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Huguenot Voices

Martin Greene

Facing the Revocation: Huguenot Families, Faith, and the King’s Will, by Carolyn Chappell Lougee, Oxford University Press, 488 pp, £22.99, ISBN: 978-0197533543
Memoirs of Isaac Dumont de Bostaquet: A Gentleman of Normandy, ed Dianne W Ressinger, The Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland, New Series No 4, 368 pp, £15, ISBN: 0 906100 40 2
Memoirs of the Reverend Jaques Fontaine, 1658-1728, ed Dianne W Ressinger, The Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland, New Series No 2, 248 pp, £15, ISBN: 0-906-100-15-1
The Diary (1689-1719) and Accounts (1704-1717) of Élie Bouhéreau, eds Marie Léoutre, Jane McKee, Jean-Paul Pittion, and Amy Prendergast, Irish Manuscripts Commission, 600 pp, €60, ISBN: 978-1906865757

On October 22nd, 1685, Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, which for almost a century had underpinned the coexistence of Catholics and Protestants in France. Since the 1660s, the king had adopted a series of increasingly oppressive measures aimed at compelling Protestants to convert to Catholicism. Now, however, the very existence of Protestantism was prohibited by law.

One effect of Revocation was that between 150,000 and 200,000 Huguenots (French Calvinists) left their homeland in search of refuge elsewhere. This was a perilous undertaking as it was illegal and those apprehended faced serious penalties. It was also costly, as it meant leaving with only whatever could be carried or transferred out of the country. Significant numbers of these réfugiés/refugees – the words entered the French and English languages at this time – found safe havens in some German states and Swiss cantons, the Dutch United Provinces (where William of Orange was stadtholder), England (where from 1689 William was king) and Ireland. Those who remained, perhaps three or four times as many as those who left, were faced with the choice of converting to Catholicism or practising their religion secretly. That many succeeded in holding onto their Protestantism is shown by the re-emergence of a substantial Calvinist population in 1787, when Louis XVI granted complete religious freedom.

Much has been written about the Huguenots, but the distinctive feature of the works considered here is that they provide access to the voices of individual Huguenots. In all four cases, the family at the heart of the story found refuge in Ireland.

Lougee’s work is concerned with the Champagné family from Saintonge in southwestern France – Marie de La Rochefoucauld, Dame de Champagné, her husband Josias de Robillard, Seigneur de Champagné, and their children. It’s the only one of the four featured works which provides indirect rather than direct access to Huguenot voices. What it loses on this account, however, is more than offset by what it gains in other ways. One of its chief strengths is that it draws on an extensive range of family and official documentation, including memoirs by Marie and the eldest child (Susanne), memoir-like letters from Josias to the children and financial and legal records.

The Champagnés were a prominent noble family with substantial landholdings. Around the time of Revocation, Marie and Josias formally converted to Catholicism. Whether this was part of a plan to remain in France – or a tactical move aimed at concealing their preparations for departure – cannot be known. In the event, in 1687-88 they made their way to the United Provinces, travelling in three separate groups to increase their chances of avoiding detection. At the first opportunity they linked up with fellow-Huguenot refugees and re-established their status as practicing Calvinists.

Josias was soon commissioned as a captain in the army William of Orange was raising for his 1688 invasion of England. Following James II’s overthrow and William’s coronation as king of England, he was assigned to the expeditionary force that William dispatched to Ireland to confront the Jacobite resistance gathered there – the force included four Huguenot regiments, perhaps 3,000 officers and men. He died soon after his arrival in Ireland, probably as a consequence of fever contracted when the force wintered at an unfavourable location near Dundalk during the first year of the campaign.

His son (also Josias) was then enlisted in William’s army and he too saw service in the Irish campaign. He subsequently remained in Ireland as a reserve officer and made his home in the Huguenot settlement at Portarlington – this was established in the early 1690s at the instigation of Henri de Massue, Marquis de Ruvigny, a leader of the Huguenot community who was ennobled by William as Baron Portarlington (1691) and Earl of Galway (1697). Ruvigny’s decisive action as the commander of the Huguenot cavalry regiment at the Battle of Aughrim (1691) was seen as securing the Williamite victory in the battle and thus, effectively, in the Irish war as a whole.

In The Hague, Marie faced the challenge of providing for her children in straitened circumstances – the family landholdings in France had been confiscated. She responded by fashioning an unlikely career for herself as an investor in the just emerging bond markets. Drawing on the connections available to her through Huguenot networks, she also proved to be adept at helping her children to make their way in the world.

In 1722, at seventy-four years of age, she moved to Ireland to join her son Josias in Portarlington. She would die there eight years later. Two of her grandchildren from the Irish and Dutch branches of the family would marry into the English and Prussian nobilities respectively – their descendants would include prominent Churchills and Spencers in England and leading military and literary figures in Germany.

In Facing the Revocation, Lougee provides a compelling study of Huguenot migration. Its chief contention is that there was nothing inevitable about a preference for exile following the Revocation.

In the case of the Champagnés, disputes with relatives about inheritance issues – complicated by the conversion of some relatives to Catholicism – played a part in the decision to go into exile; legal proceedings related to one such case threatened to deliver a catastrophic blow to their interests. There are also indications that Marie and Josias were not fully in agreement on issues related to religion and exile.

Drawing on these findings, Lougee argues that the decision whether to stay or go was never solely a matter of religious freedom. Material circumstances, social status and family relationships also played a part. She also suggests that memoirs and similar sources must be treated with caution as they may reflect a consensus, idealised view of Huguenot migration which was developed in the diaspora as refugees bonded together and shared their stories.

Isaac Dumont de Bostaque, the author of the first of the memoirs considered here, was born in Normandy in 1632 into a prominent Protestant family of noble lineage. His memoir relates the story of his life from childhood to 1693. He spent his first fifty-five years in his home province, where he enjoyed the privileged lifestyle of a wealthy nobleman. Like many others, he was slow to recognise the storm that was coming. When the storm broke, he knew that he would have to go into exile – because he could not contemplate practising as a Catholic – but he tried to buy time by formally converting to Catholicism.

In the event, he had to leave the country in 1687 in the most fraught of circumstances when an escape bid involving close relatives – one in which he was implicated – was discovered and there was an exchange of gunfire in which he was wounded and several people died. He was now an outlaw and on the run. With the support of an extensive network of associates, some of them Catholics, he managed to evade the authorities and escape to the United Provinces, leaving behind a pregnant wife, eleven children and his elderly mother.

In The Hague, he could call on the support of relatives who had left France some decades earlier and were close to William of Orange. His wife and their daughter Judith-Julie soon joined him there. Like Josias de Robillard, he was commissioned as a captain in the army William was assembling for his invasion of England. He would subsequently serve in both the English and Irish campaigns.

The memoir includes first-hand accounts of the phases of the campaigns in which he was involved, including Dundalk, the Boyne and the first siege of Limerick. He had more contact with William and senior commanders than would be usual for a middle-level officer but he makes no claim to have had inside knowledge of the strategic management of the campaigns – he writes, he says, from his own experience.

In his account of the English campaign, he mentions his attendance at an Anglican religious service and comments on how closely it resembled Catholic practice – a first inkling that the escape from French Catholicism, bought at such high cost, might not mean the readoption of Calvinism but rather the adoption of Anglicanism.

Following the conclusion of the Irish campaign, he retired from military service and – like the younger Josias de Robillard – established his home at the Portarlington settlement, where he was joined by his wife and their daughter Judith-Julie. He died there in 1709.

Portarlington can hardly have had much in common with the estates and chateaux left behind in France by the Champagnés and Dumonts but it did good service as a safe haven for both families. The records of the French church in Portarlington and local histories show that members of both families were active in the life of the town for much of the eighteenth century – the church records for 1694-1816 were published in an edited edition by Thomas Philip Le Fanu in 1908.

A surprising new arrival at the settlement, a few years after Dumont’s death, was his youngest daughter, Marie-Madeleine, who was born in France after his departure and remained there with relatives when his wife and their older daughter (Judith-Julie) followed him to The Hague. Thus father and daughter never met – but both found refuge in Portarlington.

The church records and local histories also show that the settlers included not only nobles like the Champagnés and Dumonts but also individuals of modest social origins who provided useful services to the local community – individuals like Claude Le Blanc and his wife Marguerite Lapin, who operated a butchery business in Portarlington from 1700 until at least 1719 and whose descendants (their family name anglicised to “Blong’’) were active in a range of businesses and occupations in the town until at least the second half of the twentieth century.

The French church in Portarlington was initially robustly Calvinist – “Suivant la discipline et forme ancienne et ordinaire de nos églises de France” – but in 1702 it succumbed to pressure to conform to Anglicanism. This was a disturbing outcome for Irish Huguenots as it suggested that the price of refuge was conformity.

Jaques Fontaine, another memoirist, was born in 1658 into a family which had been Protestant since his grandparents’ generation. His father was a pastor in Saintonge. In the early 1680s, he became well-known in his home area as a preacher and an active member of the reformed religion. This attracted the attention of the authorities and led to a period of imprisonment. In December 1685, he escaped to England without having made a tactical conversion to Catholicism.

In England, he quickly developed an antipathy to Anglicanism, taking exception in particular to its episcopalian church structures. He was also outraged by what he saw as implacable Anglican hostility to dissenting Protestants. His experience of being offered support from the state funds available to assist Huguenots in financial need – but only if he first conformed to Anglicanism – confirmed him in this attitude.

Aligning himself with Presbyterianism, which he saw as being close to Calvinism, he received holy orders from the Presbyterian Synod. His intention was to engage in business activities in tandem with his ministry so as to avoid having to rely solely on the ministry for an income. This led to a succession of activities – as a merchant, a shopkeeper, a manufacturer of cloth and a teacher of French and Latin – but all seem to have run into difficulties, on each occasion, according to his memoir, owing to the bad behaviour of others.

In 1694, Fontaine moved to Ireland, where he served as a pastor to the Huguenot community in Cork. After an apparently good start, this episode too ended unhappily when controversy and dissension in the congregation – related, in part, to the conformity issue – made his position untenable. His next venture was a fisheries enterprise at Bearhaven (Castletownbere) in West Cork. This ended in commercial failure and heavy losses due, he says, to sharp practice on the part of his London-based business associates. Adding to his troubles, his home in a remote coastal area was twice attacked by French privateers who were, he says, acting in concert with his Irish Catholic neighbours. He and his family were fortunate to escape with their lives from these attacks.

Evidently embittered by the experience, he writes that ‘‘200 or 300 Irish’’ looked on during one attack because they ‘‘hoped to have part of the spoils’’. He also says that the family of one of the attackers was in his debt because he had provided its members with life-saving assistance at a time of hardship, but the debt was ‘‘paid … in the Irish manner’’. And claiming that an Irishman involved in the attacks had tried to kill him during a parley aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement, he comments that he had made the mistake of ‘‘trusting to the good faith of an enemy who had none’’.

There are also indications that his relationship with the local Catholics had been troubled from the start: “I was among the Irish who cheated me in 1,000 indirect ways’’; and it’s clear that the resulting bad feeling influenced his conduct as a justice of the peace: ‘‘I loved doing strict justice to the Irish … I sent eight or 10 to prison at Cork every assizes … I was the one to be feared in the county.’’

Ironically, a substantial compensation award for losses resulting from the privateer attacks (‘‘payable by the Papists of County Cork’’) financed his next venture – a boarding school in Dublin – and this turned out to be one of the most enduring and successful of his undertakings. Thus, he signed off on his memoir, on June 21st, 1722, on a positive note. He died two years later. The memoir manuscript is now housed at the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin.

Élie Bouhéreau was another post-Revocation refugee. His manuscript diary and accounts were published in 2019 in an impressively translated and edited edition which is also handsomely produced. This was the product of a fruitful collaboration between Marsh’s Library in Dublin – where the manuscript is housed – and the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

Bouhéreau was born in 1643 into a Huguenot family from La Rochelle – the port city on the western seaboard which was an important centre of French Protestantism. Following studies at the renowned Huguenot Académie de Saumur and subsequent qualification as a medical doctor, he combined the practice of medicine with the pursuit of scholarly interests in theology and philosophy. As the king’s campaign against Protestantism gathered force, his licence to practise medicine was withdrawn and he was sentenced to internal exile. In December 1685, he escaped to England accompanied by his family except for his youngest daughter.

In England, after initially working as a tutor to the children of an aristocratic family, he served as the chief assistant to the head of an English diplomatic mission to the Swiss Cantons (1689-92). Between 1694 and 1696, he held a similar position in a diplomatic and military mission to Savoy-Piedmont led by the previously mentioned Henri de Massue, Marquis de Ruvigny and (later) Earl of Galway. His next move was to Dublin to serve as Ruvigny’s chief assistant during the latter’s first term as a lord justice of Ireland (1697-1701). In 1701, he became the first librarian of Marsh’s library – a position he held until his death in 1719. Under his stewardship, the library became a recognised centre of European scholarship.

His diary covers the period 1689-1719. The entries relating to the diplomatic missions provide valuable insights into the functioning of the coalition of states opposing Louis XIV in the War of the League of Augsburg (1689-97) – the wider European conflict of which the Irish war (1689-91) was a part. The material relating to Ireland provides a wealth of detail concerning his private life and his professional activities but it doesn’t directly address broader issues such as the political context of the Huguenot migration to Ireland – an understandable limitation in a private diary that was clearly intended to serve a practical purpose.

The four works considered here have considerable value as sources on Huguenot migration. They put individuals and families at the centre of the story and the reader is given largely unmediated access to the voices of individual Huguenots. Readers will appreciate the high quality of the translation, editing, annotation and indexing.

No work or series of works could address all possible questions relating to Huguenot migration. From an Irish perspective, however, these works have disappointingly little about the Huguenots’ feelings concerning their position in Ireland – a position in which they were the beneficiaries of a system of religious discrimination, albeit at the price of conforming to Anglicanism, after they had previously been the victims of a similar system in France.

There is nothing to suggest that Fontaine’s prejudiced views – which were, in part, a response to a traumatic experience – were shared by the other Huguenots considered here. Neither, however, is there anything to suggest a sense of fellow-feeling for the oppressed Irish Catholics. The conformity issue is likewise not directly addressed. These limitations are evidently mainly a consequence of the nature of the works and the specific experiences of the families concerned. There is also the possibility, however, that reticence about contentious issues played a part – issues such as conformity and claims (shown by modern research to have been inaccurate) that Ruvigny was a hard-line proponent of the Penal Laws.

In the event, the future of most Irish Huguenots was assimilation to the dominant Anglican (and anglophone) element of Irish society; and this proved to be sufficient to enable them to play a significant part in the economic and cultural life of the country while staying largely clear of local religious and political controversies.

Thus the works considered here, notwithstanding their particular limitations, are valuable additions to the published sources relevant to Huguenot migration. They also demonstrate the importance of manuscript records – including items held in Irish institutions – and the value of making them available to a wide readership by publishing them in edited editions.

Note on Sources
The key published sources on the Irish Huguenots include The Huguenots and Ireland: Anatomy of an Emigration (1987), edited by CEJ Caldicott, H Gough and J-P Pittion; Ireland’s Huguenots and Their Refuge, 1662-1745, An Unlikely Haven (2005/2013), by Raymond Hylton; and (though now dated) The Huguenot Settlements in Ireland (1936/2008), by Grace Lawless Lee.
There are also multi-author volumes which include some chapters specifically relating to the Irish Huguenots: War, Religion and Service: Huguenot Soldiering, 1685-1713 (2007/2017), edited by Matthew Glozier and David Onnekink; Huguenot Networks, 1560-1780: The Interactions and Impact of a Protestant Minority in Europe (2018/2019), edited by Vivienne Larminie; The Huguenots: France, Exile and diaspora (2013/2014), edited by Jane McKee and Randolph Vigne; Toleration and Religious Identity: The Edict of Nantes and its Implications in France, Britain and Ireland (2003), edited by Ruth Whelan and Carol Baxter; and From Strangers to Citizens: The Integration of Immigrant Communities in Britain, Ireland and Colonial America, 1550-1750 (2001), edited by Randolph Vigne and Charles Littleton.
Other relevant works include The Religious Culture of the Huguenots, 1660-1750 (2006/2018), by Anne Dunan-Page; and Serving France, Ireland and England: Ruvigny, Earl of Galway, 1648-1720 (2018), by Marie M Léoutre.
Thomas Philip Le Fanu’s edited edition of the Portarlington church records (Registers of the French Church of Portarlington, Ireland, 1908) is available in facsimile reproduction editions. The key local history works relevant to the Portarlington settlement include Portarlington: The Inside Story (1999) by Ronnie Matthews and two publications by John Stocks Powell: Huguenots, Planters, Portarlington (1994) and ‘‘Your Humble Servant’’: Notes and Records from Portarlington, 1692-1768 (2002).


Martin Greene is an independent researcher. He was brought up in Portarlington.



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