St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre – 1572

In the 16th century religious reform movements were sweeping through Europe like wildfire, challenging the over-arching authority of the Catholic Church and plunging the entire continent into turmoil. In France, the power struggles between Huguenots (protestants) and Catholics became known as the ‘Wars of Religion’. The youthful King Charles IX, under the thumb of his mother Catherine de Medici, sat on the fence placating first one side then the other. During a rare break in the religious wars, Catherine arranged the marriage of her daughter Marguerite de Valois to the influential Huguenot Prince Henry of Navarre – to the utter dismay of the Catholics.

As Henry’s wealthy retinue swanned into staunchly Catholic Paris, unrest was in the air. The populace, suffering from rising taxes and food prices, were outraged by the conspicuous luxury surrounding the wedding celebrations of August 18. Four days later, Admiral de Coligny, an important Huguenot political leader, was shot and injured in an assassination attempt. It was never established who was behind the attack but Catherine and Charles couldn’t have been entirely unaware of the plot.

The following night, St Bartholomew’s Eve, the wounded de Coligny was dragged from his bed and impaled on a pike; the next morning Paris awoke to find his corpse hanging by the ankles from Montfaucon gallows. This was the sign for a free-for-all, the worst eruption of sectarian mob-violence in the history of Europe. The Paris mob stormed through the city on a bestial rampage, a bloodbath that left thousands dead: in three days of carnage Huguenots all over the city were mercilessly hunted down regardless of age or gender.

The slaughter quickly spread to the provinces, almost all the Huguenot leaders were killed and thousands of ordinary people were either forced to convert to Catholicism or fled for their lives to Holland and England.

When was the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre: August 24 1572

Where was the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre: Paris, France

What was the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre death toll: Estimates vary considerably. It is on record that 1,100 bodies were recovered from the River Seine alone. Based on this figure, the overall death toll has been calculated at anywhere between
5,000 and 20,000.

You should know: When the Pope heard of the massacre (in true Christian spirit!) he assembled all the cardinals to chant a celebratory Te Deum, ordered a medal to be struck in honor of the occasion and had commemorative frescoes painted at the Vatican.

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