Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
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The Art of Asia
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Artists that Changed the World
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Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
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Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Early Modern Period

16th - 18th century


The smooth transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age is conventionally fixed on such events as the Reformation and the discovery of the "New World," which brought about the emergence of a new image of man and his world. Humanism, which spread out of Italy, also made an essential contribution to this with its promotion of a critical awareness of Christianity and the Church. The Reformation eventually broke the all-embracing power of the Church. After the Thirty Years' War, the concept of a universal empire was also nullified. The era of the nation-state began, bringing with it the desire to build up political and economic power far beyond Europe. The Americas, Africa, and Asia provided regions of expansion for the Europeans.

Proportions of the Human Figure by Leonardo da Vinci (drawing, ca. 1490)
is a prime example of the new approach of Renaissance
artists and scientists to the anatomy of the human body.



France: From the Wars of Religion to the Eve of the Revolution


Historical Context

1589 - 1610 Henry XIV King of France
1610 - 1643 Reign of Louis XIII
1643 -1715 Reign of Louis XIV
1715 - 1774 Reign of Louis XV
1774 - 1792 Reign of Louis XVI
1793 Loius XVI & Marie Antoinette tried for treason and beheaded

The French Wars of Religion and the Edict of Nantes

Bloody religious wars engulfed France during the reign of the last Valois king, Henry III. His successor, Henry IV of the House of Bourbon, was the first to be able to restore calm to the country with the Edict of Nantes.


Originating in the Swiss Cantons, Calvinism gradually spread to France and steadily gained followers from the middle of the 16th century on. They were called Huguenots, a French derivative from the German word Eidgenossen ("Swiss confederate"). A substantial proportion of the nobility became Huguenots—particularly the Bourbons, who not only had large holdings in France but also ruled as sovereign kings in neighboring Navarre. Being relatives of the Valois, they also had hereditary claims to the French throne.

The mighty Catholic 6 dukes of Guise were hostile to them.

6 The Guise brothers, leaders of the Catholic faction;
from left: Duke Charles of Mayenne,
Duke Henry I of Guise,
and Cardinal Louis of Lorraine,
portrait from the 16th century

Catherine de Medicis tried to play the factions off against one another to preserve the authority of the crown. To bind the Bourbons to her, she married off her daughter, Margaret, to Henry of Navarre in 1572.

At the same time she planned to do away with the leader of the Huguenots, 10 Gaspard de Coligny.

10 Admiral Gaspard de Coligny,
the leader of the Huguenots

Admiral de Coligny impressing his murderers,
by Joseph-Benoit Suvée, 1787

Coligny's murder
(falling body, upper left),
as depicted in a mural
by Giorgio Vasari

When the assassination attempt failed, Catherine and the House of Guise, fearing revenge, initiated a massacre of thousands of Huguenots who had remained in Paris after the wedding on the 9 night of St. Bartholomew's.

9 The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, 23-24 August, 1572 by Francois Dubois

Henry of Navarre fled to his kingdom, and his marriage to Margaret was later annulled.

A civil war broke out in France between the religious factions, including the nobility and the royal family. The "Holy League" of Catholics, founded in 1576 under the leadership of the dukes of Guise, allied with the Habsburgs, while the Huguenots were supported by England. In 1574, Catherine's third son, Henry III, then reigning as the king of Poland, ascended to the French throne. He had no children and when the last of his brothers died in 1584, Henry of Navarre became the successor.

Five years later, a monk murdered 8 Henry III, and the Bourbon Huguenot Henry of Navarre succeeded him as 7, 11 Henry IV.

In order to be recognized as king, he converted to Catholicism in 1593, famously saying, "Paris is worth a Mass." In 1598 he signed the Edict of Nantes that granted rights to France's Protestant minority. He was murdered in 1610.

8 Dominican monk murders Henry III,
copper engraving, 17th century


7 Henry IV on horseback and wearing a suit of armor,
statue, Paris

Henry IV as Hercules with Hydra



Portrait of Marguerite de Valois, "La Reine Margot", anonymous, ca. 1572

Maria de' Medici as a young girl


11 Coronation of Henry IV in Chartres,1594



Excerpt from

the Edict of Nantes,

issued by Henry IV:

"We forbid all our subjects, of some state and quality that they are, to renew the memory, to attack, to feel, to scold, or to provoke each other by reproach of what took place, for some cause and excuse whether it is, to compete for it, to dispute, quarrel or offend itself or take offence actually or at word, but contain itself and live peacefully together as brothers, friends and fellow countrymen..."

Henry IV signs the Edict of Nantes, wood engraving, 19th century



Assassination of Henry IV (Henry IV, King of France; François Ravaillac), by Gaspar Bouttats



Henry III

Henry III

king of France and Poland
also called Henry of Valois, or (until 1574) duc d’Anjou
born Sept. 19, 1551, Fontainebleau, France
died Aug. 2, 1589, Saint-Cloud

king of France from 1574, under whose reign the prolonged crisis of the Wars of Religion was made worse by dynastic rivalries arising because the male line of the Valois dynasty was going to die out with him.

The third son of Henry II and Catherine de Médicis, Henry was at first entitled duc d’Anjou. Given command of the royal army against the Huguenots during the reign of his brother, Charles IX, he defeated two Huguenot leaders, the prince de Condé (Louis I de Bourbon) at Jarnac in March 1569 and Gaspard de Coligny at Moncontour in October of that year. Henry was Catherine’s favourite son, much to Charles’s chagrin, and she used her influence to advance his fortunes. In 1572 she presented him as a candidate for the vacant throne of Poland, to which he was finally elected in May 1573. In May 1574, however, Charles died, and Henry abandoned Poland and was crowned at Reims on Feb. 13, 1575. He was married two days later to Louise de Vaudémont, a princess of the house of Lorraine. The marriage proved childless.

The French Wars of Religion (1562–98) continued during Henry III’s reign. In May 1576 he agreed to the Peace of Monsieur, named after the style of his brother François, duc d’Alençon, but his concession to the Huguenots in the Edict of Beaulieu angered the Roman Catholics, who formed the Holy League to protect their own interests. Henry resumed the war against the Huguenots, but the Estates-General, meeting at Blois in 1576, was weary of Henry’s extravagance and refused to grant him the necessary subsidies. The Peace of Bergerac (1577) ended the hostilities temporarily; the Huguenots lost some of their liberties by the Edict of Poitiers, and the Holy League was dissolved. In 1584, however, the Roman Catholics were alarmed when the Huguenot leader, Henry of Navarre (the future Henry IV), became heir to the throne on the death of Henry III’s brother François, and the League was revived under the leadership of Henri, 3e duc de Guise.

Henry III, acting on his mother’s advice, tried to placate the Holy League by revoking past edicts that had granted toleration to the Huguenots, but its members regarded him as a lukewarm defender of the faith and tried to depose him. A rising of the people of Paris, a League stronghold, on May 12, 1588 (the Estates-Day of the Barricades), caused the king to flee to Chartres. In December 1588 he took advantage of a meeting of the Estates-General at Blois to have the duc de Guise and his brother Louis, the cardinal of Lorraine, assassinated. This, of course, exacerbated the League’s hostility, and Henry III was compelled to ally himself with Henry of Navarre. Together they laid siege to Paris, but on Aug. 1, 1589, Jacques Clément, a fanatical Jacobin friar, gained admission to the king’s presence and stabbed him. Before he died, Henry, who left no issue, acknowledged Henry of Navarre as his heir.

Henry III had a good intellect, an ingratiating manner, cultivated tastes, and a gift for oratory but could not save France from civil war. He issued ordinances designed to correct many of the financial and judicial problems of the country, but he refused to exert the effort needed to enforce them. He was more attentive to the trappings of power than to its substance; and he lost the sympathy of powerful elements by his aloofness at court and by the favours he conferred upon his mignons, a small group of handsome young men with whom he indulged in questionable excesses. Above all, he was so extravagant as virtually to bankrupt his kingdom.

Encyclopaedia Britannica




Henry IV

Henry IV of France by Frans Pourbus

king of France
also called (until 1572) Prince de Béarn, byname Henry of Navarre, or Henry of Bourbon, French Henri de Navarre, or Henry de Bourbon

born Dec. 13, 1553, Pau, Béarn, Navarre [France]
died May 14, 1610, Paris, France

king of Navarre (as Henry III, 1572–89) and first Bourbon king of France (1589–1610), who, at the end of the Wars of Religion, abjured Protestantism and converted to Roman Catholicism (1593) in order to win Paris and reunify France. With the aid of such ministers as the Duke de Sully, he brought new prosperity to France.

Prince of Béarn.
Henry de Bourbon-Navarre was the son of Antoine de Bourbon, Duke de Vendôme, and Jeanne d’Albret, queen of Navarre from 1555. Henry, through his father, was in the sole legitimate line of descent from the Capetian kings of France. It was scarcely to be expected, however, that he would one day succeed to the throne of France, since Catherine de Médicis had already borne three sons to the reigning king, Henry II, and would soon bear him a fourth. Prince Henry spent most of his early childhood in Béarn. From 1561 to 1567 he lived with his second cousins, the children of the king of France, among whom was his future wife Margaret.

The religious crisis between Roman Catholic and Protestant (Huguenot) forces was then coming to a head, leading to a long period of civil war. Antoine de Bourbon temporarily allied himself with the Protestants but changed sides and was mortally wounded in battle against them. Henry’s mother, Jeanne d’Albret, held firm and announced her Calvinism in 1560. Henry had just turned 13 when his mother brought him back to Béarn. At a crucial age in his intellectual development, he was brought up in the strict principles of Protestantism. About the same time, he began his military education. In the autumn of 1567, he served as nominal head of a punitive expedition launched against the rebellious Roman Catholic gentry of lower Navarre, which ended in an easy victory.

In 1568 his mother put him into the charge of her brother-in-law Louis I de Bourbon, Prince de Condé, who was the leader of the Protestant forces. The Protestants were surprised and defeated near Jarnac on March 13, 1569, by the Duke d’Anjou, the future Henry III, and Condé was killed. Jeanne d’Albret took Henry to the new leader of the Protestant forces, Gaspard de Coligny, who gave the young prince his military education. Henry distinguished himself at the Battle of Arnay-le-Duc on June 26, 1570, when he led the first charge of the Huguenot cavalry. The long campaign through the ravaged provinces, extending from Poitou to the heart of Burgundy, forged in him the soldierly spirit that he would retain throughout his life and made him reflect on the disaster that had befallen the kingdom.

King of Navarre.
Peace was concluded in August 1570, and a very liberal edict was granted the Protestants. Many persons, including Catherine de Médicis, hoped the civil war had come to an end. In order to strengthen the peace, a marriage was arranged between Prince Henry and Margaret of Valois of the French royal house. Meanwhile, upon his mother’s death in June 1572, Prince Henry became king of Navarre and sovereign lord of Béarn. On August 18, 1572, he and Margaret were married in Paris, but on August 24 came the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, in which thousands of French Protestants were massacred by royal forces. The marriage was publicly styled the “scarlet nuptials” because of the bloodshed. Ordered by his brother-in-law Charles IX to abjure his Protestant faith, Henry yielded. His conversion to Roman Catholicism was obviously of dubious sincerity, and he was therefore held for three-and-a-half years at the courts of Charles IX and then Henry III. Careful to restrain his impatience, he hid his forceful personality from his detainers. In February 1576, however, he at last succeeded in escaping from the French court, whereupon he recanted and joined the combined forces of Protestants and Catholic rebels against Henry III. Once free, he displayed his sharp intellect and political acumen in his role as protector of the Protestant churches. His common sense—one of his outstanding traits, except in love affairs—manifested itself when civil war broke out anew at the end of 1576. The Huguenots fared badly, and Henry, evaluating the situation, was able to persuade his coreligionists to give up the struggle and accept the Treaty of Bergerac on Sept. 17, 1577, despite the sacrifices it imposed on them.

Heir presumptive to the throne.
On the death of Henry III’s brother, François, Duke d’Anjou, in 1584, Henry de Bourbon-Navarre became the heir presumptive to the throne of France. He was irrevocably opposed, however, by the militant Roman Catholics of the Holy League, who were unwilling to accept a Protestant king, and by the pope, who excommunicated him and declared him devoid of any right to inherit the crown. Headed by Henri, Duke de Guise, and his brothers, the League claimed to be the defender of the ancestral faith of France, but its increasing reliance on Spanish support rapidly became a serious threat to French independence. Henry III lacked the strength to contain the League’s overwhelming influence.

Excluded from the succession by the Treaty of Nemours (1585) between Henry III and the Holy League headed by the Duke de Guise, Henry of Navarre fought the War of the Three Henrys mainly in southwestern France. In this crucial episode in which the very independence of France was at stake, Henry’s activity was the essential factor. Though too prone in peace to neglect public affairs for private pleasure, he was an unrivaled leader in times of peril. Quick to grasp the significance of every situation, he was equally prompt to act, and victory was invariably the reward of his bold swiftness. He was not a brilliant strategist but had the ability to inspire his men to action. Four centuries later, his notes and speeches still have the impact and clarity of a clarion call. The outcome of the war hinged on the encounter between Henry and the army of Henry III, who had come increasingly under the influence of the League; and at the Battle of Coutras (Oct. 20, 1587) Henry of Navarre defeated the French king’s army under Anne, Duke de Joyeuse. Meanwhile, the League had accepted the daughter of Philip II of Spain and Elizabeth of Valois as the next ruler of France. Henry III grasped the full meaning of this situation for the future of France and had the Duke de Guise assassinated in December 1588. He was then reconciled with Henry of Navarre because he needed the latter’s help to recover Paris from the control of the League. Their united forces laid siege to Paris on July 30, but on August 1 Henry III, the last of the Valois dynasty, was stabbed in his headquarters at Saint-Cloud. He died the next day, after staunchly proclaiming Henry of Navarre, the head of the house of Bourbon, as his successor to the French crown.

Henry IV.
Henry IV was now king of France, but it would take him nine years of struggle against the Holy League to secure his kingdom. Many of the Roman Catholic gentry who had remained loyal to Henry III deserted him, and his army was growing exhausted. He had to withdraw from the outskirts of Paris, which remained the League’s principal stronghold. Henry won victories at Arques in 1589 and Ivry in 1590 and mounted unsuccessful sieges of Paris in 1590 and of Rouen in 1591–92. He was able to capture Chartres and Noyon from the League, but the war dragged on interminably, and the king realized that it had to be ended at any cost. After long hesitation, he undertook a final conversion back to Roman Catholicism in July 1593. Though many remained unconvinced of his sincerity, Henry’s conversion removed all legitimate pretext for resistance, and important towns, notably Orléans and Lyon, submitted to him in growing numbers. On March 22, 1594, Paris finally gave in to him. Whether or not he made the comment attributed to him—“Paris is well worth a mass!”—he went, amid cheers, to hear the Te Deum at Notre Dame.

Yet even after Pope Clement VIII removed the ban of excommunication from Henry IV on Sept. 17, 1595, Spain continued to support the remaining resistance to him in France, chiefly in Brittany under the leadership of Philippe-Emmanuel, Duke de Mercoeur (the younger brother of the late Duke de Guise). In order to bring this situation to an end, Henry declared war on Philip II of Spain in January 1595 and undertook mopping-up operations against the League and its Spanish allies, defeating them at Fontaine-Française in Burgundy (June 1595) and retaking Amiens from Spanish control (September 1597). The Duke de Mercoeur came to terms with the king in March 1598, and the Peace of Vervins was reached between France and Spain on May 2, 1598. On April 13, 1598, Henry signed the Edict of Nantes, which confirmed Roman Catholicism as the state church but granted a large measure of religious freedom to Protestants, who were also given the right to hold public office and who retained their fortresses in certain cities. The Edict of Nantes ended nearly 40 years of religious strife and civil war that had left France tottering on the brink of disintegration.

The achievements of the reign.
Henry IV had united the kingdom and achieved peace at home and abroad. He now proceeded to bring order and prosperity back to France. The rapidity with which he restored order surprised his contemporaries, and the effect of his personal policy in that achievement cannot be ignored. This policy stemmed from the wide experience that he had acquired during the conquest of the kingdom; acquainted with all the social classes of France, he knew what each one needed (he is traditionally credited with having desired for every labourer la poule au pot, a chicken to eat, every Sunday); and he used his geniality and his persuasive manner to win obedience.

It was the wealthy merchants and the crown officials who had contributed most to Henry’s success in acquiring his kingdom, and he looked to them for its rehabilitation and economic progress. Though he succeeded in suppressing certain useless government offices, he consolidated many others by according the “annual right,” or paulette (1604), whereby the holder of an office could make it hereditary through yearly payments of one-sixtieth of the price he had originally paid for it. This practice would later create serious problems for Henry’s successors, but its immediate effect was to restore an adequate income to the government, which skillfully put it to use rebuilding the French economy. At first Henry controlled the Parlements (high courts) through the moderate approach of the chancellor Pomponne de Bellièvre, but gradually he asserted his personal authority more and more, relying for this purpose on Maximilien de Béthune, Duke de Sully. Among Henry’s other able councillors were Nicolas Brulart de Sillery, Nicolas de Neufville, and Pierre Jeannin.

Henry’s government eliminated the formidable national debt and realized a reserve of 18 million livres. To revive the economy he undertook projects to develop agriculture, planting colonies of Dutch and Flemish settlers to drain the marshes of Saintonge. He introduced the silk industry to France and encouraged the manufacture of cloth, glassware, and tapestries, luxury items that had formerly been imported from Holland or Italy. Under the direction of Sully, new highways and canals were constructed to aid the flow of commerce. New treaties were concluded with the Ottoman sultan Ahmed I (1604), and commercial treaties were signed with England (1606) and with Spain and Holland. Support was given to Samuel de Champlain’s exploration in Canada. The French army was reorganized, its pay was raised and assured, a school of cadets formed, the artillery service was reconstituted, and strongholds on the frontier were fortified. Though he lacked the artistic taste of the Valois kings, Henry beautified Paris, completing the Tuileries and building the great gallery of the Louvre, the Pont Neuf, the Hôtel-de-Ville, and the Place Royale (now Place des Vosges).

Although he was himself a convert, Henry managed to reassure the Protestants and to grant them privileges in the state while at the same time promoting the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformation, protecting the monastic orders, and improving the recruitment of the Roman Catholic clergy in France. Pope Clement VIII’s annulment of Henry’s marriage to Margaret of Valois made it possible for him to marry the princess of Tuscany, Marie de Médicis, in October 1600. The new queen gave birth on Sept. 27, 1601, to the dauphin, the future Louis XIII, and eventually to four other children.

Henry IV’s foreign policy, without being aggressive toward Spain, was designed to diminish Spanish influence in Europe. He was able to force Savoy to sign the Treaty of Lyons (1601), thereby acquiring Bresse, Bugey, and other pieces of territory on France’s eastern border. He also concluded alliances with the German Protestant princes, with Lorraine, and with the Swiss. A great French success was the mediation between Spain and the United Provinces of the Netherlands, which led to the conclusion of the Twelve Years’ Truce in 1609.

In the latter year difficulties arose with the Holy Roman emperor over the Cleves-Jülich succession. After some hesitation, Henry finally decided on a military expedition to expel the imperial troops from Jülich, but whether he would have gone on to risk a new general war against the Habsburgs is unknown. He was assassinated in Paris on May 14, 1610, by a fanatical Roman Catholic named François Ravaillac.

The first of the Bourbon kings of France, Henry IV brought unity and prosperity to the country after the ruinous 16th-century Wars of Religion. Though he was not a great strategist, his courage and gallantry made him a great military leader. And though he was never an efficient administrator, his political insight, his willingness to enlist the cooperation of well-chosen ministers, and his understanding of his people made him an efficient ruler.

Henry IV died a victim of the fanaticism he wanted to eradicate. Centuries ahead of his own time, he said, “Those who follow their consciences are of my religion, and I am of the religion of those who are brave and good.” Too often misunderstood during his lifetime, his tragic end seemed finally to have opened the eyes of his people. They soon bestowed on him the appellation Henry the Great.

Henry is one of the most popular figures in French history for his amorous propensities as well as his political achievements. His love affairs were numerous, the most celebrated being those with Gabrielle d’Estrées, Henriette de Balsac d’Entragues, and Charlotte des Essarts. His many amours earned him the appellation of le vert galant (“the gay old spark”).

Raymond Ritter
Victor-Lucien Tapié

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Margaret of Valois

Portrait of Marguerite de Valois,
"La Reine Margot", by Francois Clouet

queen consort of Navarre
also called Margaret Of France, or Queen Margot, French Marguerite De Valois, or De France, or Reine Margot

born May 14, 1553, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Fr.
died March 27, 1615, Paris

queen consort of Navarre known for her licentiousness and for her Mémoires, a vivid exposition of France during her lifetime.

The daughter of Henry II of France and Catherine de Médicis, she played a secondary part in the Wars of Religion (1562–98) from the moment she took her place at court in 1569. Her relations with her brothers Charles IX and the duc d’Anjou, the future Henry III, were often strained, and she had an early liaison with Henri, duc de Guise, the leader of the extremist Catholic party. On Aug. 18, 1572, she was married, at Paris, to the Protestant Henry de Bourbon, king of Navarre, the future Henry IV, in order to seal the peace between Catholics and Protestants. Five days later, however, the massacre of Protestants began on St. Bartholomew’s Day.

Henry of Navarre had been able to escape death in the massacre by means of an expedient abjuration; despite her continued interest in other liaisons, Margaret refused to be parted from him. She used her influence to promote an understanding between him and her youngest brother, François, duc d’Alençon, a leader of the moderate Catholics. Her role in the ensuing conspiracies cost the life of her lover, the seigneur de La Môle (Joseph de Boniface), in 1574. Later Henry III banished her to the inaccessible castle of Usson in Auvergne (1586), but with Guise’s help she was able to take control of the place.

Her husband’s growing power and dynastic needs raised the possibility of an annulment of their childless marriage, but Margaret withheld her consent as long as Henry’s mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrées, was alive. After the latter’s death, she released Henry to marry Marie de Médicis (1600) but retained her royal title. Five years later she was allowed to return to Paris, where she lived in magnificent style, free to pursue her amours. In addition to her Mémoires, she wrote poems and letters.

Encyclopaedia Britannica




Marie De Médicis

Maria De’ Medici

queen of France
Italian Maria De’ Medici

born April 26, 1573, Florence [Italy]
died July 3, 1642, Cologne [Germany]

queen consort of King Henry IV of France (reigned 1589–1610) and, from 1610 to 1614, regent for her son, King Louis XIII (reigned 1610–43).

Marie was the daughter of Francesco de’ Medici, grand duke of Tuscany, and Joanna of Austria. Shortly after Henry IV divorced his wife, Margaret, he married Marie (October 1600) in order to obtain a large dowry that would help him pay his debts. In 1601 Marie gave birth to the dauphin Louis (the future Louis XIII), and during the following eight years she bore the king five more children. Nevertheless, their relationship was strained. Marie resented Henry’s endless infidelities, and the king despised her unscrupulous Florentine favourites, Concino Concini and his wife Leonora. Upon the assassination of Henry IV (May 14, 1610) the Parlement of Paris proclaimed Marie regent for young King Louis XIII.

Guided by Concino (now the Marquis d’Ancre), Marie reversed Henry’s anti-Spanish policy. She squandered the state’s revenues and made humiliating concessions to the rebellious nobles. Although Louis XIII came of age to rule in September 1614, Marie and Ancre ignored him and continued to govern in his name. On April 24, 1617, Louis’s favourite, Charles d’Albert de Luynes, had Ancre assassinated. Marie was then exiled to Blois, but in February 1619 she escaped and raised a revolt. Her principal adviser, the future Cardinal de Richelieu, negotiated the peace by which she was allowed to set up her court at Angers. Richelieu again won favourable terms for her after the defeat of her second rebellion (August 1620). Readmitted to the king’s council in 1622, Marie obtained a cardinal’s hat for Richelieu, and in August 1624 she persuaded Louis to make him chief minister. Richelieu, however, did not intend to be dominated by Marie. He enraged her by rejecting the Franco-Spanish alliance and allying France with Protestant powers. By 1628 Marie was the cardinal’s worst enemy. In the crisis known as the Day of the Dupes (Nov. 10, 1630), she demanded that Louis dismiss the minister. Louis stood by Richelieu and in February 1631 banished Marie to Compiègne. She fled to Brussels in the Spanish Netherlands in July 1631 and never returned to France. Eleven years later she died destitute.

Marie de Médicis built the Luxembourg Palace in Paris, and in 1622–24 the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens decorated its galleries with 21 paintings, portraying the events of her life, that rank among his finest work.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



The Huguenots

When the Great Elector invited the Huguenots to settle in the cities and barren stretches of land in Brandenburg-Prussia, more than 20,000 accepted his invitation. By 1700 they made up about a third of the population of Berlin.

Among them were craftsmen, who brought new skills with them from France, as well as prosperous merchants, who developed the city's connections to international trade, providing a major boost to the Prussian economy.

Allegory of the reception of Protestants from Salzburg as they arrive in Frederick William I's Prussia



A Huguenot by John Everett Millais


One morning at the gates of the Louvre, 19th century painting by Édouard Debat-Ponsan.
Catherine de' Medici is in black. The scene from Dubois (above) re-imagined.


The Flight of the Huguenots by Jan Luyken, 1696


Expulsion of the Huguenots of Toulouse 1727 by Antoine Rivalz


Handmade oil painting reproduction of The Assassination of Brion,
Tutor to the Prince of Conti (1558-1614) at the St. Bartholomews Day Massacre in 1572,
by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury.


Scene in the bedroom of Marguerite de Valois during the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre



French Protestant
any of the Protestants in France in the 16th and 17th centuries, many of whom suffered severe persecution for their faith. The origin of the name is uncertain, but it appears to have come from the word aignos, derived from the German Eidgenossen (confederates bound together by oath), which used to describe, between 1520 and 1524, the patriots of Geneva hostile to the duke of Savoy. The spelling Huguenot may have been influenced by the personal name Hugues, “Hugh”; a leader of the Geneva movement was one Besançon Hugues (d. 1532).

After the Protestant Reformation began in Germany (1517), the reform movement spread quickly in France, especially in places that had suffered economic depression and among those who had grievances against the established order of government. The French Protestants soon experienced persecution, however, and the first French martyr, Jean Vallière, was burned at the stake in Paris in August 1523. Despite persecution, however, the movement progressed; but measures against it were redoubled after the “Affair of the Placards” (October 1534), when posters attacking the mass were found on walls throughout Paris and even on the door of King Francis I’s bedroom at Amboise. Thereafter the number of Protestant refugees from persecution increased. Many went to Strassburg (Strasbourg), then a free city of the Holy Roman Empire, where Martin Bucer had organized a Reformed church. The most famous of these exiles was John Calvin, who left for Basel in the autumn of 1534. At Basel he is thought to have written his Institutes of the Christian Religion, which was prefaced by a letter to Francis I pleading the cause of the Reformers in France. In 1538 Calvin visited Strassburg on Bucer’s invitation and organized the French community there. The first Huguenot community in French territory, that of Meaux, was founded in 1546 on the model of the Strassburg community. The Huguenot church in Paris was founded about 1555, and in spite of persecution the Reformers increased in numbers.

Finally the Protestant church at Paris was commissioned to summon the first synod, which was attended by 72 deputies representing all the provinces of the kingdom (May 1559). The deputies drew up a confession of faith, which was greatly influenced by the ideas of John Calvin; thus French Protestants became a Reformed rather than a Lutheran church. The synod of 1559 was also the beginning of a remarkable quantitative increase in the Reform movement. At that synod 15 churches were represented; two years later, in 1561, the number was 2,150—an increase that carried the struggle into the arena of national politics.

The Conspiracy of Amboise, formed by Huguenots with the object of kidnapping the boy-king Francis II (March 1560), resulted in the death of all the plotters except Louis I de Bourbon, Prince de Condé. But the Reformers had become so powerful that Gaspard de Coligny, their most famous leader, protested in their name at the assembly of notables at Fontainebleau (August 1560) against all violation of the liberty of conscience. The attempt at peace failed. After a number of Huguenots assembling for worship in a barn at Vassy were massacred by soldiers of the Roman Catholic Guise family, Condé declared that there was no hope but in God and arms. At Orléans on April 12, 1562, the Huguenot leaders signed the manifesto in which they stated that as loyal subjects they were driven to take up arms for liberty of conscience on behalf of the persecuted saints.

Thus began a period of confusion and violence in France, known as the Wars of Religion, that lasted until almost the end of the century. A famous incident of this period was the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day. On the night of Aug. 24/25, 1572, after a council at which the queen mother Catherine de Médicis, King Charles IX, the Duke d’Anjou (later Henry III), and the Guises were present, there occurred a massacre in which Coligny and almost all the leading Huguenots in Paris were slain. The Paris massacre was repeated throughout France, and Protestants were slain in thousands. The Protestant survivors resolved upon a desperate resistance, and a Huguenot political party was formed at Milhaud, near Nîmes, in 1573. Especially prominent was Philippe de Mornay, known as Duplessis-Mornay. The Huguenots at first hoped that the crown of France would pass to a Huguenot; when that became obviously impossible, they fought for full religious and civil liberty within the state.

War was resumed after the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day and continued, with short-lived intermissions, throughout the reign of the unpopular Henry III, who succeeded Charles IX in 1574. Henry’s hesitations encouraged the formation of the powerful Holy League against the Huguenots; and, after the assassination of Henry III in 1589, his successor, the Protestant heir Henry IV, could pacify the kingdom only by adjuring Protestantism (July 1593), accepting Catholicism, and thus depriving the League of its pretext for resisting him. The Huguenots after 40 years of strife obtained by their constancy Henry IV’s promulgation of the Edict of Nantes (April 1598), the charter of their religious and political freedom.

Civil wars, however, occurred again in the 1620s under King Louis XIII. Eventually the Huguenots were defeated, and the Peace of Alès was signed on June 28, 1629, whereby the Huguenots were allowed to retain their freedom of conscience but lost all their military advantages. No longer a political entity, the Huguenots became loyal subjects of the king. Their remaining rights under the Edict of Nantes were confirmed by a royal declaration in 1643 on behalf of the infant king, Louis XIV.

The French Roman Catholic clergy, however, could not accept the Huguenots and worked to deprive them of their rights. General harassment and the forcible conversion of thousands of Protestants were rampant for many years. Finally, on Oct. 18, 1685, Louis XIV pronounced the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. As a result, over the next several years, France lost more than 400,000 of its Protestant inhabitants. Many emigrated to England, Prussia, the Netherlands, and America and became very useful citizens of their adopted countries. Many were urban people in commerce and industry, and their absence would hurt France in the coming Industrial Revolution.

In the first part of the 18th century, the Huguenots seemed to be finally eliminated. In 1715 Louis XIV announced that he had ended all exercise of the Protestant religion in France. That same year, however, an assembly of Protestants held a conference at Nîmes devoted to restoring the Protestant church. Although much reduced in number, Protestantism persisted in France.

Persecution of the Huguenots was revived from 1745 to 1754, but French public opinion began to turn against the persecutions. In spite of fierce opposition by the Roman Catholic clergy, an edict in 1787 restored in part the civil rights of the Huguenots. In November 1789, with the birth of the French Revolution, the National Assembly affirmed the liberty of religion and granted Protestants admission to all offices and professions. See also Reformed Church of France.


Massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Day
French history
(August 24/25, 1572), massacre of French Huguenots (Protestants) in Paris plotted by Catherine de Médicis and carried out by Roman Catholic nobles and other citizens. It was one event in the series of civil wars between Roman Catholics and Huguenots that beset France in the late 16th century.

The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day had for its background the political and religious rivalries of the court of France. Admiral Gaspard II de Coligny, a Huguenot leader, supported a war in the Low Countries against Spain as a means to prevent a resumption of civil war, a plan that the French king, Charles IX, was coming to approve in the summer of 1572. Catherine de Médicis, the mother of Charles, feared Admiral Coligny’s growing influence over her son. She accordingly gave her approval to a plot that the Roman Catholic house of Guise had been hatching to assassinate Coligny, whom it held responsible for the murder of François de Guise in 1563.

On Aug. 18, 1572, Catherine’s daughter, Margaret of France (Marguerite de Valois), was married to the Huguenot Henry of Navarre (the future Henry IV of France), and a large part of the Huguenot nobility came to Paris for the wedding. The attempt on Admiral Coligny’s life four days later failed; he was only wounded. To placate the angry Huguenots, the government agreed to investigate the assassination attempt. Fearing discovery of her complicity, Catherine met secretly with a group of nobles at the Tuileries Palace to plot the complete extermination of the Huguenot leaders, who were still in Paris for the wedding festivities. Charles was persuaded to approve of the scheme, and, on the night of August 23, members of the Paris municipality were called to the Louvre and given their orders. Shortly before dawn on August 24 the bell of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois began to toll and the massacre began. One of the first victims was Coligny, who was killed under the supervision of Henry de Guise himself. Even within the Louvre, Navarre’s attendants were slaughtered, though Navarre and Henry I de Bourbon, 2nd Prince de Conde, were spared. The homes and shops of Huguenots were pillaged, and their occupants brutally murdered; many bodies were thrown into the Seine. Bloodshed continued in Paris even after a royal order of August 25 to stop the killing, and it spread to the provinces. Huguenots in Rouen, Lyon, Bourges, Orléans, and Bordeaux were among the victims. Estimates of the number that perished in the disturbances, which lasted to the beginning of October, have varied from 2,000 by a Roman Catholic apologist to 70,000 by the contemporary Huguenot Duke de Sully, who himself barely escaped death. Modern writers put the number at 3,000 in Paris alone.

The news of the massacre was welcomed by Philip II of Spain, and Pope Gregory XIII had a medal struck to celebrate the event. Protestant nations were horrified. To explain the massacre, Charles, assuming responsibility for it, claimed that there had been a Huguenot plot against the crown.

Instead of crippling the Huguenot party as Catherine had hoped it would do, the massacre revived hatred between Roman Catholics and Huguenots and helped provoke a renewal of hostilities. Thenceforth the Huguenots abandoned John Calvin’s principle of obedience to the civil magistrate, that is, to the royal authority, and adopted the view that rebellion and tyrannicide were justifiable under certain circumstances.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



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