Catherine de' Medeci: By Geneva Josey
History
Dr. Andrea Winkler

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My argument:
The question that I am asking for my wiki page is did Catherine de Medici’s power and influence play as big of a role in the Religious Civil Wars that occurred during the mid 1500s as she seems to get credit for. My argument is to say that Catherine did seem to play a role is what was going with the war. She also made some very strategic political decisions during her reign. She showed that she was trying to gain power by making some very interesting arrangements and used her children as if they were pieces on a chess board, I think that she is getting too much credit for the role that she played in the religious civil war. Catherine de Medici had great intentions by orchestrating the marriage between her daughter Marguerite and Henry of Navarre. There was already religious tension that she was trying to ease and also wanted to create a sense of unity within the Kingdom. I can not say that she did not play a part in the beginning of the massacre at St. Bartholomew which began after the failed plot to kill Admiral Coligny; she was not the only person with blood on her hands. If the plot that she planned with her son was intentional, she would have never been on the side of the Protestants (Huguenots). She was not only interested in unity initially but also wanted to keep control of the kingdom in her family by getting he sons on the throne. This is something she was willing to make happen no matter what sacrifice she had to make. This need for control did backfire but I have to look her intentions which were good but led her to a situation that she did not think through and got out of hand. In this argument, I will also examine why Huguenots were not exactly victims in the St. Bartholomew’s massacre. It is my opinion, that Catherine truly wanted peace, but that want was not genuinely excepted or understood by those around or by those who she attempted to help.

According to Lindberg (2010) Catherine de’ Medici was married to Henry II and was also the niece of Pope Clement VII (p.270). Lindberg (2010) also stated that she and her husband “detested” the Protestants; their main focus was on their “rivalry” with Charles V. (p.270). It was also made clear through my readings that Catherine simply did not have enough power as a female ruler or the skill to responsible for the massacre or to bring about positive change either. She actually was pushed into the spotlight due to the sudden death of her husband. Her intent may have been there as well as her passion for peace throughout the land; however she was not equipped with what it took to carry out change.

Catherine was the queen of France from 1547 to 1559 and according to Knecht (1999), “several times regent before her death in 1589” (p.1). Knecht (1999) also stated that she was attacked by Protestant “propagandists” who not only tried to give her credit for the St. Bartholomew Day massacre but also for a list of other crimes (p.1). According to Knecht (1999) in 1561 Catherine tried to “heal the religious wounds of France by bringing Catholic and Protestant theologians together at the Colloquy of Poissy” and also by trying to end the persecution of the Protestants and allow for them to be “tolerated” (p.2). According to Knecht (1999), after the Guises were no longer in power, she made her move to repair or “heal” the wounds in the kingdom that had been caused by religious differences (p.2). Mack (unknown) stated that Catherine wanted to “strengthen the bonds between the crown and the Huguenots” (p.76). How would she intend to do this you may be a question that one may ask about someone who was thought to so incapable to rule. A marriage between her daughter Marguerite and the Protestant Henry of Navarre was her answer to that question. However, it was not done because they happened to fall in love. Unfortunately they would have to attempt to learn to love each other in the name of peace, love and toleration within the kingdom. Knecht (1999) went on to say that her “ignorance of theology”, kept her from fully understanding how deep these wounds ran (p.2). I believe that this ignorance also left her open and vulnerable to have all fingers pointed at her.

The Letters

According to Crouzet (2008) historians may use the letters that Catherine wrote to her son during October 1578 until March 1579 to show that she broke the agreement that she had with the Huguenots and to also find “documentation” that would show that Henry was making an effort to “pacify” the Huguenots (p.103). It is interesting that through all of the blaming and finger pointing that made Catherine the cause of such horrible crimes, a very important subject of one of her letters was left out. According to Crouzet (2008) Catherine spoke to her son about everything being done to “implement the compromise peace that the Edict of Poiters of October 8, 1577 had granted.” (p.103). Maybe she had sense or intuition that these accusations that are being tossed at her then and today would happen and she was trying to cover herself by being as honest as possible. She wanted the person reading her letters, (which was intended for her son’s eyes only) to get a picture of what was really going on. Something that Catherine said in one of her letters showed where her heart truly was and if killing or attempting to kill anyone whether it is Coligny or another other person for that matter was what she was setting out to do. Crouzet (2008) stated that in her letters she told Henry that “his real enemy was violence, which kills, ruins, divides, and sanctions disobedience and also that war was an ultimate evil” (p.103). It is true that words sometimes mean nothing, but words written in private usually are truthful. It’s kind of like the things that go into a young girl’s diary. The reason that you only let someone close to you read those words is because there are often deep secrets that rest upon those pages.


Trust is Hard to Gain, but with out it Destruction is right Around the Corner

History often shows that wars, especially civil wars occur during times of change and also between dominate and suppressed or even sometimes between the majorities against the minority group. There is often some sort of negotiations being made but both sides usually have a back up plan as a way to protect themselves. Who in their right mind can totally expect their opposition to be honest? I think this was the case with the promise of peace that Catherine made with the Huguenots. According to Crouzet (2008) the Huguenots were not totally accepting peace because they were not being offered as many advantages as they had been allotted with the Peace of Monsieur (p.103). Could the Huguenots really look at the Queen for peace or should they have also been looking to Protestant leaders who according to Knecht (1999) provoked the first religious war that led to the death of duc de Guise (p.2). Was it the Queen who was responsible for this? No, this murder was carried out by a Protestant. This act is what led to so much confusion and feelings of mistrust. It was believed that the reason for this death was caused by Coligny. Even after this incident Catherine did not waiver or turn her back on the Huguenots, she continued to seek peace. According to Knecht (1999) in 1563 Catherine through the use of legislation gave the Huguenots freedom to be able to worship how they saw fit (p.3). Maybe it was a little too late but this shows how badly she wanted to keep her word and also show them that she could be trusted.

How the Tables Turn

As I mentioned, Catherine’s intentions were good but things did take a turn for the worse. According to Knecht (1999), the Surprise de Meaux is what brought about this change (p.3). Catherine felt betrayed by the Huguenots because their attacks led to the Queen being forced to run to Paris and need the Swiss to protect her. Her life was now on the line, not from people who she was trying to hurt, but those who she naively attempted to help. Although most pictures of Catherine paint her as an evil Queen who ordered hits on Protestants such as Coligny just to gain control, I see her in a different way. We know that there was an unsuccessful hit put out on Coligny and that the St. Bartholomew’s massacre soon followed. If anything she was victim of circumstance and also made some bad choices along the way in order to have peace in the kingdom and power within her own family.

References:

Crouzet, Denis, (2008) A strong desire to be a mother to all your subjects: A Rhetorical
experiment by Catherine de Medici. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 38(1), 103-118, Retrieved 30 September 2010, from proquest database.

Knecht, R. J., (1999). Catherine de’ Medici and the French wars on religion. The
Historical Association, 62, 18-24. Retrieved 30 September 2010, from Proquest
Database.

Lindberg, Carter. (2010). The European Reformation. Blackwell Publishing.

Mack, (unknown). Popular disorder and religious tensions: the making of a massacre,
1570-1574, 76-97. Retrieved 2 October, 2010 from blackboard.

Article Analysis
Knecht: Catherine de’ Medeci and the French wars of religion
Focus: This article gives an opinionated and historically detailed view of Catherine de’ Medici and her role in the
French wars of religion.




Changes meant to result in peace
The effect the changes within the community
Ideas and actions meant for unification.
Catherine de Medici wanted to strengthen the bond between the royals and the Huguenots with a marriage between her daughter and Henry of Navarre. She also attempted to gain peace through legislation. Catherine also wanted to have toleration between the way that the Protestants worshipped and the way that the Catholics worshipped.

The attempt to assassinate Admiral Coligny led to tensions and mistrust of Catherine’s true intentions although she should have not trusted the Huguenots due to their attempts to hurt her.
Catherine arranged the marriage between her daughter Marguerite and Henry Navarre as a way to unite the Catholics and Protestants. “Under the edict of Amboise, the Huguenots were given freedom of conscience and restricted rights of worship.”


“The surprise de Meax marked a turning point in Catherine’s relations with the Huguenots….she abandoned her peace-making efforts and backed moves to crush the rebels.” Catherine had good intentions to begin with but had to retaliate in order to protect her life and family/kingdom.





After reading this article I can clearly see that it was not just one reason that led to this religious war. I think it was the tension that was established between two communities but that tension was so deep rooted in fear and also misunderstanding. I truly with that they could have come to some understanding through communication and work out the issues and help those on the other side see through the eyes of their “opponents.”
Article One Analysis:
Mack: Popular disorder and religious tensions: the making of a massacre,1570-1574
Focus: This article gives an opinionated and historically detailed view of what led to religious tension and later to the massacre at St. Bartholomew. It comes from the angle that the arranged marriage of Marguerite and Henry of Navarre that was meant to bring unity and peace only set the stage for religious revolt and disarray.




Changes within the community
The effect the changes within the community
Ideas and actions meant for unification.
Catherine de Medici wanted to strengthen the bond between the royals and the Huguenots with a marriage between her daughter and Henry of Navarre.
The Catholics were in some cases ruled by fear of the radical Huguenots that were a part of the community.
The attempt to assassinate Admiral Coligny led to tensions and mistrust of Catherine’s true intentions.
The article stated that “the diplomatic efforts at court to create a lasting peace and restore order masked the further polarization of the Protestant and Catholic communities among the popular classes.”
The article stated that “At the same time, many Catholic nobles at court were becoming alarmed at the increasingly radical and sometimes revolutionary-rhetoric of much Huguenot political published since 1567.”
The article stated that “ a bungled assassination attempt on the Protestant leader, Admiral Coligny-the popular religious tensions that had been building up over the course of several years would explode in a wave of massacres in a dozen towns throughout France.”
The massacre begins but what made it start?
Fear was a major factor that led to the escalation of tension. An idea that God wanted this massacre to happen as well as the thought that the people are obligated to carry out what ever their king or queen wants. It is also hard bring together two totally different groups and expect them to be on one accord. The Protestants were viewed as a threat to the society that the Catholics were used to.
“The Huguenots struggle against the French crown was just like the Hebrews’ struggle against the Egyptian pharaoh. Kings ruled with divine authority only as long as they followed Gods’s will.” The Declaration and Protestation of those of the Reformed Religion in LaRochelle was based on the argument that the kings did not have the right to “command the conscience of their subjects.” “Catholic reaction to this rising Protestant tide against the sacral monarchy was evident in pamphlet and sermon alike. The Parisian preacher Simon Vigor was especially efficacious in arousing Catholic opposition to these radical Protestant views.” “ The principal incident that sparked off the religious violence in the capital in August 1572 was the abortive attempt on the life of Coligny. The failure of the attempt led to a massacre that way not have happened if another civil war broke out in retaliation to an actual assassination.
Symbols, symbols, symbols: Why did they stir up so much trouble?
Traditional Catholic symbols were always on attack from the Protestants.
“And once again, a traditional Catholic symbol was involved. On a Sunday in March 1571 during Lent a group of several hundred armed Calvinists on their way to Sunday services in the surburbs outside the city wall encountered a small Catholic procession with a cleric carrying the Host. When a number of Catholics in the vicinity knelt in honour of the Corpus Christi and ordered the Huguenot to do likewise, the latter began to mock the Host and violence broke out.” If a symbol is not important to you it may be hard for you to respect it and also understand why it is so important to someone else.
The casualties of the religious massacre
There were many ideas or beliefs that were held about different groups that may have intensified the amount of lives lost.
“The general massacre of Protestants that began on Sunday morning August 24, and lasted for three days, was aided and abetted by several of the most militant and radical members of the city militia.” Lives were not the only casualty of this massacre. “The intellectual and psychological impact of the massacres on the Huguenots was just as great, hoeever.”
“Among the first Huguenot killed after the noble leadership had been murdered were some family members of the Gastines, as well as the other inhabitants of the Golden Hammer Pearl, whom the Catholics had always believed had supported the removal of the Gastines cross eight months earlier. The widow of Richard de Gastines, for example, was one of the first murdered on St. Bartholomew’s night.” “Many Protestant houses were burned, invoking the traditional purification fire by heretics. Many victims were also thrown into the Seine, invoking the purification by water of Catholic baptism.” “All told approximately 2000 Huguenots were killed in the massacre in Paris and an additional 3000 or so were slain in the provinces.” “For the Protestants the massacres proved catastrophic.”


After reading this article I can clearly see that it was not just one reason that led to this religious war. I think it was the tension that was established between two communities but that tension was so deep rooted in fear and also misunderstanding. I really do not understand why it did go on so long and why so many people had to die so brutally. I truly with that they could have come to some understanding through communication and work out the issues and help those on the other side see through the eyes of their “opponents.”