in the Netherlands
At the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century the Netherlands was enriched with a big stream of refugees from France. They were the so-called Huguenots and many settled permanently. They also fled to England, Germany, Switzerland and the English colonies in North America, including Massachusetts, New York and South Carolina. The estimation is that between 400,000 and 1 million fled from France.
The chance then becomes very likely that, as we research our family genealogy, we will discover Huguenots in our branches. This seems to be the case in the search of my forefathers and gave me a reason to investigate the Huguenots on a larger scale.
In the 16th century, in France, a following evolved of Calvinism, a reformed Protestant stream. The followers of this new religious stream became known as Huguenots. It is not known where the name evolved from. It may a bastardisation of Eidgenossen (eiguenots in French).
Protestantism and it's principles, as it was known, was accepted by many members of the nobility, the intellectual classes and the middle classes. It included Queen Margaret of Navarre and her brother, King Francis I of France. It also became more political as from the year 1560. At the end of his reign, Francis began to turn against the Protestants and Henry II, who was the successor followed his example. However the French Protestants grew in numbers and at their first synod (1559) 15 churches were represented. Two years later at the second synod more than 2,000 churches were represented.
The religious hatred between the French Roman Catholics and the Huguenots was intensified by political rivalry between the Houses of Valois and Guise and bitter wars were fought between 1562 and 1598. The Huguenot leaders were Louis de Bourbon, prince of de Conde and French admiral Gaspard de Coligny. Also involved was Henry of Navarre, later Henry IV of France. The Catholic leaders were Henri I de Lorraine, 3rd duke of de Guise, Catherine de Medicis (only for political purposes) and Henry III. The Huguenots obtained their troops from England, Switzerland and Germany. The Catholics called on Spain for their troops.
However on the night of 23 to 24 of August 1572, Paris found itself in a bloodbath and thousands of Huguenots were slaughtered. This became known as the Massacre of St Bartholomew's day and was led by the Queen Mother, Catherine de Medicis. At the same time, people were celebrating the wedding between Henry of Navarra (later King Henry IV) and Margaretha, sister of King Henry II.
On April 13 1598, King Henry IV (now a Catholic) issued the Edict of Nantes, by which the Huguenots received almost complete religious freedom. They were allowed to build churches to be called 'temples'. The Huguenots could also and to be involved in government and create their own armies and garrisons. It increased their numbers to about 10% of the population.
However their freedom was short-lived with the with the arrival of Ludwig XIII and Cardinal Richelieu. The Huguenots stronghold, La Rochelle, fell after a long siege with a lot of casualties. The battles, which followed, all resulted in a resounding win for the military and the result was an end to the political and military might of the Huguenots.
A period of uneasy rest followed till Ludwig XIV, nephew of Henry IV and also known as 'The Sun King' after the death of Mazarin in 1661, took matters into his own hand. Strict orders were imposed on the Huguenots with the aim of turning France back to Catholicism. Bit by bit the Edict of Nantes was whittled down and on 18 October 1685 the Edict of Nantes was revoked completely. As a result, the position of the Huguenots became helpless and their churches were being destroyed.
Those, who held open meetings, were dismissed from their positions. Tradesmen were banned from their unions and Protestant schools were converted into Catholic schools. Heavy penalties were also incurred on those refusing to return to the Catholic faith. Many chose to return to the Catholic faith, but for those who did not life became harder. Soldiers were sent to 'protect' them against Catholic looters. More and more taxes were levied and if persons were unable to meet them, their possessions and houses were sold.
Eventually, it became too much for most of them and looked to moving to other countries like Switzerland, England, the Netherlands, Germany, South Africa and the English colonies in the United States of America. This movement of people had already commenced 20 years before the Edict of Nantes was revoked. They raised the standard of living in the above countries by using their knowledge of culture and economics.
Around 1550, there appeared in South Holland Waalse area church parishes, which in 1559 met in a general synod and in 1571 they combined with the Netherlands/German parishes and municipalities. In 1577 a synod was held in Dordrecht by the Dutch Protestant Church.
This makes a genealogical investigation in the archives of the Waalse church records a very interesting exercise.
In Leiden is the location of the library of the Bibliotheque Wallones (the library of the Waalse municipalities).
This library is located at:
Witte Singel 27 te Leiden
Post Office box 9501
2300 RA Leiden
Telephone: 71 52 72 800
It is suggested to arrange an appointment if you wish to visit the library.
Records are also available in book and document form at the
Central Bureau of Genealogy
Prince Willem-Alexanderhof 22
2595 BE 's-Gravenhage
Post Office box numer 11755
2502 AT 's-Gravenhage
Telephone: 70 31 50 500
Records are also available in Amsterdam:
Nederlandse Hugenoten Stichting
Zacharias Jansestraat 13
1097 CH Amsterdam
Telephone: 20 69 44 753
The above society has existed since 1975 and their goal is the study of the history of Waalse refugees (16th century, from the southern provinces of Holland) and the Hugenoten (mainly from the 17th century from France.
The Catholic University of Nijmegen in conjunction with the Paris University of Sorbone, attempted to create a base of all Huguenots, who settled in Holland between the years 1680 and 1705 but the project was abandoned due to monetary constraints. At this time, it not known if the project will be recommenced.
Translated by Peter Griffioen 2 April 1999
First revision 12 July 1999
Second revision 9 October 1999