Modern History Sourcebook:
The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day, Aug. 24, 1572
As recorded by statesman and historian, De Thou (1553-1617),
who was a witness to the events on St. Bartholomew Day as a youth.
Here, he is relating the events leading up to the Massacre and
the orders of the Queen of France, Catherine de'Medici.
So it was determined to exterminate all the Protestants and the
plan was approved by the queen. They discussed for some time whether
they should make an exception of the king of Navarre and the prince
of Condé. All agreed that the king of Navarre should be
spared by reason of the royal dignity and the new alliance. The
duke of Guise, who was put in full command of the enterprise,
summoned by night several captains of the Catholic Swiss mercenaries
from the five little cantons, and some commanders of French companies,
and told them that it was the will of the king that, according
to God's will, they should take vengeance on the band of rebels
while they had the beasts in the toils. Victory was easy and the
booty great and to be obtained without danger. The signal to commence
the massacre should be given by the bell of the palace, and the
marks by which they should recognize each other in the darkness
were a bit of white linen tied around the left arm and a white
cross on the hat.
Meanwhile Coligny awoke and recognized from the noise that a riot
was taking place. Nevertheless he remained assured of the king's
good will, being persuaded thereof either by his credulity or
by Teligny, his son-in-law: be believed the populace had been
stirred up by the Guises and that quiet would be restored as soon
as it was seen that soldiers of the guard, under the command of
Cosseins, bad been detailed to protect him and guard his property.
But when he perceived that the noise increased and that some one
had fired an arquebus in the courtyard of his dwelling, then at
length, conjecturing what it might be, but too late, he arose
from his bed and having put on his dressing gown he said his prayers,
leaning against the wall. Labonne held the key of the house, and
when Cosseins commanded him, in the king's name, to open the door
he obeyed at once without fear and apprehending nothing. But scarcely
had Cosseins entered when Labonne, who stood in his way, was killed
with a dagger thrust. The Swiss who were in the courtyard, when
they saw this, fled into the house and closed the door, piling
against it tables and all the furniture they could find. It was
in the first scrimmage that a Swiss was killed with a ball from
an arquebus fired by one of Cosseins' people. But finally the
conspirators broke through the door and mounted the stairway,
Cosseins, Attin, Corberan de Cordillac, Seigneur de Sarlabous,
first captains of the regiment of the guards, Achilles Petrucci
of Siena, all armed with cuirasses, and Besme the German, who
had been brought up as a page in the house of Guise; for the duke
of Guise was lodged at court, together with the great nobles and
others who accompanied him.
After Coligny had said his prayers with Merlin the minister, he
said, without any appearance of alarm, to those who were present
(and almost all were surgeons, for few of them were of his retinue)
: "I see clearly that which they seek, and I am ready steadfastly
to suffer that death which I have never feared and which for a
long time past I have pictured to myself. I consider myself happy
in feeling the approach of death and in being ready to die in
God, by whose grace I hope for the life everlasting. I have no
further need of human succor. Go then from this place, my friends,
as quickly as you may, for fear lest you shall be involved in
my misfortune, and that some day your wives shall curse me as
the author of your loss. For me it is enough that God is here,
to whose goodness I commend my soul, which is so soon to issue
from my body. After these words they ascended to an upper room,
whence they sought safety in flight here and there over the roofs.
Meanwhile the conspirators; having burst through the door of the
chamber, entered, and when Besme, sword in hand, had demanded
of Coligny, who stood near the door, "Are you Coligny ?"
Coligny replied, "Yes, I am he," with fearless countenance.
"But you, young man, respect these white hairs. What is it
you would do? You cannot shorten by many days this life of mine."
As he spoke, Besme gave him a sword thrust through the body, and
having withdrawn his sword, another thrust in the mouth, by which
his face was disfigured. So Coligny fell, killed with many thrusts.
Others have written that Coligny in dying pronounced as though
in anger these words: "Would that I might at least die at
the hands of a soldier and not of a valet." But Attin, one
of the murderers, has reported as I have written, and added that
he never saw any one less afraid in so great a peril, nor die
Then the duke of Guise inquired of Besme from the courtyard if
the thing were done, and when Besme answered him that it was,
the duke replied that the Chevalier d'Angouleme was unable to
believe it unless he saw it; and at the same time that he made
the inquiry they threw the body through the window into the courtyard,
disfigured as it was with blood. When the Chevalier d'Angouleme,
who could scarcely believe his eyes, had wiped away with a cloth
the blood which overran the face and finally had recognized him,
some say that he spurned the body with his foot. However this
may be, when he left the house with his followers he said: "Cheer
up, my friends! Let us do thoroughly that which we have begun.
The king commands it." He frequently repeated these words,
and as soon as they had caused the bell of the palace clock to
ring, on every side arose the cry, "To arms !" and the
people ran to the house of Coligny. After his body had been treated
to all sorts of insults, they threw it into a neighboring stable,
and finally cut off his head, which they sent to Rome. They also
shamefully mutilated him, and dragged his body through the streets
to the bank of the Seine, a thing which he had formerly almost
prophesied, although he did not think of anything like this.
As some children were in the act of throwing the body into the
river, it was dragged out and placed upon the gibbet of Montfaucon,
where it hung by the feet in chains of iron; and then they built
a fire beneath, by which he was burned without being consumed;
so that he was, so to speak, tortured with all the elements, since
he was killed upon the earth, thrown into the water, placed upon
the fire, and finally put to hang in the air. After he had served
for several days as a spectacle to gratify the hate of many and
arouse the just indignation of many others, who reckoned that
this fury of the people would cost the king and France many a
sorrowful day, Francois de Montmorency, who was nearly related
to the dead man, and still more his friend, and who moreover had
escaped the danger in time, had him taken by night from the gibbet
by trusty men and carried to Chantilly, where he was buried in
From De Thou, Histoire des choses arrivees de son temps,
(Paris, 1659), 658 sqq, in J.H. Robinson,
2 vols. (Boston: Ginn, 1906), 2:180-183. Scanned by Brian Cheek,
November 12, 1995.
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(c)Paul Halsall April1998