From The Revocation Of The Edict Of Nantes To The French Revolution In 1789

The persecutions occasioned by the revocation of the edict of Nantes,

took place under Louis XIV. This edict was made by Henry the Great of

France in 1598, and secured to the protestants an equal right in every

respect, whether civil or religious, with the other subjects of the

realm. All those privileges Louis the XIII. confirmed to the protestants

by another statute, called the edict of Nismes, and kept them inviolably

> to the end of his reign.

On the accession of Louis XIV. the kingdom was almost ruined by civil

wars. At this critical juncture, the protestants, heedless of our Lord's

admonition, "They that take the sword, shall perish with the sword,"

took such an active part in favour of the king, that he was constrained

to acknowledge himself indebted to their arms for his establishment on

the throne. Instead of cherishing and rewarding that party who had

fought for him, he reasoned, that the same power which had protected

could overturn him, and, listening to the popish machinations, he began

to issue out proscriptions and restrictions, indicative of his final

determination. Rochelle was presently fettered with an incredible number

of denunciations. Montaban and Millau were sacked by soldiers. Popish

commissioners were appointed to preside over the affairs of the

protestants, and there was no appeal from their ordinance, except to the

king's council. This struck at the root of their civil and religious

exercises, and prevented them, being protestants, from suing a catholic

in any court of law. This was followed by another injunction, to make an

inquiry in all parishes into whatever the protestants had said or done

for twenty years past. This filled the prisons with innocent victims,

and condemned others to the galleys or banishment. Protestants were

expelled from all offices, trades, privileges and employs; thereby

depriving them of the means of getting their bread: and they proceeded

to such excess in their brutality, that they would not suffer even the

midwives to officiate, but compelled their women to submit themselves in

that crisis of nature to their enemies, the brutal catholics. Their

children were taken from them to be educated by the catholics, and at

seven years made to embrace popery. The reformed were prohibited from

relieving their own sick or poor, from all private worship, and divine

service was to be performed in the presence of a popish priest. To

prevent the unfortunate victims from leaving the kingdom, all the

passages on the frontiers were strictly guarded; yet, by the good hand

of God, about 150,000 escaped their vigilance, and emigrated to

different countries to relate the dismal narrative.

All that has been related hitherto were only infringements on their

established charter, the edict of Nantes. At length the diabolical

revocation of that edict passed on the 18th of October, 1685, and was

registered the 22d in the vacation, contrary to all form of law.

Instantly the dragoons were quartered upon the protestants throughout

the realm, and filled all France with the like news, that the king would

no longer suffer any Huguenots in his kingdom, and therefore they must

resolve to change their religion. Hereupon the intendants in every

parish (which were popish governors and spies set over the protestants)

assembled the reformed inhabitants, and told them, they must without

delay turn catholics, either freely or by force. The protestants

replied, "They were ready to sacrifice their lives and estates to the

king, but their consciences being God's, they could not so dispose of


Instantly the troops seized the gates and avenues of the cities, and

placing guards in all the passages, entered with sword in hand, crying,

"Die, or be catholics!" In short, they practised every wickedness and

horror they could devise, to force them to change their religion.

They hung both men and women by their hair or their feet, and smoked

them with hay till they were nearly dead; and if they still refused to

sign a recantation, they hung them up again and repeated their

barbarities, till, wearied out with torments without death, they forced

many to yield to them.

Others, they plucked off all the hair of their heads and beards with

pincers. Others they threw on great fires, and pulled them out again,

repeating it till they extorted a promise to recant.

Some they stripped naked, and after offering them the most infamous

insults, they stuck them with pins from head to foot, and lanced them

with penknives; and sometimes with red-hot pincers they dragged them by

the nose till they promised to turn. Sometimes they tied fathers and

husbands, while they ravished their wives and daughters before their

eyes. Multitudes they imprisoned in the most noisome dungeons, where

they practised all sorts of torments in secret. Their wives and children

they shut up in monasteries.

Such as endeavoured to escape by flight were pursued in the woods and

hunted in the fields, and shot at like wild beasts; nor did any

condition or quality screen them from the ferocity of these infernal

dragoons: even the members of parliament and military officers, though

on actual service, were ordered to quit their posts, and repair directly

to their houses to suffer the like storm. Such as complained to the king

were sent to the Bastile, where they drank of the same cup. The bishops

and the intendants marched at the head of the dragoons, with a troop of

missionaries, monks, and other ecclesiastics, to animate the soldiers to

an execution so agreeable to their holy church, and so glorious to their

demon god and their tyrant king.

In forming the edict to repeal the edict of Nantes, the council were

divided; some would have all the ministers detained and forced into

popery as well as the laity: others were for banishing them, because

their presence would strengthen the protestants in perseverance: and if

they were forced to turn, they would ever be secret and powerful enemies

in the bosom of the church, by their great knowledge and experience in

controversial matters. This reason prevailing, they were sentenced to

banishment, and only fifteen days allowed them to depart the kingdom.

The same day the edict for revoking the protestant's charter was

published, they demolished their churches, and banished their ministers,

whom they allowed but twenty-four hours to leave Paris. The papists

would not suffer them to dispose of their effects, and threw every

obstacle in their way to delay their escape till the limited time was

expired which subjected them to condemnation for life to the galleys.

The guards were doubled at the seaports, and the prisons were filled

with the victims, who endured torments and wants at which human nature

must shudder.

The sufferings of the ministers and others, who were sent to the

galleys, seemed to exceed all. Chained to the oar, they were exposed to

the open air night and day, at all seasons, and in all weathers; and

when through weakness of body they fainted under the oar, instead of a

cordial to revive them, or viands to refresh them, they received only

the lashes of a scourge, or the blows of a cane or rope's end. For the

want of sufficient clothing and necessary cleanliness, they were most

grievously tormented with vermin, and cruelly pinched with the cold,

which removed by night the executioners who beat and tormented them by

day. Instead of a bed, they were allowed, sick or well, only a hard

board, eighteen inches broad, to sleep on, without any covering but

their wretched apparel; which was a shirt of the coarsest canvass, a

little jerkin of red serge, slit up each side up to the arm-holes, with

open sleeves that reached not to the elbow; and once in three years they

had a coarse frock, and a little cap to cover their heads, which were

always kept close shaved as a mark of their infamy. The allowance of

provision was as narrow as the sentiments of those who condemned them

to such miseries, and their treatment when sick is too shocking to

relate, doomed to die upon the boards of a dark hold; covered with

vermin, and without the least convenience for the calls of nature. Nor

was it among the least of the horrors they endured, that, as ministers

of Christ, and honest men, they were chained side by side to felons and

the most execrable villains, whose blasphemous tongues were never idle.

If they refused to hear mass, they were sentenced to the bastinado, of

which dreadful punishment the following is a description. Preparatory to

it, the chains are taken off, and the victims delivered into the hands

of the Turks that preside at the oars, who strip them quite naked, and

stretching them upon a great gun, they are held so that they cannot

stir; during which there reigns an awful silence throughout the galley.

The Turk who is appointed the executioner, and who thinks the sacrifice

acceptable to his prophet Mahomet, most cruelly beats the wretched

victim with a rough cudgel, or knotty rope's end, till the skin is

flayed off his bones, and he is near the point of expiring; then they

apply a most tormenting mixture of vinegar and salt, and consign him to

that most intolerable hospital where thousands under their cruelties

have expired.