As he left the Louvre at 11 am on Friday 22 August 1572, Gaspard de Coligny, paid little attention to his surroundings. He had just attended a royal council meeting, and as he walked along was absorbed in reading an important piece of business. He did not return the hostile looks of the locals.
At 55 he was the kingdom’s most experienced politician and soldier and used to the gazes of Catholics. The curious were kept at a distance by a dozen bodyguards. Even his enemies respected his courage and piety. He was often compared to his contemporary, François duke of Guise—France’s ‘two shining diamonds’.
Like Guise, Coligny spread fear among his enemies. There was an uncompromising element in his character which suited him well to Protestant discipline. In war he knew the value of cruelty and terror as a weapon. To the Protestants this made him a hero, and the leadership was in awe of him.
That morning he was making the short walk to his lodgings in the rue de Béthisy. Soon after he turned into the rue des Poulies a single shot rang out from a hundred feet away. Protestants placed their trust in providence for good reason: at the very same moment the shot was fired Coligny stopped and turned suddenly, and the shot missed his vitals, fracturing his left forearm and taking off an index finger.
Coligny was not killed by the bullet; he would have lived. And yet within forty-eight hours he was murdered. Several days of anarchy followed in which between at least 2,000, and perhaps as many as 6,000, Protestants were butchered. Upwards of 600 houses were pillaged. The Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre is the greatest imponderable of sixteenth-century history. Martyrs and Murderers solves the mystery and lifts the lid of the role of the Guise family in it.