Possibly the most famous event in Louis XIV’s long reign (1643–1715) was the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, issued by the French king on 17 October 1685 and registered five days later by the parlement of Paris, a sovereign judicial institution having jurisdiction over approximately one-half of the kingdom. The Edict of Fontainebleau (the Revocation’s technical name, derived from the palace southeast of Paris where Louis had signed the act) declared illegal the public profession of Calvinist Protestantism and led perhaps as many as 200,000 Huguenots, 1 as French Protestants were known, to flee their homeland. They did so despite royal decrees against emigration and the harsh punishment (prison for women, the galleys for men) awaiting those caught escaping.


Sixteenth Century Religious Freedom United Province Religious Toleration Religious Liberty 
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  1. 1.
    Estimates vary, but 200,000 is reasonable. A more accurate assessment will depend on further research. Elisabeth Labrousse, “Une foi,une loi, un roi?” La Révocation de t’Edit de Nantes (Paris and Geneva, 1985), 208. The derivation of “Huguenot” is established fairly well in Janet G. Gray, “The Origin of the Word Huguenot,” The Sixteenth Century Journal, 14 (Fall, 1983): 349–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Many historians still fail to understand the sense of “perpetual” and “irrevocable” in the Edict of Nantes. Some recent examples include René-Jacques Lovy, La Révocation. Trois siècles de souffrances des protestants français sous tancien régime (Champigny, 1985), 72; Robin D. Gwynn, Huguenot Heritage. The History and Contribution of the Huguenots in Britain (London, 1985), 22; G. A. Rothrock, The Huguenots: A Biography of a Minority (Chicago, 1979), 124. On the legal meaning of “perpetual” and “irrevocable,’ see Roland Mousmer, The Institutions of France under the Absolute Monarchy, 1598–1789. Vol. 2, The Origins of State and Society (Chicago, 1984), 237.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For an account of different historians’ interpretations of the Revocation, see Jean Baubérot, “Préface,” in Labrousse, “Une foi, une loi, un roi?” 9–21.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Bernard Dompnier, Le venin de l’hérésie. Image du protestantisme et combat catholique au XVIle siècle (Paris, 1985), 25.Google Scholar
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    William H. Huseman, “The Expression of the Idea of Toleration in French During the Sixteenth Century,” The Sixteenth Century Journal,15 (Fall, 1984): 293–310.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    I choose not to accept the conventional wisdom that capitalizes the Judeo-Christian “God.” Such a capitalisation’immplies a bias that is western and presentist and demeans other cultures’ gods through the use of the lower case. In this matter I follow the arguments of Richard C. Trexler, “Reverence and Profanity in the Study of Early Modern Religion,’ in Religion and Society in Early Modern Europe, 1500–1800, ed. Kasper von Greyerz (London, 1984), 261–62.Google Scholar
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    Joseph Leder, Toleration and the Reformation, 2 vols. (New York and London, 1960), 2:483.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    In my brief foray into the history of religious toleration, I have relied for the most part on Leder, Toleration and the Reformation; Ian Haslett, “Scripture, Tradition and Intolerance: An Introduction to the Critique of Sebastian Castellio (1515–1563),” Irish Biblical Studies, 6 (1984): 106–119; Henry Kamen, The Rise of Toleration (New York and Toronto, 1967).Google Scholar
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    See M. de Ste Croix, “Why Were the Early Christians Persecuted?” in Studies in Ancient Society, ed. M. I. Finely (London, 1974), 210–49; and Peter Garnsey, “Toleration in Classical Antiquity,” in Persecution and Toleration, ed. W. J. Shiels (London, 1984), 1–27.Google Scholar
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    The Turks had previously reached Vienna in 1529 and western Hungary in 1532 and again in 1598.Google Scholar
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    Cited in Abram Leon Sachar, A History of the Jews (New York, 1973), 229.Google Scholar
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    Cited in Haslett, “Scripture, Tradition, and Intolerance,” 114.Google Scholar
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    Hans R. Guggisberg, “The Defence of Religious Toleration and Religious Liberty in Early Modem Europe: Arguments, Pressures, and Some Consequences,” History of European Ideas, 4 (1983): 44–45.Google Scholar
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    See David Lindsay Keir, The Constitutional History of Modern Britain since 1485 (New York, 1967), 84–93.Google Scholar
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    See William Monter, Ritual, Myth and Magic in Early Modern Europe (Athens, Ohio, 1984), 61–76.Google Scholar
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    For an excellent overview of the witch-craze, see Joseph Klaits, Servants of Satan: The Age of the Witch Hunts (Bloomington, 1985).Google Scholar
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    Jean Delumeau, La peur en occident, XIVe-XVIIIe siècles (Paris, 1978).Google Scholar
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    Cited in Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform, 1250–1550: An Intellectual and Religious History of Late Medieval and Reformation Europe (New Haven and London, 1980), 371.Google Scholar
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    Monter, Ritual, Myth and Magic, 130; Lecler, Toleration and the Reformation, 2:479; Kamen, The Rise of Toleration, 121–22, 143–44.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    It would be ridiculous if not absurd to argue that all historians accept all of the myths I list, but many accept most of them. From my own experiences, I have learned that members of the general public interested in this subject have been exposed to the myths.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Frederic J. Baumgartner, “The Catholic Opposition to the Edict of Nantes, 1598–1599,” Bibliothèque d’Humanisme et Renaissance, 40 (1978): 528. Henry IV, a masterful politician, still managed to convince the parlements to accept the Edict, although that of Rouen did, not register it until 1609.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    On the early edicts, see N. M. Sutherland, The Huguenot Struggle for Recognition (New Haven and London, 1980).Google Scholar
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    Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, introduction to Bernard Cottret, Terre d’exil. L’Angleterre et ses réfugiés français et wallons, de la Reforme à la Révocation de I’Edit de Nantes (Paris, 1985), 8.Google Scholar
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    Roland Mousnier, The Assassination of Henry 1V (London, 1973), 240ff.Google Scholar
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    Noel B. Gerson, The Edict of Nantes (New York, 1969), 16.Google Scholar
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    This point is sometimes, but not often made. Mousnier, The Assassination of Henry 1V, 148–49; Labrousse, “Une foi, une loi, un roi?” 30.Google Scholar
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    One measure of the intensity of the continuing struggle was the proliferation of pamphlets and books that each religious camp directed against the other. During the thirty years after the Edict of Nantes, there were at least 3595 such works, with another 3471 appearing between 1629 and the Revocation. Louis Desgraves, ed., Répertoire des ouvrages de controverse entre Catholiques et Protestants en France (1598–1685), 2 vols. (Geneva, 1984), 1:i. The Huguenots were at a serious disadvantage because of the Edict of Nantes, their small numbers, and the crown’s blessings heaped on the Catholic side.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    This did not extend to social interaction; mixed marriages, family relationships, daily contacts, and opposition to the government ensured that some Catholics and Protestants would get along at the local level. Labrousse, “Une foi, une loi, un roi?” 81ff.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Gugggisberg, “The Defence of Religious Liberty in Early Modern Europe,” 36. See also W. J.. Stankiewicz, Politics and Religion in Seventeenth-Century France (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1960), 1ff., 51, 63.Google Scholar
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    Sutherland, The Huguenot Struggle for Recognition, 361.Google Scholar
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    Émile-G. Léonard, “Le Protestantisme français au XVIIe siècle,” Revue historique, 200 (October-December 1948): 155. As examples of some who have accepted this interpretation, see Menna Prestwich, “Calvinism in France, 1559–1629,” in International Calvinism, 1541–1715, ed. Menna Prestwich (Oxford, 1985), 100; Daniel Li ou, “La peau de chagrin (1598–1685),” in Robert Mandrou et al., Histoire des Protestants en France (Toulouse, 1977), 118.Google Scholar
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    A royal brevet actually specified the hostage towns. Sutherland (The Huguenot Struggle for Recognition) describes the make-up (itself a source of confusion) of the Edict of Nantes.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    On these treaties, see also Victor-L. Tapié, France in the Age of Louis XIII and Richelieu (Cambridge, 1984), 152–53, 200–201.Google Scholar
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    Cf. William F Church, Richelieu and Reason of State (Princeton, 1972).Google Scholar
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    Léonard, “Le Protestantisme français,” 173.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Monter, Ritual, Myth and Magic, 130–45; Kamen, The Rise of Toleration, 199–201; Le Roy Ladurie, introduction to Cottret, Terre d’exil, 9. The standard work on England is W. K. Jordan, The Development of Religious Toleration in England, 4 vols. (London, 1932–40).Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Labrousse, “Une foi,une loi, un roi?” 59.Google Scholar
  41. Daniel Robert, “Louis XIV et les protestants,” XVIIe siècle, 76–77 (1967): 40.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    The two best biographies of Louis XIV underscore his preoccupation with unity and gloire. John B. Wolf, Louis XIV (New York, 1968); Jean-Pierre Labatut, Louis XIV. Roi de gloire (Paris, 1984).Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Robert, “Louis XIV et les protestants,” 41–44; Daniel Ligou, Le Protestantisme en France de 1598 à 1715 (Paris, 1968), 208. Ligou’s stages are more nuanced.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Labrousse, “Une foi, une loi, un roi?” 138ff.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Ibid., 98, 196–99; Elisabeth Labrousse, “Calvinism in France, 1598–1685,” in International Calvinism, 1541–1715, p. 305.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Of the laws passed against the Huguenots, see Labrousse, “Line foi, une loi, un roi?” 167ff; Janine Garrisson, L’Edit de Nantes et sa revocation. Histoire d’une intolérance (Paris, 1985), 127ff. A good, short summary is in E. Préclin and E. Jarry, Les Luttes politiques et doctrinales aux XVlle et XVllle siècles (Pans, 1955), 125–26.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Jean Quéniart, La Révocation de l’Édit de Nantes. Protestants et catholiques français de 1598 et 1685 (Paris, 1985), 118–19.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    L. L. Bernard, “Foucault, Louvois, and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes,” Church History, 25 (March 1956): 35; Préclin and Jarry, Les Luttes politques et doctrinales, 127.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Jean Orcibal, Louis XIV les Protestants (Paris, 1951); Orcibal, “Louis XIV and the Edict of Nantes,” in Louis XIV and Absolutism, ed. Ragnhild Hatton (Columbus, Ohio 1976), 154–76.Google Scholar
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    Ligou, Le Protestantisme en France de 1598 à 17/5, pp. 211–12Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Cited in Labatut, Louis XIV, 270.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Pierre Blet, Le Clergé de France et la monarchie. Étude sur les Assemblées du Clergé de 1615 à 1666, 2 vols. (Rome, 1959), 2:342–88, 404–405; Blet, Les Assemblées du Clergé et Louis XIV de 1670 à 1693 (Rome, 1972), 423ff.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    The Revocation did not apply to Alsace, still regulated by the Peace of Augsburg (1555).Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    “On s’est perdu en conjectures sur le sens de ce texte.” Ligou, Le Protestantisme en France de 1598 à 1715, p. 248.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Orcibal, Louis XIV et les Protestants, 112; Labrousse, “Une foi, une loi, un roi?” 199.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    I have looked at figures from Philippe Joutard, “The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes: End or Renewal of French Calvinism?” in International Calvinism, 1541–1715, pp. 352–55; Gwynn, Huguenot Heritage, 24, 35; G. C. Gibbs, “Some Intellectual and Political Influences of the Huguenot Emigrés in the United Provinces, c. 1680–1730,” Bijragenen en Mededlingen betreffende de Geschiedenis der Nederlanden, 90 (1975): 256, Hans Bot and René Bastiaanse, “Le Refuge Huguenot et les Provinces-Unies, une esquisse sommaire,” in Le Refuge Huguenot, eds. Michelle Magdelaine and Rudolf von Thadden (Paris, 1985), 64: Jon Butler, The Huguenots in America: A Refugee People in New World Society (Cambridge, Mass., 1983), 49.Google Scholar
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    Charles Weiss, History of the French Protestant Refugees, from the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes to Our Own Days, 2 vols. (New York, 1854), 2:336.Google Scholar
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    Martha Bailey Bums, “The Richmond,” The Huguenot Society of South Carolina, Transactions, 85 (1980): 43–49.Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Joutard, “The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes,” 345.Google Scholar
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    CF. Robert M. Kingdon, “Why Did the Huguenot Refugees in the American Colonies Become Episcopalian?” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, 49 (December 1980): 317–35.Google Scholar
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    Cited in James H. Robinson, Readings in European History, 2 vols. (Boston, 1906), 2:99–100.Google Scholar
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    Jeffery Burton Russell, The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity (Ithaca and London, 1977), 221.Google Scholar
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    Michael Mullett, Radical Religious Movements in Early Modern Europe (London, 1980), 76.Google Scholar
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    Kamen, The Rise of Toleration, 216.Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    Of course, James, a Catholic king in a Protestant country, found it in his interests to recognize dis-senting Protestants. His Protestant subjects opposed this toleration because it would benefit Roman Catholics. See Elisabeth Labrousse, “1685 et 1688,” in La Tolérance. Xllle Colloque de l’Institut de Recherche sur la civilisation de l’Occident Moderne (Paris, 1985), 25–31.Google Scholar

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© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht 1988

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  • Richard M. Golden

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