Beneath the Cross: Catholics and Huguenots in Sixteenth-Century Paris

Beneath the Cross: Catholics and Huguenots in Sixteenth-Century Paris

Beneath the Cross: Catholics and Huguenots in Sixteenth-Century Paris

Beneath the Cross: Catholics and Huguenots in Sixteenth-Century Paris

Synopsis

The religious conflicts of sixteenth-century France, particularly the St. Bartholomew's Day massacres of 1572, continue to draw a good deal of attention from historians. What started as a limited coup against the Huguenot leadership became instead a conflagration that left two thousand or more Protestants dead in the streets and ushered in a series of bloody religious battles. Until now, however, historians have been preoccupied with the political aspects of the conflicts, and histories have focused on the roles of the king and high noblemen in the assassinations that sparked the massacres, rather than the mass violence. In this compelling and unique study, Diefendorf closely examines popular religious fanaticism and religious hatred. She focuses on the roots and escalation of the conflicts, the propaganda of Catholic and Protestant preachers, popular religious beliefs and rituals, the role of the militia, and the underground activities of the Protestant community after the massacres. Drawing on a wide array of published and unpublished sources, Beneath the Cross is the most comprehensive social history to date of these religious conflicts.

Excerpt

There is nothing so much to fear in a Republic as civil war, nor among civil wars, as that which is fought in the name of Religion. Etienne Pasquier (1562)

The questions that shape this study of the religious conflicts in Paris have their origins in my book on the families of the Paris city councilors in the sixteenth century. Like much of the social history that was written at the time (the late 1970s), that work, in essence a study of the strategies through which the Parisian notability transformed itself into the robe nobility of the old regime, tended to detach itself from the political events of the period in order to concentrate on underlying social processes. Indeed, I deliberately stopped short of the crisis of the arch-Catholic League that divided Paris against itself in the last two decades of the sixteenth century, so as to study the "politics" of social promotion without the added complications of religious factionalism. I did not ignore the religious wars entirely, but I believed that, because Paris was so firmly Catholic a city, the religious conflicts had relatively little effect on the kind of social transformations that I was studying.

As I was finishing the book, I became more and more conscious of the extent of my naiveéd. In the first place, I realized that my "solidly Catholic" elite was in fact sorely tainted by heresy. Without even seriously looking for religious dissent, I had compiled a list that showed that nineteen of the ninety city councilors who formed the basis of my study had wives, sons, brothers, or other close relatives who had gone over to the Protestant side. I later found another eleven men who had Protestant relatives, for a total of thirty out of ninety -- fully one-third of my group. And so I began to wonder about the real role of Protestantism in this bastion of the Catholic faith. I began to ponder individual cases. Why had Marie Morin, the daughter of a Châtelet officer famous for his persecution of the heretics, converted to the Protestant faith? And what did the religious divisions mean for city councilor Pierre Croquet, who saw his Protestant daughter hanged in effigy and his brother hanged for real on the square in front of the city hall in which he served for twenty years? As time went on, the questions became larger. What part did the notables play in the violence that repeatedly broke out in their city? In particular, what was their role in the infamous events of Saint Bartholomew's Day, 24 August 1572, when an uncontrollable wave of murder left perhaps two thousand Protestants dead in the streets of Paris?

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