The "Dragonnades" were a French government policy instituted by Louis XIV in 1681 to intimidate Huguenot families into either leaving France or re-converting to Catholicism. This involved the billeting of ill-disciplined dragoons in Protestant households with implied permission to abuse the inhabitants and destroy or steal their possessions. The soldiers employed in this role were satirized as "missionary dragoons".
With the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, Louis XIV withdrew the privileges and toleration that Protestant Huguenots in France had been guaranteed under the edict for nearly 87 years, and ordered the destruction of Huguenot churches and the closure of Huguenot schools.
Following the revocation of religious toleration, Louis XIV combined legal persecution with a policy of terrorizing recalcitrant Huguenots who refused to convert to Catholicism by billeting both dragoons and ordinary infantrymen in their homes. The soldiers were instructed to harass and intimidate the occupants, in order to persuade them to either convert to the state religion, or to emigrate. As mobile mounted infantry, the 14 regiments of dragoons in the French Army of the period, were sometimes used for what would now be called internal security duties, and were an effective instrument for persecuting the Huguenots.
The application of selective and coercive troop quartering had been initiated by the intendant René de Marillac in Poitou, in 1681. With the permission of the Secretary of State for War François-Michel le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois, Marillac systematically lodged troops with Protestants, in the expectation that existing laws exempting households newly converted to Catholicism from this practice would spur conversions. Billeted troops got so far out of hand that, after a series of reprimands in letters, the Marquis de Louvois was forced to recall Marillac from Poitou.
The persecution of Protestants caused outrage in England, and created a wave of literature in protest against the inhumane treatment of Huguenots, thousands of whom fled to England to seek asylum. The dragonnades policy caused Protestants to flee France, even before the religious rights granted them by the Edict of Nantes were removed in 1685. Most Huguenot refugees fled to countries such as Switzerland, the Netherlands, England, and the German territories.
On January 17, 1686, Louis XIV claimed that his policies had caused the Protestant population of France to be reduced from 800,000-900,000 to 1,000–1,500 in France. Though this was a great exaggeration, their numbers did decline significantly. According to Hans J. Hillerbrand, an expert on Protestantism, Huguenot numbers had been steadily declining since the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in 1572. The campaign ultimately proved detrimental to France's economy, because the Huguenots who chose to flee possessed skills such as silkweaving, clock-making, silversmithing, and optometry, and became a valuable addition to the economies of the countries to which they fled, including Louis's sworn enemies in the United Netherlands, and the nascent Great Britain.
- Rene Chartrand, "Louis XIV's Army", ISBN 0-85045-850-1
- This episode is recounted in L. L. Bernard, "Foucault, Louvois, and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes", Church History 25.1 (March 1956):27-40) p. 32ff, and remarked in Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Louis XIV: Louis XIV and Protestants"; Musée virtuel du protestantisme français" les draghonnades.
- Carbonnier-Burkard, Marianne; Cabanel, Patrick (1998). Une histoire des protestants en France XVIe-XXe siècle (in French). Paris: Desclée de Brouwer. ISBN 2-220-04190-5.
- Dubief, Henri; Poujol, Jacques (1992, 2nd ed. 2006). La France protestante, Histoire et Lieux de mémoire (in French). Montpellier: Max Chaleil éditeur. ISBN 2-84062-001-4. Check date values in:
- "Les dragonnades (1681-1685)" an article at the website of the Musée Virtuel du Protestantisme Français (French)