Road to the Cape of Good Hope
During the period 1520 and 1523 Protestantism was introduced into France and its principles were accepted by many members of the Nobility, the Intellectual classes, and the Middle class and became known as Huguenots from about 1560 to 1629. At first the new religious groups enjoyed royal protection, notably from Queen, Margaret of Navarre and her brother, King Francis I of France. He turned against the Protestants and his successor, Henry II, followed his example. Nevertheless, their numbers increased. At the first synod in 1599, only 15 churches were represented but grew to 2000 in the next 2 years.
This excited the alarm and hatred of the French Roman Catholics and intensified by the political rivalry between the House of Valois (in possession of the throne) and the House of Guise. Catherine de Médicis, widow of Henry II, governed in the name of her son, King Charles IX and at times allied herself with the Huguenots for political gain, but generally sided against them. The Huguenots were persecuted severely during King Charles's reign and he in turn made reprisals upon the Roman Catholics. Between 1562 and 1598 civil war broke out and was fought openly between the Protestants and Catholics.
The Huguenot leaders in the first of nearly 4 decades of conflict were Louis I de Bourbon,Prince de Condé and a French admiral, Gaspard de Coligny.
The Catholics were led by, Henry I de Lorraine, 3rd duc de Guise, Catherine de Médicis and Henry III. Each side called on foreign troops assistance, the Huguenots from England, Germany andSwitzerland, the Catholics from Spain. Treaties, that were signed after the wars granted the Huguenots some measure of tolerance but it was subsequently ignored or repudiated. This led to the renewal of hostilities. In 1570 Catherine de Medicis and King Charles IX has signed a treaty with the Huguenots granting them freedom of worship and even calling admiral Coligny to court were he enjoyed great influence. Then followed the periods greatest act of treachery in 1572. The Queen mother and King then caused thousands of Huguenots to be slaughtered throughout France, what became known as the Massacre of St Bartholomew's day. Admiral Coligny was killed by duc de Guise himself.
Henry of Navarre was instrumental in the crushing defeat of the Catholics in 1587. Strive amongst the Catholics, resulted in the assassination of duc de Guise in 1588 and also King Henry III in 1589. This assisted the Huguenots cause. With the House of Valois extinct, Henry of Navarre, the first of the de Bourbon line, became King of France and known as King Henry IV. To avoid further civil strive he converted to Catholicism in 1593. In 1598 he issued the Edict of Nantes, by which the Huguenots received almost complete religious freedom.
Under King Henry IV the Huguenots became strong in France. Their power stood in the way of absolutist government and the next 2 kings, Louis X III & Louis X IV instigated new persecutionsand new civil wars took place. King Louis X III was 8 years old when he was crowned king, but with the assistance of Cardinal Richelieu, caused the political downfall of the Huguenots after a long seize with the capture in 1628, of their principal stronghold, La Rochelle. Thereafter he sought to conciliate the Protestants. Cardinal Richelieu died in 1642 and King Louis X III died soon afterwards in 1643 leaving the throne to his 5 year old son Louis X IV.
Cardinal Richelieu's successor, cardinal Jules Mazarin, continued his predecessor's policies. In 1648 a rebellion, called the Fonde, against the crown followed. Soon after it was ended , mutinous Nobles in the south rebelled and again parts of France were ravaged by civil war. The Fonde failed to impede the centralization of power however, and not until the 1780's did the privileged orders again seriously challenge the order of