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  • Writer's picturejoyce hampton

A massacre which will always be remembered - St Bartholomew's

August had been a hot month, but tensions were high as the guests had arrived for the wedding of the Protestant Henri of Navarre and the Catholic Marguerite of Valois, sister to the French King. The wedding had to all intent and purposes been brokered as not only a union of man and wife but of two opposing faiths – Catholic and Protestant and took place on the 18th August.

Festivities were due to take place both before and more importantly after the wedding and to continue for many days as both religious parties gathered to witness this occasion, although many on both sides disapproved, because much blood had been spilt on both sides of the divide during the previous decades as the attitude of some had become entrenched.

On the 22nd August an attempt was made on the life of one of the Huguenot leaders, Gaspard Coligny who was wounded but not fatally. Huguenots, in Paris for the marriage celebrations, were enraged by this act and, as tensions increased during the following hours, they demanded the perpetrators be brought to justice. Alarmed the King’s Council called a meeting on the night of the 23rd/ 24th August, which continued for many hours. Eventually, worn down by his mother Catherine de Medici, the young King Francis IX was forced to order the assassination of Huguenot leaders and their followers who had come to Paris to witness the marriage. His chilling words as he gave the orders were

“Kill them all let no man be left to reproach me”

During the early hours of the 24th August, St Bartholomew’s Eve, the Mayor of Paris was ordered to lock the city gates and make ready the militia. Shortly after these orders were issued soldiers arrived at Coligny’s lodgings, and pushing aside his guards, and found then murdered the sleep dazed Coligny before tossing his then lifeless body out of a first-floor window onto the ground below.

The news rapidly spread across Paris and the bells rang throughout the city signalling the bloodbath which has gone down in history as a bloody massacre of men, women and children whose only crime, for the most part, was their choice of faith.

The St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre spread outwards from Paris reaching other parts of France and continued for days as the streets ran rivers of blood. As both before and since once the metaphorical Pandora’s box was opened it was going to be hard to shut the lid again.

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