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Saturday, 8 August 2015


From the 16th to the 18th century the name Huguenot was used to describe a member of the Protestant Reformed Church of France. Historically, Huguenots were inspired by the writings of John Calvin in the 1530s.

Huguenot numbers peaked near an estimated two million by 1562, concentrated mainly in the southern and central parts of France, about one-eighth the number of French Catholics.

Six days after Henry IV of France's marriage to the Protestant Marguerite de Valois the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre (see below) kicked off in Paris on August 24, 1572. Over three thousand Huguenots who had come to the French capital for Henry's wedding were killed, as well as thousands more throughout the country in the days that followed.

In the years following the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre, hundreds of thousands of Huguenots fled France and sought safety in other countries of northern Europe. An estimated 50,000 of crossed the English Channel to England, and it was then that the word 'refugee' first entered the English language.

By the Edict of Nantes, issued by King Henry IV on April 13, 1598, the French Huguenots were guaranteed freedom of worship in certain French towns where they were allowed to build churches and open schools and universities. In exchange they had to swear to "serve the King well and faithfully in the exercise of their duties."

The Edict of Nantes

King Louis XIV (1638-1715) was determined to stamp out Protestantism in France. By 1685 he had passed a series of laws that excluded the Huguenots from all top posts culminating in the Edict of Fontainebleau, which revoked the 1598 Edict of Nantes. In forbidding Protestant worship and making Catholic baptism compulsory the French monarch prompted such persecution of the French Huguenots that 400,000 fled France as a consequence. The majority of them were professional people or skilled craftsmen whose skills were lost to the detriment of the French economy.

On December 31, 1687 the first community of Huguenots arrived at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa from the Netherlands. The Dutch East India Company needed skilled farmers at the Cape of Good Hope and the Dutch Government sent them over. The colony gradually grew over the next 150 years or so until it stretched for hundreds of kilometres to the north and north-east.

Today, remnant communities in Alsace and the CĂ©vennes in France and a diaspora of Huguenots in England and French Australians still retain their Huguenot religious tradition.

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