Louis XIV Revokes the Edict of Nantes Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

King Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes removed the remaining guarantees of religious freedom granted to Huguenots in France by King Henry IV eighty-seven years earlier.

Summary of Event

Following the Wars of Religion that tore France asunder during the second half of the sixteenth century (1565-1598), Henry Bourbon, king of Navarre and cousin of the last Valois kings, was accepted as king of France. Henry (now Henry IV Henry IV (king of France) ) had been a Protestant and leader of the Huguenots during the last phase of the civil wars. To make himself acceptable to most of the nation, he became a Catholic. [kw]Louis XIV Revokes the Edict of Nantes (1685) [kw]Nantes, Louis XIV Revokes the Edict of (1685) [kw]Edict of Nantes, Louis XIV Revokes the (1685) Government and politics;1685: Louis XIV Revokes the Edict of Nantes[2800] Laws, acts, and legal history;1685: Louis XIV Revokes the Edict of Nantes[2800] Religion and theology;1685: Louis XIV Revokes the Edict of Nantes[2800] France;1685: Louis XIV Revokes the Edict of Nantes[2800] Nantes, revocation of Edict of (1685)

Nevertheless, he did not abandon his former comrades in arms. Not only did he make the duke de Sully, a Huguenot, his chief minister, but also, to prevent future persecution of the Protestant minority in France after his death, Henry also issued on April 13, 1598, the Edict of Nantes, Nantes, Edict of (1598) an explanation of the edict he had issued at Nantes in 1591. This edict confirmed the rights of Huguenots as recorded in the enactments of his predecessors: They could not be persecuted for their beliefs and could worship wherever they had done so in 1591, including at least one town in every district and in the homes of nobility above a certain rank; provisions were also made for the equal treatment of the Huguenots in the courts and in appointments to office. In addition to these provisions, the Edict of Nantes increased the number of Huguenot safe havens from ten to one hundred, threw open government offices to men of all faiths, and created courts with a mixed religious membership to try cases involving Huguenots Huguenots .

A public official announces French king Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

(Francis R. Niglutsch)

The Edict of Nantes was a negotiated political treaty between the Catholic king of France and a minority religious group within his kingdom. It provided for a state within a state by giving the Huguenots political and military control over certain sections of the kingdom to ensure them their religious and political rights. Yet it was a settlement that could hardly be expected to survive many years after the death of its chief negotiator. During the reign of Louis XIII Louis XIII;Richelieu and , Cardinal de Richelieu Richelieu, Cardinal de;Huguenots and , who exercised real control of the state, destroyed the political power of the Huguenots in a civil war that culminated in the siege of La Rochelle La Rochelle, Siege of (1627-1628) in 1628. Richelieu did not, however, move against the freedom of religion that had been granted by the Edict of Nantes. It was not until well into the reign of Louis XIV Louis XIV;Protestantism and that such action was taken.

Louis XIV took his title of “Most Christian Majesty” literally. He believed that it was his duty to God to see that all his subjects adhered to the one true religion, and in his own mind there was no doubt but that this religion was Catholicism Catholicism;France . Furthermore, in waging war with the predominantly Protestant states of northern Europe, particularly the Netherlands, he believed that the French Huguenots were real, or at best potential, sympathizers with the enemies of the Crown. The elimination of Calvinism in France, which he viewed as an offense against God and himself, would serve a dual purpose. By the 1680’, increasing influence was being exerted upon the king by his fanatically Catholic second wife, Madame de Maintenon Maintenon, Madame de . A widow, she had come to court as governess to the royal children, and because of her common origins, King Louis had married her in a private ceremony. She continually urged the king to develop a tougher policy toward the Huguenots.

The king first tried the velvet glove. He encouraged conversions by the exemption of new converts from personal taxes, and he granted them six livres in a recently established “conversion fund.” Yet, as the great majority of the more than one million Huguenots in France were prosperous merchants, manufacturers, and well-to-do farmers, they ridiculed the offer of “pieces of silver.” By 1670, the king had decided that it would be necessary to use the iron hand. He began by merely closing Huguenot places of worship and harassing and arresting their clergy. When this move failed to produce the desired result, the king gave the marquis de Louvois, Louvois, marquis de his war minister, carte blanche in dealing with the problem. François de Marillac, Marillac, François de the royal intendent in charge of Poitou in 1681, devised a method of forcing conversions by billeting Catholic troops in Protestant homes. Because of the prominence of dragoon units in Poitou, the practice was termed a “Dragonnade.”

Soldiers quartered upon the Huguenots were virtually given a free hand outside the law. The military reign of terror that followed is one of the most shameful acts in the annals of French history. Nevertheless, it also failed to produce the desired results. Finally, the king took the ultimate step. In 1685, at the urging of his chancellor Michel Le Tellier Le Tellier, Michel de , father of the minister of war, the king revoked the Edict of Nantes, and Protestantism became illegal in France. Louis XIV persecuted the Huguenots most cruelly by forbidding escape into exile, by driving them under torture to the Mass, and by separating families. Persecution, religious;Huguenots in France


The mass flight of French Huguenots that followed proved to be a severe blow to the state. Approximately 200,000 well-educated bourgeoisie, prosperous merchants, military and naval personnel, and skilled artisans took refuge in England, the Netherlands, Prussia, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Russia, North America, and South Africa. The departure of this large percentage of shrewd capitalists and skilled workers caused a noticeable decline in the French economy. Not only did production drop off in France, but the stimulus the Huguenots gave to the industries of the nations that welcomed them also led to a decline in the demand for French goods.

International condemnation of the revocation was widespread; even Pope Innocent XI Innocent XI denounced Louis’s actions. Brandenburg’s Frederick William, the Great Elector Frederick William, the Great Elector , indignantly protested and issued his own Edict of Potsdam (1686) Potsdam, Edict of (1686) , whereby he officially encouraged refugee Huguenots to settle in his domains.

From the military point of view, the defection of seasoned infantry, particularly engineers, as well as naval officers into the armed forces of Louis’s enemies (notably England, the Netherlands, and Brandenburg) contributed significantly to France’s major setbacks during the Wars of the League of Augsburg (1689-1697) League of Augsburg, Wars of the (1689-1697) and the Wars of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714) Spanish Succession, Wars of the (1701-1714) .

Many thousands of Protestants, however, had chosen to remain in France, sometimes outwardly professing Catholicism, but secretly holding Protestant services. This practice became known as the Church of the Desert Church of the Desert . Persistent harassment by royal officials often aggravated a violent response, the most bloody of which was a guerrilla struggle known as the Camisard Uprising Camisard Uprising (1702-1705) , which occurred in southern France from 1702 to 1705.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Benedict, Philip. The Faith and Fortunes of France’s Huguenots, 1600-1685. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2001. A social and religious history of the French Huguenot community from the time the Edict of Nantes was issued until Louis’s revocation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bernier, Olivier. Louis XIV: A Royal Life. New York: Doubleday, 1987. The author takes an extremely sympathetic view of Louis, portraying him as having been deceived about the Huguenot issue by Louvois, and thereby revoking the Edict of Nantes on the basis of misinformation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gwynn, Robin D. Huguenot Heritage: The History and Contributions of the Huguenots in Britain. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985. An excellent study of the overseas effects of the revocation. Gwynn makes a good case in favor of Louis XIV’s action in revoking the Edict of Nantes as having contributed to his subsequent military defeats.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Holt, Mack P. The French Wars of Religion, 1562-1629. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. A comprehensive account of French sectarian conflict, a unique account that ties in the seventeenth century war with the better-known wars of the sixteenth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mentzer, Raymond A., and Andrew Spicer, eds. Society and Culture in the Huguenot World, 1559-1685. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. A collection of essays about Huguenot culture and identity in France from the mid-sixteenth century until the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Examines the Huguenot’s religious and social institutions and their interactions with French state and society.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ogg, David. Europe in the Seventeenth Century. New York: Collier, 1962. Argues that the revocation was deliberately planned as a key element in Louis XIV’s policy—a major blunder that had the effect of consigning France to absolutism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smith, David L. Louis XIV. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Smith takes no particular position in this biography, but uses primary source documents to illustrate the pros and cons of the major issues of Louis’s reign.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wolf, John B. Louis XIV. New York: W. W. Norton, 1968. Wolf sees Louis as a victim of his own flawed vision of total unity, which included uniformity of worship.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Frederick William, the Great Elector; Innocent XI; Jacob Leisler; Louis XIII; Louis XIV; Madame de Maintenon; Marie de Médicis; Cardinal de Richelieu; Friedrich Hermann Schomberg; Duke de Sully. Nantes, revocation of Edict of (1685)

Categories: History