St. Bartholomew's Day, Massacre of
ST. BARTHOLOMEW'S DAY, MASSACRE OF
The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day was a slaughter of Huguenots begun in Paris on Aug. 24, 1572.
Although there had been others in 1562—at Vassy (March 1), at Sens (April 12), and at Orléans (April 21)— this is the most widely known massacre of the Huguenots in France. It was not a premeditated measure, but was prompted by the "logic of events," which had both political and religious causes and was largely shaped by the policy of expediency pursued by catherine de mÉdicis. It was not the result of a deep-laid plan inspired by religious hatred, even though many individual killings were caused by the spirit of intolerance and a desire for revenge. Despite rumors that the plan was hatched by Catherine and the Spanish Duke of Alva already at Bayonne in 1565, the decision seems to have been the result of circumstances. Catherine's tactical moves immediately before the massacre reflect the degree to which her internal and foreign policies were interlinked with the whole Huguenot question.
Huguenot Power and the French Crown. At first little seemed to augur the events of August 1572. The third war of religion had ended with the Peace of Saint–Germain (Aug. 8, 1570)—on terms very favorable to the Huguenots. Catherine reversed her policy toward the latter. Seeing a positive role for them in keeping the other parties in check, she worked on a rapprochement between the Huguenot and the Catholic camps. Gaspard de Coligny, the Huguenot leader, received an influential position as member of the Council, came to the court, and soon joined with King Charles IX in planning a campaign against Spain in the Low Countries to support the rising of William of Orange. But the preparations for war ended in a rift between the Queen Mother and the Huguenot leader; whereas Catherine was apprehensive of Spanish military power and was reluctant to engage in open conflict with Philip II of Spain (her son-in-law), Coligny pressed strongly for an all-out war. He also gained the support of Charles IX, who, without Catherine's knowledge, allowed a Huguenot army to march to the relief of Mons, besieged by Alva. The army was easily defeated by the Spaniards. Catherine stopped further preparations for the campaign from an uneasiness that France might have to wage war singlehandedly—neutrality at best was expected from England—and from her jealousy of Coligny's gaining power through his influence over the young king. She then thought of destroying Coligny—an idea that had occurred to her during the previous war. Although she was aware that his murder would reverse her policy of conciliation, she accepted the fact but did not yet conceive the plan of sweeping off the Huguenots by a single blow.
The Massacre and Its Sequel. On August 22, three days after the marriage of Catherine's daughter Marguerite to Henry of Navarre (the nominal Huguenot leader), Coligny was wounded by two shots fired from an arquebus. The inquiry ordered by the king revealed that the house from which shots were fired belonged to the former preceptor of Henry, Duke of Guise; Henry's uncle the Duke of Aumale had introduced the assassin Maurevel (Maurevert) to the household. Fearful that her role in the plot would soon be discovered and that as a result the wars of religion would start anew, Catherine impressed on Charles IX the idea that a major Huguenot conspiracy was being aimed at the arrest of the royal family and the establishment of a republican government. She overcame his objections by referring to recent threats by the Huguenot nobles, who were demanding justice after the wounding of Coligny. The king in terror acquiesced to a mass slaughter, exclaiming that they should all be slain ("Qu’on les rue tous"). The order was given on August 23 for the following midnight. The Huguenots, assembled in Paris for the festivities connected with the recent wedding of Henry de Navarre, were an easy target. Henry de Guise supervised the murder of Coligny and of a number of other Huguenot leaders. Charles IX watched the killing from the royal palace. The citizens of Paris hunted the Huguenots for several days; many provincial towns followed their example. Thousands were killed. Estimates of the number of victims in Paris vary; the available figures are not reliable. The highest figure (10,468) is quoted in the Martyrologie of Jean Crespin. The most frequently quoted estimate is 3,000 to 4,000. Among the more illustrious victims were the Count de la Rochefoucauld, the Marquis de Reynel, M. de Guerchy, J. Groslot, the philosopher P. ramus, and the historian P. de la Place. The only Huguenot nobles to escape the slaughter were the young princes of the blood, Henry de Navarre and the Prince of Condé (who renounced their faith), Caumont-la-Force, Count de Montmorency, and Vidame de Chartres.
Internally, the immediate sequel to the massacre was the fifth war of religion; the long range result was an even deeper cleavage between the Huguenot minority and the Catholic majority. Externally, France clearly dissociated herself from the rebellion led by William of Orange, whom she had planned to support against Spain; but she managed to maintain good relations with the Protestant countries despite their indignation over the massacre.
Bibliography: p. erlanger, St. Bartholomew's Night …, tr. p. o'brian (New York 1962). h. noguÈres, La Saint– Barthélemy (Paris 1959). l. romier, "La Saint–Barthélemy, les événements de Rome et la préméditation du massacre," Revue du XVI e siècle (1913) 529–560. h. bordier, La Saint–Barthélemy et la critique moderne (Geneva 1879). c. c. m. h. artaud de la ferriÈre, La Saint–Barthélemy: La veille, le jour, le lendemain (Paris 1892). h. hello, Catholiques et protestants au XVI e siècle: La Saint–Barthélemy (Paris 1899).
[w. j. stankiewicz]
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