Edict of Fontainebleau
The Edict of Fontainebleau (October 1685) was an edict issued by Louis XIV of France, also known as the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The Edict of Nantes of 1598, had granted the Huguenots the right to practice their religion without persecution from the state. Though Protestants had lost their independence in places of refuge under Richelieu, they continued to live in comparative security and political contentment. From the outset, religious toleration in France had been a royal, rather than a popular policy. The lack of universal adherence to his religion did not sit well with Louis XIV's vision of perfected autocracy: "Bending all else to his will, Louis XIV resented the presence of heretics among his subjects."
Edict of Nantes
The Edict of Nantes, had been issued on 13 April 1598, by Henry IV of France. It had granted the Calvinist Protestants of France (also known as Huguenots) substantial rights in a predominately Catholic nation. Through the Edict, Henry had aimed to promote civil unity. The Edict treated some Protestants with tolerance and opened a path for secularism. It offered general freedom of conscience to individuals and 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 marked the end of the religious wars that had afflicted France during the second half of the 16th century.
The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes
By the Edict of Fontainebleau, Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes and ordered the destruction of Huguenot churches, as well as the closing of Protestant schools. This policy made official the persecution already enforced since the dragonnades created in 1681 by the king in order to intimidate Huguenots into converting to Catholicism. As a result of the officially sanctioned persecution by the dragoons who were billeted upon prominent Huguenots, a large number of Protestants — estimates range from 210,000 to 900,000 — left France over the next two decades. They sought asylum in England, the United Provinces, Sweden, Switzerland, Brandenburg-Prussia, Denmark, Protestant states of the Holy Roman Empire, the Cape Colony in Africa, and North America. They left without money, but took with them many skills. In the host nations they established small businesses and their new ideas revitalised indigenous industries. On 17 January 1686, Louis XIV himself claimed that out of a Huguenot population of 800,000 to 900,000, only 1,000 to 1,500 had remained in France.
Louis XIV's pious second wife Madame de Maintenon was a strong advocate of Protestant persecution and urged Louis to revoke Henry IV's edict; her confessor and spiritual adviser, François de la Chaise, must be held largely responsible.
The revocation of the Edict of Nantes created a state of affairs in France similar to that of virtually every other European country of the period (with the brief exception of Great Britain and possibly the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), where only the majority state religion was legally tolerated. The experiment of religious toleration in Europe was effectively ended for the time being.
Effects of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes
The Edict of Fontainebleau is compared by many historians with the 1492 Alhambra Decree, ordering the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain; and with Expulsion of the Moriscos during 1609-1614. The three are similar both as outbursts of religious intolerance ending periods of relative tolerance, and in their social and economic effects. In practice, the revocation caused France to suffer a kind of early brain drain, as it lost a large number of skilled craftsmen, including key designers such as Daniel Marot. Upon leaving France, Huguenots took with them knowledge of important techniques and styles — which had a significant effect on the quality of the silk, plate glass, silversmithing (see: Huguenot silver), watchmaking, and cabinet making industries of those regions to which they relocated. Some rulers, such as Frederick Wilhelm, Duke of Prussia and Elector of Brandenburg, who issued the Edict of Potsdam in late October 1685, encouraged the Protestants to seek refuge in their nations.
End of the Edict of Fontainbleau
In practice, the stringency of policies outlawing Protestants, opposed by the Jansenists, were relaxed during the reign of Louis XV, especially among discreet members of the upper classes. "The fact that a hundred years later, when Protestants were again tolerated, many of them were found to be both commercially prosperous and politically loyal indicates that they fared far better than the Catholic Irish", R.R. Palmer concluded.
By the end of the 18th century, prominent French philosophers and literary personalities of the day, including Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, were making persuasive arguments to promote religious tolerance. Efforts by Guillaume-Chrétien de Malesherbes, minister to Louis XVI, and Jean-Paul Rabaut Saint-Etienne, spokesman for the Protestant community in France, working with members of the parlement of the Ancien Régime, were particularly effective convincing the king to open French society over the concern expressed by some advisors. Thus, on 7 November 1787, Louis XVI signed the Edict of Versailles, known as the Edict of Tolerance, which was registered in parlement two-and-one-half months later, on 29 January 1788. This edict offered relief to all faiths – Calvinist Huguenots, Lutherans, as well as Jews – giving followers the civil and legal recognition, as well as the right to openly form congregations after 102 years of prohibition. Full religious freedom had to wait two more years, with enactment of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789. However, the 1787 Edit of Tolerance was a pivotal step in eliminating religious strife and it officially ended religious persecution in France. Moreover, once French Revolutionary armies got to other European countries, they followed a consistent policy of emancipating persecuted or discriminated religious communities (Catholic in some countries, Protestant in others, Jews in virtually all).
Famous Huguenots who left France
- 1702 Camisard rebellion in the Cevennes
- French Wars of Religion
- Religions in France
- Edict of Potsdam
- 1731 Expulsion of Protestants from Salzburg
- Edict of Expulsion
- Alhambra Decree
- Expulsion of the Moriscos
- Brain Drain
- "The fate of Catholics at the hands of a triumphant Parliament in England suggests that the Protestants in France would have been no better off under more popular institutions," observed R.R. Palmer, A History of the Modern World, rev. ed. 1956:164.
- Palmer, eo. loc.
- In 1898 the tricentennial celebrated the Edict as the foundation of the coming Age of Toleration; the 1998 anniversary, by contrast, was commemorated with a book of essays under the evocatively ambivalent title, Coexister dans l'intolérance (Michel Grandjean and Bernard Roussel, editors, Geneva, 1998).
- Spielvogel, Western Civilization — Volume II: Since 1500 (5th Edition, 2003) p.410
- Charles H. O'Brien, "The Jansenist Campaign for Toleration of Protestants in Late Eighteenth-Century France: Sacred or Secular?" Journal of the History of Ideas, 1985:523ff.
- Encyclopedia of the Age of Political Ideals, Edict of Versailles (1787), downloaded 29 January 2012