Huguenot (pronounced hyu-ga-no) was the name given to a French person who practised the Protestant religion. It dates from the mid 16th century, when the religion was becoming more popular in Europe.
What is the Protestant religion?
A Protestant is a type of Christian who does not support the Roman Catholic Church and its way of doing things. The name dates from 1517, when a German monk called Martin Luther wanted to reform the Roman Catholic Church. Why? He thought it was corrupt and he objected to the many rituals and beliefs. An influential French pastor, John Calvin, widely promoted the growth of this new religion, called Protestantism. It spread quickly across Northern Europe – from present-day Germany, to the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, France, England and Ireland. Soon there were over 1 million Protestants in France.
A Royal Command
In 1598, King Henri IV of France signed an Edict (a royal command) which allowed the Protestants to worship as they wished – as long as they didn’t upset the Catholics. This was called the Edict of Nantes.
In 1685, King Louis XIV revoked (withdrew or cancelled) the Edict of Nantes as he wanted every French child to be brought up a Catholic. Many Protestants converted but many refused.
Churches were shut and Ministers ordered to leave France. All Huguenots were forbidden to leave France but some were courageous enough to leave by stealth to seek refuge, mainly in Holland, Switzerland, Germany – and England.
The First Refugees
Huguenots were the first refugees - the first immigrants to come to England to seek sanctuary to practise their faith. In the years after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, some 50,000 arrived in London alone. They settled, worked hard, married, set up businesses and had families. Now one in six of us have Huguenot ancestry.