Huguenots, French Calvinistic Protestants, who lived in France during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, were persecuted for various reasons. The
Protestant Reformation was started in Germany in 1517 by Martin Luther, who protested the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church. From Germany,
Luther’s reform spread all over Europe, including France, not only because religious reform was needed, but because a cultural renaissance in the arts,
sciences, and political and social thought was already underway.
The Huguenots were most influenced by Luther’s predecessor, John Calvin, who was born in Picardy, France. Calvin published his protestant treatises in
Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536), a work dedicated to King Francis I of France. In that same year a general edict was issued calling for Calvin’s
Around 1555, the first home Huguenot church was founded on Calvin’s teachings, and, by May 1559, the Synod of Paris was convened and the French
Protestant Church was formalized.
As many as 30,000 Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants) were slaughtered by Catholic mobs in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of August 24,
1572. Hundreds of thousands would emigrate to America over the next century. (Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France/Giraudon/Bridgeman Art Library)
With the coronation of Francis II and the rise of the Guise family, however, the Huguenots were persecuted. This sparked the Wars of Religion (1562
1594), which were an intermittent series of civil wars marked by the 1572 Massacre of St. Bartholomew, in which 30,000 Huguenots were slaughtered.
It is important to note that while religious beliefs were central to conflict between Huguenots and Catholics, politics and family power struggles also
contributed. The Edict of Nantes was signed in April 1598 by Henry IV, a Huguenot descendant who proclaimed himself to be Catholic. Henry IV’s desire
was to end the Wars of Religion, grant free exercise of religion to Huguenots, and restore a general sense of peace to France. At that time, the prevailing
idea in Europe was that religious conformity was necessary to maintain civil and ecclesiastical peace. Henry IV broke new ground in church/state
relationships by having the state less directly involved in matters of the church.
Henry IV’s edict remained in effect for nearly eighty-seven years, but, in October 1685, Louis XIV revoked it and reinstituted Catholicism as the state
religion of France. This meant a resumption of persecution of the Protestants. Thereafter, nearly 300,000 Huguenots immigrated to America, England,
Holland, Ireland, Prussia, and South Africa. Nearly a century later, in November 1787, Louis XVI issued the Edict of Toleration, which ensured civil and
ecclesiastical rights for Protestants, including the right to marry.
One might think that the Pilgrims were the first Protestants to seek refuge in North America, but, in fact, a group of Huguenots landed near St. John’s
River in Florida in 1562. The Spanish were jealous of this attempt at colonization, particularly by Huguenots. In June 1565, Pedro Men©ndez de Avil©s
was dispatched from Cadiz with eleven sailing ships carrying an army of over 1,000 men to seize the coastal settlement and claim it for Spain and the
Roman Catholic Church. Arriving in Florida, he established a fort south of the St. John’s River in a harbor Men©ndez named St. Augustine. Men©ndez led
a troop of about 500 men across land to the French colony and attacked it, killing about 140 Protestants. Others were given the option of conversion to
Catholicism or slavery.
During the late 1600s, and for another 100 years, many Huguenots migrated to America. Most settled in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the
Carolinas; they intermarried and their numbers grew rapidly. They provided a necessary balance to agrarians already settled in these colonies, filling a
need for medical professionals, bankers, merchants, artisans, and craftsmen. They therefore had considerable influence on early colonial life.
By the middle of the eighteenth century, more than 15,000 Huguenots had immigrated to the New World, mostly around Charles Town, South Carolina.
By the end of the eighteenth century, most Huguenots had lost much of their Huguenot identity as they assimilated into colonial life. In fact, many
Huguenots became Anglicans.
See also: Edict of Nantes, Revocation of; French Colonies on Mainland North America (Chronology); Religion (Chronology);
Butler, Jon. The Huguenots in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983.
Gray, Janet Glenn. The French Huguenots. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1993.
Holt, Mack P. The French Wars of Religion, 1562 1629. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Kingdon, R. M. “Why Did the Huguenot Refugees to the American Colonies Become Episcopalian?” HMPEC 49 (1980): 317 35.Huguenot Ancestors: Battaile,Bieber, Martiau, and Muse 52 … Ltf
Huguenots Photo Gallery
Huguenot Heritage and farms in Cape, South Africa Ltf
History of the Huguenots Ltf
Florida Memory – Spanish slaughtering French Huguenots Ltf
The Huguenots vs. the French Catholics: The St. Bartholomew’s Day … Ltf
French Huguenots | ClipArt ETC Ltf
Huguenot Heritage and farms in Cape, South Africa Ltf
The Huguenot Refuge in Hesse-Cassel | Mus©e virtuel du Protestantisme Ltf
Expulsion of the Huguenots of Toulouse after the Capture of the … Ltf
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