In 1598 the Edict of Nantes ended the French Wars of Religion. The Edict granted French Huguenots (Protestants) religious toleration, as well as equal status in French society. The Huguenots’ position, however, became increasingly insecure during the reign of Louis XIV when a substantial Protestant minority was seen as threat to the absolute authority of the monarchy. Gradually the Huguenots’ hard-won rights and privileges were eroded and in 1685 Louis revoked the Edit of Nantes, exiling all Protestant pastors, and forbidding the laity to leave France. Surprisingly, many Protestants chose to leave France, at great personal risk. Those that were caught were executed, imprisoned, or sent as galley slaves to the French fleet. About 200,000 Huguenots left France during the reign of Louis XIV. They settled in Protestant Europe – the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia, Switzerland, – and Russia and the Americas. A few hundred were sent to the Cape in South Africa, at the behest of the Dutch East India Company, to develop the vineyards there. About 50,000 Huguenots migrated to England, and about 10,000 moved on to Ireland. The English were alarmed by Louis XIV’s territorial ambitions, and were about to begin a series of wars with France, so they made these refugees from Catholic France welcome. Wherever they settled Huguenot refugees initially gathered together in refugee communities, standing out as recognizable minorities and retaining their Calvinist organization and worship. They brought new, and welcome, skills to their host societies – particularly silk production and metalworking, and by the mid-17th century were largely integrated.
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