Huguenots: Definition, Summary & Beliefs

Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

Learn about the French Protestant group known as the Huguenots, including their beliefs and how they fared early on. When you're done, take the quiz and see what you've learned.

Standing Against Corruption

Have you ever been at a job where nothing feels right? Maybe the boss doesn't show up on time, paychecks are late, the pay is inconsistent, or employees don't get promoted according to how they work? But you don't want to say anything because you're afraid you'll lose your job. Imagine that someone does speak up against the company's wrongs, and he quits. Once he's gone it's like the floodgates open. Everyone with any integrity joins him and quits the company, too.

Well, in 16th century Europe, the Catholic Church was in many ways like a corrupted business. And a few outspoken groups eventually called the organization out on its corrupt ways and formed their own churches. One of these groups was the Huguenots. Before describing their story, however, let's first get a little background on the Church.

The Catholic Church

During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church was the only religion in Western Europe. Roman Catholics had dominated the population and had served as the kings and nobles in every kingdom. The pope, as head of the church, had often exercised his authority over all secular powers - like when he called for the crusades or even when he settled disputes between Catholic kings.

But as the Middle Ages progressed, that power became corrupted. By the sixteenth century, it was common for people to buy religious offices. Whenever the pope needed more money he would offer people the chance to purchase their way to heaven. The corruption is what started the reformation movement. Martin Luther was the first person to speak up, but once he had made his complaints and started his own church, many other people did the same thing.

John Calvin

A Portrait of John Calvin
John Calvin

John Calvin (1509-1564) was one of the first people to agree with Martin Luther and decided to found his own religion. He went to the University of Paris, where an instructor named Jacques LeFevre was busy translating the Bible into French as he spoke out against the pope's power over France.

LeFevre and other Gallicans thought of the pope as a foreign power with too much influence over France and other kingdoms. The Gallicans didn't think that a foreign church should have that kind of power. Calvin agreed. When he officially broke away from the church, his group called themselves the Reformers or the Calvinists. The Catholics called them Huguenots, though no one knows exactly why.

What Made the Huguenots Different?

One of John Calvin's biggest complaints was that the church seemed to be preoccupied with death and the dead when they practiced the sacrament. He also believed that the rituals, images, saints, pilgrimages, prayers, and even the hierarchy of the church didn't help Christians find their way to heaven. Popes from the twelfth century on had also been the rulers of the Papal States, treating the kings of Europe as their vassals. Calvin saw that relationship as doomed to failure.

A Brief History

In its early years, the Huguenot movement had a champion in Francis I, the King of France. But in 1534, during the Affair of the Placards, someone posted an anti-papal poster on Francis's bedroom door. This action disturbed the king, and he soon lost patience with the Huguenots.

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