Sunday, June 24, 2012

June 24, 2012

The Siege of Sommières, French Wars of Religion: 1573

The village has such a pretty name: Sommières. But the French Wars of Religion, part of which took place at this very site, were far from pretty. Sommières gained historical fame between the months of February and April 1573, when the Huguenots gathered within the walls were besieged by Catholic troops of the royal army. 

So why Sommières, and why 1573? French Protestants were still reeling from the horrific St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre that began in August 1572. Their world had crumbled beneath their feet; it seemed there was nowhere to run. They understood that their ability to defend and protect Huguenot-run cities was their only hope of survival. Henri I de Montmorency, the Marshal of Damville, led the attack against the Protestants. It is interesting to note that there were various times he was accused of Protestant leanings or of sympathizing with the beleaguered Huguenots.

The Huguenots had a rather creative way to repel attackers. Reminiscent of the Middle Ages, they employed boiling oil, a medieval trick that was quickly falling out of fashion. The siege ended in early April 1573. The Huguenots were defeated. Their enemies lost over 2,000 men. The village was almost completely obliterated. If you travel to Sommières in the present day, you can see the ruins of Bistoure Tower, which met its end during the siege.

 It is intriguing --- and refreshing --- to note that in April 1573 the Calvinist defenders were allowed to march honorably out of Sommières, if not in victory then in the triumph of retaining their honor and their lives. It must have been bittersweet to raise their banners, hold their weapons high, and sing their own war-songs without overt opposition from their opponents. The Huguenots were accustomed to much degradation but little respect. Did they sing the battle-hymns, I wonder? 

We will never know.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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