Huguenots in Great Britain

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A Protestant Reformed Church or a religious group called Huguenots (and known in earlier times as Walloons), which based its beliefs on the Christian teachings and philosophies of mostly John Calvin. These Protestants converted in significantly large numbers from Catholicism throughout especially France, but also in Switzerland, Belgium, Northern Italy and other countries of Europe. Due in large to hostile penal laws that attempted to induce them back to Catholicism, many fled into exile. France’s penal laws targeted the whole Protestant movement, the Walloons (1560’s to 1650’s) and later, the Huguenots (1680’s to 1700). Refusal to renounce their religion, meant tremendous persecution, barbaric treatment, torture while imprisoned, confiscation of lands, property, implements of trade, seizure of all assets, or, ultimately for many death as martyrs to their faith. Huguenots settled in other lands throughout Europe, Great Britain, Scandinavia, South Africa, North America, British West Indies and etc. Huguenot emigrations and settlements in the realm were an expression of a causal effect of this colossal wave of religious persecution and oppressive culture by the French government. Numerous settlements are found throughout Great Britain, and Ireland as early as the 1500’s. Records survive from as early as 1567 and mostly up to about 1750, sometimes as late as the early 1800's. By the 19th century, the vast majority of these Protestants had assimilated into England's very Protestant society (within mostly the ranks of the Church of England).

Background Events

  • 1460-1550 – printing of the Bible in several languages over many years in German, French and English, etc; opens its passages to the common man; homes are afire with God’s word for the first time; took issue with the fallacies and debauchery of the day in the predominant religion
  • 1517 – Martin Luther advocates reform in the Catholic Church, posts the 95 Theses
  • 1510-1530 – Printing of the Bible douses Dark age stagnation; ignites religious Reformation throughout Europe and France. First time in history the word of God in Biblical writ opens public and private discourse in the towns, villages, streets, in homes and in the minds of hundreds of thousands throughout Europe and casts contrasting shades of light in the corners of the prevailing religion; hostility grows in the hearts of the governing ecclesiastic authorities. Harsh laws ensue against Protestantism.
  • 1523 – Barbaric measures result in the first Martyrs of the Protestant movement in France; many are imprisoned, disenfranchised, or begin to flee into exile
  • 1545 – First Calvinistic town founded at Meaux, France; about a million converts to Protestantism throughout France and bordering countries
  • 1547-1553 – by this period, surveys revealed about 40,000 French Protestants in London; French Protestantism spreads to England with French and Dutch church established at Austin Friars (London)
  • 1551 – Persecution of Protestants intensifies in France with Edict of Chateaubriant
  • 1558 – Newly deigned Queen Elizabeth I of England is excommunicated from Catholicism—for accepting and harboring French Protestant refugees; Philip II, King of Spain and Pope Pius seek Elizabeth I’s death and envision plans to invade England by armada to re-enthrone Catholicism as the national religion
  • 1560 – The word ‘Uguenot’ or “Huguenot” is first used about this time
  • 1550-90 – French & Flemish austere laws send the first wave of emigrants to England
  • 1562-1598 – Phillip II wages a brutal war against all Protestants causing waves of French Protestant refugees to flee into England—a Protestant refuge during this era
  • 1565 – Norwich becomes a refuge of numerous French Protestants
  • 1567-8 - More Protestant refugees from Netherlands and France build a church at Southampton and come to other Walloon places of settlement at London, Canterbury, Norwich, etc.
  • 1572 -3 – A marked increase of French refugees due to revolts and massacres on the continent
  • 1575 – Foundation of the French church at Canterbury
  • 1581 – The first conference (Colloquy) of French churches in England
  • 1598 – Edict of Nantes brought some measure of peace to French Protestants for a period
  • 1604 – First synod of French and Dutch churches in England
  • 1610-1629 – Peaceful era in France
  • 1634- Under the King’s direction, Archbishop Laud of England wages war on Nonconformist churches including Huguenots
  • 1635-1649 – England erupts in sporadic civil wars; the King commits genocide on his own people; thousands of Nonconformists—including some Huguenot families flee i.e. the city of Norwich due to Charles I’s warring campaigns against Nonconformists. This nightmare was repeated in various areas throughout the realm
  • 1649-1660 – Charles I’s death and resultant Interregnum with no monarch brought a period of great tranquility to all Nonconformists in the realm. Nonconformity flourishes during the period
  • 1660-1690 – Any prior advances in the establishment of peace won by Parliament for Nonconformists during the Civil War and Interregnum period throughout England is erased respectively by King Charles II and James II’s oppressive policies; still, Nonconformists (and Huguenots) held some degree of social maneuverability in England and Ireland
  • 1662-1685 – 10 French congregations with churches were established in Ireland—at Dublin (4), Cork (2), Lisburn, Portarlington, Carlow, and Waterford (1 each); congregations—without churches were located in colonies at Dundalk, Clonmel, Innishannon, Kilkenny, and Wexford.
  • 1685 – Revocation of the Edict of Nantes sends about 80,000 to Great Britain and Ireland
  • 1687 – James II publishes Declaration of Indulgences giving greater freedoms to Huguenots
  • 1689-1697 – Nine years war
  • 1762 - the last known Huguenot martyr in France
  • 1787 – Peace brought about by government-sponsored religious freedoms is at last established in France

Researching Huguenot Ancestry

The following principles should be kept in mind as you pursue your French Protestant (Huguenot or Walloon) ancestral research:

  • 1) Know the township, city or parish name to which your Huguenot ancestor came or settled in, in England, Wales, or Ireland.
  • 2) If the place[s] are not known, then search England (Great Britain) naturalizations in order to find an ancestor. The Family History Library has indexes to these records, where the originals are held at the National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey.
  • 3) Approximately 70 congregations were known to have been created—in England. Only about 40 of these have surviving church registers available for researchers.
  • 4) Of the above 40 surviving church registers, the Huguenot Society of Great Britain & Ireland have published records on these congregations and their recorded vital events
  • 5) By mostly 1800, just about all Huguenot churches have been disbanded or dissolved.
  • 6) Because the Church of England was considered a Protestant religion, (even with similarities to the rites of the Catholic Church), numerous new generation descendants among the Huguenots fairly quickly and easily assimilated into the Anglican church. There were but a handful of churches still open and preaching Calvinistic doctrine, with few new converts among them, by 1800
  • 7) Researching Huguenot ancestry is complex in that many of these Calvinist adherents’ names are to be found in church registers of numerous other denominations due to their open (Protestant) views on religion. However, Church of England parish registers are key record sources for Huguenot research for the following reasons:
    1) most had to be buried in Church of England churchyards, from 1754 to 1837
    2) most Huguenots married (law required) in Church of England parishes
    3) some families baptized the first-born in the Church of England for proof of rights to heirship of property.
  • 8) Depending on the Huguenot congregation or church, some were considered a Nonconforming church and others, as “conforming” church--based on whether or not a church adopted and used the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer in their religious rites.
  • 9) The Huguenot Society of Great Britain provides researchers with some archival and published materials, including their Quarto Books, dedicated to records which include, French Hospital, the Westminster French Protestant School and Foundation, Huguenot charities and Friendly Societies, together with family records and research notes, original manuscripts, transcripts, businesses in India, of 18th and 19th century soldiering, and of 17th and 18th century theological questions. *10) Huguenot settlements in England and Ireland included the following—with or without church registers:

French Protestant Settlements and Records

Click on the link to find the settlements and records.

Step by Step

Huguenot ancestral research in England—

  1. Requires searches in the 19th and later centuries to be conducted in the parish registers of the Church of England. Many of the Huguenots assimilated into the Church of England society rather quickly. Because of the *Protestant similarities in doctrine and beliefs of the predominant church (Church of England), it did not take long for most next-generation and later Huguenots to assimilate into its ranks and English society in general. Most Huguenot Churches' registers in Great Britain were not kept much later than about 1830.
  2. Requires knowing that French surnames by the 20th century are very likely to have been anglicized, sometimes rendering it difficult to determine the original “Huguenot” spelling of the family surname
  3. requires searches to be made in the Huguenot Society (of Great Britain) Publications which contain transcribed records from church registers which have mostly been indexed and published on of Grat Britain's approximately 75 congregations, there are surviving registers for about 45-50 of them. Or, contact the Huguenot Society of Great Britain, directly, and have them provide a list of record agents in order to search not only the various Huguenot congregation registers they hold for Great Britain, but also  Quarto Books which also provide records and details of Huguenots.
  4. Requires tracing them according to usual English ancestral research procedures viz, in not only Church of England parish registers and in Nonconformist registers, but in borough registers of occupations and trades, in tax assessments, churchyard inscriptions and burials, wills, parish chest records from the 1560’s to 1800
  5. Assume that most Huguenot refugees came over to England in very poor or destitute conditions, although the average person was a skilled craftsman in a trade. Thus searches should be made in parish chest records in cases when they were poor or destitute, i.e. Rye or Winchelsea (Sussex) parish records. These records may be the only available record for a refugee, before moving on to or migrating to a larger township or city, such as Norwich, Canterbury, Dublin or London, or another country in the empire, etc.
  6. searches to be made in borough archive records of guilds or livery companies, estate or land tax assessments—when they were wealthy such as a skilled tradesman or professional occupations

[*Note: The main difference between the Church of England and Huguenot Church was the question of whether each Huguenot Church conformed to or were considered "Nonconforming" or, a church that "conforms to the Church of England’s Book of Prayer".]