Today in 1572 the marriage of Henry of Navarre with Margaret of Valois took place in France. Designed to unite the French Huguenots with the Catholics, it wound up igniting one of the bloodiest massacres in the European religious wars, the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre.
A number of well born Protestants came to Paris to join Prince Henry in the marriage celebrations. But Parisians, who were anti Protestant, hated their presence. Catholic preachers stoked their anger, horrified at the marriage of a French Princess with a Protestant. The French Parlement snubbed the marriage ceremony.
On top of that there was general discontent as the harvests were poor, and the taxes were higher. The luxury on display with the wedding made the common people angry. Even the court was divided as Catherine de Medici, Margaret’s mother, hadn’t received permission from the Pope for the marriage, and there was rivalry between the leading families. The governor of Paris left town a few days before the wedding.
After the wedding there was an assassination attempt on a leading Protestant, which triggered weeks of bloody massacre throughout France. It’s estimated that up to 70,000 people were killed, though no accurate death toll was ever made. With that said, the effect it had on the English, who were already afraid of Catholics attempting to assassinate Elizabeth, was profound. Her spymaster, Francis Walsingham, was in Paris for the Massacre, and he never forgot it. He would go on to build a modern spy network that would catch many Catholic priests, and it could be argued, kept Elizabeth safe.
That’s your Tudor Minute for today. Remember you can dive deeper into life in 16th century England through the Renaissance English History Podcast at englandcast.com where there is an episode on Francis Walsingham, as well as several on the experience of Elizabethan Catholics.
Episode 26: Catholics in Elizabethan England https://www.englandcast.com/2017/06/throwback-episode-catholics-elizabethan-england/
Episode 103: Tudor Times on Francis Walsingham https://www.englandcast.com/2018/05/episode-103-tudor-times-on-francis-walsingham/