I’ve often heard it argued by atheists, if you took away religion and all of the problems arising from it, you would eliminate half of the wars and murders that happened. While I disagree with the argument behind this, there are some valid points in the statement. I would amend it though. There’d be a lot fewer massacres and wars if we removed the power from religion that is tied to it now. A perfect example of this is the French Wars of Religion and how it led to the Edict of Nantes, as you’ll find out in this history lesson.
Supplies needed for the Edict of Nantes lesson
paper and markers, Mystery of History 3 textbook for reference, if you want to dig deeper I’d also pull up the Wikipedia entries on Edict of Nantes, French Wars of Religion, and St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre
Nice and simple I fell down a rabbit hole and it became much less simple
Edict of Nantes notebooking lesson
Really, this is a glorified timeline lesson that I did on a giant sheet of butcher paper with the kids copying important information to their notebooks.
It all started with a wedding. No, no let me back up a little. It actually started with Martin Luther and his status update breaking up with the Catholic Church. In the Holy Roman Empire, they settled that out as “So the king, so the kingdom.” France, on the other hand, was CATHOLIC. They were willing to turn a blind eye to your crazy ideas if you weren’t too obvious, but France is Catholic and don’t you forget it.
Back to the wedding. Or I should say weddings. First, it starts with Catherine de Medici and Henry II, theirs was not a particularly happy marriage. It seems he spent more time “confiding” in other women than his wife, BUT it did produce several children. It also gave Catherine an impressive power base once her husband died. Now Catherine is not so much Catholic as she is POWER and in France being CATHOLIC represents POWER, so she’s CATHOLIC. Francis 2 married Mary, Queens of Scots (she’d been queen since she was practically a baby), but he died young and she sailed back to Scotland, and she gets her own sad tale.
Now to introduce a new character set, Jeanne of Navarre. She is PROTESTANT and her very small country right next to France, so right next to France that France sometimes forgets it is NOT part of France is very PROTESTANT. Catherine thinks it would be a great plan for her daughter Marguerite to marry Jeanne’s son Henry. Jeanne’s a little worried because of the influence a Catholic wife might have on her Protestant son, but she’s very aware of the political possibilities in this. This marriage puts her Protestant son in line for the throne of France and maybe could unify these two kingdoms, after all that’s what the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand did in Spain…
In the background of all of this, there is a growing unrest and rivalry between the Catholic majority and the Protestant (Huguenot) minority. France has been locked in a series of wars between the Catholics and the Protestants over freedom of religion, what does it mean to be French, and can you even have rights if you’re not Catholic?*
Catherine’s other son, Charles IX, meanwhile is friends with a prominent Huegenot pastor, Coligny. Coligny is also friends with Henry of Navarre. Catherine is a little worried about this friendship and how it might decrease royal POWER, so she plots with a Jesuit priest to kill Coligny.
But it failed, and it looked really bad for the Queen Mother Catherine.
This all gets back to King Charles IX and he is reported to say (maybe as a joke, who knows), “If you’re going to kill Coligny, why don’t you kill all the Huguenots in France, so that there will be no one left to hate me?”
Well, Catherine apparently thought that was a great idea, especially since most of the prominent Huguenots were in town for the wedding of Prince Henry of Navarre and Princess Marguerite. Also, she’s in a bit of a panic because of the political mess she’s caused and how this might lose her POWER. The killing started on St. Bartholomew’s Feast Day, and is why this is called the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.**
There’s a saying somewhere, “what leaders do in moderation, followers will do in excess,” and that was certainly true in France. What Catherine planned to be a few prominent leaders, spread to all of the Huguenots in Paris, and eventually the rest of France. The killing went on for months, it’s estimated 10,00-30,000 people died.
King Charles IX was shocked and appalled (at the sight of Larry in a towel), as was his mother.
“This is a big mess,” she thought, and she needed a good reason why, so why not go for the old classic? “He planned to kill the king, so I ordered his execution first!”
At this point, no one believed her. She spent the rest of her life trying to recover politically and making sure this mess didn’t spin out of control with the Protestant Nations. Charles IX died two years later at 24 with the civil war sparked by this raging on.
Her next son HenryIII (yes there are a lot of Henry’s in this story) became king but was assassinated shortly later. At this point Catherine and Henry are flat out of sons, so who do you think is next in line to become king?
That’s right Henry of Navarre and Princess Marguerite. Henry became king of France, becoming King Henry IV of France. To make peace with the Catholic people of France, he became Catholic, supposedly saying, “France is well worth a Mass.”
Upon assuming the throne he issued the Edict of Nantes granting “some religious freedoms,” among those the ability to work for the government even if you’re not Catholic, but you still have to be Christian, and probably one of the approved groups. It also restored property rights, and a whole slew of other things.
Now this all got messed up again in a hundred years or so when LousXIV comes along, but Henry IV and the Edict of Nantes really set France up for a pretty good period time here.
Some slightly less confusing history lessons
Okay, I lied, but these all amuse me in their relative importance, but how little we teach them
* I learned so much as I wrote this, the Edict of Nantes is actually the end result of the FOURTH French War of Religion, and there is a big controversy how much of this is about CATHOLIC v. PROTESTANT and how much of this is about POWER. Fascinating read.
**I read conflicting sources on this, some say it was King Charles IX who ordered the assassinations on St. Barhtolomew’s Day, and there is also disagreement if Catherine de Medici even kicked the whole mess off with the botched assassination order. Okay, that was a really interesting rabbit hole and may lead to a change in how I teach it in the future, because there’s even some theories it’s the King’s ambitious younger brother planning with his mother who sparked the whole mess. Fascinating.