Wars of religion

During the night between the 17th and 18th of October 1534, placards (posters) were pinned to many doors in Paris and in other cities of the Kingdom of France.

These placards contained propaganda in favour of the Protestant Reformation and insults against the Catholic faith. One poster was even placed on King François I's own bedchamber door in the castle of Amboise.

Normally of a very tolerant nature, the King saw this as an attack against his faith, Catholicism and it was considered a crime of "lèse-majesté". François I then turned much more radical against the Protestants who were now persecuted.

This night in October 1534 is known as the Affair of the Placards and was one of the sparks that lead France in the wars of religion from 1540 to 1598, tearing apart the population between Catholics and Huguenots ( Protestants ) for half a century.

The Beginnings

The Wars of Religion are a series of conflicts that occurred in the XVIth Century between Catholics and protestants. The symptoms of the conflict can be found under the reign of King François I and his son Henri II. However, their authority managed to secure a certain stability despite their repression against the protestants. With the early and accidental death of Henri II after a tournament , his young heir King François II is unable to to keep internal peace as well as failing on international matters. Under his reign, the religious conflict turned into a political affair but the wars will only begin in 1562, under the rule of François II's brother, Charles IX.

Timeline of the events

1534 : The Affair of the Placards, the King's tolerance towards Protestants turns into persecution.

1540 : François I sends letters of pardon to the Protestant population of the Vaudois Evangelist Church in the provinces of Provence and Piémont. As they are backed by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, François I does not want to tarnish his relation with him.

1st January 1545 : King François I revokes his previous pardon and signs the warrants of Arrest for Mérindol and asks for a crusade against the Vaudois population. The Parlement of Aix follows the King and starts to persecute the Protestant Vaudois. The Vaudois is basically the South East of France.

Spring 1545 : With Antoine Escalin des Aimars at their head, around 2,000 men are marching in Provence with the purpose of killing the Vaudois Protestants. 3,000 people ( men, women and children ) are butchered in Mérindol and the 23 surrounding villages. More than 600 men are send to the galleys. Crops and cattle are destroyed, leading the peasants to starve. This event is known as the Mérindol Massacre.

31st March 1547 : Death of King François I aged 52. His son Henri becomes known as Henri II.

Under the reign of the very Catholic Henri II, the religious tensions increased to a new level. It is also under his rule that the Protestant reformation grew in size. The King, pushed by several ministers and more particularly his mistress Diane de Poitiers adopted more and more measures against the Protestants, giving more power to Catholic judges or other members of the administration. The King approved several new edicts against the Protestants. Still in 1547, a special chamber is created in the Parliament of Paris with the purpose to burn those declared heretics. Henri II's work saw an unexpected result for him and his advisers. The more repressive his politic was, the more protestantism grew in size. The people in the cities mainly turned their faith to the Reformation ( members of the clergy, bourgeois, literate artisans Etc. ).

It soon became a sinister game between Catholicism and protestantism, the more the Reformation grew the more repressive the King acted. The fact that protestantism won many sympathizers and adepts in te nobility greatly worried the King.

10th June 1559 : During the session of 10th of June 1559, the Parliament member Anne du Bourg heavily criticized the King's repressive policy against protestantism. His courage also revealed that he followed the Reformed Faith ( Calvinism ). Du Bourg is arrested and six months later executed.

30th June 1559 : For the wedding of his daughter Elizabeth with Felipe II of Spain, Henri II organized a jousting tournament. Excellent rider, he ordered the captain of his Scottish Guard, Gabriel de Montgommery to joust a last time with him. Unfortunately, de Montgommery's lance went through one of his eyes and then the skull ( his helmet visor was open ). Forgiven by the dying King, de Montgommery fled the court that day.

10th July 1559 : Henri II died of his wounds sustained 10 days earlier leaving a 15 years old son on the throne.

With the death of Henri II, François II inherited the throne of France. As usual when the King was too young to rule by himself, a regent was to take the power until the monarch's majority. A regency is often a troubled period when people or parties fight each other in order to obtain the regency or influence the young King. This is what happened with François II. In 1560, the government was in the hands of Duke François de Guise and his brother Cardinal Charles de Lorraine, both Catholics.

On the other side are the Protestants with the Prince de Condé ( Louis I de Bourbon ), a Prince of Blood.

To be continued...