Galley-rowing, imprisonment, death penalty
« A life sentenced to rowing in the galleys, or imprisonment for women : for Protestants who attempted to leave the country, for those who provided help to pastors in hiding or for any public expression of the Reformed faith ». The members of the Reformed Church could be convicted, whether they be fugitives arrested at the country’s borders, people suspected of helping the fugitives or worshippers caught while attending an illegal meeting. Similar sentences could be imposed on the new converts also suspected of practising in secret.
The death penalty was reserved for pastors, preachers or smugglers who helped the fugitives.
There were also post mortem sentences : if it turned out that a “newly converted” dead person had actually remained Protestant deep down, his body was exhumed, dragged on a hurdle and then thrown away. His bequests were confiscated.
The Edict of Fontainebleau or the Revocation (1685)
In October 1685, Louis XIV signed the Edict of Fontainebleau which repealed the Edict of Nantes. It banned Protestant worship and the emigration of Protestants. Pastors were banished.
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 prison sentence
Women and children that were too young to serve as galley-rowers were sent to prison. However, many men were kept in prison for long periods of time, some before they left for the galleys.
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 revocation of the Edict of Nantes and its consequences (1685-1700)
In October 1685 Louis XIV signed the Edict of Fontainebleau revoking the Edict of Nantes. It forbade exercising the Protestant faith and any migrating of Protestants. Pastors were granted a fortnight to convert or flee into exile.
It resulted in clandestine departures to Refuge countries and in conversions which were not always sincere. Some newly converted avoided Catholic obligations for instance, and met in clandestine assemblies. The repression was organised.
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.
Religion in the “Desert” period
After the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, French Protestants went into exile or abjured their religious faith. However, among those who abjured, some continued to practice in secret: they read the Bible in their families and held clandestine assemblies of the Desert. When discovered, this religious practice was severely repressed, and many were martyrs for their faith.