It was among Catherine's first moves as Regent, after the death of Francis II on December 5, 1560. Consistent with Catherine's maneuvering, it attempted to steer a middle course between Protestants and Catholics in order to strengthen royal dominion. Without threatening the privileged position of the Catholic Church in France, the Edict recognized the existence of the Protestants and guaranteed freedom of conscience and private worship. It forbade Huguenot worship within towns (where conflicts flared up too easily) but permitted Protestant synods and consistories.
Within a matter of weeks, the Vassy massacre (March 1, 1562) opened the first religious war, which in fact was a victory for the more intolerant Guise policy and a defeat for the conciliations of Catherine. Though no non-partisan contemporary accounts were possible in the heated atmosphere the massacre at Vassy occurred when the duc de Guise, with a large armed band of retainers came upon a Huguenot service in progress at Vassy. Some of the duke's party attempted to push their way into the barn where the service was being held and were repulsed. Stones began to fly and the Duke was struck. His men fired upon the unarmed crowd, killing some sixty out of six or seven hundred, and wounding more. Significantly, there were more contemporary reactions expressed to the masscre at Vassy than to the Edict of January. Huguenots were as intransigent as Catholics: Theodore Beza remarked to the royal envoy that persecutions are futile and that the Reformed church was like an anvil on which many hammers have been broken.
The Huguenots soon seized Orléans, then towns along the Rhône and other rivers, and Catherine declared that two religions could not exist in France: "un roi, une loi, une foi" was the contemporary catchword. By the summer, events had outpaced the Edict.