Edict of Saint-Germain

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The Edict of Saint-Germain, also known as the Edict of January, was a decree of tolerance promulgated by the regent, Catherine de' Medici, in January 1562. It provided limited tolerance of Protestantism in her Roman Catholic realms, especially in relation to the French Huguenots.

It was among Catherine's first moves as Regent, after the death of Francis II on December 5, 1560. Consistent with Catherine's maneuvering, it attempted to steer a middle course between Protestants and Catholics in order to strengthen royal dominion. Without threatening the privileged position of the Catholic Church in France, the Edict recognized the existence of the Protestants and guaranteed freedom of conscience and private worship. It forbade Huguenot worship within towns (where conflicts flared up too easily) but permitted Protestant synods and consistories. The crown found it hard to register the edict however, a process which required the Parlement of Paris ratifying the edict and adding it to the statutes. The judges of the Parlement were allowed to make remonstrances to the crown and specify areas where the new law conflicted with the old before it was published, and they made the process protracted enough that it was not registered until after the Massacre of Vassy on March 1, 1562, which initiated the first religious war. This lag made the Huguenot worship interrupted by Francis, Duke of Guise at Wassy ("Vassy") of questionable legality as there was no consensus on when a law came into effect. The Protestants claimed that as they worshiped outside of the town they were following the rules of the edict, and thus the Duke's attack was illegitimate.

Though no non-partisan contemporary accounts were possible in the heated atmosphere[1] the Massacre of Vassy occurred when the Duke of Guise, with a large armed band of retainers came upon a Huguenot service in progress at Vassy. Some of the duke's party attempted to push their way into the barn where the service was being held and were repulsed. Stones began to fly and the Duke was struck. His men fired upon the unarmed crowd, killing some sixty out of six or seven hundred, and wounding more. Significantly, there were more contemporary reactions expressed to the masscre at Vassy than to the Edict of January. Huguenots were as intransigent as Catholics: Theodore Beza remarked to the royal envoy that persecutions are futile and that the Reformed church was like an anvil on which many hammers have been broken.[2]

The Huguenots soon seized Orléans, then towns along the Rhône and other rivers, and Catherine declared that two religions could not exist in France: "un roi, une loi, une foi"[3] was the contemporary catchphrase. By the summer, events had outpaced the Edict.

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  1. ^ The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) asserts "the arrogance of the Huguenots exasperated the Catholics" (article "Catherine de' Medici")
  2. ^ T. de Beze, Historie Ecclesiastique des Eglises Reformées au Royaume de France (1580).
  3. ^ "one king, one law, one faith"

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