Francis II became King of France in 1559, when he was just 15 years old. Trying to take advantage of his weak position, the Guises and two other families battled to control the throne, and the Guises won through - they were also fanatical Catholics.Share
When Francis II died just a year later, his even younger brother (Charles IX) took the throne, but because of his young age it was his mother, Catherine de Medici, who controlled the kingdom. Catherine de Medici, seeing the threat posed by the Guise family, gave support to the two other leading noble families, the Bourbons and the Montmorency-Chatillons. But supporting these two families meant she had to support the Huguenots, and in 1562 the right was granted to Huguenots to worship outside towns, and to hold church assemblies. But Catherine de Medici herself remained a Catholic.
In March 1562, all this religious freedom had become too much for the Guise family, and the Duke of Guise led an army against a protestant church in Champagne. The entire congregation, unarmed men, women and children were slaughtered (see picture: the Massacre of Wassy)
This was to be the start of almost 40 years of war. During the first three civil wars (1562–63, 1567–68, 1568–70) Catherine de Medici struggled to find a balance between the Catholic and Protestant sides, with some success, and a temporary peace was found in 1570.
But this was not too last. Catherine plotted with the Guise family to assassinate a member of the Montmorency-Chatillons family, but the plot failed and the truth of the attempt soon emerged. A Protestant uprising seemed likely, and to pre-empt this Catherine persuaded Charles IX to act first. The most infamous period of the wars was about to start. (Read more.)