A Contemporary Account of The St. Bartholomew Day’s Massacre. With 18th c. French Provenance

ST. BARTHOLOMEW'S DAY MASSACRE. Montluc, Jean de (1508-1579), attrib.; Henri of Anjou (1551-1589), King of Poland (1573-1575), King of France (1574-1589), Duke of Anjou (1566-1573)

Vera Et Brevis Descriptio Tvmvltvs Postremi Gallici Lvtetiani, In quo occidit Admirallius cum alijs non paucis, ab origine, sine cuiusquam iniuria facta

Kraków: In Officina Nicolai Scharffenbergij, 1573


Quarto: 18 x 14 cm. [14] p. A4, B3 (lacking final blank).

SOLE EDITION, printed at Kraków by Mikolaj Szarfenberger (1519?-1606) (vide infra.)

Decorative metal-cut title page border with an unusual ornament. A fine, fresh copy. Provenance: Jean François Van de Velde (1743-1828), professor of the Grand Collège, Louvain, whose library of more than 14,000 books was sold in Ghent in 1831-1832. Extremely rare: No copies in North America. 7 copies located outside of Poland (vide infra.)

The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre remains the most infamous of the violent, mob-led tumults that rocked France during the French Wars of Religion. Over a period of two days, 23rd and 24th August 1572, Paris witnessed the slaughter of Huguenots at the hands of Catholics who feared a Protestant attack on the city in reprisal for the attempted assassination of the Huguenot leader, Admiral Gaspard de Coligny. From August to October similar massacres took place in twelve other French cities, including Toulouse, Lyon, and Angers. To this day estimates of the number of those killed varies widely, as no contemporary records are in agreement. The assassination and the massacre were of international significance, influencing the policies of many European nations, including England, Poland, and Spain, and igniting the fourth and final French War of Religion. The present account, sometimes attributed to Jean de Montluc, the French crown’s ambassador to Poland, is of importance for our knowledge of those chaotic events, and for the involvement of Henri, Duke of Anjou at the time of those events and newly crowned King of Poland when this account was published.

“The attempted assassination of the Huguenot leader Gaspard de Coligny, admiral of France, which occurred on the morning of Friday 22 August 1572, was followed two days later by the massacre of St. Bartholomew in which Coligny and many of his confederates died… Nobody whose written word remains knew what had happened upon either occasion –the assault or the massacre- and contemporaries were stunned, confused, and frightened, and expressed their opinions, as people do, according to their passions and predilections. The episode was one of emotional explosion after which satisfaction and stupefaction and the nature of the repercussions mattered considerably more than the truth of what had happened. As immediate comment was neither informed nor objective, and polemical purposes have governed the subsequent literature of St. Bartholomew, the only solution is to analyze the more serious evidence…

“Among the predominantly Catholic sources, the only two pamphlets of real importance are the ‘Vera et Brevis Descriptio Tumultus’ and the ‘Discours du Roi Henri III à un personage d’honneur’, otherwise known as the ‘Version du duc d’Anjou.’ Confusion has arisen between the ‘Descriptio’ and the ‘Discours’ because the former was published in Latin at Kraków in 1573 when Anjou was king of Poland, and the latter specifically claims to be his version… It is quite possible, indeed probable, that neither version emanated from Anjou; they are different, and serve different purposes…

“It is not surprising to find that the central purpose of the ‘Vera et Brevis Descriptio’, intended for Polish consumption, is to disculpate Anjou from any part in the massacre, either because he was genuinely implicated, was believed to be so, or because as lieutenant-general he was so close to the crown as to have been tarnished by the royal assumption of responsibility in a declaration of 26 August. In this account the assault was blamed on the house of Guise, and the massacre upon the council, on account of a rather vaguely expressed protestant danger…

“The ‘Descriptio’ is interesting in that it discusses the origins of the civil wars, attributing them to the youth of the king and the rivalry of the nobility. This is preliminary to blaming the Guises for the assault on Admiral Coligny. Further to this theme the document describes two quarrels at court, not recoded elsewhere, (which is highly improbable if they were true.) The first quarrel was between Coligny and Nevers (Guise’s brother-in-law) in 1571. The king, Anjou’s brother Charles IX, comes well out of this by composing the quarrel instead of allowing Nevers to kill Coligny… A further quarrel is then recounted between Coligny and Guise while the king was at table. This leads up to a consequent assault on Coligny at the instigation of Guise. It goes on to describe a tremendous Protestant clamor for the arrest of Guise, followed by a Huguenot conspiracy to invade the Louvre to kill, not the king, but all the Guises and their partisans. Charles, however, became afraid, believing that he too must be in danger, and sent for his brother Anjou to explain a plan that had already been formulated by the council before his arrival. Thus, one is to deduce that Anjou was presented with a fait accompli. Anjou must, nevertheless be accounted a principal suspect, because of his affiliation with the extreme political Catholics.

“Perhaps in order to shield Anjou, the document is rather vague about what actually happened, except that Guise personally is said to have killed the admiral, and the massacre to have occurred without the consent of the king. The former is improbable and the latter almost certainly true.”(Sutherland, The Massacre of St. Bartholomew and the European Conflict 1559-1572, p177. 318 ff.)

About the printer: Mikolaj Szarfenberger (1519?-1606) was the heir, along with his brother Stanislaw, to the printing house of his father, Marek Szarfenberger, who had emigrated from Silesia to Kraków in the first decade of the 16th c. Marek established a bookshop, bindery, and print shop (as well as seeing to the establishment of two paper mills). In 1561, the Oficyna Dziedziców Marka Scharffenberga, by then operated by Mikolaj and Stanislaw, printed the first Polish translation of the Bible. In 1564 Mikolaj was granted the privilege of printing all documents issued by the Royal Chancery. The Polish king Stefan Batory appointed Mikolaj court printer, requiring Mikolaj to establish an additional, itinerant press to travel with the court. After the death of Mikolaj, the printing house continued in business for another two centuries.

No copies in North America. 9 copies located worldwide: BN (Fr.), Nat. Lib. Sweden, Berlin (DE), Halle (DE), Rostock (DE), Freiburg (DE), Nat. Lib. Poland (2 copies?), Russian State Library, Moscow. *Note that my searching of Polish libraries was not exhaustive.

Estreicher, Bibliografia Polska, II, 1 p.62