Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

Huguenot and Catholic
Charles IX (Regent: Queen Mother) [1560-1574]

At the deathbed of Francis II there knelt two Queens, the one, his fair and beautiful wife, Mary of Scotland; Medici the other his mother, Catherine of Medici.

Mary had done all that womanly tenderness could do to make her young husband's last hours peaceful. Now that he was gone, she wept bitter tears of loneliness. He had been but a weak and sickly boy, but he was King, and Mary, who all her life had been loved and tenderly treated, had been the greatest lady in the land. Now she had no longer a place in France, she was no longer of importance. Her day in France was over. As the France months went on she felt it so more and more. France was no longer her home, and with tear-dimmed eyes she set sail for Scotland.

But for Catherine, her days of power were only beginning. She had been the neglected wife of Henry II. During the reign of Francis II, the Guises and their beautiful niece had overshadowed her. But now, Francis having no children, her second son, Charles, came to the throne. He was a weak and passionate boy of ten, and his mother became Regent.

Queen Catherine cared little about religion one way or another. She was neither on the side of the Catholics nor of the Protestants. She wanted neither side to be very powerful, for she wanted to be powerful herself.

But the country was now on edge for civil war and Catherine at first did her best to avoid it. Conde, who was still in prison awaiting death, she set free, and both he and his brother were made members of the Council, in which the Duke of Guise and the Cardinal were also allowed to keep their places. The persecution of Protestants was stopped, and those who were imprisoned were set free, being warned, however, to live like good Catholics henceforth. In these matters she took as her chief friend and adviser the Chancellor Michel de l'Hospital.

Michel de 1'Hospital was a wise and kindly old man. He hated the cruel war of religion, and longed for it to cease. "Do away with these dreadful words Huguenot and Papist," he said; "let us not change the beautiful name of Christian."

So, to try if possible to come to a peaceful understanding, a meeting between Catholic priests and Huguenot ministers was held at Poissy, about twenty miles from Paris. The little King sat at one end of the great hall with the Queen beside him, his court surrounding him in glittering array. At the sides sat the priests in their splendid robes.

There seemed no place for the Protestants. There were no chairs set apart for them. But after the meeting was begun they were brought in guarded by soldiers, and made to stand at a barrier which separated them from the priests. It was as if they were prisoners brought before their judges, and their quiet and simple clothes were in strange contrast to the gorgeous robes and jewels of the courtiers and priests.

As might have been expected, no good came of this meeting. The two parties could not agree. Neither side would give way an inch. But a few months later the Regent passed a law by which the Protestants were allowed to hold meetings in private houses and outside the walls of towns.

This made the Catholics very angry. They began more than ever to fear the growing power of the Huguenots.

Meanwhile the Duke of Guise found much of his power gone. In order to regain it, and in order to defend the Catholic faith, he made friends with his old enemy, the Constable Montmorency. The Marshal, Saint Andre, also joined them, and these three were called the Triumvirate. Triumvirate comes from two Latin words, trium, of three; vir, a man. The Huguenots greatly feared this Triumvirate.

Thus on both the Protestant and Catholic sides there was anger added to fear. It needed but a touch to make the flame of war burst forth. It was not long before the touch was given.

It happened that the Duke of Guise was on his way to Paris with his family. On Sunday he passed by the town of Vassy and stopped to hear mass. The church was quite near the barn in which the Huguenots held their service. Just as the Duke was going into the church he was told that the Huguenots to the number of five hundred were gathered to hear their preacher.

This seemed to the Duke nothing less than insolence, and turning from the door of the church he rode to the barn. A few of his men rode on in front and dashed rudely into the meeting with shouts and gunshots. In a moment everything was in an uproar. The Duke's men poured into the barn. The Huguenots, among whom were many women and children, were seized with terror. They defended themselves with sticks and stones as best they could, against the swords and guns of the Duke's men.

Between twenty and thirty men were killed and many more were wounded; the rest were scattered in flight. The preacher was taken sorely wounded and led before the Duke.

"Why do you lead the people into rebellion?" asked Guise.

"Sir," replied the preacher, "I am no rebel; I but preach the Gospel to them."

Ordering him to be hanged, the Duke turned his back upon him in silent wrath. But the order was not carried out, and some months later the preacher was set free.

The massacre of Vassy, as it was called, was the signal for civil war. All over the country the Huguenots rose in arms, with the Prince of Conde as their leader. There were combats, and massacres, and riots. Towns were taken and retaken, castles were burned, churches were ruined and pillaged, and all the land was filled with violence and war. At length, near the town of Dreux, a great battle was fought, in which Conde was taken prisoner, and which ended in a victory for the Catholics. But it was for them a hard won fight. For St. Andre was slain and Montmorency made prisoner, and some who fled from the field took to Paris the news that the Huguenots had won.

"Well," said the Queen Regent, quite unmoved, "we must now say our prayers in French."

Guise was now alone at the head of the Catholics, for of the other two of the Triumvirate one was dead and one a prisoner.

The war went on. Once again, as in the days of Joan of Arc, Orleans was besieged. It was the great stronghold of the Huguenots, and the people within trembled in fear, for it was said that Guise had sworn to kill every living thing within the walls, both man and beast, and to sow the ruins with salt.

But one dark February afternoon a horseman sat silently waiting in the gloom ot a little wood. In his hand he held a pistol, his eyes shone with the light of mad zeal. He believed that what he was going to do was God's will.

The minutes slipped by. Then through the stillness of the evening hour came the clatter of horses' hoofs, the sound of voices. It was the Duke of Guise who came. The silent horseman raised his pistol and waited. Nearer and nearer rode the Duke. Then suddenly three shots, one after the other, rang out. The Duke fell forward on the neck of his horse. "Those shots have been in keeping for me a long time," he groaned.

The murderer did not wait to see the result of his work, but galloped furiously off into the darkness. But his work was done, for although the Duke was not killed, he was mortally wounded, and he died a few days later. It was a pitiful end for the defender of Metz, the conqueror of Calais.

For four years now there was peace. But both sides were ever ready to take up arms again. And a second and third civil war were fought.

At the battle of Jarnac the Huguenots were defeated and the Prince of Conde was killed. In spite of a broken leg, he had charged the enemy with great fury and broken through their ranks. But soon his little company was surrounded. The Prince's horse was killed under him, but he still fought on, his back against a tree. His men fought round him till one by one they fell. Then seeing among the enemy two Catholic gentlemen to whom he had once been kind, Conde called to them. Drawing off one of his gauntlets he yielded to them. Courteously the two gentlemen with their followers stood by their prisoner protecting him.

Presently the soldiers of the Duke of Anjou, Conde's deadly enemy, rode by. "Hide your face," said one of the gentlemen to the Prince.

Conde hid his face, and the soldiers rode on. But hardly had they passed when their captain found out the name of the prisoner.

Crying, "Slay! slay!" he wheeled his horse. He reached the spot, and bending down he held his pistol close to Conde's head and blew out his brains.

The Admiral Coligny, another of the great Protestant leaders, now became their head. Although he was also defeated the Catholics saw that he was an enemy to be feared; and at length peace was signed once more. In spite of all their losses and defeats the Huguenots gained great privileges by this peace. Indeed, they were given almost entire freedom.

This made the Catholics angry and jealous. Other things made them still more angry. Admiral Coligny came to court, and was received with great honor. Soon the young King came to like him so much that he did everything Coligny wished.

It was also arranged that the young King's sister Margaret of Valois, should be married to Henry of Navarre, King Anthony of Navarre had been killed in the wars, fighting on the Catholic side. For he was unstable and easily led, and had been readily persuaded to change sides. But his wife remained a staunch Protestant, and in her little mountain kingdom she brought up her young son Henry to be the champion of the cause. That a Princess of France should marry a heretic made the Catholics very angry. Still the wedding took place.

But now tne Queen Mother had no wish that the Protestants should become too powerful. She wanted neither side to be strong, but wanted to have all the power herself. So she was angry when she saw Coligny's growing sway over the King. Henry, the young Duke of Guise also hated Coligny, and wished to avenge his father's death. The Admiral had many other enemies, and Catherine was easily persuaded to join in a plot to kill him.

So one day as he was walking slowly through the streets of Paris a shot was fired from a window. The shot, however, went wide of its mark, and Coligny was only wounded. Calmly he pointed to the window from whence the shot came. But although the house was entered at once, and the still smoking gun was found, the murderer had gone. He had had a horse ready waiting, and was already speeding far away into the country.

A messenger was sent in haste to the King to tell him of the Admiral's danger. Charles was playing tennis when the messenger came.

"Am I never to have peace?" he cried, as he threw away his racket in anger.

He went at once, however, to visit Coligny, swearing to avenge him. But this was not what Catherine intended. She talked to Charles until she made him believe that the Huguenots were ready to rise in rebellion, that Coligny was a traitor, and that unless he was killed the whole country would soon be ablaze with war. Long she struggled with her son, and at length driven to desperation the King started up in wild wrath, "Since you think it good to kill the Admiral," he cried passionately, "I will it. But kill also every Huguenot in Paris, so that there be none left to reproach me. Give the order at once." Then the King flung himself out of the room like a madman.