"the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572, when ordinary Huguenot families were systematically slaughtered in their thousands by Catholic forces and the city’s gutters ran with Protestant blood."

The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre
Public DomainThe St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre - Credit: François Dubois
The St Bartholomew’s Day massacre was a spate of mob-fuelled killings and violence against the Huguenots. It began with the attempted assassination of an important and respected Huguenot leader, Admiral de Coligny. Coligny’s brother in law led a large army and camped outside Paris, demanding justice. The king, Charles IX, tried to reassure them that he would find the culprits, but fear grew that the Protestants would take revenge. Charles and his mother, Catherine de’ Medici, eventually decided to eliminate some of the Protestant leaders.

The Paris city gates were shut and the citizenry armed in case of a Protestant uprising. The Swiss Guard were sent to assassinate the leading Protestants, while Admiral de Signy was killed by a group led by the Duke of Guise. The violence soon spread as the city’s Catholic populace began to hunt and kill Protestants, including women and children. Bodies were collected in carts and thrown into the river. The king tried to stop it, but the massacre lasted three days. Afterwards, the king and court settled the official version of events, claiming that the massacre was ordered by the king to block a Huguenot plot against him. Similar events took place in twelve other French cities after the news of the Paris massacre reached them. Catholics and the Church interpreted the event as divine retribution.