David Garrioch, The Huguenots of Paris and the Coming of Religious Freedom, 1685–1789, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2014.

David Garrioch, The Huguenots of Paris and the Coming of Religious Freedom, 1685–1789, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2014. £69.99, ISBN 9781107047679 (hardback), pp. xii + 296.

Reviewed by: Gemma Betros, The Australian National University, June 2016.

‘We will never know how many Huguenots lived in Paris in the eighteenth century’, writes David Garrioch in his study of Parisian Protestants between 1685 and 1789. Their numbers in both the late 1680s and the late 1780s represented about one percent of the population, but ‘what happened in the intervening century’, Garrioch declares, ‘is anyone’s guess’ (p. 75). With an impressive collection of work on eighteenth-century Paris behind him, Garrioch is probably better-placed than anyone to find out.

The book’s chronological focus—from the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, which retracted the toleration of Protestants in France, to the French Revolution’s introduction of freedom of religion in 1789—is one that has been overlooked where France’s largest city is concerned. Eighteenth-century Paris no longer experienced religious violence of the type associated with the 1572 St Bartholomew’s Day massacre, but religious conflict continued in other parts of France, and it is these areas that have typically drawn the attention of historians, particularly those concerned with a narrative of Huguenot persecution and resistance. Yet the eighteenth century was, after all, the century of Enlightenment, and Paris was its capital. As a period when the acceptance of religious minorities became first conceivable, and gradually, desirable, the experiences of Huguenots in eighteenth-century Paris offer critical new insights into the mechanics behind the growth of religious toleration.

Garrioch asks two questions: how did Parisian Huguenots, directly under the eye of the monarch, survive when Catholic France was so hostile to Protestantism? And how did public opinion come to accommodate, or even accept the presence and beliefs of Huguenots? The answer to the first question is hinted at in the second. Catholicism, and its place in society, was changing. How much this had to do with the influence of the Enlightenment is a problem that lies at the centre of this study.

The answers come in three parts. Firstly, the varied ways in which Huguenots resisted the new ban on Protestant worship helped preserve their religion. Those who did not emigrate risked imprisonment or pressure to abjure their faith, yet many continued to practise regardless. The destruction of the organisational structures of the Reformed Church merely sent it underground—an experience later repeated during the Revolution’s attack on Catholicism—with Protestantism’s focus on individual conscience and religious observance within the family making it a religion ‘particularly well suited to clandestinity’ (p. 126). Thanks to careful monitoring by police, numerous archival documents record the Protestant baptisms, marriages, worship, and burials that continued to take place, showing how Protestant networks were maintained and workarounds found. The chapels of foreign embassies, for example, played a vital role in sustaining Paris’s Protestant community, with the Dutch chapel alone recording the names of over 2,600 people admitted to communion there between 1727 and 1781. ‘Protestant passive resistance was so widespread’, notes Garrioch, ‘that the authorities could not punish everyone, and the police could not admit their own impotence’ (p. 53).

Accordingly, the government effectively abandoned the harassment of Protestants on the condition that they kept a low profile, a requirement facilitated by the city of Paris itself. A useful series of maps shows how Protestant households were increasingly dispersed throughout Paris’s quartiers. While some clergy were more diligent at identifying and reporting Protestants than others, it was not impossible to skip Mass without being noticed, and there were surprisingly few denunciations, with most Catholics seeming to prefer a relationship of peaceful—or indifferent—co-existence with their Protestant neighbours. There were, moreover, compelling economic reasons for pursuing a policy of de facto toleration. Huguenots were involved in many of the city’s key sectors, including manufacturing, retail, and banking, and their continued emigration held consequences for national prosperity. In ‘one of the ironies of eighteenth-century French history’, observes Garrioch, ‘the intolerant Catholic state was generously funded by Protestant financiers’ (p. 82). The very identity of the city, meanwhile, was changing, as urban growth, and the diversity that accompanied it, meant that Paris was no longer characterised solely by its religious identity.

For the religious culture of Catholicism was also undergoing a transformation. Spurred by the spread of Protestantism, the Catholic Reformation, in its quest to rehabilitate Catholicism, promoted the idea of a more merciful God—with, crucially, less emphasis on the threat of hell—and a pared-down, more individual form of worship, an approach that began to edge religious matters out of the public sphere and into the private. The Jansenist movement’s own divisive efforts at reform, condemned by Rome in 1713, in turn created growing debate about religious dissent and freedom of conscience that spilled into the political arena. Also influential, for Garrioch, was the advent of ‘Enlightened Catholicism’. While the Catholic Enlightenment sought to defend and reform the Church using the philosophes’own arguments and tactics, Garrioch shows how ordinary Catholics began to embrace Enlightenment thought, developing a new world view shaped by a belief in progress and civilisation, and the importance of morality and virtue, qualities not restricted by faith.

The result was a growing spirit of toleration. By mid-century, Protestants were being granted official positions, joining freemasonry lodges, and being admitted to guilds in increasing numbers. Joseph II’s introduction of religious toleration in 1781 provided further material for the debate already long underway about the legal status of Protestants in France, a debate that led eventually to the 1787 Edict of Toleration, which granted non-Catholics civil rights, if not yet permission to practise their religion in public.  With religious belief increasingly seen as a ‘private matter’ rather than ‘a precondition for participation in public life’ (p. 261), Protestants could start to participate in society as equals. As the French Revolution unfolded, the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre began to be evoked not as a reminder of religious division, but as a symbol of oppression, of the dangers of fanaticism, and even as a persuasive reason for the separation of Church and state.

For scholars of women religious, the second chapter will be of particular interest for its discussion of the convent of the Nouvelles catholiques, or New Catholics, established in the seventeenth century for the express purpose of converting Protestant girls and women. Not all who went there did so voluntarily: removing children from Protestant families and placing them in such institutions was an effective means of punishing recalcitrant behaviour. Yet the rate of admissions slowed soon after the Revocation and, despite the occasional increase in response to renewed efforts at suppression, continued to do so throughout the eighteenth century, again revealing the state’s reluctance to force Protestants to convert to Catholicism.

Garrioch’s careful research is a masterclass in approaching the often challenging archival evidence of the period. What is perhaps missing is a closer reading of the sources that can uncover more of the personal experience of being a member of a religious minority. Ira Katznelson and Miri Rubin write in their recent edited collection that ‘religious borders […] are not easy to traverse’,[1]yet Garrioch’s Huguenots negotiated these borders daily. Conversion, in particular, could cause tremendous personal anguish and destroy relationships with families and communities, as the memoirs of the German Countess de Schwerin, who converted to Catholicism in 1719, for example record.[2]The book’s thematic approach also makes it sometimes difficult to piece together the contexts behind the policies and laws that shaped the experiences of Protestants in France, and to track their implications for those who, in the capital, might have feared and felt their impact most immediately, if not as forcefully as elsewhere in France.

As seen in the wake of the 2015 Charlie Hebdoattacks, religious toleration in France is today still often associated with Voltaire’s strident campaign against religious intolerance in the 1760s. This book, however, demonstrates that its beginnings can be observed well before the Protestant Jean Calas was accused unjustly of murder. It also shows how the quiet resistance of Huguenots, various economic and social concerns, and Catholicism’s own efforts at renewal may have had greater influence than the philosophesupon the attitudes and behaviour of the people of Paris towards their Protestant neighbours. Garrioch concludes with a reflection on the responsibility of the clergy and the state in shaping the treatment of religious minorities, noting that ‘the actions and rhetoric of leaders and opinion-makers could either intensify or calm tensions’ (p. 273). At a time when societies in many parts of the world are troubled by the problem of how to accommodate those of minority religions, it is a reflection that has a wide application.

[1]Ira Katznelson and Miri Rubin (eds), Religious Conversion: History, Experience, Meaning(Burlington: Ashgate, 2014), p. 18.

[2]Maurice Daumas, Claudia Ulbrich, et al. (eds), Une conversion au XVIIIesiècle. Mémoires de la comtesse de Schwerin(Pessac: Presses universitaires de Bordeaux, 2013).