The Huguenots. By Geoffrey Treasure. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013. Pp. xi, 468. $35.00.)
This book is an excellent introduction for those coming to Huguenot history for the first time as well as a detailed and coherent overview for those already familiar with the era. It is written in a lively and engaging style and is a very good read. The author weaves a wide range of sources and his own previous research into a readable, substantial, and detailed history that spans almost three centuries, from the reign of Francis I to the end of the eighteenth century.
The five sections of the book chronicle the history of the Huguenots from the first stirrings of the Reformation in Europe to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes and its consequences. The study is not a religious history of the Huguenots. Indeed, Geoffrey Treasure devotes relatively little space to the inner life of the French Reformed Church and to the religious debates and disputes that divided it, particularly in the seventeenth century. Rather, he focuses on the social composition and the location of the emerging Huguenot community and on the problems its existence created for a monarchy seeking to increase and consolidate its own authority.
The author allows the reader to follow the conflicts that accompanied the rapid expansion of the French Reformed Church towards the end of the sixteenth century and its loss of military and political power at the beginning of the seventeenth. The author then analyzes the community of the mid-seventeenth century: its social composition, respect for the crown, and gradual decline before its eventual abolition in 1685. The consequences of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes constitute the final section. The numbers, destinations, and contributions of those who departed are evoked briefly. More attention is given to the situation in France, where the economic effects and the latitude offered to those who were important to the state is contrasted with the harsh treatment of those who continued to practice their religion or rise in revolt.
The book does not deal with the Huguenots in isolation but takes considerable care to set the various stages of the development and decline of the reformed community in France firmly within the context of wider social, political, and religious events, both inside France and within Europe as a whole. To take one example, the author suggests towards the end of the volume that Louis XIV's decision in 1685 finally to withdraw the tolerance extended to the Huguenot minority in France may well have been an effort to retrieve his position in Catholic Europe, damaged two years previously when he failed to send troops to help defend Vienna against the Turks.
Inevitably in such a broad history, there are omissions, such as the early efforts to reunite the churches in the 1630s. Treatment of the clergy of the mid-seventeenth century is also rather too dismissive. The range of sources used is generally excellent, although limited in one or two chapters. Readers may also wish for more detailed footnotes at times and regret the absence of some very useful French-language source material.
University of Ulster
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2016|
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