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Huguenot Lovers on St. Bartholomew’s Day

In my last blog, I wrote that a daughter, Caterina (13 April 1519 – 5 January 1589), was born to Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici (September 12, 1492 – May 4, 1519) and Madeleine de la Tour d’Auvergne (c. 1501 – 28 April 1519).  Both died in 1519, shortly after the birth of Caterina who married Henri II of France and became Catherine de Médicis, Queen consort of France.

As Queen consort of France, Catherine incited her son, Charles IX (27 June 1550 – 30 May 1574), to massacre Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants). This massacre called the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre (Massacre de la Saint-Barthélemy in French) took place during the night of the 23-24 August 1572.

In my blog on Machiavelli and Reynard the Fox, I pointed to the ruthlessness of the Medici family, but left aside Caterina deʼ Mediciʼs hatred of French Protestants and her Machiavellian behaviour.  The St. Bartholomewʼs Day massacre was Catherineʼs idea, but only her son, King Charles IX, could and did order it.  When he witnessed the bloodshed, his already fragile mental health suffered such a blow that he did not recover and died two years later, in 1574.  The St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre claimed at least 5,000 lives in Paris.  But it also claimed lives outside Paris.

This is the kind of actions, though on a smaller scale, that Machiavelli was aware of, and saw, hence his praise of the zoomorphic, half human, half beast, Centaur.  The Centaurʼs beastial half could be useful to his prince as could the crafty Fox, born as Reinardus in Nivard de Gandʼs Ysengrimus a lenghty Latin beast epic (1149).

However, we will concentrate on Reynard in a future blog.  At the moment, it would suffice to focus on the Huguenots, or French Calvinist Protestants.  The French were beginning to consolidate their monarchy to make it an absolute monarchy.  Richelieu would be its main architect, but absolutism meant one king, one language, one religion, a concept embraced by Catherine de Médicis.

Henri IV, who sympathised with the Huguenots, had to convert to Catholicism to become the King of France.  He is remembered for saying that Paris (kingship) was well worth a mass:  “Paris vaut bien une messe.” Henri was an excellent king, but he was murdered in 1610, when his son, the future Louis XIII was still a child.

A few years earlier, in 1598, Henri IV had signed the Edict of Nantes, which gave the Huguenots a respite, but one that did not truly survive the assassination of Henri IV.  In theory, the Huguenots were safe and inhabited safe places, such as La Rochelle.  But we know about the Siege of La Rochelle.  It reaped the lives of approximately 24,000 Huguenots who were simply starved to death by Richelieu, a regent during the Louis XIII’s childhood but who remained a ruler during part of the reign of Louis XIII.

Mazarin, who was a ruler, also a regent, during the reign of Louis XIII, and Louis XIV were tolerant of Huguenots, but ended up revoking the Edict of Nantes, in 1685

The Révocation de l’Édit de Nantes led to an exodus.  Huguenots fled to the Low Countries, England, the future Germany and elsewhere.  However, as they fled, those who were caught were tortured in the cruellest of manners.

The Huguenots had constituted the cream of France’s middle-class, including Nouvelle-France’s middle-class.  Where Nouvelle-France is concerned, it was so weakened by the departure of the Huguenots that the Révocation may help explain the future vulnerability of the colony.

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It was an important chapter in the history of my family.  However, my sister Diane, an excellent genealogist, tells me that three Bourbeaus left France, which means that Suzor-Côté’s* Bourbeau paintings depict the home and surroundings of a third Bourbeau, my maternal grandfather’s father whose ancestry Diane has sent me, but it remains unexplored, but who was a Huguenot who converted to Roman Catholicism in order to remain in Canada.

* This is a French-language Wikipedia site, surrounded by English-language sites.

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Among Huguenots slaughtered on St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre was composer Claude Goudimel, an innocent man.  All were innocent persons.  Many Huguenots settled along the St. John’s River, in the United States.  I must find out a little more.

I have never understood cruelty, especially cruelty perpetrated in the name of a religion.

P.S.  Millais (Sir John Everett Millais)