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The Edict of Nantes

Revocation of the Edict of Nantes: The Edict of Fontainebleau (1685)

Figure 1.–This engraving shows a group of Huguenots coming ashore at Dover in 1685. I’m not sure if it is based on a painting and when it was produced. An English reader tells us, “This is how my ancestors probably arrived in England. They came to Canterbury and were given refuge in the Black Prince’s Chantry which is in the crypt of the South Transept of Canterbury Cathedral. This part of the Cathedral is now known as the Huguenot Chapel and Services are still conducted there, every Sunday, In French!”

After years of persecution under Louis XIII and Louis XIV, Louis XIV finally took the ultimate step–revoking the Edict of Nantes (1685). As a result of these persecutions life for many Protestants became intolerable in France. It was not just the lack of religious freedoms, but many other matters. The state refused to recognize Protestant marriages leaving the children illegitimate. This affected property rights and inheritances. Large numbers of Huguenots fled France, leaving for Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, England, and the English colonies in America (especially New York, Massachusetts, and South Carolina). As a result, many Americans of French ancestry are Protestants. Except for the Huguenots few French people emigrated to America. France is one of the few European countries in which large numbers of did not emigrants to America. Interesting in that the French showed such an enthusiasm for America, No one knows precisely how many French Protestants emigrated. Louis attempted to discourage emigration and force them to convert. Estimates range from 0.4-1.0 million. About 1.0 million Protestants remained in France. Many settled in the isolated Cévennes Mountains becoming known as the Camisards. Louis XIV ordered them removed, resulting in the Camisard War (1702-05). It proved to be a disaster to France that would be paid in installments down to the 20th century. France by conservative estimates lost More than 0.4 million of her finest citizens with all their talents and abilities. It many ways it was comparable to the NAZI campaign against its Jewish citizens–only worse because the Huguenots were a much larger portion of the French population. Those that managed to emigrate would fight Louis in his attempt to take over the Netherlands and subsequently to return James II to the English throne. Their descendants would play a prominent role in the German armies that fought the French down to World War II.

The Edict of Nantes (1598)

The Edict of Nantes is one of the great acts of religious tolerance. It stemmed from the French Religious Wars which tore the country apart. The Religious Wars including the eight outbreaks of violence occurred during the reign of Henry III who succeeded Charles IX. The Huguenots led by Henry of Navarre defeated the Catholic forces at Coutras (1587). The Huguenots were aided by infighting among the Catholics. The Duc de Guise was assassinated by other Catholics (1588) as was Henry III himself (1589). With Henry’s death the House of Valois became extinct and of all people, the Protestant leader Henry of Navarre became king, the first monarch of the Bourbon line. To end the destructive civil wars, Henry converted to Catholicism (1593). He issued the Edict of Nantes granting almost complete religious freedom on the Protestants. With this freedom during the reign of Henry, the Protestants grew to be a major force in France. The Edict of Nantes was signed by Henry IV (1598). This ended the Wars of Religion. Under the terms of the Edict, the Huguenots were permitted to freely practice their faith in 20 specified French “free” cities. France was again became united and a decade of peace followed. Henry IV was murdered (in 1610)

Assassination of Henry IV (1610)

King Henry IV was murdered by a religious zealot (1610). The King was traveling from the Louvre to meet his great minister Sully. As a consequence of the Religious Wars, the King was usually well guarded in public, but after the passage of so many years without incident, the standards of precaution had fallen. Rather than using his heavy coach with class windows, the King who was increasingly dismissive of danger, chose a light phaeton which had open sides. It was much more maneuverable in the crowded streets of Paris. A hay wagon blocked the street. The King’s guard left his side to clear the way. François Ravaillac a failed monk and school teacher who had hallucinations had been stalking the King, seized on the opportunity. He jumped on the running board and slashed at the King with a knife. Henry was reading a letter and unprepared. His second blow severed the King’s aorta. Ravaillac was seized and horribly tortured to learn of any conspirators. Ravaillac insisted he acted alone and this appears to have been the case. Henry’s enlightened reign had given France more than a decade of peace in the religious wars. Had he lived longer it might have proved to be an enduring peace. With his death, it proved to be only a truce and the greatly improved power of the state in Catholic hands irrevocably changed the balance of power between the two religions.




Why Nations Fail

Niall Ferguson on Why Nations Fail

How are we to explain the ultimate global imbalance which placed a minority  of mankind - at most a fifth - in such a position of material and political dominance over the rest (of the world)? It seems implausible that it was due to some innate superiority of Europeans, as the racial theorists of the nineteenth and twentieth centres often argued....Nor can we explain the great divergence in terms of imperialism; the other civilizations did (lent?) of that before Europeans  began crossing oceans and conquering. For the historian Kenneth Pomeranz, who coined the phrase "the real divergence",  it was really just a matter of luck. Europeans were fortunate enough to stumble on the so called "ghost acres" of the Caribbean, which were soon providing the peoples of the Atlantic metropoles with abundant sugar, a compact source of calories unavailable to most Asians.  Europeans were also fortunate to have more readily accessible deposits of coal...  the best answers to the question of what caused the great divergence focus on the role of institutions. ... (There are ) two phases or patterns of human organization. The first is...the natural state or "limited access pattern", characterized by:

  • a slow-growing economy
  • relatively few non-state organizations
  • a small and quite centralized government operating without the consent of the governed; and
  • social relationships organized along personal and dynastic lines

The second is the "open access pattern", characterized by:

  • a faster-growing economy
  • a rich and vibrant civil society with lots of organizations
  • a bigger, more decentralized government; and
  • social relationships governed by impersonal forces like the rule of law, involving secure property rights, fairness and a least in theory) equality

PDF - North and Weingast: Constitutions and Commitment


PDF - Pincus and Robinson:What Really Happened During the Glorious Revolution


(from North,  Wallis and Weingast  Violence and the Social Order-click here)

In their account, West European states - led by England - were the first to make the transition from "limited access"  to " open access. In order to do this, a country has to develop institutional arrangements that enable elites to create the possibility of impersonal intra-elite relationships and then to "create and sustain new incentives for elites to successfully open access within the elite." At this point,  "Elites transform their personal privileges into impersonal rights. All elites are given the right to form organizations at that point. The logic has changed from the natural state logic of rent-creation through privileges to the open access logic of rent-erosion through entry."

...For North, Wallis and Weingast, the decisive breakthrough to open access came with the American and French Revolutions, which saw the spread of incorporation in various forms,  and the legitimation of open competition in both the economic and political spheres. At each stage of the argument, then, their emphasis is on institutions, beginning with changes in English land law after the eleventh century, and culminating with changes in the legal treatment of corporate entities in the nineteenth century.

In a similar vein, Francis Fukuyama's Origins of Political Order defines "the three components of a modern political order" as "a strong and capable state, the state's subordination to a rule of law and government accountability to all citizens." These three components came together for the first time in Western Europe, with England once again the trailblazer...

In their book Why Nations Fail, Daron Acemoglu and Jim Robinson make a striking comparison between Egypt today and England in the late seventeenth century: "The reason that Britain is richer than Egypt is because in 1688...England...had a revolution that transformed the politics and thus the economics of the nation. People fought for and won more political rights and used them to expand their economic opportunities. The result was a fundamentally different political and economic trajectory, culminating in the Industrial Revolution."

In their terms, England was the first country to move to having inclusive or pluralistic"  rather than "extractive" political institutions. Note that other West European societies - for instance, Spain - failed to do this. As a result, the outcomes of European colonization in North and South America were radically different. The English exported inclusive institutions; the Spaniards were content to superimpose their extractive ones on top of those they took over from the Aztecs and Incas.

...Institutions as they evolved in the Ottoman Empire were also significantly different in ways that hampered capital formation and economic development, as Timur Kuran has argued. This was because Islamic law took a fundamentally different approach to partnership, nheritance, questions of debt and corporate personalities from the legal systems that developed in Western Europe,. Islam has waqfs, unincorporated trusts established by individuals, but not banks.



James Robinson, co-author of Why Nations Fail speaks at A TED Conference:




Daron Acemoglu: the Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty




James Robinson speaks at Google:on Why Nations Fail:




Why Nations Fail. Keynote Address by James Robinson

Keynote Address at the Conference of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank:



The Glorious Revolution Documentary:


The Rise and Decline of Nations and Civilizations

Niall Feguson and James Robinson on the same podium: