French Wars of Religion

Written by Henry Young. Posted in Religion

The French Wars of Religion (1562–1598) represents the period in the French history of military operations and civil conflicts, which were mainly held between French Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots). The wars engrossed the factional disputes between the French aristocratic houses, for instance, the House of Guise (Lorraine) and the House of Bourbon, with assistance coming from foreign sources for both sides.

Historians are not certain regarding the exact number of the Wars of Religion, and their specific dates are still a subject of debate. Some historians affirm that, in 1958, Edict of Nantes concluded the wars. Due to a rebirth of rebellious movement following this event, some historians believe that the actual conclusion came in 1629 with the Peace of Alais. However, there is one fact that all historians agree with, the beginning of the Wars of Religion is in 1562 with the Massacre of Vassy and they also agree that the Edict of Nantes ended at least this series of battles. Throughout this time, intricate diplomatic negotiations and agreements of peace were succeeded by recommenced conflicts and power struggles.

Due to the extension Calvinism in France, Catherine de Médicis, the French leader was persuaded to show more forbearance for the Huguenots, which infuriated the dominant Roman Catholic Guise family. The followers of this family massacred a Huguenot gathering at Vassy in 1562, known in history as the Massacre of Vassy, which occurred on March 1, 1562 and which provoked rebellion in the provinces. Many battles followed the massacre, but they did not provide anything. Compromises were later reached in 1563, 1568, and 1570. Subsequently to the killing of the Huguenot ruler Gaspard II de Coligny in the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Day in 1572, the civil war continued. As a result of the peace comprise reached in 1576, the Huguenots gained freedom of worship. A perturbed peace lasted until 1584, at which point the Huguenot ruler Henry of Navarre, who later became Henry IV, was proclaimed heir to the throne of France. As a consequence of his inheriting the throne, the War of the Three Henrys followed and later Spain was asked to help the Roman Catholics. The Wars of Religion concluded with Henry’s acceptance of Roman Catholicism and, in 1598, the Edict of Nantes guaranteed the religious tolerance of the Huguenots, granting them substantial rights and freedoms, even although it though it did not end aggression towards them.

The French Wars of Religion affected the authority of the monarchy, which was already fragile during the rule of Francis II and later Charles IX; however, the monarchy reaffirmed its role under Henry IV.

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