Bertrand Van Ruymbeke

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online August 2011 | | DOI:

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The Huguenots are French Calvinists. The word “huguenot” is an adaptation from eigdnossen, a Swiss German term meaning “confederates,” which was applied to the Genevans who rebelled against their lord in the early 16th century. This term is rarely used in contemporary French, the generic word protestant being widely used. Other terms used over the centuries have been “Lutherans” (luthériens) in the 16th century, “members of the self-styled reformed religion” (membres de la religion prétendue réformée) in the 17th century, and “new converts” or “new Catholics” (nouveaux convertis, nouveaux catholiques, or simply NCs) in the 18th. There are five periods in the history of the Huguenots: the Reformation and the French Wars of Religion (c. 1530s–1598; see Reformation in France and the Wars of Religion); the 17th century (1598–1685; see 17th-Century French Protestantism); the refuge or diaspora (c. 1680–1760s; see the Postrevocation Diaspora); the 18th century (1685–1787; see 18th-Century French Protestantism); and the contemporary era (since the Revolution; see Contemporary French Protestantism). The 1550s were the formative years of French Protestantism. Then began a series of eight Wars of Religion (1562–1598) that preserved the throne to a Catholic monarch and condemned French Protestantism to a peripheral role in the history of France. In 1598 Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes at the end of the wars. This highly significant document guaranteed the Huguenots religious, economic, educational, judicial, political, and military rights. In 1685 Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes after decades of harassment followed by violent repression. This led to a major exodus—roughly 200,000 individuals—of Huguenots to northern Europe and to a lesser extent to British North America and Dutch South Africa. The period that extends from the revocation to the Edict of Toleration of 1787 is referred to as le désert. Following the dislocation brought about by the exodus and the War of the Cévennes (a localized Huguenot rebellion in a mountainous region of southern France), the 18th century was marked by sporadic and regional persecution interspersed by periods of calm. First the edict then the Revolution and the Napoleonic years opened a permanent era of toleration and acceptance for the Huguenots. In contemporary France, even if at times they could be victims of virulent attacks from Catholic extremist pamphleteers, the Huguenots have enjoyed peace and prosperity—some of them even reaching high positions in the state—and have remained a small religious minority in a country increasingly secular.

Article.  8217 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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