Friday, May 22, 2009

Huguenot Ancestry.

In common with a lot of people in the United Kingdom, some of my ancestors were Huguenots. All I knew about them until recently was that they were French protestants, but over the last few days I have been finding out a little more.

The first influx of Huguenots arrived in the small port of Rye in 1562. The first thing they did when they touched land was to fall to their knees and thank God for deliverance. They arrived destitute, having crossed the Channel in open boats. During that summer they came ashore almost daily, until the mayor was finally forced to apply to the Queen (Elizabeth I) for assistance to feed them.

By 1572 the persecution had become more intense. Estimates vary, but altogether maybe 30 000 Huguenots were killed by their Catholic neighbours that summer. Others were tortured until they swore they would take the Catholic faith, and 641 escaped and came to Rye.

The Huguenots continued to come to England over the next forty years. Even when the King of France proclaimed the Edict of Nantes in 1599, allowing all French citizens 'Liberty of conscience and freedom of worship' they continued to come; but when the Edict was revoked in 1685 that trickle became an incredible gushing torrent. The total population of the UK at the time was around five million but during the next two years 100 000 Huguenots migrated to England. A hundred thousand! The government recently flinched at such a potential influx of Gurkhas but these immigrants were welcomed. Parliament and private subscription together generated the huge sum of £200 000 which helped settle into areas such as Spitalfields (Hospital Fields) and Soho. The Huguenots knew 'mysteries' about clock-making and weaving, and the country was anxious to learn them.

Others moved to Treorchy in South Wales and became shopkeepers. Because they kept shop they changed their names from names such as 'de Wilde' to 'Wilde' to fit in with the rest of the population - which was where my ancestors came in. But for most people at that time a French Huguenot label was a sign of quality so that according to one commentator 'hardly anything now vends without Gallic name'.

It is strange how things turn out. My son's girlfriend's relatives all come from Lyon - which was one of the Huguenot heartlands, and sometimes I look at the two of them and it seems to me they have similar faces. I think maybe you are related, I told them recently. Maybe, 500 years ago, your ancestors were cousins in the same street. They were not impressed.


Blogger Kirsty said...

Yes, well I can see why they didn't take too kindly to that observation, Clare. You're a bit evil ;-)

Sat May 23, 02:05:00 am  
Anonymous Mary said...

I don't know diddly-squat about Huguenot history. Do you know if any of them immigrated to Austria?

Sat May 23, 04:36:00 am  
Anonymous Stephen Curry said...

Interesting post Clare. I believe I too am the scion of Huguenot stock: my mother was a Montgomery, descended from French protestants who ended up in the north-east of Ireland and were largely responsible for setting up the textile (linen) industry there. My grandfather and uncle both worked in textile manufacture though the industry is now largely defunct.

My father is from earlier Irish catholic stock so I think I may be homozygous for the massacre-me gene!

However, I've just googled Montgomery and Huguenot and came up with this link. Looks like Montgomerys may have done their own share of catholic-killing in the past. Might not brief my parents on that one!

Sat May 23, 11:21:00 am  
Blogger Kay Cooke said...

This is really informative and fascinating. (I can just imagine myself thinking and saying exactly what you said to your son and girlfriend, and getting the same reaction too!)

Sat May 23, 03:25:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Heh, my great wit is sadly unappreciated in this family, Kirsty - but I don't let that stop me.

I doubt they migrated to Austria, to be honest, Mary. Austria's quite Catholic (well at least it is now). Germany would have been okay, though, I think.

Thanks Stephen. Yes, it's the textile industry that led me into this. Very interesting they went to Ireland too because it is not much mentioned - all the accounts concentrate on London. Thanks to the link about the battle of Nazarre. This actually puts a somewhat different complexion on things. According to the accounts I've read the Huguenots were defenceless vicitms. Clearly they weren't really this at all! Maybe the massacre-me gene is sometimes recessive.

Thanks Kay! I've learnt a lot of surprising stuff over the last few days - and I can never resist sharing it.

Sat May 23, 11:43:00 pm  
Anonymous Peter Adamson said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Tue Jun 05, 05:55:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Tue Jun 05, 06:20:00 pm  

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