A term of derision given to French Protestants in the latter part of the Sixteenth Century by French Roman Catholics, possibly taken from the name of Swiss reformer Besancon Hugues. Huguenots generally believed the teachings of John Calvin, and therefore were members of the Reformed Church. When Protestantism first came to France soon after 1520, it was embraced by the noble and intellectual classes. This initial presumption of acceptability permitted it to spread, but it's growth eventually aroused jealousy from French Catholics who looked for ways to reverse it's popularity. Hostilities grew into civil war.
There were eight bitterly fought wars between 1562 and 1598. Catherine de Medicis, widow of King Henry II, feigned peace with the Huguenots and signed a treaty to lull them into a false impression of security. On August 24, 1572, St. Bartholomew's Day, they were massacred all over France, beginning in Paris where thousands were drowned. This started the eighth and final war. Henry of Navarre led the Huguenots to victory with a crushing defeat over the opposition which genetically ended the Catholic house of Valois. Henry of Navarre became Henry IV, the first of the Bourbon line of French kings. Since he was Protestant and most of France was Catholic, he feared that he could not successfully rule, so he conciliated and became a Catholic to keep peace. In 1598 he issued the Edict of Nantes that gave complete religious freedom to the Huguenots.
Thirty years later, Louis XIII wanted to rule France with absolute power and with the help of statesman and cardinal Richelieu, he defeated the Huguenots. Life in France under the next king, Louis XIV, became intolerable for Protestants, especially for Huguenots when he revoked the Edit of Nantes on October 18, 1685. He persecuted them mercilessly, and perhaps as many as 800,000 left for Britain, Germany, Switzerland, or colonial America.
Count Henry Albert, protector of the Brethren, received some refugees into Wittgenstein at this time because his father Count Gustav had previously married the daughter of a French Huguenot.
Written by Ronald J. Gordon as extended information for other major articles