The Huguenots were a religious rather than ethnic minority, but encountered discrimination and persecution similar to that experienced by many ethnic minorities. Huguenots were French Protestants who belonged to the Reformed Church established by John Calvin in 1550. The origins of the word "Huguenot" are unclear, but it dates from the same time period when it was used in court cases involving heretics who dissented from the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.
Huguenots were the victims of several instances of widespread persecution. Nearly 1,200 Huguenots were killed at Vassy, France in 1562. More than 8,000 Huguenots, including their leader and spokesman, Gaspard de Coligny, were killed during the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572. In Rome, Pope Gregory XIII publicly thanked God for helping French Catholics "triumph over a perfidious race."
After Henry IV issued the Edict of Nantes in 1598, Huguenots were allowed to practice their faith openly in 20 specified "free" cities. After Henry's murder in 1610, however, Cardinal Richelieu again encouraged persecution of the Huguenots. "Free" city after "free" city fell to forces under Richelieu's control, until the last Huguenot stronghold, La Rochelle, fell in 1629.
In 1685, Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, and many Huguenots were killed. Some were burnt at the stake. Houses, churches, and church registers of the Huguenots were also destroyed. Although emigration was declared illegal, as many as 200,000 French Huguenots managed to flee to North America, England, Germany, Switzerland, and South Africa.
The Edict of Toleration issued in 1787 restored some but not all the civil and religious freedoms of Huguenots in France.
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