The Sixth War of Religion (December 1576-September 1577) was a short conflict triggered by the terms that had ended the Fifth War, but it ended with stalemate and a similar peace settlement.
The Fifth War of Religion had been ended by the controversial Edict of Beaulieu (5 May 1576). This granted the Huguenots freedom of worship outside Paris and the Royal Court, and gave them eight security towns in Languedoc, Guyenne, Dauphiné and Provence. The Estates General was to be called within six months, and courts were to be set up with equal numbers of Catholics and Huguenots to try crimes involved Huguenots. The Huguenot leaders were rewarded – Henry III’s brother Alençon was made duc d’Anjou and given Berry and Touraine. Condé was restored as governor of Picardy and Damville as governor of Languedoc. The new duke of Anjou would remain loyal to his brother for the rest of his life.
Henry III soon faced opposition to the peace treaty. He had to force the Parlement of Paris to register it, and Catholic defensive associations began to appear. In Picardy Jacques d’Humières, the governor of Péronne begged the king not to restore Condé as governor, and gained the support of 150 noblemen. Another association, the League of Péronne, was set up to make sure that the province remained in Catholic hands. This league rapidly expanded, and soon had associates across most of Catholic France. Condé was given Saint Hean d’Angely and Cognac instead, and quickly took possession of them.
Henry III was placed in a difficult situation, attempting to defend a peace treaty that he didn’t really support. He hoped that the Estates-General would help break the deadlock, especially after very few Huguenots were elected. He also attempted to take over the League movement. On 2 December he sent out a deed of association to be signed by the provincial governors. They would agree to fund armed forces in each province, to form the army of a Catholic League with Henry at its head.
As expected, the Estates-General opposed the peace, and voted for the restoration of religious unity in France, effectively voting for the elimination of Protestantism. On 3 January 1577 Henry declared that he could no longer tolerate the presence of two religions in France and intended to eradicate heresy. However having given Henry the excuse he needed for war, the Estates-General now refused to fund him properly. The clergy provided him with a small sum, but the other Estates blamed Henry’s shortage of funds on his own extravagance. The king did have one success, convincing Damville to abandon the Huguenot cause.
Henry III did manage to scrape together enough money to raise an army of 20 companies of gendarmerie, 60 companies of infantry, 18 cannon, six smaller guns, and enough powder and shot for 10,000 discharges, but he could only afford to fund it for one month. The army was officially commanded by Anjou, but was really led by the duc de Nevers. Nevers’s first targets were the eight security towns granted to the Huguenots at the end of the Fifth War of Religion.
The Huguenots began to rearm in Poitou and Guyenne in the west and south-west, although the Royal army never reached that area.
Anjou’s first target was the town of La Charité-sur-Loire, just over 100 miles to the south of Paris. The siege began on 24 April 1577 and the town surrendered on 2 May, after a very short siege. The Royal army then continued to move south, and besieged the town of Issoire, another 100 miles south in Auvergne. The town held out until 12 June, and was then sacked after surrendering. The army then turned west to head towards the Huguenot strongholds, crossing the Limousin. However by now Nevers was short of ammunition, and Henry had run out of money, so the army had to be recalled.
The Huguenots had been active during this period. Navarre and Condé raised their own armies, and attacked Brouage, on the Bay of Biscay, close to the Huguenot stronghold of la Rochelle. Brouage soon fell to them, and English aid began to reach them in August.
Henry III was left with little choice other than to come to terms. The Peace of Bergerac was agreed on 14 September 1577. Most of the terms of the edict of Beaulieu remained in place, although the freedom of Protestant worship was restricted to a single town in each judicial district of France.
This time the peace was more stable. There was a brief flaring up of violence in 1579-1580 (the Seventh War of Religion or ‘Lover’s War’), but this was limited in scope. The peace finally collapsed after the death of Anjou left the Protestant Henry of Navarre as the heir to the throne. This triggered an armed uprising by the more extreme Catholics, led by Henri de Guise, starting the lengthy Eighth War of Religion (September 1585-April 1598).