Nantes, Edict of

Nantes, Edict of is the name of a famous decree published by Henry IV of France, April 13, 1598, guaranteeing to his Protestant subjects the liberty of serving God according to the dictates of their conscience, and security for the enjoyment of their civil rights and privileges. The decree had been made necessary by many causes, the most important of which was Henry's own defection from the Protestant faith, and probable consequent alliance with the Romanists against those he once loved. SEE HUGUENOTS. There can be no doubt that Henry IV simply left the Protestant fold to secure the protection of Rome and its allies for his throne and realm. His own political actions after apostasy reveal such a cause. (See, however, for a defense of this king's apostasy, Jervis, Hist. of the Church of France, 1:199 sq.) Once a Romanist, he determined for the sake of pleasing the papal host to do all in his power to weaken the Huguenots, and thus indirectly largely assisted their persecution. Yet though Henry had quitted the Protestants in order to strengthen himself, he had still to learn that a great source of trouble and perplexity would come to him from those he had considered too weak to be worth his friendship or attention even. When suddenly forced to declare war against Spain, Henry found himself deprived of the support and aid of some of his most valuable citizens. They were Protestants, and after 1594, when the truce for hostilities had expired, and no guarantee as to their future had been granted them, thev had declared themselves "a state within the state." They would only hold their own strongholds, and refiused to take up arms in defence of a realm that failed to afford them the protection to which their citizenship entitled them. Even Romanists saw the folly of the king's course, and propositions were finally made to renew the edict of 1577, or, what is the same, the Edict of Nantes (1591), which had never yet taken effect because of the opposition of Parliament. The Reformed demanded more. In 1597 a meeting was called at Loudun to effect a reconciliation. It failed to bring about the much-desired result. Another meeting was called at Vendome, but it also failed; for the Protestants feared the direct influence of the court, which was in the immediate vicinity, and the meeting was adjourned to Sanmur. By the close of 1597, however, the different parties came to an understanding. France had been successful. Spain was in favor of peace, and in the hour of prosperity Henry was inclined to grant favors. The result was an agreement for the edict; and on the same day on which the peace with Spain was settled by the signature of the king, the edict obtained the king's approval and hand and seal (May 2, 1598). It was in reality a new confirmation of former treaties between the French government and the Huguenots, by which all verdicts against them were erased from the rolls of the courts, and their unlimited liberty of conscience was recognised. The preamble to this most important document, the Magna Charta of Protestant liberty in France, specifies, curiously enough, as the royal motive for issuing it, the necessity of completely and securely re-establishing the Catholic religion in those localities where it had been abolished during the late troubles; viz. Bearn, La Rochelle, Nismes, Montauban, etc. "Now that it had pleased God to grant repose to the kingdom from the destruction of civil war, the king felt it his duty to make provisions for the public worship and service of God among all classes of his subjects; and if it was impossible at present that all could be brought to agree in one and the same external form of worship, at all events there might be uniformity of spirit and purpose; and such regulations might be adopted as should obviate all danger of public disturbance or collision. Accordingly he had determined to enact and promulgate a law on this subject — universal, distinct, positive, and absolute — a perpetual and irrevocable edict; and he prayed God that his subjects might be led to accept it, as the surest guarantee of their union and tranquillity, and of the reestablishment of the French empire in its ancient power and splendor." Then follow the enacting clauses, comprised in ninety-two articles. Those who professed the "so-called Reformed religion" were to enjoy henceforth full and complete liberty of conscience, and the free exercise of their public worship throughout the realm of France, though not without certain restrictions. All seigneurs possessing the right of "haute justice" might assemble for worship with their families, their tenants, and others they chose to invite; landowners of a lower grade were not to hold meetings consisting of more than thirty persons. Huguenots were to be freely admitted to all colleges, schools, and hospitals; they might found, endow, and maintain educational and charitable institutions; and their religious books might be published in all places where their worship was authorized. They were to be eligible to all public employments on equal terms with Catholics, and on'accepting office were not to be bound to take any oaths, or to attend any ceremonies repulsive to their conscience. A new court, called the "Chambre de l'edit," was instituted in the Parliament of Paris, composed of a president and sixteen councillors, of whom one, or two at the most, were to be Protestants. Other similar courts were established in Guienne, Languedoc, and Dauphine. These were to take cognizance of all cases arising between Protestants and Catholics. Besides the privilege granted to the holders of fiefs, the Reformed worship was legalized in one town or village in every bailage throughout France. In certain specified places, however, it was altogether prohibited: at the court or residence of the sovereign for the time being; at Paris, and within a radius of five leagues round the capital; and in all military camps, with the exception of the personal quarters of a Protestant general. It was also excluded from Rheims, Dijon, Soissons, Beauvais, Sens, Nantes, Joinville, and other towns, in virtue of separate arrangements made by Henry with the local nobles. The Huguenots were enjoined to show outward respect to the Catholic religion, to observe its holydays, and to pay tithes to the clergy. They were to desist from all political negotiations and cabals, both within and beyond the realm; their provincial assemblies were to be forthwith dissolved; and the king engaged to license the holding of a representative synod once in three years, with the privilege of addressing the crown on the condition of the Reformed body, and petitioning for redress of grievances. There were, in addition, fifty secret articles which did not appear on the face of the edict. By one of these the king confirmed the Huguenots in possession (for eight years) of all the cautionary towns which had been granted to them by the treaty of 1577. Several of these were places of considerable strength and importance; including La Rochelle, Montauban, Nismes, Montpellier, Grenoble, Lectoure, Niort, etc. The expense of maintaining the Huguenot garrisons was to be defrayed by a royal grant of 80,000 crowns per annum. From this period the Reformers or Huguenots (who then counted 760 churches) had a legal existence in France, but gradually their political strength was crushed by the mighty despotism of Richelieuwho, however, never dreamed of interfering with their liberty of worship. Neither did his successors, Mazarin and Colbert. The edict had indeed been confirmed by Louis XIII in 1610, and by Louis XIV in 1652; but under the influence of a "penitence" as corrupt and sensual as the sins which occasioned it, this same Louis XIV, after a series of detestable dragonnades (q.v.), signed a decree for the revocation of the edict, October 18, 1685, at the instigation, it is generally believed, of the Jesuits and their willing handmaid, Madame de Maintenon, the mistress of the king. Although its provisions had, in fact, long been repealed by various ordinances forbidding the profession of the Reformed faith under severe penalties, the act of revocation was the death-knell of the Huguenots. It authorized the destruction of all Protestant churches, and prohibited all public and private worship; it banished all Protestant pastors from France; demanded the closing of all Protestant schools, and parents were forbidden to instruct their children in the Reformed faith, but enjoined to bring them up in the Roman Catholic religion. If any persons were detected in the act of attempting to escape from France, men were condemned to the galleys for life, and women were imprisoned for life. Such were some of the inhuman provisions of the edict of Revocation. The result of this despotic act was that, rather than conform to the established religion, 400,000 Protestants — among them the most industrious, the most intelligent, and the most religious of the nation — quitted France, and took refuge in Great Britain, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, and America. The loss to France was immense; the gain to other countries, no less. Composed largely of merchants, manufacturers, and skilled artisans, they carried with them their knowledge, taste, and aptitude for business. From them England, in particular, learned the art of manufacturing silk, crystal glasses, and the more delicate kinds of jewelry. Many besides these, whom the vigilance of their enemies guarded so closely as to prevent their flight, were exposed to the brutal rage of the soldiery, and assaulted by every barbarous form of persecution that might tend to subdue their courage, and thus engage them to a feigned and external profession of popery. See Michelet, Louis XIV et la Revocation de l'Edit de Nantes, page 284 sq.; Benoit, Hist. de Edit de Nantes (1693), 3:127 sq.; Ranke, Franzos. Gesch. volume 2; Morney, Meimoires et Correspondence (Par. 1824), volume 5; Wessenberg, Gesch. d. Kirchenversammlungen, 4:277, 280, 281; Seebohm, Protest. Revol. Page 267; Edinb. Rev. 80, 68 sq.; Smiles, Hist. of the Huguenots, and his Huguenots after the Revocation, pages 1-19, 24, 44, 45, 78; Weiss, Hist. des Refugies, page 1 sq.; Bray, Revolt in the Cevennes, pages 4-7, 13, 19, 49 sq., 214, 313; Smedley, Hist. of the Ref. Church in France, 3L42, 44 sq., 92, 231; De Felice, Hist. of Prot. in France, book 1, part 18, 20; book 4, chapter 17; and other works referred to under HUGUENOTS SEE HUGUENOTS .

 
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