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Book Review:

The French Wars of Religion, 1562 - 1629, by Mack P. Holt

Part of the "New Approaches to European History" series from Cambridge University Press.
Published 1995, ISBN: 0-521-35873-6.
Price: approx. $15.00 US.

For those who are interested not just in re-creating battles on the tabletop, but also learning about the conflicts that they game, this book is an excellent choice. While not going into any kind of detail regarding the military aspects of the French Wars of Religion, this 239-page book provides a tremendous amount of insight into the evolving nature of the conflict. As overall background reading, this book is perhaps the best I have yet read - it is not overly academic in tone, making it accessible to the hobbyist, but neither does it gloss the fundamental issues that lay at the heart of these wars.

Mack P. Holt is a professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia (or was at the time of writing). One interesting aspect of this book is that he does not recognize the Edict of Nantes in 1598 as ending the French Wars of Religion, but extends them out to the Peace of Alais in 1629. This provides more continuity with 17th-Century struggles over religious issues, such as the Thirty Years' War. Perhaps this re-definition of the period is the result of Holt's belief that the "Wars of Religion" really were about religion, which contradicts the conventional view of historians that religion was merely a cover for more politically-based conflicts. Holt thinks of "religion" not as the practice of a creed, but as the entire culture that builds itself around that creed, making this argument more plausible.

The writing style is both accessible, as mentioned above, and enjoyable - this book was a breeze to get through, and it helped to clarify many of the very complicated issues surrounding these wars. The shift in the basic antagonism from "Hugenot-versus-Catholic" to "moderates-versus-Catholic League" is clearly explained, and the increasing stress on the peasantry of France during this period is examined. (I was delighted to discover that the red stocking caps associated with the French Revolution were worn by revolting peasants during this era as well!)

The book has a good index, and also has a set of brief biographies of the major historical figures of the conflict, which are useful to those unfamiliar with this period of history. A good chronological listing, and supplemental maps and charts also serve to make this book easier to understand, and useful as a reference.

Overall, this book is highly recommended. It should be available through major book stores in the U.S. (I got mine off the shelf at a Border's Bookstore, so you should be able to get it anywhere!)

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