Monday, 19 October 2015
The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve (1966).
Time for another look at an historical event as seen through the lens of the time-traveling Doctor.
On screen, the Doctor and his companion Steven Taylor arrive in Paris in the late summer of 1572. The Doctor decides to go and seek out the apothecary Charles Preslin. Steven is left in a tavern, where he meets a group of young Huguenots.
The city is full of visitors who have come to celebrate the wedding of Marie de Medici, of the Catholic Royal Family, to Henri of Navarre, a Protestant. The Queen Mother, Catherine de Medici, hopes that the union will help to soothe the religious turmoils besetting the country. France is a predominantly Catholic realm, and Protestants are tolerated at best, but persecuted in many regions.
Steven gets involved with a conspiracy which is being planned by the Abbot of Amboise - who just happens to look exactly like the Doctor. A servant named Anne, who works for the Abbot, has learned of a planned massacre. Steven has to protect her from the Catholic forces, but makes an enemy of his Huguenot friends when he identifies the Abbot as his acquaintance.
The Abbot is behind a plot to assassinate Admiral de Coligny - the leading Protestant minister who is liked by young King Charles IX. When this plot fails - the Admiral only being wounded - the Abbot is killed, and Steven thinks it is the Doctor who has died.
Fearing that the Protestants will rebel against them, Catherine de Medici decides on a preemptive attack on them.
Steven eventually manages to find the Doctor alive and well at Preslin's shop. On learning the date - 23rd August - the Doctor realises they are in grave danger and they depart - just as the massacre of the Huguenots begins...
The story is credited to writer John Lucarotti, but much of it belongs to script editor Donald Tosh. Of all the periods of Earth's history visited by the Doctor, this is one of the most obscure. Many people know of the broad strokes of the Reformation / Counter-Reformation, but specific events in individual European countries have never made it to British school syllabuses - except for Henry VIII. Viewers in 1966 would mostly be finding out about the events of St Bartholomew's Day, 1572, for the first time.
One thing to mention straight off is the title of this story. It is generally shortened to The Massacre. The full title is wrong - as the massacre took place on the feast day itself - not it's eve.
As the story covers the build-up to the massacre, the word "Eve" should really be put to the beginning of the title.
Tosh has done his homework, as events which form the background to the story are fairly accurate. The Doctor look-alike Abbot of Amboise is entirely fictional.
The Catholic Queen Mother really did want the marriage of her daughter to Henri of Navarre - the future King Henri IV of France - to soothe tensions, but she wasn't hopeful of its success. She was unhappy at the influence Gaspar de Coligny had over the young King Charles IX. de Coligny was hoping to dissuade France from taking action against the Protestant Dutch, and this went against the policies of the Catholic ministers.
The Admiral was shot in the street on his way home from a cabinet meeting, and was badly wounded. The city was full of Huguenot supporters of Henri, and they were naturally incensed at the attack on their leader. Fearing Catholics would be massacred, the decision was taken to kill every Protestant who could be found in the city.
The signal for the massacre to begin was the tolling of the bells of the church of St Germain-l'Auxerrois, close to the palace of the Louvre. The medieval tower can still be seen today. de Coligny was dragged from his sick bed, killed, and his body dumped from an upper window. King Charles is said to have shot Huguenots for sport from the palace windows.
The killing went on throughout the 24th of August. Massacres then spread out from Paris to take in all of France over the next couple of weeks. The exact death tolls are not known, but it has been estimated that about 2000 died in Paris, with a further 3000 in the provinces.
In the longer term, all of Catherine de Medici's sons became king - but all were short-lived. Charles died 2 years after the Massacre. His brother Henri III was assassinated. As mentioned above, Henri of Navarre eventually became king, though he had to convert to Catholicism to do so. He is said to have claimed that "Paris is well worth a mass". He introduced religious tolerance policies, such as the Edict of Nantes, allowing Protestants to practice their faith unmolested. Ultimately, he was also assassinated - by a Catholic fanatic.
It was the events of 24th August 1572 that introduced the word "massacre" to common parlance. One consequence for England, was the influx of Huguenot refugees to the City of London. You can see their houses if you take a walk around the Spitalfields area - as my next post will show.
Sadly, you can't enjoy this Doctor Who story any more - it no longer exists in the archives except for its soundtrack.