The Edict of Nantes was issued on April 13, 1598 by Henry IV of France to grant the Calvinist Protestants of France (also known as Huguenots) substantial rights in a nation still considered essentially Catholic. The main concern was civil unity, and the Edict separated civil from religious unity, treated some Protestants for the first time as more than mere schismatics and heretics, and opened a path for secularism and tolerance. In offering general freedom of conscience to individuals, the edict offered many specific concessions to the Protestants, such as amnesty and the reinstatement of their civil rights, including the right to work in any field or for the State and to bring grievances directly to the king. It marks the end of the religious wars that tore apart the population of France during the second half of the 16th century.
The Edict aimed primarily to end the long-running, disruptive French Wars of Religion. Henry IV also had personal reasons for supporting the Edict. Prior to assuming the throne in 1589 he had espoused Protestantism, and he remained sympathetic to the Protestant cause: he had converted to Catholicism in 1593 only in order to secure his position as king, supposedly saying "Paris is well worth a Mass". The Edict succeeded in restoring peace and internal unity to France, though it pleased neither party: Catholics rejected the apparent recognition of Protestantism as a permanent element in French society and still hoped to enforce religious uniformity, while Protestants aspired to parity with Catholics. "Toleration in France was a royal notion, and the religious settlement was dependent upon the continued support of the crown."
Re-establishing royal authority in France required internal peace, based on limited toleration enforced by the crown. Since royal troops could not be everywhere, Huguenots needed to be granted strictly circumscribed possibilities of self-defense.
The Edict of Nantes that Henry IV signed comprised four basic texts, including a principal text made up of 92 articles and largely based on unsuccessful peace treaties signed during the recent wars. The Edict also included 56 "particular" (secret) articles dealing with Protestant rights and obligations. For example, the French state guaranteed protection of French Protestants travelling abroad from the Inquisition. "This crucifies me," protested Pope Clement VIII, upon hearing of the Edict. The final two parts consisted of brevets (letters patent) which contained the military clauses and pastoral clauses. These two brevets were withdrawn in 1629 by Louis XIII, following a final religious civil war.
The two letters patent supplementing the Edict granted the Protestants places of safety (places de s√Ľret√©), which were military strongholds such as La Rochelle, in support of which the king paid 180,000 √©cus a year, along with a further 150 emergency forts (places de refuge), to be maintained at the Huguenots' own expense. Such an act of toleration was unusual in Western Europe, where standard practice forced subjects to follow the religion of their ruler ‚ÄĒ the application of the principle of cuius regio, eius religio.
While it granted certain privileges to Huguenots, the edict reaffirmed Catholicism as the established religion of France. Protestants gained no exemption from paying the tithe and had to respect Catholic holidays and restrictions regarding marriage. The authorities limited Protestant freedom of worship to specified geographic areas. The Edict dealt only with Protestant and Catholic coexistence; it made no mention of Jews, or of Muslims, who were offered temporary asylum in France when the Moriscos were being expelled from Spain.
The original Act which promulgated the Edict, has disappeared. The Archives Nationales in Paris preserves only the text of a shorter document modified by concessions extracted from the King by the clergy and the Parlement of Paris, which delayed ten months, before finally signing and setting seals to the document in 1599. A copy of the first edict, sent for safekeeping to Protestant Geneva, survives. The provincial parlements resisted in their turn; the most recalcitrant, the parlement of Rouen, did not unreservedly register the Edict until 1609.
The Edict remained unaltered in effect, registered by the parliaments as "fundamental and irrevocable law", with the exception of the brevets, which had been granted for a period of eight years, and were renewed by Henry in 1606 and in 1611 by Marie de M√©decis, who confirmed the Edict within a week of the assassination of Henry, stilling Protestant fears of another St. Bartholomew's Day massacre. The subsidies had been reduced by degrees, as Henry gained more secure control of the nation. By the peace of Montpellier in 1622, concluding a Huguenot revolt in Languedoc, the fortified Protestant towns were reduced to two, La Rochelle and Montauban. The brevets were entirely withdrawn in 1629, by Louis XIII, following the Siege of La Rochelle, in which Cardinal Richelieu blockaded the city for fourteen months.
During the remainder of Louis XIII's reign, and especially during the minority of Louis XIV, the implementation of the Edict varied year by year, voiced in declarations and orders, and in case decisions in the Council, fluctuating according to the tides of domestic politics and the relations of France with powers abroad.
In October 1685, Louis XIV, the grandson of Henry IV, renounced the Edict and declared Protestantism illegal with the Edict of Fontainebleau. This act, commonly called the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, had very damaging results for France. While the wars of religion did not re-ignite, as many as 400,000 Protestants chose to leave France, most moving to Great Britain, Prussia, the Dutch Republic, Switzerland and the new French colonies in North America. Huguenots also settled in South Africa. This exodus deprived France of many of its most skilled and industrious individuals, who would from now on aid France's rivals in Holland and England. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes also further damaged the perception of Louis XIV abroad, making the Protestant nations bordering France even more hostile to his regime. Upon the revocation of the edict, Frederick Wilhelm issued the Edict of Potsdam, which encouraged Protestants to come to Brandenburg.
The Principal and most salient Provisions of Henry IV‚Äôs Edict of Nantes, which was promulgated at Nantes, in Brittany, on April 13, 1598, are as follows:
Henry, by the grace of God king of France and of Navarre, to all to whom these presents come, greeting:
Among the infinite benefits which it has pleased God to heap upon us, the most signal and precious is his granting us the strength and ability to withstand the fearful disorders and troubles which prevailed on our advent in this kingdom. The realm was so torn by innumerable factions and sects that the most legitimate of all the parties was fewest in numbers. God has given us strength to stand out against this storm; we have finally surmounted the waves and made our port of safety,‚ÄĒpeace for our state. For which his be the glory all in all, and ours a free recognition of his grace in making use of our instrumentality in the good work.... We implore and await from the Divine Goodness the same protection and favor which he has ever granted to this kingdom from the beginning....
We have, by this perpetual and irrevocable edict, established and proclaimed and do establish and proclaim:
I. First, that the recollection of everything done by one party or the other between March, 1585, and our accession to the crown, and during all the preceding period of troubles, remain obliterated and forgotten, as if no such things had ever happened....
III. We ordain that the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion shall be restored and re√ęstablished in all places and localities of this our kingdom and countries subject to our sway, where the exercise of the same has been interrupted, in order that it may be peaceably and freely exercised, without any trouble or hindrance; forbidding very expressly all persons, of whatsoever estate, quality, or condition, from troubling, molesting, or disturbing ecclesiastics in the celebration of divine service, in the enjoyment or collection of tithes, fruits, or revenues of their benefices, and all other rights and dues belonging to them; and that all those who during the troubles have taken possession of churches, houses, goods or revenues, belonging to the said ecclesiastics, shall surrender to them entire possession and peaceable enjoyment of such rights, liberties, and sureties as they had before they were deprived of them....
VI. And in order to leave no occasion for troubles or differences between our subjects, we have permitted, and herewith permit, those of the said religion called Reformed to live and abide in all the cities and places of this our kingdom and countries of our sway, without being annoyed, molested, or compelled to do anything in the matter of religion contrary to their consciences, ... upon condition that they comport themselves in other respects according to that which is contained in this our present edict.
VII. It is permitted to all lords, gentlemen, and other persons making profession of the said religion called Reformed, holding the right of high justice [or a certain feudal tenure], to exercise the said religion in their houses....
IX. We also permit those of the said religion to make and continue the exercise of the same in all villages and places of our dominion where it was established by them and publicly enjoyed several and divers times in the year 1597, up to the end of the month of August, notwithstanding all decrees and judgments to the contrary....
XIII. We very expressly forbid to all those of the said religion its exercise, either in respect to ministry, regulation, discipline, or the public instruction of children, or otherwise, in this our kingdom and lands of our dominion, otherwise than in the places permitted and granted by the present edict.
XIV. It is forbidden as well to perform any function of the said religion in our court or retinue, or in our lands and territories beyond the mountains, or in our city of Paris, or within five leagues of the said city....
XVIII. We also forbid all our subjects, of whatever quality and condition, from carrying off by force or persuasion, against the will of their parents, the children of the said religion, in order to cause them to be baptized or confirmed in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church; and the same is forbidden to those of the said religion called Reformed, upon penalty of being punished with especial severity....
XXI. Books concerning the said religion called Reformed may not be printed and publicly sold, except in cities and places where the public exercise of the said religion is permitted.
XXII. We ordain that there shall be no difference or distinction made in respect to the said religion, in receiving pupils to be instructed in universities, colleges, and schools; nor in receiving the sick and poor into hospitals, retreats, and public charities.
The source followed by most modern historians is the Huguenot refugee √Člie Benoist's Histoire de l'√©dit de Nantes, 3 vols. (Delft, 1693-95). E.G. L√©onard devotes a chapter to the Edict of Nantes in his Histoire g√©n√©ral du protestantisme, 2 vols. (Paris) 1961:II:312-89.
EDICT OF NANTES, the law promulgated in April 1598 by which the French king, Henry IV., gave religious liberty to his Protestant subjects, the Huguenots. The story of the struggle for the edict is part of the history of France, and during the thirty-five years of civil war which preceded its grant, many treaties and other arrangements had been made between the contending religious parties, but none of these had been satisfactory or lasting. The elation of the Protestants at the accession of Henry IV. in 1589 was followed by deep depression, when it was found that not only did he adopt the Roman Catholic faith, but that his efforts to redress their grievances were singularly ineffectual. In 1594 they took determined measures to protect themselves; in 1597, the war with Spain being practically over, long negotiations took place between the king and their representatives, prominent among whom was the historian J. A. de Thou, and at last the edict was drawn up. It consisted of 95 general articles, which were signed by Henry at Nantes on the 13th of April 1598, and of 56 particular ones, signed on the 2nd of May. There was also some supplementary matter.
The main provisions of the edict of Nantes may be briefly summarized under six heads: (r) It gave liberty of conscience to the Protestants throughout the whole of France. (2) It gave to the Protestants the right of holding public worship in those places where they had held it in the year 1576 and in the earlier part of 1577; also in places where this freedom had been granted by the edict of Poitiers (1577) and the treaties of Nerac (1579) and of Felix (1580).(1580). The Protestants could also worship in two towns in each bailliage and senechausee. The greater nobles could hold Protestant services in their houses; the lesser nobles could do the same, but only for gatherings of not more than thirty people. Regarding Paris, the Protestants could conduct worship within five leagues of the city; previously this prohibition had extended to a distance of ten leagues. (3) Full civil rights were grantedto the Protestants. They could trade freely, inherit property and enter the universities, colleges and schools. All official positions were open to them. (4) To deal with disputes arising out of the edict a chamber was established in the parlement of Paris (le chambre de l'edit). This was to be composed of ten Roman Catholic, and of six Protestant members. Chambers for the same purpose, but consisting of Protestants and Roman Catholics in equal numbers, were established in connexion with the provincial parlements. (5) The Protestant pastors were to be paid by the state and to be freed from certain burdens, their position being made practically equal to that of the Roman Catholic clergy. (6) A hundred places of safety were given to the Protestants for eight years, the expenses of garrisoning them being undertaken by the king.
In many ways the terms of the edict were very generous to the Protestants, but it must be remembered that the liberty to hold public worship was made the exception and not the rule; this was prohibited except in certain specified cases, and in this respect they were less favourably treated than they were under the arrangement made in 1576.
The edict was greatly disliked by the Roman Catholic clergy and their friends, and a. few changes were made to conciliate them. The parlement of Paris shared this dislike, and succeeded in reducing the number of Protestant members of the chambre de l'edit from six to one. Then cajoled and threatened by Henry, the parlement registered the edict on the 25th of February 1 599. After similar trouble it was also registered by the provincial parlements, the last to take this step being the parlement of Rouen, which delayed the registration until 1609.
The strong political position secured to the French Protestants by the edict of Nantes was very objectionable, not only to the ardent Roman Catholics, but also to more moderate persons, and the payments made to their ministers by the state were viewed with increasing dislike. Thus about 1660 a strong movement began for its repeal, and this had great influence with the king. One after another proclamations and declarations were issued which deprived the Protestants of their rights under the edict; their position was rendered intolerable by a series of persecutions which culminated in the dragonnades, and at length on the 18th of October 1685 Louis revoked the edict, thus depriving the Protestants in France of all civil and religious liberty. This gave a new impetus to the emigration of the Huguenots, which had been going on for some years, and England, Holland and Brandenburg received numbers of thrifty and industrious French families.
The history of the French Protestants, to which the edict of Nantes belongs, is dealt with in the articles France: History,and Huguenots. For further details about the edict see the papers and documents published. as Le Troisieme centenaire de l'edit de Nantes (1898); N. A. F. Puaux, Histoire du Protestantisme francais (Paris, 18 94); H. M. Baird, The Huguenots and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (London, 1895); C. Benoist, La Condition des Protestants sous le regime de l'edit de Nantes et apres sa revocation (Paris, 1900); A. Lods, L'Edit de Nantes devant le parlement de Paris (1899); and the Bulletin historique et litteraire of the Societe de l'Histoire du Protestantisme Fran9ais.