religious many of the nobility, converted to Calvinism,

religious ideas affected thepolitical spectrum of Europe as well. The teachings of Jean Calvin took root in
France, especially in the southern regions. This clashed with groups of staunch
Catholics. Great amounts of people, including many of the nobility, converted to
Calvinism, and they were known as Huguenots. These people clashed violently
with the loyal Catholic contingency of the population. This religious strife was
also heightened by political instability. With the reign of Francois I, the power of
the king expanded. This shook the ingrained balance of power between the
nobles and the king. Beforehand, the king relied mainly on the nobles for
military and financial support through taxes. The diminishing importance of the
nobility increased political tension, especially since the last Valois kings were
weak and ineffective. The religious tensions between the stauchly Catholic
factions and the Huguenots and the political tensions between the king and the
nobility provoked the civil wars throughout the sixteenth century.

The political tension originated in during the time of Francois I. He
expanded the king’s authority and jurisdiction, and lessened Rome’s influence
on the Catholic Church inside France. The strengthened power of the monarchy
maintained the stability of the state provided that it was ruled by an able king.

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Francois I was competent enough to rule France efficiently, however the
following kings were unable to preserve balance. This was in part due to the
quarrels of the nobility. The nobility resented the extension of the power of the
monarchy, and rival factions attempted to control the king. These factions were
split along religious difference and family ties. The four main families involved in
the intrigue and fighting were the Guises, the Montmorencys, the Bourbons, and
the Valois. The Guises were fanatic Catholics who had intermarried into the
royal family over the years. The Guises were headed by Louis, the Duke of
Guise, and later his son Henri, Duke of Guise. They hated the Huguenots and
made every attempt to eradicate them. The Bourbons headed the Huguenots
and were led by Henri of Navarre, later Henri IV. They were also supported by
the princes of Conde. The Montmorency family was Catholic and allied with the
Guises at various points. However Gaspard de Coligny, who was rumoured to
have killed Louis, Duke of Guise, was a Protestant convert from the
Montmorency family. The Valois family was the royal family of France. During
this period the three sons of Henri II who became king, Francois II, Charles IX,
and Henry III, were all influenced mainly by their mother, Catherine de Medici,
whose scheming ways caused a great deal of intrigue between the noble
families. These weak kings were continually influenced by rival families and
their mother. This instability and fighting eroded royal power, and the fighting
was due to power and religious struggles.

As the conflicts between the noble families grew worse, the religious
tension increased also. Charles IX made what he felt was an attempt to help
alleviate the conflict between the Huguenots and Protestants by marrying his
sister, Margaret of Valois, a Catholic, to Henri of Navarre, the leader of the
Huguenots. Catherine de Medici, a fervent Catholic, albeit a sinful one,
arranged for all the Huguenots to come to Paris to join in on the wedding
celebrations. The night of the wedding, Catherine de Medici conspired with the
Guise family to slaughter the Huguenots in what is known as the St.

Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. The Catholics murdered several thousand
Protestants and this led to increased enmity between factions. The St.

Bartholomew’s Day Massacre was a result of the power struggles of the nobles
and royalty played out according to their religious platforms.

The culmination of the clashes over religion and power was in the War of
the Three Henries. This was a power struggle between the Henri III, Henri of
Navarre, and Henri, Duke of Guise. It began with Henri III allying himself with
Navarre and the Montmorency family against Guise because he had tried to
take over the monarchy to drive out the Huguenots. Then Henry III switched
alliances to join Guise against Navarre when Catherine de Medici, his mother
with whom he always complied, signed a treaty with Guise to end religious
toleration for the Huguenots. However, when the Duke of Anjou, the king’s only
living brother and formerly the Duke of Alencon, died which made Henri of
Navarre heir to the throne. This enraged Guise and the Catholic League, so
they attempted to name Cardinal Bourbon as heir. This caused Henri III to
reconcile with Navarre and assassinate Henri of Guise. His death deflated the
militant Catholics power, and Henri of Navarre ascended the throne as Henri IV.

The French people would not tolerate a Huguenot ruler, so he changed his
already questionable faith to Catholicism. “Paris is worth a mass.”
The religious and political struggles were finally put to an end with the
ascension of Henri IV. He strengthened the monarchy and expanded its power
and authority. His solidification of the authority of the monarchy would
eventually lead to the absolute rules of Louis XIII through Louis XVI. He
established Catholicism as the official state religion, but offered limited religious
toleration through the Edict of Nantes. The original struggles for power between
the nobility and the monarchy were diffused with the solid rule of Henri IV. The
religious struggles also diminished through the establishment of religious
toleration. The political struggles were closely related to the religious strife
because the various factions were based on religion. Religion fueled the discord
between the different political camps. The religious fighting through politcal
alliances and families caused the dissension and fighting in France.


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