Tuesday, July 24, 2012

July 24, 2012

Huguenot History: I Learn Something New Every Day

I have always been particularly fascinated with the French Huguenots, seeing them as the archetypal courageous and steadfast Protestants who chose to die before they would give up their faith. Having said that, there are times that it seems I have studied Huguenot history extensively enough that I can no longer find anything “new” or “interesting.” However, this morning I came across a historical organization of which I had never heard: The Huguenot Relief Committee, based in London.

In the 1680s the Huguenots’ world was crumbling beneath their feet. King Louis XIV had made life for French Protestants worse than death, denying them basic civil rights and imprisoning, killing, or sending to the galleys anyone who held these beliefs. To make matters worse, England’s King James II, sovereign of a country that had always been sympathetic to the Huguenots’ plight, was in actuality a zealous Catholic, and he began making many strides toward “unity” and desiring to restore liberties for his Catholic subjects. In truth, many of these measures would have alienated Protestants. Catholic Spain vigorously approved of every measure against the Huguenots.

Yet in England, there was hope. There was the Huguenot Relief Committee. Much like our modern-day charities that are utilized to assist those in need, this society gave money to French Protestant families who had escaped their homeland and were desperate to settle in America. One of the most important events in which the Huguenot Relief Committee was involved was the granting of over five hundred Huguenots enough money to settle in Virginia. In the 1680s, Virginia had already been under English rule for eighty years. 

So what was the Huguenot Relief Committee about? Online information is scarce. It is obvious that King James II was not very pleased that English Protestants called for decrees designed to help their French coreligionists. Apart from the Committee, a few prominent Englishmen gave their own funds to French refugees and invited them to establish trades such as silk-weaving in certain sections of London. One man, Sir William Coventry, wrote a will that asked for the neediest Huguenots in London to be handsomely paid. Those Englishmen who could afford to help --- and were horrified at King Louis XIV’s treatment of his Protestant subjects --- came forward to offer assistance. 

Unfortunately, not all Huguenot families were granted these life-giving funds. The cash flow was designated only for those who were willing to attend English Protestant services --- Anglican --- and who had done nothing to disturb the peace or disrupt the law. Huguenots wishing to prove such were asked for paperwork. Yet many did benefit. The book “The Huguenot Soldiers of William of Orange and the ‘Glorious Revolution of 1688’” by Matthew Glozier says, “Despite all the limitations associated with Huguenot relief funds, money appeared to the tune of 42,000 pounds – a great sum indeed. Robin Gwynn calls this a popular ‘slap in the royal face’ for the English king.”

James II may not have been pleased with so many foreign Protestants flooding England --- he referred to their faith as a “false religion” --- but, as England was overwhelmingly Protestant and wished to help, there was little he could do without risking ire and possible rebellion.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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