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Huguenot History

The Huguenot movement began to take shape after 31st October 1517 with the publication of MARTIN LUTHER's 95 theses against corruption in the Roman Catholic Church - the only official Christian church in Europe at the time. He soon had many supporters throughout Europe who became known as PROTESTANTS.

JOHN CALVIN was a French Protestant who published his Institutin Christianae Religionis in 1536. He was particularly well supported by Protestants in Switzerland, France, Scotland and the Netherlands. The origin of Huguenot, as applied to the dissenters from the Church of Rome is uncertain, but is supposed to have been derived from Hugeon, a word used in Touraine to signify persons who walk at night. Their only safe place of worship for one hundred years had been dark caves and the blue vault of the heavens. Use of the term "Huguenot" dates from approximately 1550 when it was used in court cases against "heretics" (dissenters from the Roman Catholic Church). As nickname and even abusive name it's use was banned in the regulations of the Edict of Nantes which Henry IV (Henry of Navarre, who himself earlier was a Huguenot) issued in 1559. The French Protestants themselves preferred to refer to themselves as "réformees" (reformers) rather than "Huguenots". It was much later that the name "Huguenot" became an honorary one.

The Roman Catholic Monarchy oppressed the Huguenot movement, considering it to be a threat to both the Church and the might of the King. "Une foi, un loi, un roi," (one faith, one law, one king). This traditional saying gives some indication of how the state, society, and religion were all bound up together in people's minds and experience. Religion had formed the basis of the social consensus of Europe for a millenium. Since Clovis, the French monarchy in particular had closely tied itself to the church -- the church sanctified its right to rule in exchange for military and civil protection. France was "the first daughter of the church" and its king "The Most Christian King" (le roy tres chretien), and no one could imagine life any other way.

The persecution of the Huguenots began during the rule of FRANCIS I (1515-1547) and became particularly bad while HENRY II (1547-1559) was on the throne. A general edict which encouraged the extermination of the Huguenots was issued on 29 January 1536 in France.

The next king was FRANCIS II (1544-1560) who was a minor, married to Mary, Queen of Scots. After his sudden death he was succeded by his brother CHARLES IX (1560-1574), also a minor, whose mother, CATHERINE DE MEDICI acted as Regent. She tried to promote peace between the Catholics and Protestants by granting certain privileges to the Huguenots by means of the EICT OF ST GERMAIN (17th January, 1561).

The peace became short-lived when on 1st March, 1562 a number of Catholics descended on a large Huguenot assembly in Vassy, killing 1200. This ignited the the Wars of Religion which would rip apart, devastate, and bankrupt France for the next three decades. Numerous attempts at bringing about peace followed, but proved unsuccessful.

By August 1570, the Regent Catherine de Medici was forced to declare the PEACE OF ST GERMAIN to prevent the Huguenots from taking Paris. Their leader and spokesman, Gaspard de Coligny, succeded in obtaining freedom of religious practice in all cities except Paris. DE COLIGNY was an Admiral of France as well as Governor of Picardy. He joined the Protestants in 1559. The Peace of St Germain had illustrated clearly just how much power was vested in the Huguenots. The Catholics feared this power and it was decided to eliminate the Huguenots, particularly their leaders. With the marriage of Prince HENRY OF NAVARRE, a Huguenot, to Marguerite de Valois (daughter of Catherine de Medici) on 23rd and 24th August, 1572 a golden opportunity presented itself. It happened during the wedding, when thousands of Huguenots converged on Paris for the wedding celebrations.

At some point during the night of August 23, the decision was taken at the Louvre to kill Coligny and the Huguenot leaders gathered around him. Charles IX was certainly there along with Catherine de' Medici and Henri d'Anjou. It may not have been originally intended to be a general massacre. Charles IX was reputedly badgered into this decision by Catherine and his councillors, and when he finally broke he is alleged to have said, "Well, then kill them all that no man be left to reproach me."

During the early hours of Sunday morning, a troop of soldiers came to Coligny's door. They killed the guard that opened the door, and rushed through the house. Coligny was dragged from his bed, stabbed, and thrown out the window to the pavement below. Reputedly the Duc de Guise mocked the body, kicking him in the face and announcing that this was the king's will. Rumors ran thick and fast, and somehow the militia and the general population went on a rampage, believing themselves to be fully sanctioned by the king and the church. Catholics identified themselves with white crosses on their hats, and went around butchering their neighbors. The neighborhood militias played a very significant role in the slaughter. The killing went on for 3 days or so, with the city councillors and the king unable to bring the whole thing under control. On Sunday morning August 24th, 1572, Catherine de' Medici personally walked through the streets of Paris to inspect the carnage. During this Feast of ST BARTHOLOMEW, more than 8000 Huguenots were massacred in Paris by the soldiers of the King. There are numerous tales of atrocities, occasional ones of courage and compassion. Historians have debated what really happened and why in excruciating detail ever since.

The Louvre itself was not immune. Henri de Navarre slept in his bridal suite with an entourage of 40 Huguenot gentlemen, all of whom were killed. Henri and his cousin, the Prince de Condé (another Henri, the son of the late Louis who had been the champion of the churches), were dragged before the king and threatened with death if they did not convert. They did, and Navarre became a prisoner of the court for the next four years, living in constant fear of his life.

The massacres spread to the provinces over the next few months. Some thought they had directives from the crown to kill all the Protestants, others thought there was no such thing. The actions of the governors and mayors depended very much on the individuals and the circumstances in their areas. Areas with vocal Protestant minorities often suffered the most.

The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, as it came to be known, destroyed an entire generation of Huguenot leadership. Henri de Navarre was a prisoner, not yet a known quality as a leader. Condé eventually escaped to Germany, and Andelot, Coligny's younger brother, was an exile in Switzerland. Although it wasn't clear at the time, this was the beginning of the decline of the Protestant church in France. In spite of the wars, the '60s had seen an enthusiastic growth in the Religion. Over the months following, many Protestants despaired and abjured their faith. The experience radicalised many of the survivors, creating a profound distrust of the king, an unwillingness to disarm, and an upsurge in the political rhetoric of resistance

Numerous Religious Wars followed under the leadership of Charles IX. Charles IX was succeded by his brother HENRY III (1574-1589). As he was childless, he was succeeded by Henry of Navarre as HENRY IV (1589-1610). Henry of Navarre's life was spared by pretending to support the Roman Catholic faith. He made his "perilous leap"and abjured his faith in July 1593,  and 5 years later he was the undisputed monarch as King Henry IV (le bon Henri, the good Henry) of France. Having adopted Catholicism for political reasons, Henry IV yet remained well disposed towards the Huguenots. He was able to bring an end to the Religious Wars through the PEACE OF VERVINS. On 13th April, 1598 through the proclamation of the EDICT OF NANTES he provided the Huguenots with more religious and political freedom than ever before. The Huguenots were allowed to practice their faith in 20 specified French "free" cities. France became united and a decade of peace followed.

In his appempt to impose an absolute monarchy (the divine right of kings) in France, Cardinal RICHELIEU, Prime Minister to LOUIS XIII (1610-1643) decided to deprive the Huguenots of all political freedom, even in their fortified cities. In reaction the Huguenots decided in 1621 to resume the Religious Wars. Despite Huguenot opposition, Richelieu took their last fortified city, LA ROCHELLE on 28th October 1628. The MERCIFUL EDICT OF NîMES (1629) gave the Huguenots a certain right of existence but their political power was permanently removed

After the death of Louis XIII in 1643, his widow, ANNE OF AUSTRIA acted as regent for their son. In the same year Cardinal MAZARIN succeeded Richelieu who had died the previous year. Under their leadership there was a certain measure of tolerance towards the Huguenots. During the civil wars known as the FRONDE RESISTANCE (1648-1652) the Huguenots were loyal to Mazarin and were duly rewarded by the DECLARATION OF ST GERMAIN (1652) in which the King expressed his satisfaction with their behaviour. Shortly after this, however, their privileges were further limited and the last Protestant or Huguenot Synod met in Loudin in 1659.

After the death of Mazarin in 1661, LOUIS XIV (1643-1715) the Sun King, began his reign. He went to great lengths to convert the Huguenots. When even the billeting of dragoons in Huguenot households, the infamous DRAGONNADES, had no effect Louis proclaimed the EDICT OF FONTAINEBLEAU on 17th October, 1685.

The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, signed by Louis XIV on 22 October 1685, increased persecutions of the Huguenots again. There was no safety for a Huguenot in France. The galleys, dungeon or the stake was the alternative. All possible avenues of escape were closed by the king and his troops. He did not want to lose the people; he wanted to save their souls, but the Huguenots did not see it in that light. The rich sacrificed their wealth, and the poor the little mite that they possessed, for the sake of life and liberty.

The Huguenots, as a class, were the bone and sinew of France. They had become a prominent factor among all classes, from noble to peasant. The followers of Luther and Calvin were the bone and sinew of the states, and in a general way, represented the best class of inhabitants. The nobility were wealthy, the merchants and manufacturers prosperous, and the poorer classes sober and industrious. It is estimated that the loss to France by the Huguenot persecutions, first and last, was about 400,000. Manufactures and the arts were paralyzed, and the whole country suffered from its effects for one hundred years. Louis and his predecessors sowed the vipers' eggs that a century later brought Louis XVI and his court to the guillotine. Thus, in a measure, did time avenge the martyred Huguenots.

North, South, East and West, they fled for life and liberty; by highways, byways, wild mountain passes, forest trails, by sea. or land, enclosed in casks, or in the foul holds of merchant vessels bound to some foreign port. Any future prospect was preferable to a life in France. Holland, Germany, Ireland and England gave them shelter, even benighted Russia gave a home to French exiles, and little Switzerland was full of refugees.

 After Revocation, some 80,000 French manufacturers and workmen fled to the British Isles, bring such industries as paper making, silk makers, tanners, furniture making, silver smithing. England became an exporter, rather than an importer of such items as velvets, satins, silks, taffetas, laces, gloves, buttons, serge cloth, beaver and felt hats, linen, ironware, cutlery, feathers, fans, girdles, pins, needles, combs, soap, viengar and many more items manufacturered by the new Huguenot citizens. But life in another country was not without its problems, not only of language but also when the hard-working, frugal Huguenots came into competition with the local people. 

The English laborer was jealous of the superior workmanship of the French emigrant; and it remained for America to make a final safe and happy home for the Huguenots of France. Between 1618 and 1725 about 7,000 to 10,000 Huguenot refugees reached the shores of America. The largest concentration was in Virginia, South Carolina, New England, New York, and Pennsylvania. The Huguenots began arriving in Virginia and South Carolina as early as 1688. In the period between late 1699 and early 1700 there were five embarkations from England to Virginia and Carolina. The names of 3 of the 5 ships which transported Huguenots were 'Peter and Anthony', 'Nassau' and 'Mary Ann.'  Peter de Reynaud was listed as a passenger aboard the 'Peter and Anthony'.  The 'Mary Ann' was the first ship to arrive in Virginia (at the mouth of the James River).

Thousands of Huguenots had settled in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas by the early 1700's. Many of these were artisans, following trades in the New World that they had learned in the Old: blacksmiths, coopers, gunsmiths, farmers, manufacturers, and clockmakers. And many were young and newly married, a younger population being more willing to undertake the long and dangerous ocean voyage.  These French-speaking settlers quickly moved into all aspects of life in the young colonies.  Because England and the American colonies were at war with France, many of them anglicized their names to more easily fit into American society.  Among these settlers were Lewis de Reynaud/Reno/Reneau and his family.

 

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