The French Wars of Religion

Lydia Chrisman and Sierra Carroll

Years: 1562-1598 (1)

Summary: The French Wars of Religion were started by conflict in France between Protestants and Catholics. French Calvinism inspired the French ruler, Catherine de Medicis to tolerate the Huguenots. This did not sit well with the very Roman Catholic Guise Family. Their supporters massacred a large congregation of Huguenots in 1562. Attacks between the two religions continued until 1576, when a peace treaty was made. The peace lasted until 1584 when the Huguenot leader Henry of Navarre became the heir to the French throne. The wars continued until Henry agreed to accept the Edict of Nantes which allowed Roman Catholicism and Huguenots to coexist with toleration.(3)


Root Cause: The cause of the French Wars of religion, was tensions between Roman Catholics and Huguenots. The Roman Catholics did not want to be forced to tolerate the Huguenots, and the Huguenots shared a similar dislike of the Roman Catholics (3)

Direct Cause: The Guise family inspired their followers to massacre a group of Huguenots in 1562. (3)



1) 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.

2) Its partisans massacred a Huguenot congregation at Vassy (1562), causing an uprising in the provinces.

3) Many inconclusive skirmishes followed, and compromises were reached in 1563, 1568, and 1570. After the murder of the Huguenot leader Gaspard II de Coligny in the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Day (1572), the civil war resumed. (3)


Some assert that the Edict of Nantes in 1598 concluded the wars, although a resurgence of rebellious activity following this leads some to believe the Peace of Alais in 1629 is the actual conclusion. At the conclusion of the conflict in 1598, Huguenots were granted substantial rights and freedoms by the Edict of Nantes, though it did not end hostility towards them. (2)

Key Groups/Figures (3)

  • Protestants- (Reformed Christians)
  • Roman Catholics- (A massive religion of Europe at the time was Roman Catholicism)
  • Catherine de Medicis- (French Ruler who showed tolerance for Huguenots)
  • The Huguenots- (French Calvinists)
  • Gaspard ll de Coligny- (Huguenot Leader)

Main Significance

The religious toleration of the Huguenots guaranteed by the Edict of Nantes (1598). The wars weakened the authority of the monarchy, already fragile under the rule of Francis II and then Charles IX, though it later reaffirmed its role under Henry IV. (2)

Edict Of Nantes

The Edict of Nantes was written in 1598 and signed by Henry IV. It states that Roman Catholics maintain their rights to worship freely and undisturbed. Similarly, it granted Protestants the rights to worship publicly without being persecuted or disturbed. It was written to officially end the French Wars of Religion.