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The Edict of Nantes


Henry IV had been a Huguenot but had agreed to conform to the Roman Catholic church in order to become king.  At the time of the edict, he was a French Catholic king.  The French kings were from a long line of kings who viewed their authority as a Devine right.  Consequently, his Edit of Nantes was an exceptionally revolutionary document for its time.  It was the first, long-lasting decree of religious toleration in modern Europe.  It granted unheard of religious rights, in Catholic Europe, to French Protestants [Huguenots].   

The Edict of Nantes marked the end of France’s Wars of Religion [1562 – 1598].  Over the course of these wars a series of treaties had been negotiated that provided certain privileges to the Huguenots.  However, all had been broken.  The Edict of Nantes integrated the various religious provisions of this series of broken treaties and provided a number of additional ones. 

Generally, under its provisions, it gave Protestants the right to hold public worship in many parts of France, with the exception of Paris.  The Huguenots were granted full civil rights and a special court was established, within the various parliaments, called the Chambre de l’Édict, to arbitrate disputes arising from the edict.  The universities/schools at Montauban, Montpellier, Sedan and Saumur were permitted to be Huguenot and 100 fortified cities were given to the Huguenots, for a period of eight years. 

For French areas where the practice of Catholicism had been interrupted, the Catholic practices were reestablished and extensions, by Protestants, into these Catholic areas was prohibited.   

The edict was bitterly resented by Pope Clement VIII, by the French Catholic clergy and by the many French parliaments.  In 1629, Cardinal de Richelieu [chief minister of king Louis XII] annulled the edict’s political clauses at the Peace of Alès.  On October 18, 1685, Louis XIV revoked the edict in its entirety and deprived French Protestants of all religious and civil liberties.  Within a few years thereafter, over 400,000 French Huguenots [France’s industrious commercial class] had immigrated to other countries.  The effect was devastating on the French economy.  It was not until the French Revolution, 1789 – 1799, that the Huguenots that remained in France regained their civil rights. 

The Principal and most salient Provisions of Henry IV’s 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,—peace 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 reëstablished 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. 

 
 

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