were the Huguenots?
A general edict which encouraged the extermination
of the Huguenots was issued on January 29th, 1536 in France. On March
1st, 1562 some 1200 Huguenots were slain at Vassy, France. This
ignited the the Wars of Religion
which would rip apart, devastate, and bankrupt France for the next three
John Calvin (1509
|The Huguenots were French Protestants
who were members of the Reformed Church which was established in
1550 by John
Calvin. The origin of the name Huguenot is uncertain, but 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 1598. 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.
St. Batholomew massacre, 1572
Click on image above for
an enlarged view
During the infamous St
Bartholomew Massacre of the night of 23/24 August, 1572 more than
8 000 Huguenots, including Admiral
Gaspard de Coligny, Governor of Picardy and leader and spokesman of
the Huguenots, were murdered in Paris. It happened during the wedding of
Henry of Navarre, a Huguenot, to Marguerite de Valois (daughter of Catherine
de Medici), when thousands of Huguenots converged on Paris for the wedding
When the first rumours of the massacre reached
the Vatican in Rome on 2 September 1572, pope Gregory XIII was jubilant
and wanted bonfires to be lit in Rome. He was persuaded to wait for the
official communication; the very morning of the day that he received the
confirmed news, the pope held a consistory and announced that "God had
been pleased to be merciful". Then with all the cardinals he repaired
to the Church of St. Mark for the Te Deum, and prayed and ordered
prayers that the Most Christian King might rid and purge his entire kingdom
(of France) of the Huguenot plague.
|It was Catherine de Medici who persuaded
her weakling son Charles IX to order the mass murder, which lasted three
days and spread to the countryside. On Sunday morning August 24th, 1572
she personally walked through the streets of Paris to inspect the carnage.
Henry of Navarre's life was spared by pretending to support the Roman Catholic
faith. In 1593 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.
On 8 September 1572 a procession of thanksgiving
took place in Rome, and the pope, in a prayer after mass, thanked God for
having "granted the Catholic people a glorious triumph over a perfidious
race" (gloriosam de perfidis gentibus populo catholico loetitiam tribuisti).
XIII engaged Vasari to paint scenes in one of the Vatican apartments of
triumph of the Most Christian King over the Huguenots. He had a medal struck
representing an exterminating angel smiting the Huguenots with his sword,
the inscription reading: Hugonottorium strages (Huguenot conspirators).
In France itself, the French magistracy ordered the admiral to be burned
in effigy and prayers and processions of thanksgiving on each recurring
24th August, out of gratitude to God for the victory over the Huguenots.
Henry IV, himself a former
Huguenot (as Henry of Navarre)
|The Edict of Nantes was signed
by Henry IV on April 13th, 1598, which brought an end to the Wars of Religion.
The Huguenots were allowed to practice
their faith in 20 specified French "free" cities. France became united
and a decade of peace followed. After Henry IV was murdered in 1610, however,
the persecution of the "dissenters" resumed in all earnestness under the
guidance of Cardinal Richelieu. The Huguenot free cities were lost one
after the other after they were conquered by the forces of Cardinal Richelieu,
and the last and most important stronghold, La Rochelle, fell in
1629 after a siege lasting a month.
Richelieu, who relentlessly
persecuted the Huguenots.
|Louis XIV (the Sun King, 1643-1715)
began to apply his motto l'état c'est moi ("I am the state")
and introduced the infamous Dragonnades - the billeting of dragoons
in Huguenot households. He began with a policy of une foi, un loi, un
roi (one faith, one law, one king) and revoked the Edict of Nantes
on 22 October 1685. The large scale persecution of the Huguenots resumed.
Protestant churches and the houses of "obstinates" were burned and destroyed,
and their bibles and hymn books burned. Emigration was declared illegal.
Many Huguenots were burned at the stake
Scenes like these were common during
the persecution of the Huguenots in France during the sixteenth and seventeenth
Click on picture above for
At least 200 000 French Huguenots fled
to countries such as Switzerland, Germany, England, America, and South
Africa, where they could enjoy religious freedom. Between 1618 and 1725
between 5 000 and 7 000 Huguenots reached the shores of America. Those
who came from the French speaking south of Belgium, an area known as Wallonia,
are generally known as Walloons (as opposed to Huguenots)
in the United States.
The organised large scale emigration of
Hugenots to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa occurred during 1688
- 1689. However, even before this large sscale emigration individual Huguenots
such as François Villion (1671) and the brothers François
and Guillaume du Toit (1686) fled to the Cape of Good Hope. In 1692
a total of 201 French Huguenots had settled at the Cape of Good Hope. Most
of them settled in an area now known as Franschhoek ("French Corner"),
some 70 km outside Cape Town, where many farms still bear their original
A century later the promulgation of the
Edict of Toleration on 28 November 1787 partially restored the civil and
religious rights of the Huguenots in France.
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