Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day

1572. The massacre of Huguenots* in Paris and other French cities took place on the night of 23-24 August, the eve of St. Bartholomew's Day. It was instigated chiefly by Catherine de Medici, queen mother and for thirty years the real ruler of France. Despite papal demands that heretics should be killed, Catherine, who was a member of the Italian nobility and a strong admirer of Machiavelli, at first granted privileges to Protestants and sought to harmonize Protestant and Roman Catholic interests. When, however, Admiral G. de Coligny,* the acknowledged leader of the Huguenots, sought to use the French army in the Protestant cause by declaring war on Spain and later aided William of Orange in his revolt against Spain, Catherine arranged for his murder. The king's killer Maurevert fired at Coligny, but only wounded him. Catherine's complicity in the plot was suspected, but the king, expressing sympathy for Coligny, ordered an enquiry. Catherine, fearing reprisals, ordered the army to kill Coligny and with him all the Huguenots. Estimates of those murdered vary from 5,000 to 100,000, but the lower figures are now favored. The horror of the event was deepened by the circumstances that Protestant leaders had been invited to Paris to celebrate the wedding of Henry of Navarre, a Protestant, to Charles IX's sister Margaret, a Catholic.