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1572. Sancerre belfry and the horrible famine

The belfry | / CC-BY-NC-SA
Belfry Wars of Religion Siege Tragic destiny Sancerre belfry

The city look-out post

This is the belfry, symbol of the city mayors' power... We think it was raised by Guillaume Pellevoysin, an architect from Bourges.

We also known it as Saint-Jean's tower, because in the past it was used as a bell-tower for church of Saint-Jean! A church destroyed in 1725, when the stony spire fell during a storm...

The tower and its city mayors echoe the terrible siege of Sancerre, in 1572... they probably gathered in the belfry, to talk about the city’s fate.

Sancerre during war of Religion

The persecuted's shelter

During wars of Religion, Protestants took shelter in safe places, where people could welcome them: Sancerre was one of those cities. With its impregnable castle, nothing could scare Sancerre!

In 1561, persecuted Protestants arrived in the city: they started to expel Catholics, monks and priests, abolish the Catholic cult and destroy churches... helped by inhabitants they succeeded in galvanizing!


King of France Charles IX sent an army in 1568, to calm down the city: a complete collapse! The royal troops were defeated in Chavignol.

In 1569, a brand new army led by Italian Sciarra Martinengo, François Balzac d'Entragues from Orléans and Claude de La Châtre from Berry attacked Sancerre.

But despite two open breaches, people in Sancerre resisted and pushed back troops, who surrendered after 5 weeks of siege.

Hunted down...

After the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572, Protestants were more and more numerous in Sancerre. They elected the city mayor André Johanneau as their governor.

But outside the walls, everything went wrong... After the Day Massacre in Paris, the terror was at its height everywhere in the area: Gien, Bourges, Nevers...

They hunted Protestants down. And Huguenots from Sancerre started to get on the king’s nerves... Claude de La Châtre’s troops was sent for a last assault, in January 1572. This time, no more good laughs!

Cannons balls shot through the air, everywhere. Assaults became more intense. People in Sancerre, who had always resisted, thought they were invincible. The city’s walls resisted... but it was starvation who would kill them!

An apocalyptic siege

Apocalyptic scenes took place. A man called Jean de Léry, a Protestant minister who lived in Sancerre, described them in his book Histoire mémorable du siège de Sancerre, published in 1574.

Inhabitants ate everything they had (the lesser grass clump, cats, rats). Then, they needed something else: they peeled and cooked skins of horses, goats, donkeys, beefs. If they had fat, they made fricassee and pâté.

But one day, they ate all the beasts. So they ate paper scrolls, soaked two days in water; then candle tallow, nut shells or crushed slate to make bread; "horses droppings" cooked in tallow and mixed with herbs...

Well, then, cannibalism took place. At the height of horror, on July 20th, wine-maker Simon Potard and his wife killed their 3 years-old daughter and ate her. The man was burnt alive and the woman strangled... Broken, exhausted, people from Sancerre finally surrendered on August 19th 1572...

King ordered to remove the belfry’s bell, to punish the city from its resistance: they took it in Bourges, where it stayed for 4 centuries... Sancerre get it back at the end of the 20th century.

About the the author

I'm fond of strolls and History, with juicy and spicy details!