Reasons for imprisonment : attempting to emigrate abroad, practising the Reformed religion.
After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685), Protestant men that tried to leave France, were, if caught, likely to be sent to the galleys and the women to prison.
Those who had helped them faced the same sentences.
Those who were arrested while attending illegal meetings suffered the same fate.
A quarter of the Protestants tried to emigrate when the Edict was revoked. Many were caught and prisons filled up.
The Constance Tower reserved for women after 1707
Immediately after the Revocation, the towers of the Aigues Mortes fortifications were used as prisons. In 1707, the Constance Tower was reserved for women sentenced to life imprisonment on account of their religious practise. The number of inmates varied from 17 to 34. Marie Durand, incarcerated at the age of 15, was detained for 38 years until 1768 when the last three female inmates were freed.
In 1712, numerous women, a lot from the Nîmes area, were incarcerated there, most for more than ten years.
The forts of Saint-Nicolas and Saint-Jean were usually used for galley-rowers in transit before being sent overseas. A total thousand Protestants were deported to the West Indies, including men, women and children.
In the castle of If, which was in fact a prison, some Huguenots were held for long periods of time. The Protestant galley-rowers that consistently refused to convert were thrown into the dungeons.
The Island of Sainte-Marguerite (near Cannes)
An old fort was used as a prison for seven pastors who, after emigrating, had come back, as they were being urged by Claude Brousson not to abandon their congregations. They preached a lot before being arrested in Paris between 1689 and 1692. They were sent to the Island of Sainte-Marguerite and faced solitary confinement. They tried to communicate with each other or with the outside world and sang psalms, which their wardens forbade. After being mistreated, some were said to have lost their sanity.
Lyon was a city those wanting to cross the border to Geneva, would go through. The local prisons, and especially the one in Pierre-Encize, filled up.
Crest Tower (Drôme)
The former dungeon was used as a prison for Huguenots from 1687 and 1740.
Homes for the New Catholics
There existed another form of confinement for those who would not renounce their faith.
Women were sent to convents without any kind of court trial and Protestant girls were taken from the custody of their parents and sent to “Homes for the New Catholics”. In both cases, they were induced to renounce their faith by converters who visited them repeatedly.
- "Liste de plusieurs prisonniers et prisonnières pour la foi", dressée par Daniel de Superville le 13 novembre 1712, Bulletin de la SHPF, SHPF, Paris, 1879, Numéro 28
The death penalty was likely for pastors that came back to France, smugglers that had helped them leave the country, the faithful caught at an “underground” meeting.
The sentences imposed on Protestants
The Edict of Fontainebleau (1685) and various decrees of 1686 imposed penalties on Protestants.
Antoine Court (1695-1760)
Antoine Court gave himself to the restoration and reorganisation of Protestantism in France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685).
Sentenced to the galleys
Roughly 550 galley-rowers spent up to thirty years of their life in galleys for refusing to renounce their faith.
The secret re-building of churches
The secret re-building of churches was the work of Antoine Court who re-established discipline in Reformed Churches, first in the south then in some areas of the north.
Royal repression against the Protestants
The revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 made any Protestant worship illegal, for instance temples were demolished and pastors expelled. As for the Protestants, they were forbidden to leave the Kingdom.
The persecutions against them were deemed absolutely legitimate at the time according to the interpretation of Luke’s verse 14:23 ‘compel them to come in’: the Protestants were considered heretic and schismatic and had to be brought back within the Catholic Church. Death penalty, sentence to galleys for men, to prison for women…The repressive measures were varied, but failed to defeat Protestant resistance, as in the example of Marie Durand who was locked up in Aigues-Mortes for 38 years.