In 16th century France the population was predominately Catholic, but with the coming of the Reformation and French reformers such as John Calvin (Jean Cauvin, 1509-1564) protestantism started to spread. The protestants of France became known as Huguenots. Though only about 10% of the French population became Protestant this caused great unrest and bitter religious wars between 1559 and 1598. In 1572 thousands of Huguenots were killed in the St. Batholomew's Day Massacre in Paris. In 1598 King Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes which guaranteed Protestant freedoms and for a time the Huguenots of France enjoyed the religious and civil freedoms promised them.
The Roman Catholic church opposed the Edict of 1598 and in 1685, King Henry IV's Catholic grandson, King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes and declared all citizens of France to be Catholic. This forced the Huguenots to either practice their faith in secret or to flee to other Protestant countries including England, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Ireland. It is estimated that approximately 250,000 people fled France in the 1680s. The word refugee first came into the English language from this time.
The Huguenots took with them their religion but also their skills are artisans, many being silk weavers, silversmiths, paper makers, woolen weavers and stocking and glove makers. All these skills where very welcome in the countries they fled to and helped support the families in their new locations.
Since the 1680s the world has changed and Huguenots as a group have disappeared. However if you have a French sounding surname or ancestors with skills in the trades mentioned above it may be worth looking a little closer at the possibility of a Huguenot connection.
The following items are available within the Library.
Here are some suggested links to our catalogue that may be helpful.
To view all items held in the State Library's collection on the topic of Huguenots click here.