré island.

Although the Edict of Nantes brought the conflicts to a close, the political freedoms it granted to the Huguenots (seen by detractors as "a state within the state") became an increasing source of trouble during the 17th century. The decision of King Louis XIII to reintroduce Catholicism in a portion of southwestern France prompted a Huguenot revolt. By the Peace of Montpellier in 1622, the fortified Protestant towns were reduced to two: La Rochelle and Montauban. Another war followed, which concluded with the Siege of La Rochelle, in which royal forces led by Cardinal Richelieu blockaded the city for fourteen months. Under the 1629 Peace of La Rochelle, the brevets of the Edict (sections of the treaty which dealt with the military and pastoral clauses and which were renewable by letters patent) were entirely withdrawn, though Protestants retained their prewar religious freedoms.

The 1627–28 Siege of La Rochelle was a catastrophe for the Huguenots.

Over the remainder of Louis XIII's reign, and especially during the minority of Louis XIV, the implementation of the Edict varied year by year. In 1661 Louis XIV, who was particularly hostile to the Huguenots, assumed control of the French government and began to disregard some of the provisions of the Edict. In 1681 he instituted the policy of dragonnades, to intimidate Huguenot families to reconvert to Roman Catholicism or emigrate. Finally, in October 1685, Louis issued the Edict of Fontainebleau, which formally revoked the Edict and made the practice of Protestantism illegal in France. The revocation of the Edict had very damaging results for France. While it did not prompt renewed religious warfare, many Protestants chose to leave France rather than convert, with most moving to Great Britain, Prussia, the Dutch Republic and Switzerland.

Protestant engraving representing 'les dragonnades' in France under Louis XIV.

At the dawn of the 18th century, Protestants remained in significant numbers in the remote Cévennes region of the Massif Central. This population, known as the Camisards, revolted against the government in 1702, leading to fighting that continued intermittently until 1715, after which time the Camisards were largely left in peace.


  • January 17, 1562 - Edict of Saint-Germain, often called the "Edict of January"
  • March 1, 1562 - Massacre at Wassy-sur-Blaise
  • March 1562 - March 1563 First War, ended by the Edict of Amboise
    • December 19, 1562 - Battle of Dreux
  • September 1567 - March 1568 Second War, ended by the Peace of Longjumeau
    • November 10, 1567 - Battle of Saint Denis
  • 1568–70 Third War, ended by the Peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye
    • March 1569 - Battle of Jarnac
    • June 1569 - Battle of La Roche-l'Abeille
    • October 1569 - Battle of Moncontour
  • 1572 - St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre
  • 1572–73 Fourth War, ended by the Edict of Boulogne
    • November 1572 - July 1573 - Siege of La Rochelle
    • May 1573 - Henry d'Anjou elected King of Poland
  • 1574 - Death of Charles IX
  • 1574–76 Fifth War, ended by the Edict of Beaulieu
  • 1576 - Formation of the first Catholic League in France
  • 1576–77 Sixth War, ended by the Treaty of Bergerac (also known as the "Edict of Poitiers")
  • 1579–80 Seventh War, ended by the Treaty of Fleix
  • June 1584 - death of François, Duke of Anjou, heir presumptive
  • December 1584 - Treaty of Joinville
  • 1585–98 Eighth War, ended by the Peace of Vervins and the Edict of Nantes
    • October 1587 - Battle of Coutras, Battle of Vimory
    • December 1588 - Assassination of the Duke of Guise and his brother
    • August 1589 - Assassination of Henry III
    • September 1589 - Battle of Arques
    • March 1590 - Battle of Ivry, Siege of Paris
    • 1593 - Henry IV abjures Protestantism
    • 1594 - Henry IV crowned in Chartres.
    • June 1595 - Battle of Fontaine-Française
    • April – September 1597 - Siege of Amiens
    • April 1598 - Edict of Nantes issued by Henry IV

See also


  1. Knecht 1996, p. 2
  2. 2.0 2.1 Knecht 1996, p. 3
  3. Holt, p. 20
  4. Knecht 1996, p. 4
  5. Knecht 1996, p. 6
  6. Knecht 2001, pp. 86-7
  7. Knecht 1996, pp. 6-7
  8. Knecht, p. 10
  9. CarterLindberg, 'The European Reformations' (1996) p282
  10. Salmon, p.118.
  11. Salmon, pp.124–5; the cultural context is explored by N.M. Sutherland, "Calvinism and the conspiracy of Amboise", History 47 (1962:111–38).
  12. Salmon, p.125.
  13. Salmon, pp.136-7.
  14. see his speech to the Estates General at Orleans of 1560
  15. Knecht, French Civil Wars, p78-9
  16. Rev. James Fontaine and Ann Maury, Memoirs of a Huguenot family (New York) 1853.
  17. Knecht, The French Civil Wars, p86
  18. 18.0 18.1 Jouanna, p.181.
  19. Knecht, French Civil Wars, p151
  20. Jouanna, p.182.
  21. Jouanna, p.184.
  22. Jouanna, pp.184–5.
  23. Jouanna, 196.
  24. Jouanna, 199.
  25. Jouanna, 201.
  26. Jouanna, 204.
  27. Jouanna, p.213.
  28. Knecht, p. 181.
  29. Knecht, French Civil Wars, p. 190.
  30. Knecht, French Civil Wars, p191
  31. Knecht, French Civil Wars, p208
  32. Knecht French Civil Wars p264
  33. 33.0 33.1 Knecht, French Civil Wars, p270
  34. Knecht French Civil Wars p272
  35. Philip Benedict, ‘Un roi, une loi, deux fois: Parameters for the History of Catholic-Protestant Co-existence in France, 1555-1685’, in O. Grell & B. Scribner (eds), Tolerance and Intolerance in the European Reformation (1996), pp. 65-93


External links

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