Front Matter France Long Ago The Gauls In France The Priests of the Gauls Sailor Stories Conquests of the Gauls Two Great Battles Caesar in Gaul Gaul under the Romans First Christian Martyrs Patron Saint of France Franks Come to Gaul The First Kings Conquests of Clovis Clotaire and His Relatives Two Rival Queens Good King Dagobert The Saracens Checked End of the Merovingians Charlemagne's Wars Charlemagne's Manners Charlemagne, Emperor Feudalism Troublesome Sons The Strassburg Oath Normans Besiege Paris Last of the Carolingians The Year One Thousand Robert's Two Wives Wealth of the Clergy The First Crusade A Love Story The Second Crusade More Crusades The Battle of Bouvines Blanche of Castile The Sixth Crusade The Reign of Louis IX Effect of the Crusades The Battle of the Spurs End of Knights Templar The Hundred Years' War The Siege of Calais The Battle of Poitiers Seven Years of Misery The Brave du Guesclin Achievements of Charles V Charles VI Misrule in France The Disgraceful Treaty Joan to the Rescue Orleans and Rheims Joan's Martyrdom Charles's Successes The Crafty King Louis XI Louis XI's Reign Achievements of Louis XI Charles VIII The Second Italian War Death of Louis XII Francis I Rivalry of Kings Achievements of Francis I End of Francis's Reign Reign of Henry II A Young King and Queen Catherine's Regency The Forced Wedding Massacre of the Huguenots Death of Charles IX An Effeminate King he Battle of Coutras The Murder of the Guises Winning a Crown Conversion of Henry IV Henry IV's Second Marriage Death of Henry IV The Minority of Louis XIII Rule of the Favorites Richelieu and Louis XIII End of Louis XIII's Reign Beginning of a Great Reign Wars of the Fronde Death of Mazarin Versailles The Iron Mask Louis XIV's Campaigns Madame de Maintenon Later Wars of Louis XIV The Spanish Succession The Age of Louis XIV

Story of Old France - Helene Guerber

Catherine's Regency

When Charles IX was called to the throne by his brother's death, he was only ten, so the Chancellor de L'Hopital, knowing Catherine's intense desire to rule, advised her to proclaim her regency without delay. Although the people had never seen Catherine in any position of authority hitherto, and although they vaguely mistrusted her because she was an Italian, they made no opposition to this move.

Catherine craftily played off one political party against the other, with the sole aim of weakening both and being left to rule without any interference. Besides, the long years during which she had been humiliated and set aside by the king's favorites had so embittered the queen that, when she finally came to power, she no longer trusted anyone.

Still, she was wise enough to perceive that the country was in a very critical condition, both in religious matters and in politics. One of her first moves, therefore, was to call the States-General, and instruct them to find out what would be required to satisfy all parties. To them the Chancellor made this broad-minded address: "Inquire whether it may not be possible for a citizen to be a subject without being a Catholic, and if it is not possible for men, differing in faith, to live in peace with one another. Do not wear yourselves out in seeking to decide which religion is the best. We are not here to settle the faith, we are here to regulate the state."

After some discussion the States-General decided that Huguenots should be allowed to worship only outside of the cities. When anyone was absent from town, therefore, it was often said that the missing person had gone out to a Huguenot meeting,—"to attend the hedge school," as the saying was (faire l'ecole buissonniere)—a saying which is still used in France to-day as an equivalent for "playing truant."

In pursuit of her crafty policy always to play one party off against the other, Catherine stopped the trial of Conde, for she hoped thereby to diminish still further the influence of the hated Guises. The queen mother also issued the Edict of St. Germain, which caused great dissatisfaction among the Catholics, because it gave the Protestants some towns where they might freely exercise their religion.

In hopes of settling all the religious difficulties, and thus reaching a lasting understanding, a famous convention was finally called, where Theodore de Beze (bez), the chief Protestant spokesman, and Cardinal de Lorraine, head of the Catholics, set forth the views of either party and held a lively debate. Here, all went smoothly until the Protestant spokesman denied the real presence in the sacrament, when the Catholics in the assembly declared such a statement rank blasphemy, and the convention had to break up without having accomplished anything definite. Thus, all the conciliatory powers of L'Hopital proved vain, although he had opened the convention with a very strong speech, imploring the people to cast aside all such distinctions as Protestant and Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist, and remember only that they were all Christians.

The fact that no satisfactory agreement could be reached, showed how rapidly things were nearing a crisis. Shortly after, while the Duke of Guise was attending mass at Vassy (1562), he was disturbed by the singing of some Protestants, holding a meeting next door. His attendants, sallying out, first rudely tried to silence the Huguenots; then, as the latter resisted their efforts, they resorted to force. The result was a fight in which many Protestants perished, and this was the beginning of the religious wars in France, which were to last for the next thirty-six years, although they were interrupted seven times by vain attempts at peace making.

In the first of these wars the Guises were the leaders of the Catholics, and Conde and the other Bourbons, leaders of the Protestants. At first the Protestants gained marked advantages in spite of their small numbers, and before very long they were masters of two hundred cities, including Orleans. They also had a goodly number of soldiers, while the main advantage the Catholic party could boast was that it retained the custody of the king.

Feeling the need of additional support at this juncture, both parties now sought alliances, the Catholics securing that of their former foe Philip II of Spain, while the Huguenots won the help of Queen Elizabeth of England, by offering her the city of Havre as a pledge for the future restoration of Calais, which she demanded in exchange for her services.

All through this war Catholics and Huguenots were equally guilty of horrible excesses, and great cruelty was shown by certain bands of fighters on both sides. The Catholics greedily appropriated Huguenot property, thus enriching themselves at their foes' expense, while the Huguenots, on their side, ruthlessly destroyed many sacred paintings and statues, thus causing irreparable damage to some of the famous historical churches.

In the course of the first religious war the main battle was at Dreux (1562), where the Catholics were victorious. They then laid siege to Orleans, hoping to win it back from the Protestants, but while there the Duke of Guise was murdered by a Huguenot. After firing the fatal shot, this murderer is said to have joyfully exclaimed, "He is gone, the persecutor of the faithful, and will not come back!"

Before the wretch could escape, he was seized, and would have been instantly torn to pieces, had not his dying victim asked to see him. Guise is reported to have then asked the man why he had made so cowardly an attack, and when the latter declared it had been dictated to him by his faith, the wounded man retorted: "Then my religion is infinitely better than yours, for it teaches me to forgive you, while yours teaches you nothing but murder!" The duke then and there gave orders that his assassin should be immediately released, but his followers nevertheless detained him and finally put him to death with torture.

The murder of the Duke of Guise was shortly followed by a compromise (known as the peace of Amboise), which the queen mother cleverly induced Conde and others to sign. This peace, however, proved more advantageous to the Catholics than to the Protestants, for when Coligny learned that Conde had signed it, he exclaimed ruefully: "Behold a dash of the pen which overthrows more churches than the enemy's forces could have destroyed in ten years!" Both sides accepted the peace, however, and joined forces in recapturing Havre from the English.

It was just after the conclusion of the first religious war that Catherine de' Medici began (1564) to erect the famous palace of the Tuileries on the site of a tile manufactory to which it owes the name. Until 1871, when it was destroyed, this palace was to be the abode in Paris of French monarchs. After making all her arrangements for the construction of this royal dwelling,—which was built without regard to cost, and decorated most lavishly,—Catherine set out on an extensive tour of France with her son, whom she conducted to Bayonne, to hold an interview with her married daughter, the Queen of Spain, and with the Duke of Alva, a famous foe of Protestantism.