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22 October 2009

On this day in history: Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, 1685

During the second half of the sixteenth century, France was torn apart by religious conflict caused by a power vacuum created by the death of Henry II in 1559. In 1589, the Bourbon King Henry III of Navarre became King Henry IV of France. With his conversion from Protestantism to Catholicism in 1593, Henry healed the divisions and ended the conflict, famously declaring that Paris vaut bien une messe ("Paris is well worth a Mass").

Five years later Henry issued the Edict of Nantes, which granted substantial rights to the French Protestants, commonly known as Huguenots. The four texts of the edict included articles guaranteeing the safety of French Protestants from the Inquisition while travelling abroad; Huguenots were also granted places of safety in France and the right to maintain fortifications for their protection there. Nevertheless, the edict reaffirmed that Catholicism was the state religion and that the Protestants must observe Catholic holidays and pay religious tithes.

Over the following decades the French crown slowly reduced Protestant enclaves to only two by 1622, La Rochelle and Mountauban. Following another religious civil war in 1629, the Protestants lost all military independence. For the remainder of the reign of King Louis XIII and while his son, Louis XIV, was still in his minority the Protestants stilled received a degree of religious toleration, although this varied depending on internal politics and France's relations with her Catholic and Protestant neighbours.

On 22nd October 1685, Louis XIV (grandson of Henry IV), revoked the Edict of Nantes in his own Edict of Fontainebleau. This edict declared Protestantism to be illegal in France and ordered the destruction of the Huguenot churches and schools. The declaration followed years of official persecution of French Protestants. The implementation of this policy, known as the dragonnades, involved the forced conversion of Huguenots to Catholicism.

The revocation did not result in another religious civil war; rather, many Huguenots elected to leave their country and seek asylum mostly in Protestant nations but some emigrated to more tolerant Catholic states. Estimates vary, but Louis XIV himself declared that the vast majority of Huguenots left France in the year following his edict: out of 800,000 to 900,000 Protestants only 1,000 to 1,500 remained.

During the French Revolution protestants were granted a degree of religious toleration culminating with Napoleon's Organic Articles of 1802 that granted full freedom of conscience to the Huguenots.

The Intnernet Modern History Sourcebook includes the full text of the Edict of Fontainebleau.

Related posts
Duel of the Mignons: 27th April 1578
French Protestants granted freedom of worship: 8th April 1802


Bret said...

This is a very interesting example of how Cardinal Richelieu was one of the first politicians to put national interests instead of personal. Yes, he manipulated Louis XIII to abolish this edict, but not very far away, he supported some of the very same Protestants in the Netherlands in their war against the Holy Roman Empire.

Good pick for today

Borkiman said...

Bret: It just goes to show that realpolitik is nothing new