CHAPTER III. PROGRESS OF CALVINISM
In these circumstances it required very little to lead to serious conflict. At Vassy some soldiers accompanying the Duke of Guise quarrelled with a party of Calvinists, whose psalm-singing was disturbing the Mass at which the Duke was assisting. The latter, hearing the noise, hastened out to restore peace, and was struck with a stone. His followers, incensed at this outrage, drew their swords and killed a large number of the Calvinists. This incident, referred to generally as the massacre of Vassy, led to a new civil war (1562). The Calvinists hastened to take up arms, and the Prince de Conde was assured of English assistance. A large army attacked Toulouse, but after a struggle lasting four days the Calvinists were defeated and driven off with severe loss. In Normandy and other centres where they were strong they carried on the war with unheard of cruelty; but as they were in a hopeless minority and as the English failed to give them the necessary assistance they lost many of their strongholds, and finally suffered a terrible defeat at Dreux where the Prince de Conde was taken prisoner (Dec. 1562). Coligny escaped to Orleans, which city was besieged by the Duke of Guise, who was murdered during the siege by one of the followers of Coligny. Before his execution the prisoner accused Coligny and Beza as being accessories to his crime, but it is only fair to say that Coligny denied under oath the truth of this statement.
Though the Catholics were victorious the awful struggle had cost them dearly. Their ablest leader the Duke of Guise had fallen, as had also Antoine de Bourbon, King of Navarre, who had been converted from Calvinism; many of their churches and most valuable shrines were destroyed; and to make matters worse they recognised that the struggle had been fought in vain, as the regent proclaimed a general amnesty and concluded a peace with the Huguenots (Peace of Amboise, 1563), whereby Calvinist nobles and their followers were allowed free exercise of their religion with certain restrictions.
Neither side was satisfied with these terms. Coligny and the Prince de Conde were annoyed furthermore by the fact that the regent broke off her close relations with them, and began to lean towards the Catholic side and toward an alliance with Spain. After raising large sums of money and arming their forces for a new effort they determined to seize the king and his court at Monceau, but the Constable de Montmorency with six thousand trusty Swiss soldiers hastened to the king's defence, and brought him safely from the midst of his enemies (1567). This attempt together with the terrible slaughter of Catholics at Nimes (29 Sept.) led to the outbreak of the second civil war. The Catholic forces were successful at St. Denis though they lost one of their ablest generals, the Constable de Montmorency, and were deprived of the fruits of their victory by the intervention of the Elector of the Palatinate. Owing to the mediation of the latter a new treaty was made in 1568, but as the Huguenots continued to seek alliances with England, Germany, and the Netherlands, Charles IX. recalled the concessions he had made, and forbade the exercise of Calvinist worship under penalty of death.
Thereupon the third civil war broke out (1569). The Huguenots received assistance from England, the Netherlands, and Germany, while the Catholics were supported by Spain and the Pope. The war was carried on with relentless cruelty on both sides. In the battle of Jarnac the Huguenot forces were defeated, and the Prince de Conde was slain (1569). The struggle was however continued by Coligny supported by Henry King of Navarre and the young de Conde. By wonderful exertions Coligny put a new army into the field only however to suffer another terrible defeat at Montcontour, where the Huguenots were almost annihilated. It seemed that the long struggle was to end at last and that peace was to be restored to France. But unfortunately at this juncture some of his courtiers succeeded in convincing Charles IX. that his brother, the Duke of Anjou, who with the young Duke of Guise was mainly responsible for the Catholic victories, might use his recognised military ability and his influence with the people to make himself king of France. Alarmed by the prospect of such a contingency Charles IX., already jealous of his brother's triumphs, turned against the Catholic party and concluded the Peace of St. Germain-en-Laye with the Huguenots (1570).
According to the terms of this Peace the Huguenots were allowed free exercise of their religion in France with the sole exception of the capital. They were not to be excluded from any office of the state, and four of the strongest fortresses of the country, La Rochelle, Montauban, Cognac, and La Charite were to be delivered to them for their protection and as a guarantee of good faith. The whole policy of Charles IX. underwent a complete change. Obsessed with the idea that the Catholic party, led by the Duke of Anjou, was becoming too powerful to be trusted, he turned to Coligny and the Calvinists, broke off the alliance concluded with Spain the previous year, and sought to bring over France to the side of England and of the rebel subjects of Spain in the Netherlands. Coligny was invited to court, where he soon became the most trusted and influential councillor of the king. He endeavoured to embitter the mind of Charles IX. against his mother, against the Duke of Anjou and the family of Guise. No effort was spared by him to bring France into the closest relations with England and the Netherlands against Spain, and as a sign of the reconciliation that had been effected between the court and the Huguenots a marriage was arranged between Henry, the Calvinist King of Navarre and Margaret of Valois, the sister of Charles IX.