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Who Ordered the St. Bartholomew's Day Huguenots Massacre ?

Huguenots massacre

Is the murderous madness which seizes Paris and then several cities of the kingdom a new and terrible episode in the wars of religion, or the result of a plot hatched abroad?

Celebrated on August 18, 1572 at Notre-Dame, the marriage of Margaret of Valois, daughter of Catherine de' Medici, with the young Protestant prince Henri of Navarre, future Henry IV the Great, is supposed to symbolize the final reconciliation of the Protestant and Catholic nobles under the authority of Charles IX, guarantor of civil peace. The bet of the king and his mother seems sincere since they have shown great indulgence towards the Protestant camp.

Thus the peace of Saint-Germain, in 1570, granted unexpected advantages to the vanquished: guarantee of freedom of conscience and worship, granting of four cities of safety and strong influence of Coligny, main Huguenot military leader, within the Privy Council of Charles IX.

A high risk marriage

But peace is precarious, the monarchy wandering between two clans opposed by a deep climate of hatred since the massacre of Protestants in Vassy, ​​perpetrated in 1562 by the Duke of Guise ..., who was assassinated in 1563 at the probable instigation of Coligny ! The same Coligny who, in the name of the Protestants, seeks to convince Charles IX that a war against the very Catholic Spain to defend the interests of the Reformed in the Netherlands would re-weld national unity ... but for the benefit of his camp, which Catherine de' Medici and the majority of the Council especially do not want. The wedding basket is therefore far from being loaded with good feelings and the festivities are shunned by Parliament and the Parisian population who take badly this alliance too favorable to the Huguenots.

A night of massacres

An assassination attempt on Coligny on August 22 heightens tensions. Convinced of the Guise's guilt, the Huguenots demanded justice from Charles IX, who came to testify to his friendship at Coligny's bedside. But a secret council meets around the king and Catherine de' Medici. Was Charles IX persuaded to take advantage of the confusion to eliminate the Protestant leaders? Did the "Italian Machiavellian" Catherine de' Medici convince her son, who is said to be weak and easily influenced, that a plot was brewing against the kingdom and that it was necessary to act fast and strong? Charles IX would then have exclaimed: “Well! By death God be! But let's kill them all, let’s not have one left to blame me for it afterwards! He didn't think he was saying so well.

On the night of August 24, the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre can begin. Coligny is the first victim, his body pierced with rapiers, defenestrated, his corpse terribly mutilated; it is then the general quarry, which will kill 3,000 huguenots.

The "Italian" or the Spaniards?

Historiography has made its bed of the obvious guilt of Catherine de' Medici, whom a black legend presents as usurper and criminal. The marriage of her daughter to Henry of Navarre would have been only the trap into which the Protestant leaders would have thrown themselves. Now the motives of crime are lacking in this too prompt condemnation. Mother of three kings of France, what interest did she have in ordering a massacre that risked plunging the kingdom into terrible chaos? Besides, had she not given numerous pledges of her concern for reconciliation and sincerely worked for concord?

Perhaps Spain is the place to turn then. The very Catholic Philip II loathes Protestants, and in the spring of this year 1572, the Huguenots of the Netherlands, then under Spanish rule, revolted against their governor, the Duke of Alba. They await reinforcements sent by Coligny, and Charles IX himself is secretly maneuvering in this direction, in the hope of loosening the Spanish grip. In Paris, Philip II can count on the support of the Guise and ultras Catholics. The arquebus shot that missed Coligny on August 22, would it not have been fired by a man in the pay of the Guise and Spain? Only a few hours after this attempt, and on the eve of the huguenots massacre, the Spanish ambassador officially cut off all diplomatic relations with France ...

Diatribes and divine signs

So that popular fury could give rise to such massacres, the spirits had to be heated beforehand by virulent preachers, like Simon Vigor, parish priest of Saint-Paul, who preached from the peace of 1570 on the extermination of "spiritual lepers” to avenge God urgently for a work of the devil before the Last Judgment. A few days before the wedding, others castigated the "execrable childbirth" which would inevitably lose France. The excitement is at its height when the bells of Paris ring full blast and the out-of-season flowering of a hawthorn is announced in the Saints-Innocents cemetery, which the good people take for a miracle and a sign of divine approval… all the more so since Charles IX contemplates her in ecstasy, publicly exclaiming “Ah! If it was the last Huguenot! " The Seine soon red with blood carries thousands of excruciatingly mutilated corpses that the slaughterers push away from the banks since "these fish had to be sent to Rouen and other places inhabited by heretics".