The French Wars of Religion was a time period in which French Catholics and Protestants (also known as Huguenots) fought for the role of France’s dominant religion. Notable leaders of the war included Elizabeth I for the Protestants and Philip II for the Catholics. A group of people known as the Politiques led by the likes of Catherine de Médici played a minor role. After the eight wars that occurred, both religions became more tolerant to both sides.


King Henry II is accidentally killed, with his son, young Francis II, ruling for a year before also passing away and thus weakening the monarchy. Then Bourbons of the southwest, Montmorency-Chatillons of central France, and the Guises of the east competed for ultimate power for France. Guises sided with the Catholics (due to Francis’s relations with Mary, Queen of Scots) while Bourbon and Montmorency families sided with Huguenots (French Protestants) The final factor was the Massacre of Huguenots at Vassy (1562)

Main Significance

Henry IV’s rule was a generous one; freedom of worship via the Edict of Nantes allowed Huguenots to exercise new rights, if only within their designated towns and territories, only easing tensions between Protestants and Catholics, not ending it. Henry IV’s other improvements in national finance, agriculture, and education strengthened the monarchy nearly back to that of Francis I and Henry II, resulting in reunification of France.

St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (link above)

A massacre of Protestants approved by the Queen, Catherine De Medici. The article recounts the gruesome stories and situations some Protestants had to face. Written by De Thou presumably to record events of the time.

War I (March 1562 - March 1563)

  • Duke Francois de Guise massacres a hundred Protestants (Huguenots) in Wassy/Vassy.
  • Louis de Bourbon, prince of Conde, and Admiral Gaspard de Coligny capture Orleans.
  • Battle of Dreux (December 1562): royal troops [Guise] vs. troops of Conde and High Constable of Montmorency. Royalists win, but both sides have heavy losses.
  • Duke of Guise lays siege to Orleans; Duke of Guise is assassinated by Poltron de Mere (Huguenot noble)
  • Ended by Peace of Amboise, signed by Catherine de Medici: toleration given to Huguenots, but celebration of religious services were limited to households of nobility and limited number of villages.

War II (September 1567 - March 1568)

  • Huguenots did preemptive strike to rid of Cardinal of Lorraine’s increasing influence n King Charles IX.
  • King Charles I and Catherine are warned and take refuge from Meaux to Paris.
  • Battle of St. Denis (November 1567): Huguenots win, but High Constable Anne de Montmorency is fatally wounded; replaced by Duke of Anjou (Henry III)
  • Ends with Peace of Longjumeau

War III (August 1568 - August 1570)

  • Both sides received foreign aid: Protestants with Prince of Orange and Elizabeth of England, the Catholics with King of Spain, the Pope, and the Duke of Tuscany
  • Battle of Jarnac (March 1569): Catholics beat Huguenots; Prince of Conde is killed, leaving Admiral Coligny in charge of the Huguenots.
  • Ends with Edict of St. Germain: return to civil tolerance

War IV (October 1572 - July 1573)

  • August 22, 1572: four days after Henri de Navarre’s marriage to Marguerite de Valois, sister of Charles IX, Admiral de Coligny narrowly escapes assassination.
  • August 24, 1572: Admiral de Coligny is decapitated, and approximately 3000 Protestants in Paris and 10000-20000 Protestants nationwide were murdered. This became known as St. Bartholomew's Massacre.
  • Occurred due to mistaken knowledge of Huguenot plot against the royal family.
  • Henri de Navarre and Prince de Conde were obligated to convert to Catholicism (due to royal lineage).
  • Many Protestants fled and took refuge, war took place in western and southern France.
  • Edict of Boulogne ends war with less favorable terms than its predecessors: freedom of worship is only given to La Rochelle, Nimes, and Montauban.
  • Charles IX dies in 1574, so Duke of Anjou is coronated as Henry III

War V (September 1575 - May 1576)

  • Duke of Alencon leads the “Malcontents,” a group of Protestants and moderate Catholics.
  • Henry III is forced to listen to Malcontents as they have the larger army.
  • Henry de Navarre escapes confinement in 1576.
  • Edict of Beaulieu ends war that grants freedom of worship throughout country.

War VI (March-September 1577)

  • The Catholic League heavily opposed anything that favored the Calvinists and Huguenots
  • Huguenots received minor foreign aid from Protestant states in England and Germany
  • Henry III takes back his word on the Edict of Beaulieu and enacts the Treaty of Bergerac

War VII (November 1579 - November 1580)

  • Prince Henri participates in the Dutch Revolt
  • Tensions between Catholics and Protestants leads to seizing of La Fere and creating the Treaty of Fleix
  • King Henry III’s son dies, leaving protestant Henry of Navarre the throne
  • Treaty of Joinville is signed by Duke of Guise with Philip II of Spain to fund the war against French Calvinists

War VIII (September 1585 - April 1598)

The War of the Three Henries

  • Henry III of France v. Henry of Navarre v. Henry of Lorraine
  • Henry of Navarre receives aid from England and won Battle of Coutras
  • Henry III is pushed back and forced to make compromises
  • Henry III is assassinated, Henry of Navarre assumes the throne and becomes Catholic


1598: Henry IV (Henry de Navarre) takes the decisive ascension as monarch and signs the Treaty of Vervins, which made Spain recognize Henry IV’s title as king, and the Treaty of Nantes, which granted limited civil tolerance, religious coexistence, and reformed service of worship to all reformed Protestants.