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

The Massacre of St. Bartholomew
Charles IX (Regent: Queen Mother) [1560-1574]

The hot August night was drawing to a close when through the deserted streets of Paris companies of soldiers crept noiselessly. They seemed but dark shadows as they slid along the walls in the blackness of the night. But soon the first faint gray of dawn shivered up the sky, paling its blue and dimming the stars. And in the dusky light it was seen that every man wore a white badge on his arm, a white cross in his hat. With faces strangely pale in the dawn they looked at each other and waited.

Paris slept peacefully. Save for a furtive footfall not a sound was heard far or near. Then suddenly on the stillness of the morning a harsh sound fell. A bell rang out. There seemed something awful in its tone as it clanged and clanged over the sleeping city. It carried with it some terrible foreboding of evil. Men leaped from their beds affrighted.

With the clanging of the bell all Paris was awake. The streets were suddenly full of armed men. Lights appeared in every window, blows, and shots, and cries resounded, and from far and near bell after bell took up the note of terror, till the whole city from end to end was full of the horror of noise.

[Illustration] from History of France by H. E. Marshall


The Catholics had taken the King at his word. They had sworn that not a Huguenot should be left alive to reproach him or them. And in the gray morning they began their deadly work. They had chosen a time when many Protestants were gathered in Paris. The houses in which they lived were marked, while the Catholics were known to each other by a white cross in their hats and a white bandage on their arms.

The Admiral Coligny was among the first to die. His house had been surrounded, and soon he was awakened by gunshots fired in the courtyard. Weak and wounded as he was he sprang from his bed and stood leaning against the wall. Well he knew that his last hour had come.

"Say a prayer for me," he said to his minister, who was with him. "Into my Savior's keeping I give my soul," he added.

"What means this riot?" cried a gentleman, running into the room.

"My lord, it is God calling us," answered another.

All knew the end was near. There was no time to waste.

"Sirs," said Coligny, "for a long time I have been ready to die, but you others save yourselves if it is possible." So they fled to the housetop; it was the only hope of escape. Even there some were taken and killed. Only one man remained by Coligny. He would not forsake his master.

The noise in the house grew louder and louder, the tramp of armed men nearer and nearer. In a few minutes the door was burst open, and the Duke of Guise's men rushed in.

"Are you the Admiral?" asked one.

"I am," replied Coligny proudly. "Young man, you ought to have respect for my old age and weakness. But do your will; you cannot shorten my life by much."

336 Uttering a dreadful oath the soldier lunged at Coligny with his spear. As the old man fell all the pride of name and fame rose in him. "Ah!" he cried, "had it but been a man and not this stable boy." Then one after another the soldiers crowded round him, plunging their daggers into his heart.

Suddenly from the courtyard came the voice of the young Duke. "Is it done?" he cried.

"It is done," was the reply. And raising the body the murderers threw it into the court below.

The day had hardly dawned, and the light was still dim. Guise bent down and wiped the blood from the face. "Yes it is he," he said, and giving the poor dead body a kick he turned on his heel. "We have begun well," he laughed.

So the work began, and so it continued all through the long summer Sunday till night ended the fearful carnage. None was spared; men, women and children alike were slain. The streets ran red with blood, the houses were piled with dead. All over the country the rage of killing spread, and before it was sated thirty thousand were slain.

This terrible slaughter is called the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, for it happened on St. Bartholomew's Day, Sunday, August 24, 1572.

It was meant utterly to root out Protestantism from France, but it failed. The Protestants were at first stunned with horror. Soon, however, they recovered, and a fourth civil war began. It was brought to an end by the Peace of Rochelle, which gave the Protestants all the privileges they had been given at the last peace. So the Massacre of St. Bartholomew was an act of utterly useless, mad cruelty.

Charles never recovered from the horror of that awful Sunday. Before it he had been good-natured and easy-going. Afterward he became stern and melancholy, never smiling, never looking any one in the face. He was haunted by awful dreams in which he saw hideous faces covered with blood looking at him out of the darkness; he seemed to hear heartrending cries. Day and night were terrible to him.

His old nurse, who was a Huguenot, had been saved from the massacre and she, at the end, tried in vain to comfort him. "Ah, nurse, nurse," he cried, "what blood, what murders! Ah! I have followed evil counsel. Oh, may God forgive me and grant me grace."

"Sire," replied she, "the murders and the blood be upon the heads of those who counselled you."

And the world has followed his old nurse and blamed the powerful, scheming mother, more than the weak, easily led son.