Hailed as "entertaining" and "nuanced" by The Economist, Martyrs and Murderers tells the story of three generations of treacherous, bloodthirsty power-brokers. One of the richest and most powerful families in sixteenth-century France, the House of Guise played a pivotal role in the history of Europe. Among the staunchest opponents of the Reformation, they whipped up religious bigotry throughout France. They overthrew the king, ruled Scotland for nearly 20 years through Mary Queen of Scots, plotted to invade England and overthrow Elizabeth I, and ended the century by unleashing the bloody Wars of Religion, before succumbing in a counter-revolution that made them martyrs for the Catholic cause. The history of the Guise family is sensational but true. Though parts of the story are familiar--such as their crucial role in the murder of 4,000 Protestants in the infamous Massacre of Saint Bartholomew--the full scope of their influence has never before been told. Stuart Carroll unravels the legends about this cultivated, charismatic, and violent dynasty, and challenges traditional assumptions about one of Europe's most turbulent eras.
Historian Carroll's measured account of the Guise family in Reformation France offers a nuanced view of a dynasty legendary for its bloody and treacherous defense of Catholicism. Unusually unified for a princely family of the Renaissance, the Guise rose to prominence in the 16th century through dynastic marriage and a coordinated cultivation of the crown, the Church, and the military. Carroll is particularly effective in recounting the intertwined public lives of the soldier François, Duke of Guise (1519–63), and his brother Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine (1525–74), humanists who could tolerate Protestantism (at least among the French upper classes) if it served the family interests as opposed to the violent Counter-Reformation rigidity of later generations. Carroll pointedly gives secondary place to the most famous of the Guise, Mary Queen of Scots, daughter of James V of Scotland and Marie de Guise (sister of François and Charles). Guise conspiracies aimed at toppling Protestant Elizabeth I helped force the hand of the English monarch to execute the family's hapless candidate for her crown. VERDICT This thoughtful, comprehensive, and well-written volume will appeal to those interested in European history but is probably too dense and demanding for the general reader.—Stewart Desmond, New York