In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Huguenots

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • The Reformation and French Reformed Theology
  • The French Wars of Religion
  • History and Memory

Renaissance and Reformation Huguenots
David van der Linden
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0363


The Huguenots were French Reformed Protestants who followed the teachings of John Calvin. The term Huguenots was first coined as a Catholic insult, but it was adopted by French Protestants in the 18th century as a badge of honor. The precise origins of the name are uncertain. Some scholars have suggested it derives from the German word Eidgenossen (confederates bound together by an oath), while others believe the term originated in Tours, where, according to local legend, the spirit of the malevolent King Hugues roamed the city at night. Because Protestants initially assembled in secret under cover of darkness, they were dubbed Huguenots. The history of the Huguenots begins in the 1540s, when Calvin’s teachings found a receptive audience in France, especially among artisans, merchants, and the nobility. They established a formal church structure based on the Genevan consistorial system, with consistories responsible for local church affairs, while also setting up national synods for settling doctrinal affairs. By 1560 the Huguenot movement had gained over 1.5 million followers, particularly in cities and the crescent of provinces stretching from Poitou along the Atlantic coast, across Languedoc in the south, and into Dauphiné. Growing tensions between Protestants and Catholics sparked a series of civil wars known as the French Wars of Religion (1562–1598). The conflict ended when, in 1598, King Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes, which formalized a regime of religious coexistence by allowing Protestants to worship alongside Catholics, while also granting Huguenots civil rights and military autonomy. During the rule of King Louis XIV, however, the Huguenots came under increasing pressure to convert and had many of their rights annulled. In 1685 the king revoked the Edict of Nantes and forced the Huguenots to convert to Catholicism through brutal persecution. The Revocation provoked one of the largest migration waves of the early modern period, as an estimated 150,000 Huguenots fled to Switzerland, Germany, the Dutch Republic, the British Isles, and the American colonies, forming a transnational diaspora that is often referred to as the Refuge. Although the history of the Huguenots has long been written as a heroic story of ongoing persecution, in recent years scholars have begun to paint a more nuanced picture of the Huguenot movement, exploring the many religious, cultural, social, and political aspects of this important Protestant minority in early modern Europe.

General Overviews

Surprisingly few general overviews of Huguenot history have been written. The best chronological introductions in French are Cabanel 2012 and the more succinct Boisson and Daussy 2006, while English readers may want to turn to Treasure 2013. There are, however, several excellent thematic essay collections on Huguenot history, including Benedict 2001, Mentzer and Spicer 2002, and Mentzer and van Ruymbeke 2016. Haag and Haag 1846–1859, although published in the 19th century, is still a valuable biographical resource for exploring Huguenots of name and fame.

  • Benedict, Philip. The Faith and Fortunes of France’s Huguenots, 1600–85. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2001.

    Collection of articles by one of the leading scholars on French Protestantism, focusing on the demography of the Huguenot movement, religious and historical mentalities, and confessional coexistence. The chapters on Huguenot demographics, the ownership of books and paintings in Metz, and confessional identity are especially insightful.

  • Boisson, Didier, and Hugues Daussy. Les Protestants dans la France moderne. Paris: Belin, 2006.

    Accessible chronological overview of the Huguenots in early modern France, aimed specifically at students and nonspecialists.

  • Cabanel, Patrick. Histoire des protestants en France, XVIe–XXIe siècle. Paris: Fayard, 2012.

    Exhaustive survey of Huguenot history, synthesizing recent scholarship in a chronological sweep from the Reformation until the present day.

  • Haag, Eugène, and Émile Haag. La France protestante, ou vies des protestants français, qui se sont fait un nom dans l’histoire depuis les premiers temps de la Réformation jusqu’à la reconnaissance du principe de la liberté des cultes par l’Assemblée nationale. 10 vols. Paris: Sandoz et Fischbacher, 1846–1859.

    Although this biographical dictionary tends to glorify the achievements of famous Huguenots, the entries are still a good point of departure for research on particular figures, while also offering valuable biographical data from the Parisian city archives before these were destroyed in 1871. Available online via the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

  • Mentzer, Raymond A., and Andrew Spicer, eds. Society and Culture in the Huguenot World, 1559–1685. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    Collection of essays covering the rise of Protestantism, the Wars of Religion, the Edict of Nantes, and various aspects of the Huguenot communities during the 17th century, including poor relief, Huguenot temples and academies, and funerary culture.

  • Mentzer, Raymond A., and Bertrand van Ruymbeke, eds. A Companion to the Huguenots. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2016.

    This collection of sixteen well-written essays offers a superb introduction to key themes in Huguenot history, covering both France and the diaspora. Contributions focus on such diverse topics as the role of women, Huguenot art, the ministry, diaspora networks, and the tradition of martyrdom.

  • Treasure, Geoffrey. The Huguenots. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013.

    Standard narrative of Huguenot history from the Reformation until the Revocation, aimed at a general audience.

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