Nantes (French: édit de Nantes), signed in April 1598 by
King Henry IV of France, granted the Calvinist
Protestants of France
(also known as Huguenots) substantial rights in the nation, which was
still considered essentially Catholic at the time. In the edict, Henry
aimed primarily to promote civil unity.[a] The edict separated civil
from religious unity, treated some
Protestants for the first time as
more than mere schismatics and heretics, and opened a path for
secularism and tolerance. In offering general freedom of conscience to
individuals, the edict offered many specific concessions to the
Protestants, such as amnesty and the reinstatement of their civil
rights, including the right to work in any field or for the state and
to bring grievances directly to the king. It marked the end of the
religious wars that had afflicted
France during the second half of the
Edict of St. Germain, promulgated 36 years before by Catherine de
Médici, had granted limited tolerance to Huguenots but was overtaken
by events, as it was not formally registered until after the Massacre
of Vassy on 1 March 1562, which triggered the first of the French Wars
Edict of Fontainebleau, which revoked the
October 1685, was promulgated by Louis XIV, the grandson of Henry IV.
It drove an exodus of
Protestants and increased the hostility of
Protestant nations bordering France.
2 The Edict
4 Literal translation
5 See also
8 External links
Edict aimed primarily to end the long-running Wars of Religion.[b]
Henry IV also had personal reasons for supporting the Edict. Prior to
assuming the throne in 1589 he had espoused Protestantism, and he
remained sympathetic to the Protestant cause: he had converted to
Catholicism in 1593 only in order to secure his position as king,
supposedly saying "Paris is well worth a Mass". The
Edict succeeded in
restoring peace and internal unity to France, though it pleased
neither party: Catholics rejected the apparent recognition of
Protestantism as a permanent element in French society and still hoped
to enforce religious uniformity, while
Protestants aspired to parity
with Catholics. "Toleration in
France was a royal notion, and the
religious settlement was dependent upon the continued support of the
Re-establishing royal authority in
France required internal peace,
based on limited toleration enforced by the crown. Since royal troops
could not be everywhere, Huguenots needed to be granted strictly
circumscribed possibilities of self-defense.
Henry IV of France
Henry IV of France by Frans Pourbus the younger.
Nantes that Henry IV signed comprised four basic texts,
including a principal text made up of 92 articles and largely based on
unsuccessful peace treaties signed during the recent wars. The Edict
also included 56 "particular" (secret) articles dealing with
Protestant rights and obligations. For example, the French state
guaranteed protection of French
Protestants travelling abroad from the
Inquisition. "This crucifies me," protested Pope Clement VIII, upon
hearing of the Edict. The final two parts consisted of brevets
(letters patent) which contained the military clauses and pastoral
clauses. These two brevets were withdrawn in 1629 by Louis XIII,
following a final religious civil war.
The two letters patent supplementing the
Edict granted the
Protestants safe havens (places de sûreté), which were military
strongholds such as La Rochelle, in support of which the king paid
180,000 écus a year, along with a further 150 emergency forts (places
de refuge), to be maintained at the Huguenots' own expense. Such an
act of toleration was unusual in Western Europe,[c] where standard
practice forced subjects to follow the religion of their ruler — the
application of the principle of cuius regio, eius religio.
While it granted certain privileges to Huguenots, the edict upheld
Catholicism's position as the established religion of France.
Protestants gained no exemption from paying the tithe[d] and had to
respect Catholic holidays and restrictions regarding marriage. The
authorities limited Protestant freedom of worship to specified
geographic areas. The
Edict dealt only with Protestant and Catholic
coexistence; it made no mention of Jews, or of Muslims, who were
offered temporary asylum in
France when the
Moriscos were being
expelled from Spain.[e]
The original Act which promulgated the
Edict has disappeared. The
Archives Nationales in Paris preserves only the text of a shorter
document modified by concessions extracted from the King by the clergy
Parlement of Paris, which delayed ten months before finally
signing and setting seals to the document in 1599. A copy of the first
edict, sent for safekeeping to Protestant Geneva, survives. The
provincial parlements resisted in their turn; the most recalcitrant,
the parlement of Rouen, did not unreservedly register the
The location of the signing is mooted. The
Edict itself states merely
that it is "given at Nantes, in the month of April, in the year of Our
Lord one thousand five hundred and ninety-eight". By the late 19th
century the Catholic tradition cited the signing in the "Maison des
Tourelles", home of prosperous Spanish trader André Ruiz; it was
destroyed by bombing in World War II.
Edict of Fontainebleau
Louis XIV, by Hyacinthe Rigaud
Edict remained unaltered in effect, registered by the parliaments
as "fundamental and irrevocable law," with the exception of the
brevets, which had been granted for a period of eight years, and were
renewed by Henry in 1606 and in 1611 by Marie de Médecis, who
Edict within a week of the assassination of Henry,
stilling Protestant fears of another St. Bartholomew's Day massacre.
The subsidies had been reduced by degrees, as Henry gained more
control of the nation. By the peace of Montpellier in 1622,
Huguenot revolt in Languedoc, the fortified Protestant
towns were reduced to two,
La Rochelle and Montauban. The brevets were
entirely withdrawn in 1629, by Louis XIII, following the Siege of La
Rochelle, in which
Cardinal Richelieu blockaded the city for fourteen
During the remainder of Louis XIII's reign, and especially during the
minority of Louis XIV, the implementation of the
Edict varied year by
year, voiced in declarations and orders, and in case decisions in the
Council, fluctuating according to the tides of domestic politics and
the relations of
France with powers abroad.
In October 1685, Louis XIV, the grandson of Henry IV, renounced the
Edict and declared Protestantism illegal with the
Fontainebleau. This act, commonly called the 'revocation of the Edict
of Nantes,' had very damaging results for France. While the wars of
religion did not re-ignite, intense persecution of
place. All Protestant ministers were given two weeks to leave the
country unless they converted to
Catholicism and all other Protestants
were prohibited from leaving the country. In spite of the prohibition,
the persecution including many examples of torture caused as many as
400,000 to flee
France at risk of their lives. Most moved to
Great Britain, Prussia, the Dutch Republic, Switzerland, South Africa
and the new French colonies in North America. This exodus deprived
France of many of its most skilled and industrious individuals, some
of whom thenceforward aided France's rivals in the Netherlands and in
England. The revocation of the
Nantes also further damaged
the perception of Louis XIV abroad, making the Protestant nations
France even more hostile to his regime. Upon the revocation
of the edict, Frederick Wilhelm issued the
Edict of Potsdam, which
Protestants to come to Brandenburg.
Freedom to worship and civil rights for non-Catholics in
not restored until the signing of the
Edict of Versailles, also known
Edict of Tolerance, by Louis XVI 102 years later, on 7 November
1787. This edict was enacted by parlement two months later, less than
two years before the end of the
Ancien Régime and the Declaration of
the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789 would fully eliminate religious
discrimination in France.
The principal and most salient provisions of Henry IV’s
Nantes, as promulgated at
Nantes in Brittany probably on 30 April
Henri, by the grace of God king of
France and of Navarre, to all to
whom these presents come, greeting:
Among the infinite benefits which it has pleased God to heap upon us,
the most signal and precious is his granting us the strength and
ability to withstand the fearful disorders and troubles which
prevailed on our advent in this kingdom. The realm was so torn by
innumerable factions and sects that the most legitimate of all the
parties was fewest in numbers. God has given us strength to stand out
against this storm; we have finally surmounted the waves and made our
port of safety,—peace for our state. For which his be the glory all
in all, and ours a free recognition of his grace in making use of our
instrumentality in the good work.... We implore and await from the
Divine Goodness the same protection and favor which he has ever
granted to this kingdom from the beginning....
We have, by this perpetual and irrevocable edict, established and
proclaimed and do establish and proclaim:
I. First, that the recollection of everything done by one party or the
other between March, 1585, and our accession to the crown, and during
all the preceding period of troubles, remain obliterated and
forgotten, as if no such things had ever happened....
III. We ordain that the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion shall be
restored and reëstablished in all places and localities of this our
kingdom and countries subject to our sway, where the exercise of the
same has been interrupted, in order that it may be peaceably and
freely exercised, without any trouble or hindrance; forbidding very
expressly all persons, of whatsoever estate, quality, or condition,
from troubling, molesting, or disturbing ecclesiastics in the
celebration of divine service, in the enjoyment or collection of
tithes, fruits, or revenues of their benefices, and all other rights
and dues belonging to them; and that all those who during the troubles
have taken possession of churches, houses, goods or revenues,
belonging to the said ecclesiastics, shall surrender to them entire
possession and peaceable enjoyment of such rights, liberties, and
sureties as they had before they were deprived of them....
VI. And in order to leave no occasion for troubles or differences
between our subjects, we have permitted, and herewith permit, those of
the said religion called Reformed to live and abide in all the cities
and places of this our kingdom and countries of our sway, without
being annoyed, molested, or compelled to do anything in the matter of
religion contrary to their consciences, ... upon condition that they
comport themselves in other respects according to that which is
contained in this our present edict.
VII. It is permitted to all lords, gentlemen, and other persons making
profession of the said religion called Reformed, holding the right of
high justice [or a certain feudal tenure], to exercise the said
religion in their houses....
IX. We also permit those of the said religion to make and continue the
exercise of the same in all villages and places of our dominion where
it was established by them and publicly enjoyed several and divers
times in the year 1597, up to the end of the month of August,
notwithstanding all decrees and judgments to the contrary....
XIII. We very expressly forbid to all those of the said religion its
exercise, either in respect to ministry, regulation, discipline, or
the public instruction of children, or otherwise, in this our kingdom
and lands of our dominion, otherwise than in the places permitted and
granted by the present edict.
XIV. It is forbidden as well to perform any function of the said
religion in our court or retinue, or in our lands and territories
beyond the mountains, or in our city of Paris, or within five leagues
of the said city....
XVIII. We also forbid all our subjects, of whatever quality and
condition, from carrying off by force or persuasion, against the will
of their parents, the children of the said religion, in order to cause
them to be baptized or confirmed in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman
Church; and the same is forbidden to those of the said religion called
Reformed, upon penalty of being punished with especial severity....
XXI. Books concerning the said religion called Reformed may not be
printed and publicly sold, except in cities and places where the
public exercise of the said religion is permitted.
XXII. We ordain that there shall be no difference or distinction made
in respect to the said religion, in receiving pupils to be instructed
in universities, colleges, and schools; nor in receiving the sick and
poor into hospitals, retreats, and public charities.
Edict of Toleration
Freedom of religion
List of treaties
Michel de l'Hôpital, a precursor to Henry IV’s policies
Peace of Vervins
Warsaw Confederation (1573)
^ In 1898, the tricentennial celebrated the edict as the foundation of
the coming Age of Toleration; the 1998 anniversary, by contrast, was
commemorated with a book of essays under the title, Coexister dans
l'intolérance (Michel Grandjean and Bernard Roussel, editors, Geneva,
^ A detailed chronological account of the negotiations that led to the
Edict's promulgation has been offered by Janine Garrisson, L'Édit de
Nantes: Chronique d'une paix attendue (Paris: Fayard) 1998.
^ For Eastern Europe, see Mehmed II's Firman on the Freedom of the
Bosnian Franciscans or the Warsaw Confederation.
^ The King engaged to support the Protestant ministers in part
^ The ordonnance of 22 February 1610 stipulated that the emigrés
settle north of the
Dordogne (safely away from the manipulations of
Spanish agents) and that they embrace the Catholic faith; those who
did not wish to do so were granted right of passage to French ports on
the Mediterranean, to take ship for Barbary. By the time the
ordonnance was published Henri IV had been assassinated.
^ a b George A. Rothrock, Jr., "Some Aspects of Early Bourbon Policy
toward the Huguenots" Church History 29.1 (March 1960:17–24) p. 17.
^ Texts published in Benoist 1693 I:62–98 (noted by Rothrock).
^ L. P. Harvey, Muslims in Spain, 1500 to 1614, 2005:318
^ Rothrock 1960:23 note 6.
^ Reported in Baedeker, Northern France, 1889.
^ A point made in Rothrock 1960:19.
^ Ruth Kleinman, "Changing Interpretations of the
Edict of Nantes: The
Administrative Aspect, 1643–1661" French Historical Studies 10.4
^ "Internet History Sourcebooks". www.fordham.edu.
^ Morison, Samuel Eliot (1972). The Oxford History of the American
People. New York City: Mentor. p. 220.
^ See History of the French in Louisville.
^ Encyclopedia of the Age of Political Ideals,
Edict of Versailles
(1787) Archived 2012-07-14 at the Wayback Machine., downloaded 29
^ History Guide, The
The source followed by most modern historians is the
Élie Benoist's Histoire de l'édit de Nantes, 3 vols. (Delft,
1693–95). E.G. Léonard devotes a chapter to the
his Histoire général du protestantisme, 2 vols. (Paris)
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