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Ancestor Searching Newsletter, Volume 1, # 12

The Huguenots: The French branch of the Reformation has come to be known to us as the Huguenots who were followers of the teachings of the French-born Reformer John Calvin. Around the middle of the 1550's the first congregations were becoming established in France, and before the decade was finished there were over 70 churches, which met for their first Synod in 1559. Also in 1559, a sickly fifteen year old Charles IX ascended to the throne with the government being run by his mother, Catherine Medicis. Three powerful families contended for supreme power in France with two of the families having developed strong Huguenot sympathies. Each of the three maintained their own territory located in a different section of the country.

At first, Catherine Medicis tried to promote peace between the Catholics and Protestants by granting certain privileges to the Huguenots with the Edict of St. Germain (1561). The peace became short-lived when on 1st March, 1562 a number of Catholics descended on a large Huguenot assembly in Vassy, killing 1200. This ignited the Wars of Religion which would rip apart, devastate, and bankrupt France for the next three decades.

By August 1570, the Regent Catherine de Medici was forced to proclaim the Peace of St. Germain to prevent the Huguenots from taking Paris. Their leader and spokesman, Gaspard Coligny, succeded in obtaining freedom of religious practice in all of the French cities except Paris. Coligny was the Admiral of the French navy as well as Governor of Picardy and had joined the Protestants in 1559. The Peace of St Germain illustrated clearly just how much power was vested in the Huguenots. The Catholics feared this power and it was decided to eliminate the Huguenots, particularly their leaders. With the marriage of Prince Henry of Navarre, a Huguenot, to Marguerite Valois (daughter of Catherine Medici) on 23rd and 24th August, 1572 an exceptional opportunity presented itself. It happened during the wedding, when thousands of Huguenots converged on Paris for the wedding celebrations.

At some point during the night of August 23, the decision was made at the Louvre to kill Coligny and the Huguenot leaders gathered around him. Charles IX was certainly there along with Catherine de' Medici and Henri d'Anjou. It may not have been originally intended to be a general massacre. Charles IX was reputedly badgered into this decision by Catherine and his counselors, and when he finally broke he is alleged to have said, "Well, then kill them all that no man be left to reproach me." The killing spread into the country side and lasted for 3 days. The powerful Huguenot Henry of Navarre's life was spared by pretending to support the Roman Catholic faith. Despite persecution, Protestantism continued to flourish in Orange, Uzès, and especially Nîmes even though religious battles occurred regularly. The Huguenots were considered a martyr church for over 200 years

When Henry of Navarre (King Henry IV) came to the throne in 1589 he pressed for the basic civil rights for the Huguenots although he himself had turned back to Catholicism. The 1598 Edict of Nantes temporarily brought relief to the persecuted church. However, in 1685 King Louis XIV of France revoked the edict. This drove the bulk of the Huguenots out of the country. France lost so many highly skilled and industrious people in this "brain and skill drain," that its economy suffered severely. It is estimated that more than 250,000 French fled. Perhaps that many more were killed in France before they could flee. Chief of state Richelieu, whose main goal was the unification of all aspects of French society into a form approved by Paris, eventually suppressed or destroyed Huguenot communities throughout France. The bloodiest of these skirmishes was in the Atlantic coast port of La Rochelle, but also destroyed were the Provencial strongholds at Uzès and Les Baux. The holocaust continued until the French Revolution. Many Huguenots who did not find their death in local prisons or execution on the wheel of torture, were transported to sea duty to serve their sentences as galley slaves. They were chained down to row galley slave ships which were not part of the French Navy (the French Navy was mostly Huguenot). The mortality rate was great among these prisoners with few being released alive and most rowing to their death.

Genealogy Workshop

Fact: The Huguenots of France were in large part artisans, craftsmen, and professional people and were usually welcomed into the countries where they fled for refuge when religious discrimination or open persecution caused them to leave France. Most of them went initially to Germany, the Netherlands, and England, although some found their way eventually to such far places as South Africa. Their character and talents in the arts, sciences, and industry were to such a high level of regard that they dealt a severe blow to French society which they were forced to leave, and considered to be a hugely tremendous gain to the communities and nations where they settled.

Tip: Considerable numbers of Huguenots migrated to British North America, especially to the Carolinas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York. An excellent FREE resource to consider in researching this group is the Huguenot-L mailing list which focuses on the Huguenots who settled in the United States. To subscribe to the Huguenot list, address your email request to either: Huguenot-L-request@rootsweb.com (if you'd like to join in list or mail mode) or to Huguenot-D-request@rootsweb.com (for subscribing in digest mode). In both cases, put only the word subscribe in the message body and in the subject line.

Genealogy News

Here are the final details of the TVGS 2007 Spring Seminar to be held on Saturday, March 31, 2007.

Seminar fee $30.00. Lunch will be provided, however, ONLY those who are pre-registered will be guaranteed a meal. (The caterer needs to know in advance how many total attendees). The location will be in the Main Library Auditorium.

The guest speaker this year is Shirley Wilson from Sumner County, Tennessee. She is a certified genealogist and a professional in the field since 1979. Shirley comes with a wide variety of experience to her name including...

  • Author of several family histories and county record books
  • Instructor of genealogy at Volunteer State Community College for twenty-five years
  • Past president of the Middle Tennessee Genealogical Society and currently serving as its Book Review editor
  • Serves at present on the Tennessee Historical Records Advisory Board
  • Retired director and one of the founders of the Sumner County Archives in Gallatin, Tenn.

SCHEDULE

9:00 – 10:00 –Registration, refreshments and book browsing

10:00 – 11:00 – “Combining Good Old Fashioned Research with Internet Sources.” This is not an in-depth course on the internet, but rather a demonstration of how the internet can bring astounding help along with some of its drawbacks.

11:00 – 11:15 – Refreshments

11:15 –12:00– “Research at the Tennessee State Library and Archives.” This lecture will guide you to the best use of this outstanding facility.

12:00 – 1:15 – LUNCH

1:15 – 2:00 – “What’s New in Genealogical Research.” New developments in the genealogical field, along with a session on the old Mero District and how it can help in your research.

2:00 – 2:15 – Refreshments

2:15 – 2:45 – Questions and Answers. All questions must be written out and given to Shirley in advance.

Event categories: