The Huguenots where French Protestants who followed the teachings of John Calvin. The growth of Calvinism in France led to persecution and eventually open conflict between the state, church and the Huguenots.  This subsided when the Protestant leader Henry of Navarre changed his faith to become King of France. In doing so he also signed the Edict of Nantes which gave Calvanists the right to live in France as a Protestant minority with religious rights. The Edict was drawn up to protect  the Calvanists but bit by bit these rights were eroded, this led to the Huguenots becoming more and more dependent on King Henry for their protection.

 

 When Henry's position was challenged by the nobles (1640/50) many Huguenots left the country as they feared a return to the situation prior to the Edict of Nantes.  When Louis XIV came to power he promised to honour the Edict of Nantes but this was not to be. Gradually religious rights and freedoms were removed in a clandestine way.  Anything not literally expressed in the Edict of Nantes was open for restriction, for example:   building new churches, the daytime burial of the dead was forbidden,  churches erected after 1598 were destroyed.

 

This erosion of rights was also increased by a surge in the French Catholic Church which resulted in less tolerance for minority religions. In this atmosphere many Huguenots left the country.

 

The repression continued on those that remained, guarantees were withdrawn and new restrictions imposed: mixed marriages were forbidden, travel of ministers controlled, children could be converted from Calvanism and taken away from their parents, Huguenots were banned from all public offices including the legal profession, they could not practice medicine nor print or sell books. The final actions which led to many fleeing France was the engagement of the French Dragoons in open terrorism against Huguenot families to force them to convert,  thousands conformed under duress while thousands fled the country.  Louis XIV revoked the  Edict of Nantes altogether in 1685 and introduced the Edict of Fountainebleu which  banned all Protestant services; ordered all churches to be destroyed; the death penalty for any clergy who remained in France, banned any lay member to leave and ordered children to be baptized and brought up in the Catholic faith.

 

The majority of the Huguenots, some 700,000 remained in France and most of these became nominal converts.  More than 200,000, however, risked imprisonment or the gallows by going abroad.  The largest number fled to Holland, others went to Switzerland, Germany and  Denmark. Forty to fifty thousand escaped to England, where they joined those who had settled there earlier. It is estimated that approximately 10,000 came to Ireland.  They were not the first, some of those who had left France in earlier years were already settled here, though their numbers were small.  During the 1660s inducements were introduce to encourage Huguenots to settle in Ireland.

 

However in 1692, after the victory of William of Orange whom the Huguenots supported and indeed many Huguenots served under William including his commander in Ireland the Duke of Schomberg.  It is worth noting that the majority of Huguenots who settled here were merchants or crafts people, for example the weavers who settled at Lisburn played a significant role in the early years of linen development  and also the growth of the cottage industries.