Edict of January or Saint-Germain, January 1562

The Edict of Saint-Germain or of January (issued in January 1562) was a Royal decree that gave the French Protestants the right to preach for the first time, ending a long period of persecution.

The Protestants, or Huguenots, had been increasingly persecuted during the reign of Henry II, and this continued during the short reign of his son and heir Francis II (1559-60). During Francis's reign power had been held by the Guise brothers, Francois duke of Guise and Cardinal Charles of Lorraine. Their rule came to an end after the death of Francis in December 1560. The new king was his younger brother Charles IX, who was only ten when he came to the throne. His mother, Catherine de Medici, became regent, dismissed the Guises from most of their posts, and assumed power herself.

One major change in policy was the end of the persecution of the Huguenots and the start of an attempt to reconcile the Catholic and Reformed churches. A colloquy was held at Poissy from September 1561, but this failed to find any common ground. Despite this failure the Crown issued the Edict of Saint-Germain in January 1562. This gave the Huguenots the right to preach anywhere outside towns during daylight hours, while Huguenot noblemen were allowed to run Protestant congregations on their estates.

The Catholic response to the edict was predictably hostile. The Parlement of Paris initially refused to register it and attempted to persuade Catherine to abandon or at least modify it. The Parlement was eventually forced to register the edict on 6 March 1562. By this point the first shots of the First War of Religion had already been fired. As he was passing through the town of Vassy on 1 March the Duke of Guise's men had come across a Protestant congregation and opened fire, killing several. A tense standoff developed at Paris, before the prince of Condé departed for Orléans, which fell to him on 2 April 1562.

In response to the massacre the Huguenots held a national synod and called on Condé to protect them. He responded in turn with a manifesto calling on his fellow Protestants to raise an army to oppose Guise and his supporters. The long Wars of Religion were about to begin.

The French Religious Wars 1562-1598, Robert Jean Knecht. A useful guide to the complex series of nine French Wars of Religion, including an examination of who the wars began and the main players on both sides, narrative accounts of the wars, overviews of the most important battles and sieges. Also looks at the impact of the wars on France’s neighbours, many of whom got dragged into the conflict, and on a selection of soldiers and civilians. Supported by a series of maps that help show how complex the conflict was
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (13 January 2011), Edict of January or Saint-Germain, January 1562 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/edict_january_1562.html

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