Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Huguenots

by C.J. Chase

Just in time for the beginning of school, here is a history pop quiz. What do the following people have in common? 

George Washington
Paul Revere
Louis Comfort Tiffany
E.I. du Pont
Alexander Hamilton
Davy Crockett
Johnny Depp
Madeleine L’Engle
Henry David Thoreau
John D. Rockefeller
Tom Brokaw
Winston Churchill
Abraham Lincoln

Yes, you’re right. They all had Huguenot ancestors. (You peeked at the title of this post, didn’t you?)

Today, we think of France as a country of primarily Roman Catholic Christians, but that wasn’t always the case. While the country is now only 2% Protestant, at the height of the Reformation in France, approximately one–eighth (12.5%) of the country affiliated with Protestant churches.

Church reform movements such as the Waldensians had flourished in France since the Middle Ages, but a combination of rising literacy and the printing press made the writings of reformers such as Jacques Lefèvre and John Calvin available to the population. By 1560, Huguenots (the term given to French Protestants) had over 2,000 churches in France. Most of the Huguenots came from the middle and upper classes of French society.

But with their growing numbers and influence came growing fear from those in power. 
Giorgio Vasari's fresco depicting the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, circa 1573
The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of August, 1572 began as a Parisian political assassination and quickly spread to wholesale slaughter across the entire country. Estimates for the number of Protestant dead range from a low of 5,000 to a high of 100,000 murdered. (Interestingly, even to this day, the widely divergent estimates tend to fall along sectarian lines.)

A time of relative calm followed the ascension of Henry of Navarre to the French throne in 1593. A Protestant, Henry was nearly killed himself during the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. (He was in Paris for his wedding to the French Princess Margaret.) Since only a Catholic could inherit the French throne, Henry converted, claiming "Paris is well worth a mass." But unlike his predecessors, King Henry IV promoted tolerance and freedom of conscience among his subjects. The 1598 Edict of Nantes allowed Huguenots their own churches, schools, and courts in Protestant-controlled areas of France. Think of it as a two-state solution, French style.

But persecution began again after Henry IV’s death, culminating in the Edict of Fontainebleau, which revoked the Edict of Nantes in October of 1685. King Louis XIV instituted a draconian policy of “one king, one law, one faith” that stripped Huguenots of their rights and often their lives. Hundreds of thousands fled for the Netherlands, the German principalities, England, Scotland, Ireland, the British colonies of North America (Protestants were not allowed in French colonies), South Africa, and Switzerland. By 1700, 15% of the population of New York was French Huguenot. In Amsterdam, the figure was an astounding 25%.

John Everett Millais’ Huguenot lovers on St. Bartholomew’s Day, 1852
Most of them were from the middle and upper classes—artisans, craftsmen, physicians, lawyers, and 600 of France’s military officers. Their flight created a “brain drain” that hampered the French economy for generations. With the widespread loss of France’s stable, productive middle class, the country was left with a lopsided nobility/peasant dynamic. Many historians suggest this contributed to the grievances that resulted in the French Revolution a century later.

Because of their specialized skills, the Huguenots were welcomed into their new countries. They contributed greatly to their new communities, and they integrated rapidly. Indeed, so thorough was their assimilation, millions of their descendants are unaware they carry French blood in their veins. If you trace your ancestry to Protestants in Western Europe or North America, there is a high likelihood you are one of them. Did you know one-third of all US presidents have Huguenot ancestry? 

Perhaps their greatest contributions were their love of liberty and their beliefs that (1) rulers were subject to the people and (2) the people do not have to obey tyrannical rulers who go against God’s laws. The 1579 treatise Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos (A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants) by Huguenot writer Junius Brutus was well-known in Colonial American and influential in developing American political philosophy. Here are a couple of quotes:

“…now we say that the people establish the kings, putteth the scepter into their hands, and which with their suffrages approveth the election. God would have it done in this manner to the end that the kings should acknowledge that, after God, they held their power and sovereignty from the people.”

"Now seeing that the people choose and establish their kings, it followeth that the whole body of the people is above the king…”

Pretty subversive stuff for its day—and not all that different from this famous line from the Declaration of Independence, written 200 years later: “…Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” 

Today there is growing persecution of Christians in countries such as Egypt, Syria, and Pakistan. Let us pray that these brothers and sisters will have strength. But even more, we should encourage our elected officials to welcome these refugees onto our shores, for millions of us are descended from people similarly afflicted. "Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.." (Deut. 10:19 ESV)

Have you ever done any research into your family history? Did you find anything that surprised you, like maybe a French ancestor or two?

After leaving the corporate world to stay home with her children, C.J. Chase quickly learned she did not possess the housekeeping gene. She decided writing might provide the perfect excuse for letting the dust bunnies accumulate under the furniture. Her procrastination, er, hard work paid off in 2010 when she won the Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Manuscript and sold the novel to Love Inspired Historicals. Her next book, The Reluctant Earl, will be available  February 5, 2013. You can visit C.J.'s cyber-home (where the floors are always clean) at  www.cjchasebooks.com


  1. Very interesting information, C.J.! This brings to mind the books by Golden Keyes Parsons, inspired by her own family history.

    I have not yet found any links in my family history to the continent (we were all pretty much stuck on that little island off the coast of Europe) but I am really intrigued by the numbers you've given.

    Honestly when I think of France now I don't think of any religion. This has helped.

    Thank you for leading off our new season of history posts!

  2. Deb, the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland says 40-50,000 Huguenots went to the British Isles. Supposedly, they brought the word "refugee" with them to the English language.

    What I've noticed is that Huguenots usually intermarried quite quickly and they often changed the spellings of their names to something more in line with their new country/language. Thus Béné became the English-looking Baney or Joui became the German-looking Schuey.

  3. I know I have French ancestors, but I don't know what their religion was. I do know I have some British aristocracy and I signer of the Declaration of Independence in my background, as well as some American Indian. I'm pretty much a basic American mutt.

  4. I did a little. Was very surprised to discover a possible Jewish ancestor--considering that branch of the family was once notoriously and shamefully anti-Semitic. Unfortunately there's not much pretty or noble in my lineage.

    On the other hand,I've been adopted. I'm a child of the King.

  5. As I was reading your post, C.J., I got to the point about King Louis instituting the draconian policy and thought, "So how did Draco get the Elder Wand?" Thus I had to google for the answer before I resumed reading your post.

    The Huguenots flight from France was France's loss and many other countries' gain. Especially America.

    Of course, I can't help wonder how the spiritual and social landscape of France would have been had the Huegenots not been forced out of France.

  6. Dina, I think anyone who has family that's been here more than a couple generations is pretty much American mutt. In the movie 1776, Benjamin Franklin says something along the lines of (I'm too lazy to look it up, but paraphrasing here) "we have created a new race" when some were arguing the Americans were still English.

    A lot of "family" history is as much about the cultural impact on us as the DNA we inherit.

  7. Princess Barb -- we must be sisters then, because He's my adopted father too.

    My family tree is pretty much solidly middle class. No one famous. No one infamous. But they were the God-fearing, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth types who are an asset to their communities. I would do well to follow in their footsteps.

  8. Gina, I've often wondered the same thing about France. How different would their history have been? Would they still have suffered from the excesses of the French Revolution? Would there even have been a Napoleon?

    Hmm. Maybe when I tire of writing Regencies, I'll do alternative history Regencies -- where there was no Napoleon and France developed along the lines of countries such as Britain and the Netherlands...

  9. Great post, CJ. I appreciate how you tied it to persecution in our contemporary world. We definitely should be praying for our persecuted brethren.

    I have Huguenot ancestors: Andre and Suzanne Lamoureaux. They fled to Bristol, England, and later sailed to America, but they also helped numerous Huguenots escape (Andre was a ship pilot). Andre and Suzanne have a few thousand American descendants, from what I've gathered. They must have been very brave, righteous people. I admire them and hope to learn more about them.

    And as for spellings, Lamoureaux became Lamoree with Andre and Suzanne's grandchildren, who were born in America. :)

  10. Alternate history regencies? Fascinating.

    Realistically thinking, I wonder how an author would sell something like that in the CBA. ABA, yes.

    Ugh. Must take care of sick child who thinks she wants a quesadilla but will take one bite and decide that's not what she wants.

  11. I can hear the wheels turning in Inky brains right now.

    Writers are a strange lot. "there must be a story in there, somewhere.'

    Christianity and Islam are booming in third world nations. Islam seems to be booming in the industrialized nations as well.

    Christianity is falling off everywhere. I don't know if politics will change this but a church body that was actively serving and loving their own community and doing missions work would. The church is falling in its call. Mega churches seem to be focusing on self-help instead of serving.

  12. Susie, Andre and Suzanne sound like they should be in a book! My father's family came to America from Zeeland (the most southwesterly province in the Netherlands) and I know we have a lot of Huguenot names, having been so close to France. But I don't any any of the individual stories. I'd love to learn them.

  13. Well, Gina, maybe I'll already be famous for my Regencies by the time I get around to my alternative history Regencies, and I'll be able to write what I want. After my French utopian series, perhaps I'll do a series of dark dystopian Regencies where Napoleon wins and my main characters are part of the underground British resistance fighting to free their country from a tyrant...

    Um, okay. It's a nice thought.

  14. Deb, it's a scary time.

    One of the reasons the Huguenots fascinate me so is their deep convictions and willingness to give up everything. Even the act of fleeing France was illegal for them. Men who were caught were sent to the galleys. Women to prison and their children taken away from them.

    And I ask myself -- do I have that kind of devotion?

  15. Thanks for this very informative post, CJ. I always assumed Huguenots were descendants of a family who'd fled France - and that was their surname.

    Nelson is delving into my heritage while I work on his. Mine is uneventful.

    When I took over researching the Draper family, there were about 100people in the family tree. After 4-5 months, there are now 1600. Because I connect with other family trees, I sometimes get 2 people with similar names, so I'd say about 4 dozen of those in our tree are duplicates that I'm trying to ferret out. I don't delete them until I have the proof/citation to back it up, though.

    The Draper ancestry is fascinating:

    - 6 siblings and their families escaped the United States during the American Revolution and settled in Ontario, north of Toronto. None of the siblngs have admitted who their parents are. This has led to speculation that they were United Empire Loyalists, but without information, there is no proof.

    - Of the 6 siblings, 3 of the brothers were Wesleyan Methodist ministers. In fact, Nelson has more ministers in his family than anyone I know and yet he was raised without a church background.

    - Nelson's 3rd Great Grandfather is Joel Draper, Snr, one of the orignal 6 siblings who not only settled in Upper Canada (now Ontario) but were actually some of the original settlers. Joel Draper's daughter, Pamela, married James White, an original settler who turned from farming to running a tavern in 1850ish as their land lay on the stagecoach route from Toronto to places north.

    - Especially funny about James White is that his brother, Peter, built a church across the road from the tavern and preached there for many years.

    - Some of the Drapers married Quakers and it's reputed that an uncle of the 6 siblings may even be James 'The Puritan' Draper.

    - In August, I was able to trace one branch of Nelson's family back to his 10th Great Grandfather - Walter Deane (1540-1585) and Johanna Walsele (1545-1597), both of Sommerset, England.

    - The more I research the Draper family, the more I understand the history of Upper Canada, and all those who moved out to settle here, around Regina, Saskatchewan. This helps in my writing since I've set my Mountie story in Regina. Also, we've found the original Draper plots and headstones in the Regina Cemetery and have shown our kids where their history lies.

    - This whole Draper genealogoy is fascinating which is why I'm posting all the letters from Nelson's grandpa and grandma's courtship on Author Memories.

    I'd tell you more, but I've probably lost your interest already. Ha!

  16. Great post CJ. My Huguenot ancestors were Gylettes. (sp?) and when they escaped France became Gillettes. Their sons (or grandsons?) came to America in 1633 and became Quakers.

  17. Obviously I haven't done genealogy for a long while or this would all be fresh in my mind.


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