Writing History in the Huguenot Refuge
Élie Benoist and the Suite de l'Histoire de l'Édit de Nantes
A collaborative project with Dr Chrystel Bernat, IPT Montpellier
One of the remarkable features of the Huguenot diaspora was the renewed interest among refugees in their own past. Many exiled ministers began writing the history of their former communities in France, while others blurred the line between news and history by reporting on recent events (histoire du temps présent), such as Pierre Jurieu in his Lettres pastorales. By far the most wide-ranging and influential history, however, was written by Élie Benoist, a minister from Alençon who had taken refuge in Delft after the Revocation. Published in five volumes between 1693 and 1695, the Histoire de l’Édit de Nantes offered readers an overview of the royal declarations, arrests and edicts that had gradually eroded the Huguenots’ civil and religious rights. The aim of this judicial archaeology, Benoist explained, was to reveal the “chicanes” that Catholic clergymen and French authorities had used to undermine the Edict of Nantes.
Benoist’s history has become a classic in studies on the Refuge, and is still used by historians because of the detail it provides on various Huguenot communities and the process of anti-Protestant law-making. What is less known, however, is that soon after publication Benoist started working on a sequel. Among the papers of minister Antoine Court in Geneva is a manuscript of 107 folios (MS Court 50), entitled Suite de l’Histoire de l’Edit de Nantes. The Suite picks up where the Histoire de l’Édit de Nantes ends, covering events in France and across the Refuge in the years 1685–1690, most notably in the Dutch Republic, England and Ireland. Yet the manuscript also contains a series of rather different texts: a preface, two theological treatises, and a history of the Reformation in the British Isles.
The aim of this research project is to prepare a critical edition of the Suite, introducing readers to some of the key debates in the Huguenot Refuge and the wider themes of religious coexistence and history-writing in early modern Europe.