Saint Bartholomew's Day, massacre of, murder of French Protestants, or Huguenots, that began in Paris on Aug. 24, 1572. It was preceded, on Aug. 22, by an attempt, ordered by Catherine de' Medici, on the life of the Huguenot leader Admiral Coligny. The failure of the attempt led to formulation of the plan for a general massacre. The opportunity was furnished by the presence in Paris of many of the Huguenot nobility for the wedding of Henry of Navarre (later King Henry IV) and Catherine's daughter, Margaret of Valois. Involved in the scheme were the duc d'Anjou, later King Henry III; Henri, 3d duc de Guise (see under Guise); and the reluctant King Charles IX. Coligny was the first victim; his death was followed by the killing of minor leaders and of all Huguenots within reach of the soldiery and the mob. The massacre continued even after a royal order to stop, and it spread from Paris into other sections of France. Massacres continued into October reaching the provinces of Rouen, Lyons, Bourges, Orleans, and Bourdeaux. An estimated 3,000 were killed in Paris, 70,000 in all of France. News of the massacres was welcomed by the Pope and the King of Spain. Protestants, however, were horrified, and the killings rekindled the hatred between Protestants and Catholics and resulted in the resumption of civil war (see Religion, Wars of).
See studies by P. Erlanger (tr. 1962) and N. M. Sutherland (1973).
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