Saturday, October 27, 2012

October 27, 2012

French Wars of Religion: Battle of Moncontour, 1569

One of my big interests has always been Huguenot history, and I’ve recently become more interested in the French Wars of Religion that lasted from 1562 to 1598. Unfortunately, I haven’t definitively traced my Huguenot ancestry back that far, so I couldn’t say if I have any ancestors who fought in these epic battles, but it is a pretty good guess that either ancestors or relatives would have done so. The battle in question today is the Battle of Moncontour, which took place in October 1569.

What made this particular battle interesting was that Huguenot Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, the hope of beleaguered French Protestants who needed a strong voice at court, turned to German Protestants to help in his quest against the enemy. Usually the French Wars of Religion were just that --- French --- and though many battles had foreign allies, they are seldom given credit. I find it odd that the Catholics’ allies, the Swiss, ended up inflicting heavy casualties on the Huguenots. Switzerland was known as a land of Reformed theology strongly associated with John Calvin and as a Protestant haven.

The Battle of Moncontour was a grueling one for French Protestants, and the Huguenots ended up surrendering before the enemy. One reason for their defeat was likely the crushing blow they had recently been dealt at the siege of Poitiers. Though Coligny was a practical man and had no desire to rush into things and incur more casualties, his men, likely fired up by stories of atrocities and perhaps having undergone injustice themselves, were ready to fight. This full-speed-ahead self-assurance would cost them the battle. And many lives. Germans Louis von Nassau and Wolrad von Mansfeld proved to be saviors in disguise, as it was partially due to their quick thinking that the remaining French Protestants were able to emerge in one piece and find safety.
History does not record all the details of how the Huguenots were treated, but considering it was only three years before the horrendous St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, one might guess there were ugly altercations on both sides. Admiral Coligny thankfully escaped. He determined not to give up the fight and he remained true to his word . . . soon the gates of Paris stood before him. But one thing was clear: If you were a Protestant in 16th century Paris, you were extremely unwelcome. Of course, if you were a Protestant in the 16th century, you were unwelcome nearly everywhere. We descendants can hardly study European history without being reminded of that sad, incomprehensible fact . . . 

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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