French Wars



The French Wars of Religion were between the Roman Catholics and Protestants who lived in France.The spread of French Calvinism persuaded the French ruler Catherine de Médicis to show more tolerance for the Huguenots, which angered the powerful Roman Catholic Guise family. The two groups did not learn to coexist and there was many uprisings of each group against the other. There were attempted compromises until the Huguenot leader was murdered, thus resuming the civil war. The Huguenots new leader, Henry, rose to power in the French throne leading to another war and Spain getting involved in helping the Roman Catholics. Eventually, Henry ruled with religious toleration for the Catholics.


Significant Details

The French Wars of Religion came to a head when the three major powers, otherwise known as the Henries (Henry III, Henry of Navarre, and Henri de Lorraine), came to battle in the War of the Three Henries. Following the subsequent assassinations of Henry III and Henri, Henry IV, cousin to Henry III, was named ruler and therefore passed not only the Treaty of Vervins (ending the War) but also the Edict of Nantes, allowing the freedom to worship across France. This being said, Henry IV did eventually choose to convert to Catholicism to rally more support from the still mainly Catholic country over which he now ruled.

French Religious Wars

1st War: 1562-1563: Provoked by the massacre in Vassy against the Protestants. Protestants rebelled and assassinated the Catholic Duke of Guise. This resulted in Catherine de Medici signing the Edict of Amboise, which allowed Protestants to worship privately and on the outskirts of some cities. They were not allowed to worship publicly as the Catholics were.

2nd War: 1567-1568: The Guise faction remained powerful. Catherine plotted to exterminate the Catholics with the Spanish government. This plan failed, and provoked the second war. This was much a repeat of the first. At the end of it, Montmorency was dead, the crown was more in debt, and the Peace of Longjumeau was a pretty much the same as the Peace of Amboise.

3rd War: 1568-1570: Both Catholics and Protestants were benefitting from foreign aid. The Huguenots were assisted by the Prince of Orange and Elizabeth I, while the Catholics relied on the king of Spain, the Pope, and the Duke of Tuscany. Charles IX had a treaty signed in Saint-Germain in August 1570, which gave back some religious freedom to the Huguenots where it had been previously.

4th War: 1572-1573 The Protestants, refused to pay taxes to the king because of the massacre and refused admittance to the royal governor. The king declared war on the town in November 1572 and finally got an army to besiege it in February. The Treaty of La Rochelle was disadvantageous to the Protestants, and left them certain to break it when they were strong enough.

5th War: 1576: Charles IX's brother, the Duke of Alençon, formed the Malcontents--a group of tolerant Catholics and Protestants. They called for political reforms so as to support their worship. Charles IX died and passed the crown onto Henry III in 1575. Henry III originally denied the Malcontents' demands, but was forced to concede after discovering a mismatch in army size. He signed the Edicts of Etigny and Beaulieu, granting their requests and also expanding freedom of worship to everywhere except Paris and a five mile radius around it.

6th War: 1577: The Catholics were firmly opposed to the Edict of Beaulieu, and formed the Catholic league in retaliation.Catholics could not overcome the Protestant power in southern France. The Edict of Bergerac was then passed, ending the sixth war and allowing the Huguenots slightly more restricted rights than the last edict passed.

7th War: 1580: Henri III died,he most significant event of this short-lived conflict was the fall of the city of Cahors to the Protestants. The war ended with Henri of Navarre being named as the new heir to the French throne.

8th War: 1584-1589: The Protestant forces, The Catholic league forces, and the royal forces all fought in this civil war. At that time, Protestants had most of their rights taken away; they were not allowed to worship publicly or hold office. The League, supported by the Guise, were victorious in the North and the East of France. In 1589, Henri III and Henri of Navarre joined forces to take back Paris from the Guises. Henri III died during this battle, and named Henri of Navarre as his heir on his deathbed. Henri IV began a siege of Paris, and eventually converted to Catholicism to win the support of the Parisians.

Key Figures

Catherine de Médicis: French ruler influenced by the spread of Calvinism who chose to advocate more tolerance of the Huguenots.
Guise Family: Powerful, Roman-Catholic family who disagreed with de Médicis and subsequently harassed and killed many Huguenots.
Gaspard II de Coligny: Influential Huguenot leader who was massacred by the Guises´, following in the continuation of the Civil War even after a compromise had been reached.
Henry of Navarre/Henry IV: Huguenot leader who was recognized as heir to the French Throne, resulting in the War of the Three Henrys between the then-King Henry III of France, Henri de Lorraine (King of Spain who defended Roman Catholicism), and Henry IV. Later embraced Catholicism which, in turn with the accepted toleration of Huguenots, ended the Wars and reunited France.
Huguenots: Also referred to as French Calvinists, this group was being persecuted against in the then-Catholic state of France.
Roman-Catholics: The predominant religion in France at the time of the conflict. Generally unaccepting and intolerant of other religions during the Wars.
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