Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes
Louis XIV (Sun King) [1643-1715]

This strange marriage of the King was never made public, and Madame de Maintenon was never looked upon as Queen. But she had far more power than the Queen had ever had. She was often with the King when he consulted with his ministers, and sometimes when matters were hard to settle he would turn to her and ask, "What does your Solidity think?"

As a rule she gave good advice, but in one thing at least her advice was bad. For she urged the King to root out utterly the Protestants.

By bribery and cruelty many were persuaded to become, or to pretend to become, Catholics. Thousands in this way were converted. "I can quite believe," wrote Madame Maintenon, "that all these conversions are not sincere. But God makes use of all ways of bringing back heretics. Their children at least will be true Catholics."

Thousands thus gave way, but thousands more resisted, and soldiers were sent over all the country to enforce the King's commandment. Many of these soldiers were dragoons. They were sent to live in the houses of those who would not obey. They plundered and wrecked the houses and tortured the people in most brutal ways, and from their name this persecution is often called the Dragonade.

Thousands to escape the misery pretended to be converted. Still Louis and his advisers were not satisfied. And on October 17, 1685, he signed the famous paper known as the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

This took away from the Protestants all the privileges which Henry IV had granted to them. They were ordered once and for all to give up their religion. Their churches were to be pulled down, their ministers were banished and were given only a fortnight in which to leave France. At the same time the people themselves were forbidden to leave the country.

Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes because he said there was no longer need of it. He believed, or pretended to believe, that nearly every one in France had become Catholic. If there were no Protestants a law to protect them was useless.

But Louis was wrong. There were thousands of Protestants still in France, and terrible persecutions followed, for hundreds refused to obey the new law.

The adviser who had taken the place of Colbert was named Louvois. He was minister of war and his advice was always for war. He was harsh and cruel also. It was the King's will, he said, that those who would not accept his religion should be punished with the greatest sternness: "Those who have the stupid vanity to hold out to the last shall be pursued to the bitter end."

And this was done until life became so unbearable that in spite of the fact that they were forbidden to go thousands fled from the country. They disguised themselves in every sort of way, for all the great routes and all the ports were watched. Rich merchants, and gentlemen and their wives dressed themselves as beggars in dirty old rags. With children in their arms, and leading others by the hand, they begged their bread from door to door. Many people, sorry for the poor wretches with such large families, gave them food, and in this way many children were taken safely out of the country.

And strangely enough the children themselves seemed to understand the danger. They behaved like beggar children, and never once betrayed their parents or friends who were taking charge of them.

Many ladies who had never walked a mile in their lives trudged along league after league carrying heavy loads, pretending to be travelling tinkers. Some dressed themselves as men and boys, and plodded along in the mud like footmen and pages, while their guide, who was perhaps a poor peasant, rode on a fine horse and pretended to be a great gentleman.

Others as peasant women drove cattle and pigs before them as if they were going to market. Others again who had money enough bribed the officers and soldiers to let them pass. In a hundred ways they fled the country.

Many escaped safely, but many also were caught. Then their fate was worse than ever, for the men were sold as slaves, or sent to work in the galleys, while the women were put into convents, where they suffered many torments until they changed their religion.

The French Protestants fled chiefly to England, Holland, Germany, and Switzerland, where the people received them kindly. These countries were all the richer for their coming, France was all the poorer for their going. France lost thousands of good soldiers and sailors, and above all skilled workmen. For among those who fled were men and women who knew how to spin and weave the fine silks, woolen stuffs and beautiful laces for which France was famous.

Many towns in England owe the rise of their spinning and weaving industries to these French refugees. One whole district of London (Spitalfields) was peopled by silk-weavers from Lyons and Touraine, and to this day is peopled by their descendants.

In Germany, Berlin was a dirty little town with badly built houses and narrow dark streets surrounded by a sandy desert. There the French crowded, for the Elector was a Protestant and received them kindly. The nobles who came built beautiful houses, the workmen planted market gardens, and the dirty little town began to grow into a beautiful city, the sandy desert became a blooming garden.

Louis was astonished and disgusted that his people should dare to resist his will. But even among the courtiers, even among the great soldiers and sailors, there were Protestants. They who were ready to shed their blood, to lay down their lives in the service of their King, yet demanded freedom to worship God in their own way.

Among them was the old Admiral Duquesne. He it was who had beaten Ruyter, the famous Dutch admiral. He was so bold that the pirates of the Mediterranean said his bride was the sea. He lived so long that they said the Angel of Death had forgotten him.

Yet for all his service to his country Duquesne remained unrewarded. "I cannot reward a Protestant," said the King.

"Sire," replied the old sailor proudly, "I am a Protestant, but I have always thought that my services were catholic."

"For sixty years I have rendered to Caesar that which was Caesar's" said Duquesne at another time. "It is time to render unto God that which is God's," and he begged leave to quit France. He was forbidden to do so, but he was allowed to live in peace and follow his own religion until he died.

His children, however, fled to Switzerland, and when their father died they begged to be allowed to bury him there, but the request was refused. So they raised an empty tomb and carved upon it: "This Tomb awaits the body of Duquesne. Passer, if you ask why the Dutch have raised a splendid monument to Ruyter vanquished, and why the French have refused a tomb to Ruyter's vanquisher, the fear and respect with which a king whose power extends afar inspire me, do not allow me to reply."

The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes was Louis XIV's grand mistake. It is the great blot on his reign. But the flatterers who surrounded him saw no mistake. They praised and glorified him for the deed. "It is the grandest and finest thing that he has done," was the cry. Statues were raised to the destroyer of heresy, medals were struck showing Louis crowning Religion.

But while at home Louis was being flattered and praised, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes was arousing hatred against him in every Protestant country of Europe. These countries formed themselves into a league against him called the League of Augsburg. Then at the Revolution of 1688 William of Orange, who was Louis's bitter enemy, became King of Great Britain and Ireland, and the British joined the League of Augsburg. Louis looked upon the British Revolution as an insolent revolt of the people against kingly power. So he gladly welcomed to his court James II and his Queen and treated them with magnificent kindness.

Soon another great war began between the states of Europe and this mighty over-weening tyrant of France.

But in spite of the odds against him Louis was almost everywhere victorious. Turenne and the great Conde were indeed gone, but their places were taken by Vauban and Luxembourg, generals almost as famous. Vauban especially was famous as a great engineer as well as general. So the French were victorious everywhere in Germany, in Spain, in Italy, on sea as well as on land. William III alone seemed able to make a stand against them.

But although France was everywhere victorious the land was utterly exhausted. No one since Colbert died had known how to manage the money matters. So the taxes grew heavier, the people poorer and poorer, till they were little better than beggars. The people who lived in misery grew tired of the glory of their King. They were dying of want to the sound of Te Deums it was said. Men who were dying of hunger cared little for glory. Women who wept for their dear dead ones cared little for the sound of Te Deums, sung in honor of victories which brought to them only sorrow and mourning. So the hearts of the people turned from their King. Yet the King heeded not. He went his own vainglorious way.

A great priest and writer of the time was at length brave enough to warn Louis, but he dared not sign his name to the letter he wrote.

"The whole of France," he said, "has become nothing but a vast desolated hospital. The people who have loved you so much begin to lose their friendship, their confidence, and even their respect. Every day they die from the evils caused by famine. And while they lack bread you lack money. And you will not see the awful danger which threatens you. Every one knows it, and none dares tell you. It is time to humble yourself beneath the mighty hand of God. You must ask for peace and expiate by this shame all the glory which you have made your idol. God has held His arm raised over you for a long time past. But He is slow to strike because He has pity on a prince who all his life has been surrounded by flatterers."

At length in spite of his blind passion for glory Louis made peace. This was the Peace of Ryswick, signed in 1697. The war had brought France nothing but "glory" too dearly bought.