The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572) was one of the bloodiest episodes in Early Modern French history. It marked a turning point in the religious wars that devastated France from the 1560s to 1590s. The impact of the massacre was profound. The massacre changed the course of French history and initiated a new and bloody chapter in the Wars of Religion. The massacre began as a series of events that changed the Huguenots and weakened the French monarchy. The massacre also failed to end the war and instead prolonged it.
Prior the massacres, France had become increasingly divided between Catholics and Protestants in the mid-16th Century. The massacre can only be understood, within the context of French politics and the deep religious hatreds of the times. France had been weakened after the early death of King Henry II in a jousting accident in 1559. This led to a period of profound instability in France, Henry’s sons all proved to be weak and incompetent rulers. Francis II (1559-60), Charles IX (1560-74), and Henri III (1574-89), were either under the influence of their ambitious mother, Catherine De Medici or various noble families. The country at the same time saw a rapid increase in the number of Protestants. These flourished despite often brutal persecution by both the Church and State. Many Huguenots as the French Protestants became known hoped to turn the realm into a Protestant kingdom. The Huguenots were followers of Jean Calvin and they believed that they were the ‘elect’ and that they were destined to be saved, unlike their Catholic neighbors. The Huguenots soon established churches all over France, but they were particularly strong in the South of France. Soon Huguenots and Catholics were living in separate and mutually hostile communities.
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