1572. Sancerre belfry and the horrible famine

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Sancerre belfry Belfry Tragic destiny Wars of Religion Siege

The city look-out post

Here’s the belfry, symbol of the city mayors' power... We think it was raised by Guillaume Pellevoysin, 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 St-Jean! Church of St-Jean? Err, where is it? Oh, it was destroyed in 1725, when the stony spire fell during a big storm...

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

Sancerre during war of Religion

The persecuted's shelter

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

In 1561, lots of persecuted Protestants arrived in the city: they started to expel Catholics, monks and priests, abolished the Catholic cult and destroyed churches... helped by inhabitants from Sancerre, 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 were regular churchgoers and even took over at the controls of the castle! 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... who sent Claude de La Châtre’s troops for a last assault, which began 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. Yes, the city’s walls resisted... but it was starvation who will 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, mole). Then, they needed something else: they peeled and cooked skins of horses, goats, donkeys, beefs, roasting them. If they had fat, they made fricassee and pâté.

But one day, they ate all the beasts. So they ate paper scrolls, that were 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, the wine-maker Simon Potard and his wife killed their daughter (3 years-old) to eat 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.

And also!