Religion, Wars of
The immediate issue was the French Protestants' struggle for freedom of worship and the right of establishment (see Huguenots). Of equal importance, however, was the struggle for power between the crown and the great nobles and the rivalry among the great nobles themselves for the control of the king. The foremost Protestant leaders were, successively, Louis I de Condé, Gaspard de Coligny, and Henry of Navarre (later Henry IV); the Catholic party was dominated by the house of Guise. A third party, called the Politiques and composed of moderate Catholics, sided with the Protestants, while Catherine de' Medici and her sons, Charles IX, Henry III, and Francis, duke of Alençon, vainly sought to maintain a balance of power by siding now with the Catholics, now with the Huguenots.
The Conspiracy of Amboise (1560), by which the Huguenots attempted to end the persecutions suffered at the hands of Francis II, was a prelude to the first three civil wars (1562–63, 1567–68, 1568–70). The Treaty of Saint-Germain (1570), ending the wars, gave the Protestants new liberties and the wardenship of four cities, including La Rochelle. The fourth civil war (1572–73) began with the massacre of Saint Bartholomew's Day, a general slaughter of Protestants throughout France. The fifth civil war (1574–76) ended with the Peace of Monsieur (named for Francis of Alençon, who then sided with the Huguenots), which, ratified by the Edict of Beaulieu, granted freedom of worship throughout France except Paris.
When the Catholics retorted by forming the League (1576) and persuaded Henry III to repeal the edict of toleration (1577), the Huguenots revolted once more and sought the aid of foreign Protestant states. This sixth civil war ended with the Peace of Bergerac (1577), which renewed most of the terms of the Peace of Monsieur; this Henry III never carried out. A seventh war (1580) was inconsequential, but in 1584 the recognition by Henry III of the Protestant Henry of Navarre as his heir presumptive led to the renewal of the League by Henri de Guise and to the War of the Three Henrys (1585–89).
After the assassination of Henri de Guise (1588) and of Henry III (1589), the League, now headed by the duc de Mayenne, invoked the aid of Spain against Henry's successor, Henry IV. Henry, after his victories at Arques (1589) and Ivry (1590) and his conversion to Catholicism (1593), entered Paris in 1594.
With the Edict of Nantes (see Nantes, Edict of), which granted freedom of worship throughout France and established Protestantism in 200 towns, and with the Treaty of Vervins with Spain (both in 1598), Henry IV brought the Wars of Religion to as successful a conclusion as the Protestants could desire. This result, however, was completely reversed in the 17th cent. by Cardinal Richelieu, who broke the political power of the Protestants, and by Louis XIV, who destroyed their religious privileges by his revocation (1685) of the Edict of Nantes.
See study by J. W. Thompson (1958).
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