Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Anti-Italianism in Sixteenth-Century France

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Anti-Italianism in Sixteenth-Century France

Article excerpt

Anti-Italianism in Sixteenth-Century France. By Henry Heller. (Toronto and Buffalo: University of Toronto Press. 2003. Pp. xi, 307. $60.00.)

Henry Heller's latest book tackles a subject that has long been known, occasionally tackled by literary scholars, but rarely addressed by historians in any kind of systematic way: the intense xenophobia in France directed at Italians in the sixteenth century that reached its zenith during the Wars of Religion. First, he suggests that many more Italians belonged to the Protestant community in Lyons than has been previously thought. While historians have long known about the domination of the banking industry by Italians in Lyons, Heller argues that many of the Italians in Lyons were in fact Protestants. This did not apply so much to the banking families who were from Florence, but to those who had emigrated to Lyons from Genoa and especially from Lucca, an important Protestant center in Italy. Heller admits that the number of Italian Protestants in Lyons was surely small, though he is probably right that if six of the ten leading banking families from Lucca in Lyons converted to Protestantism, then this small number probably wielded significant influence. His point is that the Catholic majority detested the Italians in Lyons not only because of their influential role in the banking industry, but also because they had begun to infiltrate the ranks of French Protestants.

A second argument is that the St. Bartholomew's massacres were not solely a religious phenomenon, as anti-Italianism in Paris was as rampant as antiProtestantism both before and after the massacres. Unlike in Lyons, Italians in Paris had not converted to Protestantism and were despised for their more traditional links with the banking industry and the recent rise at court of several prominent Italian families. Heller does not claim that many Italians were hunted down and killed on the night of August 24,1572,though he suggests they could have been targeted. …

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