Monday, July 30, 2012

July 30, 2012

French Protestants and the 1685 Edict of Fontainebleau: A Look at Life

It could rightfully be thought that there had been few persecutions in history that rivaled the difficulties, hardships, and downright terrors that Protestants faced in France beginning in the year 1685. In the eyes of their country they were civilly dead. They could not work. Could not attend worship services. Could not send children to Huguenot schools. Could not employ ministers. Could not have their own churches (King Louis XIV destroyed them all). Could not marry legally. Could not have a say in anything, nor have a public office or any position of authority.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about living in this era was that it was so exciting. Courtly life, music, art, and dancing were at their peak. France under the rule of the ‘Sun King’ was for all intents and purposes a sophisticated and desirable place to live. Courtiers, tailors, and other men of substance debated in parlors and taverns, chatting about high fashion as their neighbors were arrested, tortured, and killed.

Clothing definitely marked out differences between both classes and religions. While many Huguenots wore somber blacks, browns, and grays as a sign of piety and nonconformity with the world, it may be assumed that there were also many who dressed in the current fashions. The trend was all about accents. Lace was very popular, as were ribbons and velvet. Sleeves were voluminous and trimmed in detail. Hats were large, beribboned, and colorful. Protestants had recently begun to enjoy blending in with their Catholic neighbors, both because they had become accustomed to being seen as equals and because even the strictest Calvinist elder could never accuse a man of impropriety if he was dressed from throat to toe. Women, on the other hand, had to contend with the current style of dress being quite immoral, adding their own touches to make it modest. 

How did other nations view the persecution of French Protestants?  If one was tempted to believe that countries such as England would support the Huguenots in their time of need, the truth was that England’s King James II had previously converted to the Catholic faith and could no longer hide his dislike of Protestants from even his own countrymen. Charles II of Spain never saw fit to condemn Louis’ vision of a Protestant-free France, yet there were hints that he was not completely unsympathetic. He once took it upon himself to condemn the Spanish Inquisition as an office far too cruel. Eventually, however, he caved to pressure and destroyed his own documents that stated such opinions. 

The music that filled France in the 1680s was loud, sweeping, and grand. Theater was highly popular. Classicism was the order of the day, and ancient stories were highly sought after. Vulgar plays were limited in France; not only was it a necessity for stories to be realistic to a certain degree, but highly immoral pieces were forbidden. This is rather surprising considering how many things passed for ‘moral’ in France at this time. Protestants must have wondered why their neighbors would be offended to attend a play with overt violence or even implied immorality, yet those same neighbors would disregard and ignore the suffering of their Huguenot brethren every single day.

Comedy was also popular, and the prolific playwright Molière was a high supplier of such entertainment. In the 1680s he was the king of theater. A great many Huguenots would have seen theater-going as sinful and worldly. Catholics had a different concern; the clergy protested popular plays that contained elements such as sorcery. 

Everything in seventeenth century France --- including theater --- was influenced by Louis the Sun King and his court. Being a great lover of cuisine, he encouraged many fine cooks to ply their wares. Society carefully dictated how one ate. If one was a peasant or lower class, many medieval habits remained, but the upper-crust in France dictated elegant ways in which every utensil must be held and utilized.  

Many argued that medicine had improved quite a bit, yet bloodletting was still the rage. A high fever inevitably signaled an overabundance of blood, hence the leech jars were brought out with great solemnity. In the last few decades, some revolutionary new medical sciences had moved past the experimental phase. Blood transfusions were now the talk of the day. Animal blood was often used for human patients. The populace was amazed when a number of patients survived. 

This is just a sampling of what life was like during the persecution of the Huguenots in the 1680s and beyond. It was “business as usual” for the ruling class and France’s Catholic population but utter torment for Huguenot believers, who were forbidden to enjoy the simplest of pleasures.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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