French Wars of Religion


Root Cause

When Henry II died unexpectedly, his son Francis II took over but he died after a year. This weakened the monarchy and allowed the Bourbons (from the Southwest), the Montmorency (from the center of France), and the strongest among them the Guise (from the East) to compete for power. Guise established power while Bourbon and Montmorency supported the Huguenots for political reasons.

Direct Cause

The Duke of Guise surprised a Protestant congregation at Vassy in Champagne, and massacred many of the worshipers. This was the start of the religious wars to follow and increased tension and violence among the Protestants.

Important People

The First War (1562-63)

Cause: Massacre at Vassy in 1562

Only one battle was fought at Dreux with a Catholic victory. The first generation Catholic leadership was eliminated as the Duc de Guise and Antoine de Bourbon were killed. The Edict of Amboise was issued in March '63 which limited the practice of protestant religion. This increased resentment and tension in towns.

The Second War (1567-68)

The people were afraid that Catherine was plotted with the Spanish to exterminate Protestants. The Huguenots attempted to kidnap the king. The plan failed and provoked another war. 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.

The Third War (1568-70)

The Cardinal de Lorraine plotted to overturn the peace and capture Condé and Coligny. The Guise became closer linked to the Spanish. The battle moved the the rural south of France, and the cost of the army was detrimental to the monarchy. There was another peace that was reached in St. Germain that was more appealing to the Protestants as it named specific towns as secure strongholds, returned confiscated property to Huguenots, and guaranteed some equality before the law.

The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (1572)

On August 22, as Admiral de Coligny was returning to his lodgings from a visit with the king, when an assassin fired at him. Coligny refused, despite the Huguenots' advice, to flee to a Protestant stronghold. The Huguenots get threatened in the street. On the 23, the decision to kill Coligny was made, and the Huguenots guarded him. Then Coligny was killed in a violent stabbing the next morning followed by a rampage of killing all Protestants. The massacres spread to other provinces for the next several months. The massacre destroyed an entire generation of Huguenot leaders. Although it wasn't clear at the time, this was the beginning of the decline of the Protestant church in France.

The Fourth War (1572-73)

The city of La Rochelle, the capital of the Protestants, refused to pay taxes to the king because of the massacre and admittance to the royal governor. The king declared war on the city in '72 and battled an army led by the Henri d'Anjou.The war was high in causalities on both sides, and the royal treasury was depleting. The siege ended when Henri d'Anjou left for Poland where he had been elected King. The Treaty of La Rochelle was disadvantageous to the Protestants, and left them certain to break it when they were strong enough.

The Fifth War (1576)

Navarre escaped from escaped from court and raised an army behind him. The Duc d'Alençon was part of this army and used propaganda to promote himself as an alternate leader who would cut taxes. Henry was worried that the Guise could threaten his power, so he gave the Huguenots more concessions than usual. This was known as the Treaty of Monsieur.

The Sixth War (1577)

In the spring of '76, a convocation of the Estates General was held. Despite Protestants pushing for this for some time, there were very few Protestant delegates present at the Estate. The Estates wanted France to be unified over religion without spending any money (even though the wars had increased France's national debt). Some royal forces tried to take back Protestant towns, and succeed with La Charité, but the majority of Protestant towns were still in tact in the south. The Peace of Bergerac was signed in July. It was more restrictive in allowing places of worship to the Protestants than the previous peace, but was still largely the same. It disallowed any leagues and associations, trying to fend off the growing movement from the Catholic right wing.

The Seventh War (1580)

Henri de Navarre's seized the city of Cahors. Navarre and Catherine de Medici signed the Treaty of Nerac, followed by the Peace of Fleix. After the Duc d'Anjou died Henri de Navarre became the next heir to the throne after Henri III.


The French monarchy was significantly put in debt and weakened, and by Henri de Navarre's rule, France was Protestant (especially in the South). The wars also show how aristocrats and kings used religion to their advantage to gain political power.


Primary Source:

Summary: The French wars of religion began in 1562 and ended with the Edict of Nantes in 1598. While the battles were fought over disputes between Huguenots and Catholics, the wars were also fueled by individuals who supported either the Protestants or Catholics as a method to achieve political power.

Other Sources: (for pictures)

Brought to you by: Brooke Mattson and Sarah Hamilton