Edict of Nantes

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Nantes, Edict of

Nantes, Edict of, 1598, decree promulgated at Nantes by King Henry IV to restore internal peace in France, which had been torn by the Wars of Religion; the edict defined the rights of the French Protestants (see Huguenots). These included full liberty of conscience and private worship; liberty of public worship wherever it had previously been granted and its extension to numerous other localities and to estates of Protestant nobles; full civil rights including the right to hold public office; royal subsidies for Protestant schools; special courts, composed of Roman Catholic and Protestant judges, to judge cases involving Protestants; retention of the organization of the Protestant church in France; and Protestant control of some 200 cities then held by the Huguenots, including such strongholds as La Rochelle (see Rochelle, La), with the king contributing to the maintenance of their garrisons and fortifications. The last condition, originally devised for an eight-year period but subsequently renewed, was to serve as guarantee to the Huguenots that their other rights would be respected; however, it gave French Protestantism a virtual state within a state and was incompatible with the centralizing policies of cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin and of Louis XIV. The fall (1628) of La Rochelle to Richelieu's army and the Peace of Alais (1629) marked the end of Huguenot political privileges. After 1665, Louis XIV was persuaded by his Roman Catholic advisers to embark on a policy of persecuting the Protestants. By a series of edicts that narrowly interpreted the Edict of Nantes, he reduced it to a scrap of paper. Finally, in 1685, he declared that the majority of Protestants had been converted to Catholicism and that the edict of 1598, having thus become superfluous, was revoked. No French Protestants were allowed to leave the country; those who openly remained Protestants were promised the right of private worship and freedom from molestation, but the promise was not kept. Thousands fled abroad to escape the system of dragonnades, and several provinces were virtually depopulated. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes weakened the French economy by driving out a highly skilled and industrious segment of the nation, and its ruthless application increased the detestation in which England and the Protestant German states held the French king. Its object—to make France a Catholic state—was fulfilled on paper only, for many secretly remained faithful to Protestantism, while the prestige of the Roman Catholic Church suffered as a result of Louis's intolerance.


See W. J. Stankiewicz, Politics and Religion in Seventeenth Century France (1960).

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Nantes, Edict of


an edict signed by the French king Henry IV in Nantes in April 1598; it put an end to the religious wars in France.

By the terms of the Edict of Nantes, Catholicism remained the ruling religion, but the Huguenots gained the freedom to profess their faith and to conduct religious services in the cities (except Paris and several others), in their castles, and in a number of rural communities. The Huguenots were given the right to hold judicial, administrative, and military office. Special courts, half of which were staffed with Huguenots, were created in the parliaments of Paris, Toulouse, Bordeaux, and Grenoble to hear cases involving Huguenots. Huguenots were allowed to convoke political conferences and synods. According to secret supplemental articles of the Edict of Nantes, the Huguenots received 100 fortresses with garrisons; the chief fortresses were Montpellier, Montauban, and La Rochelle. They also gained the right to have an army and other privileges.

The Edict of Nantes encountered harsh opposition from the pope, the Catholic clergy, and the parliaments. The last were slow to register it; for example, the Rouen Parliament did so only in 1610. After the war with the Huguenots of 1621–29, the secret articles of the Edict of Nantes were voided by the Peace of Alais (1629). In 1685, Louis XIV finally revoked the Edict of Nantes.


Recueil général des anciennes lois françaises, par Isambert, vol. 15.Paris, 1829.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Nantes, Edict of

granted Protestants same rights as Catholics in France (1598). [Fr. Hist.: EB, VII: 184]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.