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St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre


Is it true that the Pope ordered the St Bartholomew's day massacre and then threw a celebration when he heard how many Protestants had been killed ?


Those who seek an accurate and detailed account of history and the role of the Catholic Church throughout history are encouraged to purchase one of the books listed below.   Excerpts from them are listed for your examination.  Three different accounts are presented here.  (They are all consistent, it is just that some are more detailed.) Follow the links to subscribe to their magazine or buy their books.


1.  Short explanation

2.  Medium explanation

3.   Long Detailed explanation


  1.   Short explanation

Brief Overview of St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre

Catholic Answers Forums gives the following overview of the events leading up to the massacre that occurred on St. Bartholomew’s Day.

Part I

The St Bartholomew's day massacre is another episode that has been subject to a lot of protestant "spin" from its origin, so to correct misconceptions....

1. The massacre was in no way organized by the Church.

2. The events resulted from the methods used by French, Dutch and Scottish Calvinists to try to impose their religion on the populace of their countries. Basically this strategy, supported by Calvin's party in Geneva was:

a) Underground preaching, condemning the Catholic Church as idolatrous and the tool of Satan.

b) Alliance with prominent nobles, who were promised church and monastic lands for their military support and protection.

c) The forming of large armed units to "protect" Calvinist meetings and assemblies.

d) Revolt. In a particular area after a rousing sermon, the Calvinists and their armed supporters would “cleanse” and desecrate all the local churches and monasteries, destroying all altars and images, driving out priest, nuns, monks and friars, closing monasteries and installing Calvinist ministers. The mass would then be banned, usually on pain of death, and the area be declared Calvinist. The majority population would be forced to attend Calvinist worship.

e) Move on to the next area. This occurred in Scotland, the Netherlands and large parts of France in the 1560s and 1570s.

f) When forces were strong enough there would be a military conflict with remaining Catholic forces and the country would be taken over and declared “Reformed.”

3.In France at the time this process was well underway.

After three years of vicious civil war between Calvinists and Catholics a peace was made. The King of France and his Mother the Regent, Catherine de' Medici, were in no way strong Catholics. The King’s sister was to be married to the Protestant Huguenot leader Henry of Navarre. For this reason all major protestant lords were to assemble in the strongly Catholic city of Paris, with many of their supporters.

Many Catholics believed that Paris was to be the next target of the protestantising process, and distrusted Catherine and the Protestant lords and their retainers. An attempt was made by extreme Catholics to assassinate Coligny the protestant military commander. It failed.

Protestants burst in to the royal palace to demand justice. Fears of Huguenot reprisals grew. Coligny’s brother-in-law led a 4,000-strong army camped just outside Paris and Catholics in the city feared it might take revenge on the Guises or the city populace itself. Catherine and her son Charles IX panicked and issued an order to attack the Protestants in the city. This was led by the King’s guards and taken up by the citizens of Paris, turning into a massacre.

Catholic Answers Forums



  2.  Medium explanation


Excerpts from:

Christ the King : Lord of History
by, Anne W. Carroll, pages 244-251.

Philip was crowned king of Spain in 1556. … In thanksgiving to God, Philip began the construction of a monastery-palace in honor of St Lawrence … This building symbolizes Philip's character strong, unostentatious, centered on Christ. It contains his “throne”—a simple canvas stool under a painting of the Crucifixion, and the magnificent basilica where he would slip in quietly to pray as he bore the great burdens of his office. …

 [After Philip’s wedding] Philip took his gentle, lovely wife [Isabel of Valois] home, leaving France under the rule of Francis II and Mary Stuart, assisted by the Guises.

Calvinism had made strong headway among French aristocrats (though the majority of the ordinary French people held to the Catholic Church), as nobles saw the new religion as a means of wresting political power from the crown and from the Catholic nobility. With Henry II dead and a weak, young king on the throne, the Huguenots (French Calvinists) under the leadership of Admiral Coligny saw an opportunity to seize power. In March 1560 came the shadowy plot known as the Conspiracy or Tumult of Amboise, in which certain Huguenots—probably with Cecil's connivance and with the support of Calvin himself, who had said that it was lawful to slay those who hindered the preaching of Calvin­ism—attempted to kidnap Francis and murder the Guises. They hoped to control Francis and influence him to be Calvinist. The plot was uncovered and the head of the Guise family, Duke Francis, moved against the ringleaders.

Furious at the failure of their plot, and encouraged by Cecil, who urged them to make good use of   their pen and weapons,  the Huguenots began the Wars of Religion in France, sweeping the country with a wave of diabolical anti-Catholic atrocities during 1561 Churches were devastated; nuns and priests were scourged and killed; the tombs of saints were vio­lated. At Montpellier the Huguenots sacked 60 churches and killed 150 priests and monks. The famous monastery of Cluny, from which had come the great reform of the Church in the tenth and eleventh centuries, was looted. All that remained of two of France's most famous saints, Irenaeus of Lyons and Martin of Tours, was thrown into the Loire River, the incor­rupt body of St Francis of Paola was taken from its tomb, dragged through the streets and burned.


By this time, Francis II had died; and Catherine d'Medici, Henry II's widow, was ruling in the name of the young Charles IX. …

Catherine would wield power for thirty years, manipulating her children as so many pawns on a chessboard, seeking power for herself and her family, putting personal gain ahead of the rights of the Church.

Catherine was already well-practiced in defying the Church Forced into a political marriage at 14 (to further Francis I's ambitions in Italy), she had felt her position threatened because she had borne no children after ten years of marriage. Prayers and pilgrimages had not relieved her bar­renness. So she turned from God to a power she felt could get things done more efficiently witchcraft and devil worship. On January 19, 1544, Francis was born, and Catherine bore a child a year for the next decade.

But no one can defy the laws of God without eventually suffering the consequences. And the consequences for the children Catherine bore were frightening to behold: Francis, dead before he was 17, his brain half-rotted away; Isabel, a loving and loyal wife to Philip, but dead in her early 20's; Claude, crippled from birth and welcoming her death at 27; Louis, Jean, Victor, all dead within a year of their baptisms Charles, insane and dead at 24; Hercule, stunted and misshapen, dead at 30; Marguerite, so beautiful that men traveled hundreds of miles simply to look at her, yet never able to bear children and pursuing a life of immorality with terrible energy un­til she grew old and sick and ugly and returned to the God her mother had forsaken; Henri, greedy, perverted, assassinated in his 38th year.

No one can sin except through his own free will choice, but some­times the innocent suffer because of the sins of others. Catherine's children were responsible for their own souls, but each one of them suffered be­cause of their mother's sins. And so, tragically, did France.

Following close upon Calvinist gains in France, Cecil begin stirring up trouble in the Low Countries (also known as the Netherlands, or Holland and Belgium). William of Orange, who took favors from Philip and promised loyalty, plotted against him behind his back with Cecil and Coligny. The Protestant nobles were against Philip for religious reasons primarily, but they also wanted political freedom and complete control of the wealth of the Low Countries. In 1566 a group of the noblemen came before Margaret of Parma, Philip's governor in the Netherlands, with insolent demands. One of her companions said, “Don't be afraid of these beggars,” so the next time they came dressed in rags. Their rebellion is therefore sometimes called the Revolt of the Beggars. Margaret was willing to consider such of their requests as were reasonable and Philip himself had made concessions, but they were not willing to compromise: they wanted Spain and the Catholic Church out of the Netherlands.

On August 16, 1566, the great cathedral of Antwerp was gutted by a Calvinist mob. They began by smashing the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary that had been carried in solemn procession the preceding Sunday; they chopped off the heads of statues of Christ with axes and transfixed other images and pictures of Christ with swords; they assaulted a great old crucifix, which displayed the two thieves between whom Christ was crucified, leaving untouched the thieves, but hacking the form of Christ to pieces. They smashed stained glass windows and the great organ, and stole and defiled the vessels and plate. From Antwerp the destruction spread all over the Low Countries, until in the incredibly short time of six weeks the churches in more than 400 towns and villages had been sacked. In Antwerp alone more than 25 churches were devastated in the one terrible night of August 16-17. …

Meanwhile in France, Catherine d'Medici, who of course had sent no aid in response to the Pope's call for a crusade against the Turks, was be­coming fearful that the Huguenots were gaining too much power over Charles, as her son came to rely more on Coligny and less on his mother. On August 22, 1572, Catherine tried to have Coligny assassinated, but the assassin failed and only wounded hint Catherine now feared that her son would find out her involvement in the assassination attempt. So she delib­erately provoked Charles—whose mind was unbalanced—into an insane rage, so that he ordered the murder of all the Huguenot leaders in Paris. Catherine and Henri of Guise, Duke Francis' son, drew up the list. On Au­gust 24, the feast of St. Bartholomew, soldiers of the French king system­atically struck down the Huguenot leaders. But having unleashed the vio­lence, Charles and Catherine were unable to stop it, and the soldiers ran wild, killing nearly 5,000 Huguenots, including women and children, in what is known as the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. This atrocity gave the Calvinists further anti-Catholic propaganda, though Catherine had or­dered the killings not for the sake of the Church but to increase her own power.


Christ the King : Lord of History
by, Anne W. Carroll

Christ the King : Lord of History by, Anne W. Carroll.  This is my favorite because it is a one volume text and extremely easy to read.  It is very interesting because Anne Carroll gets into the character of important individuals through history so that the reader really gets to know them.



  3.   Long Detailed explanation


A Detailed Account
with extensive footnotes in the book to document the facts.

Excerpts from:

The Cleaving of Christendom, A History of Christendom, by Warren H. Carroll, Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 2000, pages 362 - 371.  The footnotes are not provided on this website.
[Defending The Bride webmaster's  paraphrasing added in brackets in purple text.]


[O]n April 1 a 25-ship fleet of Dutch Calvinist pirates calling themselves “Sea Beggars” descended upon the defenseless coastal town of Brill and captured it. They celebrated their victory by sacking all the churches in the town and torturing 13 priests to death. Their commander, Count Lumey de la Marck, an adherent of William of Orange, decided to remain, fortify and defend the town, and use it as his new base of operations … The next month the “Sea Beggars” similarly took the port of Enkhuizen on the Zuyder Zee, and Cecil sent a memorandum to Queen Elizabeth on the necessity of giving large-scale support to them. 20

On June 6 Coligny [the French Calvinist political and military leader and Admiral] rode into Paris with a bodyguard of 300 horsemen, the Catholic Parisians watching in hostile silence as he rode through their streets, “already a legend, with his grey beard, his toothpick, his cold, masterful and gloomy eye.” On the 19th the royal council met and heard Coligny call for all-out support of the Calvinist rebels in the Low Countries and full alliance with William of Orange, arguing that the risk of war with Spain could be taken because Spain was overextended and not as strong or as dangerous as many believed. Bishop Jean Morvilliers of Orleans replied for the Catholics, saying that the majority of the people of the Low Countries were not Calvinists or rebels and would not welcome the French, that war with Spain would be long and bloody and very costly. On June 26 Coligny's proposal was rejected.2I Coligny was defiant, telling King Charles IX to his face:

I may no longer oppose your will, but I am certain that you will be sorry for it. However that may be, Your Majesty will not think it amiss if, having promised the Prince of Orange aid and support, I do my best to furnish him with both, with the help of all my friends, relatives and servants and even, if need be, with my own person.22

[Catherine de Medici, the Queen Mother, was eager to avoid war with Spain however the Calvinist Admiral Coligny was strongly in favor of it.  He promised to contribute 15,000 foot and 4,000 horse from his Calvinist associates.  On the other hand, Catherine de Medici insisted “there shall be no war.”]


Coligny left the meeting in cold anger, Catherine in mortal fear of him and of French Calvinist power.25

Catherine was already in touch with Anne d'Este, widow of Duke Francis of Guise, who had subsequently married the Italian Duke of Nemours. The whole Guise family remained convinced that Coligny had planned the assassination of Duke Francis nine years before. Anne d'Este had been devoted to her magnificent first husband. She was the granddaughter of Lucrezia Borgia and had the Italian spirit of vendetta. On August 17 Catherine met with her again. There is good reason to believe that the two women, probably in collaboration with other members of the Guise family, now decided to use Charles de Louviers, Sieur de Maurevert, who had already tried to kill Coligny in 1569 and had taken service with the Guises, to assassinate him. …

 [The assassination attempt failed.]

 It is clear that Charles IX knew nothing of the plot, since his first action on learning of it was to prohibit citizens from taking up arms and to command Catholics living close to the house where Coligny was taken for medical care, to give up their houses to his Protestant attendants.27

King Charles showed great anger at the assassination attempt and pledged Coligny protection. …

According to a reliable report from a physician of Mantua in Italy, who had no stake in either party in France, soon after the wounding of Coligny (probably the day of the attack on him or the following day) a group of them met in a room just below his under the leadership of his son-in-law Téligny and decided to bring up a force of 4,000 cavalry by August 26 and seize the Louvre palace, where they would kill everyone they believed had advised or promoted the attempted assassination, notably the Dukes of Guise and Nevers, and possibly some members of the royal family as well. …  Charles later said he was told on the 23rd that Calvinists were marching on Paris and intended to seize him in the Louvre that very night, while Catherine de Medici said she received three separate letters warning that the Calvinists had decided to kill her, the king, and all the court.

The frightened young king and his equally frightened mother met with the royal council on the afternoon of the 23rd, discussed the danger with them, and decided to strike first by killing about thirty of the Calvinist leaders then in Paris, including the wounded Coligny. Marguerite of Navarre later said in her memoir that on that evening Catherine revealed to Charles IX for the first time that she had been involved in the plot to kill Coligny, and that this could be exposed if the Calvinist leaders were not silenced. Other evidence confirms her statement. 28 

An hour or two before dawn, Duke Henry of Guise and about a hundred men went to carry out the killings of Calvinist leaders ordered by the king and council. They went first to the house where the wounded Coligny was staying … [T]he wounded admiral … faced a Czech ruffian named Simanowitz armed with a pike. From his bed Coligny addressed him “Young man, you should respect my old age and my infirmity.”  Simanowitz’s response was to run him through with his pike and then throw him out of a window (“defenestration,” the traditional method of killing important people in Bohemia). Below on the pavement, Duke Henry of Guise bent over to make sure the battered body was indeed Coligny's, kicked him in the face, and then let his men hack him to pieces. As he left the area, perhaps in answer to murmurs or questions, Duke Henry shouted: “It is the king's command!” Almost certainly he meant that killing Coligny had been the king’s command, which was true. But those in the rapidly gathering crowd outside Coligny’s house understood him to mean that the king had commanded them to kill every Calvinist they could lay their hands on, which was not true. 30 ...

[Things quickly degenerated out of control.  Not only were the leaders of the Calvinists killed, but a mob mentality broke out and even women and children were killed.  At least 2,000 were slain.  However, ] 

Some were saved by the occasional pity that always appears at such times, proving that charity never disappears altogether from the bloody human race; some were saved for reasons of state, like Briquemaut, who had once led Calvinists into battle wearing a necklace of priests' ears, and who found refuge in the English embassy; and some escaped on fast horses, notably Montgomery the Scot, the man who had killed Henry II [the father of Charles IX] in the tournament (because he [Montgomery] had since become a French Calvinist leader, some now believed that had not been an accident after all), who was pursued all day by the Guises, and in an epic race finally outdistanced them on a tireless little mare. 31

In all probability we come closest to the real truth about Charles IX and what he had done in his confession to his doctor, the famous Ambroise Paré, about a week after the massacre in Paris:

Ambroise, I do not know what has been happening to me for the last two or three days, but I find my mind and body greatly disturbed, as if I were fevered. It seems to me at every moment, whether waking or sleeping, that those massacred bodies are presenting themselves before me, with their faces hideous and covered with blood. I wish they had not included the simple and the innocent.36

One hard fact emerges clearly from this welter of horror: contrary to generations of Protestant historians, the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre was not premeditated. The intent of the king and council was to kill only thirty people, not two thousand. After the attempted assassination of Coligny there had been at least serious talk of, and quite possibly a specific plan for a Calvinist attack on Paris and seizure of the royal palace of the Louvre, which seemed to justify action against the leaders. But the total disregard of all forms of law in the killings; the merciless butchery of the helpless, unarmed, undefended Coligny; and the complete disregard of the impact of these bloody nocturnal proceedings upon a volatile and angry populace, made massacre the inevitable result. Since the general massacre actually began in the royal palace, Charles IX could hardly claim ignorance of it. From dawn until eleven o'clock on the fatal morning he did nothing to stop it, and there are reports that he encouraged it. When later he tried to pull back, it was much too late. The responsibility and the guilt were his.

An event such as this, whose true story has taken four hundred years to disentangle, was sure to be wildly misrepresented in the first news reports of it. No one really knew what had happened, except that a great many French Calvinists had been killed by Catholics in Paris. A shudder of horror and a burst of anger passed over Protestant Europe. The massacre seemed to prove that the Catholics really wanted to kill them all.

Catholics, on the other hand, could not forget that many of these Calvinists had been entirely willing to kill at least priests and religious with no more compunction than the Paris Catholics had shown in striking- don the Calvinists in their midst. The massacre of St. Bartholomew was an event of war, not of peace. For years the Pope and Philip II of Spain had been urging the French government to crack down on the Calvinist revolutionaries [ who were killing defenseless Catholic priests and nuns without any compunction whatsoever, and ], to proceed against them with the utmost rigor. It was all too easy to see what had happened in Paris as the infliction at last of the much-needed condign punishment, a victory in the great religious war sweeping Christendom. 

But in a civilized state, condign punishment is the function of law. To have it inflicted by a mob in the streets is anarchy, not justice.… 

The Guise Cardinal of Lorraine, who was in Rome, rejoiced; Pope Gregory XIII ordered a Te Deum said in thanksgiving for the deliverance of the French royal family and Christendom from Coligny's alleged plot to murder the king, seize the crown, support the rebels in the Low Countries, and march on Rome.39

 [It would be correct to say that there was to much rejoicing in Catholic circles at this terrible event.  The wartime mentality took over and swayed people from better judgment. To be fair the earliest reports did not reveal the atrocities that were committed against the women and children.  The full report of what happened only gradually became known and accepted.  Today, the Catholic Church certainly does not rejoice in the wickedness that happened at what happened in France, just as the Catholic Church does not rejoice in the deliberate nuclear bombings of civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Many Protestants have wrongly accused Pope Gregory XIII of approving the deliberate killing of innocent women and children.  However, the Pope did not approve of that.]

However, the Pope was horrified by the cruelties of the massacre, shedding tears and saying: “I am weeping for the conduct of the king [Charles IX], which is unlawful and forbidden by God.” Spanish ambassador Zuniga described him as "struck with horror" at the details of the massacre. Later the Pope said he wept for the many innocent dead, and refused to receive the assassin Maurevert in audience. The ambassador of Savoy wrote from Rome that what had happened in Paris “has been extolled insofar as it affects the good of the king and of his kingdom and of religion, but it would have been far more highly extolled if His Majesty had been able to act with clean hands.” On September 11 the Pope celebrated the event in a special bull, though it was worded to praise only the execution of the leaders, not the slaughter of the two thousand. ... 40

For the Footnotes, 20-40, that document the facts above see:
The Cleaving Of Christendom
A History Of Christendom, Vol. 4,
by Warren H. Carroll, Ph. D.

Warren H. Carroll, Ph. D., Anne's husband, has written a multiple volume history of the Church.  It is more of a college level text. 
See The Cleaving Of Christendom -A History Of Christendom, Vol. 4, by Warren H. Carroll, Ph. D.



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