Short summary - A Chronicle of the Reign of Charles IX
1572-th city In France - in the midst of religious wars between Catholics and Huguenots. There is a fierce struggle for power, in which the interests of the three main parties - Protestants or Huguenots - clash (after the death of Prince Condé, led by the valiant Admiral Gaspard de Coligny), the royal party, the weakest of the three, and the ultra-royalist party of the Dukes of Guise. King Charles IX, following the principle of Louis XI "divide and rule", diligently incites hostility between the extreme parties. A large part of the nation is involuntarily drawn into it. Passions are heated, clashes on religious grounds constantly occur on the streets, in taverns, private houses, at the court.
A young man from a poor noble family - his name is Bernard de Mergy - goes to Paris to serve under Admiral Coligny. He also hopes that he will be presented to the court. His brother Georges lives in Paris. Bernard, like his father, is a staunch Protestant, and the family considers Georges an apostate, since he converted to Catholicism. On the way, Bernard, due to his frivolity, loses his horse and all his money. But the first one he meets is his brother Georges, whom he once loved dearly and whom even after his apostasy cannot be considered an enemy. Georges and his friends invite Bernard to dine. At this moment, a stranger in a mask drives by on a mule. Georges informs his brother that this is Countess Diane de Turgis, one of the most beautiful ladies at court. Her blue eyes, beautiful black hair and snow-white skin amaze the imagination of a young provincial. Georges brings Bernard home and tells him that the reason for his apostasy was the unworthy behavior of the Prince of Condé, who brutally humiliated him. In general, he does not believe in anything, and the Bible replaces him with Rabelais. It's just that Catholicism is more convenient for him, because, observing external rituals, you can not invest your soul in religion. At Admiral Coligny, Bernard is favorably received thanks to his father's letter of recommendation, as well as his own courage - he does not hesitate to print the message brought to the admiral, which others consider poisoned, since it comes from the Gues, known for their cunning and hatred of Coligny.
Bernard becomes the admiral's cornet. The brothers go on the royal hunt, where Georges intends to introduce Bernard to the court. The collection is scheduled at the Madrid Castle. In the center of attention of the courtiers is the beautiful Diana de Turgis. As she passes Bernard, she drops her glove. Roughly pushing Bernard away, she is lifted up by an insolent admirer of Diana Comenes. Bernard is explained that he must challenge the offender to a duel, which he does. During the hunt, Diana is left alone with Bernard and gives him a miraculous incense. In a duel, the incense saves Bernard's life - a deadly rapier slides over it and only slightly touches the young man. He kills Komenzh with a blow of the Toledo dagger. The wounded Bernard is placed in a secluded house, where he is cared for by a healer who knows a lot about white magic. One night, recovering Bernard accidentally sees a scene of witchcraft - Diana and the healer conjure secret powers to heal Bernard and bewitch him to Diana. However, the young man is already passionately in love without that. He faces severe punishment for murder in a duel. Georges tries to obtain pardon for Bernard, but Admiral Coligny, to whom he applies for intercession before the king, sharply and humiliatingly refuses him. Georges is furious, but does not give vent to his feelings. Bernard was pardoned by the king at the request of the queen, more precisely, Diana de Turgis.
After the duel, Bernard is noticed at court. They show him signs of attention and make fun of his provincial naivete. Diana gives Bernard the key and makes a date. The King invites Georges to an audience. He shows Georges the arquebus and, as if by chance, invites him to take revenge on Admiral Coligny for the insult, killing him with a shot in the back. Georges resolutely refuses. After a while, the king orders him to bring the light-horse detachment, which he commands, to Paris. Returning home, Georges warns the admiral of the danger with an anonymous note, but Coligny ignores it. On August 22, he was wounded by a shot from an arquebus by Morvel, who was nicknamed for this "the killer in the service of the king." In Paris, clouds are gathering, but Bernard in love does not notice anything around. Every night, Bernard and Diana meet in a secluded home. Diana does not give up hope to convert her lover to her faith, but she does not succeed. After the shot at Coligny, clashes break out between young Protestant and Catholic nobles. An angry crowd of townspeople pounces on Bernard, and he only miraculously escapes death.
On the evening of August 24, by order of the king, Georges brings his squad to Paris. One of the most terrible pages in the history of France is approaching - St. Bartholomew's Night. Everything is ready for the action, which is known only to a narrow circle of initiates: the troops loyal to the king are gathered, the militias are armed, the houses of the Huguenots are marked with white crosses. Morvel brings to Georges the order, together with his detachment and the militia, to exterminate the Protestants - enemies of the king at night. Georges indignantly refuses, tears off the insignia and leaves the soldiers, who are embarrassed by the commander's act, but overpowered by the desire to rob the houses of the Huguenots.
Bernard goes on a date with Diana. On the way, he meets a Catholic friend who insistently advises him to leave the city in a hurry. Diana begs Bernard to change his faith, otherwise he will perish, like his like-minded people. Fires are already blazing in the city and the roar of an ecstatic crowd is heard. Bernard is adamant. He is ready to die, but he cannot change himself. In the end, Diana desperately says that this is how she loves him even more. Georges appears. He brings a child to Diana's house, which is handed to him by his dying mother. Diana promises to take care of him.
The massacre continues night, day and several more days, from Paris it goes to the provinces. Murderers revel in the blood of dissidents, and Protestants, many of whom have shown miracles of bravery in war, die meekly without offering any resistance. Charles IX himself "shoots at the game" from his favorite long arquebus. Georges is imprisoned for disobeying the king. Bernard waits several days at Diana's house, and then goes to the fortress of La Rochelle, the most staunch stronghold of the Huguenots in the south of France. Together with the determined inhabitants of the city and the fugitives like him, he is going to sell his life dearly in the event of a siege of the fortress. The king tries to persuade the rebellious city to peace and sends there the friend of Admiral Coligny, the brave Protestant warrior Lana. He leads the city's defenses to gain the confidence of the Larashelites, and finds himself caught between two fires. Bernard becomes his adjutant and does not spare himself in risky forays against the Catholics who besieged the city. One of the sorties turns out to be fatal for him. With a group of soldiers, he ambushes a squad of Catholics. When he orders the soldiers to fire, the leader of the squadron is struck down with two bullets. Bernard recognizes him as Georges. Georges dies in La Rochelle. A Protestant priest and a Catholic monk dispute the right of the last communion, but Georges refuses it. Before his death, he utters bitter words: "I am not the first Frenchman who was killed by my brother ... I believe that I will not be the last either." And then, to console Bernard: "Madame de Turgis asked me to convey that she still loves you." Bernard is inconsolable. After a while, Lana leaves La Rochelle, the royal army lifts the siege, the peace is signed, and Charles IX soon dies. The author invites the readers to decide for themselves what were the further destinies of Bernard and the beautiful Diane de Turgis.