Huguenots, a name of uncertain origin, first applied by the Roman Catholics of France to all partisans of the reformation, but subsequently restricted to the Calvinists. Some derive it from one of the gates of the city of Tours called Hugons, at which these Protestants held some of their first assemblies; others from the words Huc nos, with which their protest commenced; others from aignos (Ger. Eidge-noss), a confederate. The Dictionnaire de Tre-voux suggests its derivation from the hiding in secret places and appearing at night like King Hugon, the great hobgoblin of France. Prof. Mahn, in his Etymologische Untersuchungen, who quotes no fewer than 15 different derivations, derives the word himself from Hugues, the name of some conspirator or heretic, from which it was formed by the addition of the French diminutive ending ot. The reformation in France was but little influenced by Luther, and before Calvin took the lead was almost entirely self-developing. "It was not," says D'Aubigne, "a foreign importation. It was born on French soil; it germinated in Paris; it put forth its shoots in the university itself, that second authority in Romish Christendom." Anti-Catholic influences had been at work in France from an early age.
Arianism had for several centuries been the prevailing religion of a part of southern France, and though it was finally rooted out by the victory of the Catholic Franks, there remained a widespread dissatisfaction with the religion of the victors. Throughout the middle ages the national sentiment of the race of Languedoc, as the history of the Albigenses and kindred sects amply proves, was prone to sympathize and to identify itself with demands for religious reform, and even with open secession from the church of Rome. (See Catharists.) To these influences was added during the reign of Francis I. the very important aid of courtly fashion, or rather the sympathy of those nobles and scholars who had become interested in the revival of letters, and who in France, as in Germany and other countries of Europe, were involved in animated conflicts with the monks and the prominent theologians of the churches. These elements of courtly, scholarly, or popular opposition to the church gave birth not merely to the humor of Rabelais, but to the poetry and philosophy which sprung up around the beautiful Marguerite of Valois, queen of Navarre, from whom the spirit of the reformation was transmitted to Jeanne d'Albret, the mother of Henry IV. At this court all poets, scholars, and clergymen more or less tinctured with the spirit of reform, such as Lefevre, Farel, and Roussel, were welcome; and for a time it seemed as though the court and the government of France might be gained for the cause of the reformation.
But at length Francis I., like his opponent the emperor Charles V., decided in favor of the old church, as the papal nuncio succeeded in convincing him that "a new religion disseminated among the people must result in a change of kings." In the city of Meaux, around its bishop Briconnet, a large body of men inclined to the new faith began, without formally professing schism, to act as reformers. Among these were Gerard Roussel, Francois Vatable, Martial Mazurier, Josse Clicthou, Michel d'Arande, and Guil-laume Farel. Their labors, joined to the political and social agitations of the day, soon attracted persecution. It is remarkable that this persecution in France acted so effectually on the French reformation as to free it in a great measure from excesses such as those of the Anabaptists in Germany. Yet it would probably have fallen away had not the strong hand of Calvin taken it up (1528). Hence we find the French reformers embodying Calvin's ideas of church government and discipline in a common confession of faith, which was formally done at the celebrated general synod in May, 1559. During the reign of Henry II. (1547-59) the Huguenots gathered such strength as to entertain hopes of becoming the dominant political party; hopes which were confirmed by the fact that several of the royal family, such as the king of Navarre, his brother the prince de Conde, and many of the nobility, including the Chatillons and Admiral Coligni, favored the reformation.
From this blending of religious reform with politics arose the conspiracy of Amboise, whose object was to overthrow the power of Duke Francois of Guise and his brother the cardinal de Lorraine, who with Mary of Scotland ruled the kingdom through the feeble-minded boy-king Francis II. The king of Navarre and prince de Conde were deeply involved in this plot, and would have suffered death with their Calvinist friends had it not been for the unexpected demise of the king. This occasioned a pause in persecution, of which the queen mother, Catharine de' Medici, and the ruling party availed themselves for political purposes, becoming more moderate in their treatment of reformers. By extending toleration to the Augsburg confession, the cardinal de Lorraine shrewdly fomented quarrels between the Calvinists and Lutherans. This state of affairs, which led to terrible commotions, was again temporarily checked by the edict of January, 1562. At this time, during the reigns of two successive kings whose intellectual inferiority rendered a regency always necessary (after 1559), Catharine de' Medici held the reins of authority, while the dukes of Guise supported by the Catholics, and the princes of Bourbon by the Huguenots, contended for the regency.
Some liberal concessions, made for the sake of policy by Catharine and the Guises to the Huguenots, excited the anger of the Catholics, and to allay these feelings war was renewed and raged till the peace of St. Germain (1570), when full liberty was guaranteed the Huguenots, and the king's sister given as wife to Henry of Navarre. The leading Protestants were invited to Paris to the nuptials, where on the day of St. Bartholomew, 1572, a general massacre of Protestants was attempted at the instigation of the queen mother. The Huguenots, with Henry of Navarre as leader, now battled against the holy league formed by the Guises and Philip II. of Spain. Charles IX. died a victim to nervous excitement (1574), and Henry III., disgusted with the tyranny of the league, had Henry, duke of Guise, and the cardinal put to death, and fled for safety to the Protestant camp. He was himself assassinated by the Dominican Clement (1589), and was succeeded by Henry of Navarre, who, to pacify these terrible disorders in France, became a Catholic, but secured full freedom of conscience and all political and religious rights to the Huguenots by the edict of Nantes (1598). The murder of Henry IV. by Ravaillac (1610) left the Protestants without a protector.
Under his young son and successor Louis XIII. their rights were soon attacked. Cardinal Richelieu, determined to build up royal power and crush all jarring elements, at one time made war upon the Protestants, driving them into an unlucky league with England, which resulted in the siege and capitulation of La Rochelle. But his treatment of them was on the whole tolerant, though its ultimate result was to greatly diminish their numbers and weaken their power. From 1629 to 1661, under Richelieu and especially under his successor Mazarin, there was comparative rest. After the death of Mazarin several edicts were again published in rapid succession which aimed at reducing and finally exterminating the Huguenots. Colbert, from considerations of national economy, made the utmost efforts to secure toleration for them, but they were of little avail. Two years after his death, in 1685, Louis XIV. published the celebrated revocation of the edict of Nantes, on which occasion at least 500,000 Protestants took refuge in foreign countries.
From this time, for many years, their cause was completely broken in France. In the wild mountains of the Cevennes, the religious peasants, under the name of Camisards, waged war against the royal troops for the defence of Protestant principles; but they had finally to succumb. In 1705 there was not a single organized congregation of Huguenots left in all France. Soon, however, the scattered remnants were again collected and the church reorganized by the indefatigable Jean Court. Although under the reign of Louis XV. severe ordinances were again issued against them, they continued to increase, and in the middle of the century found a powerful aid in men like Montesquieu and Voltaire. Their position was greatly improved on the accession of Louis XVI. (1774), and finally the revolution restored to them their full rights, which have been substantially respected by all the succeeding governments of France. The right of convening general synods of the church was, however, not recovered till 1872. The term Huguenot had long before ceased to be the common name of the church, which is now known as the Reformed church of France. - So early as 1555, Coligni attempted, but without success, to establish a Huguenot colony in Brazil. In 1562 he sent out two ships, under the command of Jean Ribault, on a voyage of exploration to Florida, but the attempt to establish a colony was unsuccessful.
Many departed for North America even before the revocation of the edict of Nantes. Some settled in and around New Amsterdam, now New York, where their family names are frequent. Others found homes in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Virginia. But South Carolina was their favorite resting place, and a large number of the foremost families in that state are of Huguenot origin. This class of emigrants has contributed, in proportion to its numbers, a vast share to the culture and prosperity of the United States. Wherever they settled they were noted for severe morality, great charity, and politeness and elegance of manners. Of seven presidents who directed the deliberations of the congress of Philadelphia during the revolution, three, Henry Laurens, John Jay, and Elias Boudinot, were of Huguenot parentage. - Among the copious existing sources of Huguenot history, the principal are: Beza, Histoire ecclesiastique des Eglises reformees du royaume de France (Antwerp, 1580); Weiss, Histoire des refugies protestants de France (Paris, 1843; translated by H. W. Herbert, New York, 1854); Gieseler, Lehrbuch der Kirchengeschichte (Bonn, 1845-'7); Berthold, Deutschland und die Hugenotten (Bremen, 1848); Felice, Histoire des protestants de France (Paris, 1851); the Bulletin de la societe de lhistoire du protestantisme francais; La France protestante, by Eugene and Emile Haag (9 vols., Paris, 1859); Smiles, "The Huguenots: their Settlements, Churches, and Industries in England and Ireland" (London, 1867; American edition.
New York, 1869, containing a valuable appendix on the Huguenots in the United States, by G. P. Disosway, a descendant of a Huguenot family); Hugues, Histoire de la restauration du protestantisme de France au X VHP siecle (2 vols., Paris, 1872).