Stories of Old Retold: No. 1: The Edict of Nantes

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 12
SOME boys and girls I know say that they never can remember dates. Perhaps the reason is that they really do not try to remember, so I will only ask my young readers to remember just one, as by doing so they will find the story that follows much more interesting than if they did not know when the events they are reading of really happened.
On the 18th of October, 1685, King Louis of France signed the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and very sad and stormy were the years that followed.
But what was the Edict of Nantes? and why was it revoked? Henry IV had given his Protestant subjects, of whom there were at that time many thousands in France, by a document known as the Edict of Nantes, liberty to follow the pure and simple teachings of the word of God, and to meet together for Bible study and prayer; and though they were not much in favor in the palaces of the king, and were very seldom called to fill high offices in the State, they had for many years been allowed to go on quietly.
But all was about to be changed. Louis XIV, who was a Roman Catholic, acting, there is no doubt, under the influence of his Catholic friends and advisers, made up his mind that all his subjects must be Romanists too. They would be required to give up their Bibles, and instead of meeting to worship God in the simple, quiet way they had learned to love so well, they would be expected to attend mass, where the prayers would be in Latin; and many of them not prayers offered to God, but to the Virgin Mary, or Peter, or men and women who had lived and died hundreds of years ago.
Four days after the king had signed the decree, it was made widely known all over France. There were sad hearts in every home in which a Protestant (or as we shall call them Huguenot) family lived.
The fathers and mothers felt the sorrow keenly, not so much for themselves as for their children, for the new edict required that all children were to be sent to Roman Catholic schools, where they would be taught to kneel before pictures and images and to believe many things contrary to the plain teaching of the word of God. If any parents refused to allow their children to attend such schools, full power was given to the priests to take the children away, and send the girls to convents and the boys to be placed under the care of monks. If any child more than seven years of age had even once entered a Roman Catholic church it was said to be a Romanist and taken from its parents.
Though at first many who had only been half-hearted, or who perhaps had never had any saving knowledge of Christ, made up their minds to comply with the wishes of the king, and went over to the Roman Catholics, there were great numbers who saw that if in faithfulness to God they stood firm, they must be prepared to suffer for the truths they loved; and conversations such as the following might have been heard in many homes.
“It is not for ourselves I fear," said a French silk-weaver, whom we will call Ambrose, "but for the children; though we have often been encouraged to hope that the good seed we have tried to sow in their hearts is already bearing fruit, and that both Victor and Babet truly love the Lord Jesus, Babet is so young, only just turned eight, and though Victor is almost two years older, he is less thoughtful and more easily led, and some, even among those who only a little while ago we counted among our friends, will spare no pains to induce them to enter the Roman Catholic church, and having succeeded, tell them to hide from us that they have disobeyed us.”
“But cannot we leave France, as I hear many of our friends and neighbors intend doing?" said Annette, his wife, making a great effort to smile. "We, my dear husband, are of one mind, and would it not be far better to leave our native land, with its sunshine and flowers, and go forth homeless and friendless, than to allow our children to fall into the net that is, we plainly see, about to be spread for their feet? God will give us grace to be faithful to the light He has given us, but I cannot be happy until I know that my children are in a place of safety.”
“I, too, have thought of leaving France," replied Ambrose, "but even if it can be done, there are many dangers and difficulties. The king is, I hear, about to make very severe laws to prevent any of his subjects leaving the country. The captains of ships are forbidden to allow them to take passage in their vessels, and in case any should succeed in getting on board and hiding themselves in the hold, the king's officers have orders to see that sulfur is burnt in such quantities that any who were hiding would either be suffocated or be compelled to creep forth, when they would at once be made prisoners and sent in gangs to the galleys, where they would be made slaves for life.”
The children, who had been listening, sad and silent, although hardly understanding why their parents should be so distressed, now began to cry bitterly, while the father, throwing an arm round each, went on to say, "If what I have heard to-day is true, the rich who refuse to conform to the order of the king will have much to suffer. Large numbers of wild, lawless soldiers will be sent to their houses; they are told to provide them with food and wine and give them the best of everything the house affords, while their stables are to be given up to the horses of the soldiers.
“Do not let us, my dear wife, lose faith in God. Let our sorrow only cast us more simply upon Him, who is `a very present help in trouble.' Dry your tears, beloved. Let us, as far as lies in our power, prepare to leave the country, and while waiting, we will hope and pray that an opportunity of doing so may yet be given us.”
Such scenes as the one I have tried to picture were taking place in thousands of homes in France. Louis XIV lived thirty years after signing the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, years of great trial and persecution to the Huguenots.
He had lived an idle, self-pleasing life, and made himself disliked by his subjects, so much so that the news of his death did not cause any sorrow.