Catherine dei Medici and the French Wars of Religion

For thirty years Queen Mother of France, Catherine dei Medici tried to pursue a middle way through the political and religious problems of the age.

Portrait of Catherine de' Medici
Portrait of Catherine de' Medici by François Clouet, c.1580. Walters Art Museum.

The year 1598 marked the conclusion of the four anarchic decades of French history known as the Wars of Religion. It ended an epoch in which France was the battlefield of the forces of Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Spanish, Swiss, German, Savoyard and English armies despoiled her countryside as well as native ones. The revolt of the Netherlands, and the duel between Spain and Elizabethan England, were closely linked with the alternating fortunes in France of Huguenots, Ligueurs and Politiques. Yet for all their European aspect, the French Religious Wars were primarily a ferocious struggle between the political factions that divided French society. The peace established by the Bourbon Henri IV was a consequence of the common exhaustion of the contending parties.

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