Flag of the League, ca. 1590
|Founders||Henry I, Duke of Guise and Charles de Bourbon|
|Dates of operation||1576 – 1577|
1584 – 1595
|Allegiance|| Crown of France (de jure)|
Crown of Spain (de facto)
|Motives||Edict of Beaulieu|
|Headquarters||Paris and Péronne|
|Ideology|| Anti-Protestantism |
|Battles and wars|
The Catholic League of France (French : Ligue catholique or La Sainte Ligue, Holy League), was a major participant in the French Wars of Religion. It was formed in 1576 by Henry I, Duke of Guise "...to oppose concessions granted to the Protestants (Huguenots) by King Henry III. Although the basic reason behind the League’s formation was the defense of the Catholic religion, ...the desire to limit the king’s power" was also a motivating force. Pope Sixtus V, Philip II of Spain, and the Jesuits were supporters of this Catholic party.
Confraternities and leagues were established by French Catholics to counter the growing power of the Lutherans, Calvinists and members of the Reformed Church of France.
Under the leadership of Henry I, Duke of Guise, the Catholic confraternities and leagues were united as the Catholic League. Guise used the League not only to defend the Catholic cause but also as a political tool in an attempt to usurp the French throne.The Catholic League aimed to preempt any seizure of power by the Huguenots and to protect French Catholics' right to worship. Members saw their fight against Calvinism (the primary branch of Protestantism in France) as a Crusade against heresy. During a series of bloody clashes, the French Wars of Religion (1562–1598), between Catholics and Protestants, the Catholic League formed in an attempt to break the power of the Calvinist gentry once and for all.
In Nantes, the League was a reaction on the part of the city leaders to the King's failure to protect them against both Huguenot forces and the royal military.They joined with the rebellion of Philippe Emmanuel, Duke of Mercœur, governor of Brittany. Invoking the hereditary rights of his wife, Marie de Luxembourg, daughter of Sébastien, Duke of Penthièvre. Mercœur endeavoured to make himself independent in that province from 1589 onwards, and organized a government at Nantes, proclaiming their young son, Philippe de Lorraine-Mercœur, (d. 1590), "prince and duke of Brittany".
The Catholic League saw the French throne under Henry III as too conciliatory towards the Huguenots. The League, similar to hardline Calvinists, disapproved of Henry III's attempts to mediate any coexistence between the Huguenots and Catholics. The Catholic League also saw moderate French Catholics, known as Politiques, as a serious threat. The Politiques were tired of the many tit for tat killings and were willing to negotiate peaceful coexistence rather than escalating the war.
The League immediately began to exert pressure on Henry III of France. Faced with this mounting opposition (spurred in part because the heir to the French throne, Henry of Navarre, was a Huguenot) he canceled the Peace of La Rochelle, re-criminalizing Protestantism and beginning a new chapter in the French Wars of Religion. However, Henry also saw the danger posed by the Duke of Guise, who was gaining more and more power. In the Day of the Barricades, King Henry III was forced to flee Paris, which resulted in Henry, Duke of Guise becoming the de facto ruler of France. Afraid of being deposed and assassinated, the King decided to strike first. On December 23, 1588, Henry III's guardsmen assassinated the Duke and his brother, Louis II and the Duke's son was imprisoned in the Bastille.
However, this move did little to consolidate the King's power and enraged both the surviving Guises and their followers. As a result, the King fled Paris and joined forces with Henry of Navarre, the throne's Calvinist heir presumptive. Both the King and Henry of Navarre began building an army with which to besiege Paris. On August 1, 1589, as the two Henrys besieged the city and prepared for their final assault, Jacques Clément, a Dominican lay brother with ties to the League, successfully infiltrated the King's entourage, dressed as a priest, and assassinated him. This was retaliation for the killing of the Duke of Guise and his brother. As he lay dying, the King begged Henry of Navarre to convert to Catholicism, calling it the only way to prevent further bloodshed. However, the King's death threw the army into disarray and Henry of Navarre was forced to lift the siege.
Although Henry of Navarre was now the legitimate King of France, the League's armies were so strong that he was unable to capture Paris and was forced to retreat south. Using arms and military advisors provided by Elizabeth I of England, he achieved several military victories. However, he was unable to overcome the superior forces of the League, which commanded the loyalty of most Frenchmen and had the support of Philip II of Spain. The League then attempted to declare the Cardinal of Bourbon, Henry's uncle, as king Charles X of France on November 21, 1589, but his status as a prisoner of Henry of Navarre and his death in May 1590 removed all legitimacy from this gesture. Furthermore, the Cardinal refused to usurp the throne and supported his nephew, although to little avail.
Unable to provide a viable candidate for the French throne (the League's support was split among several candidates, including Isabella, a Spanish princess, which made them appear to no longer have French interests at heart), the League's position weakened, but remained strong enough to keep Henry from besieging Paris. Finally, in a bid to peacefully end the war, Henry of Navarre was received into the Church on July 25, 1593 and was recognized as King Henry IV on February 27, 1594. He is purported to have said later, "Paris is well worth a Mass," though some scholars question the veracity of this quotation.
Under the rule of King Henry IV, the Edict of Nantes was passed, granting religious toleration and limited autonomy to the Huguenots and ensuring a lasting peace for France. Moreover, the Catholic League now lacked the threat of a Calvinist king and gradually disintegrated.
Historian Mack Holt argues that historians have sometimes over-emphasised the political role of the League at the expense of its religious and devotional character:
What is the final judgement on the Catholic League? It would be a mistake to treat it, as so many historians have, as nothing more than a body motivated purely by partisan politics or social tensions. While political and social pressures were doubtless present, and even significant in the case of the Sixteen in Paris, to focus on these factors exclusively overlooks a very different face of the League. For all its political and internecine wrangling, the League was still very much a Holy Union. Its religious role was significant, as the League was the conduit between the Tridentine spirituality of the Catholic Reformation and the seventeenth century devots. Often overlooked is the emphasis the League placed on the internal and spiritual renewal of the earthly city. Moving beyond the communal religion of the later Middle Ages, the League focused on internalizing faith as a cleansing and purifying agent. New religious orders and confraternities were founded in League towns, and the gulf separating laity and clergy was often bridged as clerics joined aldermen in the Hotel de Ville where both became the epitome of goodly magistrates. To overlook the religious side of the League is to overlook the one bond that did keep the Holy Union holy as well as united.
Henry IV, also known by the epithet Good King Henry or Henry the Great, was King of Navarre from 1572 and King of France from 1589 to 1610. He was the first monarch of France from the House of Bourbon, a cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty. He was assassinated in 1610 by François Ravaillac, a fanatical Catholic, and was succeeded by his son Louis XIII.
The House of Valois was a cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty. They succeeded the House of Capet to the French throne, and were the royal house of France from 1328 to 1589. Junior members of the family founded cadet branches in Orléans, Anjou, Burgundy, and Alençon.
Charles IX was King of France from 1560 until his death in 1574 from tuberculosis. He ascended the throne of France upon the death of his brother Francis II in 1560.
Henry III was King of France from 1574 until his death as well as King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1573 to 1575.
The French Wars of Religion were a prolonged period of war and popular unrest between Catholics and Huguenots in the Kingdom of France between 1562 and 1598. It is estimated that three million people perished in this period from violence, famine, or disease in what is considered the second deadliest religious war in European history.
The House of Guise was a French noble family, partly responsible for the French Wars of Religion. The House of Guise was the founding house of the principality of Joinville.
Charles of Lorraine, Duke of Mayenne, or Charles de Guise, was a French nobleman of the house of Guise and a military leader of the Catholic League, which he headed during the French Wars of Religion, following the assassination of his brothers at Blois in 1588. In 1596, when he made peace with Henry IV of France, the wars were essentially at an end.
Henry I, Prince of Joinville, Duke of Guise, Count of Eu, sometimes called Le Balafré (Scarface), was the eldest son of Francis, Duke of Guise, and Anna d'Este. His maternal grandparents were Ercole II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara, and Renée of France. Through his maternal grandfather, he was a descendant of Lucrezia Borgia and Pope Alexander VI.
The War of the Three Henrys (1587–1589) was the eighth conflict in the series of civil wars in France known as the Wars of Religion. It was a three-way war fought between:
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, politiques were those in a position of power who put the success and well-being of their state above all else. During the Wars of Religion, this included moderates of both religious faiths who held that only the restoration of a strong monarchy could save France from total collapse, as rulers would often overlook religious differences in order to have a strong country. References to individuals as politique often had a pejorative connotation of moral or religious indifference. The concept gained great currency after 1568 with the appearance of the radical Catholic League calling for the eradication of Protestantism in France, and by 1588 the politiques were seen by detractors as an organized group and treated as worse than heretics.
Charles Emmanuel de Savoie, 3rd Duc de Nemours was the son of Jacques of Savoy and Anne of Este, the widow of Francis, Duke of Guise. As a child he was known as the prince of Genevois. He was the Duke of Nemours from 1585 to his death in 1595, during the French Wars of Religion.
The Battle of Coutras, fought on 20 October 1587, was a major engagement in the French Religious Wars between a Huguenot (Protestant) army under Henry of Navarre and a royalist army led by Anne, Duke of Joyeuse. Henry of Navarre was victorious, Joyeuse was killed while attempting to surrender.
Articles of the Treaty of Nemours were agreed upon in writing and signed in Nemours on 7 July 1585 between the Queen Mother, Catherine de' Medici, acting for the King, and representatives of the House of Guise, including the Duke of Lorraine. Catherine hastened to Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, where on 13 July the treaty was signed between King Henry III of France and the leaders of the Catholic League, including Henri, duc de Guise. The king was pressured by members of the Catholic League to sign the accord which was recognized by contemporaries as a renewal of the old French Wars of Religion.
Charles de Bourbon was a French cardinal. The Catholic League considered him the rightful King of France after the death of Henry III of France in 1589. His claim was recognized as part of the secret Treaty of Joinville concluded between Philip II of Spain and the League.
Catherine de Bourbon was a Navarrese regent princess. She was the daughter of Queen Joan III and King Anthony of Navarre. She ruled the principality of Béarn in the name of her brother, King Henry III of Navarre, from 1576 until 1596.
The so-called European wars of religion were a series of wars which were waged in Europe during the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries. Fought after the Protestant Reformation began in 1517, the wars disrupted the religious and political order in the Catholic countries of Europe. However, many historians have rejected the description of these conflicts as wars of "religion" because religion was not the only or even the most important factor in the proliferation of these battles. Instead, some historians have labelled the alleged religious nature of the conflicts and their consequences as the "creation myth" for the modern nation-state. Other motives during the wars involved revolt, territorial ambitions, and Great Power conflicts. By the end of the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), Catholic France was allied with the Protestant forces against the Catholic Habsburg monarchy. The wars were largely ended by the Peace of Westphalia (1648), establishing a new political order now known as Westphalian sovereignty.
Henry IV of France's succession to the throne in 1589 was followed by a four-year war of succession to establish his legitimacy, which was part of the French Wars of Religion (1562–1598). Henry IV inherited the throne after the assassination of Henry III, the last Valois king, who died without children. Henry was already King of Navarre, as the successor of his mother, Jeanne d'Albret, but he owed his succession to the throne of France to the line of his father, Antoine of Bourbon, an agnatic descendant of Louis IX. He was the first French king from the House of Bourbon.
Henry IV of France was the first Bourbon king of France. Formerly known as Henri of Navarre, he succeeded to the French throne with the extinction of House of Valois, at the death of Henry III of France.
Jeanne d'Albret, also known as Jeanne III, was the queen regnant of Navarre from 1555 to 1572. She married Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme, becoming the Duchess of Vendôme and was the mother of Henri de Bourbon, who became King Henry III of Navarre and IV of France, the first Bourbon king of France.
The siege of Paris took place in 1590 during the French Wars of Religion when the French Royal Army under Henry of Navarre, and supported by the Huguenots, failed to capture the city of Paris from the Catholic League. Paris was finally relieved from the siege by an international Catholic and Spanish army under the command of Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma.