Huguenots (hyōō´gənŏts), French Protestants, followers of John Calvin. The term is derived from the German Eidgenossen, meaning sworn companions or confederates.
Prior to Calvin's publication in 1536 of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, a reform movement already existed in France. Despite persecution, the movement grew. Under King Henry II reprisals became more severe. Nevertheless, in 1559, the first French national synod was held, and a Presbyterian church modeled on Calvin's reform in Geneva was founded. The adherence of a large number of the nobility to the movement gave it political meaning and added fuel to persecution.
Wars of Religion and the Edict of Nantes
The conspiracy of Amboise (1560; see Amboise, conspiracy of) during the reign of King Francis II inflamed both Roman Catholic and Protestant sentiment. This, along with political rivalry, particularly among the Bourbons and the Guises, precipitated the Wars of Religion (1562–98; see Religion, Wars of). Despite such heavy blows to the Huguenots as the massacre of Saint Bartholomew's Day (1572), the formation of the Catholic League (see League), and the intervention of Spain (1589–98) against the Protestant heir to the throne, the Bourbon Henry IV, the Protestants were ultimately victorious. Their success was due largely to their unity under such admirable leaders as Louis I de Condé (see under Condé, family), Gaspard de Coligny, Jeanne d'Albret, and her son, Henry IV.
In 1598, Henry IV, by issuing the Edict of Nantes (see Nantes, Edict of), established Protestantism in 200 towns, proclaimed freedom of worship, and allowed substantial political independence. During the next 50 years, more and more skilled artisans and members of the bourgeoisie became Huguenots, who thus constituted one of the most industrious and economically advanced elements in French society.
In the reign of King Louis XIII, Cardinal Richelieu decided to suppress Protestant political privileges. An uprising (1621–22) against the introduction of Catholicism in Béarn was put down by Richelieu, and the Protestants lost all the strongholds given to them under the Edict of Nantes, except Montauban and La Rochelle. Led by Henri de Rohan and Benjamin de Soubise, the Huguenots revolted again in 1625 and in 1627. La Rochelle was captured (1628) by Richelieu after a 14-month siege, during which King Charles I of England attempted to send some aid to the Protestant defenders. The Peace of Alais (1629) stripped the Huguenots of all political power but assured them of continued religious tolerance.
Cardinal Mazarin continued Richelieu's policy, but King Louis XIV, urged by the French Catholic clergy, moved to suppress the dissident religion. Conversion was encouraged; the Edict of Nantes was interpreted in the strictest way possible; and dragoons were quartered in the homes of Huguenots (see dragonnades). Finally, in 1685, the Edict of Nantes was revoked.
This act had disastrous results. Entire provinces were depopulated as countless Huguenots fled to England, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, and America. The only important fragment of Huguenots left in France was in the Cévennes, where the war of the Camisards (1702–10) broke out. In 1787, Louis XVI allowed the Huguenots tolerance, and in Dec., 1789, the revolutionary National Assembly restored their civil rights. Full religious freedom was not attained until church and state were separated in 1905.
See history by H. M. Baird (6 vol., 1879–95); G. A. Rothrock, The Huguenots (1979); N. M. Sutherland, The Huguenot Struggle for Recognition (1980); R. D. Gwynn, Huguenot Heritage (1985).