Russ logo

All information gathered first-hand, since 1995

  History /  /  Wars of Religion

The world's oldest, largest (and best) website about Provence

Wars of Religion

Wars of Religion in France

 Religion photo narbonne0246b.jpg

Provence | Religion | Restoration |

Wars of Religion, 1562-1598

During this period, the Catholics battled the Calvinist Huguenots for control of the monarchy. The fact that France had two weak monarchs: Charles IX (r. 1560-74) and Henry III (r. 1574-89) allowed rival aristocratic factions to align along opposing religious lines. The minority Huguenots, led by Gaspard de Coligny and Louis I de Conde, were supported from 1562 to 1576 by external Protestant armies in their conflict with the Catholic crown.

The Huguenots were Calvinist Protestants during the 16th and 17th centuries. They triumphed (in spite of St Bartholomew's Day) in 1589 when the Protestant Henri IV gained the throne, and were officially recognized and tolerated by the Edict of Nantes. The Edict lasted until 1685; when it was revoked, many of the Huguenots fled to America, England and Switzerland.

Saint Bartholomew's Day, 1572

Catherine de Medici and the Guises persuaded Charles IX to allow an eradication program, and on the night of 24 August 1572 around 50,000 Huguenots were slaughtered in the Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre. The Catholics have been dominant in France ever since.

After the massacre, the Politiques, a party of moderate Catholics, emerged under the family of Montmorency. In 1576 the Holy League, a Catholic extremist party led by the house of Guise, was formed for the purpose of opposing peace with the Protestants accorded by King Henry III. In 1584, the Bourbon Protestant leader Henry of Navarre (Henry IV) became heir to the throne, and the league grew more militant against the Huguenots and the king.
In 1589 the Holy League had Henry III assassinated. Henry of Navarre became Henry IV, and the league continued to fight against him, even after his conversion to Catholicism in 1593. The king eventually defeated the league, and in 1598 the Edict of Nantes declared toleration for the Huguenots. The Huguenots received a more stable form of toleration under the Edict of Nantes

By the end of the war period, the higher orders of ennobled lawyer-administrators and the aristocracy banded more tightly together for protection against the emerging urban and peasant protest movements. The French monarchy began a system of absolutism that governed France for another two centuries.

Ligue, 1575

La Ligue was a Catholic confederation founded in 1576 by the Duc de Guise to defend the catholic religion from the Calvinists, and to unseat Henri III and replace him on the throne with Les Guises, the top men of the party.


The Camisards were white-shirted Calvinist peasants who banded together to fight royal control. Their name came from the Provence word camiso, or chemise (shirt).

The revocation of the Edict of Nante in 1685 caused an explosion of religious "excitement, and many Huguenots fled from France. In 1702, the Camisards fought openly against the royal forces of Louis-XIV.

Carcistes versus Razats, 1576-1579

A group of fanatical Catholics lead by Jean de Pontevés, the Count of Carcès, were attacking Protestants with such brutality that their group, the "Carcistes" were called by others "Marabouts", meaning cruel and savage.

Protestants banded together as the self-proclaimed "Razats", meaning "razés", or those who were constantly pillaged. The Razats were lead by the Marachal de Retz and supported by the lords of Oppède, Oraison and Allemagne. In the ranks of the Razats were all of the Protestants of Provence and the moderate Catholics who supported the Royal government.

These two groups ravaged Provence, with burning, raping and other brutalities. In an effort to bring peace to the region, King Henri III proclaimed in 1576 that Protestants could freely exercise their religion.

With this, the fighting became a civil war as a good part of the population of Provence took up arms and began massacres of the Carcistes.

At the beginning of 1579, a band of Carcistes under the orders of the lord of Vins, nephew of Jean de Pontevés, began a seige of Lorgues. The "Lorguais" had prepared their defense well, with walled-up doorways, reserves of food, and the women, children and aged evauated to Brignoles. The Carcistes tried a complete blocade of the town, including cutting-off the source of the canal that brought in drinking water. But the water from the town's well of "la Pompe" supported them for a month until aid arrived and the Carcistes retreated.

The Protestant Razats were getting the upper hand with a series of "successes" in just a few days. In Cuers 600 Carcistes were killed. In Cabasse, 400 were cut down by sabres and the entire garrison of Trans were put to the sword. In a battle at St Jeaume in the valon de San Peyre, near Lorgues, 400 Carcistes died.


    Most information from historical booklets, including from Carcès and Lorgues. Some information came from "".

Search Beyond

Site Map Provence Beyond

 Russ photo russ.png After 25 years online, I've decided to remove all Ads from my one-man web Provence Beyond. If the content is enjoyable or useful to you, I would really appreciate your support.

More History