Friday, October 18, 2013

LOUIS XIV Revokes the Edict of Nantes ~ October 18, 1685

The Edict of Nantes (sometimes spelled Edict of Nantz) was issued on April 13, 1598 by Henry IV of France to grant the Calvinist Protestants of France (also known as Huguenots) substantial rights in a nation still considered essentially Catholic. The main concern was civil unity, and the Edict separated civil from religious unity, treated some Protestants for the first time as more than mere schismatics and heretics, and opened a path for secularism and tolerance. In offering general freedom of conscience to individuals, the edict offered many specific concessions to the Protestants, such as amnesty and the reinstatement of their civil rights, including the right to work in any field or for the State and to bring grievances directly to the king. It marks the end of the religious wars that tore apart the population of France during the second half of the 16th century.


The Edict aimed primarily to end the long-running, disruptive French Wars of Religion. Henry IV also had personal reasons for supporting the Edict. Prior to assuming the throne in 1589 he had espoused Protestantism, and he remained sympathetic to the Protestant cause: he had converted to Catholicism only in 1593 in order to secure his position as king, supposedly saying "Paris is well worth a Mass". The Edict succeeded in restoring peace and internal unity to France, though it pleased neither party: Catholics rejected the apparent recognition of Protestantism as a permanent element in French society and still hoped to enforce religious uniformity, while Protestants aspired to parity with Catholics. "Toleration in France was a royal notion, and the religious settlement was dependent upon the continued support of the crown."

Re-establishing royal authority in France required internal peace, based on limited toleration enforced by the crown. Since royal troops could not be everywhere, Huguenots needed to be granted strictly circumscribed possibilities of self-defense.

The Edict

The Edict of Nantes that Henry IV signed comprised four basic texts, including a principal text made up of 92 articles and largely based on unsuccessful peace treaties signed during the recent wars. The Edict also included 56 "particular" (secret) articles dealing with Protestant rights and obligations. For example, the French state guaranteed protection of French Protestants travelling abroad from the Inquisition. "This crucifies me," protested Pope Clement VIII, upon hearing of the Edict. The final two parts consisted of brevets (letters patent) which contained the military clauses and pastoral clauses. These two brevets were withdrawn in 1629 by Louis XIII, following a final religious civil war.

The two letters patent supplementing the Edict granted the Protestants places of safety (places de sûreté), which were military strongholds such as La Rochelle, in support of which the king paid 180,000 écus a year, along with a further 150 emergency forts (places de refuge), to be maintained at the Huguenots' own expense. Such an act of toleration was unusual in Western Europe, where standard practice forced subjects to follow the religion of their ruler — the application of the principle of cuius regio, eius religio.

While it granted certain privileges to Protestants, the edict reaffirmed Catholicism as the established religion of France. Protestants gained no exemption from paying the tithe and had to respect Catholic holidays and restrictions regarding marriage. The authorities limited Protestant freedom of worship to specified geographic areas. The Edict dealt only with Protestant and Catholic coexistence; it made no mention of Jews, or of Muslims, who were offered temporary asylum in France when the Moriscos were being expelled from Spain.

The original Act which promulgated the Edict, has disappeared. The Archives Nationales in Paris preserves only the text of a shorter document modified by concessions extracted from the King by the clergy and the Parlement of Paris, which delayed ten months, before finally signing and setting seals to the document in 1599. A copy of the first edict, sent for safekeeping to Protestant Geneva, survives. The provincial parlements resisted in their turn; the most recalcitrant, the parlement of Rouen, did not unreservedly register the Edict until 1609.


The Edict remained in unaltered effect, registered by the parliaments as "fundamental and irrevocable law", with the exception of the brevets, which had been granted for a period of eight years, and were renewed by Henry in 1606 and in 1611 by Marie de Médecis, who confirmed the Edict within a week of the assassination of Henry, stilling Protestant fears of another St. Bartholomew's Day massacre. The subsidies had been reduced by degrees, as Henry gained more secure control of the nation. By the peace of Montpellier in 1622, concluding a Huguenot revolt in Languedoc, the fortified Protestant towns were reduced to two, La Rochelle and Montauban. The brevets were entirely withdrawn in 1629, by Louis XIII, following the Siege of La Rochelle, in which Cardinal Richelieu blockaded the city for fourteen months.

During the remainder of Louis XIII's reign, and especially during the minority of Louis XIV, the implementation of the Edict varied year by year, voiced in declarations and orders, and in case decisions in the Council, fluctuating according to the tides of domestic politics and the relations of France with powers abroad.

In October 1685, Louis XIV, the grandson of Henry IV, renounced the Edict and declared Protestantism illegal with the Edict of Fontainebleau. This act, commonly called the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, had very damaging results for France. While the wars of religion did not re-ignite, many Protestants chose to leave France, most moving to Great Britain, Prussia, the Dutch Republic, Switzerland and the new French colonies in North America. Huguenots also settled in South Africa. This exodus deprived France of many of its most skilled and industrious individuals, who would from now on aid France's rivals in Holland and England. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes also further damaged the perception of Louis XIV abroad, making the Protestant nations bordering France even more hostile to his regime. Upon the revocation of the edict, Frederick Wilhelm issued the Edict of Potsdam, which encouraged Protestants to come to Brandenburg.

Image &

My Dennis had a collection of state and national flags. During the first Gulf War we flew three flags daily— the flags of the US, the UN and the ally of the day. Whenever we had house guests, we made a point of getting a flag from the state or country of the guests and fly it during their visit.

Dennis designed a Spizzwink(?) standard when we hosted a party back in 1989. It was a red ‘S’ with a superimposed ‘?’. (You may have wondered why I generally include a parenthetical question mark after the name Spizzwink(?) That’s because the name is so weird that most people question its accuracy.)

Dennis also designed a new French flag. It’s really splendid both from a design standpoint and an historical basis. Today’s French tricolore had its origin in the first French Revolution. Napoleon continued to use it with a superimposed ‘N’ and laurel wreath, or with Napoleonic bees, or various regimental insignia. The white Bourbon ensign with fleur-de-lis returned at the Restoration. Then the tricolore came back with the Second Republic and remained with the Second Empire. After 1870 and the fall of Napoleon III, there was a chance that France would become a monarchy again. The pretender, le Comte de Chambord, refused however to retain the tricolore and insisted on restoration of the Bourbon ensign with its fleur-de-lis. As a result, France then became a Republic again. Le Comte de Chambord would have been wiser to have followed the example of his ancestor Henry IV.

My nephew Sheridan was married in Nantes on July 6th, 2007. The Edict of Nantes was issued by Henry IV of France, who was willing to become Catholic in order to become King. “Paris is worth a Mass” was his famous alleged remark. The Edict granted religious toleration to Protestants (until revoked by Louis XIV.) Similarly, le Comte de Chambord could have said: “Paris is worth a flag,” but he didn’t. On the other hand, Dennis’ design would have been a suitable compromise.

Dennis was fond of saying that the French tricolore is a strong image, but reflects barely two hundred years of French history. Yet within its colors lies the entire spectrum of French history for a millennium and a half. The Red is symbolic of Charlemagne and the Capetian dynasty, the Blue of Valois, and the White of the Bourbon. As Napoleon had superimposed his ‘N’, so le Comte de Chambord could have accepted the tricolore with three superimposed fleur-de-lis in a chevron pattern as Dennis designed it – to make a French Unity flag.

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