Your RDA of Irony


On this day in 1685, Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes which had guaranteed the freedom of worship to Protestants. Perhaps as revenge, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has never sung “Louie, Louie.”

The Edict had been granted in 1598 by Henri IV of France, a man of steadfast principles. All his mistresses had to be married. (Of course, obligingly myopic husbands received titles and estates.) However, Henri was not so dogmatic about religion. He was born a Catholic; but when his mother became a Protestant, so did young Henri. By both rank (a member of the royal family) and actual ability, he became the leader of France’s Protestants. His marriage to Princess Margaret Valois (of the Catholic branch of the Royal Family) was supposed to establish ecumenical peace in a France rift by religious war.

Unfortunately, the Catholic side of the family celebrated the wedding by massacring the Protestant guests. (Perhaps when you are paying for the wedding, you have that prerogative.) On St. Bartholomew’s Day, as a wedding present Henri was offered the choice of death or Catholicism. Henri had found breathing to be habit-forming and wasn’t quite prepared to learn the details of the Afterlife. So he was Catholic again. Of course, as soon as he was able to flee Paris, Henri was a Protestant again and leading the surviving Huguenots in civil war.

The Protestant rebel was in the line to the French throne. The royal succession required descent through the male line, and Henri had consistent Y chromosomes dating back to Louis IX. Furthermore, none of his royal brothers-in-law was producing legitimate sons. (One had a daughter, another had the debilitating consequences of syphilis and the third liked to wear dresses.) By 1589, they were dead (possibly poison, probably 16th century medicine, and definitely assassination). Our Henri was the legitimate heir, but the Catholics of France were not prepared to accept a Protestant king.

So, once again Henri converted, rationalizing his latest contortion “Paris is worth a Mass.” No one questioned Henri’s sincerity; there was no sincerity to question. The Protestants could count on Henri’s religious tolerance but not necessarily his longevity. The Huguenots wanted a guarantee of religious freedom, and Henri obliged his former co-religionists with the Edict of Nantes.

Unfortunately, if a King can grant an edict, another can revoke it. Louis XIV certainly did not inherit religious tolerance from his grandfather. He ordered the destruction of Protestant churches and schools. The only guaranteed freedom left the Protestants was emigration. Louis did not even follow the English etiquette of bigotry: when persecuting a minority, at least offer them a colony in the New World.

Many of the Huguenots did flee France. Some found haven in the English colonies of the New World; Paul Revere was a descendant. Others made a shorter trip to the Protestant states of Germany. That would explain this irony: in subsequent invasions of France(especially the most recent) a number of German generals had French names.

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