The massacre of Wassy (1562)

From the protestant point of view the wars of religion began with the massacre of Wassy, whereas from the catholic point of view it was Louis de Condé’s attack on Orléans which triggered off the hostilities.

The January Edict

  • Massacre de Wassy (52) le 1er mars 1562
    Massacre at Wassy (March 1562) © B.P.U. Genève

After holding a plenary royal council, the king issued the January Edict on 17th January 1562. The king showed tolerance in this document, but only to a limited extent and on a short – term basis – (he was waiting to know the pope’s decision at the imminent Council of Trent). The Edict gave Protestants the right to gather together and hold services in the outskirts of the towns and in the countryside.

In this way the protestant faith was legally recognized, even though it was only on a temporary basis – this was already a step forward.

However, François, duke of Guise and many Catholics were totally opposed to the edict being enforced.

The massacre of Wassy

A protestant service was celebrated on the 1st of March in a “barn” at Wassy, in the Champagne country. This barn was probably situated within the town walls and thus illegal, according to the January Edict. The duke of Guise, escorted by a troop of soldiers, passed through the town, which was situated on his land. Arguments broke out, tempers flared, the situation became ugly and finally violence took over. The barn was attacked and more than fifty people, including women and children, were massacred – and a hundred and forty were wounded ; most casualties were Protestant.

For the Protestants, this attack appeared premeditated and the massacre is considered to be the beginning of the wars of religion. From the Catholics point of view, hostilities began with the attack on Orléans by Prince Louis of Condé, on the 2nd April 1562.

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