41. French Huguenot Wars      42. British Religious Strife      43. Slavic Catholic Survival     




  Catherine de Medici Approves
    the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre of Huguenots



A. Huguenot Civil Strife (1559-98)






Valois Politiques. Queen Catherine de’ Medici, widow of Henry II, was the most influential person at court during the greater part of the reigns of her sons, Francis II (1559-60), Charles IX (1560-74) and Henry III (1574-89) . A thorough disciple of her fellow Florentine, Machiavelli, the queen used every means to promote the interests of the Valois royal family. Though a Catholic herself, she displayed little more religious conviction than Elizabeth of England did in Anglicanism. Catherine did not rule out a possibility of religious change for herself or her sons; it never proved expedient. Her chancellor, Michel de L’Hôpital (1507-73), was a sort of Catholic Cecil, who favored a policy of toleration verging on indifferentism. The Montmorency of the younger generation headed the Politiques among the nobility.

Guise ultra-Catholics. Militant Catholics condemned the Court policy as a betrayal of the Faith and advocated stern repression of the Huguenots  [p. 263]. They were led by the Guise, cadet branch of the House of Lorraine, originally a German dynasty. Though their founder, Claude, had become a naturalized Frenchman, some prejudice against the family’s alien origin survived, particularly when they sought the assistance of Philip II of Spain. Claude’s children had included Francis, duke of Guise, a renowned general; Charles, cardinal-archbishop of Rheims, Tridentine statesman; and Mary, widow of King James V of Scotland, and regent for their daughter, Mary, queen of Scots, and briefly of France as well. The third generation included other prominent nobles and prelates. The Guises, though they mixed politics with religion, never left any doubt of their pro-Catholic position.

Bourbon Huguenots. A third party had for its base of operations the tiny state of Navarre in the south of modern France. Ever since Margaret, sister of Francis I of France, had married Henry II of Navarre, this realm had served as a refuge for Huguenots. Their daughter Joan had married Antoine de Bourbon, first prince of the French blood royal. The Bourbons, descended from a son of St. Louis IX, were in virtue of the Salic Law de jure heirs of the French throne after Catherine de’ Medici’s feeble sons. Antoine and his brother, Louis of Conde, had become Huguenots, and as the Valois dynasty obviously approached extinction, Catholic legitimists were dismayed at the prospect that the rightful heir of France would be Antoine’s son, Henry III of Navarre (1553-1610), also a Huguenot. Even were the Salie Law violated, he could claim the throne as husband of Catherine’s daughter Margaret. Within France, the Huguenot party was headed by the Colignys: Gaspard (1519-72) was admiral of France; his brother Odet, an apostate cardinal, scandalized France by contracting marriage clad in his red robes; and another brother François and his son were prominent in the Huguenot interest. The admiral’s daughter Louise was married to William of Orange, leader of the Dutch Calvinists. If the Guise sought foreign aid for the Catholic side, the Colignys did no less for the Huguenots.

(2) THE CIVIL WARS (1559-98)

Guise ascendancy (1559-63) . The accession of Francis II (1559-60) and Mary Stuart-Guise put the Guise faction in control temporarily. Replacing Coligny as governor of Picardy, they allied themselves with Philip II, and supported Mary of Guise in Scotland against the Lords of Congregation. Guise power provoked the Huguenots to a conspiracy which, however, was crushed in the first of reciprocal massacres, the “Tumult of Amboise” in 1560. Guise power was weakened by the king’s death in December, 1560, and Catherine de’ Medici became regent. She dared engage in the Conference of Poissy with Theodore Beza of [p. 264] Geneva, and to issue an Edict of Toleration (1562) which accorded the Huguenots public cult outside walled towns. The duke of Guise thereupon seized the boy-king Charles IX (1560-74) and tried to rule in his name. This provoked the First Civil War (1562-63), favorable to the Guise until the duke was assassinated in February, 1563.

Valois equilibrium (1563-70) followed as the queen renewed her concessions to the Huguenots by the “Pacification of Amboise.” The queen and L’Hôpital now tried to steer a middle course, alarming either side by halfhearted negotiations with Philip of Spain and Elizabeth of England. Bourbons and Guises intrigued at court, and in the field engaged in the indecisive Second (1567-68) and Third Civil Wars (1568-70) . The “Pacification of St. Germain” in 1570 further extended Huguenot privileges.

Bourbon progress (1570-72). Papal excommunication of Queen Elizabeth of England and early Spanish success in the Netherlands seemed to portend a general Catholic offensive. Catherine then tried to offset rising Guise sentiment by conciliating the Bourbons. She gave her daughter Margaret in wedlock to Henry of Navarre, and summoned Admiral Coligny to court. At the same time she tried to marry her youngest son, François d’Alençon, to Elizabeth of England, while Coligny procured aid for the Dutch rebels and the German Protestants.

La Barthelemy. Coligny’s ambitious projects, the queen presently perceived, were likely to bring down upon distracted France the mightiest military power of the day. In Machiavellian fashion she decided to rid herself of her too-powerful subject, Coligny. A hired assassin, Maureval, failed on August 22, 1572. It seems probable that the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, two days later, had no other premeditation than the queen’s conviction that a bad job had better be completed before the alarmed Huguenots retaliated. Early on the morning of the feast, royal troops and Guise retainers fell upon the Huguenots in Paris, and similar massacres took place in the provinces during the following days. Perhaps two thousand to five thousand victims perished. The incident was reported to Gregory XIII as the “king’s escape from a Huguenot plot”; this accounts for the papal Te Deum. It is not true that the Holy See was implicated; St. Pius V earlier in the year had condemned certain “intrigues” against Coligny that had come to his knowledge, and Gregory XIII on learning the full story branded Maureval as an “assassin.”

Valois rule by attrition (1572-85) ensued while the Fourth to the Seventh Civil Wars were fought. These resulted in little else than confusion and exhaustion. Both in domestic and foreign politics the queen and her last surviving son, Henry III (1574-89), veered more and more in the Protestant direction, and only the childless Henry III lay between Henry of Navarre and the French crown. [p. 265]

War of the Three Henries. To avert this, Henry of Guise in 1585 declared for the Cardinal de Bourbon, Catholic uncle of Henry of Navarre, as heir to the throne. He procured the backing of Philip II by a promise to have Navarre ceded to Spain. Henry of Navarre resolved to fight for his kingdoms, provoking the Eighth Civil War (1585-89). During this three-cornered contest, Henry of Guise fought Henry of Navarre, while Henry of France attacked both. When Guise neared victory, Henry of France had him killed, December, 1588. “Now at last I am king,” Henry III exclaimed, but whatever monarch France had died with Catherine de’ Medici in January, 1589. Henry of France now went over to Henry of Navarre, but was stabbed to death in July, 1589, by Jacques Clément, fanatical partisan of the Guise.

War of the League. Henry of Navarre was now legitimate king of France as Henry IV, but the Catholic League refused to accept him and closed the gates of Paris against him. In the Ninth Civil War (1589-95) the Guise were supported by Philip II, but after the death of their candidate, the Cardinal “Charles X” (1590), prospect of a Spanish king lost the League much French support. Even so, Henry IV’s triumph was far from assured in 1593 when he opened negotiations with the Estates General where moderate Catholics promised him recognition if he were to become a Catholic. Henry agreed to receive instruction and on June 23, 1593, abjured heresy and was absolved by Archbishop Beaune of Bourges. Henry’s conversion may have been sincere. Born a Protestant, he may have begun inquiry with natural motives and gone on to accept Catholicity on supernatural grounds; certainly there was little of the Puritan about him. If his legendary saying, “Paris is worth a Mass” be true, Henry yet kept both Mass and Paris until his death. Crowned at Chartres in February, 1594, Henry IV entered Paris the next month as opposition melted away before his conversion. On September 18, 1595, Clement VIII, who at first deemed the archbishop’s act premature, himself absolved and recognized the king. Even the Guise then submitted, January, 1596, and Philip II finally withdrew from the indecisive contest in May, 1598.

The Edict of Nantes, April 15, 1598, was Henry’s solution for French religious divisions. This measure granted the Huguenots of France and Navarre political and religious autonomy within some hundred walled towns. For nearly a century, until its revocation by Louis XIV in 1685, this charter guaranteed Protestant freedom of worship in France. But France was not going Huguenot: in 1560 it is reliably estimated that fifteen per cent of France was Protestant, three out of twenty millions. By 1597, however, the proportion had fallen to ten per cent, though three bishops had defected and seven were suspect. [p. 266]

B. Gallican Triumph (1598-1629)


Henry IV, king de Jure since 1589, was not free from rivals until 1598. Thereafter this first of the Bourbons on the French throne proved an able and popular ruler. Though but a mediocre general, he had bluff, soldierly qualities, showed ready affability to his subjects, and had keen intelligence and wit. Hence the populace regarded him as “Good King Henry,” although his intimates were well aware of his selfishness and avarice. In 1599 he secured an annulment of his marriage to the childless Margaret of Valois (1553-1615) when Pope Clement VIII accepted his plea of lack of initial consent. In 1600 the king married Marie de’ Medici (1573-1640) who bore him his heir, Louis (1601-43) .

Economic retrenchment was carried on by Henry’s prime minister, the duc de Sully, a Huguenot financier who served him loyally from 1597 to the end of the reign. By economy, deflation, and careful collection of the taxes, Sully was able to effect an annual saving of a million livres by 1600. Sully, however, did not reform the haphazard system of administration and taxation thoroughly, but merely worked it as energetically as possible. His centralized bureaucracy enabled the monarchy to resume its long interrupted march toward Absolutism. A mercantilist policy cared for colonial interests; from this reign date French enterprises in Canada and India.

Religious situation. As a Huguenot, Sully was not disposed to interfere with the Edict of Nantes, and the Huguenot castles survived as a “state within a state.” The dissidents even extended their influence, occasionally provoking riots by insults to Catholic practices. Though a minority, they were as forward as the German Protestants prior to the Thirty Years’ War. The French crown showed itself self-confidently Gallican, and parlement still resisted the introduction of the Tridentine reform decrees, although the effects of the Civil Wars on ecclesiastical discipline had made these all the more necessary. Bodin’s political treatise, Six Livres de la Republique, repudiated papal as well as imperial supervision of international law, and defended the absolute independence of the French monarchy from all alien controls. Pithou’s Libertés de L’Église Gallicane defended a royal power to reform abuses in the Church, and hinted at the use of the conciliar theory in emergencies. At the close of the reign, as has been noted, Henry IV was meditating intervention on behalf of the German Protestants, when he belatedly met the fate of the other Henries: he was assassinated by François Ravaillac on May 14, 1610.

(2) REGENCY RELAPSE (1610-24)

Queen Marie de’ Medici, as regent for the young King Louis XIII (1610-43), lacked either the vices or the ability of her cousin Catherine. Incompetent favorites mismanaged the government, the Huguenots became more aggressive, and the feudality reasserted itself. But the very weakness of the regime emboldened the French hierarchy to introduce the Tridentine decrees on their own authority in 1615. Simultaneously Berulle’s Oratory began to exercise its reforming inspiration.


Cardinal Richelieu, member of the regency council since 1622, encouraged the young king to assume personal rule. Louis XIII did so in 1624 and made the cardinal his prime minister (1624-42) . Consecrated bishop of Luçon in 1607, Richelieu had been an exemplary prelate so far as externals went. But he was almost a split personality, and it was not as bishop that he has made a name in history. Preoccupied with statesmanship, he aimed to make the king master of France, and France dominant in Europe. Through his own efforts and those of his disciple and successor, Cardinal Mazarin, these objectives were in large part realized by 1660.

Domestic victory. Richelieu set out to reduce the feudality to subjection. Huguenots, confident in the favor of the king’s brother, Gaston of Orléans, did not wait but rose in revolt (1625) and solicited assistance from England. The cardinal did not fail to pursue them relentlessly and besieged their stronghold of La Rochelle for fifteen months while the duke of Buckingham vainly tried to bring relief. The fall of the citadel in May, 1628, broke the force of the rebellion. After mopping up, the cardinal-premier dictated the Peace of Alais in June, 1629. This abrogated the political autonomy conceded to the Huguenots by the Edict of Nantes, though it left its religious concessions intact. Deprived of their castellated home rule, the Huguenots ceased to be a major political party. Feudalism was further repressed by greater centralization and replacement of the noble governors in the provinces, with bourgeois intendants for fiscal supervision. Except for one final ineffective uprising, the Fronde of 1648-53 against Mazarin, the French nobility were brought into complete subjection to the crown.

Foreign triumph over the Austrian and Spanish Habsburgs, as already noted, exalted the French Bourbon monarchy to European primacy. This, too, was the result of Richelieu’s diplomacy, as continued by Mazarin. Together they succeed in placing “His Most Christian Majesty” of France, Louis XIV (1643-1715), on the pinnacle of worldly power, whence he might plunge Europe into wasting conflicts and insult the Holy See in a fashion but little different from that of Philip the Fair.





  St. Edmund Campion
    English Jesuit Martyr  under Queen Elizabeth I



A. Anglican Establishment (1558-1603)






Elizabeth Tudor (1533-1603) , daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, succeeded Queen Mary in accord with the original dispositions of her father’s testament. What religious sympathies she had were for Henrician “orthodoxy,” but her interests were predominantly secular. The English Catholic hierarchy, made wiser by Edwardian heresy, would no longer support schism, while the queen herself would not recognize papal supremacy. Her only choice, then, lay in making what terms she could with the Protestants. The result was Anglicanism, hierarchical in discipline, but conservatively Protestant in doctrine. Though not without good impulses, Elizabeth was Machiavellian in the decisive moment after the tears had been shed. Her baffling diplomacy deceived two popes, not to speak of Philip II and a series of supposedly worldly-wise princes, suitors, and courtiers. But herself she could not deceive, and as far as man can surmise, she dropped her mask in despair during her last days.

William Cecil (1520-98), baron Burleigh and chief minister of the reign, was her ally. On basic issues he agreed with the queen; they were mutually indispensable: Cecil needed the queen’s favor to remain in office, but she also required his information and skill. Adroit and cautious, he was brutal when it was safe to be, and he often stiffened the queen’s resolution to deeds rightly unpalatable to humanity.


Protestant omens. Although England remained officially Catholic until the re-enactment of the Acts of Supremacy and of Uniformity, May—June, 1559, Elizabeth was not long in hinting the trend of her religious policy. She struck the name of Pope Paul IV from the list of sovereigns to be notified of her accession, and allowed the airing of anti-Catholic views by unofficial channels. At Christmas she began to tamper with the Mass, though Bishop Oglethorpe was prevailed upon to crown her, January 15, 1559, “lest she be more easily moved to overthrow religion.”

Royal supremacy, however, was clearly asserted when parliament met the same month. While the bishops opposed the suggested religious changes to a man, the laity offered little objection to a new Act of Supremacy which passed on April 25. As signed on May 8, this was nearly the same as the Henrician measure, save that the Queen was [p. 269] styled “supreme governor” instead of “supreme head,” apparently in order to leave an opening for compromising would-be Catholics. Some of the laity, indeed, held out for the Mass or the First Book of Common Prayer, but the queen ordered restoration of the Second Book, effective June 24, 1559. All the bishops, except Kitchin of Llandaff, refused to take the corresponding oaths to the new Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity, and were deprived of their sees. They were replaced by a hierarchy installed according to the revived Edwardian Ordinal. From Barlow’s invalid consecration of the new primate of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, on December 17, 1559, all Anglican prelates and clergy have derived their orders. The Catholic Bishop Bonner, indeed, challenged their validity; whereupon in 1564 the queen graciously issued a letter “supplying all defects.” She herself, however, showed scant respect for her prelates and “hedge priests.” All of the Catholic hierarchy died in prison except Kitchin, Heath of York, permitted to retire to his family estate, and Goldwell who escaped to the Continent where he died in 1585, last survivor of the Marian Catholic regime. Of some eight thousand beneficed clerics, six thousand took the required oaths, though some of these continued to say Mass in secret. About seven hundred resisted strongly; the others fled or resigned.

(3) RELIGIOUS TRUCE (1560-66)

Catholic status. At Elizabeth’s accession possibly two-thirds of Englishmen were opposed to Protestant doctrine, although many of these were amenable to Henrician schism. As late as June, 1565, Pope Pius IV spoke kindly of Elizabeth and expressed hope of reconciliation. For her part, the queen took advantage of this respite and took care not to push Catholics too fast or too far. Her government winked at secret evasion of the Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy in some cases, and among the penalties for violation stopped at fines or imprisonment. Catholics in official position seized on the straw that Elizabeth was merely “supreme governor” in order to take the oaths with mental reservation of allegiance to the Pope as “supreme head.” Many private citizens were not called upon to take the oaths. While occasionally conforming to the new ritual, they continued to hear Mass in secret—sometimes the same clergyman performed both rites in succession!

Anglican doctrine, as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles in January, 1563, was Protestant enough, though it was expressed in as ambiguous terms as possible. Thus, justification by faith alone, exclusive reliance upon the Bible, and rejection of papal and conciliar authority were upheld. All of the sacraments except baptism and the “Supper” were omitted, though the explicit repudiation of the Mass was not promulgated until 1570, when all hope of conciliating the Catholics had vanished. [p. 270]. But the Edwardian Prayer Book and Ordinal precluded the offering of the Sacrifice of the Mass by the new generation of clergymen.

Puritanism. This definitive establishment of an Anglican via media between Catholicity and radical Protestantism alienated extreme Protestants who came to be termed “Puritans” because they wished to “purify” Anglicanism of papist vestiges. Of these, the Presbyterians inspired by John Knox and led by Thomas Cartwright (1535-1603) opposed Anglican episcopacy; while the Independents or Congregationalists, under the lead of Robert Browne (1550-1603) , objected to any ecclesiastical government, ritual, or doctrinal formulation imposed from above.


St. Pius V (1566-72) soon put an end to any religious ambiguity in England. As cardinal-prefect of the Holy Office he had declared as early as 1562 that attendance at Anglican services was not to be tolerated; this, however, was a private rescript not certainly binding on all. Once pope, St. Pius promptly in the summer of 1566 condemned the Book of Common Prayer, and sent Father Vaux to circulate the decision, with broad faculties for reconciliation from schism and heresy. In 1564 Dr. Thomas Harding had made an effective Rejoinder to John Jewel’s Apologia for Anglican establishment, and this was now distributed among the English Catholics. In 1567-68 the Catholic seminary on the Continent got under way under the direction of William Allen.

Political Rubicon. Not a few Catholics were roused to medieval militancy by these developments. In June, 1569, a plan was arranged to liberate Mary Stuart, restore her to the Scottish throne, and, if Elizabeth were not amenable, to place her in power in England as well. Late in the year a rising began in the north which solicited papal backing. Belatedly informed, Pope Pius V in February, 1570, issued the bull Regnans in Excelsis which employed against Elizabeth the old theocratic weapons of excommunication and deposition. Unfortunately this document was posted in London by the daring John Felton in May, 1570, after the northern rebellion had been suppressed. The papal action, therefore, proved to be the height of political inexpediency, although it irrevocably cleared the religious fog.

(5) PERSECUTION (1571-1603)

Penal laws. Not only did Queen Elizabeth take mortal vengeance on the leaders of the northern uprising, but in April, 1571, her packed parliament made it high treason to question her title to rule, to communicate with Rome, or to make use of Catholic religious articles. The [p. 271] property of all refugees who failed to return within six months would be confiscated. The parliament of January, 1581, extended this indictment to any attempts to withdraw one from the practice of Anglicanism, the celebration or hearing of Mass, and fines were imposed for absence from Anglican services. Legislation during 1585 also made it high treason to minister as a priest or to harbor a priest in one’s house. Finally in 1593 recusants were forbidden to travel five miles from their homes. These and other laws made the practice of the Catholic religion treasonable. Of the six hundred beatified victims of English persecution from 1535 to 1681, Queen Elizabeth accounted for 189, of whom 126 were priests. But countless others were executed for reasons pertinent to religion, if not officially judged sufficient for martyrdom by the Church. After 1583 Elizabeth was also severe toward the Puritans, though she is known to have invoked the death penalty in only two cases.

Priests from overseas. Marian priests still labored in England, and in 1573 Blessed Thomas Woodhouse, captive since 1561, was put to death. But replacements now began to arrive from Douai, the English College at Rome, and the Jesuit Order. Douay had 160 martyred alumni from its proto-martyr, Blessed Cuthbert Moyne, in 1577 until 1680. In 1580 Blessed Edmund Campion, future martyr, arrived to inaugurate the Jesuit mission. Despite the increasing vigilance of the port authorities and the mounting severity of the persecution, there were 360 priests in England when Elizabeth died. Unfortunately some disagreements between secular and regular missionaries impaired the effectiveness of their work, and in 1598 in lieu of a vicar apostolic, George Blackwell was named archpriest of the Anglo-Scottish mission. He turned out to be an unhappy choice.

Political complications. Robert Persons (1546-1610), a Jesuit who arrived in 1580 with Blessed Campion, proved to be more of a politician than a missionary. Presently he retired to Spain to plot the overthrow of the Elizabethan regime through Spanish intervention. A series of futile plots to rescue Mary Stuart, largely engineered by foreign meddlers, generally disgusted the Englishmen, including Catholics, and led the still captive queen to the block in 1587. Philip II’s Spanish Armada of the following year was supposed to avenge her, but it was crippled by a storm and then destroyed by superior English seamanship, apparently with few regrets by English Catholics. Therefore, Elizabeth remained politically triumphant, although her last years showed her that a determined minority of Catholic and Puritan dissenters were undermining her cherished religious uniformity. Yet she would scarcely have dreamed that before another Elizabeth would ascend the English throne, Roman Catholics in England would outnumber the members of the official Anglican establishment. But at the close of her reign (1603), [p. 272] practicing Catholics could have numbered no more than a third, if a sixth of the population.

B. Anglican Crisis (1603-60)

(1) JAMES I (1603-25)

James Stuart (1566-1625), king of Scotland since 1567, succeeded to the English crown as well at Elizabeth’s death. Besides his claims as Mary Stuart’s son, James had Elizabeth’s deathbed acquiescence, at least as interpreted by Cecil’s son Robert who continued as chief minister until his death in 1612. James’s accession effected a personal union of the British Isles, but Scotland remained legally separate until 1707.

Religious policy. All groups turned hopefully to the new monarch, an explicit defender of the theory of “divine right” rule. In April, 1603, the Puritans presented a “Millenary Petition,” supposedly signed by a thousand ministers, requesting that the Anglican establishment be remolded to their views. But James retorted: “If you aim at Scottish presbytery, it agreeth as well with me as God with the devil.” Far from favoring the Puritans, the king proceeded to “harry them out of the land”—into New England. Instead the king upheld episcopalianism throughout Britain and encouraged William Laud (1573-1645) in his “High Church” stress on altars, vestments, and stained glass windows. Catholics, on the other hand, expected some leniency from Mary Stuart’s son. But James had never known his mother and regarded Catholicity as equally menacing to his royal prerogative. In February, 1604, the king ordered all priests out of England and the following month had parliament re-enact the Elizabethan penal code. These harsh measures infuriated a group of Catholics who planned to blow up king and parliament alike on November 5, 1605.

Religious politics. The ensuing “Gunpowder Plot” was engineered by Robert Catesby, though Guy Fawkes, caught in the act, achieved immortality by being hanged in effigy every November 5 thereafter. Father Henry Garnet (1555-1606) was also executed, apparently because he would not break the seal of confession. A severe reaction of bigotry then swept over England and recusants were ordered to take a new oath against the papal deposing power. Archpriest Blackwell interpreted this as merely tendering civil allegiance and led some Catholics into taking the pledge in 1606. Pope Paul V, however, eventually condemned this action and deposed Blackwell in 1608. His successor, George Birkhead (1608-14), had much difficulty in reconciling the Catholic divisions and even erection of an episcopal vicariate apostolic in 1623 brought little peace. But while matrimonial negotiations were pending between the English and Spanish royal families, King [p. 273] James released four thousand Catholic prisoners and enforced the penal laws less rigorously. Even though Prince Charles eventually married Henrietta Maria of France, this alliance with a Catholic power continued the expedient tolerance.

(2) CHARLES I (1625-49)

Charles (1600-49), only surviving son of King James I, inherited his throne and his feud with parliament over “divine-right” royal prerogative. Charles was shy and melancholy. Though sharing his father’s monarchical principles, he lacked his intelligence, vanity and dogmatism. Honorable in personal relations, the king subscribed to the Machiavellian tenet that deceit was justifiable in defense of “reason of state,” especially the royal prerogative. Though an exemplary private citizen, Charles turned out to be a most unsuccessful monarch. When parliament refused adequate funds to run the government unless the king would repudiate his “divine right” and “High Church” principles, Charles, after vainly trying to rule independently (1629-40), resorted to force. A coup d’état in parliament failing of its objective, he set up his standard, provoking war between the largely rural and Anglican “Cavaliers” and the dissident “Roundheads,” whose strength lay in London. In this contest the king lost his head, though not his honor, and his dignified death deeply impressed Englishmen who were soon disillusioned of parliamentary Puritanism.

Religious history. King Charles was sincerely devoted to Anglicanism of a ritual variety of Laud, whom he made primate of Canterbury in 1633. Though neither king nor primate had any love for Catholicity, they were no persecutors. Charles incurred the odium of the Puritans by refusing to execute Catholics, and only twice did parliament wring from him death sentences. The king winked at his own laws to procure Catholic ministrations for his Catholic queen and her circle. A Catholic vicar-apostolic, Bishop Smith, resided in England from 1624 to 1631, but thereafter the English vicariate was practically in abeyance until 1685. Most Catholics embraced the royal cause as at least the lesser of two evils during the Civil War (1642-46), and for centuries the Stuart party was, without adequate justification, associated with favor to Catholic interests.

(2) THE COMMONWEALTH (1642-60)

Political survey. Though the Commonwealth was not officially proclaimed until after the king’s execution in 1649, from 1642 parliament was supreme over the greater part of England and after 1645 was the de facto government. The inexperienced parliamentarians were not effective in the conduct of the war until Oliver Cromwell organized his [p. 274] disciplined “New Model” army in 1644. This force quickly won the war but made itself and its general indispensable. In 1648 Cromwell purged parliament of conservative Presbyterians and cautious burghers. The remaining servile “Rump Parliament” took its directions from the army. After subduing Scotland and Ireland (1649-51), Cromwell returned to an open military dictatorship (1653-58), which professed to unite England, Ireland, and Scotland into a unitary republic under the written Instrument of Government. Oliver Cromwell could rule but not persuade, and his son Richard could do neither, resigning in May, 1659. When an anarchical contest among generals threatened, one of them, George Monck, sensed the popular nostalgia for the “good old days” of monarchy. After opening negotiations with the late king’s son, Monck forcibly dissolved the “Long Parliament” (1640-60), and a reasonably free convention in April, 1660, voted that “government is, and ought to be by king, lords, and commons.” At this cue Charles II landed at Dover, May 25, 1660.

Religious developments. Since most of the nobles, Anglican or Catholic, rallied to the king, the government devolved on the Puritan-dominated House of Commons. Presbyterians and Independents at first united to enforce the penal laws against Catholics: between 1642 and 1651 parliament executed twenty-one Catholics and confiscated much property. But the Presbyterians alienated other dissenters from Anglicanism by their plans for a Calvinist theocracy in league with the Scottish Covenanters. Cromwell, a fanatical but independent Protestant, thwarted an attempt to impose Presbyterianism upon England by law. His own military dictatorship tolerated all types of Protestants, and contemplated an established non-hierarchical church, with all sects subsidized equally by the state. Anglicans, though excluded from public office, were not persecuted. Jews were readmitted legally to England from which they had been banished in 1290. Only to Catholics did Cromwell deny leniency, although in their regard he preferred confiscation to execution. In England only one priest was executed during his administration, although Irish Catholics felt the full force of his religious and national prejudices. The Cromwellian Settlement, imposed in May, 1652, indeed settled Ireland in misery and poverty for centuries. All native land ownership was confiscated from Catholics and the latter were reduced to impoverished tenants for centuries. The external manifestations of Catholic worship were proscribed by ferocious penal laws, and the native language and customs were dealt with ruthlessly, but the Catholic and Irish spirit remained unconquered. Both in Ireland and in England by 1660 Catholic survivors had seen the worst of persecution, although another century of trial was ahead of them before the comparative toleration of the Relief Act of 1778. [p. 275]





 Sigismund III of Sweden



A. Poland (1506-1668)






Sigismund I (1506-48), youngest of the sons of Casimir the Great, wore the Polish crown during a critical half century. As grandson of Jagielo, he also ruled Lithuania, an immense land comprising the Ukraine and extending to Turkish-held Crimea. Sigismund proved capable of defending his realms against foreign foes, though the Russian capture of Smolensk in 1514 marked the beginning of a reconquest of White Russia, lost during the period of Russian disunity. Within his own kingdom, Sigismund faced a turbulent nobility, whose feudal control over the bourgeoisie and peasantry had been secured by statute (14961505). The hereditary Jagellon dynasty did enjoy a certain prestige, but even a monarch as competent as Sigismund I had to yield on many points to the nobles’ remonstrances, as in 1537.

Protestant infiltration. The king, who remained a loyal Catholic, promptly seconded Pope Leo X’s condemnation of Luther: Exurge Domine was upheld in Poland by the Edict of Thorn which proscribed Luther’s writings. But Queen Bona Sforza (1493-1557), whom Sigismund married in 1518, was an undiscriminating patroness of novelty, and her Italian chaplain Lismanini seems to have dabbled in Calvinism. Polish students at Wittenberg and other German universities, moreover, brought back Lutheran ideas. At Posen, John Seclusian circulated Polish versions of Lutheran annotated Scriptures. Jacob Knade, an apostate monk in Dantzig, won partisans who protected his preaching of Lutheran teachings. Martin Glossa introduced Lutheran ideas into the national university of Cracow. The royal ban on Lutheranism was sustained by John Laski (1456-1531), archbishop of Gnesen since 1510, who held several synods against the heresy. Another prominent Catholic defender was Andrew Krzychi (d. 1537) , humanist, royal chancellor, and eventually himself archbishop of Gnesen. But though the king forbade Polish students to frequent Wittenberg after 1534, Lutheran ideas continued to circulate in Poland, inasmuch as the force of the royal edicts and canonical censures was blunted by the jealous autonomy of the feudality. Many of this class, including the bishop of Posen, were willing to give a hearing to Lutheran and Hussite refugees. Before the king’s death in 1548, Protestantism had done considerable boring within a free-thinking aristocracy. But the majority of the Polish people, whether in the towns or the country, often showed their resentment against this negligence by themselves taking forceful measures against disseminators of heresy. [p. 276]


Sigismund II (1520-72) was a lukewarm and compromising Catholic. His first wife, Barbara Radziwill (d. 1551), was a Calvinist, though Queen Catherine (1533-72), daughter of Emperor Ferdinand I, later exercised a Catholic influence. At the Diet of Piotkrow in 1552 the nobility under the lead of the Calvinist Radziwills secured nullification of all previous legislation against the dissidents. Foreign Protestants now flooded the land, while Polish innovators grew bolder. Their leader was John a Lasco (1499-1560), apostate priest, who adopted a mélange of Lutheranism, Zwinglianism, and Calvinism during a tour of Europe. In 1556 he returned to Poland to champion a national Protestant establishment tolerant of sectarian opinions. With royal approval, a “National Synod” was held at Piotkrow in 1555 which recommended those Catholic-Protestant debates, elsewhere characteristic of states preparing for defection. The king proposed to Paul IV a vernacular liturgy, Communion under both species for the laity, a married clergy, and abolition of annates. Archbishop Jacob Uchanski of Gnesen (1563-81), aspiring to head a national church, granted preachers the utmost liberty, and in 1570 the dissidents issued from their Sandomir Conference a vague doctrinal formula on which they proposed to unite against Catholics.

Catholic resistance to threatened national apostasy was led by Stanislauw Hozjusz (Hosius) (1504-79), bishop of Ermland, and after 1561, cardinal. Between 1551 and 1558 he edited an excellent polemic, Confession of the Catholic Faith, which revived the slumbering of many Poles. In 1564 Hosius introduced the Jesuits to Poland in order to open schools, teach catechism, and debate with the dissidents. Such signs of Catholic vigor appeared that the opportunistic Archbishop Uchanski presently abandoned his plans for a schism.

Interregnum followed Sigismund II’s death in July, 1572, which terminated the reign of the Jagellons. The throne was henceforth elective and more dependent on a jealous nobility. Spokesman for the latter until his death in 1605 was Jan Zamoyski. The interval was utilized by the nobility to impose the “Peace of the Dissidents” which from 1573 to 1588 guaranteed them equal religious and civil privileges with Catholics.

Henry of Valois, elected king of Poland in May, 1573, ratified these concessions and expressly recognized the monarchy as limited. When his brother, Charles IX of France, died in March, 1574, however, Henry literally escaped from the country in order to occupy the throne of his native land.

Stephen Bathori, prince of Transylvania and husband of Anne Jagellon, a sister of Sigismund II, was elected to the vacant Polish throne in 1575. Although a Catholic, King Stephen also observed the religious truce. Besides patronizing the Jesuit schools, he did little to effect a change in the religious status.


Sigismund III (1587-1632), crown prince of Sweden, was chosen king of Poland in 1587. He was militantly Catholic and co-operated with the Jesuits and the Habsburgs in promoting the Catholic Counter Reformation. Archbishop Uchanski had been succeeded by Stanislaus Karnkowski (1526-1603), who enthusiastically promoted Catholic reform. It was at his suggestion that King Sigismund, far from giving the dissidents encouragement, reaffirmed the official position of the Catholic Church in Poland in 1588. The king’s exemplary conduct made Catholicity fashionable again in official circles. Himself trained by the Jesuits, he gave their Order his entire support. Father Jacob Wujek (d. 1597), besides distinguished service as preacher and professor, edited a good Polish translation of the Bible. An excellent catechism was prepared by Bishop Bialobrzeski. These and other leaders consolidated Catholic ranks, though they provoked the hostility of dissidents. In 1595, moreover, a considerable number of Ruthenian schismatics submitted to Rome in the Union of Brest-Litovsk.

Ladislas VII (1632-48), Sigismund’s elder son, was elected to succeed him without opposition. Ladislas, quite as orthodox as his father, saw the need of Polish unity against avaricious neighbors. This he sought to achieve by conceding civil liberties to the dissidents, but his efforts met with little success and were misconstrued by uncompromising Jesuits. Nor could the king decide whether he should seek Habsburg aid against the Swedes, Russians, and Turks who threatened Poland, and Polish fear of German domination left her to face aggression alone.

John II Casimir (1648-68) succeeded his childless brother on the Polish throne to begin act three of his amazing career of Jesuit, cardinal, king, and abbot. He inherited the consequences of vacillation. In 1654 the Cossack chief, Bogdan Khmelnitsky, transferred his allegiance from Poland to Russia, and in 1655 the Swedes invaded Poland at the same time that the dissidents rebelled. Catholic resistance at Czestochowa Abbey turned the tide against the Swedes, and in 1656 the king in gratitude dedicated Poland to the Virgin Mary. But in 1660 Poland had to yield Sweden control of the Baltic, and in 1667 Smolensk and eastern Ukraine were ceded to Russia. Though the king had married his brother’s widow, Queen Marie de Gonzaga, he had no children. In 1668 he abdicated to resume his clerical vocation as Abbot of St. Germain in France, leaving the Polish monarchy, or rather republic, once more a prey to faction.

B. Russia (1533-1689)

(1) MUSCOVITE ADVANCE (1533-1613)

Ivan the Terrible (1533-84) succeeded to the Muscovite principality which claimed to be the heir of Byzantium, and pushed its frontiers toward the Baltic, the Black Sea and the Urals. He developed trade with England and commenced expansion into Siberia. An attack on Livonia, however, was repulsed, and after his wife’s death in 1560 he became mentally deranged. Yet in his arbitrary and inconsistent action a trend toward absolutism may be seen.

Aristocratic reaction followed under the weak reign of Ivan’s son Theodore (1584-98), and on the latter’s death one of the nobles, Boris Godunov, seized the throne (1598-1605) . Pretenders to the throne appeared and Boris and his son were slain in 1605. The ensuing “Time of Troubles” was a period of anarchy during which it seemed for a time that Russia might be conquered by Poland. Sigismund III had his son Ladislas chosen king of Russia by a faction, and it is an interesting speculation how history might have been changed if a Catholic dynasty had been permanently seated on the Russian throne. The Polish attempt, however, was in total defiance of Russian national and religious prejudices, and a patriotic uprising repulsed it.


Philaret Romanov, Muscovite patriarch from 1619 to 1633, was the agent of Russian revival. In 1613 he succeeded in convoking a national assembly which chose his son Michael as czar (1613-45) . Philaret, however, remained the power behind the throne until death. He used the prestige of the Orthodox Church to restore order and impose despotism on impoverished and ignorant serfs. His grandson Alexis (1645-76) discontinued calling the national assembly and acquired part of the Ukraine, while Theodore III (1676-82) obtained some territory at the expense of Turkey.

The Russian Church, which had been granted patriarchal dignity in 1585 by Jeremias II of Constantinople, became a powerful ally of the monarchy. When in political difficulties or in order to conciliate new Polish subjects, Russian rulers often opened negotiations with the Holy See, but Romeward moves were soon halted. Peter Mogilas (d. 1647), Orthodox metropolitan of Kiev, composed an Orthodox Confession, equally opposed to the Catholic and Protestant positions. This with his Catechism became the cornerstone of Russian orthodoxy in years to come. Henceforth it became a cardinal policy of Russian czardom to force all subjects to conform to the Russian Orthodox Church, and the [p. 279] Ruthenian Uniates had much to suffer whenever they came under the control of the czars. But more serious was the rift within the Russian Church, for perhaps a third of the Russians were eventually involved in the Raskol Schism of 1667. Many of the peasants, dejected by poor land, antiquated methods of farming and feudal oppression, sympathized with this rebellion against the Orthodox Church which they had come to identify with the oppressive czarist rule. Russian advance into the Western orbit threatened, then, to involve Poland in many difficulties.

C. Hungary (1526-1699)


Retrospect. At the death of Louis II (1526) , his kingdoms of Hungary and Bohemia passed under Habsburg rule until 1918. But whereas Bohemia, a constituent state of the Holy Roman Empire, was firmly under Austrian control, Hungary remained a separate kingdom only personally united to the German monarchs.

Turkish domination. As husband of Louis II’s sister Anne, Ferdinand of Habsburg, younger brother of Emperor Charles V, had claimed the Hungarian throne. Magyar nationalism so feared German domination that a large group of nobles, headed by John Zapolya, sought Turkish assistance. John Zapolya became Prince of Transylvania under Turkish suzerainty, and Ferdinand was able to gain possession of no more than a third of Hungary.

Protestant infiltration. Fifteenth-century Saxon immigrants provided a receptive field for Lutheran proselytizing. The Hungarian primate from 1497 to 1521, Cardinal Thomas Bokocy, was an ambitious and avaricious pluralist, and clerical discipline relaxed. Before 1525, when the Diet of Pesth decreed penalties against them, the Hungarian students from Wittenberg introduced Lutheranism. Led by Matthias Devay (d. 1546) , many Magyars went over to the new sect, which was officially established in five cities. Lutheranism, however, had too many German connotations for most Magyars; after 1543 they began to follow Devay into Zwinglianism and then Peter Melius (1536-72) into Calvinism. Kaspar Koroli (1529-92) edited a Calvinist Magyar Bible and in 1563 the Protestant Synod of Tarezal declared Calvinism the national religion.

Catholic resistance to these Protestant inroads was at first ineffective. King Ferdinand and his Habsburg successors pushed protective measures for the Church through the Hungarian Diets and proscribed Protestant views, but these laws were enforced with difficulty even in that portion of Hungary subject to Habsburg rule, while dissidents could always find refuge in Transylvania. Nicholaus Olahi, archbishop of Gran (155368), introduced the Tridentine decrees and called in the Jesuits, but [p. 280] Protestantism continued to make progress throughout the sixteenth century while the primatial see was paralyzed by long vacancies, one lasting twenty-three years.


Catholic revival gained full momentum only under Peter Pazmany, primate of Gran from 1616 until his death in 1637. A convert from Calvinism, he entered the Jesuit order and was trained at Rome. On his return to Hungary in 1601, he distinguished himself as preacher, teacher, and apologist. As archbishop he received the wholehearted support of Emperor Ferdinand II (1618-37), the promoter of the Counter Reformation throughout the Habsburg dominions. Catholic fidelity was ensured by newly organized or revived schools, seminaries, and colleges. The archbishop made so many converts that it was eventually said of him that “he was born in Protestant Hungary, but died in Catholic Hungary.” He was, of course, merely the most prominent of a host of zealous and untiring workers.

Reconquest from the Turks. The Calvinist princes of Transylvania under Turkish overlordship meanwhile tried to coerce their Catholic serfs. Militant Catholics demanded the restoration of churches seized by Protestants, and this led to intermittent warfare throughout the seventeenth century. In 1678, Eneric Tököly rose in a determined effort to defend the waning Protestant position. By 1684, with Turkish assistance, he gained control of a large part of Hungary. But the Turkish advance was halted before Vienna by the imperial general, Charles of Lorraine, supported by King John III Sobieski of Poland. Emperor Leopold I (1658-1705) then pressed the offensive against the Turks with such success that in 1699 the Treaty of Carlowitz restored all of Hungary and Transylvania to the Habsburg crown. This was of immense benefit to Catholics who were freed alike from Turkish oppression and Calvinist discrimination. The Catholic Church remained the official religion, although Protestants were conceded toleration.

 41. French Huguenot Wars      42. British Religious Strife      43. Slavic Catholic Survival     


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