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The Huguenots and French Opinion, 1685-1787

The Enlightenment Debate on Toleration

Geoffrey Adams

Publication Year: 1991

The decision of Louis XIV to revoke the Edict of Nantes and thus liquidate French Calvinism was well received in the intellectual community which was deeply prejudiced against the Huguenots. This antipathy would gradually disappear. After the death of the Sun King, a more sympathetic view of the Protestant minority was presented to French readers by leading thinkers such as Montesquieu, the abbé Prévost, and Voltaire. By the middle years of the eighteenth century, liberal clerics, lawyers, and government ministers joined Encyclopedists in urging the emancipation of the Reformed who were seen to be loyal, peaceable and productive. Then, in 1787, thanks to intensive lobbying by a group which included Malesherbes, Lafayette, and the future revolutionary Rabaut Saint-Étienne, the government of Louis XVI issued an edict of toleration which granted the Huguenots a modest bill of civil and religious rights.

Adams’ illuminating work treats a major chapter in the history of toleration; it explores in depth a fascinating shift in mentalités, and it offers a new focus on the process of “reform from above” in pre-Revolutionary France.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Series: Editions SR

preface, title page, copyright, dedication

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pp. ix-x

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xiv

Attempts to trace the social impact of ideas are bound to be at one and the same time fascinating, complex, and subtle. Those of us who were fortunate enough to study under the late Louis Gottschalk at the University of Chicago were inevitably drawn to such studies while being solemnly forewarned of the risks involved. ...

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pp. 1-4

A little over a generation ago, Lucien Febvre, who had already established his reputation as an historian of mentalités, urged his Protestant colleague Emile-G. Leonard to write a general study of the French Calvinist community for the public at large. There was a need for such a work, Febvre argued, ...

Part One: The Revocation Imposed, 1685-1715

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I. The Edict of Fontainebleau: The Rationalization of Intolerance

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pp. 7-18

When Louis XIV began his personal reign in 1661, France's religious minorities were probably better off than any in Europe. The Reformed, in particular, enjoyed a large measure of civil and religious freedom derived from the Edict of Nantes promulgated by Henri IV in 1598. ...

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II. Thunderous Applause, Discreet Dissent: The Intellectual Reaction to the Revocation

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pp. 19-34

With a very few exceptions, all that was distinguished in the intellectual and spiritual leadership of France—academicians and writers in or near the court, painters, sculptors, and engravers, orthodox and dissident Catholics—joined in celebrating the King's decision to revoke the Edict of Nantes.1 ...

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III. A Three-way Impasse: The Huguenots, The Clergy, and The State

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pp. 35-46

The failure of the Edict of Fontainebleau to extinguish French Calvinism posed enormous problems for the three parties most directly affected. For the thousands of Huguenots who chose to remain in France and practise their faith in defiance of the law, the penalties were grim, ...

Part Two: The Revocation Attacked, 1715-1760

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IV. An Abstract Combat: Voltaire's First Battles Against Intolerance, 1713-1750

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pp. 49-60

The reconstruction of French Calvinism which began in earnest during the Regency period coincided with the advent of a generation of writers intent upon subjecting the inheritance of Louis XIV to an exhaustive critique. One of the major items in the lengthy indictment which they subsequently produced ...

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V. Montesquieu and the Huguenots: A Conservative's View of Minority Rights

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pp. 61-74

As the most conservative of the major thinkers of the French Enlightenment, Montesquieu might seem at first glance an unlikely champion of civil rights for non-conformists. Indeed, in his widely read L'Esprit des lois, the scholarly magistrate added to the embarrassment of the Huguenots ...

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VI. A Friend in the Enemy Camp: The Abbé Prévost

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pp. 75-86

In his understanding of the Protestant world, the abbe Prévost had one very real advantage over most French writers of his time, in that for six years, beginning in 1728, he abandoned his monastic vows and became, nominally at least, a convert to Calvinism. Prior to this, Prévost had developed a considerable knowledge ...

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VII. Controller-General Machault Provokes a Public Debate on Huguenot Rights, 1751-1760

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pp. 87-102

Sometime during the spring of 1751, Controller-General of Finances Jean-Baptiste Machault, a protégé of Madame de Pompadour, concluded that the Huguenots of the diaspora, whose aptitude for commerce was well established, should be invited to help pull France out of the economic crisis ...

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VIII. Encyclopedists and Calvinists: An Exercise in Mutual Aid

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pp. 103-118

The first seven volumes of the Encyclopédie containing the articles beginning with the letters A to G, appeared between June 1751 and November 1757, a period during which, as we have seen, the question of Huguenot rights was being publicly debated in France for the first time since the Revocation. ...

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IX. A Case Study in Incompatibility: The Philosophe Voltaire and the Calvinist La Beaumelle, 1750-1756

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pp. 119-134

During the six-year period beginning in July 1750 when he arrived at the court of Frederick of Prussia, Voltaire came to grips with the realities of the French Calvinist experience for the first time. To begin with, he met scholarly Calvinist pastors such as Samuel Formey and Charles Louis de Beausobre, ...

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X. Mutual Disenchantment: Voltaire and the Genevans, 1755-1762

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pp. 135-146

During the years immediately preceding the Calas affair, Voltaire lived near Geneva and was thus able to observe Calvinist society at close range. In an effort to "civilize the natives," he presented plays on his property at Les Delices, defying the local taboo against the theatre. ...

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XI. Distant Cousins: Rousseau and the French Calvinists

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pp. 147-164

Of all the men of letters to whom the Huguenots turned for help in their struggle for civil rights in pre-Revolutionary France, none seemed a more plausible ally than Jean-Jacques Rousseau. To begin with, the Swiss writer was himself descended from a victim of French religious discrimination, Didier Rousseau, ...

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XII. The Stage in the Service of Huguenot Emancipation: Voltaire, Fenouillot de Falbaire, and Mercier

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pp. 165-178

During the eighteenth-century debate over toleration, champions of the Calvinist cause usually put their argument in prose; but the case for religious freedom was sometimes made by playwrights, most of whom wrote in verse. Voltaire made his theatrical assault on intolerance with Oedipe (1718), Zaïre (1732), Alzire (1736), and Mahomet (1742); ...

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XIII. Reaction Put to Rout: The Dictionnaire Philosophique, the Last of the Encyclopédie and the Bélisaire Affair, 1764-1767

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pp. 179-194

During the middle 1760s, while Voltaire's interest in the Calas and Sirven cases was at its most intense, three bombshells burst on the French literary scene which, coming in rapid succession, decisively altered the balance in the long battle for toleration. It is true that apologists of the Revocation had been on the defensive since the late 1750s, ...

Part Three: The Revocation Undone, 1760-1787

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XIV. The 1760s: From Words to Deeds

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pp. 197-210

By the beginning of the 1760s, what remained of the negative image of the French Reformed was beginning to fade, and an increasingly sensitive public was being made aware of the very real sufferings still being endured by the Huguenots. The Calas affair would do much to replace old myths of Protestant fanaticism ...

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XV. The Calas Affair: A Catalyst for the National Conscience, 1762-1765

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pp. 211-230

Like Alfred Dreyfus more than a century later, Jean Calas, found guilty of a crime which posterity judges he did not commit, belonged to a minority whose ideas and customs were considered suspect, even threatening, by many French Catholics. But, while anti-Semitic prejudice predisposed much of the nation's social and intellectual establishment ...

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XVI. Large Expectations, Limited Gains: The Reform Efforts of Turgot and Malesherbes, 1774-1776

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pp. 231-246

The character of the young prince who mounted the French throne in May 1774 was such that both pro- and anti-Calvinist groups rejoiced at the news of his accession. The Huguenots and their friends in the philosophe camp saw in the nineteen-year old Louis XVI a man of compassion, too sensitive to allow any of his subjects to suffer oppression or discrimination. ...

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XVII. Conservatives and Pragmatists Try Their Hand: Necker, Armand, and the Parlementaires, 1776-1784

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pp. 247-264

The resignations of Turgot and Malesherbes in the spring of 1776 removed from the administration its only outspoken supporters of the Huguenots' cause. In the months that followed, government policy towards the Calvinists toughened, especially in areas where the Protestant revival was recent and perceived to be provocative. ...

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XVIII. Genteel Conspirators: Breteuil and Malesherbes Set the Stage for Reform, 1784-1787

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pp. 265-284

In October 1783, when he put Louis-Auguste Le Tonnelier, the baron de Breteuil, in charge of 'new Catholic' affairs, Louis XVI inadvertently opened the penultimate chapter in the campaign for Protestant toleration. Although the new minister did not become personally committed to the Calvinist cause ...

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XIX. Spurs to Action: The D'Anglure Affair and the Dutch Crisis, 1787

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pp. 285-294

The Calvinists' discouragement at the government's failure to act on their behalf in the spring of 1787 was short-lived. For one thing, the ministry formed by Lomenie de Brienne following his appointment in May was more favourably disposed towards the Huguenots than any of its eighteenth-century predecessors. ...

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XX. Toleration Triumphant: The Edict of 1787

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pp. 295-306

Its favourable intentions concerning Calvinist toleration having been forced into the open by the Anglure affair as well as the crisis in the Netherlands, the administration of Lomenie de Brienne finally resolved to act. Rather foolishly as it turned out, the ministry decided to couple its proposed edict of toleration ...

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pp. 307-310

Given the prolonged resistance of the ecclesiastical establishment to any form of Protestant emancipation, and given the major institutional crisis France was experiencing in the late 1780s, the Edict of 1787 was less than a full and explicit bill of rights. One can only speculate whether or not this half-measure would have served as an appropriate basis ...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 311-330


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pp. 331-336

E-ISBN-13: 9780889209046
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889202177

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 1991

Series Title: Editions SR

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Subject Headings

  • Huguenots -- History.
  • Religious tolerance -- France -- History -- 18th century.
  • France -- Church history.
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