Today is a bloody anniversary.
Four-hundred and fifty-four years ago, on March 1, 1562 a massacre that began the first of France’s eight Wars of Religion occurred: the Massacre of Vassy. Just six weeks earlier the Crown—young King Charles IX was on the throne and his mother Catherine de Médicis was regent—had signed the “Edict of January,” granting Protestants within French borders certain rights of conscience. The powerful Guise family—uber Catholic and thinking they knew better—wanted that edict rescinded. The Duc de Guise (Francis, father of the Duc in my latest novel, Médicis Daughter) saw a chance to make that happen when, while traveling to his estates, he stopped in Vassy to hear Mass and happened upon a group of French Huguenot civilians worshiping in barn near the Catholic Church. Francis and his men attacked. Seventy-four members of the Protestant congregation were slain, and more than one-hundred injured. Both numbers included women and children.
Not surprisingly, the massacre resulted in a newly militant attitude among French Protestants. In the wake of Vassy the national synod of the reformed church appealed to the Prince de Condé to become “Protector of the Churches,” and he and those in his sway accepted the task. This marked a switch in church leadership away from various pastors and towards “noble protectors.” It also set the stage for decades of military clashes in the name of religion.
Hoping to cool matters down and in response to French Protestant calls for “justice” Catherine de Médicis appointed the Cardinal de Bourbon governor of Paris. The Cardinal in turn immediately ordered both the Duc de Guise and the Protestant Prince de Condé to leave the city, but Guise refused (Condé left as ordered). Catherine knew right then if she hadn’t known before that the Guises were going to be a serious thorn in her side.