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1572

Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre

King Charles IX of France, under the sway of his mother, Catherine de Medici, orders the assassination of Huguenot Protestant leaders in Paris, setting off an orgy of killing that results in the massacre of tens of thousands of Huguenots all across France.

Two days earlier, Catherine had ordered the murder of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, a Huguenot leader whom she felt was leading her son into war with Spain. However, Coligny was only wounded, and Charles promised to investigate the assassination in order to placate the angry Huguenots. Catherine then convinced the young king that the Huguenots were on the brink of rebellion, and he authorized the murder of their leaders by the Catholic authorities. Most of these Huguenots were in Paris at the time, celebrating the marriage of their leader, Henry of Navarre, to the king’s sister, Margaret.

A list of those to be killed was drawn up, headed by Coligny, who was brutally beaten and thrown out of his bedroom window just before dawn on August 24. Once the killing started, mobs of Catholic Parisians, apparently overcome with bloodlust, began a general massacre of Huguenots. Charles issued a royal order on August 25 to halt the killing, but his pleas went unheeded as the massacres spread. Mass slaughters continued into October, reaching the provinces of Rouen, Lyon, Bourges, Bourdeaux, and Orleans. An estimated 3,000 French Protestants were killed in Paris, and as many as 70,000 in all of France. The massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Day marked the resumption of religious civil war in France.

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