The French Wars of Religion and Elizabeth I of England’s Religious Policy

After the Protestant Reformation, a sizeable minority of Protestants known as the Huguenots began to grow. There were repressive measures against them under kings Francis I and Henry II, but they were defied by the Huguenots. Under the young king Francis II, there were even more repressive measures. The Huguenots and the Catholics began fighting each other, and although there were occasional truces, the fighting would always start up again. Besides the hardline Catholics and the Huguenots, who both wanted their religion to be the only one in France, there were the Politiques. The Politiques were made up of both Catholics and Huguenots who thought that although a single religion in France would be preferable, it would be too costly in terms of the number of lives lost.

In 1572, the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre occurred. It started when Henry, Duke of Guise, plotted and carried out the murder of Admiral Coligny, a Huguenot leader. After King Charles IX said the Huguenots could be killed during a mental breakdown, mobs butchered thousands of Huguenots in Paris and many more in the various provinces of France.

In 1588, King Henry III declared Henry of Navarre, a Huguenot, his heir. He also turned against the Catholic league under the Duke of Guise and had him assassinated. In 1589, a Dominican Friar assassinated Henry in retaliation, and Henry of Navarre became the king. Because Henry was Protestant, most Frenchmen would not accept him. A few years later, Henry announced his decision to convert to Catholicism, and became King of France as Henry IV. In 1598, Henry issued the Edict of Nantes, which granted freedom of conscience and widespread freedom of worship in France. The Edict of Nantes ended the wars of religion, which had been going on for decades.

When Queen Elizabeth I of England came to the throne, England had alternated between Protestantism and Catholicism under Edward VI and Mary I. She decided to try to please Catholics with a similar ritual and governance system to Catholicism, while pleasing Protestants by not uniting with the pope. She herself would continue to be the supreme head of the Church of England, just as her father Henry VIII had been.

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