French Huguenots

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Huguenots were Protestants, many of them followers of John Calvin, who fled France in their thousands following religious persecution initiated around 1661 by the king, Louis XIV, with thousands of them coming to Ireland. The name Huguenot is believed to be derived from St. Hugo a Protestant at the time of the Reformation, although other meanings have been suggested. Persecution had been going on in France sporadically since the middle of the 16th century and on 24th August 1572 the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day had occurred when thousands of Protestants were killed.

By 1662 the number of Protestants in France had grown to over one million; in 1685 Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes and made Protestantism illegal, with the result that more than 400,000 fled the country.

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an excerpt from Elizabeth Gaskell's - "Traits and Stories of the Huguenots"

Five years after Henry the Fourth's formal abjuration of the Protestant faith, in fifteen hundred and ninety-three, he secured to the French Protestants their religious liberty by the Edict of Nantes. His unworthy son, however, Louis the Thirteenth, refused them the privileges which had been granted to them by this act; and, when reminded of the claims they had, if the promises of Henry the Third and Henry the Fourth were to be regarded, he answered that "the first-named monarch feared them, and the latter loved them; but he neither feared nor loved them." The extermination of the Huguenots was a favourite project with Cardinal Richelieu, and it was at his instigation that the second siege of Rochelle was undertaken - known even to the most careless student of history for the horrors of famine which the besieged endured. Miserably disappointed as they were at the failure of the looked-for assistance from England, the mayor of the town, Guiton, rejected the conditions of peace which Cardinal Richelieu offered: namely, that they would raze their fortifications to the ground, and suffer the Catholics to enter. But there was a traitorous faction in the town; and, on Guiton's rejection of the terms, this faction collected in one night a crowd of women, and children, and aged persons, and drove them beyond the lines; they were useless, and yet they ate food. Driven out from the beloved city, tottering, faint, and weary, they were fired at by the enemy; and the survivors came pleading back to the walls of Rochelle, pleading for a quiet shelter to die in, even if their death were caused by hunger. When two-thirds of the inhabitants had perished; when the survivors were insufficient to bury their dead; when ghastly corpses outnumbered the living - miserable, glorious Rochelle, stronghold of the Huguenots, opened its gates to receive the Roman Catholic Cardinal, who celebrated mass in the church of St. Marguerite, once the beloved sanctuary of Protestant worship. As we cling to the memory of the dead, so did the Huguenots remember Rochelle. Years - long years of suffering - gone by, a village sprang up, not twenty miles from New York, and the name of that village was New Rochelle; and the old men told with tears of the suffering their parents had undergone when they were little children, far away across the sea, in the "pleasant" land of France.

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Persecutions of the Huguenots and Their Experiences in the New Western World
Exhaustive Historical Researches
Clinton, New York
Member of the American Historical Association
Member of the New York State Historical Society
Member of the Oneida Historical Society
Author of Many Historical Researches

The name of Huguenot, as applied to the dissenters from the Church of Rome, is supposed to have been derived from Hugeon, a word used in Touraine to signify persons who walk at night. Their only safe place of worship for one hundred years had been dark caves and the blue vault of the heavens. The matter of religion with Louis, XIV was merely a pretext. He used the Church as a club for wholesale confiscation. It was a rich field to work in, and the proceeds lined the pockets of the dissolute nobles of his court.

The Huguenots, as a class, were the bone and sinew of France. The nobility were wealthy, the merchants and manufacturers prosperous, and the poorer classes sober and industrious. It is estimated that the loss to France by the Huguenot persecutions, first and last, was about 400,000. Manufactures and the arts were paralyzed, and the whole country suffered from its effects for one hundred years. Louis and his predecessors sowed the vipers' eggs that a century later brought Louis XVI and his court to the guillotine. Thus, in a measure, did time avenge the martyred Huguenots. This name was applied indiscriminately to those who adopted the creeds of Luther or Calvin. It seems they got an idea that the Bible would be a pretty good book for the people, and this did not suit the priests and monks of those days. They made a general job of burning both books and readers. Mankind is a contrary quantity, and, as is generally the case, their ideas grew and prospered under opposition and persecution. In the course of time, the Huguenots became a prominent factor among all classes, from noble to peasant. The followers of Luther and Calvin were the bone and sinew of the states, and in a general way, represented the best class of inhabitants.