The Huguenots

An interesting Article on the derivation of the word “Huguenot” will be found in the Encyclopædia Metropolitana, Vol XX., p. 381. Pasquier, in his Recherches de la France, Vol. VIII., p. 53, has an entire chapter on the origin of the name. And we read that in the Vita S. Irenæi, Op., ed. Lutet. (Paris), 1675, the writer of that work, in describing the desecration of him who was the great assailant of the Gnostic heresies, says:[1]

“Qui Gnosticos represserat, ejus reliquiæ Hu-Gnosticorum cruentatas jam pridem sanguine bonorum ac barbaras onanus, effugere non potuerunt.”

And the term Hu-Gnostici is deliberately retained in the Notes through the 1675 edition above named.

The Huguenots were Protestant refugees from France, who settled in Great Britain and Ireland: most of them in the reign of Louis XIV.; and others of them before that reign. The older refugees were not only from France proper, but also from the regions then designated the “Low Countries,” but now known as Holland, and Belgium. Part of Belgium was then known as “French Flanders,” because under French rule; and the inhabitants thereof were, on account of the old French dialect which they spoke, called Walloons.[2]

It was, says Smiles, in his great Work on the Huguenots, long the favourite policy of the English Monarchs to induce foreign artisans to settle in Ireland and there to establish new branches of trade. But, before they came into Ireland those artizans first settled in Britain, whose early industry was almost entirely pastoral; for, down to a comparatively recent period, England was a great grazing country, and its principal staple was wool. The people being unskilled in the arts of Manufacture, the wool was bought up by foreign merchants and exported abroad in large quantities, principally to Flanders and France, there to be manufactured into cloth, and partly returned in that form for sale in the English markets. Thus the wool and its growers were on one side of the channel, and the skilled workmen who dyed and wove it into cloth were on the other.

When war broke out and communication between the two shores was interrupted, as much distress was occasioned in Flanders as was lately experienced in Lancashire by the stoppage of the supply of cotton from the United States; while like distress overtook the English wool-growers, who lost the market for their produce, on which they had been accustomed to rely. It therefore naturally occurred to the English Kings that it would be of advantage to the country to have the wool made into cloth by the hands of their own people, instead of sending it abroad for the purpose. They accordingly held out invitations to foreign artizans to come over and settle in England, where they would find abundant employment at remunerative wages; and, when, in the course of time, the operations of industry in the Low Countries were thrown into confusion, as they repeatedly were, by civil wars and local feuds, the distressed Flemish artizans naturally turned their eyes to England. Accordingly, large numbers of them crossed over the sea and sought its asylum, settled and pursued their several callings in different parts of the kingdom, and thereby laid the foundations of English skilled industry.

The first extensive immigration of foreign artizans, of which we have any account, was occasioned by an inundation in the Low Countries, which occurred in the reign of Henry I.; in the peninsula of Gower in South Wales they successfully carried out their trade of cloth-weaving. Another colony of Flemings settled about the same time at Worstead near Norwich, where worsted stuffs soon became common. Under the special protection of the Scotch King, other Flemings established themselves in several places in Scotland; and so sincere was their loyalty to the Scotch Monarch, that, on the storming of Berwick by the English King, Edward I., in 1296, the Flemings barricaded themselves in the Red Hall, which they defended with such courage and obstinacy, that, rather than surrender, they were buried to a man in the ruins.

Although the early English Kings had been accustomed to encourage the immigration of foreigners, it was not until the reign of Edward III., that any decided progress was made in England in manufacturing industry. The name of the leader of one of the earliest bands of Flemish immigrants has been handed down to us, namely, that of John Kempe, a Flemish woollen weaver, to whom royal letters of protection were granted in 1330, to exercise his art. Kempe eventually settled at Kendal, and there began the manufacture of cloths, which continues to this day.


[1] Says: See Notes and Queries, Vol. VI., p. 317.

[2] Walloons: Of Walloon refugees the English representative who has risen to the highest rank is the Earl of Radnor; and the chief representative of the descendants of the French refugees of the St. Bartholomew period is the Earl of Clancarty.

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