AskDefine | Define Huguenot

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Huguenot n : a French Calvinist of the 16th or 17th centuries

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  • /'hju.gən.ɒt/


  1. A member of the Protestant Reformed Church of France during the 16th and 17th century.


Extensive Definition

From the 16th to the 18th century the name Huguenot was applied to a member of the Protestant Reformed Church of France, historically known as the French Calvinists.


Used originally as a term of derision, the derivation of the name Huguenot remains uncertain. Various theories have been promoted .
The nickname may have been a French corruption of the German word Eidgenosse, meaning a Confederate, perhaps in combination with a reference to the name Besançon Hugues (d 1532). Geneva was John Calvin's adopted home and the center of the Calvinist movement. In Geneva, Hugues was the leader of the "Confederate Party," so called because it favored an alliance between the city-state of Geneva and the Swiss Confederation. This theory of origin has support from the alleged fact that the label Huguenot was first applied in France to those conspirators (all of them aristocratic members of the Reformed Church) involved in the Amboise plot of 1560: a foiled attempt to transfer power in France from the influential House of Guise, a move which would have had the side-effect of fostering relations with the Swiss. Thus, Hugues plus Eidgenosse becomes Huguenot, with the intention of associating the Protestant cause with some very unpopular politics.
Like the first hypothesis, several others account for the name as being derived from German as well as French. O.I.A. Roche writes in his book The Days of the Upright, A History of the Huguenots that "Huguenot" is
Some discredit dual linguistic origins, arguing that for the word to have spread into common use in France, it must have originated in the French language. The "Hugues hypothesis" argues that the name can be accounted for by connection with Hugues Capet king of France, who reigned long before the Reform times, but was regarded by the Gallicans and Protestants as a noble man who respected people's dignity and lives. Frank Puaux suggests, with similar connotations, a clever pun on the old French word for a covenanter (a signatory to a contract). Janet Gray and other supporters of the theory suggest that the name huguenote would be roughly equivalent to little Hugos, or those who want Hugo. and it was in this place in Tours that the prétendus réformés ("these supposedly 'reformed'") habitually gathered at night, both for political purposes, and for prayer and to sing the psalms. With similar scorn, some even suggest that the name is derived from les guenon de Hus (the monkeys or apes of Jan Hus) While this and the many other theories offer their own measure of plausibility, attesting at least to the wit of later partisans and historians, if not of the French people at the time of this term's origin, "no one of the several theories advanced has afforded satisfaction".
Since the eighteenth century they have been commonly designated "French Protestants", the title being suggested by their German co-religionists, or "Calvinists".

Early history and beliefs

The availability of the Bible in local language was important to the spread of the Protestant movement and the development of the Reformed church in France, and the country had a long history of struggles with the papacy by the time the Protestant Reformation finally arrived. Around 1294, a French version of the Scriptures was prepared by the Catholic priest, Guyard de Moulin. The first known Provençal language translation of the Bible had been prepared by the 12th century religious radical, Pierre de Vaux (Peter Waldo). Long after the sect was suppressed by the Roman Catholic Church, the remaining Waldensians sought to join William Farel and the Protestant Reformation, and Olivetan would publish a French Bible for them, but those who emerged from secrecy were eradicated by Francis I in 1545. A two-volume folio version of this translation appeared in Paris, in 1488.
Other predecessors of the Reformed church included the pro-reform and Gallican Roman Catholics, like Jacques Lefevre. The Gallicans briefly achieved independence for the French church, on the principle that the religion of France could not be controlled by the Bishop of Rome, a foreign power. In the time of the Protestant Reformation, Lefevre, a professor at the University of Paris, prepared the way for the rapid dissemination of Lutheran ideas in France with the publication of his French translation of the New Testament in 1523, followed by the whole Bible in the French language, in 1528. William Farel was a student of Lefevre who went on to become a leader of the Swiss Reformation, establishing a Protestant government in Geneva. Jean Cauvin (John Calvin), another student at the University of Paris, also converted to Protestantism. The French Confession of 1559 shows a decidedly Calvinistic influence. Sometime between 1550 and 1580, members of the Reformed church in France came to be commonly known as Huguenots

Criticisms of Roman Catholic Church

Above all, Huguenots became known for their fiery criticisms of worship as performed in the Roman Catholic Church, in particular the focus on ritual and what seemed an obsession with death and the dead. They believed the ritual, images, saints, pilgrimages, prayers, and hierarchy of the Catholic Church did not help anyone toward redemption. They saw Christian faith as something to be expressed in a strict and godly life, in obedience to Biblical laws, out of gratitude for God's mercy.
Like other Protestants of the time, they felt that the Roman church needed radical cleansing of its impurities, and that the Pope represented a worldly kingdom, which sat in mocking tyranny over the things of God, and was ultimately doomed. Rhetoric like this became fiercer as events unfolded, and stirred up the hostility of the Catholic establishment.
Violently opposed to the Catholic Church, the Huguenots attacked images, monasticism, and church buildings. Most of the cities in which the Huguenots gained a hold saw iconoclast attacks, in which altars and images in churches, and sometimes the buildings themselves were torn down. The cities of Bourges, Montauban and Orleans saw substantial activity in this regard.

Reform and growth

Huguenots faced periodic persecution from the outset of the Reformation; but Francis I (reigned 1515–1547) initially protected them from Parlementary measures designed for their extermination. The Affair of the Placards of 1534 changed the king's posture toward the Huguenots: he stepped away from restraining persecution of the movement.
Huguenot numbers grew rapidly between 1555 and 1562, chiefly amongst the nobles and city-dwellers. During this time, their opponents first dubbed the Protestants Huguenots; but they called themselves reformés, or "Reformed." They organized their first national synod in 1558, in Paris.
By 1562, the estimated number of Huguenots had passed one million, concentrated mainly in the southern and central parts of the country. The Huguenots in France likely peaked in number at approximately two million, compared to approximately sixteen million Catholics during the same period.

Wars of religion

In reaction to the growing Huguenot influence, and the aforementioned instances of Protestant zeal, Catholic violence against them grew, at the same time that concessions and edicts of toleration became more liberal.
In 1561, the Edict of Orléans, for example, declared an end to the persecution; and the Edict of Saint-Germain recognized them for the first time (January 17, 1562); but these measures disguised the growing strain of relations between Protestant and Catholic.

Civil wars

Tensions led to eight civil wars, interrupted by periods of relative calm, between 1562 and 1598. With each break in peace, the Huguenots' trust in the Catholic throne diminished, and the violence became more severe, and Protestant demands became grander, until a lasting cessation of open hostility finally occurred in 1598.
The wars gradually took on a dynastic character, developing into an extended feud between the Houses of Bourbon and Guise, both of which — in addition to holding rival religious views — staked a claim to the French throne. The crown, occupied by the House of Valois, generally supported the Catholic side, but on occasion switched over to the Protestant cause when politically expedient.

The French Wars of Religion

In what became known as the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 24 August17 September, 1572, Catholics killed thousands of Huguenots in Paris. Similar massacres took place in other towns in the weeks following, with death toll estimates again ranging wildly, from thousands to as high as 110,000. An amnesty granted in 1573 pardoned the perpetrators.

Edict of Nantes

The fifth holy war against the Huguenots began on February 23, 1574. The conflict continued periodically until 1598, when Henry of Navarre, having succeeded to the French throne in 1589 as Henry IV, and recanted his Protestantism in favour of Roman Catholicism, issued the Edict of Nantes. The Edict granted the Protestants equality with Catholics under the throne and a degree of religious and political freedom within their domains. The Edict simultaneously protected Catholic interests by discouraging the founding of new Protestant churches in the Catholic-controlled regions.
With the proclamation of the Edict of Nantes, and the subsequent protection of Huguenot rights, pressures to leave France abated, as did further attempts at colonization. However, under King Louis XIV (reigned 1643–1715), chief minister Cardinal Mazarin (who held real power during the king's minority up to his death in 1661) resumed persecution of the Protestants using soldiers to inflict dragonnades that made life so intolerable that many fled.

Edict of Fontainebleau

The king revoked the "irrevocable" Edict of Nantes in 1685 and declared Protestantism illegal with the Edict of Fontainebleau. After this, huge numbers of Huguenots (with estimates ranging from 200,000 to 1,000,000

Huguenot exodus from France

Early emigration

see also Fort Caroline The first Huguenots to leave France seeking freedom from persecution had done so years earlier under the leadership of Jean Ribault in 1562. The group ended up establishing the small colony of Fort Caroline in 1564, on the banks of the St. Johns River, in what is today Jacksonville, Florida.
The colony was the first attempt at any permanent European settlement in the present-day United States, but the group survived only a short time. In September 1565, an attack against the new Spanish colony at St. Augustine backfired, and the Spanish wiped out the Fort Caroline garrison.

Settlement in South Africa

On December 31, 1687 a band of Huguenots set sail from France to the Dutch East India Company post at the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. Individual Huguenots settled at the Cape of Good Hope from as early as 1671 with the arrival of Francois Villion (Viljoen) and an organized, large scale emigration of Huguenots to the Cape of Good Hope took place during 1688 and 1689. A notable example of this is the emigration of Huguenots from La Motte d'Aigues in Provence, France.
Many of these settlers chose as their home an area called Franschhoek, Dutch for French Corner, in the present day Western Cape province of South Africa. A large monument to commemorate the arrival of the Huguenots in South Africa was inaugurated on 7 April 1948 at Franschhoek.
Many of the farms in the Western Cape province in South Africa still bear French names and there are many families, today mostly Afrikaans speaking, whose surnames bear witness to their French Huguenot ancestry. Examples of these are: Blignaut, de Klerk (Le Clercq), de Villiers, Visagie (Visage), du Plessis, du Toit, TerBlanche,Franck, Fourie, Fouche, Giliomee (Guilliaume), Hugo, Joubert, Labuschagne (la Buscagne), le Roux, Lombard, Malan, Malherbe, Marais, Theron, Jordaan (Jurdan) and Viljoen (Villon),Du Preez (Des Pres) amongst others, which are all common surnames in present day South Africa. The wine industry in South Africa owed a significant debt to the Huguenots, many of whom had vineyards in France.

Settlement in North America

Barred from settling in New France, many Huguenots moved instead to the Dutch colony New Netherland later incorporated into New York and New Jersey and the 13 colonies of Great Britain in North America, the first in 1624. A significant number of families present in New Amsterdam were of French Huguenot descent, having emigrated to the Netherlands in previous century. The Huguenot congregation was formally established in 1628 as L'Église française à la Nouvelle York. This parish continues today as L'Eglise du Saint-Esprit part of the Episcopal (Anglican) communion still welcoming Francophone New Yorkers from all over the world. Services are still conducted in French for a Francophone parish community, and members of the Huguenot Society of America.
Huguenot immigrants founded New Paltz, New York, where is now located the oldest street in the current United States of America with the original stone houses, New Rochelle, New York (named after La Rochelle in France). Chretien du Bois was one of the original Huguenot settlers in this area. A Huguenot settlement on the south shore of Staten Island, New York was founded by Daniel Perrin in 1692. The present day neighborhood of Huguenot was named after Perrin and these early settlers.
Some Huguenot immigrants settled in Central Pennsylvania. There, they assimilated with the predominately Pennsylvania German settlers. Surnames of Huguenot origin found in the area include Forry, Free, Laucks, Lorah, Motter, and Zeller.
Some of the settlers chose the Virginia Colony (John Broache is one on record), and formed communities in present-day Chesterfield County and at Manakintown, an abandoned Monacan village now located in Powhatan County about west of downtown Richmond, Virginia, where their descendants continue to reside. On May 12, 1705, the Virginia General Assembly passed an act to naturalize the 148 Huguenots resident at Manakintown.
The Huguenot Memorial Bridge across the James River and Huguenot Road was named in their honor, as were many local features including several schools, including Huguenot High School.
Many Huguenots also settled in the area around the current site of Charleston, South Carolina. In 1685, Rev. Elie Prioleau from the town of Pons in France settled in what was then called Charlestown. He became pastor of the first Huguenot church in North America in that city. The French Huguenot Church of Charleston, which remains independent, is the oldest continuously active Huguenot congregation in the United States today. L'Eglise du Saint-Esprit in NY is older, founded in 1628, but left the French Reformed movement in 1804 to become part of the Episcopal Church in America.
Most of the Huguenot congregations in North America merged or affiliated with other Protestant denominations, such the Presbyterian Church (USA), Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, Reformed Churches, and the Reformed Baptists.
American Huguenots readily married outside their immediate French Huguenot communities, leading to rapid assimilation. They made an enormous contribution to American economic life, especially as merchants and artisans in the late Colonial and early Federal periods. One outstanding contribution was the establishment of the Brandywine powder mills by E.I. du Pont, a former student of Lavoisier.
Paul Revere was descended from Huguenot refugees, as were Henry Laurens who signed the Declaration of Independence for South Carolina, Alexander Hamilton, and a number of other leaders of the American Revolution.

Asylum in the Netherlands

French Huguenots already fought in the low lands alongside the Dutch and against Spain during the first years of the Dutch Revolt. The Dutch Republic became rapidly the exile haven of choice for Huguenots. Early ties were already visible in the Apologie of William the Silent, condemning the Spanish Inquisition and written by his court reverend Huguenot Pierre L'Oyseleur, lord of Villiers.
Louise de Coligny, sister of murdered Huguenot leader Gaspard de Coligny had married the calvinist Dutch revolt leader William the Silent. And as both spoke French in everyday life, their court church in the Prinsenhof in Delft was providing French spoken Calvinist services, a practice still continued to today. The Prinsenhof is now one of the remaining 14 active Walloon churches of the Dutch Reformed Church.
These very early ties between Huguenots and the Dutch Republic's military and political leadership, the House of Orange-Nassau, since the early days of the Dutch Revolt explains the many early settlements of Huguenots in the Dutch Republic's colonies around Cape of Good Hope in South-Africa and the New Netherlands colony in America.
Stadtholder William III of Orange, who later became King of England, emerged as the strongest opponent of Louis XIV, after Louis' attack on the Dutch Republic in 1672. He formed the League of Augsburg as main opposition coalition. Consequently many Huguenots saw the wealthy and calvinist Dutch Republic, leading the opposition against Louis XIV, as the most attractive country for exile after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. They also found established many more French speaking calvinist churches there.
The Dutch Republic received the largest group of Huguenot refugees with an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 Huguenots after the revocation of the Edict. Amongst them were 200 reverends. This was a huge influx, the entire population of the Dutch Republic amounted to ca. 2 million at that time. Around 1700 it is estimated that near 25% of the Amsterdam population was Huguenot. Amsterdam and the area of West-Frisia were the first areas providing full citizens rights to Huguenots in 1705, followed by the entire Dutch Republic in 1715. Huguenots married with Dutch from the outset.
One of the most prominent Huguenots refugees to the Netherlands was Pierre Bayle, who started teaching in Rotterdam, while publishing his multi-volume masterpiece Historical and Critical Dictionary. Which became one of the one hundred foundational texts that formed the first collection of the US Library of Congress.
Most Huguenot descendents in the Netherlands today are recognisable by French family names with typical Dutch given names. Due to their early ties with the Dutch Revolt's leadership and even participation in the revolt, parts of the Dutch patriciate are of Huguenot descent.

Asylum in Britain and Ireland

An estimated 50,000 Protestant Walloons and Huguenots fled to England, with about 10,000 moving on to Ireland. A leading Huguenot theologian and writer who led the exiled community in London, Andrew Lortie (born André Lortie), became known for articulating Huguenot criticism of the Holy See and transubstantiation.
Of these refugees, upon landing on the Kent coast, many gravitated towards Canterbury, then the county's hub, where many Walloon & Huguenot families were granted asylum. Edward VI granted them the whole of the Western crypt of Canterbury Cathedral for worship. This privilege in 1825 shrank to the south aisle and in 1895 to the former chantry chapel of the Black Prince, where services are still held in French according to the reformed tradition every Sunday at 3pm. Other evidence of the Walloons and Huguenots in Canterbury includes a block of houses in Turnagain Lane where weavers' windows survive on the top floor, and 'the Weavers', a half-timbered house by the river (now a restaurant - see illustration above). The house derives its name from a weaving school which was moved there in the last years of the 19th century, resurrecting the use to which it had been put between the 16th century and about 1830. Many of the refugee community were weavers, but naturally some practised other occupations necessary to sustain the community distinct from the indigenous population, this separation being a condition of their initial acceptance in the City. They also settled elsewhere in Kent, particularly Sandwich, Faversham and Maidstone - towns in which there used to be refugee churches.
Huguenot refugees flocked to Shoreditch, London in large numbers. They established a major weaving industry in and around Spitalfields (see Petticoat Lane and the Tenterground), and in Wandsworth. The Old Truman Brewery, then known as the Black Eagle Brewery, appeared in 1724. The fleeing of Huguenot refugees from Tours, France had virtually wiped out the great silk mills they had built.
At the same time other Huguenots arriving in England settled in Bedfordshire, which was (at the time) the main centre of England's Lace industry. Huguenots greatly conributed to the development of lace-making in Bedfordshire, with many families settling in Cranfield, Bedford and Luton.
Many Huguenots settled in Ireland during the Plantations of Ireland. Huguenot regiments fought for William of Orange in the Williamite war in Ireland, for which they were rewarded with land grants and titles, many settling in Dublin. Some of them took their skills to Ulster and assisted in the founding of the Irish linen industry. Numerous signs of Huguenot presence can still be seen with names still in use, and with areas of the main towns and cities named after the people who settled there, for instance the Huguenot District in Cork City.
There are Huguenot cemetries in London as well as Ireland.

Asylum in Germany and Scandinavia

Huguenots refugees found a safe haven in the Lutheran and Reformed states in Germany and Scandinavia. Nearly 44,000 Huguenots established themselves in Germany, and particularly in Prussia where many of their descendents rose to positions of prominence. Several congregations were founded, such as the Fredericia (Denmark), Berlin, Stockholm, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Emden.
Among the early Huguenots seeking refuge in Sweden were the parents of Olaus Laurentius, who fled from Flanders (presumably the Flemish region of France), and settled in the town of Borlange, Sweden. In 1543 their son Olaus Laurentius (Olof Larsson) was born in Borlange. Based on his birthdate, we must presume his parents left Flanders before 1543, early during the persecution of Huguenots and other Protestants in France.
(From the patronymic surnaming of Sweden, we can determine that Olaus' father's name had to be Lars (or some form of the name Laurence.) Olaus Laurentius became the Vicar of Gagnef parish, and the patriarchal ancestor of a huge family of descendants throughout Europe and the midwest USA.
Around 1700, a significant proportion of Berlin's population was of French mother tongue and the Berlin Huguenots preserved the French language in their service for nearly a century. They ultimately decided to switch to German in protest against the occupation of Prussia by Napoleon in 1806/07.
The Prince Louis of Conde and sons Daniel and Osias arranged with Count Ludwig von Nassau-Saarbrucken to establish a Huguenot community in present-day Saarland in 1604. The Count was a supporter of mercantilism and welcomed technically-skilled immigrants into his lands regardless of their religious persuasions. The Condes established a thriving glass-making works which provided wealth to the principality for many years, and other founding families created enterprises including textiles and other traditional Huguenot occupations in France. The community and its congregation remain active to this day, with many of the founding families still present in the region. Members of this community emigrated to the US in the 1890s.
In Bad Karlshafen, Hessen, Germany is the Huguenot Museum and Huguenot archive. The collection includes family histories, a library, and a picture archive.


The exodus of Huguenots from France created a kind of brain drain from which the kingdom did not fully recover for years. The French crown's refusal to allow Protestants to settle in New France was a factor behind that colony's slow population growth, which ultimately led to its conquest by the British. By the time of the French and Indian War, there may have been more people of French ancestry living in Britain's American colonies than there were in New France.
Frederick William, Elector of Brandenburg invited Huguenots to settle in his realms, and a number of their descendants rose to positions of prominence in Prussia. The last Prime Minister of the (East) German Democratic Republic, Lothar de Maizière, is a scion of a Huguenot family.
The persecution and flight of the Huguenots greatly damaged the reputation of Louis XIV abroad, particularly in England; the two kingdoms, which had enjoyed peaceful relations prior to 1685, became bitter enemies and fought against each other in a series of wars from 1689 onward.

End of persecution and restoration of French citizenship

Persecution of Protestants continued in France after 1724, but ended in 1787 (Edict of Toleration) and the French Revolution of 1789 finally made them full-fledged citizens.
The December 15, 1790 Law stated that : "All persons born in a foreign country and descending in any degree of a French man or woman expatriated for religious reason are declared French nationals (naturels français) and will benefit from rights attached to that quality if they come back to France, establish their domicile there and take the civic oath." This might have been, historically, the first law recognising a right of return.
Article 4 of the June 26, 1889 Nationality Law stated that: "Descendants of families proscribed by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes will continue to benefit from the benefit of the December 15, 1790 Law, but on the condition that a nominal decree should be issued for every petitioner. That decree will only produce its effects for the future."
Foreign descendants of Huguenots lost the automatic right to French citizenship in 1945 (by force of the ordonnance du 19 octobre 1945, revoking the 1889 Nationality Law).
In the 1920s and 1930s, members of the extreme-right Action Française movement expressed strong animus against the Protestants, as against the Jews, and the Freemasons - all three being regarded as groups supporting the French Republic which Action Française sought to overthrow.
During the occupation of France in the Second World War, a significant number of Protestants - not persecuted themselves - were active in hiding and saving Jews. Up to the present, many French Protestants, due to their history, feel a special sympathy for and tendency to support "The Underdog" in various situations and conflicts.
Protestants in France today number about 1 million, or about 2% of the population They are most concentrated in the Cévennes region in the south.



A number of French churches are descended from the Huguenots, including:



  • According to an oft-repeated belief one quarter or more of all Englishmen have some proven Huguenot ancestry.
  • Huguenot refugees in Prussia are thought to have contributed significantly to the development of the textile industry in that state.


Baird, Charles W "History of the Huguenot Emigration to America" Genealogical Publishing Company, Published: 1885, Reprinted: 1998, ISBN 978-0-8063-0554-7 Charles Burgess (later, Cathal Brugha) - Irish freedom fighter
Huguenot in Afrikaans: Hugenoot
Huguenot in Bulgarian: Хугеноти
Huguenot in Catalan: Hugonot
Huguenot in Czech: Hugenoti
Huguenot in Danish: Huguenot
Huguenot in German: Hugenotten
Huguenot in Modern Greek (1453-): Ουγενότοι
Huguenot in Spanish: Hugonotes
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Huguenot in Basque: Higanot
Huguenot in French: Huguenot
Huguenot in Korean: 위그노
Huguenot in Italian: Ugonotti
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Huguenot in Portuguese: Huguenote
Huguenot in Russian: Гугеноты
Huguenot in Simple English: Huguenot
Huguenot in Slovak: Hugenoti
Huguenot in Serbian: Хугеноти
Huguenot in Finnish: Hugenotit
Huguenot in Swedish: Hugenotter
Huguenot in Vietnamese: Huguenot
Huguenot in Ukrainian: Гугеноти
Huguenot in Chinese: 雨格诺派
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