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Huguenot History

The Huguenots were French Protestants most of whom eventually came to follow the teachings of John Calvin. Due to religious persecution they were forced to flee France to other countries in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The Protestant Reformation started in Germany about 1517 with Martin Luther. It spread rapidly in France, especially among those having grievances against the established order of government. As Protestantism grew and developed in France, it generally abandoned the Lutheran form, and took the shape of Calvinism. The new "Reformed Religion," practiced by many members of both the French nobility and the middle-class, was based upon belief in salvation through individual faith. Gone was the need for intercession of church officials. The new "Reformed Religion" also believed in an individual's right to interpret scripture. Such beliefs placed French Protestants in direct theological conflict with both the Catholic Church and the King of France in the theocratic system which prevailed at that time.

Followers of this new Protestantism were soon accused of heresy against the Catholic government and the established religion of France. A General Edict urging extermination of these heretics (Huguenots) was issued in 1536. Nevertheless, Protestantism continued to spread and grow. In about 1555 the first Huguenot church was founded in a home in Paris. It was based upon the teachings of John Calvin. The number and influence of French Reformers (Huguenots) continued to increase after this event, leading to an escalation in hostility and conflict with the Catholic Church/State. In 1562 some 12,000 Huguenots were slain at Vassy. This ignited the French Wars of Religion which devastated France for the next 35 years.

The Edict of Nantes, signed by Henry IV in April, 1598, ended the Wars of Religion, and allowed the Huguenots some religious freedoms, including exercise of their religion in 20 specified towns in France. The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in October, 1685, began a new persecution of the Huguenots. Hundreds of thousands of them fled France for other countries.

Since the Huguenots of France were in large part artists, craftsmen and professional people, they were usually well received in the countries to which they fled. Most of them went initially to Germany, the Netherlands, and England, although some found their way eventually to places as remote as South Africa. Considerable numbers of Huguenots fled to British North America, the Carolinas, Florida, Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York. Their character and talents in the arts, sciences, and industry were strong. The loss of these industrious and hard-working people to France soon proved to be a gain to their newly adopted communities.


January 29, 1535 – General Edict urging extermination of Heretics (Huguenots)
March 1, 1562 – Vassy Affair - The slaughter at Vassy. Conde’ assassinated.
August 14, 1572 – Massacre at St. Bartholomew, in which thousands of Huguenots were killed.
April 13, 1598 - Edict of Nantes by Henry of Navarre, granted religious and civil liberty to the Huguenots.
October 18, 1685 – Revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV, published October 22, 1685, and followed by persecution of the Huguenots.
November 18, 1787 – Promulgation of the Edict of Toleration