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Compiled By: James H. Culbert
Last Revised: 23 Oct 2014

The Huguenots in France

In France in the 1500s, the development of printing was an important factor in the development of the Protestant Reformation.  Religious information was closely held by the established Roman Catholic Church.  Only the educated could read.  And, only the rich could afford to own a Bible, which had to be hand written.  With the development of printing the Bible could be now made available cheaply to everyone, and people eagerly sought it.  The effects caused an awakening to a new religious and political life. 3

In order to halt these changes, the Roman Catholic Church tried to ban the printing of the Bible.  The Church also persecuted the printers and the people who possessed a copy, but it was all in vain.  Charles IX, a boy of ten, succeeded to the throne in 1560, and in defiance of the Papists, in 1562 he issued a royal edict guaranteeing the Protestants the right to worship. 3

Increasing tensions between Roman Catholics and Protestants from the mid-1500's were a result of the growing political influence of the French Protestants, known as Huguenots, and the fear that they would eventually take control of the government. 1  In March, 1563, Huguenots meeting at Wassy (near Joinville in Champagne), France were massacred.  This was the signal for Catholic France to rise against the Protestants, and massacres and the burning of churches occurred throughout the country, igniting a fierce civil war.  By 1570. both factions were unable to continue, and a peace treaty was signed guaranteeing Protestants the right to worship and equality under the law.  However, the queen-mother, Catherine de Medicis, conspired to destroy the Huguenots.  Under the pretense of national reconciliation in the form of a wedding between Henry of Bearn (King of Navarre and leader of the Huguenots) to Margaret (the queen-mother's daughter), King Charles IX ordered the death of the leading Huguenots on St. Bartholomew's Day, 24 Aug 1572, in Paris.  The massacre continued for three days in Paris, and then spread to the countryside and throughout France.  Some say 70-100 thousand people were killed.  Those who survived began to flee France for other countries. 3

The flight of the Huguenots had thus begun, and occurred in four different waves:
1)  During the latter half of the 16th century, due to the persecutions instigated by Catharine de Medici;
2)  In the early 17th century, following the siege of La Rochelle brought about by Richelieu's policies;
3)  After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, when the code of penal laws was instituted; and
4)  Following the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.

The civil war in France continued until Henry IV succeeded to the throne in 1594.  In 1598, Henry issued the Edict of Toleration at Nantes, which again granted the Huguenots the freedom to worship, and allowed them to gain public employment, access to schools, and representation in some parliaments.  However, these privileges only lasted until 1610, when Henry IV was assassinated. 3

Civil war again broke out, and the massacres resumed.  By the 1620s the Protestants had been defeated everywhere in France, and had lost their political power. In 1629, Louis XIII issued the Edict of Pardon, granting Protestants freedom to worship and legal equality.  From then on the Huguenots ceased to be distinguished as a separate political party in France. 3

With the reign of Louis XIV, measures were again imposed upon the Huguenots restricting their religious freedom.  Huguenots again began to leave France, and further edicts were issued restricting travel, forcing their conversion to Catholicism, and destroying the Protestant churches.  In 1683, a pretext was found to begin mass executions of Protestants.  In October 1685, the Act of Revocation of the Edict of Toleration of Nantes spelled the death-knell for the Huguenots, and all remaining Protestant churches were demolished.  Private worship was abolished.  All Protestant ministers were banished from France.  All Protestant schools were closed, and parents were prohibited from instructing their children in their faith.  All property of Protestant refugees, who failed to return to France, was confiscated.  The borders were guarded, and anyone caught escaping the country was sent to the galleys, or to prison for life.  Still, the Huguenots refused to be converted, and continued to flee France as best they could.  It is said that some 300-400 thousand people were successful in gaining their freedom elsewhere, particularly across the frontiers to Switzerland, Luxembourg, Holland, and Germany, and across the water to England. 3

The exodus continued for many years, and in some places entire towns were largely depopulated.  Protestantism ceased to exist in France for almost a century.  France thus lost its middle class, its skilled manufacturers, its merchants, and its other professionals.  Wherever these people settled they began new and industrious businesses that significantly contributed to the wealth and prosperity of their new countries.  France had a noticeable dearth of great men after this time, because most had fled.  Political and religious liberty had ended, replaced by economic stagnation, political depravity, religious hypocrisy, and moral decay. 3

The Huguenots in Ireland

There is evidence to suggest that there were isolated Huguenot arrivals in Ireland in the latter half of the 16th Century, but they resulted in no permanent settlements.  The few Huguenots to arrive in any numbers were almost certainly those brought over by the Lord Lieutenant Ormand in the 1660s to work as weavers on the outskirts of Dublin. 2

The early waves of Huguenot immigrants to Ireland came from the western provinces of France, chiefly Poitou (in Poitiers) and Charente, but after the Revocation in 1685, they were followed by refugees from the Calvinist heartland of the south, principally from Languedoc (in Montpellier, Nīmes).  Some came directly to Ireland from France.  Many more went first to Britain, while others had established provisional refuge in the Swiss cantons, and were later attracted to Ireland by the resettlement schemes created by a key figure, Lord Galway. 2

The most recent research suggests some 5,000 Huguenots arrived, in total, during the last three decades of the 17th Century, bringing with them the essentially urban skills of banking and finance, trade and industry, the professors and administrators, as well as a tradition of investment in or ownership of land. 2

Much of the overland migration from France pivoted around Frankfort, which acted as a primitive clearing house for refugees and their families, of whom only a small proportion ended up in Britain.  Nevertheless, it was from Britain that the majority of Huguenots came to Ireland. 2

The most obvious initial impact made by the Huguenots in Ireland was in the military, and Harman Murtagh's article recreates the contribution of Huguenot regiments to Williamite success in the wars of 1689-1691, including the Battle of the Boyne, which came to have an important symbolic significance in the political discussions of the 20th Century. 2

There are a number of dominant currents that emerge from Huguenot papers.  The Huguenots had an inferior civic status conferred on them by the custom and law of the times.  It was hardship of a peculiarly systematic, institutionalized kind, which these first refugees had to endure.  The highly significant legislation of Charles II, with the Act of 1662, encouraging Protestant strangers to inhabit the Kingdom of Ireland, played a dominant role in the naturalization and settlement policy of the British crown.  And, it was this legislation, renewed and made permanent under George I, that favored the settlement of Huguenots in Ireland. 2

One practical fact is that the exiles had relatively easy access to significant financial reserves in the commercial and financial networks of France and Europe.  As a consequence, the mercantile subjugation of Ireland by Britain may not have been too onerous for Huguenot business houses, and the initial handicap of being a stranger probably became an advantage. 2

The Huguenots survive in the collective folk memory of Ireland as a gentle, industrious community.  Huguenot settlement was relatively free of acrimony and resentment. 2


1 World Book Encyclopedia.

2 Introduction and summary sections of the "Dublin Colloquium on the Huguenot Refuge in Ireland 1685-1985", which was held 9-12 April 1985 at Trinity College, Dublin and published by The Glendale Press in 1987.

3 Samuel Smiles, 1867, The Huguenots: Their Settlements, Churches & Industries in England and Ireland, John Murray, Albemarle Street, London

4 Grace Lawless Lee, The Huguenot Settlements in Ireland, 1936, Longmans, Green & co., London, p. 2


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