The Huguenots

French Protestants, particularly of the 16th and 17th centuries, who followed the Swiss reformation of the Church led by John Calvin. Calvin believed in worshipping God directly, demoting the priest so that he was like ordinary people and frowning on religious art as a distraction. When Catholic churches were taken over (as at the beginning of The Virgin Blue), pulpits were symbolically removed so that priests would be on the same level as worshippers when they preached, and statues, stained glass and paints were destroyed. Huguenot churches were notoriously plain.

The growing Huguenot population was persecuted by several French kings, causing a series of long civil wars throughout the 16th century. But Huguenots are really best known as emigrants, leaving France primarily in two waves for countries more tolerant of Protestants – Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Britain, and eventually the United States and Canada. The first wave was in response to the Massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572. The other occurred after 1685, when Louis XIV revoked the 87-year-old Edict of Nantes, a law that had given Protestants religious freedom.

In their heyday in the 16th century, Protestants made up 15-20% of the French population; now they make up just 2-3%.