Although it comprised only a tiny minority of the population (no more than ten per-cent), the French Huguenot or Calvinist faith, and its rapid spread in France, had the effect of destabilizing the country by the early 1560s. The Huguenot struggle for toleration, for the acceptance of two faiths under one ruler, and the ensuing wars of religion (1562-1598) were the occasion of some of the sixteenth century's worst excesses of religious extremism. Nonetheless, this struggle also gave rise to eloquent pleas for toleration and, with the Edict of Nantes (1598) at the end of the conflict, to state-imposed, if ultimately temporary and limited, religious freedom.
The famous painting of the Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre in Paris on 24 August 1572 depicts scenes from the most notorious incident in the French wars of religion and one of the most striking examples of the extremes of religious intolerance in the age. The Huguenot (French Calvinist) painter, François Dubois is reputed to have been an eyewitness to the massacre of thousands of his fellow Huguenots on the streets of Paris.