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Report on Right of Huguenots to French Citizenship

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The following is a guest post from Nicolas Boring, the foreign law specialist covering French- speaking jurisdictions at the Law Library of Congress. Nicolas has previously blogged about The Library of the French National Assembly – Pic of the Week, among others.

A recent Law Library of Congress report examines a little-known historical development: the right of Huguenots to French citizenship, and the revocation of that right in 1945.

Massacre de la Saint-Barthélemy , gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Massacre de la Saint-Barthélemy, gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Huguenots were French Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Despite persecution on the part of the Catholic authorities, Protestantism spread quickly in France during the 16th century. Conflicts between Catholics and Protestants eventually developed into a civil war, known as the Wars of Religion. This conflict came to an end in 1598, when King Henri IV—who was Protestant but converted to Catholicism a few years after being crowned King of France—issued the Edict of Nantes. This document, one of the first decrees of religious tolerance in Europe, granted Huguenots a large measure of religious freedom.

Henri IV was assassinated in 1610, and was succeeded on the throne by Louis XIII, and followed by Louis XIV in 1642. Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and Protestants again found themselves the target of persecutions throughout the Kingdom of France. These persecutions led hundreds of thousands of Huguenots to emigrate abroad, losing their French citizenship in the process.

Most students of French history have at least some passing knowledge of these developments, and are also aware that the 1789 French Revolution restored religious freedom in France. What is less commonly known, however, is that in 1790, the revolutionary government adopted a law welcoming the descendants of exiled Huguenots back to France. It provided that any descendant of a French man or woman who left France due to religious persecutions would automatically become a French citizen upon returning to France and taking the civic oath (serment civique, an oath of allegiance to the French nation, French laws, and the constitution). This 1790 law is the focus of our new report. With a few amendments along the way, this law remained in force until 1945, and the report examines not just the law itself but the manner by which it was abrogated by the adoption of a new Nationality Code in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.

For information on other Law Library reports see In Custodia Legis posts; or view them directly by browsing the Current Legal Topics or Comprehensive Index of Legal Reports pages on our website. For legal news from France, you may search the Law Library’s Global Legal Monitor. To receive alerts when new reports or articles are published, you can subscribe to email updates and RSS feed (click the “subscribe” button on the Law Library’s website).

Comments (9)

  1. A very timely piece with many informative links. Thank you!

  2. Dear Sir/ madam, please let me know how can I apply for French citizenship as a descendant of a French Hugenot
    who came to South Africa by ship in the 1700.
    I am a descendant of Louis Fourier..I am the 8th generation…and would like to see my country.
    South Africa has become a strange Country to me. and dangerous.
    I have gave up a lot in the past 25 years.
    Yours sincerely
    Mrs G M van Wyk(Fourier

    • According to Nicolas Boring: “Unfortunately, the laws granting a right to French citizenship for descendants of Hugenots were repealed in 1945. If the descendant of a Hugenot wishes to obtain French citizenship today, he or she would have to apply for naturalization according to the normal rules laid out in articles 21-14-1 to 21-25-1 of the French Civil Code.” For further information you may contact us through “Ask a Librarian” at https://ask.loc.gov/.

  3. Such a shame the right to French citizenship was repealed in 1945. Is there no chance it will be reviewed following Brexit?

  4. I have seen absolutely no discussion of the possibility of reviving this right to citizenship for descendants of Huguenots in France. At this point, the fact that descendants of Huguenots used to have a right to French citizenship seems to be regarded as little more than a historical curiosity.

  5. What is the current status of the right of return for descendants of French Huguenots .?. How is this process initiated ??

  6. Hello. Would you please send your question to our Ask A Librarian Service so it can be assigned to a reference librarian? https://ask.loc.gov/law/

    Please note my comment quoting Nicolas Boring’s statement from June 22, 2021.

  7. My mother was born in 1941 before the repeal of the law. She is still alive. Would she be eligible for citizenship?

  8. This surely should open a serious discussion regarding the re-evaluation of the generations of the French Huguenot’s, especially in countries like South Africa. Where we find ourselves once again been persecuted not on religion grounds per say. But through victimisation and abandonment by the state. Hatred for our skin colour and our social and economic exclusion “reverse-apartheid”. In 1985, 300 years after the Huguenots persecution, President Mitterrand apologized on behalf of the French people for Louis XIVs revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Our Protestants ancestors being persecuted, losing their French citizenship in the process and creating one of the largest forced migrations of modern times. Many of our relatives including mine have fought for French freedom and are buried in French soil. WW1 Delville wood etc. WW2 Liberation of France D-Day landings, SA Airforce, SA Navy under British command and Special forces. Against French colony under French Vichy government, Battle of Madagascar. The only an first official apology in 1985 should be followed up by a genuine gesture through the action of acknowledgement of French Huguenots reclaiming there Protestants ancestors French citizenship rights. Kind Regards. Earl Durant.

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