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The Plessy v. Ferguson Case Decided, 1896

2022-05-16T12:57:50-05:00May 16, 2022|HH 2022|

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” —Micah 6:8

The Plessy v. Ferguson Case Decided, May 18, 1896

Supreme Court rulings look like the Friday night boxing card between two pugilists, usually destined for future anonymity, but temporarily the main event for entertainment. And so it is with many of those rulings, soon forgotten, unenforceable, or irrelevant in the larger scheme of American history. A few cases actually change history, and are known as “landmark decisions.” While Mohammed Ali v. Joe Frazier, or Evander Holifield v. Mike Tyson drew international attention in the boxing world for a few weeks or months, the Supreme Court Case of Plessy v. Ferguson confirmed the states’ right to racial segregation in public places, including schools, for more than fifty-eight years. In 1954, the SCOTUS overturned the ruling as it related to public education. Today, Plessy is cited by some to call into question the use of precedent in the basic practices of the Court. The legal confrontation resembled a boxing match of epic proportion.

In 1892, Homer Plessy, an “octoroon” (1/8th black), virtually white in color, as were many creoles in Louisiana, challenged that state’s law prohibiting blacks and whites to sit in the same railroad car. He bought a first class ticket and sat in the “whites only” car of the Louisiana Railway out of New Orleans. A mixed race organization, The Committee of Citizens, had already notified the railway that Plessy was a creole with a black great-grandparent, and hired a detective to arrest him, to assure that he was charged with breaking the law they wanted changed. The entire case was a set-up to challenge the Louisiana law segregating races in railroad cars. (Roe v. Wade (1973) and the State of Tennessee v. Thomas Scopes (1925) trials were orchestrated in a similar fashion by the ACLU and in future civil rights cases by the NAACP.)

Homer Adolph Plessy (born Homère Patris Plessy; c. 1862/1863-1925), plaintiff in Plessy v. Ferguson


A placard (front and back) marks the place in New Orleans where Homer Plessy was arrested on June 7, 1892, which incident eventually led to Plessy v. Ferguson

Cases tried by the Supreme Court begin at the local or state level and work their way through appeal to SCOTUS. The Supreme Court chooses what cases they want to try. In recent years they have used what they call “the rule of four” to determine if they will look at a case—in other words, if at least four justices out of the nine think the court should try a particular case. The Plessy case, therefore, began in the state of Louisiana criminal court, in which Judge Ferguson ruled against him. Plessy’s attorneys argued that the Louisiana law was unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment which granted citizenship to ex-slaves and assured equal protection under the law for all citizens.

Albion Winegar Tourgée (1838-1905) was an American soldier, lawyer, writer, politician, and diplomat, best known for litigating Plessy v. Ferguson

The state Supreme Court held that segregation based on race was within the bounds of the law since racial prejudice was not created by law and could not be legislated away. They cited precedential cases from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, where racial discrimination had been upheld in similar types of cases regarding both education and railway cars, and which the “order of Divine Providence” was also cited. The Committee then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Justices of the United States Supreme Court in 1896: Chief Justice Fuller, Horace Gray, Rufus W. Peckham, Edward D. White, John M. Harlan, Henry B. Brown, David J. Brewer, Stephen J. Field, and George Shiras, Jr.

The Supreme Court heard similar arguments and decided 7-1 in favor of the State of Louisiana, that the train-car segregation laws were not unconstitutional. The majority declared that equal protection under the law was not designed to prohibit social or racial discrimination. The races could be equal but separate. The one dissenting justice, John Marshall Harlan, argued that the Louisiana Law indeed implied that black people were inferior, and that that was unconstitutional. So Homer Plessy lost his case and paid the $25.00 fine, but the results had far-reaching implications.

Justice John Marshall Harlan (1833-1911) became known as “The Great Dissenter” due to his regular dissent particularly in civil rights cases, as he did in Plessy v. Ferguson

The “separate but equal” doctrine affirmed all racial restriction laws in the United States from the Louisiana Railway Law to the Boston, Massachusetts school districts. A groundswell of new “Jim Crow” legislation occurred, especially in the South, disenfranchising poor voters in some districts, re-establishing color lines in others, in transportation, school funding and drinking fountains. Plessy marked a return, to some extent, to rightful state authority affirmed in the 10th Amendment, restricted after the Civil War. In 1954 in Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the Supreme Court overturned Plessy v. Ferguson to declare that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional even if they were otherwise equal in every way. In a 9-0 decision the Court declared that separate was unequal by definition. By expanding the meaning of the 14th Amendment to apply to all sorts of “Civil Rights,” the Court eventually used the same Amendment to issue the Roe v. Wade case in 1973. It remains to be seen if SCOTUS will change its mind on such a use of the 14th Amendment.

Norma McCorvey (left) who was Jane Roe in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, with her attorney, Gloria Allred, outside the Supreme Court in April 1989, where the Court heard arguments in a case that could have overturned the Roe v. Wade decision

Crazy Horse Surrenders, 1877

2022-05-05T16:51:34-05:00May 5, 2022|HH 2022|

“Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many.” —Proverbs 4:10

Crazy Horse Surrenders, May 6, 1877

Census data, missionary tales, soldiers’ letters and diaries, government documents of all sorts, photographs, and the impressions of enemies have been most often used in the past to tell the stories of the Plains Indians of America. On rare occasions, Indian family members have recorded the oral history of their kin-folk, which reveals the real character, culture, religion, and impressions of a particular clan or individual that lived in the past. All the above resources are available for the life of the greatest Lakota Sioux warrior, Crazy Horse.

The man known as Crazy Horse was the third of that name in three generations. Among the Lakota, one’s given name could change more than once in a lifetime, if particular events warranted a new name. And so it was with Ca-oha, “Among the Trees,” named by his father “Crazy Horse” and his mother “Rattling Blanket Woman” when he was born, probably about 1840. As a teenager, Ca-oha was on a hunt alone, when he came across a Shoshone warrior, part of a raiding party, killing a Lakota woman. Ca-oha charged the enemy warrior on horseback and killed him with his club, then rode up into the hills and hid until nightfall. He eluded the Shoshone and rode home undetected. His father realized his brave son would now need a new name and chose to give up his own. The tribe celebrated the newly endowed Crazy Horse as a warrior, and for the next three decades, he would not disappoint them, or betray their trust.

An alleged photo of Crazy Horse (c. 1840-1877) in 1877, though whether he was ever photographed is disputed

One of several similar treaties between the United States government and various tribes in the 1850s, the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux was signed on July 23, 1851, at Traverse des Sioux in Minnesota Territory between the United States government and the Upper Dakota Sioux bands

In the 1850s, the United States government cut treaties with various Plains tribes, forcing them on to reservations, but in return giving gifts to the leaders and providing food. Not all the natives accepted the welfare nor the geographical restrictions. With thousands of Americans moving westward and the discovery of gold in California and other places, Indian land was crisscrossed with wagon trains of settlers, and with greedy miners and young men looking for “the main chance.” They sometimes slaughtered the buffalo and left them to rot. Conflicts with the natives became inevitable, misunderstanding and cultural ignorance commonplace. In Minnesota in 1862, violence and resistance resulted in the hanging of thirty-eight Sioux warriors on order of Abraham Lincoln, which sent a message to the other clans that life on the Plains was going to change, or else.

The public hanging of thirty-eight Sioux Indians at Mankato, Minnesota, December 25, 1862, by order of President Abraham Lincoln for revolt against the government

In South Dakota, Crazy Horse and other tribal head-men decided they would defend their homes against the encroachment of the easterners. Crazy Horse led raids against army patrols and posts, looking to arm his warriors with more modern weapons. In 1865, south of the Dakotas, army attacks massacred Cheyenne women and children, so Crazy Horse gathered some of his warriors and set out to help the Cheyenne cut off the “Oregon Trail.”

An artist’s depiction of breaking camp at sunrise along the Oregon Trail

The Arapaho tribe also joined Crazy Horse as an ally after the U.S. soldiers massacred some of their families in an effort to keep them away from the miners and the settlers on the Oregon Trail. In 1866 the American Army built three new forts and added a thousand soldiers to the western command. Generals Sherman, Sheridan and Custer—three of the most destructive and notorious Union Generals from the War of Southern Independence—were soon sent west to “pacify the natives.” Scorched earth and repeating rifles would again accompany the blue-coats.

Custer leads United States Cavalry on an attack at the Cheyenne camp of Washita

That same year, Crazy Horse lured a combined infantry and cavalry detachment, led by Captain William Fetterman, into a trap from which no soldiers survived—the army’s worst defeat to a native force, up to that time. At the “Wagon Box Fight,” Crazy Horse’s more than 1,000 warriors faced breech-loading rifles for the first time, taking unusually heavy casualties in defeat. In the “Great Sioux War” of 1875-76, Crazy Horse and more than fifteen hundred Lakota and Cheyenne fought a thousand infantry and cavalry of General George Crook along with his three hundred Shoshone and Crow allies in the Battle of the Rosebud and later at the Little Big Horn. Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s command lost two-thirds of the regiment killed and wounded, including the gallant Custer. While Crazy Horse’s leadership at that battle is lesser known, native participants claimed that his fearlessness and aggressive attacks made a powerful addition to the tactics that succeeded in annihilating the 7th Cavalry troopers. In January of 1877, Crazy Horse led his Lakota warriors for the last time into battle, in an engagement in Montana. Weakened by the following winter, the Lakota band that followed Crazy Horse decided to turn themselves in at the Red Cloud Agency at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. Along with fellow warriors He Dog, Little Big Man, and Iron Crow, Crazy Horse met with authorities to arrange a formal surrender on May 5, 1877. After a controversial parley at Fort Robinson in September of that year, a scuffle broke out and a guard bayonetted Crazy Horse to death.

A marker showing the spot where Crazy Horse was killed on September 5, 1877

Crazy Horse and his people on their way from Camp Sheridan to surrender to General Crook at Red Cloud Agency, Sunday, May 6

A number of controversies and questions surround the life and death of Crazy Horse, but undisputed is his earned reputation as a great leader of men, a warrior of uncommon bravery, and an ardent defender of the Plains Indians and their way of life. A monumental carving of Crazy Horse is still under construction between Custer and Hill City, South Dakota. When complete, it will be the world’s largest sculpture, his head twenty-seven feet taller than the presidential counterparts a few miles away at Mount Rushmore.

The Crazy Horse monument under construction in South Dakota

Resources for Further Study

  • For an interesting, enjoyable, and informative, but not particularly objective, account by descendants of Crazy Horse, read Crazy Horse: the Lakota Warrior’s Life and Legacy, 2016.

Edward I Invades Scotland, 1297

2022-04-30T12:38:46-05:00April 30, 2022|HH 2022|

“Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots.” —I Samuel 8:1

Edward I Invades Scotland, April 27, 1296

Edward towered over his contemporaries at 6’2”. He thus received the nickname of “Longshanks,” by which history has since known him. He also got the sobriquet, “The Hammer of the Scots,” from later historians. Americans, other than historians of English history, know him only from the Hollywood film Braveheart as the antagonist and executioner of the Scottish bandit and nationalist hero William Wallace. However he is known today, Edward took his place in English history as the transformer of the common law and conqueror of Wales and Scotland.

A statue of King Edward I “Longshanks” (1239-1307), near the place of his death

His father, Henry III, reigned for fifty-six years, which was the longest rule of any English monarch before him, and not exceeded until King George III. Henry married fifteen-year-old Edward to thirteen-year-old Eleanor of Castile as a political expedient in 1254, during a period of fear of invasion of English Gascony by the Spanish. Edward, however, did not benefit financially or with any political power from the dowry, his father and another English noble siphoning off the inherited emoluments due Edward. He fathered about sixteen children with Eleanor, to whom he was faithful, and grieved deeply upon her death.

Edward I and his queen, Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290) shared a loyal bond rare among royals, having about sixteen children together and often traveling together as well

Land on the Ninth Crusade, and reinforced the garrison at Acre in what is northern Israel today. A series of skirmishes and attempted raids against Muslim forces brought nothing but defeat, and Edward was severely wounded in a failed assassination attempt by his Muslim rivals. He left the unsuccessful crusade, and discovered upon his arrival in Sicily that his father had died and that he must take his place as English King. King Edward I was crowned in August of 1274 and he rapidly embarked on a series of successful wars of pacification and conquest against the Welsh, which lasted, off and on, for almost twenty years. He built many castles in Wales, in one of which his son, the future Edward II was born, initiating the tradition of the king’s son as “Prince of Wales.” English colonization of Wales also went forward, consolidating their hold on that Kingdom.

Edward I survived an assassination attempt in 1272, killing his would-be assassin, but was left greatly weakened by the event, having received a wound in the arm by what was believed to be a poisoned dagger

A portion of Caernarfon Castle in north-west Wales—one of many castles
built by Edward I—was the birthplace of Edward II, the first Prince of Wales

Longshanks fought several wars in France, without victory, and came away with only a new wife, Margaret of France, as part of the Peace accord with Phillip IV, in 1299. Until the last decade of the 13th Century, Edward had managed to maintain a conciliatory and peaceful relationship with Scotland. He had managed to arrange a future marriage between his son Edward and the heir to the Scottish throne, “the little maid of Norway,” when she was but three years old and Edward six. The dynastic link was broken when the little girl died, and a struggle for the throne of Scotland ensued between a half-dozen claimants. The Scots asked Edward to intervene and help choose the successor. In 1292 he picked John Balliol over Robert Bruce, the two main contenders.

Wallace refusing the terms of the English, from the multi-volume history, A Chronicle of England

Edward continued to act as if he were the sworn king of Scotland by making demands on the Scots, the demand for troops to fight in France being the last. The Scots responded by making an alliance with France and invading England. The tall warrior-king led his English troops to Scotland on April 27, 1296, winning victories in the North of England and at Dunbar in Scotland, crushing the Scottish forces and sending John Balliol to the Tower of London prison. His constant wars almost bankrupted England and Edward kept raising taxes during the 1290s, stimulating discontent from the nobility and resistance to his constant warfare.

Edward I and his troops repulsed at Stirling Castle

On September 11, 1297, an English army was soundly defeated at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in Scotland by William Wallace and Andrew Moray. The defeat brought about Edward’s reaffirming the Magna Carta and unifying the English nobility to join him in subduing the Scots. He rushed back from battles in Flanders and led his forces to victory at Falkirk in Scotland. He seized the historic rock upon which Scottish Kings were crowned, the Stone of Scone, and transported it to England and put it under his throne. In the ensuing few years the Scots conducted raids on English garrisons and confounded Edward’s attempts at open battle. By 1304, most of the Scottish barons had pledged their allegiance to Edward, and the following year, William Wallace was betrayed to the English and executed.

Edward I’s Coronation Chair, with the
Stone of Scone in place

Statues of Robert the Bruce (1274-1329) and William Wallace (c. 1270-1305) grace either side of the gates of Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland

In 1306, Robert the Bruce murdered his chief rival John Comyn, and was crowned King of Scotland. He embarked on a campaign to make Scotland independent of England. Edward’s health declined enough that he could not lead the reprisal armies to Scotland, so he sent his son and other English nobles to quell what he considered a rebellion. In the end, Bruce collected enough noble support, despite the extreme cruelty that Edward’s minions had visited upon Scottish patriots, and defeated the invaders. Edward died on his way to Scotland to lead in person.

The death of John Comyn at the hands of Robert the Bruce at Greyfriars church in Dumfries

English historians have generally praised Edward and consider him one of the most important medieval Kings. Though possessing significant character flaws, he accomplished the conquest of both Wales and Scotland, as well as subduing recalcitrant barons of England and France. He demonstrated a kind of piety in his desires to go on Crusade and expand the power of the Roman Church. He solved several constitutional crises and invigorated Parliament. Edward also expelled all the Jews from England. Scottish historians have a different view of Edward, as a deceptive and ruthless tyrant who manipulated all around him and those he wished to conquer, as well as torture and execute those who got in his way. He is buried in Westminster Abbey. Scottish students from the University of Glasgow stole the 400 pound Stone of Scone on Christmas Eve in 1950 and hid it in Scotland, but that is another story.

Since Edward the I, the Coronation Chair he commissioned has held every monarch but one at the time of their coronation. Shown here without the Stone of Scone which was returned to Scotland in 1996 where it is kept at Edinburgh Castle on the proviso that it be returned to England for use at coronations. The chair is generally kept on display in Westminster Abbey.

The Siege of Derry Begins, 1689

2022-04-19T11:35:11-05:00April 19, 2022|HH 2022|

“Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same.” —Job 4:8

The Siege of Derry Begins, April 18, 1689

Nations of the world often have some great battle or last stand or heroic deeds that everyone learns about in popular culture and family lore. Sometimes the event achieves a mythological status, the symbolism and power over the imagination becoming more important than the details, although the details are known by all. For the United States in general and Texas in particular, the Battle of the Alamo serves that purpose. For the English, it was Roark’s Drift and Waterloo; for South Africa, Blood River. To the Ulstermen of Northern Ireland, the Siege of Londonderry has no peer.

King Charles II of England (1630-1685)

King James II of England (1633-1701)

On February 6, 1685, Charles Stuart, King of England, died in agony after collapsing four days earlier. He was baptized a Roman Catholic on his deathbed, and his brother James was crowned as James II—Charles having been an unrepentant voluptuary with no legitimate heirs, but twelve children by seven mistresses. James had converted to Romanism in 1668 but kept it quiet for ten years. When James’s abandonment of the Anglican Church became clear, Charles arranged for James’s daughter Mary to marry Prince William III of Orange in the Netherlands, a Protestant monarch who was also the son of the sister of both Charles and James. Thus, the stage was set for a struggle for the throne of England between the Protestant nobility of Parliament and the newly crowned Roman Catholic King James II.

William III of England (1650-1702)

Mary II of England (1662-1694)

James II appointed known Catholics to positions of authority in the Kingdom, and issued several decrees allowing religious toleration for Catholics among the general population. He also took steps to rid England of the Test Act which required office-holders and army officers to adhere to the Anglican Church, prohibiting all others. In June of 1688 the Protestant nobility opened negotiations with Prince William of Orange and his wife Mary to consider taking the throne of England away from their uncle and father, to insure a Protestant succession, and rid the realm of the Roman Catholic influences associated with James II. After raising an army to oppose the coming invasion by William of Orange, James decided not to oppose William, but threw the Royal Seal in the Thames and fled to France, where he received a nice pension and a mansion from his cousin, King Louis XIV. The Parliament called by William declared that James had abdicated the throne, and they officially enthroned William and Mary as co-rulers of England, an event known as “The Glorious Revolution.”

King Louis XIV of France (1638-1715) who, like his English cousins, persecuted the Protestants in his own country as well

In April of 1689, James landed in Ireland with a French army to begin his comeback to the throne of England. The Irish Parliament declared James II the legitimate King of England and Ireland and raised an army to punish all who resisted James’s authority as King. The new Catholic armies had “ancient wrongs and deep humiliations to avenge.” The people in the walled city in Ulster would become the rock upon which James’s hopes would be dashed.

The walls of Derry today

Derry became re-chartered as Londonderry in 1613, after the holder of the patents for its settlement and rebuilding, the City of London, continued its walled construction, begun two years earlier. The patentee welcomed Scotsmen, city guilds, English tenants, and other Protestants into the Ulster Plantation. In 1641, the second generation of Londonderry faced and barely survived a rebellion by the Catholic Irish that lasted for twelve years and resulted in the murder of thousands of Protestants across Ireland, and the total suppression of the rebels by English armies. By 1689 the Irish were again ready for a rising, this time following their English Catholic King, backed by French mercenaries. Having lost most of their land to their English overlords over the century, the chief Catholic clans lusted for revenge and retribution. “The Catholics would soon be on top, and the [Protestant] heretics pay for it all.”

The leader of the Irish, Tyrconnell, boasted of a 40-1 advantage of Catholics over Protestants in Dublin and 200-1 in the province of Connaught. But Ulster would be more difficult; the percentages of inhabitants were numerically about even between the Irish and the Scots/English. It was a time of fighting clergy and the Presbyterian pastors of the Ulstermen were quite uncompromising.

Twelve hundred mercenaries, Scottish Catholic highlanders, were the first enemies to arrive at the walls of Londonderry on December 7, 1688. A public debate on whether to open the gates to his majesty’s forces ensued with the politicians in favor of doing so and the militia captains and many of the Protestant townsfolk opposed, fearing a massacre. Thirteen apprentice boys, mostly young teenagers, seized the gate keys and the initiative at the last minute, and shut and locked the gates of the city to the enemy forces outside. The captains of the four hundred or so military men inside the walls prepared for attack or siege. When the deputy mayor and the Anglican bishop argued for opening the gates to allow in the king’s men, as a local diarist recounted:

Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell (1630-1691)

“…the closing of the gates had acted like magic and aroused an unanimous spirit of defense; now with one voice we determined to maintain the city at all hazards, and each age and sex conjoined in the important cause.”

The Apprentice Boys Memorial or Heroes Mound in Derry

Nothing much happened for the next five months while the King himself arrived in Ireland and gathered more forces for the inevitable war with William and Mary. The forces loyal to James II continued to gather outside Londonderry until they numbered more than 12,000. On April 18, the city was summoned to surrender. On April 20 the King himself approached the gates and was met with a canon shot and shouts of “No Surrender!” The city endured 105 days of bombardment and siege before English relief forces lifted the siege. Half of the 8,000 inhabitants died in the siege, most by disease. The gallant defense of the city is the stuff of legend, and the rebuff of King James eventually resulted in the Battle of the Boyne, which settled the matter. James fled Ireland with his entourage and his allies were left to the English armies for retribution, which they got.

Cannons in line on the walls of Derry, overlooking Guildhall Square, dating back to the 1600s

It was not the last rising in Ireland, and the bloodshed that always accompanied them, but the heroic stand of a beleaguered force of mostly civilians in the City of Londonderry, and the prevention of a Catholic monarch in England, has never been forgotten in the United Kingdom.

Resources for Further Study

  • The Siege of Derry, by Patrick Macrory (1980)

The Edict of Nantes Proclaimed, 1598

2022-04-15T15:52:05-05:00April 15, 2022|HH 2022|

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” —Genesis 15:20

The Edict of Nantes Proclaimed, April 13, 1598

Several of the greatest preachers, evangelists and theologians of the Protestant Reformation were born in France, often writing in French as well as Latin. They pastored churches in France or Switzerland, and trained the men who led the Reformation in their homeland. Jacques Lefevre d’Etaples, Jean Calvin, Pierre Viret, Gauillaume Farel, and others, proclaimed the Gospel in those early and middle years of the Reformation in France, and trained like-minded men to take the truth to every corner of their country and the world. Calling all people to repentance, and salvation by faith alone, and the restoration of New Testament Christianity based solely on the Word of God, these men were used of God to bring multiple thousands to saving faith and the establishment of “Reformed” Churches across France. The members of those congregations were called Huguenots.

The Edict of Nantes was signed in April 1598 by King Henry IV and granted the Calvinist Protestants of France—also known as Huguenots—substantial rights in the nation, which was in essence completely Catholic

The political regimes of France owed total ecclesiastical allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church, requiring loyalty to that communion from all who would hold office, especially the King. What had started as a reform movement in that Church had become a separatist revival of Biblical Christianity, rejecting much church tradition and the authority of unbiblical church hierarchies. The Roman bishops, including the Pope, declared the Huguenots heretics and schismatics, but the adherents to Protestant, especially “Calvinist” theology, established the Reformed French Church and suffered the consequences of defying Rome.

Admiral Gaspard de Coligny (1519-1572)

King Charles IX of France (1550-1574)

The Church in Geneva, Switzerland, under the wise direction of Calvin and Viret helped organize the French Reformed Church. As converts increased, so did the attacks by the Roman Catholic Church and their adherents close to the royal court. The massacre of Protestants at Vassy triggered a series of eight “French Wars of Religion” beginning in 1562 and lasting to 1629. Massacres of Protestants took place in a number of cities in France, until an effective military resistance was formed, and the Protestants fought back to defend their families and property. The paramount leader of the Huguenots was the Admiral of France, Gaspard de Coligny. A seemingly endless series of bloody wars followed the template of the French government hiring armies of mercenaries, who occasionally won but couldn’t be paid on time. A truce would be signed, the soldiers cut loose to fend for themselves, another treaty signed. In 1572 a cabal of Catholic conspirators assassinated Coligny and murdered hundreds of Protestants in Paris under a safe-conduct pass from King Charles IX, who died two years later. The wars resumed under King Henry III for the fifteen years of his reign, until his assassination by a Dominican Friar.

The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which lasted several weeks in 1572, resulted in the deaths of anywhere from 5,000 to 30,000 Huguenots at the hands of the Catholics

The throne then came to Henry of Navarre, a Protestant, who converted to Roman Catholicism to become King Henry IV, the first of the line of Bourbon monarchs of France. In 1598, to unite the Kingdom and terminate the seemingly endless wars against the Huguenots, The Edict of Nantes was issued on April 13th, granting a measure of religious freedom to the French Protestants and concomitant political freedoms as well. The truce was an uneasy one, for the Catholic Church still determined to exterminate the Protestants, caused occasional fighting and retaking of Calvinist strongholds in the country. Henry escaped several attempted assassinations by Catholic factions until they finally murdered him in 1610. The new king, Louis XIII, renewed fighting against the Huguenots until only two towns were still held by the Protestants, La Rochelle and Montauban. They were eventually taken by siege, and the Edict partially restored in the aftermath.

King Henry IV of France (1553-1610)

Louis XIII of France (1601-1643)

The grandson of Henry IV, Louis XIV moved strongly against the Protestants and the Edict was revoked in 1685 making all Protestants in France outlaws unless they convert to Roman Catholicism. Hundreds of thousands Huguenots emigrated, mostly people of substance, skills, and education, to America, England, Holland, Germany, South Africa and other places. Wherever they went, those Reformed Protestants enriched the culture and prosperity of their new countries. In American, they especially settled in South Carolina and Virginia, and their children and grandchildren would play key roles in the American War for Independence and the early Republic. Although their relative percentage of the population remained small, the French Protestant heritage in the United States is a reminder that what the “Sun King” in his depraved and senseless revocation of the Edict of Nantes meant for evil, God intended for good in a new land of freedom and liberty.

King Louis XIV of France, the “Sun King” (1638-1715)

The French Huguenot Church in Charleston, SC—which can trace its origins back to a group of 45 Huguenots who arrived in Charleston in April 1680—is one of the stops on
Landmark Events’ Charleston & Savannah Tour next week!

With their old-world charm and blend of Old South, French and Victorian cultures, Charleston & Savannah are among the most transporting and inspiring cities for studying the providence of God and the souls that called this area home. Join us there next week, April 19-23Learn More >

Resources for Further Study

  • For further study read: The Huguenots, or Reformed French Church by William Henry Foote, 1870; reprinted by Sprinkle Publications, 2002.

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