Preparation for the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (During the Fourth War, 1868) ~ Painting by Kārlis Hūns
See more on “war,” here:
- Causes of Wars;
- The Spanish Inquisition Was Bad, and Yes, Mostly Secular;
- The Crusades vs. The Three Caliphates (Moral Equivalence).
Couple things to keep in mind as you read. Firstly, while this is an example of a “religious war, most wars are not:
(CAUSES OF WARS) A recent comprehensive compilation of the history of human warfare, Encyclopedia of Wars by Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod documents 1763 wars, of which 123 have been classified to involve a religious conflict. So, what atheists have considered to be ‘most’ really amounts to less than 7% of all wars. It is interesting to note that 66 of these wars (more than 50%) involved Islam, which did not even exist as a religion for the first 3,000 years of recorded human warfare. Even the Seven Years’ War, widely recognized to be “religious” in motivation, noting that the warring factions were not necessarily split along confessional lines as much as along secular interests. Even the Seven Years’ War, widely recognized to be “religious” in motivation, noting that the warring factions were not necessarily split along confessional lines as much as along secular interests. And the Thirty Years’ War cannot be viewed as “religious” in that you should find certain aspects if this were the case….
(STAND TO REASON) Not only were students able to demonstrate the paucity of evidence for this claim, but we helped them discover that the facts of history show the opposite: religion is the cause of a very small minority of wars. Phillips and Axelrod’s three-volumeEncyclopedia of Wars lays out the simple facts. In 5 millennia worth of wars—1,763 total—only 123 (or about 7%) were religious in nature (according to author Vox Day in the book The Irrational Atheist). If you remove the 66 wars waged in the name of Islam, it cuts the number down to a little more than 3%. A second [6-volume] scholarly source, The Encyclopedia of War edited by Gordon Martel, confirms this data, concluding that only 6% of the wars listed in its pages can be labelled religious wars. Thirdly, William Cavanaugh’s book, The Myth of Religious Violence, exposes the “wars of religion” claim. And finally, a recent report (2014) from the Institute for Economics and Peace further debunks this myth.
- Alan Axelrod & Charles Phillips, Encyclopedia of Wars, 3 volumes (New York, NY: Facts on File, 2005);
- The General History of the Late War (Volume 3); Containing It’s Rise, Progress, and Event, in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America (No Publisher [see here], date of publication was from about 1765-1766), 110;
- William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2009).
- Gordon Martel, The Encyclopedia of War, 5 Volumes (New Jersey, NJ: Wiley, 2012).
The other thing to keep in mind, “religious wars” is often over-used by atheists… one honest atheist notes the following:
Atheists often claim that religion fuels aggressive wars, both because it exacerbates antagonisms between opponents and also because it gives aggressors confidence by making them feel as if they have God on their side. Lots of wars certainly look as if they are motivated by religion. Just think about conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, the Balkans, the Asian subcontinent, Indonesia, and various parts of Africa. However, none of these wars is exclusively religious. They always involve political, economic, and ethnic disputes as well. That makes it hard to specify how much [of a] role, if any, religion itself had in causing any particular war. Defenders of religion argue that religious language is misused to justify what warmongers wanted to do independently of religion. This hypothesis might seem implausible to some, but it is hard to refute, partly because we do not have enough data points, and there is so much variation among wars.
- Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Morality Without God? (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2009), 33-34.
In France, following the Reformation, Calvinists known as Huguenots sprang up in large numbers. The Roman Catholic establishment persecuted them. Manipulated by French political leaders, the Huguenots rose to defend their rights. Their behavior and methods in turn outraged Catholics. War ravaged France. Although fewer in numbers than their foes, the Huguenots fought so fiercely they managed to extract concessions which allowed them to build churches and manage affairs in cities where they had majorities. But the bloodshed imprinted lasting animosity between Protestants and the Catholic majority.
Out of this smoldering hatred flared up one of the most regrettable events of church history. On August 22, 1572 an attempt was made in Paris to assassinate Huguenot leader and French patriot Coligny. Wounded, he returned home to recover. Accounts disagree as to what happened next and who was responsible. Late on this day, August 23, 1572, armed men, led by the Guises, broke into Coligny’s apartment, overcame the fierce resistance of his guards and killed him. Coligny’s death was the signal for a general butchery of the Huguenots. This atrocity is known to history as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre because it lasted well into that saint’s day.
Catholics slaughtered Huguenots in cold blood into the morning of the 24th in Paris and for days in outlying regions. As many as 70,000 perished. The rest fled to fortified cities and fought back. Their movement became known as La Cause (The Cause) and pitted them against The Holy League (La Sainte Ligue). Brutal fighting raged across the French kingdom.
Charles IX publicly claimed he had ordered the massacre. Certainly the Paris constabulary were warned in advance to prepare for disturbances. Many historians have seen the plot as the work of Catherine de Medici, who felt her power threatened. Possibly Charles, by taking credit, was trying to reap a political benefit from the gruesome event. If so, he won no plaudits outside Catholic regions. Pope Gregory XIII struck a special medallion to commemorate the “holy” act but most other European reaction was horrified. Charles himself suffered psychological agonies from the affair.
The Massacre of St. Bartholomew was not the end of the matter. When the Protestant Henry of Navarre converted to Catholicism in order to become king, he granted his Huguenot compatriots a number of rights under the Edict of Nantes. These rights were gradually eroded, more Huguenot revolts occurred and, finally, 400,000 fled the country into voluntary exile under Louis XIV.
These people were part of the influence (among others) in early America and Canada:
- Following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, there occurred the greatest migration of peoples in the history of the world. More than 600,000 went to Holland, Belgique, England, Ireland, Austria, Russia, South and North America. The largest numbers came to Canada and the American Colonies; and of this number, the largest came to New England and New Netherlands. (HISTORY BOX)
Here is an excerpt from the Encyclopedia of War on the “Religious War” #’s 1-9:
- Alan Axelrod & Charles Phillips, Encyclopedia of Wars, Vol II (New York, NY: Facts On File, 2005), 931-936.
Huguenots Fight To Survive
On March 1, 1562, supporters of the Catholic duke Francois de Guise (1519-63) killed a congregation of Protestants at Vassy. This massacre was instigated by the granting of limited toleration to the Protestants by Catherine de’ Medici (1519-85), the queen mother who took control of the throne at the death of King Francis II (154460). The Catholics, under Francois de Guise, the Constable de Montmorency (Anne, duc de Montmorency; 14931567), and Prince Antoine de Bourbon (1518-62), king of Navarre, and the Protestants, under Louis I de Bourbon, prince of Conde (1530-69), and Comte Gaspard de Col-igny (1519-72), admiral of France, were soon pitted against each other in a battle known as the First War of Religion. Louis de Conde and Gaspard de Coligny ordered the Huguenots to seize Orleans to retaliate for the Vassy massacre and called on all Protestants in France to rebel. In September 1562, the English sent John Dudley (fl. 16th century) of Warwick to help the Huguenots, and his force captured Le Havre. About one month later, the Catholics defeated Rouen, a Protestant stronghold. One of the leaders of the Catholic movement, Antoine de Bourbon, was killed during the attack. The Huguenots continued to rise in rebellion, and in December 15,000 Protestants under Conde and Coligny marched north to join the English troops at Le Havre. En route, they encountered about 19,000 Catholics at Dreux. The Catholics under Guise were victorious, but one of their leaders, Montmorency, was captured, as was the Protestant leader Conde. On February 18, 1563, Guise was killed while besieging Orleans. Peace was finally secured in March when Montmorency and Conde, both prisoners since the Battle of Dreux, negotiated a settlement at the request of Queen. Catherine. The Peace of Amboise stipulated a degree of tolerance. The opposing sides then combined forces to push the English from Le Havre, which fell on July 28, 1563.
The Peace of Amboise (July 28, 1563), which stipulated a greater degree of tolerance between the Catholics and the Huguenots in France, ended the First WAR OF RELIGION. However, peace lasted only four years. On September 29, 1567, the Huguenots under Louis de Bourbon, prince de Conde (1530-69), and Comte Gaspard de Coligny (1519-72) tried to capture the royal family at Meaux. Although they were unsuccessful, other Protestant bands threatened Paris and captured Orleans, Assent, Vienne, Valence, Nimes, Montpellier, and Montaubon. At the Battle of St. Denis, a force of 16,000 men under Constable de Montmorency (Anne, duc de Montmorency; 1493-1567), attacked Conde’s small army of 3,500. Despite the long odds, the Huguenots managed to remain on the field for several hours. Montmorency, aged 74, was killed during the fray. This war ended on March 23, 1568, with the Peace of Longjumeau by which the Huguenots gained substantial concessions from Queen Catherine de’ Medici (1519-85).
The Third War of Religion broke out on August 18, 1568, when Catholics attempted to capture Louis de Bourbon, prince de Conde (1530-69), and Comte Gaspard de Coligny (1519-72), the primary Protestant leaders. The Royalist Catholics continued to suppress Protestantism. Sporadic fighting occurred throughout the Loire Valley for the remainder of 1568. In March 1569, the Royalists under Marshal Gaspard de Tavannes (1509-73) engaged in battle with Condes forces in the region between Angouleme and Cognac. Later in March, Tavanne crossed the Charente River near Chateauneuf and soundly defeated the Huguenots at the Battle of Jarmac. Although Conde was captured and murdered, Coligny managed to withdraw a portion of the Protestant army in good order. About three months later, help for the Huguenots arrived in the form of 13,000 German Protestant reinforcements. This enlarged force laid siege to Poitiers. Then on August 24, 1569, Col-igny sent Comte Gabriel de Montgomery (c. 1530-74) to Orthez, where he repulsed a Royalist invasion of French-held Navarre and defeated Catholic forces arranged against him. Royalist marshal Tavanne then relieved Poitiers and forced Coligny to raise the siege. The major battle of the Third War of Religion occurred on October 3, 1569, at Moncontour. The Royalists, aided by a force of Swiss sympathizers, forced the Huguenot cavalry off the field and then crushed the Huguenot infantry. The Huguenots lost about 8,000, whereas Royalist losses numbered about 1,000. The following year, however, Coligny marched his Huguenot forces through central France from April through June and began threatening Paris. These actions forced the Peace of St. Germain, which granted many religious freedoms to the Protestants.
A massacre of 3,000 Protestants and their leader Louis de Bourbon, prince of Conde (1530-69), precipitated the outbreak of the Fourth War of Religion between Catholics and Protestants in France. After the massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve in Paris, August 24, 1572, Prince Henry IV of Navarre (1553-1610) took charge of the Protestant forces. Marked primarily by a long siege of La Rochelle by Royalist forces under another Prince Henry, the younger brother of Charles IX (1550-74), this Fourth War of Religion resulted in the Protestants’ gaining military control over most of southwest France. However, at least 3,000 more Huguenots were massacred in the provinces before the war ended.
The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre outraged even Catholic moderates, who, seeking to counter the extremes of the Catholic Royalists, formed a new political party, the Politiques, to negotiate with the Protestants and establish peace and national unity.
Protestants and Catholics in France had been fighting sporadically since 1562 in the First War of RELIGION, the Second War of RELIGION, the Third War of RELIGION, and the Fourth War of RELIGION when violence again erupted in 1575. In the most important action of this war, Henry, duc de Guise (1555-88), led the Catholic Royalists to victory at the Battle of Dorman. Aligned against Guise, however, were not only the Protestants under Henry IV of Navarre (1553-1610) but also the Politiques, moderate Catholics who wanted the king to make peace with the Protestants and restore national unity. Henry III (1551-89) was not wholeheartedly in support of Guise, and he offered pledges of more religious freedom to the Protestants at the Peace of Mousieur, signed on May 5,1576. Guise refused to accept the terms of the peace and began negotiating with Philip II (1527-98) of Spain to organize a Holy League and secure Spain’s help in capturing the French throne.
The Sixth War of Religion between the Catholics and Protestants in France included only one campaign and was settled by the Peace of Bergerac of 1577. During this period, Henry III (1551-89) tried to persuade the Holy League, formed in 1576 by Catholic leader Henry, duke de Guise (1555-88), and Philip II (1527-98) of Spain, to support an attack on the Protestants. Henry succeeded in subduing the Protestants but wavered in his determination to carry out the terms of the Peace of Bergerac.
The Seventh War of Religion in 1580, also known as the “Lovers’ War,” had little to do with hostilities between the Catholics and Protestants. Instead fighting was instigated by the actions of Margaret, the promiscuous wife of Henry IV of Navarre (1553-1610). Over the next five years, Catholics, Protestants, and the moderate Politiques (see RELIGION, FOURTH WAR OF; RELIGION, FIFTH WAR OF) all engaged in intrigue in their attempts to name a successor to the childless Henry III. Although Henry of Navarre was next in line by direct heredity, the Holy League maneuvered to ensure that Henry, duc de Guise, would gain the throne after the reign of Charles de Bourbon (1566-1612), proposed as the successor to Henry III.
Battle of Coutas (October 20th, 1587 ~ During the Eight War)
The Eighth War of Religion, also known as the “War of the Three Henrys,” pitted the Royalist Henry III (1551-89), Henry of Navarre (1553-1610), and Henry de Guise (1555-88) against each other in a struggle over succession to the French throne. The war began when Henry III withdrew many of the concessions he had granted to the Protestants during his reign. At the Battle of Coutras on October 20, 1587, the army of Henry of Navarre, 1,500 cavalry and 5,000 infantry, smashed the Royalist cavalry-1,700 lancers—and 7,000 infantry. More than 3,000 Royalists were killed; Protestant deaths totaled 200. Especially effective against the Royalist was the massed fire of the Protestant arquebuses, primitive muskets.
Despite the Protestant victory at Coutras, the Catholics under Henry of Guise prevailed at Vimoy and Auneau and checked the advance of a German army marching into the Loire Valley to aid to Protestants. Henry’s next victory was in Paris, where he forced the king to capitulate in May 1588. In subsequent intrigues, Henry de Guise and his brother Cardinal Louis I de Guise (1527-78) were assassinated. Fleeing the Catholics’ rage over the murders, Henry Ill sought refuge with Protestant leader Henry of Navarre. The king failed to find permanent safety and was assassinated, stabbed to death, by a Catholic monk on August 2, 1589. On his deathbed, the king named Henry of Navarre his successor. The Catholics refused to acknowledge him king, insisting instead that Cardinal Charles de Bourbon (1566-1612) was the rightful ruler of France. This conflict sparked the NINTH WAR OF RELIGION.
The naming of Henry of Navarre (1553-1610) as successor to the French throne sparked the final War of Religion between Protestant Huguenots and Catholics in France. Insisting that Charles, duke de Bourbon (1566-1612), was the rightful successor to Henry III (1551-89), the Catholics enlisted the aid of the Spanish. Charles, duke of Mayenne (1554-1611), the younger brother of Henry of Guise (1555-88), led the Catholic efforts.
At the Battle of Argues on September 21,1589, Henry of Navarre (1553-1660) ambushed Mayenne’s army of 24,000 French Catholic and Spanish soldiers. Having lost 600 men, Mayenne withdrew to Amiens, while the victorious Navarre, whose casualties numbered 200 killed or wounded, rushed toward Paris.
A Catholic garrison near Paris repulsed Navarre’s advance on November 1, 1589. Not to be daunted in his quest for the throne, Henry withdrew but promptly proclaimed himself Henry IV and established a temporary capital at Tours.
Henry of Navarre won another important battle at Ivry on March 14, matching 11,000 troops against Mayenne’s 19,000. Mayenne lost 3,800 killed, whereas Navarre suffered only 500 casualties.
Civil war continued unabated. Between May and August 1590, Paris was reduced to near starvation during Navarre’s siege of the city. Maneuvers continued, especially in northern France until May 1592; however, in July 1593 Henry of Navarre reunited most of the French populace by declaring his return to the Catholic faith. His army then turned to counter a threat of invasion by Spain and the French Catholics allied with Mayenne.
On March 21, 1594, Henry of Navarre entered Paris in triumph and over the next few years battled the invading Spanish: at Fontaine-Francaise on June 9, 1596, at Calais on April 9, 1596, and at Amiens on September 17, 1596. No further major campaigns ensued.
On April 13, 1598, Henry of Navarre ended the decades of violence between the Catholics and the Protestants by issuing the Edict of Nantes, whereby he granted religious freedom to the Protestants. Then on May 2, 1598, the war with Spain ended with the Treaty of Vervins, whereby Spain recognized Henry as king of France. The next major conflict between the Catholics and Protestants in France occurred 27 years later when the Protestants rose in revolt in 1625 and the English joined their cause in the ANGLO-FRENCH WAR (1627-1628).
➤ Further reading: R. J. Knecht, The French Civil Wars, 1562-1598 (New York: Pearson Education, 2000); R. J. Knecht and Mabel Segun, French Wars of Religion (New York: Addison-Wesley Longman, 1996).