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The First Modern Refugees? Charity, Entitlement, and Persuasion in the Huguenot Immigration of the 1680s

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 June 2017

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When Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, he perpetuated the long tradition of foreign Protestants seeking shelter in England. England’s place as a religious refuge began after the Reformation; the resulting foundations of Stranger churches meant that a pre-existing community could advocate for the refugees. Yet, the religious attitudes that previously fostered an economy of entitlement for religious exiles no longer exercised the influence they once had. This meant that there was a distinct possibility that the Huguenot refugees of the 1680s could have become the first modern refugees.

Symposium: The Study of the Early Modern Poor and Poverty Relief
Copyright © North American Conference on British Studies 2000

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The author wishes to thank Robert Darnton, Peter Lake, Gordon Desbrisay, Paul Fideler, and the anonymous readers for their insightful comments on earlier versions of this paper. I also wish to extend my gratitude to the members of the Religion and Culture Workshop at Princeton and the audience at the 1998 NACBS Annual Meeting for their careful criticisms of the present work.


1 Agnew, David C. A., Protestant Exiles from France in the Reign of Louis XIV; or, The Huguenot Refugees and their Descendants in Great britain and Ireland, Vol. 1. (London, 1871)Google Scholar; Baubérot, Jean, “Le Tricentenaire de la Révocation de l’Edit de Nantes: Historiographie et commémoration,” Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions 62 (octobre-decécembre 1986): 179202Google Scholar; Benedict, Philip, The Huguenot Population of France, 1600-1685: The Demographic Fate of a Religious Minority, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 81 (Philadelphia, 1991)Google Scholar; Cottret, Bernard, Terre d’exil, L’Angleterre et des réfugiés français et wallons de la Réforme à la Révocation de l’Edit de Settlement c. 1550-1700 (Paris, 1985), and The Huguenots in England: Immigration and Settlement c. 1550-1700, trans, Peregrine and Adriana Stevenson (Cambridge, 1991)Google Scholar; Garrisson, Janine, L’Edit de Nantes et sa Révocation. Histoire d’une intolérance (Paris, 1985)Google Scholar; Grell, Ole Peter, Calvinist Exiles in Tudor and Stuart England (London, 1996)Google Scholar; Labrousse, Elisabeth, “Une foi, une loi, un roi?” Essai sur la Révocation de l’Edit de Nantes (Geneva, 1985)Google Scholar; Prestwich, Menna, ed., International Calvinìsn, ¡541-1715 (Oxford, 1985)Google Scholar; de Schickler, Le Baron F., Les Églises de Refuge en Angleterre, 3 vols. (Paris, 1892)Google Scholar; and Smith, Raymond, ed., Records of the Royal Bounty and Collected Funds, the Burn Donation and the Savoy Church in the Huguenot Library, University College, London, ed., Irene Scouloudi, Publications of the Huguenot Society of London, Vol. 51 (London, 1974)Google Scholar. The best modern estimates for the number of Huguenots who immigrated to England in the seventeenth century place the total number of immigrants at 40-50,000. Gwynn, Robin D., “The Number of Huguenot Immigrants in England in the Late Seventeenth Century,” Journal of Historical Geography 9 (1983)Google Scholar [unless otherwise noted, all works hereafter were published in London].

2 The Oxford English Dictionary states that the word “refugee” came into the English lexicon around 1681 with the influx of Huguenot refugees. I will use the term to denote refugees before 1681 since the concept of the refugee certainly predated the 1680s in England.

3 To remove religion from the Huguenot problem was the aim of Defoe, Daniel, Lex Talionis: or, An enquiry into the most proper ways to prevent the persecution of the Protestants in France (1698)Google Scholar.

4 Of course, any reference to public opinion before the eighteenth century is fraught with theoretical concerns. Jurgen Habermas’s theory of the public sphere immediately springs to mind. As helpful as Habermas’s formulation is, however, the rigidity of his schema, the ambiguity of his terms, and the fact that most scholars have read him in translation has introduced more confusion than is truly necessary (I am indebted to Robert Darnton for these insights). Public opinion certainly mattered before the 1780s, but probably not in the particular way Habermas had in mind. My use of the term relies on the notion that early modern England was comprised of many communities of readers who often also occupied positions of power and influence. By public opinion, I mean chiefly to denote the influence of the opinions of the political nation combined with the growing importance of popular participation in politics through formal means like petitioning and addressing and informal means like rioting.

5 Knights, Mark, Politics and Opinion in Crisis, 1678-81 (Cambridge, 1994)Google Scholar. Knights argues that public opinion was incredibly fluid and that it was often difficult to discern the effects of publications on opinion. His formulation is helpful in its insistence on caution, but it does not provide as useful a guide for gauging opinion about matters outside Parliament and the Exclusion crisis.

6 Ibid., pp. 174-75.

7 Ibid., p. 200.

8 The political nation for this discussion also includes the Established and Dissenting churches.

9 Pincus, Steven, “Reconceiving Seventeenth-Century Political Culture,” review of Classical Humanism and Republicanism in English Political Thought, 1570-1640, by Peltonen, Markku, and William III and the Godly Revolution, by Claydon, Tony,” Journal of British Studies 38, 1 (January 1999): 98111Google Scholar. His critique is most directly leveled against the use of religious language in the Glorious Revolution posited by Claydon, Tony, William 111 and the Godly Revclution (New York, 1996)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 I use “regime” very loosely here, primarily referring to Secretary Jenkins, Bishop Compton, Archbishop Sancroft, and the Mayor of London. Charles IF s “true” position on the Huguenot crisis is difficult to judge, but it is safe to assume that he wanted to maximize benefits to himself and minimize his losses. Supporting the refugees was one of the issues that united Dissenters and Anglicans. These two groups disliked Charles’s pro-French foreign policy and welcomed his move to aid the refugees as a sign that the king was changing his position. It also must be remembered that the largest single year of immigration was 1687-88 after James II issued his Declaration of Indulgence, according to Gwynn, Robin, ed., Minutes of the Consistory of the French Church of London, Threadneedle Street 1679-1692: Calendared with an Historical Introduction and Commentary, Vol. 58 (1994)Google Scholar. An example of image doctoring comes from the London Gazette, Nos. 1683 and 1684 (Jan 2-5, 1682 and Jan 5-9, 1682). A rumor was circulating that a Mr Smithies had found a group of Huguenots attending Mass when he visited them to distribute aid. In the next issue a printed correction from Mr. Smithies not only denied the rumor but added the corrective that “he hath several times found them at Prayers with great Devotion, and Reading the Scriptures with great Reverence; and doth therefore believe they are not only true Protestants, but very Pious Christians.”

11 The power of persecution narratives is exemplified by the development of a new Whig martyrology as detailed by Zook, Melinda, ‘“The Bloody Assizes:’ Whig Martyrdom and Memory after the Glorious Revolution,” Albion 27, 3 (1995): 373–96Google Scholar.

12 Hibbard, Caroline M., Charles I and the Popish Plot (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1983)Google Scholar

13 Marvell, Andrew, An Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government in England: More Particularly from the Long Prorogation of November 1675, Ending the 15th of February 1676, till the Last Meeting of Parliament the 16th of July 1677 (1678)Google Scholar.

14 de France, Eglises reformées, The Humble Petition of the Protestants of France to the French-King, to Recall his Declaration for Taking Their Children from Them at the Age of Seven Years (1681) and The Humble Petition of the Protestants of France Lately Presented to the His Most Christian Majesty, by the Mareschal Schomberg, and the Marquis of Ruvigny, a True Copy in French and English (1681)Google Scholar; The Horrible Persecution of the French Protestants in the Province of Poitou. Truly set forth by a Gentleman of Great Quality, an Eye Witness of those Sad Passages (1681); Animadversions upon the French King’s Declaration Against the Protestants. Given at Versailles the 17th of June 1681 and Registered in Parliament the 8th of July Following. Translated out of French (1681); A Strange but True account of the Barbarous Usage of Three Young Ladies in France for Being Protestants with a Relation also of their Wonderful Escape from thence into England (1681); and The Deplorable State and Condition of the Poor French Protestants Commiserated, and Humbly Represented to all Princes and People of the True Reformed Church; With Reasons for a Protestant League (1681).

15 This becomes clear when noting the timing of certain pieces. It could not have been simply coincidental that several accounts of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572 were printed in the mid-1670s and in 1680 when Protestant fears of the re- Catholicization of England were at their height: A Seasonble Warning to Protestants from the Cruelty and Treachery of the Parisian Massacre, August 24th, 1572 wherein the Snares Laid for the Innocent are Detected and Posterity Cautioned not to Believe (1680); [Stephens, Edward], Popish Policies and Practices Represented in the Histories of the Parisian Massacre, Gun-Powder Treason, Conspiracies against Queen Elizabeth, and Persecutions of the Protestants in France (1674)Google Scholar; and de Thou, Jacques-Auguste, The Histories of the Gunpowder-Treason and the Massacre at Paris: Together with a Discourse Concerning the Original of the Powder-Plot…also a Relation of Several Conspiracies against Queen Elizabeth (1676)Google Scholar. It is also apparent that English Nonconformists like the Quakers and Presbyterians felt a sense of community with the Huguenots. See Crisp, Stephen, Charitable Advice in a Letter to the French Protestants, into Whatsoever parts of the World Dispers ‘d, by Reason of their Present Sufferings and Persecutions, from the Hands of the Roman Catholicks First Written for the Use of the French Protestants by Stephen Crisp, one of the People Called the Quakers: And Since Translated out of the French, for more Publick Benefit (1688)Google Scholar. James II evidently sensed that the printing of accounts of Persecutions in France was subversive since he suppressed the publication of a work called An Account of the Persecution of the Protestants in France. See PRO, “To Thomas Saywell, Messenger,” May 12, 1686, CSPD, James II (January 1686 to May 1687) (HMSO, 1964).

16 As an example, out of 1,164 people relieved by the French Church in London (from 1681-87), 952 identified themselves as artisans or day laborers. Of those remaining, 68 were agricultural workers of various sorts, 25 were employed as educators, 6 were attorneys, 62 practiced medicine, 39 were merchants, 27 had been employed by the State, and 28 identified themselves as gentlemen or gentlewomen. Hands, A. P. and Scouloudi, Irene, eds., French Protestant Refugees Relieved through the Threadneedle Street Church, London 1681-1687 (1971)Google Scholar.

17 It is difficult to know what sort of audience was actually reading the persecution literature. The publishers, at least, thought that the well-to-do might be more apt to purchase pamphlets depicting the sufferings of their peers.

18 A Strange but True, pp. 1-2.

19 See The Horrible Persecution of the French Protestants; Animadversions upon the French King’s Declaration; The Humble Petition of the Protestants of France to the French-King; The Humble Petition of the Protestants of France Lately Presented to the His Most Christian Majesty; and Jurieu, Pierre, Monsieur Jurieu’s Pastoral Letters, Directed to the Protestants in France, who Groan under the Babylonish Captivity. Translated out of the French (1688)Google Scholar.

20 As an example The Case of the Poor French Refugees (1697). This was not a singular example. Jurieu, Pierre, a Huguenot, in his persecution account rarely mentions the majority of Huguenots, preferring to dwell on a few nobles’ sufferings. See Monsieur Jurieu’s Pastoral Letters, pp. 1217Google Scholar.

21 Pincus, Steven C. A., Protestantism and Patriotism: Ideologies and the Making of English Foreign Policy, 1650-1668 (New York, 1996), p. 450CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

22 The Deplorable State and Condition of the Poor French Protestants Commiserated.

23 Knights, , Politics and Opinion, p. 160Google Scholar.

24 On the periodical press see, Sommerville, C. John, The News Revolution in England: The Cultural Dynamics of Daily Information (New York, 1996)Google Scholar. My analysis is indebted to his insights.

25 Cogswell, Thomas, “The Politics of Propaganda: Charles I and the People in the 1620s,” Journal of British Studies 29 (July 1990): 187215Google Scholar, and Cust, Richard, “News and Politics in Seventeenth-Century England,” Past and Present 112 (August 1986): 6090Google Scholar.

26 These newspapers were indebted to the loosening of publishing restrictions that marked the period from 1679 to 1682. The two Whig papers only published in 1681 and the Loyal Impartial Mercury only existed for part of 1682. Sommerville says the crackdown on political descent that marked the resolution of the succession and the renewal of press licensing laws in 1685 quashed the periodical market.

27 Knights, , Politics and Opinion, p. 161Google Scholar.

28 The London Gazette, No. 1634 (July 14-18, 1681). Other brief accounts appeared in nos. 1637 (July 25-28, 1681) and 1644 (Aug. 18-22, 1681).

29 E.g., The London Gazette, Nos. 1661 (Oct. 17-20, 1681) and 1672 (Nov. 24-28, 1681). The story about the generous offer of Amsterdam towards the refugees was given little space in comparison to the same story in other periodicals: see no. 1659 (Oct. 10-13, 1681).

30 The London Gazette, No. 1661.

31 For an example of how seriously the regime took the job of image maintenance see note 10 above.

32 Smith’s Protestant Intelligence: Domestick & Forein, No. 13 (10-14 March, 1681).

33 Ibid., No. 17 (24-28 March, 1681).

34 Smith, was forced to stop publishing when he was arrested and jailed for high treason in April 1681. See The London Gazette, No. 1608 (April 14-18, 1681)Google Scholar.

35 Loyal Impartial Mercury, No. 1 (9 June, 1681).

36 Ibid., No. 6 (23-27 June, 1682).

37 Ibid., No. 11 (11 to 14 July, 1682)

38 Sommerville, , News Revolution, pp. 85145Google Scholar closely documents these features. Since the paper was in publication for almost all of 1681 it is the primary source for my argument, but its stories had echoes in a number of newspapers. For brevity, the Currant Intelligence stands in for a number of other newspapers.

39 This tactic evidently worked fairly well as the paper published seventy issues between April 26, 1681 and December 24, 1681.

40 The Currant Intelligence, No. 3 (30 April to May 2, 1681).

41 Ibid., No. 6 (10 May to 14 May, 1681)

42 Significant reports about either persecution in France or the arrival of refugees occurred 28 times. This frequency meant that the Huguenots appeared an average of 4 times per month in a bi-weekly publication.

43 Of the 28 stories, the overwhelming majority (20) were about worsening persecution, 4V4 covered the English response to the rivalry, and 3’/2 dealt with the incentives being offered to the refugees by the Dutch. The London Gazette also echoed these themes but without the frequency of The Currant Intelligence.

44 Instances of this type of story occurred in Currant Intelligence, nos. 6 (10-14 May), 11 (28-31 May), 21 (2-5 July), 25 (16-19 July), 29 (30 July- 2 August), 41 (10-13 September), 46 (24-27 September), 47 (1-4 October), 48 (4-8 October), 52 (18-22 October), 58 (8-12 November), 59 (12-15 November), 60 (15-19 November), and 64 (29 November-3 December).

45 The merchants efforts are analyzed in Statt, Daniel, “The City of London and the Controversy over Immigration,” Historical Journal 33, 1 (1990): 4561Google Scholar and Foreigners and Englishmen: The Controversy over Immigration and Population, 1660-1760 (Newark, 1995). Records of riots by English artisans can be found in PRO, “P. Chauvier to Sir John Chardin,” September 4, 1683; “The Information of Nicholas France,” 27 August 1683; and “Thomas Atterbury to Secretary Jenkins,” August 1683, CSPD, Charles II (July 1 to September 30, 1683) (HMSO, 1934). The efforts of the London aldermen to limit the privileges foreigners enjoyed are detailed in CLRO, “Repertories of the Court of Alderman (1672-1692),” 1677, Repertory No. 83, ff. 189b and 252b, Guildhall Library, London.

46 PRO, “Newsletter to Roger Garstell, Newcastle,” September 3, 1681, CSPD, Charles II (Sept. 1680 to Dec. 31, 1681) (HMSO, 1921), related the efforts to set up a Huguenot weaving enterprise in Ipswich. The newsletter commented that “if it be considered how populacy and riches once made several towns happy, which now are poor and depopulated, witness Dover, Sandwich, Winchelsea, Southampton and others, it will appear their best condition took its rise from such a sort of industrious strangers, who had their churches there, and their decay from discouragments put on them and their departing from those places.”

47 The Currant Intelligence, no. 27 (23-26 July, 1681).

48 Ibid., no. 35 (20-23 August, 1681). This report was not carried by The Gazette. The first mention of Dutch efforts in its pages (no. 1659) came after the king’s proclamation (no. 1650).

49 The regime was aware of the competition with the Dutch for the refugees. PRO, “Newsletter to Roger Garstell, Newcastle,” September 3, 1681, CSPD, Charles II (Sept. 1, 1680 to Dec. 31 1681). for an account of how the Dutch “have published an order giving all such [Huguenots] free reception and protection from all taxes and other charges for 12 years, if they remain inhabitants.” Similar news was published in Ibid., “Newsletter to John Squier, Newcastle.”

50 Currant Intelligence, no. 40 (6-10 September, 1681).

51 Ibid., no. 42 (13-17 September, 1681). This committee included the Archbishop Sancroft, Bishop Henry Compton, the Mayor of London, the Dean of St Paul’s, Thomas Papillon, John Dubois and Thomas Firmin. Its meetings were attended by elders of the French church.

52 Ibid., no. 45 (20-24 September, 1681).

53 Ibid., no. 50 (11-15 October) and no. 54 (25-29 October, 1681). For the Irish incident see no. 63 (26-29 November). The same story received a glowing report in The London Gazette, No. 1672.

54 Knights, , Politics and Opinion, pp. 208, 263Google Scholar.

55 Citizens of Holingboume, “Petition to the Archbishop of Canterbury,” December 1682, Tanner Ms. 92A, Bodleian Library, Oxford.

56 Ressinger, Dianne W., ed., Memoirs of the Reverend Jaques Fontaine 1658-1728, (1992), p. 138Google Scholar.

57 The Present State of the Protestants in France. In Three Letters… The First shews the Privileges Granted Them by the Edict of Nantes. The Second sets forth the Injustice that is done Them, and the Cruelties that are used to Force Them to Renounce their Religion. The Third vindicates their Innocence, and their Loyalty (1681) and An Apology for the Protestants of France, in Reference to the Persecutions They are under at this Day; in Six Letters: the First, treats of the Priviledges They have by the Edict of Nantes. The Second, gives an Account of Some Part of the Injuries and Outrages They do Them, whereby to force Them to change their Religion. The Third, proves that their Religion Inspires No Other Principle into Them, but an Unmoveable Loyalty to their Prince. The Fourth, justifies their Innocence against the Unjust Charge of Monsieur Maimbourg. The Fifth, defends Them in Relation to Those Troubles that fell out in Lewis XIII. Reign, and the Affair of Rochel. The Last, shews that the Papists, by the Principles of their Religion, are Guilty of All the Crimes, They Wrongfully lay to the Protestants, in Reference to Kings (1683). PRO, “Bishop of London to Secretary Jenkins,” December 19, 1681, CSPD, Charles II (Sept. 1, 1680 to Dec. 31, 1681).

58 Beeman, George B., “Notes on the City of London Records dealing with the French Protestant Refugees, especially with Reference to the Collections made under Various Briefs,” Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of London 7 (1901-04): 108–43Google Scholar.

59 Gwynn, , Minutes of the Consistory, pp. 134, 146, 332Google Scholar.

60 Fletcher, C. R. L., “Some Troubles of Archbishop Sancroft,” Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of London 13, 3 (1926): 209–59Google Scholar. Also see Briggs, E. R., “Reflexions upon the first Century of the Huguenot Churches in England,” Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland 23, 2 (1978): 99119Google Scholar; Gwynn, Robin, “Review Article: The French Churches in England in the 1640s and 1650s,” ibid., 23, 4 (1980): 256–61Google Scholar; and Briggs, E. R., “The London French Churches, 1640-1661: A Reply to Dr. Gwynn,” Ibid., 23, 6 (1983): 414–19Google Scholar.

61 While the Church of the Savoy used a French translation of the Book of Common Prayer in ceremonial matters they followed the allowances given to the churches in Guernsey. These congregations did not require wearing the surplice or the sign of the cross in baptism. The Savoy church also retained much of Reformed church polity: most church business was transacted by a consistory composed of the ministers, lay elders, and lay deacons.

62 Gwynn, , Minutes of the Consistory, pp. 32-35, 65-66, 101-02, 104-05, 172Google Scholar.

63 Ibid., p. 101.

64 Ibid., p. 76.

65 Ibid., pp. 105-07, 112.

66 Compton, Henry, “Letter to Savile,” February 8, 1682, Lambeth Ms. 1834Google Scholar, Lambeth Palace Library, London.

67 Under William and Mary, Compton remained Bishop of London and went on to found the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in 1691.

68 Gwynn, , Minutes of the Consistory, pp. 32, 6566Google Scholar

69 As noted earlier, out of a sample of 1164 refugees only 28 claimed to be of noble birth (2.4% of the sample), see Hands, and Scouloudi, , French Protestant Refugees, p. 192Google Scholar.

70 Charles II, His Majesties Letters to the Bishop of London and the Lord Mayor (1681).

71 The largest percentage of the refugees were quite poor. See John, John F. Bosher, F., “Huguenot Merchants and the Protestant International in the Seventeenth Century,” William and Mary Quarterly 52, 1 (1995): 77102Google Scholar. The prospect of wealthy Huguenot merchants receiving the same tax privileges as native subjects animate the main opposition to a general naturalization treaty according to Statt, “City of London and the Controversy over Immigration.”

72 Lombard, Andre, An Harangue to the King by a Minister of the French Church in the Savoy, the Nineteenth of October, 1681 (1681)Google Scholar.

73 Church, French Protestant, “December 19, 1680,” Actes de Consistory, 1679-1692, MS. 7, French Protestant Church Archives, LondonGoogle Scholar.

74 “To the Right Reverend Father in God, Henry [Compton] Lord Bishop of London,” [n.d.], Tanner MS. 92A.

75 PRO, “The King to the Attorney or Solicitor General,” July 1687, CSPD, James II (June 1687 to July 1689) (HMSO, 1972). There is a similar document in June 16, 1687, Tanner MS. 92A.

76 “Memorial of the French Protestants of the Savoy for Certain Privileges,” [n.d.], Tanner Ms. 92A.

77 Ressinger, , Memoirs of the Reverend Jaques Fontaine, pp. 134–35Google Scholar. Fontaine came to England after the Revocation in 1685, claiming he was denied aid because he was not an Episcopalian. Instead, he was told to put his children in the poor house and he and his wife to find work.

78 It is striking how the discourse of immigration has so little changed since the seventeenth century. Current controversies over U.S. immigration policy often recycle tropes that accompanied the Huguenot migration to England.