Massacre of Vassy
gigatos | May 26, 2022
The Massacre of Wassy (March 1, 1562) was the killing of a large number of French Protestants (Huguenots) that took place in the town of Wassy in northeastern France. It gave rise to the three wars of religion that plagued France from 1562 to 1563, 1567 to 1568 and 1568 to 1570, with brief intervals of relative quiet.
By assuming the regency on behalf of her son Charles in the late 1560s, Queen Mother Catherine de” Medici wanted to curb the now excessive influence the family of the Dukes of Guise had assumed over the government of France with the reign of her son Francis. She therefore proclaimed the Edict of Saint-Germain, also known as the Edict of January (Jan. 17, 1562), by which the hitherto persecuted Huguenots were allowed freedom of worship outside the cities, albeit with certain limitations. The Guise declared themselves opposed to these concessions, which they saw as a dangerous surrender of the crown to the enemy.
On March 1, 1562, a large crowd of Protestants, about six hundred, gathered in Wassy to worship. Such a large gathering was contrary to what the edict stipulated and had to be guarded, for security reasons, by armed troops. In charge of monitoring compliance was Duke Francis I of Guise, then commander of the government troops. The escalation of the situation at Wassy, whether spontaneous or artfully provoked, went far beyond the intentions of the regent to the throne, Catherine.
The Duke of Guise arrived in Wassy in passing (according to sources in Catholic circles at the time, he was returning from Joinville, where he had gone, accompanied by numerous armed men, to visit his mother) while this large Protestant religious assembly was being held near a barn. Versions on the unfolding of the events diverge.According to Huguenot sources, the massive intervention of the duke”s troops against defenseless worshippers took place after a lively exchange of words and soon turned into a massacre.According to Catholic sources, on the other hand, the Huguenots were waiting undisturbed for their worship while a mass was being held in a nearby Catholic church. Suddenly the mass would be disturbed from outside by shouts from radical Huguenots, and the Catholics” pleas would be to no avail: the Huguenots would continue to disrupt worship from the church square. After a lively exchange of words, it would come to a brawl, the throwing of stones, and finally gunfire.
The immediate consequence of this was the killing of 23 Huguenot worshippers and the wounding of about 100 more.
Both sides used this episode extensively for propaganda purposes in order to show the intolerance of the opposing side. Beyond partisan versions, it is quite likely that near the barn, where Protestant worship was taking place, or in front of the church, where Catholic worship was taking place, a verbal brawl first broke out, later degenerating into armed combat.
Following that massacre there was the final loss of all state offices by the family of the Dukes of Guise. Duke Francis I of Guise was assassinated by a follower of the Huguenot admiral Gaspard II de Coligny the following year. John Calvin from Geneva urged to avoid further provocations against the French state. Three brief wars of religion followed in French territory, alternating with equally brief periods of peace. Ten years later another massacre of Huguenots took place in Paris, known as “St. Bartholomew”s Night.”
A chapter in the historical novel “Colloquies of Poissy” by Agostino di Bondeno (2018) concerns the Wassy massacre.
Ken Follet provides a detailed description of the background and massacre in the novel “The Pillar of Fire.”