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France in 1598


Edict of Nantes
Edict of Nantes

The Sixteen threatened royal authority. It made a show of force during the Day of Barricades on May 12, 1588, when Henri I de Lorraine, 3rd duc de Guise, led a revolt against the king. Henry III was obliged to sneak out of Paris, leaving the city and state in the grip of the widely supported Sixteen. Henry III acceded to many league demands. But when the league forced him to call a meeting of the Estates-General, he struck back by assassinating the duc de Guise and another Guise leader during the meeting. The league then seized control of many cities. Meanwhile, league pamphleteers openly argued that the monarchy depended directly on the will of the people and that the people had the right to kill monarchs who violated divine laws. After allying with Henry of Navarre in 1589 to counterbalance the power of the Guises, Henry III was assassinated on August 1 by Jacques Clément, a monk associated with the league.

Like the assassination of the Guises, the death of Henry III resolved nothing. The appalling civil war and its violence dragged on for years, abetted by the intervention of Spanish troops on behalf of the league and intensified by peasant revolts against the state and the lords. Henry of Navarre was recognized as king by his supporters but not, for the moment, by many others. Acknowledging that as a Protestant he could never vindicate his claim to the throne, Henry converted to Catholicism on July 25, 1593. On February 27, 1594, he was crowned king at Chartres.

The league denounced Henry’s conversion as insincere and hence invalid, but most French people accepted it, and thereafter opposition to Henry died out. League leaders were concerned that popular violence might get out of hand. Thus, they were willing to put down their arms in exchange for handsome state grants of money and offices. The French government was able to achieve a relatively cost-free settlement with Spain in the Treaty of Vervins in 1598.

To settle the Protestant issue, Henry issued the Edict of Nantes on April 13, 1598. The edict granted Protestants a limited right to practice their faith, and it temporarily gave them the right to maintain control of certain fortified cities. The edict was so contested that it was not registered in the parlements for many months.

The edict has been widely misunderstood. It was not intended as a step towards religious toleration or pluralism, neither of which had much support. Rather, it was a concession made to end violence in the short run with the purpose of imposing religious unity in the future. Far from being a step toward secular politics, the edict was grounded in the concept of a unified Gallican Church as God’s instrument. It was surrounded with fresh assertions of the divine source of royal authority. These assertions were intended to counteract claims—made by both Protestants and Catholics at various times—that the power of the monarchy derived from the people.

Leaguers had reason to be dissatisfied with the outcome. The league lived on in the form of political factions and in movements to enforce the decrees of the Church during the Counter Reformation. But Protestants had better reasons to be fearful of the future, and their fears proved to be well founded. The Catholic-Protestant struggle continued, though at a lower level of conflict. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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