Refugees settled in Hesse-Cassel
The north of Hesse, also known as Hesse-Cassel, became reformed, or Calvinist in 1605, while Hesse-Darmstadt in the south became Lutheran.
Both Hesse and Brandebourg, which was also reformed, had suffered greatly during the Thirty Years War and for this reason the Huguenot refugees were made welcome.
Charles 1st of Hesse-Cassel (1671-1730) introduced laws to welcome the persecuted French Protestants and in particular those who wanted to establish their own firms or set up as craftsmen. The Huguenots founded firms for making silk, gloves, material and glass.
The Huguenots settled in the towns
In the edict of the 18th of April 1685, the Count, or landgrave, Charles of Hesse gave special favours and concessions to refugees who came to settle in his States; one of these was the right to have their own jurisdiction.
Following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes the number of refugees increased greatly, 4000 people came to take refuge in Hesse and it became the second largest Huguenot community after Brandebourg.
The landgrave Charles 1st decided to establish two towns in Hesse-Cassel to welcome them and the architect was Jean-Paul du Rey, who was himself a refugee. These were the Nouvelle Ville Haute de Cassel and in 1699 Karlshafen, built on the foundations of a former mediaeval village.
These towns were administered by both French and German officials.
There were also many Huguenot villages in the provinces
Although the original project was for settlements in the towns, little by little the Huguenots also came to settle in the countryside. They founded twenty-seven settlements in the country during the 3 main waves of immigration, including Carlsdorf (Charles’ own village).
Usually they were built according to a very simple design, called the ‘ village along the high street’; the best example of this is Mariendorf.
From an economic point of view, few of these settlements could remain purely agricultural. Most of them were also local trade centers, the most popular one being the production of wool.
After the third generation most of these settlements had become well integrated (between 1760 and 1780) but they were never actually assimilated.
Although the landgrave guaranteed the teaching of French in these settlements, the situation varied from place to place. The French language was maintained the longest in Church ceremonies.
- DAVID François, Le Refuge protestant dans les pays allemands (1652-1809), Toulouse, 1994
- PROFIT G., Le cas de Cassel, Mémoire de maîtrise de Paris-Sorbonne, Paris, 1990
The Huguenot Refuges
The exodus of French Huguenots to Protestant countries to escape persecution was a crucial event that spanned a century. The “First Refuge” in the 1560s, peaking after the Saint-Bartholomew’ Day Massacre, is distinguished from the “Great Refuge” after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Over 200,000 Huguenots went into exile. Following the first persecutions many Protestants from Normandy and Poitou took refuge in England and founded numerous French churches in London. The United Provinces welcomed the greatest number, and they took an active part in sparking the «Republic of Letters» that culminated in the 18th century. Calvin’s Switzerland saw the passage of many refugees en route to German speaking countries, especially Brandenburg, which practiced a real policy of hospitality.
But Europe was not the only hospitable area – indeed, many Protestants fleeing France took part in the conquest of the New World, a few went as far as South Africa.
These countries were generally very welcoming, and the economic, cultural and demographic contributions made by the, often highly qualified, refugee population proved invaluable.