When 10-year-old Charles IX became king of France in 1560, his mother, Catherine de Medici, seized power as queen regent then tried to stabilize her religiously divided country. She tilted first toward Protestants then toward Catholics. Skirmishes broke out; and between 1561 and 1572 there were 18 massacres of Protestants, 5 of Catholics, and 30 assassinations. Civil war loomed.

In a bid for peace, Catherine, a Catholic, offered her daughter in marriage to Protestant Henry of Navarre. Henry came to Paris for the wedding, accompanied by thousands of Huguenots (French Protestants). The city trembled, and rumors spread that Huguenots were planning to kidnap the royal family. Clanging anvils across Paris betrayed the making of weapons. On August 23, 1572, Catherine and Charles were sequestered in the palace. About 10 p.m. Catherine warned Charles of imminent insurrection, working him into a fever, telling him Huguenots were planning to seize him. Charles suggested the rebels be arrested. It was too late for that, Catherine retorted. She roared and raged and threatened to flee France. Charles, nerves wracked, ran from the room about midnight screaming, “By the death of God, since you choose to kill … I consent! But then you must kill all the Huguenots in France. … Kill them all! Kill them all!”

The gates of the city were closed. Word spread among the troops, “Kill! The king commands it.” As church bells pealed at 3 a.m., swords were drawn. Protestant leader Gaspard de Coligny was seized, strung by the heels, and his hands and genitals were lobbed off and sold. Huguenots and their children were dragged into the streets and slain. Embryos torn from dead mothers were smashed against the pavement. The sun, rising over Paris on St. Bartholomew’s Day, revealed thousands of Protestant corpses.

The cries of butchered Huguenots rang in the king’s head, day and night. “Who but you is the cause of all this?” he shouted to his mother. “God’s blood, you are the cause of it all!” His constitution failed and he began seeing visions of his victims. He ranted and raved and died at age 23. “What evil counsel have I followed!” he cried. “O my God, forgive me! I am lost!”

The wicked are a restless sea tossing up mud. But I, the Lord, have promised that none who are evil Will live in peace. (Isaiah 57:20,21)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day: 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). August 20.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

1838 – The first class graduates from Mt. Holyoke Seminary, the first American college for women, founded by the Christian educator Mary Lyon.

1888 – Huang Su’e married Episcopal missionary Francis Lister Hawks Pott, a leader, and educator with the Chinese Anglican Church. Huang evangelized, taught, and found an orphanage.

1901 – Six hundred American teachers arrive in the Philippines to staff schools and begin mass education of Filipinos. With them comes Protestantism, which will eventually make up about 7% of the island nation’s population as compared to 80% Catholic.

Accessed ChristianHistorysInstitute.org 22 August 2022.

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