The Huguenots

They were mercilessly persecuted, they were killed, raped, and robbed, they were put in dungeons or they became galley slaves: the Huguenots, a French protestant minority religion. At the end of the 17th century more than 200.000 Huguenots fled from France to many European countries and even to America.


The Huguenots

It all begins 500 years ago when the ideas of Luther and especially Calvin lead to the establishment of a new protestant, reformed religion in France. This is the starting point for a long history of conflict, bloodshed and persecution. And what happens in France has important implications that extend far beyond its borders. The persecution in France leads to an exodus of several hundred thousands of Huguenots. On a night in August 1572 the river Seine in Paris turns red by the blood of 3.000 Protestants, called Huguenots. They are massacred on the order of the king’s mother Caterina de’Medici, a Catholic who wants to destroy the new protestant religion root and branch. The Bartholomeus Day. In the following days another 15.000 Huguenots are killed throughout France. It is the worst crime in a long series of eight religious civil wars the French people have to endure in the 16th and 17th century. La Rochelle is in the centre of this fight; the most important Huguenot city becomes the scene of murderous sieges, twice. In 1685 under the reign of Louis XIV the persecution reaches its peak and more than 200.000 Huguenots are able to escape from France.

Most of them go to Great Britain and Ireland (50.000), the Netherlands (50.000), Germany (40.000) and Switzerland (20.000). There they develop a significant influence on the culture, architecture, science, economy, and also on politics. Despite the religious conflicts, their former homeland France is the most advanced European country of the time and so the Huguenots with their knowledge and experiences become a motor of progress in their new homelands. In Britain their centres are London, Kent, Bedfordshire and Norwich. There are many stories of very successful Huguenots, e.g. Henri de Portal / Henry Portal who founds a paper mill in Southampton and provides the paper for the money of the Bank of England in 1727. The Hugeuenots in Germany also have some decisive influence – and not only in Germany. Elénore Desmier d’Olbreuse is a Hugenot refugee and becomes, by marriage, Duchess of Brunswick and Luneburg. Her daughter, Sophie Dorothea, has a son who becomes Britain’s King George II in 1727 – the grandson of a Huguenot. Four Huguenot regiments fight in Ireland in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 against Jacob II. For them this is also a fight against Louis XIV and Catholicism. After the capture of Ireland many Huguenots get involved in the so-called plantations in Ulster, e.g. they build up the important linen-industry.

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