This dissertation is a cultural, religious, and military history of the experiences of besieged Protestants and Catholics during the French Civil Wars through 1575. It is a cross confessional and comparative study that examines dozens of eyewitness siege accounts and other sources born of the awful crucible of siege warfare, exploring how contemporary Christians understood their relationship to God, to each other, and to the distant past in the midst of chaos and trauma. It focuses on the ways in which French Huguenots and Catholics attempted to make sense of their siege experiences by appropriating the identities of the Israelites of the Hebrew Bible and Gentiles of classical pagan antiquity.
This dissertation is composed of three large and moving blocks of material: a narrative of key siege campaigns in the French religious wars; a treatment of the written narratives which came out of those campaigns, and a thematic exploration and analysis of the place of ancient texts—particularly the Hebrew Bible—in informing and structuring the combatants’ sense of themselves and their enemies. These three components are both integrated and layered atop one another throughout this study.
Whereas francophone Roman Catholics leaned more exclusively on ancient pagan exemplars—as well as on those of the early and medieval church—during times of crisis, I argue that Huguenots turned more pronouncedly to the Old Testament to make sense of their experiences. I illuminate how these distinctive self-perceptions helped sixteenth- century Christians to understand what it meant to be human in an period of severe social, religious, and political turmoil and in the darker shadows of divine providence.
Chapter One examines the siege literature of 1550-1562. It begins with Artus Desiré’s portrayal of the coming religious conflict as a siege assault by members of the “synagogue of Geneva” against the Catholic city of God. It then juxtaposes the political motivations of the French siege defense of Metz (1552) with the confessional concerns of the siege narrators of the First Civil War. Chapter Two investigates Catholic providential interpretations of the successful siege defense of the Catholic city of Chartres during the second conflict, exploring how successive generations of Chartrain siege historians revised both the Virgin Mary’s alleged role in delivering the city as well as the historical understanding of the morality and devotion of the Chartres’ Catholic defenders. Chapter Three compares the distinctively classical identity assumed in Marin Liberge’s Catholic account of the siege of Poitiers with the Israelite identities appropriated by Protestants in the sieges of Navarrenx, Niort, Saint Jean d’Angély, and Lusignan. Chapter Four juxtaposes Jean de Léry’s distinctly negative understanding of what it meant to be a besieged Israelite with the more optimistic conception of Hebrew identity appropriated by the ministers at La Rochelle during the Fourth Civil War.