Edict of Nantes, 13 April 1598

The edict of Nantes (13 April 1598) was the final religious settlement that came Henry IV’s victory in the Ninth War of Religion, and gave the Huguenots a series of political, social and religious rights and produced a period of comparative religious peace that lasted for almost a century.

Henry’s official long term aim was to see religious unity restored in France, but he was willing to make a series of concessions to his former co-religionists to ensure peace.

The edict of Nantes was a complex document, made up of 92 general articles, 56 ‘secret articles’ (many of which can’t have been terribly secret, as they had public effects) and two royal brevets. The general and secret articles were registered in the Parlements, and so could only be repealed in the same way. The brevets were royal decrees that could be withdrawn by the king at any time.

The general articles were similar to the terms of the Edict of Beaulieu (May 1576) and the Edict of Poitiers (September 1577). Protestants were given freedom of conscience, freedom of worship in all towns held by them in August 1597 or listed in earlier peace edicts and in the private homes of noblemen. They were also allowed to build their own churches in areas they controlled. Huguenots were also given full civil rights and could enter schools, colleges, universities and hold any public or royal offices. Bi-partisan courts were set up to ensure that they would get fair treatment.

The general articles also had a series of terms designed to placate Catholic opinion. Catholics were given freedom of worship across the entire kingdom, including in areas where the Huguenots had banned it. This meant that the mass was held in some areas where it hadn’t been seen for forty years, including the Protestant stronghold of La Rochelle. Everyone had to honour all Catholic feast days, obey the laws of the Catholic Church on marriage and contracts, and obey the ecclesiastical tithe.

In addition Huguenots weren’t allowed to sell books outside the areas they controlled, and even inside those areas their work was censored. They were also no longer allowed to hold political assemblies.

The secret articles were a series of exceptions to the general articles, favouring both sides. In particular the Huguenots were allowed to hold consistories, colloquies, provincial and national synods.

The brevets contained the biggest concessions to the Huguenots, mainly things that Henry knew that the Parlements wouldn’t accept. The first brevet provided an annual subsidy of 45,000 écus (135,000 livres tournois) to pay the salaries of the Huguenot pastors, effectively giving them some of the benefit from the tithes.

The second brevet allowed the Huguenots to keep a military force. They were allowed to keep troops in around 200 towns, half of which were fortified towns where the crown would pay for the troops, at a cost of 180,000 écus, and half were to be defended by a local militia. The brevet was to expire after eight years.

It took some time for Henry to convince the Parlement to register the two sets of published articles. The Parlement of Paris finally registered them on 25 February 1599, after a direct meeting with the king. Grenoble followed in September 1599, Dijon and Toulouse in January 1600 and Dijon and Rennes in August 1600. Rouen held out until August 1609.

The French Religious Wars 1562-1598, Robert Jean Knecht. A useful guide to the complex series of nine French Wars of Religion, including an examination of who the wars began and the main players on both sides, narrative accounts of the wars, overviews of the most important battles and sieges. Also looks at the impact of the wars on France’s neighbours, many of whom got dragged into the conflict, and on a selection of soldiers and civilians. Supported by a series of maps that help show how complex the conflict was
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (18 May 2018), Edict of Nantes, 13 April 1598, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/edict_nantes.html

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