Atlantic History Huguenots
Bertrand Van Ruymbeke
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 March 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0115


The Huguenots are French Calvinists. The word “huguenot” is an adaptation from eidgenossen, a Swiss German term meaning “confederates,” which was applied to the Genevans who rebelled against their lord in the early 16th century. This term is rarely used in contemporary French, the generic word protestant being widely used. Other terms used over the centuries have been “Lutherans” (luthériens) in the 16th century, “members of the self-styled reformed religion” (membres de la religion prétendue réformée) in the 17th century, and “new converts” or “new Catholics” (nouveaux convertis, nouveaux catholiques, or simply NCs) in the 18th. There are five periods in the history of the Huguenots: the Reformation and the French Wars of Religion (c. 1530s–1598; see Reformation in France and the Wars of Religion); the 17th century (1598–1685; see 17th-Century French Protestantism); the refuge or diaspora (c. 1680–1760s; see the Post-Revocation Diaspora); the 18th century (1685–1787; see 18th-Century French Protestantism); and the contemporary era (since the Revolution; see Contemporary French Protestantism). The 1550s were the formative years of French Protestantism. Then began a series of eight Wars of Religion (1562–1598) that preserved the throne to a Catholic monarch and condemned French Protestantism to a peripheral role in the history of France. In 1598 Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes at the end of the wars. This highly significant document guaranteed the Huguenots religious, economic, educational, judicial, political, and military rights. In 1685 Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes after decades of harassment followed by violent repression. This led to a major exodus—roughly 200,000 individuals—of Huguenots to northern Europe and to a lesser extent to British North America and Dutch South Africa. The period that extends from the revocation to the Edict of Toleration of 1787 is referred to as le désert. Following the dislocation brought about by the exodus and the War of the Cévennes (a localized Huguenot rebellion in a mountainous region of southern France), the 18th century was marked by sporadic and regional persecution interspersed by periods of calm. First the edict then the Revolution and the Napoleonic years opened a permanent era of toleration and acceptance for the Huguenots. In contemporary France, even if at times they could be victims of virulent attacks from Catholic extremist pamphleteers, the Huguenots have enjoyed peace and prosperity—some of them even reaching high positions in the state—and have remained a small religious minority in a country increasingly secular.

General Overviews

Relatively few surveys cover the entire history of French Protestantism from the Reformation to the contemporary era except Cabanel 2012; Léonard 1961–1964; Poton and Cabanel 1994; Augeron, et al. 2009; and Augeron, et al. 2012. Most focus on one period, such as the 16th century (Gray 1981 and Rothrock 1979), the 17th century (Ligou 1968), the moment of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 (Negroni 1996), or from the Reformation to the Revolution (Treasure 2013, Wolf 2001), even if their titles suggest a broader period.

  • Augeron, Mickaël, Didier Poton, and Bertrand Van Ruymbeke, eds. Les huguenots et l’Atlantique. Vol. 1, Pour Dieu, la cause et les affaires. Paris: Presses Universitaires Paris-Sorbonne/Les Indes Savantes, 2009.

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    Followed by the second volume Augeron, et al. 2012 on memory, this collective work (more than fifty authors from various countries) is a groundbreaking study of Huguenot history since the Reformation from an innovative Atlantic perspective.

  • Augeron, Mickaël, Didier Poton, and Bertrand van Ruymbeke, eds. Les Huguenots et l’Atlantique. Vol. 2, Fidélités, racines et mémoires. Paris: Les Indes Savantes, 2012.

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    This abundantly illustrated large-format book, the second volume of the history of the Huguenots from an Atlantic perspective, is dedicated to the diaspora and its memory around the Atlantic basin from the 1680s to the present. This book is original in its conception and beautiful in its realization.

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

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    This monumental, well-written, and thorough survey of Huguenot history from the Reformation to the 21st century is destined to be a must in any Huguenot bibliography. The author has studied all aspects of Huguenot history inside and outside of France over five centuries.

  • Carbonnier-Burkard, Marianne, et Jean Baubérot. Les protestants en France: Histoire d’une minorité, XVIème-XXIème siècle. Paris: Ellipses, 2016.

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    This book is the most recent French-language survey of Huguenot history from the Reformation through contemporary France. It covers the difficult but enthusing early years, life under the Edict of Nantes, the Revocation, the dispersion, the désert (i.e., Huguenots who remained in France after the Revocation), the Edict of Toleration under Louis XVI, the 19th century, and finally under republican regimes in the 20th century and the early years of the 21st century. It is a useful introduction to the topic.

  • Gray, Janet G. The French Huguenots: Anatomy of Courage. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981.

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    A highly readable survey of Huguenot history with an emphasis on the 16th century.

  • Léonard, Émile G. Histoire générale du protestantisme. 3 vols. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1961–1964.

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    A classic of Huguenot literature that gives a panoramic vision of the history of French Protestantism from the Reformation era to the 19th century. Very well written although a bit outdated, this work (or parts of it) needs to be read. Volume 1, La Réformation; Volume 2, L’établissement (1564–1700); Volume 3, Déclin et renouveau, XVIIIe–XIXe siècle.

  • Ligou, Daniel. Le protestantisme en France de 1598 à 1715. Paris: SEDES, 1968.

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    Textbook survey of French Protestantism from the Edict of Nantes to the death of Louis XIV.

  • Negroni, Barbara de. Intolérances: Catholiques et protestants en France, 1560–1787. Paris: Hachette, 1996.

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    Essay on the history of the Huguenots and their interaction with the Catholic majority and the state from the mid-16th century to the Edict of Toleration. Centered on the concept of toleration from a philosophical perspective.

  • Poton, Didier, and Patrick Cabanel. Les protestants français du XVIe au XXe siècle. Paris: Nathan, 1994.

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    Brief and reliable textbook survey of Huguenot church organization and history from the Reformation to the 20th century.

  • Rothrock, George A. The Huguenots: A Biography of a Minority. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1979.

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    Accessible and well-written narrative history of the Huguenots in France with an emphasis on the 16th century.

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

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    In this book Treasure rigorously surveys the history of the Huguenots from Calvin’s time to the early years of the 18th century in placing it in a French and European context. A well-written and richly illustrated volume, The Huguenots is a welcome addition to the English-speaking literature on the topic.

  • Wolf, Philippe, ed. Histoire des protestants en France: De la réforme à la révolution. Toulouse, France: Privat, 2001.

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    First published in 1977. This classic work of French historiography offers a panoramic vision of Huguenot history from the Reformation to the Revolution. With essays by the most distinguished historians on the subject.

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