- Facing the Revocation: Huguenot Families, Faith, and the King's Will by Carolyn Chappell Lougee
The Huguenot emigration from France after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685 was not the first wave of religious refugees from an early-modern monarchy. Jews fled Spain in 1492, and Moriscos were expelled in 1609. But the Huguenots' flight gives us the word refugee; they escaped into the "Refuge" in the United Provinces, Germany, Switzerland, England, Ireland, and the American colonies. There they became the archetypal heroic victims of religious persecution. Huguenot publicists celebrated the exiles as courageous and steadfast in their faith, and historians have not questioned that portrayal. As Carolyn Chappell Lougee puts it: "It is often said that history is written by the victors, but here, posterity has taken its cue from the defeated" (188). The "heroic" view of the refugees contrasts them both with a tyrannical king and with their co-religionists who stayed in France. True believers would have left; only those whose religious commitment was weak stayed. Lougee challenges the idea that the exiles were more heroic and sincere than Huguenots who stayed in France, but she does not deny their dedication to their faith.
Lougee draws on documentation from half a dozen countries. The result is, at least, two books. The first is a history of the Robillard de Champagné family from Saintonge. The other is a new history of the Refuge. The Champagnés attracted Lougee's attention because of their autobiographical narratives: a memoir-financial account left by Marie de La Rochefoucauld, letters by her husband Josias de Robillard to their children, and a memoir by their oldest daughter Susanne. But she also draws on a wide array of archival material—property records, wills, lawsuits, and contracts—to reconstruct the life of this noble family and its extensive network of kin and allies. Along the way, she provides informative discussions of inheritance law, dowry customs, and the international trade in Saintonge brandy. It can be hard to keep all the characters straight, but the result is a masterful study of a provincial nobility and a Protestant community.
The Champagnés were beset by conflict because the family had fallen into "distaff" (15). For three generations it produced only daughters, which made concentrating property in one favored heir's hands legally fraught. Marie's grandmother tried to do so by bequeathing Marie her seigneury of Berneré, but she disadvantaged her own daughter Madelene. When Madelene fell on hard times, she successfully sued her niece for Berneré. The bitter quarrel destroyed [End Page 919] the family's solidarity and precipitated Marie's departure from France with most of her children in 1687. Her memoir claimed she left France because she sought the "liberty to worship God openly" (75). The statement fits the classic explanation of the refugees' motivation, but Lougee shows that the key variable in the decision to stay or go was not religious sincerity but the "dynamics of everyday life" (129) in families. Some Huguenot families split religiously but still managed to maintain solidarity and form a "protective circle" around kin who refused abjuration. However, Madelene's lawsuit and the economic disaster it promised tore Marie's family apart. For the Champagné there was no protective circle of kin.
Thus those who left were not necessarily more faithful than those who stayed. Nor were they more heroic. Some who remained resisted conversion and suffered imprisonment in jails, convents, or in the king's galleys. Others abjured under the dragoons' threat but continued their Protestant worship clandestinely. Josias explained in one of his letters that he had joined the king's faith because of pressure from royal and ecclesiastical authorities. He felt no commitment to it, and indeed, those authorities always suspected as much. And yet he did not quickly seek to escape; instead, he vacillated, departing a year after Marie.
In a memoir that emphasized her religious commitment, Marie could not admit to the family dispute that triggered her departure...