Last Updated 18 Jan 2017

St Bartolomew

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St B | What were the Immediate Causes of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre? | Document Sources 15,16,17,18| | Travis Bontorin| 10/24/2012| The immediate causes of the Saint Bartholomew’s day massacre, 1572 using the sources from Barbara Diefendorf’s “The Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, A Brief History with Documents. | Since the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre there has been a great deal of controversy over the causes and blame of the historic crisis. Any religious dispute is a very contentious debate due to the fact that there were generally very few impartial bystanders to record what took place.

Given that the clash between the Protestants and Catholics had been an ongoing problem since Protestantism had spread to France in the early 16th century, documents that can be studied are often very biased, and historians must gather information from a third party perspective in order to form opinions about historic events such as the Saint Bartholomew’s day massacre. Attempting to figure out why such a horrific event happened is incredibly difficult. It is impossible to know why an individual acted the way they did unless they recorded their thoughts at the time.

However, by encompassing various documents written by different individuals we are able to establish an understanding of the circumstances leading up to the massacre and hereby construct a recipe for the event. The formula for any sort of civil crisis is simple; it requires two groups of people who passionately disagree on an issue enough to fight over it, a situation that puts high levels of tension between the two parties, an established fear of the unpredictability of the opposing group, and finally a trigger.

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In the days leading up to Saint Bartholomew’s Day 1572, the recipe for a disastrous event unfolds and ultimately evolves into the slaughtering of thousands of Protestants in Paris and surrounding regions of France. As with any conflict, there are two sides to every argument. The religious quarrel between the Catholics and Protestants was so extensive that three wars had been fought throughout the 16th century. The disputes branched out further than religious theology; politics were fundamentally based on religious structures causing the French Wars of Religion to also be a struggle over monarchial power. In an attempt to settle the disputes King Charles IX planned to have his sister Marguerite married to the Protestant King of Navarre, Henry of Bourbon. The wedding was intended to bring peace between the two factions, however many disliked the adjoining of the two religions through matrimony. The wedding, only six days prior to Saint Bartholomew’s Day brought many Protestants into Paris for the celebrations. The large increase of Huguenots arriving in Paris added to the tension between the Protestants and Catholics.

Catholic Parisians at the time had a strong distaste for Huguenots. Bringing a large number of Protestants into Paris for the wedding in a sense was “setting the stage” for the pursuant massacre. 2 Even though there was a peace treaty established between the Catholics and the Huguenots, both factions very much disliked one another. In the days after the wedding there were celebrations being held throughout Paris, the festivities were to continue until after Saint Bartholomew’s Day.

These celebrations were cut short due to the attempt on the life of Admiral de Coligny by a harquebusier out of a window belonging to the Guise family. As news of the wounded Admiral was spread around Paris it began to stir dismay to the Protestants. Huguenots occupying Paris demanded justice on behalf of the Admiral and blamed the Guise for the attempted assassination. It was reported by many Catholics that the Protestant outrage escalated to the extent violent threats towards all Catholics3 and even towards King Charles IX. Captain Briquemault, revealed that Huguenots had assembled and were planning to attack the Louvre. 5 Catholics were under the impression that the Protestants were plotting some sort of revolt. Fear began to rise amongst the Parisian Catholics as they prepared to defend themselves against the possibility of a Huguenot attack. 6 The tension in Paris during the two days between the attempted assassination of Admiral de Coligny and the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre could only lead to something bad.

Catholics began marking themselves with white crosses so that they would not be mistaken as Protestant. 7 For two days neither Catholic nor Protestant made a physical attack at one another. The threats continued and with both factions at a standoff, waiting for something to happen, it was only a matter of time before the hypothetical powder keg would explode. It is still unknown who was directly responsible for the attempted assassination of Admiral Cologny. At the time, Huguenots were accusing the Duke du Guise because the shot was fired from a Guise house.

Many people believe that it was the Queen, Catherine de Medici, who conspired to have the Admiral killed deliberately from the Guise house. Regardless of who was responsible in the days following the Catholics grew more and more fearful of the Protestants. Word was given that Admiral de Coligny would survive the attack; Catherine de Medici became very concerned that he would seek revenge. In a private court with the King she convinced him that something must be done about the Huguenots. The King was warned that the Protestants were planning to rise up against him and his state. Duke of Guise advised that they should “do to the same thing to them that the Huguenots planned to do to their Majesty”. 9 Charles IX then ensured that all Catholics within Paris were armed, he order at the gates to the city be locked so that no one could leave or enter, and that the boats on the river be chained so that no one could escape. 10 This was the trigger that set off the destruction. When merchants and bourgeoisie got word that the king had order the execution of the Protestants it was the spark provoked the massacre.

The bell in the clock tower served as the signal for the Catholics to attack and at 11:00PM on Saint Bartholomew’s Day Catholics began to slaughter all the Huguenots in Paris, starting with Admiral de Coligny. 11 The term massacre is defined as a brutal slaughter of a group of people done without careful judgment or planning. The Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre did not happen without any planning; someone planned to have Admiral de Coligny assassinated but it is difficult to support the idea that someone had planned the massacre of the Protestants.

The immediate events leading up to the event indicate that tension in Paris built up unto to point where something dramatic was going to happen, if not the massacre something else. The combination of the tension and fear surrounding Paris and the increased number of Protestants in Paris, the distaste that each religion had for one another, and finally the trigger of the King ordering the attack is what caused the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.

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