A Brief History of the HUGUENOTS

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The dominant reformer in the generation after Luther and Zwingli was John Calvin, a French theologian who settled in Geneva in 1536. Calvin's reforms were not as radical as those of Zwingli, but they were accompanied by a severe regime that in effect combined church and state in order to enforce moral and doctrinal conformity. Calvin wrote the first systematic exposition of Protestant theology, set up a democratic presbyterian church government, and founded influen tial educational institutions that trained men such as John Knox, who introduced Calvinism into Scotland, where it became the established Presbyterian church. Calvinism also spread to France, where its adherents were known as < I>Huguenots, and to Holland, where it reinforced the Dutch determination to achieve independence from Catholic Spain.

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Huguenots, name given to the Protestants of France from about 1560 to 1629. Protestantism was introduced into France between 1520 and 1523, and its principles were accepted by many members of the nobility, the intellectual classes, and the middle class. At first the new religious group enjoyed royal protection, notably from Queen Margaret of Navarre and her brother, King Francis I of France. Toward the end of his reign, however, Francis persecuted the Protestants; his successor, Henry II, followed his example. Nevertheless, the French Protestants increased in number. At their first national synod (1559), or council, 15 churches were represented. At the next, held two years later, more than 2000 churches sent representatives.

Civil War

The rise in the number of French Protestants excited the alarm and hatred of the French Roman Catholics. The religious hatred was intensified by political rivalry between the house of Valois, then in possession of the French throne, an d the house of Guise. Catherine de Médicis, widow of Henry II, who governed in the name of her son, King Charles IX, at times allied herself with the Huguenots for political reasons, but generally sided against them . The Huguenots were persecuted severely in Charles's reign, and they in turn made reprisals upon the Roman Catholics. Finally, open civil war broke out. Between 1562 and 1598 eight bitter wars were fought between French Roman Catholi cs and Protestants.

The Huguenot leaders in the first of the nearly four decades of conflict were Louis I de Bourbon, prince de Condé, and the French admiral Gaspard de Coligny; subsequently they were led by Henry of Navarre, later Henr y IV, king of France.

The principal Roman Catholic leaders were Henri I de Lorraine, 3rd duc de Guise; Catherine de ME9dicis; and King Henry III. Each side from time to time called on foreign help. The Huguenots obtai ned troops from England, Germany, and Switzerland; the Roman Catholics, from Spain. The treaties that concluded the wars usually granted the Huguenots some measure of tolerance, but the government's subsequent ignoring or outright rep udiation of the terms of the treaties led to a renewal of hostilities. The greatest act of treachery of the period took place in 1572. Two years previously, Catherine and Charles IX had signed a treaty with the Huguenots granting them freedom of worship; they had remained onfriendly terms with the Huguenots, calling Coligny to court, where he enjoyed great influence. Having lulled the Huguenots into a feeling of security, on August 25, 1572, St. Bartholomew's Day, the queen mother and the king caused thousands of them to be massacred in Paris and elsewhere in France. Coligny was found and killed by the duc de Guise himself.

The eighth civil war took place during the reign of Henry III, successor to Charles IX. The Huguenots, now led by Henry of Navarre, inflicted (1587) a crushing defeat upon the Roman Catholics at Coutras. Strife among the Catholics them selves, which resulted in the assassinations of the duc de Guise in 1588 and Henry III in 1589, helped the Huguenot cause. With the death of Henry III the house of Valois became extinct, and Henry of Navarre, the first of the Bourbon line, became king of France as Henry IV. To avoid further civil strife, he conciliated the Roman Catholics by converting to Catholicism in 1593. In 1598 Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes, by which the Huguenots received almost compl ete religious freedom.

An End to Persecution

Under Henry IV the Huguenots became a strong power in France. To break this power, which stood in the way of the absolutist type of government that the next two kings of France, Louis XIII and, particularly, Louis XIV, wished to impose on the country, both monarchs instigated new persecutions of the Huguenots, and new civil wars took place. The French statesman and cardinal Richelieu caused the political downfall of the Huguenots with the capture (1628), after a lo ng siege, of their principal stronghold, La Rochelle. Thereafter he sought to conciliate the Protestants. Louis XIV, however, persecuted them mercilessly, and on October 18, 1685, he revoked the Edict of Nantes. Finding life in France intolerable under the ensuing persecutions and evaporation of religious liberty, hundreds of thousands of Huguenots fled to England, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the English colonies in North America , including Massachusetts, New York, and South Carolina. The total emigration is believed to have been from 400,000 to 1 million, with about 1 million Protestants remaining in France. Thousands of Protestants settled in the Cévennes mountain region of France and became known as Camisards; the attempt of the government to extirpate them resulted in the Camisard War (170205).

The enlightened and religiously skeptical spirit of the 18th century, however, was opposed to religious persecution, and during this time the French Protestants gradually regained many of their rights. Although Louis XV issued an edict in 1752 declaring marriages and baptisms by Protestant clergymen null and void, under Louis XVI the edict was recalled. After 1787, Protestant marriages were declared legal, and Protestants were granted other rights as well. Several laws passed later in the 19th century gave full religious freedom to all French sects, including the Protestants. In the 19th and 20th centuries French Protestants, although comparatively few in number, have been influential in French life, playing an important part in education, law, and finance, and in general taking a liberal stand on social reform.

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