What Did the Edict of Nantes Do?

The 1598 Edict of Nantes, signed by Henry IV, helped end four decades of Protestant and Catholic religious wars in France. In its 92 articles, the edict granted social and political equality to the French Huguenots, as well as some toleration for their religion.

According to the edict, Huguenots were allowed to worship freely in private anywhere within French territory, as well as publicly, in about 200 named towns or Protestant-owned estates. In addition, crimes committed by either side were forgiven, and 50 fortified Huguenot towns were supposed to be secretly subsidized by the French government.

Henry IV was a Protestant who converted to Catholicism in order to become king. He had succeeded to the throne upon the assassination of Henry III, who had been a fanatical Catholic and enthusiastic persecutor of the Huguenots. While Henry IV was politically and personally in agreement with the edict, the French monarchy as a whole also benefited. Since he was able to bring the two sides together, Henry strengthened the endangered French throne.

After the edict, Protestantism in France weakened politically and socially; and since they did not have to maintain their strongholds, Protestants lost most of their land holdings and became dependent upon the will of the king. When King Louis XIV revoked the supposedly irrevocable law in 1585, the Huguenots emigrated en masse to England, the New World and other places with laws friendly to their religious beliefs.