Back to France
In France the term Huguenots was used to denote French Calvinist Protestants.
A first synod of church reformers in Paris in 1539 constituted a Reformed Church, Eglise réformée, on Calvinist lines whose adherents became known as Huguenots. They grew to become a significant minority in many areas of France by the time of their second synod in Poitiers in 1561.
Catherine de' Medici summoned the French Catholic bishops and the Protestant ministers in 1561 to the Colloquy of Poissy (Disputatio Pussicena). Although no agreement could be reached on dogma, it paved the way for the Edict of Saint-Germain in January 1562 which granted state recognition of the cult for the first time and extended a degree of tolerance to French Protestants.
The period of 1562 to 1598 is known as the Wars of Religion in reference to a series of eight civil wars in which the kingdom of France was divided on religious lines as warring noble families fought for control of the crown. Catholic France allied itself with Savoy, Spain, and the papacy to form the Catholic League; the Huguenots received support from England, the Netherlands, and the German Protestant states. During this period the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre occurred in 1572: beginning in Paris, thousands of Huguenots were murdered; in the following days thousands more were killed in Aix, Bordeaux, Bourges, Lyon, Meaux, Orleans, Rouen, Toulouse, and Troyes.
This period formally ended with the Edict of Nantes in 1598 which restored tolerance to the Huguenots and emigration pressure lessened though persecutions continued. Persecution began to build again and in 1685 the Edict of Fontainebleau revoked the Edict of Nantes and ordered the closure of Huguenot temples and schools: the Reformed Church was made illegal in France and her colonies. Whilst some Huguenots converted to catholicism, many thousands fled to Britain especially southeast England, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Prussia, Cape Colony (South Africa) and the North American colonies.
The centre of Huguenot resistance was Cévennes in the south but a rebellion of the Camisards in 1702–3 failed and the presence of the Huguenots in France was thereafter negligible. In 1802 the Reformed Church was finally granted tolerance. The Huguenots joined with non-Calvinist bodies to form the Protestant Federation of France in 1909. Since 1938 they have been subsumed in the Protestant Church of France.
It is important to recall that not all French protestants were Huguenots: the Lutheran church, la Confession d'Augsbourg was tolerated in Alsace and their church registers date back to 1525. If you have protestant ancestors from Alsace, it is important to know if they were Lutheran or Huguenot.
French churches were already established in London, Canterbury and Norwich by the time of the St Bartholomew's Day massacre in 1572 which prompted the first great wave of refugees to Britain. Increasing persecution from 1661 which culminated in the 1685 Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685) led to the second great wave. It is estimated that some 40,000–50,000 Huguenots settled in England, mostly in London.
Strictly speaking the term huguenots refer to French Calvinists, in English the term embraces Walloons and Dutch refugees from the Low Countries.
The Huguenot Society of London was formed in 1885 and is now known as The Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland. It published R. E. G. Kirk, Returns of Aliens in London, 1523–1603 (1900-1908) in 10 volumes and 4 parts.
FloridaFrench Huguenots led by Laudonnière settled in Florida in 1564. An initial plantation of 300 established Fort Caroline now part of present day Jacksonville.
South CarolinaJean Ribault establsihed a French Huguenot colony in South Carolina in 1562. American Presbyterianism can trace its origins to this foundation.
- Huguenots de France et d'ailleurs (Huguenots of France and elsewhere). In French with some pages in Dutch, English, German, Italian and Spanish, describes itself as the portal for protestant genealogy in France (Le site portail de la généalogie protestante en France).
- Musée virtuel du protestantisme (English version). Published by the Fondation Pasteur Eugène Bersier in Paris.
- The Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland. In English; says its mission is "to promote the publication and interchange of knowledge about the history of French Protestant migration".
Did you know?
Local Huguenot churches were called temples whereas Catholic churches were called églises.
- "Huguenots" in Gordon Campbell (ed.), The Oxford Dictionary of the Renaissance (2003, Oxford University Press) ISBN-13: 9780198601753 via Oxford Reference Online (2012) eISBN: 9780191727795 accessed 15 February 2013.