Reason for the Length of the French Wars of Religion

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French Wars of Religion: Result of a weak monarchy, fragile peace agreements, and the battle of social worlds

The reason for the length of the French wars of religion was attributed to the power vacuum that opened up during the reign of the minor Charles IX, as the Catholic Guises battled for power between the Protestant factions, the Bourbons and the Chatillons. Because the king’s vulnerable regent, Catherine de’ Medici wanted to keep the peace in order to protect her son’s power, watered down peace agreements were drawn up and the monarchy was constantly switching sides of loyalty between the Protestants and the Catholics. This in turn dragged out the Wars of Religion since there was no solid monarchy to keep everyone in check. The intensity of the battles were furthermore enhanced by the severe hostility and suspicion that lay in-between the Catholic community of believers and the Protestant community with regards to the way they practiced religion and lived their lives.

The weak authoritative government begins to create chaos when Charles IX takes over the crown as a young boy and reigns until 1574 with the help of his mother and regent, Catherine de’Medici. The Guise family takes over the governmental administration within the first few days of the young boy’s reign, which includes the church, military affairs, foreign diplomats, and the treasury. A three way political battle develops between the Protestant Bourbons controlling the southern and western France, the Montmorency Chatillons controlling the center of France, and Catholic Guise faction in control of Eastern France. The fact that the aristocrats are being converted to Protestantism creates a severe threat to the Catholic Church and therefore the state itself. Catherine de’ Medici does not necessarily have religious loyalty towards the Guise clan and is only concerned with protecting the monarchy of her son, Charles IX, so she allies herself with the Protestants in 1562 and gives them the right to worship in public outside of towns in the January edict. This action in turn provokes the Guise family in anger to strike back against the Protestants by coordinating a surprise attack on the Protestant worshipers in the Vassy of Champagne. This is an example of how a brutal battle is roused due to the disagreement between the susceptible authority of Catherine de Medici and a powerful government faction striving for power. In this situation, the battles could have been stopped if there had been a powerful absolute monarchy in charge of the court. Instead, Catherine goes back and forth between the two sides. Case in point, in 1563, Catherine changes her alliance in favor of the Guises out of fear and the Protestants are forced to complete surrender.

After the third war, the crown becomes more Protestant under the influence of Coligny. Catherine again changes her loyalty to the Protestants. When she begins to fear Coligny’s move into the Netherlands, she joins with the Guises to assassinate Coligny. When this fails, she tells her son that there was going to be a Huguenot uprising so that she doesn’t get in trouble with her son and the court. After convincing him, many Huguenots including Coligny were destroyed in the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre. Again, there is a battle fought due to the ambivalent court and Catherine’s failure to pick loyalty on either side.

The inadequate peace agreements are another critical aspect of why the wars drag on for so long. The edict of Amboise, for example is doomed to fail due to the resisting Guise family in the court and because the king is only fifteen years old. Because of this weak legitimacy, the parlement of Paris and the provisional parlements are against the toleration of Protestants and refuse to register them. They finally do only because they attach a proviso that limits authotiry of the edict until the king is of age, when the national court can resolve the dispute. With such...
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