Henry IV had been a Huguenot but had agreed to conform to the Roman Catholic church in order to become king. At the time of the edict, he was a French Catholic king. The French kings were from a long line of kings who viewed their authority as a Devine right. Consequently, his Edit of Nantes was an exceptionally revolutionary document for its time. It was the first, long-lasting decree of religious toleration in modern Europe. It granted unheard of religious rights, in Catholic Europe, to French Protestants [Huguenots].
The Edict of Nantes marked the end of France’s Wars of Religion [1562 – 1598]. Over the course of these wars a series of treaties had been negotiated that provided certain privileges to the Huguenots. However, all had been broken. The Edict of Nantes integrated the various religious provisions of this series of broken treaties and provided a number of additional ones.
Generally, under its provisions, it gave Protestants the right to hold public worship in many parts of France, with the exception of
Paris. The Huguenots were granted full civil rights and a special court was established, within the various parliaments, called the Chambre de l’Édict, to arbitrate disputes arising from the edict. The universities/schools at Montauban, Montpellier, Sedan and Saumur were permitted to be Huguenot and 100 fortified cities were given to the Huguenots, for a period of eight years.
For French areas where the practice of Catholicism had been interrupted, the Catholic practices were reestablished and extensions, by Protestants, into these Catholic areas was prohibited.
The edict was bitterly resented by Pope Clement VIII, by the French Catholic clergy and by the many French parliaments. In 1629, Cardinal de Richelieu [chief minister of king
Louis XII] annulled the edict’s political clauses at the Peace of Alès. On October 18, 1685,
Louis XIV revoked the edict in its entirety and deprived French Protestants of all religious and civil liberties. Within a few years thereafter, over 400,000 French Huguenots [France’s industrious commercial class] had immigrated to other countries. The effect was devastating on the French economy. It was not until the French Revolution, 1789 – 1799, that the Huguenots that remained in France regained their civil rights.
The Principal and most salient Provisions of Henry IV’s Edict of Nantes, which was promulgated at Nantes, in Brittany, on April 13, 1598, are as follows:
Henry, by the grace of God king of France and of Navarre, to
all to whom these presents come, greeting:
Among the infinite benefits which it has pleased God to heap
upon us, the most signal and precious is his granting us the
strength and ability to withstand the fearful disorders and
troubles which prevailed on our advent in this kingdom. The
realm was so torn by innumerable factions and sects that the
most legitimate of all the parties was fewest in numbers.
God has given us strength to stand out against this storm;
we have finally surmounted the waves and made our port of
safety,—peace for our state. For which his be the glory all
in all, and ours a free recognition of his grace in making
use of our instrumentality in the good work.... We implore
and await from the Divine Goodness the same protection and
favor which he has ever granted to this kingdom from the
We have, by this perpetual and irrevocable edict,
established and proclaimed and do establish and proclaim:
I. First, that the recollection of everything done by one
party or the other between March, 1585, and our accession to
the crown, and during all the preceding period of troubles,
remain obliterated and forgotten, as if no such things had
III. We ordain that the Catholic Apostolic and Roman
religion shall be restored and reëstablished in all places
and localities of this our kingdom and countries subject to
our sway, where the exercise of the same has been
interrupted, in order that it may be peaceably and freely
exercised, without any trouble or hindrance; forbidding very
expressly all persons, of whatsoever estate, quality, or
condition, from troubling, molesting, or disturbing
ecclesiastics in the celebration of divine service, in the
enjoyment or collection of tithes, fruits, or revenues of
their benefices, and all other rights and dues belonging to
them; and that all those who during the troubles have taken
possession of churches, houses, goods or revenues, belonging
to the said ecclesiastics, shall surrender to them entire
possession and peaceable enjoyment of such rights,
liberties, and sureties as they had before they were
deprived of them....
VI. And in order to leave no occasion for troubles or
differences between our subjects, we have permitted, and
herewith permit, those of the said religion called Reformed
to live and abide in all the cities and places of this our
kingdom and countries of our sway, without being annoyed,
molested, or compelled to do anything in the matter of
religion contrary to their consciences, ... upon condition
that they comport themselves in other respects according to
that which is contained in this our present edict.
VII. It is permitted to all lords, gentlemen, and other
persons making profession of the said religion called
Reformed, holding the right of high justice [or a certain
feudal tenure], to exercise the said religion in their
IX. We also permit those of the said religion to make and
continue the exercise of the same in all villages and places
of our dominion where it was established by them and
publicly enjoyed several and divers times in the year 1597,
up to the end of the month of August, notwithstanding all
decrees and judgments to the contrary....
XIII. We very expressly forbid to all those of the said
religion its exercise, either in respect to ministry,
regulation, discipline, or the public instruction of
children, or otherwise, in this our kingdom and lands of our
dominion, otherwise than in the places permitted and granted
by the present edict.
XIV. It is forbidden as well to perform any function of the
said religion in our court or retinue, or in our lands and
territories beyond the mountains, or in our city of Paris,
or within five leagues of the said city....
XVIII. We also forbid all our subjects, of whatever quality
and condition, from carrying off by force or persuasion,
against the will of their parents, the children of the said
religion, in order to cause them to be baptized or confirmed
in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church; and the same is
forbidden to those of the said religion called Reformed,
upon penalty of being punished with especial severity....
XXI. Books concerning the said religion called Reformed may
not be printed and publicly sold, except in cities and
places where the public exercise of the said religion is
XXII. We ordain that there shall be no difference or
distinction made in respect to the said religion, in
receiving pupils to be instructed in universities, colleges,
and schools; nor in receiving the sick and poor into
hospitals, retreats, and public charities.