“’Patient as a Huguenot’ is a proverb, and all is fair to those who have the eyes to see it. As to the singing, I learned earlier than any of you to sing in a cage, and to what music!” It was to the sound of threats and curses, and the volleys of the dragonnades.”
“You were one of the children imprisoned and tormented in order to turn you from the faith, which you kept, because ‘out of the mouths of babes and sucklings God has perfected praise.’ They do not all hate us, little one, though their Defoe has written,
‘Two hundred thousand pairs of wooden shoes,
Who, God be thank’d, had nothing left to lose;’”
[The other day I was reminded by a dear friend that we were at the 449th anniversary of a famous battle and massacre of French Huguenots at Fort Caroline in 1565. It started me to thinking, about the faith and courage that this group of Christians enjoyed during a very horrible period of history. –Enjoyed indeed! It is hard to imagine another group of Christians who were ever as terribly persecuted, and so intensely persecuted for so long as were the Huguenots.
During the first year of this blog I have published and written on a number of occasions about the Covenanters, and for very good reason. They were our English Christian roots and Christian forefathers who were, and are, altogether worthy of our consideration and remembering. I am proud that they are part of my Christian roots, and that they have contributed so much to the Christian faith. But as we now turn our attention to the French Huguenots, I think that we will find that their sternness and firmness of faith will at times make us feel rightfully overwhelmed and in awe.
For this next year we will occasionally turn our attention to this courageous group of Christians whose memory may well be forgotten by most today, but whose sacrifices and actions are well recorded in the books of heaven. I firmly believe that their courageous names and faces even now encircle the Great throne of God, just as I also believe that their voices have now joined the angels, both cherubim and seraphim, as well as others who have gone on before, who are part of the bride of Christ, the bride in which Jesus is not ashamed, the bride which is also called, the Church triumphant. –MWP]
The day of darkness and of woe,
Dawneth upon the world, –and lo!
The church, toward the mount of sighs,
Turneth her dim and streaming eyes;
And in her garb of grief and loss,
Kneeleth beside the Saviour’s cross.
The concessions made at the Conference of Poissy had infuriated the Catholics, and the war was brought on by the Duke of Guise, who, passing with a large band of retainers through the town of Vassy in Champagne, found the Huguenots there worshipping in a barn. His retainers attacked them, slaying men, women, and children. Some sixty being killed, and a hundred or more left terribly wounded.
The Protestant nobles demanded that Francis of Guise should be punished for this atrocious massacre, but in vain, and Guise, on entering Paris in defiance of Catherine’s prohibition, was received with royal honors by the populace. The Cardinal of Lorraine, the duke’s brother, the duke himself, and their allies, the Constable Montmorency and Marshal Saint Andre”, assumed so threatening an attitude that Catherine left Paris and went to Melun, her sympathies at this period being with the reformers, by whose aid alone she thought that she could maintain her influence in the state against that of the Guises.
Conde was forced to leave Paris with the Protestant nobles, and from all parts of France the Huguenots marched to assist him. But Admiral Coligny, the greatest of the Huguenot leaders, hesitated…
On the 22d of August, 1572, commenced this diabolical act of sanguinary brutality. It was intended to destroy at one stroke the root of the protestant tree, which had only before partially suffered in its branches. The king of France had artfully proposed a marriage between his sister and the prince of Navarre, the captain and prince of the protestants. This imprudent marriage was publicly celebrated at Paris, August 18, by the cardinal of Bourbon, upon a high stage erected for the purpose. They dined in great pomp with the bishop, and supped with the king at Paris. Four days after this, the prince, as he was coming from the council, was shot in both arms; he then said to Maure, his deceased mother’s minister, “O my brother, I do now perceive that I am indeed beloved of my God, since for his most holy sake I am wounded.” Although the Vidam advised him to fly, yet he abode in Paris, and was soon after slain by Bemjus; who afterward declared he never saw a man meet death more valiantly than the admiral. The soldiers were appointed at a certain signal to burst out instantly to the slaughter in all parts of the city. When they had killed the admiral, they threw him out at a window into the street, where his head was cut off, and sent to the pope. … and falling upon the common people, they continued the slaughter for many days; in the three first, they slew of all ranks and conditions to the number of 10,000. The bodies were thrown into the rivers, and blood ran through the streets with a strong current, and the river appeared presently like a stream of blood.
At Meldith, two hundred were put into prison, and brought out by units, and cruelly murdered.
At Lyons, eight hundred were massacred. Here children hanging about their parents, and parents affectionately embracing their children, were pleasant food for the swords and blood-thirsty minds of those who call themselves the catholic church. Here 300 were slain only in the bishop’s house; and the impious monks would suffer none to be buried.
At Augustobona, on the people hearing of the massacre at Paris, they shut their gates that no protestants might escape, and searching diligently for every individual of the reformed church, imprisoned and then barbarously murdered them. The same cruelty they practised at Avaricum, at Troys, at Thoulouse, Rouen and many other places, running from city to city, towns, and villages, through the kingdom.
As a corroboration of this horrid carnage, the following interesting narrative, written by a sensible and learned Roman catholic, appears in this place, with peculiar propriety.
“The nuptials (says he) of the young king of Navarre with the French king’s sister, was solemnized with pomp; and all the endearments, all the assurances of friendship, all the oaths sacred among men, were profusely lavished by Catharine, the queen-mother, and by the king; during which, the rest of the court thought of nothing but festivities, plays, and masquerades. At last, at twelve o’clock at night, on the eve of St. Bartholomew, the signal was given. Immediately all the houses of the protestants were forced open at once. Admiral Coligni, alarmed by the uproar jumped out of bed; when a company of assassins rushed in his chamber. They were headed by one Besme, who had been bred up as a domestic in the family of the Guises. This wretch thrust his sword into the admiral’s breast, and also cut him in the face. Besme was a German, and being afterwards taken by the protestants, the Rochellers would have bought him, in order to hang and quarter him; but he was killed by one Bretanville. Henry, the young duke of Guise, who afterwards framed the catholic league, and was murdered at Blois, standing at the door till the horrid butchery should be completed, called aloud, ‘Besme! is it done?’ Immediately after which, the ruffians threw the body out of the window, and Coligni expired at Guise’s feet.
“Count de Teligny also fell a sacrifice. He had married, about ten months before, Coligni’s daughter. His countenance was so engaging, that the ruffians, when they advanced in order to kill him, were struck with compassion; but others, more barbarous, rushing forward, murdered him.
“In the meantime, all the friends of Coligni were assassinated throughout Paris; men, women, and children, were promiscuously slaughtered; every street was strewed with expiring bodies. Some priests, holding up a crucifix in one hand, and a dagger in the other, ran to the chiefs of the murderers, and strongly exhorted them to spare neither relations nor friends.
“Tavannes, marshal of France, an ignorant, superstitious soldier, who joined the fury of religion to the rage of party, rode on horseback through the streets of Paris, crying to his men, ‘Let blood! let blood! bleeding is as wholesome in August as in May.’ In the memoirs of the life of this enthusiastic, written by his son, we are told, that the father, being on his death-bed, and making a general confession of his actions, the priest said to him, with surprise, ‘What! no mention of St. Bartholomew’s massacre?’ to which Tavannes replied, ‘I consider it as a meritorious action, that will wash away all my sins.’ Such horrid sentiments can a false spirit of religion inspire!
“The king’s palace was one of the chief scenes of the butchery: the king of Navarre had his lodgings in the Louvre, and all his domestics were protestants. Many of these were killed in bed with their wives; others, running away naked, were pursued by the soldiers through the several rooms of the palace, even to the king’s antichamber. The young wife of Henry of Navarre, awaked by the dreadful uproar, being afraid for her consort, and for her own life, seized with horror, and half dead, flew from her bed, in order to throw herself at the feet of the king her brother. But scarce had she opened her chamber-door, when some of her protestant domestics rushed in for refuge. The soldiers immediately followed, pursued them in sight of the princess, and killed one who had crept under her bed. Two others, being wounded with halberds, fell at the queen’s feet, so that she was covered with blood.
“Count de la Rochefoucault, a young nobleman, greatly in the king’s favour for his comely air, his politeness, and a certain peculiar happiness in the turn of his conversation, had spent the evening till eleven o’clock with the monarch, in pleasant familiarity; and had given loose, with the utmost mirth, to the sallies of his imagination. The monarch felt some remorse, and being touched with a kind of compassion, bid him, two or three times, not to go home, but lie in the Louvre. The count said, he must go to his wife; upon which the king pressed him no farther, but said, ‘Let him go! I see God has decreed his death.’ And in two hours after he was murdered.
“Very few of the protestants escaped the fury of their enthusiastic persecutors. Among these was young La Force (afterwards the famous Marshal de la Force) a child about ten years of age, whose deliverance was exceedingly remarkable. His father, his elder brother, and himself were seized together by the Duke of Anjou’s soldiers. These murderers flew at all three, and struck them at random, when they all fell, and lay one upon another. The youngest did not receive a single blow, but appearing as if he was dead, escaped the next day; and his life, thus wonderfully preserved, lasted four score and five years.
“Many of the wretched victims fled to the water-side, and some swam over the Seine to the suburbs of St. Germaine. The king saw them from his window, which looked upon the river, and fired upon them with a carbine that had been loaded for that purpose by one of his pages; while the queen-mother, undisturbed and serene in the midst of slaughter, looking down from a balcony, encouraged the murderers and laughed at the dying groans of the slaughtered. This barbarous queen was fired with a restless ambition, and she perpetually shifted her party in order to satiate it.
“Some days after this horrid transaction, the French court endeavoured to palliate it by forms of law. They pretended to justify the massacre by a calumny, and accused the admiral of a conspiracy, which no one believed. The parliament was commanded to proceed against the memory of Coligni; and his dead body was hung in chains on Montfaucon gallows. The king himself went to view this shocking spectacle; when one of his courtiers advising him to retire, and complaining of the stench of the corpse, he replied, ‘A dead enemy smells well.’—The massacres on St. Bartholomew’s day are painted in the royal saloon of the Vatican at Rome, with the following inscription: Pontifex Coligni necem probat, i. e. ‘The pope approves of Coligni’s death.’
“The young king of Navarre was spared through policy, rather than from the pity of the queen-mother, she keeping him prisoner till the king’s death, in order that he might be as a security and pledge for the submission of such protestants as might effect their escape.
“This horrid butchery was not confined merely to the city of Paris. The like orders were issued from court to the governors of all the provinces in France; so that, in a week’s time, about one hundred thousand protestants were cut to pieces in different parts of the kingdom! Two or three governors only refused to obey the king’s orders. One of these, named Montmorrin, governor of Auvergne, wrote the king the following letter, which deserves to be transmitted to the latest posterity.
“Sire—I have received an order, under your majesty’s seal, to put to death all the protestants in my province. I have too much respect for your majesty, not to believe the letter a forgery; but if (which God forbid) the order should be genuine, I have too much respect for your majesty to obey it.”
At Rome the horrid joy was so great, that they appointed a day of high festival, and a jubilee, with great indulgence to all who kept it and showed every expression of gladness they could devise! and the man who first carried the news received 1000 crowns of the cardinal of Lorrain for his ungodly message. The king also commanded the day to be kept with every demonstration of joy, concluding now that the whole race of Huguenots was extinct.
Many who gave great sums of money for their ransom were immediately after slain; and several towns, which were under the king’s promise of protection and safety, were cut off as soon as they delivered themselves up, on those promises, to his generals or captains.
At Bordeaux, at the instigation of a villainous monk, who used to urge the papists to slaughter in his sermons, 264 were cruelly murdered; some of them senators. Another of the same pious fraternity produced a similar slaughter at Agendicum, in Maine, where the populace at the holy inquisitors’ satanical suggestion, ran upon the protestants, slew them, plundered their houses, and pulled down their church.
The duke of Guise, entering into Bloise, suffered his soldiers to fly upon the spoil, and slay or drown all the protestants they could find. In this they spared neither age nor sex; defiling the women, and then murdering them; from whence he went to Mere, and committed the same outrages for many days together. Here they found a minister named Cassebonius, and threw him into the river.
At Anjou, they slew Albiacus, a minister; and many women were defiled and murdered there; among whom were two sisters, abused before their father, whom the assassins bound to a wall to see them, and then slew them and him.
The president of Turin, after giving a large sum for his life, was cruelly beaten with clubs, stripped of his clothes, and hung feet upwards, with his head and breast in the river: before he was dead, they opened his belly, plucked out his entrails, and threw them into the river; and then carried his heart about the city upon a spear.
At Barre great cruelty was used, even to young children, whom they cut open, pulled out their entrails, which through very rage they knawed with their teeth. Those who had fled to the castle, when they yielded, were almost all hanged. Thus they did at the city of Matiscon; counting it sport to cut off their arms and legs and afterward kill them; and for the entertainment of their visiters, they often threw the protestants from a high bridge into the river, saying, “Did you ever see men leap so well?”
At Penna, after promising them safety, 300 were inhumanly butchered; and five and forty at Albin, on the Lord’s Day. At Nonne, though it yielded on conditions of safeguard, the most horrid spectacles were exhibited. Persons of both sexes and conditions were indiscriminately murdered; the streets ringing with doleful cries, and flowing with blood; and the houses flaming with fire, which the abandoned soldiers had thrown in. One woman, being dragged from her hiding place with her husband, was first abused by the brutal soldiers, and then with a sword which they commanded her to draw, they forced it while in her hands into the bowels of her husband.
At Samarobridge, they murdered above 100 Protestants, after promising them peace; and at Antisidor, 100 were killed, and cast part into a jakes, and part into a river. One hundred put into prison at Orleans, were destroyed by the furious multitude.
The protestants at Rochelle, who were such as had miraculously escaped the rage of hell, and fled there, seeing how ill they fared who submitted to those holy devils, stood for their lives; and some other cities, encouraged thereby, did the like. Against Rochelle, the king sent almost the whole power of France, which besieged it seven months, though, by their assaults, they did very little execution on the inhabitants, yet, by famine, they destroyed eighteen thousand out of two and twenty. The dead being too numerous for the living to bury, became food for vermin and carnivorous birds. Many taking their coffins into the church yard, laid down in them, and breathed their last. Their diet had long been what the minds of those in plenty shudder at; even human flesh entrails, dung, and the most loathsome things, became at last the only food of those champions for that truth and liberty, of which the world was not worthy. At every attack, the besiegers met with such an intrepid reception, that they left 132 captains, with a proportionate number of men, dead in the field. The siege at last was broken up at the request of the duke of Anjou, the king’s brother, who was proclaimed king of Poland, and the king, being wearied out, easily complied, whereupon honourable conditions were granted them.
It is a remarkable interference of Providence, that, in all this dreadful massacre, not more than two ministers of the gospel were involved in it.
The tragical sufferings of the protestants are too numerous to detail; but the treatment of Philip de Deux will give an idea of the rest. After the miscreants had slain this martyr in his bed, they went to his wife, who was then attended by the midwife, expecting every moment to be delivered. The midwife entreated them to stay the murder, at least till the child, which was the twentieth, should be born. Notwithstanding this, they thrust a dagger up to the hilt into the poor woman. Anxious to be delivered, she ran into a corn loft; but hither they pursued her, stabbed her in the belly, and then threw her into the street. By the fall, the child came from the dying mother, and being caught up by one of the catholic ruffians, he stabbed the infant, and then threw it into the river.
“I’ve told you these things to prepare you for rough times ahead. They are going to throw you out of the meeting places. There will even come a time when anyone who kills you will think he’s doing God a favor. They will do these things because they never really understood the Father. I’ve told you these things so that when the time comes and they start in on you, you’ll be well-warned and ready for them.”
–John 16:1-4 MSG
The St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre (Massacre de la Saint-Barthélemy in French) in 1572 was a targeted group of assassinations, followed by a wave of Catholic mob violence, both directed against the Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants), during the French Wars of Religion. Traditionally believed to have been instigated by Catherine de’ Medici, the mother of King Charles IX, the massacre took place five days after the wedding of the king’s sister Margaret to the Protestant Henry III of Navarre (the future Henry IV of France). This marriage was an occasion for which many of the most wealthy and prominent Huguenots had gathered in largely Catholic Paris.
The massacre began in the night of 23-24 August 1572 (the eve of the feast of Bartholomew the Apostle), two days after the attempted assassination of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, the military and political leader of the Huguenots. The king ordered the killing of a group of Huguenot leaders, including Coligny, and the slaughter spread throughout Paris. Lasting several weeks, the massacre expanded outward to other urban centers and the countryside.
The massacre also marked a turning point in the French Wars of Religion. The Huguenot political movement was crippled by the loss of many of its prominent aristocratic leaders, as well as many re-conversions by the rank and file, and those who remained were increasingly radicalized. Though by no means unique, it “was the worst of the century’s religious massacres.” Throughout Europe, it “printed on Protestant minds the indelible conviction that Catholicism was a bloody and treacherous religion”.
Shift in Huguenot thought
In the years preceding the massacre, Huguenot “political rhetoric” had for the first time taken a tone against not just the policies of a particular monarch of France, but monarchy in general. In part this was led by an apparent change in stance by John Calvin in his Readings on the Prophet Daniel, a book of 1561, in which he had argued that when kings disobey God, they “automatically abdicate their worldly power” – a change from his views in earlier works that even ungodly kings should be obeyed. This change was soon picked up by Huguenot writers, who began to expand on Calvin and promote the idea of the sovereignty of the people, ideas to which Catholic writers and preachers responded fiercely.
Nevertheless, it was only in the aftermath of the massacre that anti-monarchical ideas found widespread support from Huguenots, among the “Monarchomachs” and others. “Huguenot writers, who had previously, for the most part, paraded their loyalty to the Crown, now called for the deposition or assassination of a Godless king who had either authorised or permitted the slaughter”. Thus, the massacre “marked the beginning of a new form of French Protestantism: one that was openly at war with the crown. This was much more than a war against the policies of the crown, as in the first three civil wars; it was a campaign against the very existence of the Gallican monarchy itself”
The Politiques were horrified but many Catholics inside and outside France regarded the massacres, at least initially, as deliverance from an imminent Huguenot coup d’etat. The severed head of Coligny was apparently dispatched to Pope Gregory XIII, though it got no further than Lyons, and Pope Gregory XIII sent the king a Golden Rose. The Pope ordered a Te Deum to be sung as a special thanksgiving (a practice continued for many years after) and had a medal struck with the motto Ugonottorum strages 1572 (Latin for “slaughter of the Huguenots”) showing an angel bearing a cross and sword next to slaughtered Protestants.
Pope Gregory XIII also commissioned the artist Giorgio Vasari to paint three frescos in the Sala Regia depicting the wounding of Coligny, his death, and Charles IX before Parliament, matching ones on the defeat of the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto (1571). “The massacre was interpreted as an act of divine retribution; Coligny was considered a threat to Christendom and thus Pope Gregory XIII designated 11 September 1572 as a joint commemoration of the Battle of Lepanto and the massacre of the Huguenots.” Although these formal acts of rejoicing in Rome were not repudiated publicly, privately misgivings in the papal curia grew once the nature of the killings gradually became better known. Pope Gregory XIII himself refused to receive Charles de Maurevert, said to be the killer of Coligny, on the grounds he was a murderer.
On hearing of the slaughter, Philip II of Spain “laughed for the only time on record”. In Paris, the poet Jean-Antoine de Baïf, founder of the Academie de Musique et de Poésie, wrote a sonnet extravagantly praising the killings. On the other hand, the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian II, King Charles’s father-in-law, was sickened, describing the massacre as “shameful”. Moderate French Catholics also began to wonder whether religious uniformity was worth the price of such bloodshed and they began to swell the ranks of a movement, the Politiques, which placed national unity above sectarian interests.
The massacre caused a “major international crisis”. Protestant countries were horrified at the events, and only the concentrated efforts of Catherine’s ambassadors, including a special mission by Gondi, prevented the collapse of her policy of remaining on good terms with them. Elizabeth I of England’s ambassador to France at that time, Sir Francis Walsingham, barely escaped with his life. Even Tsar Ivan the Terrible expressed horror at the carnage in a letter to the Emperor.
Saint Bartholomew’s Eve, A Tale of the Huguenot Wars, By G. A. Henty
The Huguenot Daughters, and Other Poems, By Catharine Gendron Poyas
Fox’s Book of Martyrs, By John Fox