St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre

by ariellep ~ April 13th, 2010. Filed under: Chapter 14: The Early Modern State.


During the early sixteenth century Europe was comprised of hundreds of individual units. Strong states were more common and more popular with the people than strong centralized governments were, due to the Catholic-Protestant religious wars that had been going on.  During those years no European monarch enjoyed absolute control over Europe, unlike the Indian and Chinese emperors.
There were two major political models: a king as the powerful center of the govt, which  was popular in France, and a parliamentary centered government like England’s.  These political theories spawned intense arguments and compelling works written by both sides of the spectrum.  Ironically most of the anti-absolutist writers came from France whereas most of the pro-absolutist arguments were from Englishmen.  King James I even wrote The True Law of Free Monarchs on the subject in 1598.


Meanwhile, back in France around 1560’s, the monarchy was at its weakest. The religious wars between the Catholics and the Protestants raged on all over the country.  One attack, in 1572, called the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, inspired great distrust in the monarchy, and made the people even more wary of their rulers, as well as a number of anti-absolutist works.
The massacre began on August 23, 1572, following an attempted asassination of political and military Huguenot leader Admiral Gaspard de Coligny.  On the 23rd the king, Charles IX, issued death warrants for de Coligny and many other important Huguenot figures effectively crippling them.  The killing spree spread through Paris and lasted for several weeks. No Protestant was safe from Catholic swords, unarmed men, women ,and children were killed without descretion.  Some were captured and enslaved as prisoners of war, while others were lucky and managed to flee to nearby countries.  However, most died at the orders of the King, and the rivers were full of dead bodies contaminating food and water sources and killing even more French people.  In the edn modern estimates vary between 5,000 and 10,000 were slain.

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