Today’s installment concludes The Edict of Nantes Revoked,
our selection from Histoire de France by Bon Louis Henri Martin published in 1836.
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Previously in The Edict of Nantes Revoked.
It is difficult to estimate, even approximately, the number of Protestants who abandoned their country, become to them a barbarous mother. Vauban estimated it at a hundred thousand, from 1684 to 1691. Benoit, the Calvinist historian of the Edict of Nantes, who published his book in 1695, estimates it at two hundred thousand; the illustrious refugee Basnage speaks vaguely of three or four hundred thousand. Others give figures much more exaggerated, while the Duke of Burgundy, in the memoir that we have cited above, reduces the emigration to less than sixty-eight thousand souls in the course of twenty years; but the truly inconceivable illusions preserved by this young prince, concerning the moral and political results of the Revocation, do not allow us to put confidence in his testimony; he was deceived, took pleasure in being deceived, and closed his ear to whomsoever desired to undeceive him. The amount from two hundred thousand to two hundred fifty thousand, from the Revocation to the commencement of the following century, that is, to the revolt of Cévennes, seems most probable. But it is not so much by the quantity as by the quality of the emigrants that the real loss of France must be measured. France was incomparably more weakened than if two hundred thousand citizens had been taken at hazard from the Catholic mass of the nation. The Protestants were very superior, on the average, if not to the Catholic middle class of Paris and the principal centres of French civilization, at least to the mass of the people, and the emigrants were the best of the Protestants. A multitude of useful men, among them many superior men, left a frightful void in France, and went to swell the forces of Protestant nations. France declined both by what she lost and what her rivals gained. Before 1689 nine thousand sailors, the best in the kingdom, as Vauban says, twelve thousand soldiers, six hundred officers, had gone to foreign countries.
The most skilful chiefs and agents of contemporaneous industry went in multitudes to settle in foreign lands. Industrial capacities, less striking than literary capacities, inflicted losses on France still more felt and less reparable. France was rich enough in literary glory to lose much without being impoverished; such was not the case with respect to industry; France was to descend in a few years, almost in a few months, from that economical supremacy which had been conquered for her by long efforts of a protective administration; populous cities beheld the branches of commerce that constituted their prosperity rapidly sinking, by the disappearance of the principal industrial families, and these branches taking root on the other side of the frontiers. Thus fell, never to rise again, the Norman hat trade — already suffering on account of regulations that fettered the Canadian fur trade. Other branches, in great number, did not disappear entirely, but witnessed the rise of a formidable competition in foreign lands, where they had hitherto remained unknown; these were so many outlets closed, so many markets lost for our exportation, lately so flourishing. A suburb of London (Spitalfields) was peopled with our workmen in silk, emigrated from Lyons and Touraine, which lost three-fourths of their looms; the manufacture of French silk was also established in Holland, with paper-making, cloth manufacture, etc. Many branches of industry were transplanted to Brandenburg, and twenty thousand Frenchmen carried the most refined arts of civilization to the coarse population thinly scattered among the sands and firs of that sombre region. French refugees paid for the hospitality of the Elector Frederick by laying the foundation of the high destinies of Berlin, which on their arrival was still but a small city of twelve or fifteen thousand souls, and which, thenceforth, took a start which nothing was to arrest. Like the Hebrews after the fall of Jerusalem, the Huguenot exiles scattered themselves over the entire world: some went to Ireland, carrying the cultivation of flax and hemp; others, led by a nephew of Duquesne, founded a small colony at the Cape of Good Hope.
France was impoverished, not only in Frenchmen who exiled themselves, but in those, much more numerous, who remained in spite of themselves, discouraged, ruined, whether they openly resisted persecution or suffered some external observances of Catholicism to be wrung from them, all having neither energy in work nor security in life; it was really the activity of more than a million of men that France lost, and of the million that produced most.
The great enterprise, the miracle of the reign, therefore miscarried; the new temple that Louis had pretended to erect to unity fell to ruin as it rose from the ground, and left only an open chasm in place of its foundation. Everything that had been undertaken by the governing power of France for a century in the direction of national, civil, and territorial unity had gloriously succeeded; as soon as the governing power left this legitimate field of unity to invade the domain of conscience and of human individuality, it raised before itself insurmountable obstacles; it concerned itself in contests wherein it was equally fatal to conquer or be conquered, and gave the first blow to the greatness of France. What a contrast between the pretensions of Louis that he could neither be mistaken nor deceived, that he saw everything, that he accomplished everything, and the illusions with which he was surrounded in regard to the facility of success and the means employed! The nothingness of absolute power, and of government by one alone, was thus revealed under the reign of the “Great King!”
This ends our series of passages on The Edict of Nantes Revoked by Bon Louis Henri Martin from his book Histoire de France published in 1836. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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