Have you guessed who the Sun King is? It’s Louis XIV, the King of France. In the 1680s he tore up the Edict of Nantes. Well, what is the Edict of Nantes, and who was this Sun King? Let’s get right to it.
Louis XIV was born in 1638. He became king just ahead of his fifth birthday and reigned all the way from 1643 until 1715. He was king for seventy-two years and 110 days.
Historians credit Louis XIV with a strong rule that centralized power, and he was known as having a military-based approach to foreign policy. The great French philosopher Voltaire said of him, “It is certain that he passionately wanted glory,” Voltaire added, “What he really liked was the name he made for himself.”
At the height of his power, in October of 1685, the Sun King issued what is now known as the Edict of Fontainebleau. Now, Fontainebleau is a palace of the French kings. It’s about sixty kilometers south and slightly to the east of Paris.
It was Louis XIV who built up Versailles. Before him, it was just a two-story hunting lodge that the kings used when they went hunting in the fields of Paris. While Versailles was being built, Louis XIV would travel down to Fontainebleau. There he conducted hunts and entertained guests, and there he signed this edict. This edict in 1685 reversed and revoked the Edict of Nantes.
The Edict of Nantes was from a century ago, back at the end of the sixteenth century and the Reformation. The edict gave religious freedom to the Huguenots, who were the Protestants, the Reformation Christians, or the Calvinists in France. In this Catholic nation of France, these Huguenots could build churches and have measures of religious freedom.
Louis XIV took that all away. It started before the Edict of Fontainebleau. In 1681, he established the Dragonnades, which were military units deployed to harass the Huguenots. They were billeted in the homes of the Huguenots and they committed terrible acts. They would steal from the Huguenots and destroy them. It was an attempt to harass them and get them out of the land or an attempt to get them to convert to Catholicism.
After four years of that, Louis XIV simply stripped the Huguenots of their political and legal rights. Some historians estimate that hundreds of thousands of Huguenots fled France the year that the Edict of Fontainebleau went into effect. They went to the Netherlands. They went to England. They went to other places in Europe. Some of them even made their way to New France in the New World in America.
In that same year, in 1685, an artist in Amsterdam created a broadside chronicling the persecution of the Huguenots and, also, picturing how Amsterdam welcomed them into their homes. It shows the Huguenots being beaten. It shows their homes being rampaged. It shows them literally powerless beside these armor-clad and outfitted with weapons Dragonnades.
Yet, for all of the Sun King’s attempts to wipe out the Huguenots, they survived. That’s the Sun King, Louis XIV, and the Edict of Fontainebleau from 1685.