Brenda and I were having our French lesson, and I asked our tutor Anna for help creating a telephone answering message for our home phone. She suggested, “Vous êtes bien chez Brenda et Hugh. S’il vous plaît laissez votre message après the bip.” Knowing that in French the h is silent, I asked about how to pronounce my name. Anna told me it would be pronounced [EWG], that in French my name is usually spelled Hugues, which would ensure that the G was a hard G rather than a J sound. She noted that Hugh after all is a French name that came from the Huguenots. I didn’t know that. Wikipedia says Hugh is a common English name, but if you look at the list in their article, the majority of people listed come from France. Who were the Huguenots?
The Huguenots were a Protestant religious group that sprang up in France in about 1530 after Martin Luther started the Protestant movement. They followed the teachings of the French theologian John Calvin of Geneva, Switzerland. They rejected the excesses and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and the French Monarchy, which sponsored the Catholic Church as the state religion. There were many steps in the decline of the Huguenots, but suffice it to say they were in conflict with both the Catholic Church and the state. At first there were isolated incidents of attacks on communities. Later the opposition received the support of the King of France, Charles IX, who ordered the death of all the Protestants of France. Though there was a period of relative stability for the Huguenots in the late 1500s, this changed with the ascension of Louis XIII in 1610. His regent, Cardinal Richelieu, wanted to eliminate all the Huguenot communities. We’ve seen where Richelieu lived in the Marais, and the King then lived just down the road at a palace near the Louvre. History lives!
In the mid 1600s, Huguenot men and women were imprisoned, their children sent to be raised as Roman Catholic, and a period of forced religious conversion was begun. Many Huguenots were killed. The Protestant churches were destroyed. Of about 800 thousand Huguenots at the start of the period of oppression, approximately 550,000 of them recanted their faith (under pressure). About 250,000 left the country for Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, and parts of Belgium. Others escaped to England, where they embarked for the West Indies and North America. The refugees were generally merchants, craftsmen, and weavers or skilled tradesman, including many well educated. Their flight was also France’s loss. The French King succeeded in ridding the country of the Huguenots, but the forces of unrest with the alliance between the King and the Catholic Church would continue, and within a hundred years both King and Church would fall in the French Revolution.
Though I’m not aware of having French blood, part of my family could have once lived as Huguenots in France and later escaped to elsewhere in Europe. Branches of my family, all Protestant, eventually came to America from England, Ireland, Germany, and Sweden. I’m hoping to do more with tracing the family roots in Europe while we are here.