Sunday, November 4, 2012

November 04, 2012

The 1685 Edict of Potsdam and How It Might Have Saved Our Ancestors’ Lives

Early Protestant history was full of edicts. Most were issued to stop wars; some were issued to grant privileges. Some, like the sorrowful Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685, were issued to take away the most basic rights. The Edict of Potsdam was one of the positive decrees. For those of us whose French ancestors came to Germany during persecution, whether to settle there or to later come to America, it was a life-saving decree. The Edict of Potsdam came about in October 1685, directly after France’s King Louis XIV issued the Edict of Fontainebleau and effectively stripped French Protestants of nearly everything they had ever known.

German Elector Friederich Wilhelm of Brandenburg, a Protestant, hated to see the Huguenots being dealt such a rough hand. He may have had an ulterior motive as well . . . he understood that the “Protestant work ethic” had produced in the Huguenots a strong and industrious spirit, and they worked without complaint and were generally moral Christian folk. Desiring to better Brandenburg-Prussia’s finances, he quickly came to the conclusion that more workers equaled a financially-healthy land.

Friederich Wilhelm’s kindness was quite generous for the day. He promised the Huguenots full rights and allowed them to settle wherever they wished within Brandenburg-Prussia. Also, he had the foresight not to force them to worship in German, which would have been a bone of contention . . . as long as they kept to the law of the land, they were allowed to worship in French. The Huguenots had long known many regions of Germany as conspicuously Protestant. This sudden lifeline must have been a dream come true to those who had been thrust so suddenly into darkness and had no idea where to turn. A sampling of the Edict of Potsdam easily explains why it meant so much to Protestants who had been crushed at every turn (Note the “Royal We” and “Royal Our” often present!):

“. . . and, in general, we wish them to be regarded and treated on the same footing as our own native subjects.” 

“Our said French co-religionists in each town shall be provided with their own pastor, and Divine Service shall be conducted in the French language with the same rites and ceremonies as have hitherto been customary in the Evangelical-Reformed Churches in France.”

“As soon as these our French co-religionists of the Evangelical-Reformed faith have settled in any town or village, they shall be admitted to the domiciliary rights and craft freedoms customary there, gratis and without payment of any fee; and shall be entitled to the benefits, rights, and privileges enjoyed by our other, native, subjects, residing there.”

These basic citizenry rights had not even been granted to French Protestants in their own country! Friederich Wilhelm was a man in the Huguenots’ own corner, a man with a prudent heart. He may very well have been one of those figures who changed the course of religious history . . .

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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