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Report on Right of Huguenots to French Citizenship

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).

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