Jacques Basnage (1653-1723)

Jacques Basnage was a pastor in Rouen at the time of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes – he had to escape from France due to persecution and took refuge in Holland, where he worked as a theologian, controversialist, historian and diplomat in the service of the Grand Pensioner Hensius.

The theologian

  • Jacques Basnage © S.H.P.F.

Jacques Basnage, lord of Franquenay, was born in 1653 in Rouen, where his father was a well-known lawyer. Both his grandfather and his great-grandfather were pastors.

He studied theology at the Academy of Saumur then in Geneva and Sedan.

He was appointed pastor in Rouen in 1676, but had to take refuge in Holland due to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In 1691, he served in the Walloon church of Rotterdam and in 1709 in the French church in La Haye, at the request of the grand Pensioner Hensius (head of executive power).

In Rotterdam, Basnage met up again with Pierre Jurieu, who had been his professor in Sedan and who had since become his brother-in-law. However, he disagreed with him notably on the Camisard revolt. For Jurieu, it was their natural right to defend themselves, a question of necessity in the circumstances. But Basnage took a different view. In his Pastoral Letters on the new persecutions (1698), he advised the protestants who were still in France to be patient and to persevere.

Basnage is especially remembered for his debate with Bossuet :

In A Treaty on false and legitimate prejudices, (Delft, 1701), he replied to the Pastoral Letters from the archbishops of Paris and Rouen and the bishops of Meaux and Montauban. They claimed that, to recognise the Catholic Church as the only true church, it was not necessary to accept its dogmas. Basnage insisted on the importance of deep reflection on questions of religion and moral honesty.

He wrote many works – they concern the Bible, the history of the Church and the history of the Jews. For example :

  • A History of the Church, from the time of Christ to the present day, Rotterdam, 1669, 2 vol.
  • A History of the religion of the reformed Churches, 1690.
  • A History of the Jews from the time of Christ to the present day, Rotterdam, 1705.

The historian and the politician

  • Jacques Basnage, Histoire de la religion des Eglises réformées © SHPF

Hensius appointed Basnage historiographer of the States of Holland.

In Annals of the Unied – Provinces, from the negotiations for peace that were held in Münster, (in 2 vol., published in La Haye, in 1719 and 1726) he displays his qualities of broadmindedness, wisdom and impartiality.

The Grand Pensioner Hensius also sent Basnage on several political missions which he accomplished with skill, being renowned as a clever diplomat.

He so much impressed Abbé Dubois, the French representative sent to La Haye to negotiate in 1716, that he contributed (while serving the interests of Holland, his adopted country) to the final negotiations for the alliance treaty of 1717 between France, Holland and England.


  • Books
    • MAILHET E. André, Jacques Basnage, théologien controversiste diplomate et historien, Schuchardt, Genève, 1880

Associated notes