On this day in Tudor history, 24th August 1572, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, on the Feast of St Bartholomew, an awful massacre took place across the Channel in the city of Paris. It was followed by further atrocities in other towns and cities in the country.
Those who suffered were Huguenot men, women and children, French Protestants.
But what happened and why?
The Huguenots were French Protestants, formed as a part of the general Reformation that started in Germany because of Martin Luther and swept through the Continent. It hit France around 1517, where the movement quickly grew in popularity. The movement was particularly popular in French areas where the population was unhappy with the government or areas that were experiencing economic hardship. The name “Huguenot” is of uncertain origin; some believe the Huguenots are named after Besançon Hugues, leader of the movement in Geneva, Switzerland. Another possibility finds its roots in the German word Eidgenossen, meaning confederates bound by oath, which became aignos in France and referred to patriots living in Geneva who were against the Duke of Savoy during 1520 to 1524. In August 1523, the first martyr, Jean Vallière, was burnt at the stake.
Pope Gregory XIII ordered a joint celebration or commemoration on 11th September 1572 for the defeat of the Ottoman troops by the Holy League at the Battle of Lepanto on 7th October 1571, and for the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of the Huguenots in France, in August 1572.
On this day in 1572, the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre took place. An estimated 3,000 French Protestants (Huguenots) were massacred in Paris, and a further estimated 7,000 in the provinces. According to tradition, Catherine de’ Medici persuaded her son, King Charles IX of France, to order the assassination of key Huguenot leaders who had gathered in Paris for the wedding of their leader, Henry of Navarre, to Margaret of Valois, the King’s sister.
Primary source accounts of the 1572 St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.
Eye witness account, written by historian Jacques Auguste de Thou:
So it was determined to exterminate all the Protestants and the plan was approved by the queen. They discussed for some time whether they should make an exception of the king of Navarre and the prince of Condé. All agreed that the king of Navarre should be spared by reason of the royal dignity and the new alliance. The duke of Guise, who was put in full command of the enterprise, summoned by night several captains of the Catholic Swiss mercenaries from the five little cantons, and some commanders of French companies, and told them that it was the will of the king that, according to God’s will, they should take vengeance on the band of rebels while they had the beasts in the toils. Victory was easy and the booty great and to be obtained without danger. The signal to commence the massacre should be given by the bell of the palace, and the marks by which they should recognize each other in the darkness were a bit of white linen tied around the left arm and a white cross on the hat.