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Nantes, Edict of

NANTES, EDICT OF

NANTES, EDICT OF. As Catholics flocked to Henry IV's side after his 1593 conversion to Catholicism, the French Calvinists, or Huguenots, began to consider the once unthinkable possibility that they would have to go to war against the very man who had for so long championed their cause. One sign of their disaffection was the fact that few Huguenots lent their support to the king's war against Spain, declared in 1595. They greatly worried that their precarious freedom to worship might be taken away from them. Henry IV also dreaded the notion of fighting the Huguenots, even though Catholic pressure grew upon him to restrict their rights in order to prove his sincerity as a Catholic. The situation called for decisive action by the king lest a new religious war break out, especially as negotiations to end the war with Spain moved ahead, culminating in the Treaty of Vervins in May 1598.

In a bold move to avert this crisis, Henry IV reached a historic settlement with the Huguenots on 13 April 1598 in the Edict of Nantes. This famous accord has been seen as an important step forward for the idea of religious toleration as well as a victory for the notion that politics takes precedence over religion. Upon closer examination, however, neither of these interpretations can be sustained. The Edict of Nantes stated as its principal goal the eventual peaceful reunion of the king's subjects in one agreed-upon faith. In the meantime, the king wished to ensure religious coexistence of the two confessions so that this process of reunion could go forward. The Edict of Nantes therefore affirmed the age-old French heritage of "one king, one faith, one law" rather than looking forward to modern ideas about toleration and secularism. It testified more to the growing authority of the crown than any willingness to accept religious differences on a permanent basis.

In the Edict of Nantes, Henry IV tried to solve the dilemma he faced of reassuring the Huguenots without alienating the Catholics. A closer look at the edict shows how he hoped to achieve these contrasting goals. Four separate documents actually made up the Edict of Nantes. The first one consisted of ninety-two general articles, while the second one had fifty-six "secret articles" that granted exemptions from the general articles to particular towns and persons. The last two documents were royal writs known as brevets. The reason for all this complexity in the edict stemmed from the political circumstances that Henry IV faced. The first two sets of articles had to be registered in the Parlement of Paris, which was the chief judicial court in France, in order to receive the force of law. Royal brevets, by contrast, did not need to be registered because they ended once the king who originally issued them had died. They were thus provisional in nature. Henry IV put the most controversial concessions to the Huguenots in the royal brevets because he knew that the Parlement of Paris, which was controlled by the Catholics, would never register them. In fact, it took nearly a year for the parlement to accept the first two sets of articles. How long the Edict of Nantes would last was therefore, from a legalistic point of view, an open question right from the outset. Henry IV's declaration in the preamble that the edict was "perpetual and irrevocable" actually meant only until such time as another edict was issued and registered to replace it.

The provisions making up the Edict of Nantes did not break new ground but rather returned quite explicitly to earlier edicts of pacification, such as the Peace of Bergerac (1577) and Peace of Fleix (1580), sometimes word for word. First, the king consigned all events since 1585 to oblivion, making it a crime to stir up the memories of past grievances. The edict recognized the Huguenots' right to freedom of conscience and liberty to worship in all towns that they controlled as of August 1597. It also guaranteed the right of Huguenots to hold political office and established special new courts with both Huguenot and Catholic judges to enforce the provisions of the edict. At the same time, the Edict of Nantes also addressed Catholic concerns. It reaffirmed, for example, the Catholic character of both the crown and the kingdom. While Huguenots could only worship in specially designated areas, Catholics could practice their faith anywhere in France. In fact, the Edict of Nantes called for the reintroduction of Catholicism in places where Huguenots had long forbidden it, most notably Béarn. All of these general principles in the first set of articles became decidedly less firm when considering all the exceptions to them contained in the second set of"secretarticles."The most significant concessions to the Huguenots cameinthe two royal brevets, the first of which provided generous royal funds to help subsidize the French Calvinist Church, while the second allowed the Huguenots to fortify and garrison towns under their control. These measures thus provided financial and military security to the Huguenots, but only while Henry IV was king.

The Edict of Nantes thus brought a temporary end to the Wars of Religion, which broke out once again after Henry IV's assassination in 1610 as the Huguenots tried to secure the substantial gains they had made in the royal brevets. They ultimately failed to do so when Henry IV's son, Louis XIII, finally defeated the Huguenots in 1628 after the siege of La Rochelle. Louis XIII stripped the Huguenots of their former military independence and subsidies in the Grace of Alais (1629), though he recognized their right to worship in places already established. The provisions in the two sets of articles came to an end in 1685 when Henry IV's grandson, Louis XIV, revoked the remaining provisions of the Edict of Nantes in the Edict of Fontainebleau. He did so because he mistakenly believed that most of the Huguenots had returned to the Catholic Church. The resulting persecution forced the French Calvinist Church to go underground, while many Huguenots emigrated to Germany, England, and North America. French Calvinists only enjoyed the right to worship publicly later on, in 1787, just prior to the French Revolution.

See also France ; Henry IV (France) ; Huguenots ; Louis XIV (France) ; Parlements ; Toleration ; Wars of Religion, French .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Goodbar, Richard L. The Edict of Nantes: Five Essays and a New Translation. Bloomington, Minn., 1998. A new translation of the edict and five essays assessing its general significance.

Labrousse, Elisabeth. Essai sur la révocation de l'Édit de Nantes. Paris, 1985. An excellent study of the forces shaping Louis XIV's fateful decision to rescind the edict.

Roelker, Nancy Lyman. One King, One Faith: The Parlement of Paris and the Religious Reformations of the Sixteenth Century. Berkeley, 1996. A probing examination of the law court's role in engaging the subject of religious reform, including the controversies surrounding the Edict of Nantes.

Sutherland, N. M. The Huguenot Struggle for Recognition. New Haven, 1980. The definitive work on the political and military dimensions of the Huguenot efforts to secure a place in late-sixteenth-century French society.

Michael Wolfe

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Nantes, Edict of

Edict of Nantes, 1598, decree promulgated at Nantes by King Henry IV to restore internal peace in France, which had been torn by the Wars of Religion; the edict defined the rights of the French Protestants (see Huguenots). These included full liberty of conscience and private worship; liberty of public worship wherever it had previously been granted and its extension to numerous other localities and to estates of Protestant nobles; full civil rights including the right to hold public office; royal subsidies for Protestant schools; special courts, composed of Roman Catholic and Protestant judges, to judge cases involving Protestants; retention of the organization of the Protestant church in France; and Protestant control of some 200 cities then held by the Huguenots, including such strongholds as La Rochelle (see Rochelle, La), with the king contributing to the maintenance of their garrisons and fortifications. The last condition, originally devised for an eight-year period but subsequently renewed, was to serve as guarantee to the Huguenots that their other rights would be respected; however, it gave French Protestantism a virtual state within a state and was incompatible with the centralizing policies of cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin and of Louis XIV. The fall (1628) of La Rochelle to Richelieu's army and the Peace of Alais (1629) marked the end of Huguenot political privileges. After 1665, Louis XIV was persuaded by his Roman Catholic advisers to embark on a policy of persecuting the Protestants. By a series of edicts that narrowly interpreted the Edict of Nantes, he reduced it to a scrap of paper. Finally, in 1685, he declared that the majority of Protestants had been converted to Catholicism and that the edict of 1598, having thus become superfluous, was revoked. No French Protestants were allowed to leave the country; those who openly remained Protestants were promised the right of private worship and freedom from molestation, but the promise was not kept. Thousands fled abroad to escape the system of dragonnades, and several provinces were virtually depopulated. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes weakened the French economy by driving out a highly skilled and industrious segment of the nation, and its ruthless application increased the detestation in which England and the Protestant German states held the French king. Its object—to make France a Catholic state—was fulfilled on paper only, for many secretly remained faithful to Protestantism, while the prestige of the Roman Catholic Church suffered as a result of Louis's intolerance.

See W. J. Stankiewicz, Politics and Religion in Seventeenth Century France (1960).

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Edict of Nantes

Edict of Nantes

A decree passed by King Henri IV in 1598 that granted full religious liberty to the Huguenots (Protestants) of France. The decree allowed the Huguenots freedom to worship in private and public as they chose; it also granted them control of certain towns in France and set up courts of Catholic and Protestant judges that would hear cases involving Protestants. The edict was an attempt to end the decades of religious conflict in France that had resulted in thousands of deaths and decline in order throughout the kingdom. After the death of Henri IV, however, his successor King Louis XIV sought to consolidate royal control over the Protestant towns, including the strategic port of La Rochelle on the western coast. The armies of the king attacked and defeated La Rochelle in 1628, and by the Peace of Alais the Protestant towns lost their independence. In later decades Louis gradually ended the privileges granted to the Huguenots and in 1685 revoked the Edict of Nantes. This action resulted in the flight of thousands of Huguenot families to the Low Countries and to French colonies in North America, which drained France of a population vital to its growing manufacturing economy. The revocation also increased political tensions with France's Protestant neighbors.

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Nantes, Edict of

Nantes, Edict of (1598) French royal decree establishing toleration for Huguenots (Protestants). It granted freedom of worship and legal equality for Huguenots within limits, and ended the Wars of Religion. The Edict was revoked by Louis XIV in 1685, causing many Huguenots to emigrate.

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Edict of Nantes

Edict of Nantes (decree of toleration): see HUGUENOTS.

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Nantes, Edict of

Nantes, Edict of: see HUGUENOTS.

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