France During the War of Religion

Henry II, a determined enemy of the Huguenots, died in consequence of a wound he received during a tournament, A. D. 1559. His feeble and delicate son, Francis II, was his successor. This prince was married to the fascinating Mary Stuart of Scotland, whose uncles, the Guises, in consequence, enjoyed great influence at the French court. The Guises, as zealous adherents of the Catholic Church and the papacy, made use of their lofty position to suppress the reformed party; but by doing this, gave their opponents, and in especial, the Prince Condé, of the family of Bourbon, and the Admiral Coligni, the opportunity of strengthening themselves by joining the Huguenots. The schism increased daily; the one party strove to overthrow the other, and to secure the victory to their own side by the assistance of the king. The day on which the Estates assembled at Or leans was selected by both parties as a befitting time for the execution of this project. The Guises gained the advantage. The chiefs of the Huguenots already found themselves in prison, when a turn was given to affairs by the sudden death of the king. The queen-mother, Catherine de Medicis, placed herself at the head of affairs during the minority of the new king, Charles IX, and the Bourbons assumed a position suited to their birth. The Guises, irritated at the neglect they experienced, retired with their niece, Mary Stuart, into Lorraine, whence the latter, shortly after, departed with sorrow and mourning into Scotland.

The removal of the Guises from the court was of advantage to the reformed party. They obtained toleration. Enraged at this concession, the duke of Guise concluded an alliance with some other powerful nobles for the preservation of the ancient faith in France, and returned to Paris. During this return, a horrible slaughter was perpetrated by the Guises and. their attendants upon some Calvinists of the town of Vassy, who were assembled together in a barn, for the celebration of Divine worship. This proved the signal for a religious war. The outrage given to the conceded liberty of conscience by this bloody act of violence cried for vengeance. France was soon divided into two hostile camps, that attacked each other with bitter animosity and religious rage. The most horrible atrocities were committed, and the kingdom disturbed to its inmost depths. The Catholics obtained aid from Rome and Spain, the Protestants were assisted by England; Germany and Switzerland supplied soldiers. After the undecisive battle of Dreux, and the murder of the Duke Francis of Guise, at the siege of Orleans, peace was for a short time restored, and the Calvinists again assured of religious toleration - a promise that met with but little attention. The two parties were soon again arrayed in arms against each other, A. D. 1568. But despite the bravery of the Huguenots in the battle of St. Denis, where the elder Montmorenci lost his life, the superiority remained on the side of the Catholics; particularly when Catherine de Medicis, who had hitherto sided with neither party, embraced the interests of the latter. The sight of crucifixes and sacred objects broken to pieces, during a journey undertaken by the queen and her son, and the advice of the duke of Alba, with whom she had an interview in Bayonne, had produced this alteration in her opinions. After several bloody engagements in the vicinity of La Rochelle, which the Huguenots had selected as their battlefield, and after their gallant leader, Condé, had been basely assassinated during one of them, the peace of St. Germain was arranged, by which the Calvinists were again assured of the free exercise of their religion. Condé's nephew, Henry of Bearn, who had been bred up in the doctrine of Calvin by his mother, Joanna d'Albret, now placed himself at the head of the Huguenots; but the soul of the party was the brave Coligni, who stood by the side of the prince as his guide and adviser.