Divided by Memory: The Legacy of the Wars of Religion
in Early Modern France
The aim of my current book project is to explore how conflicting memories of civil war could undermine confessional coexistence and re-ignite conflict in the early modern period. The project does so by examining Catholic and Protestant memories about the French Wars of Religion (1562–1598). France provides a particularly useful case to study religious diversity and memories of conflict, because it presents a paradox to historians. After the civil wars ended in 1598, Protestants and Catholics peacefully lived together for almost a century, until in 1685 Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes (which had granted Huguenots freedom of worship) and forced them to convert to Catholicism through brutal persecution. How, then, could France have gone from civil war to religious toleration, but finally descend into conflict again?
I argue that religious coexistence in France broke down because Protestants and Catholics developed rival memories about the Wars of Religion, which sustained division and tension throughout the seventeenth century. Precisely because Protestants and Catholics were divided by memory, they continued to perceive the other as their enemy and were unable to accept religious diversity. In analysing memory as a key factor in re-igniting religious conflict, the book will offer a new perspective on the challenge of religious diversity and reconciliation during the early modern period.