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Template:Campaignbox French Wars of Religion The Edict of Fontainebleau (October 1685) was an edict issued by Louis XIV of France, also known as the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes of 1598, which had granted to the Huguenots the right to practice their religion without persecution from the state. Though Protestants had lost their independence in places of refuge under Richelieu, they continued to live in comparative security and political contentment. From the outset, religious toleration in France had been a royal, rather than a popular policy.[1] The lack of universal adherence to his religion did not sit well with Louis XIV's vision of perfected autocracy: "Bending all else to his will, Louis XIV resented the presence of heretics among his subjects."[2]

Effects of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes

By this edict, Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes and ordered the destruction of Huguenot churches, as well as the closing of Protestant schools. This policy officialized the persecution already enforced since the dragonnades created in 1681 by the king in order to intimidate Huguenots into converting to Catholicism. As a result of the persecution by the dragoons billeted upon prominent Huguenots and the subsequent Edict of Fontainebleau, a large number of Protestants — estimates range from 210,000 to 900,000 — left France over the next two decades, seeking asylum in England, the United Provinces, Switzerland, Brandenburg-Prussia, Denmark, the Habsburg's Holy Roman Empire, South Africa and North America.[3] On January 17, 1686, Louis XIV himself claimed that out of a Huguenot population of 800,000 to 900,000, only 1,000 to 1,500 had remained in France.

Louis XIV's pious second wife Madame de Maintenon was a strong advocate of Protestant persecution and urged Louis to revoke Henry IV's edict; her confessor and spiritual adviser, François de la Chaise, must be held largely responsible.

The revocation of the Edict of Nantes created a state of affairs in France similar to that of virtually every other European country of the period (possibly with the exception of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), where only the majority state religion was tolerated. The experiment of religious toleration in Europe was effectively ended for the time being. In practice, the revocation caused France to suffer a kind of early brain drain, as it lost a large number of skilled craftsmen, including key designers such as Daniel Marot. Upon leaving France, Huguenots took with them knowledge of important techniques and styles — which had a significant effect on the quality of the silk, plate glass, silversmithing (see: Huguenot silver), and cabinet making industries of those regions to which they relocated. Some rulers, such as Frederick Wilhelm, Duke of Prussia and Elector of Brandenburg, who issued the Edict of Potsdam in late October 1685, encouraged the Protestants to seek refuge in their nations.

The Edict of Fontainebleau is compared by many historians with the 1492 Alhambra Decree, ordering the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain; and with Expulsion of the Moriscos during 1609-1614. The three are similar both as outbursts of religious intolerance ending periods of relative tolerance, and in their social and economic effects.

In practice, the stringency of policies outlawing Protestants, opposed by the Jansenists,[4] was relaxed with time, especially among discreet members of the upper classes. "The fact that a hundred years later, when Protestants were again tolerated, many of them were found to be both commercially prosperous and politically loyal indicates that they fared far better than the Catholic Irish", R.R. Palmer concluded.[5] Individual persecution still occurred, however, such as the judicial murder in 1762 of the Protestant Jean Calas which inspired Voltaire's Treatise on Toleration. This polemic became famous throughout Europe, discrediting religious persecution and making possible the French government career of the Protestant Jacques Necker at the close of the Ancien Régime.

Famous Huguenots who left France


  1. "The fate of Catholics at the hands of a triumphant Parliament in England suggests that the Protestants in France would have been no better off under more popular institutions," observed R.R. Palmer, A History of the Modern World, rev. ed. 1956:164.
  2. Palmer, eo. loc.
  3. Spielvogel, Western Civilization — Volume II: Since 1500 (5th Edition, 2003) p.410
  4. Charles H. O'Brien, "The Jansenist Campaign for Toleration of Protestants in Late Eighteenth-Century France: Sacred or Secular?" Journal of the History of Ideas, 1985:523ff.
  5. Palmer, eo. loc.

See also

External links

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