In 1516 Pope Leo X gave Francis I, king of France, the privilege of appointing church leaders in his own country. This agreement, the Concordant of Bologna, turned the French church into a political circus, and succeeding French kings feared the Reformation for they were unwilling to lose control over the church as granted by the concordant.
Geneva, however, was on the French border, and Geneva was a strong center of Reformation energy. Many French university students, lawyers, and professionals were attracted to its teaching. French Protestants, called Huguenots, grew in number and influence, and during the time of King Henry II (1547–1559), they mushroomed from 400,000 to 2,000,000. When the French crown sought to suppress the Huguenots, a series of eight wars between Protestant and Catholic forces ravaged France. The climax of these conflicts occurred on August 24, 1572, St. Bartholomew’s Day, when some 20,000 Protestants were massacred.
Following the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, Henry of Navarre, who could switch from Protestantism to Catholicism and back at will depending on his political needs, reconverted back to Catholicism. This allowed him to claim the throne. “Paris is well worth a Mass,” his advisers said. Henry was denounced on all sides as a hypocrite, but he remained sympathetic to the Huguenots and he badly wanted to heal his war-torn nation. After being crowned Henry IV, he signed an edict in the French city of Nantes, granting toleration to the Huguenots. It allowed them the right to worship, to publish literature, to hold public office, and to educate their children as they wished. The Edict of Nantes, signed on April 13, 1598, was the first document in any nation that attempted to provide a degree of religious toleration. Not everyone was pleased. Pope Clement VIII condemned it as “the most accursed that can be imagined, whereby liberty of conscience is granted to everybody, which is the worst thing in the world.” But the Edict of Nantes provided protection and toleration for Huguenots for nearly a century, until it was revoked in 1685 by King Louis XIV.
God is always honest and fair, And his laws can be trusted. They are true and right and will stand forever. God rescued his people, And he will never break his agreement with them. He is fearsome and holy. (Psalm 111:7-9)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). April 11.