There had been earlier attempts to reform the Catholic Church before the arrival of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Huldrych Zwingli. However, it was Martin Luther’s “The Ninety-five Thesis,” and the invention of the new Gutenberg printing press that made the difference. The new press quickly spread Luther's ideas to the mass public. Martin Luther started his assault by attacking the selling of indulgences or pardons from purgatory. Purgatory is a place where a persons soul goes for purification after they die. The soul stays there until it is forgiven for its sins, and before it is allowed into heaven.
By 1550 both religions had completely separated, and just a hundred years later there would be two main religions in France, the Catholics and the Protestants. During this time period, the Protestants were called Huguenots. Before long, French rulers were divided, some accepted Protestantism while others remained loyal to the Catholics. At this time the majority of the French population was Catholic, and many of them were threatened by the new Protestant doctrine. While there were fewer of Huguenots or Protestants, they still had a lot of influence because many were well off financially.
Tensions between the two religions intensified following the death of French King Henry II. Henry's reign would be followed by the reign of 3 of his sons, Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III. All three were dominated by their mother Catherine de Medici. Catherine was Catholic and at the time she did not want to go to war with the Protestants. She permitted Huguenot services as long as they were not in the center of town. However, it was to no avail as the first Protestant massacre occurred a short time later during March of 1562, in the town of Vassey. The Vassey massacre led to a full scale war between the two religions that lasted for a year before a shaky truce was agreed upon.
Ten years later, Catherine de Medici's daughter Margaret was to be married in Paris to a Huguenot noble named Henry of Navarre. The wedding was with Catherine's blessing. Before long, Paris filled with Huguenots who had arrived for the festive marriage celebration. Then, before the celebrating could even get started an assassin attempted to murder the leader of the Huguenots, Admiral de Coligny. The Huguenots were outraged and they believed that both Catherine and the powerful Catholic Guise family were behind the attempted assassination. They immediately went to see Catherine's son King Charles IX and demanded justice. Catherine, however, was not about to be outdone. She convinced Charles that the Huguenots were about to assassinate him. Charles and Catherine decided to strike first on August 24,1572, which was Saint Bartholomew's Day. They killed every Huguenot that crossed their path. The Seine River turned red from the blood of the Huguenots. Not long after, word of the massacre spread and Huguenots were massacred all across France. The estimates of Protestants killed went as high as 70,000. The war lasted for 12 years and their were countless atrocities on both sides. War would again break out when Henry of Navarre, a Protestant, was about to become heir to the throne. Soon afterward the Catholics and Henry, Duke of Guise, rose up against him. The “War of Three Henrys” lasted for 4 years. The Wars of Religion ended in 1598, with the proclamation of the Edict of Nantes that granted the Huguenots freedom to worship and full civil rights.
Massacre at St. Bartholomew at Paris on August 24, 1572