Background information | English Catholic refugees

Huguenots Refugees
French protestants driven to exile

Spread of Protestant ideas
Edict of Nantes 1598
Louis XIV's support for catholic causes
Wars for the glory of France
Revoking the Edict of Nantes 1685
Effects of persecution of Huguenots
The spread of Protestant ideas
In 1517 a German monk, Martin Luther, started an explosion of protest against corruption, abuses of power and teachings of the Roman Catholic church. His followers, “protestants”, called for people to rely on the Bible rather than on bishops and the Pope; and to worship in a simpler way.

In England king Henry VIII quarrelled with the Pope over getting a divorce, and set up his own protestant church, the Church of England.

St Bartholemew's Day massacre of protestants in Paris, 1572. About 20,000 Huguenots were killed, on the orders of the Queen Mother, a catholic who feared the influence of protestants over her young son, the king.

France remained Roman Catholic
This was an era when every aspect of life was influenced by religious belief. Royal power and the wealth and privileges of the nobility were seen to be justified by religion. French Protestant communities - "Huguenots" - were mainly in the towns of the south and west.

From 1562 to 1598, France was split by religious wars: the protestant minorities were cruelly persecuted by powerful catholic nobles as well as wealthy bishops. News of the St. Bartholemew's Day Massacre in 1572 shocked Queen Elizabeth's court in protestant England. Many French fled into exile. Eventually protestant King Henri IV came to the throne, but had to adopt the catholic faith. Henri's Edict of Nantes in 1598 ended the wars by offering the protestants a few towns where they could defend themselves. The great majority of French people, in the North as elsewhere, remained Catholic.

Louis XIV's support of Catholic causes
The autocratic French king Louis XIV was convinced of the principle "One faith, one king, one law." He was the most powerful king in Europe, and a Catholic. Many of his wars had a religious edge to them, "protestants vs. catholics" - his constant enemies were the protestant English, Dutch, and some of the German princes. He gave support to English catholics, and made the secret Treaty of Dover with Charles II in 1670 to restore Roman Catholicism to England. Later, he supported the cause of catholic James II, who was deposed in 1688, in the "Glorious Revolution", and also of Scottish catholic princes.
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17th century wars
His first love was the "glory of France". Catholic Spain was France's traditional enemy, but by the 17th century its empire was weak and crumbling. Having married the daughter of the Spanish king, Louis spent much of his life fighting over the spoils to be had in dismembering Spain's territories. His success in conquering much of Spanish Netherlands, brought many more Protestants from the cloth-working towns of Flanders under his rule.
(see History of Flanders). It also brought him into conflict with the strongly protestant northern part of the Netherlands, the Dutch Republic. (see William of Orange).
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Louis XIV revokes the Edict of Nantes 1685
Personally, in middle age Louis XIV became more religious - though it did not stop him keeping several mistresses. Encouraged by his catholic clergy, including inflential Archbishop Fenelon of
Cambrai, Louis sent royal troops on raids to force French protestants - known as 'Huguenots' - into mass conversions to catholicism. The king ordered "no violence", and it is possible that he was not aware of the excesses of his over-zealous officers. Finally in 1685, he revoked the Edict of Nantes, which by then gave little protection to French Protestants. He banned practise of any religion except Roman Catholicism in France. More than half a million Protestants fled the country after more horrible massacres by royal soldiers.
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Economic disaster
The persecution of the protestants was popular with the catholic bishops, and with many French people. But French philosopher Voltaire described it as "one of the greatest disasters that ever afflicted France". Without the Huguenots, the army and navy were much weaker, and French industry lost many of its most highly skilled craftsmen, who set up business in exile, to the benefit of France's enemies in England, Germany and the Netherlands.
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Background information
King Louis XIV - persecuter of the Huguenots
Church & Religion
Retables & the Counter-Reformation
English Catholic refugees
Hondeschoote - a town of Protestant cloth-workers




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