9 minutes 59 seconds
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1534 and the King of France is a bit angry. The King, Francis I of the House of Valois was unhappy because overnight posters had sprung up across France denouncing Catholicism and its practices as evil. The King, who was a devout Catholic, was horrified, mostly because he'd been quite tolerant of the nascent Protestant movement up until now, and also because 1 of said posters had been stuck to his bedroom door. Francis could no longer tolerate Protestantism and so he rounded up those responsible and also some who weren't responsible and burned them at the stake. The persecutions led to many Protestants, the most notable being John Calvin, fleeing to Switzerland.
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His religious persecutions continued throughout the
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rest of his reign which would end
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in 1547, due to death. He was succeeded by his son Henry II who continued the persecution of Protestants. He created a new court for the prosecution of heresy called the Burning Chamber. Henry wasn't exactly a good friend to the popes either though. He boycotted the Council of Trent, the church's first attempt at creating a united response to the rise of Protestantism, and he also stopped giving the pope money.
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There were 2 reasons for this. The first was that Henry wanted the response to Protestantism in France to be a French 1. And second, the neighbouring Holy Roman Empire also had issues with Protestants and Henry didn't want to help the Habsburgs. Why? Because war.
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Henry had continued his father's wars against the Habsburgs which came to an end in 1559. It was fairly inconclusive and to celebrate peace Henry decided to hold a jousting tournament. He opted to take part in the jousting himself and swiftly got a lance to the eye. He would soon succumb to his wounds and the throne passed to his young son, who was crowned Francis II. Francis was only 14 at this point and whilst technically old enough to govern, the actual running of the realm fell to the uncles of his wife Mary Stuart, better known as Mary Queen of Scots.
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The 2 men running the kingdom were Francis, the Duke of Guise, and Charles, the Cardinal of Lorraine. They were both from the powerful Guise family and were ardent Catholics, meaning that for the Protestants, Bernie Bernie time would continue. The 2 Guises didn't simply dominate the king without any resistance, France's the second's mother and the former queen Catherine de' Medici vied for power too. So the Protestants, also known as the Huguenots, felt that the king wasn't really anti-Protestant and that if they simply liberated him things would get better. This culminated in the 1560 conspiracy of Amboise, an attempt to kidnap the king from his residence.
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The conspiracy was betrayed, most of the plotters were captured and killed and to many it confirmed that the Huguenots were the enemy of France. 1 of the leaders of the plot was a man called Louis, the Prince of Conde. Conde was arrested but the situation would become much more complicated when Francis II died in late 1560. Francis had no children and so he was succeeded by his 10 year old brother, Charles IX. Another young king on the throne meant that yet again factions vied for power over him.
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It was Catherine who won out in the end, becoming his regent and swiftly removing the Guise from court. She took a different approach to the religious divisions in France and opted for a policy of toleration. She released Conde in 1561 and in 1562 Catherine issued the Edict of Saint-Germain which gave the Huguenots the right to worship so long as it was outside of cities and so long as they stayed loyal to the king. For many catholic nobles though, this was a step too far. 1 such noble was the Duke of Guise who promptly massacred a group of worshipping Huguenots at the town of Assis.
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Both sides took up arms after this and France descended into violence and so began the first French war of religion. Alongside the Prince of Contes, the Huguenots were led by Admiral Gaspard de Coligny. The Huguenots seized major cities like Orléans, Lyon and Tours and within a few months these lands were theirs. The Catholic forces counterattacked, the Prince of Conte was captured again in late 1562 and the next year the Duke of Guise was killed by an assassin while sieging Orleans. Neither side could really defeat the other and so in 1563 the Edict of Amboise was signed which gave Huguenots a few more rights.
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So much as recognising that Huguenots were allowed to exist was too much for many of the Catholics who resisted the enforcement of the peace. As such Catherine and Charles went on a royal tour of France to assert the king's independence and force the lords to implement the Edict of Amboise. By this point Protestant rebellion had spread to the Spanish Netherlands and so the king of Spain, Philippe II sent an army to crush them. This worried the Huguenots who wondered if the Spanish army was actually meant for them. After another failed attempt to kidnap the king by the prince of Conde in 1567 both sides took up arms and suddenly, second French war of religion.
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This war was a stalemate and in 1568 another peace was signed. The Cardinal of Lorraine strictly opposed any peace and he and his allies in court overturned it. The next year Catholics took up arms and, third French war of religion. The third religious war was much bloodier than the first too, mostly because of foreign support for both sides, but yet again no side could defeat the other. It did see the death of Conde, leaving Colligny in charge of the Huguenots.
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Peace was made in 1570 and the Huguenots were given near equality legally, but the problem remained, the Catholic population of France didn't want the Protestants there. The Huguenots were also now given formal control over several important cities, the most notable being La Rochelle. Colligny soon after became a trusted advisor to King Charles and thus Catherine was sidelined. Charles also opted to have his sister married to the Protestant King Henry of Navarre. Navarre, in case you were wondering, is here.
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All of the most prominent Huguenots went to Paris to attend the wedding on August 18th in 1572. 4 days after the ceremony, Colligny was shot but survived. Tensions exploded in the city and 2 days later on August the 24th, St Bartholomew's Day, many protestant leaders including Poligny himself were murdered. This was followed by the people of Paris taking to the streets and murdering any Huguenots they could find. Over many weeks violence spread throughout France and many thousands of Huguenots were killed in what is known as the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre.
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Henry of Navarre was spared though and he promised to convert to Catholicism. The massacre severely weakened the Huguenot side by depriving them of decent leadership but still war number 4 broke out. It ended the same way, nobody could win and in 1573 they made peace. The next year another war broke out because at this point, why not? During this war Charles IX died and Catherine took up the regency until her third son, who had just been elected the King of Poland and Lithuania, could return to take the throne.
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He got back in 1575 and was crowned King Henry III. His reign got off to a great start when his younger brother and heir Francis rebelled against him and made an alliance with the Huguenots. Henry of Navarre soon escaped the royal court and promptly unconverted from Catholicism and was soon leading the Huguenot rebels. No 1 could defeat the other, peace again, you know the drill. Like every other peace the King couldn't enforce it and furthermore the Huguenots refused to disarm, since the last time they had done so, they were massacred.
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Henry thus decided that he would try crushing the Protestants and so began the Sixth War. It will shock you to find out that no 1 could win this war and another peace treaty was signed which basically allowed Protestants freedom of worship everywhere except for Paris. There was a brief 7th war from 1579 to 1580 and yet again the same thing happened. The king and his younger brother had repaired their damaged relationship and Francis did 2 things. 1, he got engaged to Queen Elizabeth I of England, although she was likely just using him as a pawn and 2, he went to the United Provinces here to help them fight their Spanish forces and become their king.
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He was completely useless at this, he didn't get married because Elizabeth was too smart for that and he returned from the Netherlands in shame in 1583. Fortunately for Francis though he wouldn't have to live with the shame for too long, since he died in 1584. This was a big deal because Francis had been the heir to the throne. Since Henry III didn't have any children, that left another man as his heir, King Henry of Navarre, the Protestant 1. If you thought the Catholic nobility in France were worried before, well now they were downright hysterical.
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In response to this crisis, the Duke of Guise, the son of the previous 1, formed the Catholic League to stop Henry of Navarre from ever taking the throne. It was comprised of some of the most devout Catholic nobles across France and was backed, that is financed, by King Philippe II of Spain, who was also pretty scared of the idea of a Protestant France. King Henry was bankrupt and he couldn't really resist the League and so to placate them he issued the Edict of Namur in 1585. This essentially made being a Huguenot illegal and gave them 6 months to convert or leave France. The Duke of Guise and the League were expelling Huguenots from the North but also were telling French subjects that Henry wasn't a true Catholic since he refused to bar a Protestant from the succession and to accept their appointed heir, Cardinal Charles de Bourbon, Henry of Navarre's uncle.
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In 1587 France yet again erupted into its eighth war of religion but it's better known by another name, the War of the 3 Henrys. A German army invaded the north to aid the Protestants but was defeated by the Duke of Guise who became incredibly popular as a result. He demanded a bunch of land and titles as thanks for his victory. The king said no and also barred Guise from Paris. Guise entered anyway and the people of Paris rose up in defiance with him in what's known as the day of the barricades and the king fled the city.
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In 1588 the king called the Estates General of the Grand Parliament of France to meet in Blois. Whilst there he had Guise assassinated and arrested some high ranking members of the League. And as such the League was now at war with the king. Thus King Henry and the other King Henry made a truce, they combined their forces and marched on Paris in 1589. Henry III was close to taking the city until he was assassinated by a monk and with him died the royal house of Valois.
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According to French royal inheritance law called Salic law, Henry of Navarre was now king and the first Protestant king of France. Henry pressed his claim to the throne and marched on Paris. He laid siege to the capital but then Philippe II sent
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an army into France which broke the siege. Fighting continued for the next couple of years but Henry IV won out in the end for 2 reasons. 1. The Cardinal of Bourbon died and the League couldn't decide on another successor and 2. Henry converted to Catholicism in 1593.
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The next year Henry was crowned King Henry IV of France, the first of the Royal House of Bourbon. Resistance to Henry's rule continued but was largely crushed within a year. The fact that the Spanish crown was largely responsible for this resistance led to Henry declaring war on it. The war came to an end in 1598 but not until Henry had issued the Edict of Nantes which gave recognition and near equal rights to Protestants across France providing they remain loyal to the crown. The Edict was a series of wins and losses for the Protestants and the Catholics.
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Whilst no side was truly happy with it, the level of resistance to it was much lower than before because at this point everyone was sick of war. Huguenots couldn't prevent Catholics from worshipping in their strongholds like La Rochelle and had to pay taxes to the Catholic Church. However, they were allowed to remain armed and they could hold their own councils. These ultimately weakened Henry's authority across his kingdom, but Nantes did something that the other edicts didn't. It built a lasting peace.
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That is until Louis XIV realised that he didn't need to keep that peace anymore. Whilst this didn't put a stop to the religious tensions in France, it did end its most violent period which saw millions of Frenchmen die. The French Wars of Religion were finally over and France, unlike so many others, would remain a Catholic nation hereafter. I hope you enjoyed this episode and thank you for watching and a special thanks to Winston K. Wood, Adam Harvey, Sky Chappell, James Bizonette, Azar Kaflash and Henry Rabban.
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