Migratory flows (16th–19th century)

A royal decision

In 1685, at the height of his political power, King Louis XIV[1] signed an edict whereby he revoked an earlier edict promulgated by his grand-father Henry IV[2] . The Edict of Nantes[3] was declared « perpetual and irrevocable » but everybody knew that such a formula is no guarantee in so far as any monarch is legally entitled to go back on a predecessor's decision. As early as the 18th century, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (la Révocation) was, recognised by many, including a current within French Catholicism, as a human, economic and political catastrophe. A human catastrophe for the religious minority of Protestants struck by their government's exercise in social control, it was an economic and political catastrophe for France. Indeed, it pushed into the arms of her European enemies an often well qualified population. This victory of Catholicism, royal power's faithful ally is no doubt one of the deep causes of the anticlericalism exhibited in the following century, notably by Voltaire who professed to « crush the infamous thin ».

France numbered then, according to demographer-historian Pierre Goubert, some 20 million inhabitants. In religious terms, this population broke down into a huge, almost 19 million strong Catholic majority and a little over one million Protestants also known as the Huguenots[4] , or “réformés” for being the direct heirs to the 16th century Reformation movement. While the revocation edict expels the pastors, it expressly forbids their flock to leave the realm ; and yet, between 150 and 200,000 people, no less, will take the road to exile – already, for some, in the few years preceding the Revocation, but mostly, for the others in the 15 years that followed. This migratory flow (1% of the whole French population) will be the most important experienced in Europe in the 17th century.

Huguenot Protestant migration (17th Century) © SA, ESO Le Mans
  1. Louis XIV (1638-1715)

    King of France from 1643 when he was still in his minority. Son of Louis XIII and grandson of Henry IV he started to rule in his own right in 1661. His political pursuit of prestige was conducted on several fronts : monarchic centralisation thereby weakening the aristocracy's role, cultural drive, military campaigns. He liked to be known as Louis the Great but, his death found France much weakened.

  2. Henry IV (1553-1610)

    King of France from 1589, the first of the Bourbon Line. He converted from Protestantism to Catholicism and restored peace within France (Edict of Nantes) and without, notably with Spain. His political brilliance, his bon viveur image, but also his assassination, have made him one of the most popular figures in French history.

  3. Edict of Nantes

    The Edict of Nantes refers to the 1598 edict by King Henry IV of France that secured rights for the Huguenot (Protestant) population. The aim of the edict was to restore civil unity in a predominantly Roman Catholic France after years of religious strife. The Edict of Nantes granted the Protestants freedom of religious conscience, which did not imply general freedom of worship. It allowed them to live everywhere in France but they were not permitted to worship except in strictly determined places (Protestant worship was for instance forbidden in Paris and wherever the king was travelling).

    Henry's law brought internal but restive peace to the kingdom where resentment between Catholics and Protestants simmered. http://elec.enc.sorbonne.fr/editsdepacification/.

  4. Huguenots

    The name French Calvinist Protestants came to be known by in the 16th and 17 centuries.

AccueilAccueilImprimerImprimer Michel Grandjean, professeur à l’Université de Genève (Suisse) Paternité - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de ModificationRéalisé avec Scenari (nouvelle fenêtre)