Catholic League

The Catholic League, also known as the Holy League, originated in France in the 1560s, when communities formed local defense organizations to protect themselves against armed Protestants and oppose the implementation of royal policies that gave legal recognition to Protestantism.

In 1576, in the wake of the most tolerant royal edict so far, a union of Catholics was formed under the aegis of the nobility in a number of regions, most notably in Picardy, which swore to uphold the faith and protect provincial liberties. King Henry III was able to outmaneuver the nascent league and suppress it. However, in 1584 the death of Henry’s younger brother left a Protestant, Henry of Navarre, as heir to the throne. The league was now revived, and its power derived from an alliance between the powerful Spanish-funded Guise family and a radical popular Catholic power base, notably in Paris.

In 1588 the league mounted a putsch, seized Paris, and expelled Henry III. When Henry later had the Guise brothers assassinated, large parts of France revolted, dethroned him, and established a regime based on representative institutions and an elective monarchy. Failure to establish a viable administration was due to the financial realities of war against the supporters of Henry of Navarre, undermining the league’s appeal as an antitax party.

In 1593, internal divisions over the choice of a suitable Catholic king were exploited by Navarre’s conversion, removing the major obstacle to his accession. After the loss of Paris the following year, the league slowly crumbled as its leadership was defeated by Navarre; its last strongholds succumbed in 1598.


Catholic League

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