Martyrs and Murderers: The Guise Family and the Making of Europe

By Baumgartner, Frederic J. | The Catholic Historical Review, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Martyrs and Murderers: The Guise Family and the Making of Europe


Baumgartner, Frederic J., The Catholic Historical Review


Martyrs and Murderers: The Guise Family and the Making of Europe. By Stuart Carroll. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2009- Pp. xvi, 345. $34.95. ISBN 978-0-199-22907-9.)

Few families have been as vilified as the Guises, but in this book Carroll sees them more as the martyrs in the title than murderers. His focus is squarely on the two generations active from 1 550 to 1 588; he has little on the founding generation in France- Claude and Jean, who established the pattern of the eldest brother serving as the duke of Guise and the second serving as a cardinal. A cadet branch of the House of Lorraine, the Guises claimed descent from Charlemagne and had extensive interests in the Holy Roman Empire. When Claude's eldest child, Marie, married James V of Scotland and gave birth to Mary, Queen of Scots, the Guises broadened their interests to Scotland and England, since Mary stood high in the English line of succession. Carroll emphasizes their vast ambitions through the chapter "Dreams of Empire," which deals largely with their efforts to place Mary on the English throne but also their labors to increase their holdings in France and the empire.

The Guises were so successful, Carroll asserts, because of their amazing family solidarity. The many siblings and cousins in the two generations under study worked exceptionally well together. Again and again, Carroll notes family meetings held to determine their way on issues.The presence of matriarchs Antoinette de Bourbon and Anne d'Esté was equally important to family unity. Antoinette, Claude's widow, with her "austerely pious" (p. 5) dedication to traditional Catholicism and mores, set the tone for the family for more than thirty years. It was the Guises' commitment to Catholicism that was most responsible for the vilification that they received, but Carroll demonstrates that the Guises were flexible in religion. Many clients were Protestants, as were several spouses; Anne d'Esté, wife of Duke François, was raised Protestant. Cardinal Charles de Lorraine is presented as believing that "the true allies of the Gallican reformers were the Lutherans rather than the Pope" (p. 157). Only after his hope for compromise with the Protestants was dashed at the Colloquy of Poissy and the Council of Trent did he accept conservative Catholicism.

François de Guise is notorious for the Massacre of Wassy (1562), but Carroll gives a nuanced discussion of the event, showing Antoinette's role with her complaints to her son about the Protestants in the village, and absolves François of premeditation, stressing his shock at hearing bells at an inappropriate time.

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