Catholic League (French)

Catholic League (French)

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The Catholic League of France, sometimes referred to by contemporary (and modern) Roman Catholics as the Holy League, a major player in the French Wars of Religion
French Wars of Religion
The French Wars of Religion is the name given to a period of civil infighting and military operations, primarily fought between French Catholics and Protestants . The conflict involved the factional disputes between the aristocratic houses of France, such as the House of Bourbon and House of Guise...

, was formed by Duke Henry of Guise in 1576. The League intended the eradication of Protestants—also known as Calvinists or Huguenots—out of Catholic France during the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

.

Pope Sixtus V
Pope Sixtus V
Pope Sixtus V , born Felice Peretti di Montalto, was Pope from 1585 to 1590.-Early life:The chronicler Andrija Zmajević states that Felice's family originated from modern-day Montenegro...

, Philip II of Spain
Philip II of Spain
Philip II was King of Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sicily, and, while married to Mary I, King of England and Ireland. He was lord of the Seventeen Provinces from 1556 until 1581, holding various titles for the individual territories such as duke or count....

, and the Jesuits were all supporters of this Catholic party.

The Catholic League's political origins



As Protestantism expanded through parts of Europe, leaders of Catholic nations, in particular Philip II of Spain
Philip II of Spain
Philip II was King of Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sicily, and, while married to Mary I, King of England and Ireland. He was lord of the Seventeen Provinces from 1556 until 1581, holding various titles for the individual territories such as duke or count....

, and the Pope, felt threatened. In an effort to counter the growing power of Lutherans, Calvinists, and members of the Reformed Church of France
Reformed Church of France
The Reformed Church of France is a denomination in France with Calvinist origins. It is the original and largest Protestant denomination in France....

, they formed a league to stop the spread of these Protestant factions. The Protestant Calvinists at that time dominated much of the French nobility
French nobility
The French nobility was the privileged order of France in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern periods.In the political system of the Estates General, the nobility made up the Second Estate...

, leading to active persecution of Catholics in some regions.

The League was spearheaded by Henry, the Duke of Guise, who used it not only to defend the Catholic cause, but also as a political tool in an attempt to usurp the French throne.

The Catholic League of France aimed to preempt any seizure of power by the Huguenots and to protect French Catholics' right to worship. The Catholic League's cause was fueled by the doctrine Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus
Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus
The Latin phrase Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus means: "Outside the Church there is no salvation". The most recent Catholic Catechism interpreted this to mean that "all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body."...

. Catholic Leaguers saw their fight against Calvinism (the primary branch of Protestantism in France) as a Crusade against heresy
Heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

. The League's pamphlet
Pamphlet
A pamphlet is an unbound booklet . It may consist of a single sheet of paper that is printed on both sides and folded in half, in thirds, or in fourths , or it may consist of a few pages that are folded in half and saddle stapled at the crease to make a simple book...

eers also blamed any natural disaster that occurred in France at the time as God's way of punishing France for tolerating the existence of the Calvinist heresy.
After a series of bloody clashes, the French Wars of Religion
French Wars of Religion
The French Wars of Religion is the name given to a period of civil infighting and military operations, primarily fought between French Catholics and Protestants . The conflict involved the factional disputes between the aristocratic houses of France, such as the House of Bourbon and House of Guise...

 (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. The Catholic League saw the French throne under Henry III
Henry III of France
Henry III was King of France from 1574 to 1589. As Henry of Valois, he was the first elected monarch of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with the dual titles of King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1573 to 1575.-Childhood:Henry was born at the Royal Château de Fontainebleau,...

 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.

History of the League



The League immediately began to exert pressure on Henry III of France
Henry III of France
Henry III was King of France from 1574 to 1589. As Henry of Valois, he was the first elected monarch of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with the dual titles of King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1573 to 1575.-Childhood:Henry was born at the Royal Château de Fontainebleau,...

. Faced with this mounting opposition (spurred in part because the heir to the French throne, Henry of Navarre
Henry IV of France
Henry IV , Henri-Quatre, was King of France from 1589 to 1610 and King of Navarre from 1572 to 1610. He was the first monarch of the Bourbon branch of the Capetian dynasty in France....

, was a Huguenot) he canceled the Peace of La Rochelle, re-criminalizing Protestantism and beginning a new chapter in the French Wars of Religion
French Wars of Religion
The French Wars of Religion is the name given to a period of civil infighting and military operations, primarily fought between French Catholics and Protestants . The conflict involved the factional disputes between the aristocratic houses of France, such as the House of Bourbon and House of Guise...

. However, Henry also saw the danger posed by the Duke of Guise
Henry I, Duke of Guise
Henry I, Prince of Joinville, Duke of Guise, Count of Eu , sometimes called Le Balafré, "the scarred", was the eldest son of Francis, Duke of Guise, and Anna d'Este...

, who was gaining more and more power. In the Day of the Barricades
Day of the Barricades
In the French Wars of Religion, the Day of the Barricades , 12 May 1588, was an apparently spontaneous public uprising in staunchly Catholic Paris against the moderate, hesitant, temporalizing policies of Henry III...

, 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
Louis II, Cardinal of Guise
Louis II, Cardinal of Guise was the third son of Francis, Duke of Guise and Anna d'Este. His maternal grandparents were Ercole d'Este II, Duke of Ferrara and Renée of France....

 and the Duke's son was imprisoned in the Bastille
Bastille
The Bastille was a fortress in Paris, known formally as the Bastille Saint-Antoine. It played an important role in the internal conflicts of France and for most of its history was used as a state prison by the kings of France. The Bastille was built in response to the English threat to the city of...

.

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
Henry IV of France
Henry IV , Henri-Quatre, was King of France from 1589 to 1610 and King of Navarre from 1572 to 1610. He was the first monarch of the Bourbon branch of the Capetian dynasty in France....

, the throne's Calvinist heir apparent. 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, Father Jacques Clément
Jacques Clément
Jacques Clément was the assassin of the French king Henry III.He was born at Serbonnes, in today's Yonne département, in Burgundy, and became a Dominican lay brother....

 a Dominican
Dominican Order
The Order of Preachers , after the 15th century more commonly known as the Dominican Order or Dominicans, is a Catholic religious order founded by Saint Dominic and approved by Pope Honorius III on 22 December 1216 in France...

 priest with ties to the League, successfully infiltrated the King's entourage 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
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

, 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
Charles, Cardinal de Bourbon
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.-Biography:...

, 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 Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 on July 25, 1593 and was recognized as King Henry IV on February 27, 1594. He later said, "Paris is well worth a Mass."

Under the rule of King Henry IV, the Edict of Nantes
Edict of Nantes
The Edict of Nantes, issued on 13 April 1598, by Henry IV of France, granted the Calvinist Protestants of France substantial rights in a nation still considered essentially Catholic. In the Edict, Henry aimed primarily to promote civil unity...

 was passed, granting religious toleration
Religious toleration
Toleration is "the practice of deliberately allowing or permitting a thing of which one disapproves. One can meaningfully speak of tolerating, ie of allowing or permitting, only if one is in a position to disallow”. It has also been defined as "to bear or endure" or "to nourish, sustain or preserve"...

 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.

See also

  • Catholic League (disambiguation) for other similarly named coalitions.
  • Philippe Emmanuel, Duke of Mercœur, one of its leaders
  • Politiques, term applied to those who resisted the French Catholic League