1902 Encyclopedia > Huguenots


THE HUGUENOTS. The word Huguenot first appears in France about the middle of the 16th century, and there is historical proof that it was imported from Geneva, where it had existed for some time as a political nickname in a form which connects it directly with the German-Swiss Eidgenossen, oath-comrades, confederates. In France it was used as a term of reproach for those who aimed at a reform of religion according to the pattern dis-played by Calvin in his famous Institutio Christiana Religionis. The name attached itself to the Reformers when, having shaken off all connexion with Lutheranism, they were beginning to organize themselves both as a church and as a political body. The Lutheran ideas, which had early come into northern France by way of Metz and Meaux, had for a short time seemed likely to prevail at the court of Francis I., where the king's love of culture welcomed what-ever came from the land of the learned; the genius of Eras-mus, or the sharp satire of Hutten, or Luther's weighty tractates, all seemed to him at first to be so many protests against the darkness of a monkish past; the hymns of Marot, the bright poetry of Margaret of Valois, the king's sister, harmonized not ill with the desire for a humanist reform which prevailed at the French court. But when the destructive enthusiasm of the artisans who embraced the new opinions, breaking out in attacks on the art-treasures of the churches, alienated the royal moderates, the simpler and more marked theology of the " Sacramentarians " of Geneva quietly replaced the Lutheranism of the first Reformers; and by the middle of the 16th century the new Huguenots were an unpopular party, drawing their inspiration from Calvin, and bitterly disliked by the court and the bulk of the people of France. The persecutions, varied by protection, of the reign of Francis I. had given place to a vehement desire to crush the rising heresy; the character of Henry II. and his chief advisers led them towards a thorough persecution.

Influenced by these repressive measures, and taught by Calvin's book and his frequent letters, the French Reformers now began to organize their infant churches. Hitherto they had been content to meet in quiet, to sing Marot's psalms, to listen to earnest prayer and practical discourse in some lowly chamber, deferring questions as to church government; now their ecclesiastical system began to develop itself. In 1555 the first Protestant French church was established at Paris, and almost immediately there sprang up fifteen communities, the largest being at Meaux, Poitiers, and Angers, each having its pastor, elders, and deacons, each ruling itself, and recognizing no common bond of union save that of charity and suffering. These were the heroic days of the Huguenot movement in France, each little church striving only to fulfil the simplest ideal of Christian faith and practice, happiest when least observed, purest when least developed. Three influences had hitherto acted on French religious feeling :—that of the Lutherans, that of the ancient Vaudois churches of south-eastern France, represented by Faber, and lastly that of Calvin of Noyon, the Picard exile settled at Geneva. Now a fourth element came in : resistance had elicited organization, organization demanded leadership ; and, un-happily for France and the Huguenots, the movement fell too much into the hands of secular chiefs, great lords who used it for their own political and selfish purposes.

In 1559 the churches of the Huguenots met in a first synod at Paris, eleven sending representatives. This body drew up a confession of faith, which bears throughout the mark of Calvin's hand, in its scrupulous orthodoxy, strong statements as to God's election of some to eternal life, and careful definitions of the nature and structure of the church ; the synod also issued a scheme of discipline to which the churches were all to conform. No church should take lordship over any other (a church being a single community under one pastor). Each " colloque " or synod should have a freely-elected president ; every pastor should come to the colloque, bringing each at least one elder or deacon from his church ; this body was to meet at least twice a year ; new pastors were to be appointed by it to vacant churches, on presentation by the elders and deacons ; minute rules were laid down for church discipline ; it was ordered that provincial synods should be held in each province, and finally that there should be from time to time a general or national synod of representatives of the whole body.

Two years later the civil war broke out (see FRANCE, vol. ix. pp. 560-564), and lasted over thirty years. At the beginning of this period we have some data as to the Huguenot strength : Beza tells us that in 1558 there were 400,000 of them ; a list presented by Condé to Catherine de' Medici is said to have contained the names of 2150 (some say 2500) churches; and it is probable that the number of their open adherents had increased rapidly. John Correro, Venetian envoy in 1569, says that only one-thirtieth of the common folk, but one-third of the nobles, were Huguenots, for the strength of the movement had undoubtedly come to lie in the noblesse. The list of the Huguenot churches given by Haag (La France Protestante, voL i., " Pièces justificatives," No. xviii. p. 52) provides us with data as to their distribution in France. The two centres were Lan-guedoc in the south, and the Orléanais in the middle of the country ; and a line drawn north-west to south-east through a point half way between Paris and Orleans would nearly give the northern limit of Huguenot success. Normandy, thanks to the Châtillon influence, had many churches ; in Orleans and Burgundy they were well represented. In Guyenne and throughout western France they had numerous com-munities. The little independent principality of Beam, through the influence of Jeanne d'Albret, Henry IV.'s mother, was entirely Huguenot. On the other hand, though there were some churches in the île de France and Champagne, they had little hold there ; and Picardy was from the first profoundly hostile to them, while Paris became the headquarters of the Catholic League. Their churches sprang up with wonderful quickness at this time ; thus we see that all the 76 congregations in Languedoc named by Haag were established between 1558 and 1562. All were characterized by a like aptitude for organization ; their constitution, simple and popular, is a proof that under better auspices the French people might have well exercised the privileges of constitutional liberty ; the Huguenots had a popular representation and frequent deliberative assemblies. Between 1559 and 1598 they held fifteen general church synods, and fiom 1573 to 1622 many political assemblies, in which all questions bearing on the interests of the " cause " were debated and decided.

The subordination of the religious to the political interests of the Huguenots became inevitable after the massacre of St Bartholomew's day, 1572 ; while at the same time their organization assumed a more decidedly republican tone. The horror they felt at the violent action of Charles IX. seemed to free them from all allegiance to him; they looked to England and Germany for help, to Switzerland and the United Provinces for encouragement and political example. They at once drew up an independent constitu-tion, democratic and federative, framed chiefly after the Swiss pattern. Like all other attempts at a republican form of government, it had an aristocratic and a democratic side, the latter for the time seeming to be the stronger. For the centre of their power was now pass-ing from the aristocracy to the burghers, from country chateaux to provincial towns. In the towns the only dis-tinction recognized was that of pastor and elders, and these might be, and mostly were, men of the people, chosen by the people. The great nobles who sided with them, the " Poli-tique " princes, like Alencon or Damville-Montmorency, winked for a time at this new " state within the state," the germ of that Huguenot organization which later on hampered Richelieu's path. Their system was based on the towns in their hands. In each an independent government was elected by popular suffrage, and was composed of a mayor, a council of twenty-four, and an elective chamber of seventy-five citizens, making up in all a hundred rulers. This body was a court of justice, with some amount of sovereignty. Thus, the twenty-four with the mayor had control over war, police, and " things of highest importance," though without the seventy-five they could neither pass nor abrogate laws, as to coin, taxation, truces, or terms of peace. The mayors and privy councils of the confederate towns were charged with the election of a general, a kind of Roman dictator, who was to have both a council to advise him and also five lieutenants to help and succeed him, if need were. Lastly, provision was made for a strict moral discipline.

Soon after this the Huguenots established a system of " generalities " or districts, each with its own local estates, and over these provincial councils and a states-general, thus materially strengthening their independent organiza-tion. This system continued throughout the League-wars (1574-1589), during which the religious movement was controlled by a knot of selfish political leaders, and in the course of which their point of view completely changed: for, while in the beginning they had passion-, ately called for popular institutions and the convocation of the states-general of France, in the end they became the followers of Henry of Navarre, as heir to the French crown, representative throughout of the anti-popular temper of the Bourbon house. Under him the discontented Huguenots again reorganized themselves into nine great circles, over each of which was a council of from five to seven members, elected by delegates from the churches, and having the duty of laying their independent taxation, of levying, commanding, and paying their own troops. There was also a general assembly for all the circles (after the pattern of the United Provinces) sitting in three estates—_ pastors, nobles, burghers ; the whole polity being represen-tative as an aristocratic republic. This general assembly sat frequently, sent embassies to foreign powers, sometimes acting as an independent body politic.

The discontent of the Huguenots at last extorted from Henry IV. the famous edict of Nantes (2d May 1598), a document which in the main only reproduced the more favourable of the earlier edicts. Its provisions were at least as helpful for Catholics as for Protestants; it was always being so modified as to show less and less favour to the Calvmists, who were little satisfied with it. They had dreamed of dominance, had hoped for equality, and were now put off with tolerance. For whatever Henry IV. might feel about their faith, he was determined, as he once told Sully, " to reduce to nothing the Huguenot faction," to destroy their political independence, and by closing up the civil strife to secure the solid establishment of the central monarchy. The edict allows public exercise of the Huguenot faith in the houses of nobles and gentry, and in a few named towns ; it gave the sectaries full civil rights, and made them eligible to all civil offices ; in several parliaments mixed chambers were established ; the education of their children was left in their own hands.

We find that about 1590 the Huguenots had exercise of their worship in about 3500 chateaux, and in about 200 towns or bourgs, chiefly in the south and west. In most parts of the north, except Paris and round Rouen and Amiens, they had one place for worship in each bailliage or sénéchaussée. In 1598 we have a list of about 150 places granted by Henry IV. to the Huguenots for their safety, the chief groups being in the generalities of Bor-deaux and Montpellier, and in Poitou ; these were either free towns, like La Rochelle, Nîmes, Montauban, or towns belonging to private gentlemen, or towns belonging to the king, which had fallen into Huguenot hands during the wars.

Throughout the next quarter of a century we trace their history in a series of outbursts, indicating noble impa-tience and Calvinistic dissatisfaction. The siege and fall of La Rochelle (1627-1628) brought this period to an end. During this time their number seems to have increased ; at the accession of Louis XIII. they had about 500 churches ; in 1622 and 1628 we have lists of 688 ; in 1637 no less than 720 are enumerated, though of these 49 were either vacant or suspended. Richelieu and Mazarin treated them with .statesman-like prudence ; their synods were dis-couraged, their grumblings ceased; they grew in piety and purity as the political arena was closed to them, and the noble houses one by one deserted them. This was the time of their material prosperity, and of their important contribution to the welfare of France which Louis XIV. so rudely cast away.

As that king got hold of his power, the tranquillity of the Huguenots waned. In 1657 they were forbidden to hold colloquies, lest perchance they should take to politics ; in 1659 they were practically told to hold no more synods. Soon the court went further : conversions were undertaken. Wherever a pastor could be bribed, won over, or got rid of, his "temple" was at once torn down; the Huguenot wor-ship became almost impossible in towns, and lingered on in a few castles, whereby it fell still more under the royal displeasure. As his conscience grew morbid, under Madame de Maintenon's direction, Louis XIV. became more eager to expiate his own crimes by punishing the heretics. Be-tween 1657 and 1685 520 churches were rooted up; Anquetil declares that 700 had been destroyed before 1685. All through this period, while thousands yielded to oppression or bribery, thousands also fled the land ; the emigration began in 1666 and went on for fifty years. It is probable that in 1660 there were over two millions of Huguenots, the best and thriftiest citizens in the land ; it is said, though no figures can be trusted, that in all fully a million of French subjects escaped from their inhospitable fatherland. At last in 1685, thinking that the Huguenots were as good as suppressed, Louis XIV. revoked the edict of Nantes (see FRANCE, vol. ix. p. 579). The revocation was the sentence of civil death on all Huguenots; it crushed more than half the commercial and manufacturing industry of the kingdom. It is said that at the time of it there were 1000 Huguenot pastors; of these over 600 escaped from France, 100 were slain or sent to the galleys, the remainder conformed or disappeared.

The war of 1689 called attention away from the perse-cuted remnant of the Huguenots, and they had a breathing space in Languedoc, the Cevennes, and Dauphiné ; but directly the peace of Ryswick was signed, repression began again, and consequently, when the Spanish succession war commenced, the Huguenots of the " Desert," that is, of the country about Nîmes, broke out after endless provocations into open war, which lasted two years, and for a while de-fied all the efforts of the court. Marshal Villars was at last sent down, and by mingled gentleness and severity he both secured the submission of the gallant Cavalier, the chief leader of the Huguenots, and the defeat of the more deter-mined of the mountaineers. Throughout the rest of the century the down-trodden Protestantism of France was kept alive chiefly by the exertions of Antoine Court, the apostle of the Desert, who never lost faith in the cause, and who reorganized the dying churches, breathing into them fresh life. Though under the influence of oppression and excitement, the Huguenot story is here and there disfigured by fanatical outbursts of the " prophets " and " prophetesses," still on the whole the account of their endurance is among the most remarkable and heroic records of religious history.

After the interference of Voltaire in behalf of Calas, their sufferings came almost to an end ; the general change of opinion, the steady weakening of the Catholics, the in-dolence or good nature of the sovereign, forbade the scan-dals of the past, until at last in 1787, under Necker's influence, Louis XVI. signed a memorable edict which restored, after 102 years' deprivation, their civil status to the Huguenots. The Revolution of 1789 carried justice a stage further ; among the many titles of the Revolution to the gratitude of posterity none is more marked than the complete restoration of the non-Catholic elements of French society to their rights. From that moment to the present time the descendants of the Huguenots have had peace.

There are now about half a million Calvinists in France ; by the census of 1872 they numbered 467,531 souls, of whom about 100,000 were in the north, and the rest mostly in their old quarters in the south ; in the Gard, the ancient Desert, nearly a quarter of the whole body still abide. Of late years the Protestant Church in France hat shown a tendency to division into two parties, that ,of the more rigid Calvinistic opinions, and that of a more liberal and less orthodox theology. In either case they form » group of loyal citizens, on whom French politicians now look with favour. The old reproach that " the Huguenots are all republicans " has at last turned to their credit.

The persecutions which checked all wholesome develop-ments at home, whether religious, literary, or commercial, were favourable to their growth abroad; and we consequently find that in literary and artistic excellence the Huguenots have taken their full share. Their first attention was naturally called to theology, in which the names of Calvin and Farel, Beza, Daillé, the Drélincourts, the learned S. Desmarets, Jortin, P. Jurieu, Labadie the mystic, the Le-clercs, the great Hebraist Mercier, Mestrezat the preacher, the old hero Duplessis Mornay, Salmasius, J. Saurin, first of Protestant orators, and a crowd of lesser men testify to their activity in this branch. Add to these the dictionary of Bayle, the works of the Basnages, Morin the Orientalist, Pithou, the Daciers, Etienne Dolet, Ramus, Le Févre of Etaples, above all Scaliger, as leaders in learning ; in history, Benoît, Bongars, Palma Cayet, Hubert Languet, Béroalde, and Rapin-Thoyras ; and with them the political writer Hotman. Of lawyers they claim Baudouin, Cujas, Coras, Doneau, Hérault, and Godefroy, famed as the most learned of jurisconsults. In science they have the Cuviers, Desmaizeaux, Dubois the chemist, Paré, father of modern surgery, Papin, herald of the steam-engine, the physician Joubert, L'Ecluse the botanist, and the Hubers. In art they lay claim to Crispin, J. Cousin, Pallissy, Simon the engraver, the Picarts, and Goujon the architect. Their poets are Marot and Margaret of Valois. The general effect of this activity is hard to gauge : from Amsterdam and Berlin, Geneva and London, issued sermon, political pamphlet, controversial polemic ; but these efforts had no settled audience, they failed to win the ear of France. The same is true of their religious heroism ; though it seemed to be exactly what was wanted to strengthen the national character, the confessors were scattered, like the Jews, among the nations, and ceased to affect the progress of their fatherland. In the Revolution we can see traces of their mental and moral activity ; it may be that their day of influence is not yet over. For their history is a standing marvel, illustrating the abiding power of strong religious convictions, narrow in theory, pure in practice ; they have stood as much ill-usage as has befallen any branch of Christ's church. It remains for their descendants to show to France that their creed goes well with freedom and advance,—that the religious instinct, so deeply implanted in man, is a true friend of orderly and rational national life. Religion which does not abuse its power, a freedom from divided allegiances, an aptitude for constitutional institutions, and an intelligent belief in the sovereignty of the people—these are the elements which the Huguenots of to-day can bring to the service of the republic under which they dwell safely, none making them afraid.

Authorities.—Calvin, Institutio Christianas Religionis, aniLettres, ed. J. Bonnet, 1854 ; Haag, France Protestante, 1846 ; Meaux, Luttes religieuses au XVI. siècle, 1879; Arquez, Assemblées politiques des Réformés, 1859 ; E. Hugues, Restauration de Protestantisme en France, 1875 ; Mignet, Établissement . . . du Calvinisme à Genève ; G. de Rélice, Hist, des Protestants en France ; E. Benoît, Hist, de l'Êdit de Nantes ; C. Coquerel, Églises du Désert ; A. Court, Troubles des Cévennes ; Bonnemère, Hist, des Camisards; Guizot, Hist. de France, 1872; Merle d'Aubigné, Reformation au X VI. siècle ; Professor H. M. Baird, History of the Rise of the Huguenots, 2 vols., 1880. (G. W. K.)

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