Atrocity and Massacre in the Early Modern World

Contemporaries in Ireland, England and Europe interpreted the Irish rebellion of 1641 as part of a universal catholic plot to destroy the protestant faith. Martyrologies, such as Samuel Clarke’s, and new editions of John Foxe, contextualised the Irish rebellion alongside earlier persecutions.
During the early modern period, several notorious sectarian massacres were committed by both Catholics and Protestants across Europe and the Americas. In 1572, thousands of French Protestants were murdered by Parisian Catholics, an event which helped shape European Protestant identity and reinforced the idea that Catholicism was akin to tyranny. Batholomé de las Casas, a Spanish bishop who accompanied Spanish forces to South America, alleged that they massacred 20 million native Americans. English polemicists pointed to the religion of the Spanish soldiers to explain the extent of this barbarity. In 1655, the catholic duke of Savoy ordered his troops to clear the Waldensian Valley of Protestants. Many historians explain these atrocities as part of a wider ‘General Crisis’ across Europe, and it is clear that memories of these massacres captured the popular imagination and shaped religious identities not just in Ireland and Britain, but also in Europe and the wider world.

Bartholomé de las Casas, An account of the first voyages and discoveries made by the Spaniards in America. Containing the most exact relation hitherto publish'd, of their unparallel'd cruelties on the Indians, in the destruction of above forty millions of people (London, 1699), produced by the courtesy of the Board of Trinity College, Dublin

Bartholomé de las Casas, An account of the first voyages and discoveries made by the Spaniards in America. Containing the most exact relation hitherto publish'd, of their unparallel'd cruelties on the Indians, in the destruction of above forty millions of people (London, 1699), produced by the courtesy of the Board of Trinity College, Dublin

Sir John Skinner, A true relation of the unjust, cruel, and barbarous proceedings against the English at Amboyna in the East Indies by the Netherlandish governour and councell there (London, 1632), produced by the courtesy of the Board of Trinity College, Dublin

Sir John Skinner, A true relation of the unjust, cruel, and barbarous proceedings against the English at Amboyna in the East Indies by the Netherlandish governour and councell there (London, 1632), produced by the courtesy of the Board of Trinity College, Dublin