The Reformation established
in France

As everywhere in Europe, the desire for a reform of the Church was widespread throughout the whole of France. This is why scholars so readily welcomed Luther’s ideas.

The Reformation introduced to France

  • Reformed churches in the 16th century © Musée du Désert

The Reformation did not first appear in France but in Germany. In 1517, a monk, Martin Luther, denounced the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church in 95 theses that caused quite a sensation. Thanks to the development of printing, the proposals for reform circulated all over Europe. They were readily accepted in France amongst scholars who openly criticised the Church and advocated a renewed reading of the Gospel.

Luther’s ideas reached the court of François I. Tolerance and repression followed one another, yet did not stop the spread of Protestantism. But the wars of religion set fire to France and events such as the bloody Saint Bartholomew episode stopped Protestantism from spreading,. King Henri IV restored peace with the Edict of Nantes.

The greatest French Reformer was Jean Calvin. Threatened in France, he was forced to flee to Geneva where he spent most of his life. From there he watched over the destiny of the new French Protestant Church.

The French kingdom in the XVIth century

France in the XVIth century was unlike modern-day France. Many provinces, such as Alsace, Montbéliard county and Savoie, were not, as yet, part of the kingdom. Protestantism spread with ease throughout Alsace and in the Montbéliard County, but not so easily in Savoie.

Bibliography

  • Books
    • BEDOUELLE Guy et ROUSSEL Bernard, Le temps des réformes et la Bible, Beauchesne, 2006
    • CHAUNU Pierre, Le temps des Réformes, Fayard, 2003
    • FATIO Olivier, Confessions et catéchismes de la foi réformée, Labor et Fides, 2003
    • HIGMAN Francis, La diffusion de la Réforme en France, Labor et Fides, Genève, 1992
    • HIGMAN Francis, La Réforme : pourquoi ? Essai sur les origines d’un événement fondateur, Labor et Fidès, Genève, 2001
    • LECLER J., Histoire de tolérance au siècle de la Réforme, Albin Michel, 2005
    • POSTEL Claude, Traité des invectives au temps de la Réforme, Belles Lettres, 2004
    • VIENOT Jacques, Histoire de la Réforme française, Fischbacher, 2005
    • WOLFF Philippe (dir.), Histoire des Protestants en France de la Réforme à la Révolution, Privat, Toulouse, 2001

Associated notes

  • Protestant "places of safety"

    The “places of safety”, strongholds in the hands of governors and granted to the Reformed, met religious and military requirements.
  • The Reformation in Montbéliard in 16th century

    In the county of Montbéliard, the Reformation was mainly influenced by Luther, but for a while it was influenced by Guillaume Farel.
  • The Reformation in Alsace in 16th century

    The Reformation began very early in Alsace and was soon well established. In Strasbourg, it had two characteristics : moderation and an insistence on the Bible study. Martin Bucer’s influence spread...
  • Protestantism after 1562

    In the second part of the XVIth century (1562-1598), in spite of persecution and long periods of civil war, the Reformed Churches became well organized. A political system, structured on...

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