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Huguenots - Rearguard of
Westward-moving Israel

by C. G. Soutter


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Israel's Stragglers Re-join the Main Body

The story of the Huguenots is inevitably linked with that of the Reformation because the Huguenots were a product of the Reformation. The name was given to the French Protestants, but it is often applied to the Flemings who also were Protestants and refugees, at the same time as the Huguenots. The origin of the name is uncertain; one suggestion is that it is derived from the French word Huguon meaning one who walks by night. Other suggestions are that it is derived from the German word Eidgenossen, meaning confederate, or from the name Hugues, a Genevese Calvinist.

Great impetus was given to the Reformation by the invention of printing. Bibles had previously been produced by hand and it had taken an expert about ten months to make a copy, with the result that there were very few copies. The first record of a Bible being printed is that of Gutenberg who started printing them in Mainz about 1455. This was known as the Mazarin Bible and had 641 leaves, the language being Latin. Gutenberg, with his partner Schoeffer, kept the process secret. However, their printing establishment at Mainz was destroyed by the archbishop and the printers were scattered over Europe, taking their knowledge with them. Printing then started at many places. The Bible was the book which was mostly printed; it was also translated into a number of languages. It was the present of a printed Bible which inspired Luther.

Papal Chaos

At this time the Papacy was in a parlous spiritual state, the popes having political power as well as religious status. St. Peter's was being rebuilt and, to raise money Pope Leo X sold indulgences. These were pardons costing different amounts depending on the gravity of the sin: thus sin was commercialised. A rascally monk named Tetzel travelled about selling indulgences and making the wildest promises about forgiveness of sins in order to raise money. It was these indulgences to which Luther objected. Whilst Luther led the Reformation in Germany, it was Zwingli who inaugurated it in Switzerland and he was followed by Calvin, a refugee from France. Calvin established himself at Geneva, which at that time was a city state under the King of Savoy and outside the Swiss Confederacy.

In France the Protestants adopted Calvin's teaching from Geneva: the movement spread very rapidly and alarmed the Pope. The King of France, Charles IX, succeeded to the throne when he was only a boy of ten, and was under the domination of his mother, Catherine de Medici, who acted as regent. There were three main parties in France: the Guises who were ardent Roman Catholics, the Bourbons who were Protestant, and the Montmorencies who were part-Catholic and part-Protestant.

At Vassey, in Champagne, the local Protestants met regularly and held services. Unfortunately, Vassey was in the territory of the Guises, who threatened the Protestants if they continued to hold their services. The Protestants ignored the threats and, meeting in a barn on March 1, 1562, they were attacked by troops led by the Duke of Guise and a massacre followed. This was the spark which touched off the trouble and it was followed by massacres at many places throughout France.

A civil war started and continued until 1570, when a peace was signed. At first the Prince of Conde was the Protestant leader: he was joined by Admiral Coligny, who later took the lead. Catherine de Medici seems to have supported the Huguenots at first. However, after attending a meeting at Bayonne with the Duke of Alva, minister of Philip II of Spain, who was an ardent Roman Catholic, she seems to have changed over completely to the support of the Roman Catholics. A marriage was later arranged between Catherine's daughter, Margaret, and the Huguenot leader Henry of Navarre. As the Pope would not grant a dispensation for the wedding to be celebrated in a Roman Catholic church, Catherine forged a dispensation and the wedding took place in Notre Dame.

St. Bartholemew's Day Massacre

Many Huguenots imagining themselves safe, gathered for the wedding. However, on the following day, a massacre was planned: this terrible St. Bartholomew's Day tragedy, which has never been forgotten, was carried out on August 24, 1572. The wedding guests were the first to be slaughtered, and among them was Admiral Coligny, the Huguenot leader. The Pope was delighted at the news, but when the French Ambassador called at the English Court, he found Elizabeth in mourning and departed in shame. After this there was widespread fighting in France, especially in the Centre and South West. St. Bartholemew's Day Massacre

The terrible massacre of 1572 is vividly reflected in this painting by Calderon of Huguenots fearing for their lives.   Courtesy: The Mansell Collection

In our own country (England) where, as just mentioned Elizabeth was Queen, Huguenot refugees from France and Flemish refugees from Flanders were coming to England in thousands, to escape the persecution. The King of France tried to stop this flood of refugees but was quite powerless. Eventually the Pope excommunicated Elizabeth and this brought plots to assassinate her by people who thought it no sin to kill an excommunicated person. Mary, Queen of Scots, used by the Roman Catholics, was no doubt concerned in this; eventually to be tried for treason and executed.

The climax of this tragedy was the Armada. The records show that one of the underlying ideas behind this was to suppress heresy in England as witness the fact that the Spanish fleet carried many priests, inquisition officers and equipment. It seems that the French and Flemish Protestants were mainly of the merchant and craftsmen class. As a result, the refugees who arrived here brought little material wealth, having escaped with just what they were able to carry away. But they brought their skills and crafts and these were invaluable, both to themselves and to the country of their adoption.

Previously, wool had been produced in Britain and sent over to the Continent to be dyed and woven into cloth. Attempts had previously been made to persuade dyers and weavers to settle here and a few had already done so. Now these people came over in large numbers and set up their trades. In 1561 a large number of Flemings landed near Deal and also near Sandwich and were given assistance. Others landed at Harwich, Yarmouth, Dover and other places. Many moved on to London, Norwich, Maidstone, Canterbury and other centres.

The immigration from various parts of France and Flanders continued for many years. Cloth-makers came from Antwerp and Bruges, lace-makers from Cambray, glass-makers from Paris, stuff-weavers from Meaux, shipwrights from Dieppe and Havre. Steel-makers from the neighbourhood of Liege started the manufacture of steel at Newcastle and Sheffield. Potters from Delft instituted pottery. Many merchants set up business in the City of London and prospered. It will be of interest to British Israelites to learn that Flemish weavers settled at Glastonbury in 1549.

Full Flow

A census of immigrants, living at Dover at this time, showed that of seventy-eight refugees, two were preachers of God's Word; three were physicians and surgeons; two were advocates; two esquires; three were merchants; two were schoolmasters; thirteen were drapers, butchers and other trades; twelve were mariners; eight weavers and wool-combers; twenty-five were widows and makers of bone; two were maidens; one the wife of a shepherd; one a gardener and one a nondescript male. It is of interest to note that the immigrants seem to have introduced market-gardening into this country and that salads were almost unknown here before they came. Examples of Flemish names which still persist are: Walker, Stocker, Murch, Maynard, Raymund, Rochett and Kettle. Others with French names changed them to the English equivalent or modified them after a few generations, thus l'Oiseau became Bird, Le Jeune became Young, Le Fevre became Smith, Le Noir became Black and Le Coque became Cox.

Huguenots settled in Ireland especially in Ulster but they do not seem to have spread to Scotland in any great numbers. They were protected by Queen Elizabeth and her policy was followed by the Stuarts. During the reign of Charles I, however, Bishop Laud tried to compel them to conform to the English liturgy and, as most were Calvinists, a number left England for Holland. However, this restriction ended after a few years and many of these people returned to this country.

Churches were set aside for the refugees. At Southampton a Church of St. Julian, called God's House, was founded in Winkel Street near the harbour. Detailed records of this Church extending up to 1797 were formerly available in Somerset House and no doubt these records still exist. In Canterbury Cathedral the Walloons were granted a permit to use the Under-Croft or Crypt, first as a weaving shed, then as a school, and finally as a church. A church of great interest to the British Israel movement was called Leicester Fields and is now called Orange Street Chapel (in Orange Street, London).

In France the persecution continued, although in 1598 the Edict of Nantes gave the Huguenots some toleration for a while. But the edict was largely ignored after the death of Henry IV, who was the Henry of Navarre mentioned above. La Rochelle, a Huguenot stronghold on the Atlantic coast, was besieged. Charles I sent the Duke of Buckingham from England with troops to assist the Huguenots, but he failed dismally and La Rochelle fell in 1628.

War against the Huguenots was now carried on by Cardinal Richelieu; the Huguenots ceased to be a political party and were distinguished only by their religion. Despite all the persecution the Huguenots still carried on some industry in France. Silk was manufactured with great success at Tours and Lyons, paper was manufactured, and bleached cloth and sail-cloth were made in Brittany and elsewhere.

During the reign of Louis IX, an enlightened minister, named Colbert, who had constructed the Languedoc Canal connecting the Bay of Biscay with the Mediterranean, appreciated the value of the Huguenots to the economy of France and secured some toleration for them and even persuaded some to return. However, after Colbert's death matters again took a turn for the worse.

In October 1685 the Edict of Nantes was revoked; this sounded the death-knell of the Huguenots in France. They were now subjected to an even more terrible persecution; their remaining churches were destroyed and they were prohibited from teaching the Protestant faith to their children. Probably the greatest hardship was the quartering of troops on Protestant families; these troops gave the families a terrible time unless they turned Catholic.

Huguenots were prohibited from leaving France and were severely punished if detected in escape, men being sent to the galleys and women imprisoned, for life. Despite this, a large number succeeded in getting out of France along escape routes, such as over the Vosges into Germany, over the Jura mountains into Switzerland and hidden in barrels or among the cargoes of English ships. Many of them settled on the Continent, in Germany and in Scandinavia; others crossed the Atlantic to America and a number settled in Cape Colony, which is now rich in their descendants. However, the majority settled in England and Holland.

It is necessary to consider what was happening at this time in the Netherlands. Charles V, who became Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1519, inherited the Netherlands and Spain, the Netherlands at that time including present-day Holland and Belgium. Margaret, Duchess of Savoy, had previously ruled over the Netherlands and when she died, Charles appointed his own sister Mary in her place. He appointed Rene of Chalons, Prince of Holland, as Stadtholder of Holland, Zealand and Utrecht.

The House of Orange

Chalons is in France to the South of Rheims whilst Orange was a small independent state in the South of France, north of Avignon, which in Roman times had been an important district. In The National Message for April 1969 Helene van Woelderen showed that the people of Orange were of Israelitish origin and that the House of Orange is Israelite, although the territory of Orange subsequently passed into French hands.

The title, Prince of Orange, was an ancient one and came to Rene through a succession which included Bertrand de Beaux, Raymond de Beaux and others. Four years after his appointment as Statdtholder, Rene died, leaving his territory to his cousin William of Orange-Nassau, who is often referred to as William the Silent: he had been brought up in the Court of the Emperor Charles V. When the Emperor died, Philip II became King of Spain and his territory included the Netherlands. A strong Roman Catholic, he sent the Duke of Alva with Jesuit priests to suppress heresy in the Netherlands. A terrible time followed and parts of the southern Netherlands, now Belgium, which up to then had been a rich industrial region, were impoverished. Antwerp, which had been a busy port of a hundred thousand inhabitants, nearly ceased to exist.

William of Orange-Nassau took refuge for a while in Germany and bands of Dutch, known as 'the Beggars', harassed the Spaniards by sea and land. Eventually, led by William and helped by mutinies among the Spanish troops, the country was freed, but this took some years: the details can be followed in Dutch history. An attempt was made to unify the Netherlands, but this did not succeed and the country split into two states which we know as Holland and Belgium: the one Calvinist and the other Catholic. Holland became a republic, with the Princes of Orange as Stadtholders, and continued so until 1815 when Prince William VI of Orange was made king to become King William I of Holland. In 1890 there was no male successor to King William III and the Queen, Emma, was made regent until her daughter came of age, to become Queen Wilhelmina in 1898. In England the last of the Stuart kings, James II, was an ardent Roman Catholic and tried to restore the Roman religion. As a result of his policy there was the abortive rebellion by Monmouth and the prosecutions under the notorious Judge Jeffries. Eventually Prince William III of Orange was asked to oppose James, his wife Mary being a daughter of James and in the line of succession, whilst William's mother was a daughter of Charles I.

William landed at Torbay with an army which was largely Huguenot and included three French Huguenot regiments and a squadron of French Huguenot cavalry and, moving to London, gained support. James, finding that the country was turning against him, fled to France. From there, with the help of the French king, Louis XIV, he landed in Ireland, being welcomed in that country, which was largely Roman Catholic, with the exception of Ulster where the Protestants took refuge asking help from William. He had difficulty in providing assistance as most of his Huguenot troops had been disbanded when James fled. As a result, Huguenots were recalled from Switzerland and Holland and sent to England, where they were re-embodied into Huguenot regiments and hurried to Ulster.

At first the troops in Ulster were under the command of Marshal Schomberg, a veteran who had been dismissed from the French Army because he was a Protestant. Later, William himself took over the command. The deciding event was the Battle of the Boyne, which was a great victory for the Protestants of Ulster over the French and Irish troops under James. The battle, at which Schomberg was killed and William wounded, was fought on July 1, 1690, and is celebrated by the Orange Society on July 12 each year, this being the date on which the Baffle of Aughrim was fought. It can clearly be seen what a tremendous debt this country owes to the Huguenots and Flemings and how much it has benefited from the skills and crafts they brought with them. They formed the basis of industrial England. We still benefit from them and from their descendants still among us. It should also be remembered that the Huguenot persecution was one of the main causes of the French Revolution, because France by this lost the middle class which gave it stability and a good economy. Thus France did not go unpunished. We must pay tribute to these gallant people who underwent so much for their faith based so whole-heartedly on the Bible. They were surely people of the House of Israel whom the prophet Amos tells us would be 'sifted among all nations' and they were brought to the 'Isles' which was to be their place of refuge.

When we consider what the Huguenots endured we can realise how well and truly we have been protected in this land which the prophets call 'the Isles' and 'the North and the West', and which has more recently been called 'England's green and pleasant land'.

Orange Street Congregational Church