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England History of Huguenots, Walloons, Flemish Religions (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Non-Anglican Church Records  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Huguenots, Walloons and Flemish[edit | edit source]

History and Beliefs[edit | edit source]

The French-speaking Protestants who fled from religious persecution and civil war on the continent are all loosely referred to as Huguenots, however this term properly refers to only those from France, and not to the Walloons from the Low Countries. However, it is often impossible to distinguish the two groups because of the shared language and churches as well as much intermarriage in the early communities in England. Their beliefs were Calvinistic and closest to the English Presbyterian style of church government. Some of the late 17th century Huguenot congregations adopted the Anglican litany translated into French and these were termed conformist Huguenots. Others maintained the Calvinistic style they had used in France and have been called nonconformist Huguenots, although they should be distinguished from the English Nonconformists.

Walloons[edit | edit source]

The first wave of many thousands of French-speaking Protestants were Walloon refugees who arrived in England from the Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium and the Netherlands) in 1567, having been forced to flee the suppression of Protestantism by King Philip of Spain’s forces lead by the Duke of Alva. This group had been in England for over a century before the true Huguenots came and the two groups settled in London and the same south-eastern towns.

Huguenots[edit | edit source]

The Huguenots, (Protestants from France), first came in 1572 after the Massacre of St. Bartholomew in Paris, and they were largely from the northern provinces of Brittany, Normandy and Picardy and mostly settled in south-eastern areas of England where the French-speaking Walloon communities had already been established. Although there was support for their religious freedom during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, during that of Charles I and particularly during Archbishop Laud’s tenure prior to the Civil War only those born abroad and now living in Canterbury were officially allowed to practise their religion, whilst their children were to attend Anglican services. In response, some moved to Holland, and the majority to the USA, taking their craft skills with them. Far more Huguenots arrived after 1685 when Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes which had given toleration to French Protestants in 1598. About 60,000 came at this time, with two-thirds of these settling in London. Most of the others went to towns in SE England and some to Bristol, Plymouth and nearby Stonehouse in the south west.

The history of the Huguenots throughout the English-speaking world can be found in Currer-Briggs and Gambier (Huguenot Ancestry. Phillimore, 1985). The Huguenots were not of any particular social level. They comprised mainly craftsmen with some nobility and some peasants. In London the upper class families and those who worked in the luxury trades such as goldsmiths, silversmiths, lapidaries, diamond cutters, jewellers, bucklemakers, clock- and watch-makers settled in London’s west end around Soho and nearby Westminster parishes. The poorer weavers, and associated tradesmen such as silk throwsters, dyers, thread- and lace makers settled in the east end in Spitalfields and Bethnal Green.

The communities were close-knit and some maintained the French language into the 19th century. Sociological studies show that it takes three generations for immigrants to totally assimilate, and most families had joined the Anglican Church or other Nonconformist groups by at least 1800.

It must also be born in mind that there was a further wave of French refugees, known as the emigrés, mainly upper class and Catholic, entering England from 1789-1814 at and after the French Revolution (circa 1789-1795). Lists of the groups of these that came, but with no union index of names, are on FHL fiche 6035980(1). The Hampshire Record Office have recently acquired a series of their letters giving graphic details of their escape and struggles.

Flemish[edit | edit source]

The Protestant immigrants from Flanders and Brabant spoke Flemish, a Dutch dialect, and can thus easily be confused with Dutch settlers. Edward III (1327-1377) encouraged the Flemish to settle in England, as he valued their silk and other textile skills. Other waves came in 1551 and 1567 fleeing the occupying Catholic Spaniards, as did the Walloons.

They settled primarily in south eastern England, particularly in London, Norwich and Canterbury and were employed especially in silk weaving, the New Draperies and market gardening. In the 17th century more Flemish immigrants arrived with the Dutch to drain the fens of East Anglia (Beharrell).


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Non-Anglican Church Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

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