The reintegration policy led by Richelieu from 1630 to 1642
The Alès peace treaty (and the Edict of Nîmes) of 1629 had deprived the Protestants of their strongholds and put an end to their political power. The Catholic worship was re-established in the Reformed cities : Montauban, Nîmes, Castres… and the Protestants had to finance the Catholic Church in compliance with the Edict of Nantes.
Changes occurred in the Protestant areas with the arrival of Catholic peasants, craftsmen and workers (Montauban, La Rochelle). The Catholic notables followed with their servants. From 1632 onwards, the Parliament in Toulouse required the Protestant towns of Montauban and Castres among others, to provide equal representation for Catholics and Protestants.
On the other hand, Richelieu strove to get the “heretic dissidents” to convert to the Catholic faith. He considered religious unity as the cement of political unity. Richelieu thought that by a re-centring of the Catholic Church on its “true doctrine” the theological disputes between Catholics and Protestants could be lessened. This project of reunion in a new Catholic Church roused opposition from the Reformed synods and Rome as well.
Legal restrictions were often taken by Parliaments, which were often under the influence of the Catholic religious organisation : “la Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement”. Their main aims were the suppression of Protestant places of worship or the closing down of schools for violating the Edict of Nantes. A royal statement of 1634 forbade pastors from worshipping outside their place of residence : as a result, secondary temples could not be used as places of worship.
From 1635 on, the clergy assemblies made up of bishops and abbey delegates, which met with the king every five years, started presenting complaints against the Huguenots in order to obtain a stricter enforcement of the Edict.
In 1640, a decree of the king’s council required that processions of the Holy Sacrament should be greeted when passing, under penalty of a hefty fine.
However, the foreign policy led by Richelieu against the Hapsburgs during the Thirty-Year War received support from the Protestant princes of the German Empire. Consequently, Richelieu overlooked the “crackdown on heresy”.
A lull with Mazarin
In 1643, when Louis XIII died, his son Louis XIV became king. He was five years old : Anne of Austria, the queen mother, was in charge of the regency. Cardinal Mazarin carried on Richelieu’s foreign policy against the Emperor Ferdinand III (until the Westphalia treaty in 1648) and against Spain. He was allied with the Protestant German princes and England. It was important for the security of the State to satisfy these allies. Consequently, the French Protestants were no longer legally harassed.
Many decrees of the king’s council even overturned previous decisions meant to limit the impact of the Edict of Nantes. On account of his leniency, Mazarin was said not to be eager to defend the Church.
However, the Catholics gained ground and even created new dioceses : in 1648, La Rochelle became an Episcopal see.
During the events of “La Fronde” from 1649 to 1653, the Protestants remained faithful to the king. The royal declaration of 1652, signed by Louis XIV when he came of age, solemnly confirmed the Edict of Nantes while praising the members of the Reformed Church for their faithfulness and kindness during the period of unrest.
During this period of religious peace, Protestantism regained ground : the members of the Reformed Church rebuilt the temples that had been pulled down and even built new ones. But in 1659, the academy of Montauban (Reformed theological school) was exiled to Puylaurens, a small remote village in the Tarn and the Protestant school in Montauban went into the hands of the Jesuits.
The Catholic response
As the Protestants gained ground, the clergy assembly reacted and in 1655 required the revocation of the declaration of 1652 as well as the destruction of the temples and revocation of the decisions limiting access to religious services.
Mazarin accepted, and the royal declaration of 1656 proved more restrictive than that of 1652. However, the national synod of the Reformed Churches was still allowed in Loundun in 1659 but was to be the last one.
The Pyrenees peace treaty signed with Spain in 1659 allowed even more restrictive measures against the members of the Reformed Church. This led to the “edict of rigor”.
- CARBONNIER-BURKARD Marianne et CABANEL Patrick, Une histoire des protestants en France, Desclée de Brouwer, Paris, 1998
The Edict of Nantes (1598)
This was Henri IV’s major achievement : the terms of this edict ensured the peaceful coexistence of Catholics and Protestants and brought a stop to all hostilities in France after 36 years of civil warfare.
The enforcement of the Edict of Nantes until 1610
After the Edict of Nantes, France enjoyed a period of peace. Henry IV overviewed the implementation of the Edict which protected the Protestants but curbed their expansion.
The Catholic re-conquest (1600-1660)
Due to the Trente Council, the Catholic Church gathered strength and launched a campaign of peaceful re-conquest meant to prevail over the Protestant “heresy”. It resorted to three different means : public debates, missions and personal conversion.
The last religious wars (1621-1629)
Under Louis XIII, in the wake of the Béarn case, the Protestants rebelled against the king. After their defeat, they lost their political assemblies and their strongholds and as a result fully depended on the king’s good will.
The Edict of rigour (1661-1685)
While the Catholic clergy launched missions for the conversion of Protestants, Louis XIV set up a policy that restricted the scope of the Edict of Nantes and then launched a campaign of intimidation by the means of “dragonnades” that aimed at eradicating Protestantism from the kingdom.
The Reformed Church and the king (1630-1660)
Why was the Protestant reaction to the oppressive methods used by Louis XIV so timid ? The explanation can be mostly found in their idolatrous submission to the king.
Protestantism under the rule of the Edict of Nantes
The Edict of Nantes, granting the French Protestants freedom lasted nearly a century. But it was gradually torn apart first when political and military privileges were removed, then when their places of worship and religious freedoms started to be challenged.
Protestant "places of safety"
The “places of safety”, strongholds in the hands of governors and granted to the Reformed, met religious and military requirements.
From Louis XIII to the death of Mazarin (1610-1661)
Following the Béarn affair (1620), the Protestants, under the leadership of Henri de Rohan, revolted against Louis XIII. After their defeat, they lose their political assemblies and their places of safety: they no longer depend on the king’s goodwill.
After the peace of Alès, Richelieu tried to reintegrate the Protestants into the Catholic Church. Under Mazarin’s ministry, foreign policy imperatives and Protestant loyalty during the Fronde brought them a lull.