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From Some Lies and Errors of History by the Rev. Reuben Parsons, D.D.; Notre Dame, Indiana: The Ave Maria; 7th edition; 1893; pp. 261-291.


“EXCIDAT illa dies aevo, nec postera credant saecula. — Let this day be lost from time, and posterity ignore the event.” Whether these words of Statius were applied to this fatal day by the Chancellor de l’Hôpital, as Voltaire asserts, or by the President de Thou, as some contend, no Catholic will refuse to re-echo them; but, if well informed, he will not deem himself obliged to add with the poet, “Nos certe taceamus.” And, nevertheless, it is comparatively but a short time since Catholic polemics essayed to answer the allegations of Protestant writers concerning this event, so fearful were they lest they might be suspected of a wish to apologize for a horrible crime. We hear much of La Barthèlemy, but nothing of La Michelade, that frightful massacre at Nîmes on St. Michael’s Day of 1567, when the Protestants anticipated by more than two centuries the horrors of the Carmes and of the Abbaye (September 2, 1792). Now we propose to demonstrate, firstly, that religion had nothing to do with his massacre; secondly, that it was a matter of mere worldly policy; 262 thirdly, that it was not intended that it should extend beyond Paris; fourthly, that it was not long premeditated, but was the effect of impulse; and fifthly, that the number of its victims has been enormously exaggerated.


Religion had nothing to do with this massacre. In this matter historians have erred in espousing the cause of either Protestants or Catholics; to use the words of Cantù, “Varillas and Voltaire, equally unjust, have provoked the judgment of impartial posterity, which weighs them in the same scale, and which sees on both sides swords dripping with blood, recognizing in this deadly struggle not the crimes of a sect or the follies of a court or the instigations of fanaticism, but the constant passions of humanity.” In the first place, one would be led to suspect that zeal for the Catholic faith was not the motive for the Barthélemy, from the fact that many Catholics were numbered among the victims, having succumbed to personal hate or to avarice. “The possession of wealth,” says Mézeray, “an envied position, or the existence of greedy heirs, stamped a man as a Huguenot.” The governor of Bordeaux systematically ransomed wealthy Catholics as well 263 as Protestants. At Bourges a priest was murdered; at La Charité, the wife of a Captain Landas; at Vic, the governor; at Paris, Bertrand de Villemer, maître des requêtes, and John Rouillard, a canon of Notre Dame. Again, the characters of Catherine dei Medici and her son, Charles IX., were not those of zealots for the faith; a critical and impartial historian1 has been obliged to admit that if it had become necessary for the recovery of power, they would have declared themselves Protestants. But there is more than mere suspicion to justify our assertion. We know, from the very “Martyrology” of the Calvinists, 264 what motive actuated the murderers. They would show the corpses of their victims, saying, “These are they who would have killed the king.” And “the courtiers laughed exultantly, saying that at length the war was ended, and they could live in peace.” The same author tells us that after the massacre, “the parliament of Toulouse published the will of the king that no one should molest those of the religion, but should rather favor them;” and we know that on August 26 a similar edict was issued in Paris. Again, Charles IX. needed no religious motive to render him furious against the Huguenots. They had plotted to kidnap him; they had drawn entire provinces into rebellion, and they had introduced foreign troops into France.

But it is said that Roman cardinals prepared the massacre; the names of Birague and De Retz are mentioned. The Roman 265 purple is easily cleared of this stain. The former prelate was made a cardinal six, and the latter fifteen years after the Barthélemy. The poet Chenier, of the school of Voltaire, represents, on the operatic stage, the Cardinal of Lorraine as blessing the poniards destined for the massacre; but at that time this prelate was in Rome, having been one of the conclave which had chosen a successor to St. Pius V. Again much stress is laid upon the conduct of the Roman court when it heard of the catastrophe. Gregory XIII. proceeded processionally to the church of St. Louis, and rendered thanks to Heaven; he proclaimed a Jubilee, and struck medals commemorative of the event. The famous Latinist, Mureto, pronounced an encomium on the slaughter before the Sovereign Pontiff. But the words of Pope Gregory writing to the king in congratulation for his escape, the words of Mureto also, show that the Roman court thanked Almighty God merely for the escape of the royal family from a Huguenot conspiracy.

Finally, throughout France, in Paris itself, the Catholic masses acted on this occasion in a manner which showed that their religion was not a prime agent in the affair. On the very night of the massacre, Charles IX. sent 266 orders to all the governors of provinces and of cities, to take measures to prevent any occurrences like those which had just stained the capital. At Lyons, as even the Calvinist Martyrology informs us, many of the Huguenots were sent for safety to the archiepiscopal prison and to the Celestine and Franciscan convents. And if we are told that some of those who were consigned to the archiepiscopal prison fell victims to their enemies, we reply, with the same Calvinist author, that this outrage was committed during the absence and without the knowledge of the governor; that on his return he put a stop to it, and offered a reward of a hundred scudi for the names of the criminals. This author also tells us that “the Calvinists of Toulouse found safety in the convents.” At Lisieux the bishop saved many, as the martyrologist admits;2 and he also says that “the more peaceable Catholics saved forty out of sixty who had been seized at the town of Romans; of the twenty others, thirteen were afterward freed, and only seven perished, they having many enemies, and having borne arms.” Even at Nîmes, where the Huguenots had twice massacred the 267 Catholics in cold blood (in 1567 and 1569), the latter abstained from revenge.3 Paris also furnished many examples of compassion. The Calvinist historian, La Popelinière, a contemporary author, records that “among the French nobles who distinguished themselves in saving the lives of many of the confederates, the greatest good was effected by the dukes of Guise, Aumale, Biron, Bellièvre. . . . When the people had been told that the Huguenots, in order to kill the king, had attacked his body-guards and killed over twenty, a further slaughter would have been perpetrated, had not many nobles, content with the death of the leaders, prevented it; even many Italians, armed and mounted, scoured the city and suburbs, and gathered many fortunates into the security of their own houses.”4 In fine, instead of religion having caused this massacre, we may conclude with Count Alfred de Fallux that, considering the state of men’s minds at that time, religion alone could have prevented it. “Instead of a court full of intrigues and adulteries, suppose that then there was one influenced by the Gospel; that the law of God guided the powerful; that 268 instead of Catharine and a Charles IX., there had reigned a Blanche and a St. Louis; in such a case let us ask our consciences whether this slaughter would have been possible.” 5


The massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day was an affair of worldly policy. The Huguenots had certainly been guilty of high-treason. As to Coligny, the journal of his receipts and expenses, laid before the royal Council and the Parliament, and his other papers seized after his death, revealed deeds and projects which would have ensured his capital condemnation in any country of Christendom. Concerning these papers Bellièvre said to the deputies of the Thirteen Cantons: “The king learned from them that the admiral had established, in sixteen provinces, governors, military commanders, and a number of counsellors charged with the task of keeping the people armed, and of assembling them together at his first sign.” Charles IX. wrote to Schomberg, his ambassador to Germany, that Coligny had more power “and was better obeyed by those of the new religion than I was. By the great authority he had usurped over them, he could raise them 269 in arms against me whenever he wished, as indeed he often proved. Recently he ordered the new religionists to meet in arms at Melun, near Fontainebleau, where I was to be at that time, the third of August. He had arrogated so much power to himself that I could not call myself a king, but merely a ruler of part of my dominions. Therefore, since it has pleased God to deliver me from him, I may well thank Him for the just punishment He has inflicted upon the admiral and his accomplices. I could not tolerate him any longer, and I determined to give rein to a justice which was indeed extraordinary, and other than I would have wished, but which was necessary in the case of such a man.”6 Brantôme, Tavannes, and Montluc, all courtiers of Charles, speak of his fear of Coligny; and Bellièvre says that “his Majesty told some of his servants, myself among the number, that when he found himself so threatened, his hair stood on end.” Is it likely that any monarch would tamely submit to such dictation as Coligny uttered? “Make war on Spain, sire, or we wage war against you.” 7 Tavannes informs us that the 270 king, speaking one day concerning the means at his disposal for a campaign in the Netherlands, said that one of his subjects (Coligny) had offered him ten thousand men for that purpose. Then Tavannes replied: “Sire, you ought to cut off the head of any subject who would use such language. How dare he offer you what is your own? This is a sign that he has corrupted these men; that he had gained them over to use them, one day, against your Majesty.”

Many Protestant writers are prone to dilate on the virtues of Coligny, but they have not freed him from the imputation of having directed the assassin’s blow against Duke Francis of Guise. Not merely by the deposition of the wretched Poltrot, but by the very avowals of the admiral, we are led to regard the latter as the instigator of the crime. In a letter to the queen-mother, he admitted that “for the last five or six months he did not strongly” oppose those who showed a wish to kill the Duke; and he gave as a reason for his non-opposition, that certain persons had tried to kill himself. He did not name these persons in the course of his justification, but said that 271 he “would indicate them at a fitting time.” In his answers he admitted that “Poltrot had told him that it would be easy to kill the Duke of Guise, but that he (Coligny) made no remark, because he deemed the matter frivolous;” in fact, he “said nothing as to whether he regarded the design as good or evil.” In another letter to Catherine, he spoke of the death of the Duke as “the greatest benefit that could accrue to the kingdom and to the Church of God, and a personal advantage to the king and to the whole family of Coligny.” And finally, his course in claiming the right of prescription, when he fell back on the privileges of the Edict of Pacification, would not indicate a consciousness of innocence.


It was not intended that the massacre should extend beyond Paris. We learn from Tavannes that the popular fury rendered the massacre general, “to the great regret of its advisers, they having resolved on the death of only the leaders and the factious.” They who held that the orders to slaughter the Huguenots had been sent into the provinces, adduce in proof only two letters: one from the Viscount d’Orthez, governor of Bayonne, to Charles IX.; and one from Catherine to Strozzi, who was 272 watching for an opportunity to surprise La Rochelle, one of the four cities accorded to the Calvinists. Now, there is very good reason for regarding both these letters as unauthentic, and no argument can be urged in their favor. The first letter, whatever some authors may say, is not found in De Thou, not even in the Geneva edition of 1620; and this writer’s Huguenot proclivities and his aversion to Charles IX. would not have allowed him to overlook it, had he deemed it authentic. It is given only by the malevolent D’Aubigné in these words: “I commence with Bayonne, where a courier arrived with orders to cut in pieces the men, women, and children of Dax who had sought refuge in the prison. The Viscount d’Orthez, governor of the frontier, thus replied to the king; “Sire, I have communicated the order of your Majesty to the inhabitants and soldiers of the garrison; and have found them to be good citizens and brave warriors, but not executioners. Therefore they and I supplicate your Majesty to employ them in any possible, even though hazardous, matters,’ ” etc. But the Calvinist martyrologist furnishes us with reasons for supposing that no such orders as the above were expedited, either to d’Orthez or to any other governors in the provinces. This author, whose work is 273 a veritable “Lives of the Saints” for the French Protestants, says nothing, save in one case, of such instructions; and certainly he was interested in chronicling them, had he known of them. But, on the contrary, he tells us that the murderers “at Orleans resolved to put their hands to the work without any orders from the governor, D’Entragues;” that those of Bourges “sent Marueil in haste to the court, but he returned bearing no commands;” that Charles IX. wrote many letters to Bordeaux to the effect that he “had not intended that execution to extend beyond Paris.” The exception to which we have alluded is that of Rouen, the Governor of which city, says the martyrologist, received orders “to exterminate those of the religion;” but this assertion is contradicted, observes Barthélemy,8 by the inactivity of the governor, and by the date of the Rouen murders, which occurred nearly a month after those of Paris.

As for the second letter, that of Catherine to Strozzi, no French contemporary or quasi-contemporary historian speaks of it; not even Brantôme, who was then at Brouage with Strozzi; and there are intrinsic arguments for 274 its rejection. It is supposed that six months before the massacre, the queen-mother wrote to Strozzi, enclosed in another to be read at once, a letter which was not to be opened until August 24, the fatal day. In this reserved document Catherine is said to have written: “Strozzi, I inform you that to-day, August 24, the admiral and all the Huguenots here present were killed. I earnestly request you to make yourself master of La Rochelle, and to do as we have done to all the Huguenots who fall into your hands. Beware of backwardness, as you fear to displease the king, my son, and me.” Now, he who would regard this letter as genuine must ascribe to Catherine a gift of prophecy such as few of the saints have received. She must have foreseen that Jane d’Albret,9 Queen of Navarre, an ardent Huguenot, would consent to the marriage of her son, Henry de Bourbon, with Margaret de Valois. She must have known that 275 Pope St. Pius V., who would not grant the necessary dispensation, would soon die, and that Gregory XIII. would concede it. She must also have seen Coligny and his followers madly confiding in the affectionate disposition of Charles IX.; the admiral ignoring the warnings of the Rochellois and other Huguenots; the crime of Maurevert failing to cause the flight of the future victims; and, finally, the certainty of no imprudence on the part of Strozzi, or perhaps his death, revealing her letter to the Calvinists. We decline, therefore, to accept as authentic either the letter from d’Orthez or that to Strozzi.


The massacre was not the result of long premeditation. The rejection of the aforesaid letters does away with one of the strongest arguments which militate against this position. The contemporary historians, Capilupi, Masson, Tavannes, Castelnau, and others, are said to declare that the massacre was planned at the conference held at Bayonne in 1565, between Catherine and the Duke of Alva. But these authors speak only of a general agreement as to mutual aid in extirpating heresy; when any of them mention any sanguinary advice on the part of Alva, it is to be noted 276 that they do not say that he counselled a massacre, but that the Huguenot leaders should be “arrested and executed.” Now listen to the testimony of Queen Margaret, sister of Charles IX. In her “Mémoires” she says that the massacre was designed because of the Huguenot resolution to avenge the wounding of Coligny; and that her brother was with difficulty persuaded to consent to it, and only when “he had been made to realize that otherwise his crown and life were lost.” Then we have the testimony of the Duke d’Anjou, the king’ brother, drawn from a MS. of the Royal Library by Cavairac. This prince had been elected King of Poland in 1573, and while on his way thither he was often insulted by Huguenot refugees. He was so affected by their curses that he could not sleep, and on one occasion the horrors of St. Bartholomew’s Day so oppressed him that he summoned his physician and favorite, Miron, that he might relieve his mind. Then the duke detailed all the circumstances of the massacre, and plainly showed that it was a sudden conception. We give a synopsis of this testimony. “I have called you,” said the prince to Miron, “to share my restlessness, which is caused by my remembrance of the Barthélemy, concerning which event perhaps 277 you have never heard the truth.” Then the duke narrated how he and the queen-mother had observed that Coligny had prejudiced the king’s mind against them; that when, after any audience accorded to the admiral, they approached his Majesty, “to speak of business or even of his own pleasures, they would find him with a forbidding countenance,” and he would show no respect to his mother and no kindness to Anjou. One day the prince approached the monarch just as Coligny had withdrawn; and Charles would not speak to him, but walked furiously up and down with his hand upon his dagger, looking askance at the prince, so that the latter feared for his life, “and deemed himself lucky to get safely out of the room.’ Anjou now consulted Catherine, and “they resolved to rid themselves of the admiral.” They took Mme. de Nemours into their confidence, “on account of her hatred for Coligny;” and they sent at once for a certain Gascon captain, but did not make use of him, because he assured them too readily of his good-will, “and without any reservation of persons.” Then they thought of Maurevert, as “one experienced in assassination;” but they could influence him only by representing that the admiral was bent on avenging the death of Moul, whom Maurevert had lately 278 murdered. Mme. de Nemours put one of their houses at their disposal; and when the attempt failed, “they were compelled to look to their own safety.” When Charles wished to see the admiral, they determined to be present at the interview; and the wounded man having been admitted to a private conference with the king, “they retired to a distance, and became very suspicious, especially since they saw themselves in the midst of over two hundred of the admiral’s followers, who, with ferocious countenances, constantly passed them with little show of respect.” Catherine soon put an end to the colloquy under the specious pretext of care for Coligny’s health, and then tried to learn from her son the purport of the admiral’s remarks. At first Charles refused; but, being pressed, he swore “by death,” and brusquely declared that “all Coligny had said was true,” and that he had reproached the king with being a mere cipher in the hands of his mother. “This touched them to the quick,” and the queen-mother “feared some change in the government of the kingdom;” but “for some hours they could come to no determination.” The next day Anjou and his mother deliberated “as to the means of getting rid of the admiral.” After 279 dinner they waited on Charles, and Catherine “told the king that the Huguenots were rising in arms; that the leaders were enrolling troops in the provinces; that Coligny had procured ten thousand cavalry from Germany and as many Swiss; that these dangers could be obviated only by the death of the admiral and of the chief leaders of the Huguenot faction.” Tavannes, Birague, and De Nevers corroborated these assertions; and the king “became furious, but nevertheless would not at first hear of any injury to Coligny.” He asked each one for his individual opinion; and all agreed with Catherine “except the Marshal de Retz, who deceived our hopes,” saying that “if any one ought to hate the admiral, he was one, since Coligny had defamed his race throughout Europe; but that he would not revenge himself by means dishonorable to the king and country.” But no one seconded De Retz, and “we soon observed a sudden change in the king.” The rest of the day was devoted to the details of the terrible enterprise. The duke of Guise was entrusted with the death of Coligny. Toward the dawn of day, the king, Catherine, and Anjou were standing at a window, when they heard the report of a pistol, and fell back in horror. They sent to 280 revoke the order given to Guise, but it was too late.10

Such, according to the Duke of Anjou, is the inner history of the Barthélemy; and although the prince was brother to Charles IX., we hold that his testimony is valuable. No one will deny that he knew all the circumstances of the massacre; and what had he to gain by deceiving Miron? Certainly not self-justification; for he painted himself in the darkest colors. And he could not have wished to conciliate the Poles, his future subjects; for Miron could not effect such conciliation; and, again, the Polish representatives had already shown by their unanimous vote that such a course was superfluous. And now to the testimonies of Margaret and Henry de Valois add those of three celebrated contemporary historians — the hostile Brantôme, the Protestant La Popelinière, and Mathieu. Brantôme, when treating of Catherine dei Medici, says of Coligny’s aspersions against that queen: “Behold the cause of his death, and of that of his followers, as I learned it from those who knew it well; although many believe that the fuse was laid some time previous.” La Popelinière gives the arguments for and against 281 the supposition of premeditation, and inclines to the latter view. Mathieu says that he understood from Henry IV. that Catherine informed Villeroy, her confidant, that the massacred was unpremeditated. Finally, it may be observed with Cavairac that, if long prepared, this tragedy would have been executed simultaneously, or nearly so, throughout France; and most Protestants believe that it was so effected. But at Meaux the slaughter happened on August 25, at La Charité on the 26th, at Orleans on the 27th, at Saumur and Angers on the 29th, at Lyons on the 30th, at Troyes on September 2, at Bruges on the 14th, at Rouen on the 17th, at Romans on the 20th, at Toulouse on the 25th, at Bordeaux not until October 23.

But in reply to all the above proofs of that nonpremeditation of the massacre, it has been alleged that Sir Henry Austin Layard, President of the London Huguenot Society, discovered facts which caused him to come to the conclusion that there can not be a doubt that Pius V. had instigated Charles and the queen-mother to exterminate the Huguenots, and that Salviati had been instructed to press the matter upon them.” Thus the Hon. John Jay, addressing the American Huguenot Society in its annual meeting on April 13, 1888. But 282 long before Layard was heard of, Lingard had investigated the real connection of the nuncio Salviati with the massacre, and had judged that the event was not premeditated. While Chateaubriand was ambassador at the papal court (1828-30) he procured a copy of the correspondence of Pope Gregory XIII. with his nuncio Salviati, and sent it to Mackintosh, who used it in his “History of England.” This correspondence proves that at the time of the massacre Salviati knew nothing of the designs of the French court. We transcribe Lingard’s synopsis of these letters: “On August 24 he (Salviati) wrote an account of the occurrences in ordinary characters (evidently under the notion that in such circumstances his dispatch would probably be intercepted and opened on the road); but to this he added another and real statement of the case in cipher: that the queen-regent, in consequence of the ascendency which gave to Coligny in a manner the government of the kingdom (quasi governava), consulted with the Duchess of Nemours, and resolved to rid herself of his control by the assassination of the admiral. The Duke of Guise provided the assassin; the Duke of Anjou, but not the king, was privy to the attempt. The queen, however, when she saw that the admiral would not die of his wound, 283 and considered the danger to which she was now exposed, alarmed also by her own consciousness, and by the threatening speeches of the whole body of the Huguenots, who would not believe that the arquebuse had been discharged by the assassin employed by the Duke of Alva, as she had persuaded herself that she could make them believe, had recourse to the king, and exhorted him to adopt the plan of the general11 massacre which followed. It appears that the cardinal-secretary, in his answer to this dispatch, probably on account of the different reports current in Rome, put to the nuncio several questions respecting the cause, the authors, and the circumstances of the massacre. Salviati, in reply, wrote two notes on Sept. 22. In the first he says: ‘With regard to the three points: (1) who it was that caused, and for what reason that person caused, the arquebuse to be discharged at the admiral; (2) and who it was to whom the subsequent resolution of so numerous a massacre must be ascribed; (3) and who were the executors of the massacre, with the names of the principal leaders; I know that I have already sent you an account, and that in that account I have not fallen into the least error. 284 If I have omitted to mention some other particulars, the chief reason is the difficulty of coming at the truth in this country.’ This passage was written in ordinary characters; but he wrote the same day in cipher the following repetition of his former statement: ‘Time will show whether there be any truth in all the other accounts which you may have read, of the wounding and death of the admiral, that differ from what I wrote to you. The queen-regent, having grown jealous of him, came to a resolution a few days before, and caused the arquebuse to be discharged at him without the knowledge of the king, but with the participation of the Duke of Anjou, of the Duchess of Nemours and of her son, the Duke of Guise. Had he died immediately, no one else would have perished. But he did not die, and they began to expect some great evil; wherefore, closeting themselves in consultation with the king, they determined to throw shame aside, and to cause him (Coligny) to be assassinated with the others; a determination which was carried into execution that very night.’ Evidence more satisfactory than this we can not desire, if we consider the situation of the writer, the object for which he wrote, and the time and opportunity which he possessed of correcting any error which might 285 have crept into his previous communication; and from this evidence it plainly follows that the general massacre was not originally contemplated, but grew out of the unexpected failure of the attempt already made on the life of the admiral.”

Mr. Jay introduces his arguments under the auspices of Baron Acton, whom he carefully notes as “a very distinguished Roman Catholic historian, who so admirably represents the honorable members of that faith who reject the doctrines and methods of the Jesuits.”12 He tells us that Acton furnished the London Times of November 26, 1874, with a translation of some Italian letters from Salviati to his Roman superiors, which prove that religion had very much to do with the massacre. On September 22, 1572, a month after the tragedy, the nuncio is represented as communicating to the king the desire of his 286 Holiness, “for the great glory of God, and the greatest welfare of France, to see all the heretics of the kingdom exterminated.” And on October 11 the same Salviati is said to have declared that the pope had experienced “an infinite joy and great consolation in learning that his Majesty had commanded him (Salviati) to write that he hoped that in little while France would have no more Huguenots.” Well, what does all this prove? One who is acquainted with the epistolary style of the Roman Curia will not be frightened at the use, in the first dispatch, of a word which Acton translated into “exterminated.” Every bishop is sworn to “extirpate heresy;” but who believes that the American hierarchy is ready, if it had the power, to inaugurate another Barthélemy? We, too, sincerely pray that the day will soon come when this Republic will have no more Protestants; but is not the American priesthood full of that material out of which the Catholic Church forms a St. Vincent de Paul, a St. Philip Neri, and a Don Bosco?


The number of the victims of he massacre has been greatly exaggerated. It is remarkable that in proportion to their distance in time from this event, authors increase the 287 number of the slaughtered. Thus, Masson gives it as 10,000; the Calvinist martyrologist as about 15,000; the Calvinist, La Popelinière, as more than 20,000; De Thou, the apologist of the Huguenots, as 30,000 “or a little less;” the Huguenot Sully as 70,000; Péréfixe, a Catholic bishop, as 100,000. From this last number to 2,000, the figures established by Cavairac, the difference is immense. Now, if we will compare the authority, in this particular matter, of Masson with that of Péréfixe, we shall opine that the former’s estimate is the correct one. Masson did not wish to hide from posterity the true number of the slain; he openly laments that Calvinism was not destroyed by this great blow; he labors much in gathering apparent proofs that the massacre was long premeditated. Therefore he would have cheerfully recorded a large number of victims, if truth had allowed him. Péréfixe, however, had an interest in exaggerating the effects of a policy of cruelty; preceptor to the young Louis XIV., he might, remarks Barthélemy, have too readily accorded credence to the largest estimate of the victims of an event which he offered to the execration of his pupil. But our attention is principally claimed by the calculations of the Calvinist martyrologist. When this interested 288 author speaks in general terms, he puts the victims at 30,000; when he goes into details, he presents us 15,168; when he gives their names, he can furnish only 786. Now, we must suppose that this writer, engaged upon the pious work of perpetuating the memory of those whom he regarded as martyrs for “the religion,” as his title-page announces, took every care to discover their names; and the zeal and vanity of their friends would have helped him. Nevertheless, he could name only 786. We do not believe that this number includes all the victims of the massacre; but we do contend that the martyrologist’s estimate by cities and villages, 15,168, is an exaggeration. He designates the victims in Paris as 10,000, but his details show only 468; it is not unlikely, therefore, conjectures Barthélemy, that a zero slipped into his Paris total, and that it should be made 1,000. This, indeed, is the opinion of the Calvinist La Popelinière, and it is confirmed by a bill at the Hôtel de Ville of Paris, which indicates that 1,100 were buried in the suburbs. We regard, therefore, as nearly correct the assertion of La Popelinière that the victims in Paris were about 1,000 in number; and since it is generally conceded that the slain in all the other parts of France together were less 289 numerous than in Paris, it would appear that Cavairac did not err when he declared that all the victims of St. Bartholomew’s Day amounted to about 2,000 persons.

The reader will doubtless expect us to allude to the charge made against Charles IX., of having taken an actively personal part in the massacre. Voltaire makes much of the accusation that the monarch fired on the Huguenots from a balcony in the Louvre.13 Prudhomme represents Charles as leaving a game of billiards for this purpose.14 This charge if founded only on the assertions of Brantôme, who, according to his own admission, was a hundred leagues from Paris on the day of the massacre;15 and of D’Aubigné, who says that he left the capital three days before the event.16 Sully, a Calvinist who was present and barely saved his life, says nothing in his “Mémoires” of the king’s intervention. Again, that part of the Louvre from which Charles is said to have fired an arquebuse, and to mark which with infamy the Commune of 1793 erected “un poteau infamant,” was not built until nearly the end of the reign of Henry 290 IV., over thirty years after the Barthélemy. Finally, the accusation against Charles IX. is refuted by a Huguenot pamphlet of 1579 — that is, written twenty-five years before the narrative of Brantôme, and thirty-seven before that of D’Aubigné. In this work, entitled “A Tocsin against the Murderers and the Authors of Discord in France,”17 we read; “Although one might suppose that so great a carnage would have satiated the cruelty of the young king, of a woman, and of many of their courtiers, they seem to have grown more savage as the work approached their own eyes. The king showed no diminution of zeal; for although he did not use his own hands in the massacre, nevertheless, being at the Louvre, he ordered that according as the work advanced in the city, the names of the killed and of the prisoners should be brought to him, that he might decide as to whom to spare.” And Brantôme himself shows the small value of his assertions concerning the massacre, when he tells us that the king “wished only Master Ambrose Paré, his chief surgeon, to be spared.”18 We know from the “Mémoires” of Margaret de Valois that Charles wished to 291 spare La Noue, Teligny, La Rochefoucauld, and even Coligny; and the writings of Paré show that this surgeon was a devout Catholic, and that, therefore, there was no need for anxiety in his regard on the part of the king. The Catholicism of Paré is also proved by the fact of the interment of his body in the church of St. André-des-Arts, of which the famous leaguer Aubry was pastor. 19

In conclusion we would say with Louis Veuillot that Catholics generally adduce the extenuating circumstances of the Barthélemy with too great timidity. Catherine dei Medici was a freethinker of the Macchiavellian school, provoked by Calvinist sedition; and since she could not otherwise preserve her power or even save her head, she adopted the policy of assassination. In the whole affair the Catholic faith was conspicuous for its absence; the executioners were no more influenced by it than the victims. God, says Bossuet, often chastises crimes by other crimes. The ninth Thermidor, says M. de Maistre, witnessed the slaughter of certain monsters by others of the same sort. Just like the ninth Thermidor, the Barthélemy was a human wickedness and a divine justice.


1  Cantù, “Storia Universale,” b. xv, Note O. “Catherine dei Medici, a woman on whom weighs all the hatred of the French, who saw incarnated in her Italian cunning and ferocity, calculated corruption, cold cruelty, and an egotistic policy, had been raised among the factions of Tuscany; married for policy, unloved by a husband who preferred his mistress to her; suddenly exalted above her long debasement; beautiful, majestic, in the vigor of life; instructed by misfortune, irritated by humiliation; absolutely ruling, yet loved by her children; unequalled in the art of fascinating the souls of men. She did not study the good of a kingdom to which she was foreign, nor the preservation of a faith which she had not in her heart, but only her own power. Nevertheless, she preserved France from falling to pieces, or from succumbing to a tyranny which afflicted Spain. She always wore the widow’s weeds; and although she tolerated immorality in others, not even the calumnious Brantôme ever reproaches her on this score. She was so little hostile to the reformed doctrines that during her meals she often listened to Calvinist sermons. (See Letter of the Nuncio Santa Croce, November 13, 1561.) But since Philip II., the great enemy of France, was head of the Catholic party, France should be allied with the Protestants — a policy adopted, in fact, by the last few French monarchs. But the Calvinists ceased to be a school, and became a dangerous faction; hence Catherine felt that she could save the country only by siding with the Catholic majority. Although she hated the Guises, she joined hands with them to supplant the constable Anne and Diana. The latter was banished; Anne went over to the Bourbons; the King of Navarre received a cool treatment which his weakness deserved, and the Guises obtained the highest posts.” Ib., c. 24.

2  Cf. also M. de Falloux, in the Correspondent of 1843, pp. 166-168.

3   Menard: “Histoire Civile, Eccl., et Lit., de Nîmes;” vol. v, p. 9.

4  “Histoire de France de 1550 jusqu’à 1557” edit. 1581; b. xxix, p. 67.

5  Discourse at a scientific congress held at Angers in 1843.

6  Villeroy: “Mémoires Servant a l’Histoire de Notre Temps;” vol. iv. The letter to Schomberg is of September 13, 1572.

7  Tavannes: “Mémoires dépuis l’an 1530 jusqu’à Sa Mort in 1573, Dressés par Son Fils;” Paris, 1574. — The quotations that follow are taken from the “Mémoires de Condé dépuis la Mort de Henri II., jusqu’ au Commencement des Troubles en 1565;” vol. iv, p. 303; Paris, 1741.

8  “La Saint-Barthélemy,” in his “Erreurs,” vol. i; Paris, 1865.

9  Jane d’Albret, Queen of Navarre, married in 1548 Anthony de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme, a lineal descendant of Robert, Count of Clermont, son of St. Louis; this latter having married Beatrice, daughter of Archambault de Bourbon. On the death of Anthony, in 1562, Jane embraced Calvinism. Her son, the great Henry of Navarre, becoming Henry IV. of France in 1569, definitively united France and Navarre.

10  Cavairac: “Dissertation sur la Journée de la Saint-Barthélemy;” 1758.

11  The words of Salviati do not necessarily imply, as Lingard would infer, that the slaughter was to be “general.”

12  Since many very good Catholics have rejected certain teachings of certain Jesuits, just as other good Catholics have rejected certain teachings of other schools, this remark might be allowed to pass. But coming from Mr. Jay, this sentence would indicate, even to those who are unacquainted with Acton’s career, that is “liberal Catholicism” was impatient of all control. And at the time of his letter to the London paper, the quondam Catholic editor had thrown off his allegiance to the centre of unity, had joined the “Old Catholic” heresy, and was no more of a Catholic than is Mr. Jay himself.

13  “Essay on the Civil Wars” — “Henriade,” in the Notes.

14  “Revolutions de Paris.”

15  “Œuvres,” edit. 1779, vol. i, p. 62.

16  “Mémoires,” edit. Lalanne, p. 23.

17  Published in the “Archives” of Cimber & Danjou.

18  “Hommes Illustres,” in the Discourse on “Coligny,” and “Charles IX.”

19  See the introduction of Malgaigne to the “Œuvres” of Paré.

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