Reform in France and the Wars of Religion

By | February 4, 2022

At first the new doctrines spread above all in the world of high culture. Before the echo of the words of Luther and Zwingli reached France, there had already been evangelism French: a movement which recognized Lefèbvre d’Étaples as its leader, and which, without taking a position in clear antithesis with that of Rome, already preached the need for a reform of the Church. Reform of morals, above all, which gave rise to discontent against the high clergy, more concerned with wars and affairs of state than with the care of souls. In this regard, the consequences of the Concordat had been deleterious: entire dioceses remained, due to the non-residence of their head, in the hands of the lowly clergy, poor and ignorant. But here is the spread of Luther’s writings; and here is Lefèbvre accentuating his teaching, adhering to the Lutheran doctrine on faith. The Sorbonne condemns him; but between 1523 and 1524, especially in Lyons and Paris, the followers of the new ideas multiplied. From Lyon, the reformed ones operate in the valley of the lower Rhone; from Paris, to Picardy and Normandy; from Orléans, where university professors are almost all inclined to reform, in central France. And here is the movement to recruit its adherents, especially from the lower classes of the population, wool carders (like Meaux), weavers, artisans. And finally, Calvin appears giving the French movement a center, a doctrine, a directive (v.Calvinism).

Faced with this spread of heresy, the sister of Francis I, Margaret of Navarre, was decidedly in favor of the reformed. Francis I himself, at first, seemed to let it go; but starting from 1533 a policy of repression began which became increasingly harsh, under the influence of the cardinal of Tournon, and which forced many of the reformed (and Calvin among others) to abandon their homeland. In the footsteps of Francis I also moved Henry II. The creation, in 1547, of the Burning Room (v.); the promulgation of the edicts of Chateaubriand (1551) and of Écouen (1558), which imposed very severe measures against the reformed, meant the firm will of the monarchy to prevent, by force, the spread of the Reformation. Except that the measures proved ineffective; and instead the religious movement s’ it was complicating with political aspirations more evident every day. The conversion of many of the nobles, characteristic of French Calvinism between 1555 and 1560, if it increased the forces of the Reformed, also meant that claims of a very different character were accompanied by purely religious claims; and decisive in this regard was the adhesion that the princes of the blood, Anthony of Bourbon and Louis of Condé, gave to Calvinism around 1558-59. With these two men, of dubious religious sincerity, the Reformed became a political party, which cared not only for the official recognition of the evangelical cult, but for the fall of the Guise family and the re-establishment of the rights of princes of the blood. It was, after all, a resumption of the feudal struggle against the monarchy, which complicated the religious problem.

According to, the political contrast between the Guise and the Bourbons was further aggravated by the fact that, during the very short reign of the young Francis II, which happened to Henry II, the supreme authority was effectively exercised by Francesco di Guisa and his brother, cardinal of Lorraine, the which shared the power. The constable of Montmorency had fallen from grace; Caterina de ‘Medici had adopted a prudent policy of reserve and waiting; the principles of the blood were completely set aside. And then, there were the first skirmishes of the civil war, with the conspiracy of Amboise (v.) And the consequent arrest of Condé, who was sentenced, as guilty of treason, heresy and conspiracy, to capital punishment. The sudden death of the king (4 December 1560), saved the life of the prince; since Caterina de ‘

At the States General of Orléans (1561), the chancellor Michele de l’Hospital presented a program of tolerance in which he tried to clearly separate political sedition from the contrast of opinions and beliefs. Then, when the States were closed, a great Ordinance was promulgated, in which, accepting some of the votes presented, many reforms were promised: abolition of the venality of offices, canonical elections of bishops, limitation of the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical courts, etc. In the summer, Catherine was still trying to obtain conciliation between Catholics and Calvinists, inviting the most conspicuous theologians of the two sides to a discussion (Poissy talks). Then, the Edict of Saint-Germain was issued (January 1562), to stop the persecutions against the Protestants.

But the Guise family reacted: an alliance pact was made between Francesco di Guisa, the constable of Montmorency and the marshal of Saint-André (the “triumvirate”), who also dragged the faithless Antonio of Bourbon with them; and in March 1562 the massacre, carried out by the Duke of Guise, of a group of Calvinists at Vassy, ​​sparked the civil war.

The triumvirs, stronger militarily, forced the regent Caterina de ‘Medici to join them. But the Condé responded to the superiority of the enemy forces by allying himself with Elizabeth of England, to whom, in exchange for her help, Calais and Le Havre were promised. For their part, the Catholics did not hesitate, not even they, to make agreements as well as with the pope, with Philip II of Spain himself. The war was a successful alternative for the two sides: some of the Catholic leaders perished, Antonio di Borbone, Francesco di Guisa, the Saint-André. The peace of Amboise (March 1563) was, moreover, only a brief respite. Although Catherine continued her policy of conciliation and tolerance, the Calvinists felt threatened when the regent went to Bayonne to deal with the envoys of Philip II (June 1565); and in September of ’67 the war was rekindled. New peace in Longiumeau (March 1568); and a new reopening of hostilities in ’69. The leaders disappeared one after the other: Montmorency had fallen in November of ’67; Condé falls to Jarnac. At the time of the peace of Saint-Germain (8 August 1570), only Coligny remained at the head of the Calvinists. And it was with Coligny that Calvinism sought, in the short period between the peace of San Germano and the massacres of August 1572, to ally the monarchy. At the time of the peace of Saint-Germain (8 August 1570), only Coligny remained at the head of the Calvinists. And it was with Coligny that Calvinism sought, in the short period between the peace of San Germano and the massacres of August 1572, to ally the monarchy. At the time of the peace of Saint-Germain (8 August 1570), only Coligny remained at the head of the Calvinists. And it was with Coligny that Calvinism sought, in the short period between the peace of San Germano and the massacres of August 1572, to ally the monarchy.

The situation seemed favorable: general tiredness from the long internal conflict and favorable the foreign situation, with the Netherlands in revolt against Philip II. It was precisely on a foreign policy level that Coligny set his action. France was to intervene in favor of the rebels in Flanders; thus striking at a vital point the Spanish power, regaining the European dominance that had escaped it. But, when Charles IX already seemed persuaded by the Huguenot leader, Caterina de ‘Medici intervened for political reasons (see caterina de ‘ medici); and instead of a French expedition to Flanders, the massacres of the Calvinists took place in France, on the night of St. Bartholomew and the following days.

The possibility of a Calvinistic monarchy in France was thus eliminated forever; but the civil war was reopened. On the contrary, the Calvinistic movement, which until this time had always tried not to appear anti-monarchical, now assumes in many parts a decidedly revolutionary attitude. Especially in the South the old autonomist traditions of the cities flourish; the bourgeoisie organizes itself, takes over the direction of the struggle, with clear tendencies towards self-government. And to make passions flare up more, Calvinist pastors and writers intervene: Francesco Hotman, Du Plessis-Mornay, to mention only the best known. And hundreds of pamphlets against Caterina de ‘Medici, the Italians, the Guise, stir up French public opinion. Furthermore, an ally offers itself to the Calvinists: the party of the politiques, recruited from men of different conditions and of different molds, but convinced of the need to put an end to fratricidal struggles and, therefore, to allow the reformed to exercise their cult, in order to save national unity. The politiques even manage to find a leader in the ambitious Duke of Alençon, the fourth child of Caterina de ‘Medici. Not even the paix de Monsieur (May 1576), who concluded the new war by making very large concessions to the reformed, managed to restore order to the country. Despite the peace act, the situation was still worsening. The Huguenots were wary, who in some regions of the South kept their autonomy tendencies; irritated the Catholics headed by Henry Duke of Guise. The same year of the peace of Monsieur, in the States General of Blois the majority of the representatives had rejected the thesis of the politiques and had proclaimed religious unity, revoking the edicts of tolerance. And the situation worsened again, after 1580, due to the question of the succession to the throne. The new king, Henry III, was childless; also childless was the Duke of Alençon, his brother: so that, when the latter died, in 1584, the heir to the throne officially became Henry of Navarre, the new head of the Calvinist party. This was a defining event. The Guise family tried to take cover against the new danger, making agreements with Philip II and proposing as a possible successor the old cardinal Antonio di Borbone, uncle of Henry of Navarre, a puppet in their hands. But this, and the intervention of Sixtus V who declared the king of Navarre unable to succeed, angered Henry III. Journé e des barricades, May 12, 1588). From this moment, the League had a mortal enemy in him. The humiliations that it inflicted on him in the new States General of Blois prompted him to act. On 23 December 1588 he had the Duke of Guise killed, and the following day the Cardinal of Lorraine, then faced with the violent revolt that followed the double assassination, appealed to all the faithful nobility. And the nobility replied: which shows how the arrogance of the Guise and the revolutionary excesses of the Sixteen had produced profound discontent in the country. The king also allied himself with Henry of Navarre and, the following year, the two armies invested Paris. The fate of the Leaguers appeared desperate when Henry III was assassinated by Jacques Clément (iAugust 1589). Before his death, the last of the Valois recognized Henry of Navarre (Henry IV) as his successor and recommended that he convert.

Reform in France and the Wars of Religion