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A few years ago, I found some Huguenot history and a painting on a family genealogy website by a man named Elroy Christenson.

I am unsure whether the Huguenots were on his side or his wife’s. The ancestor’s name was Anglicised to Brashear. It was originally Brassieur.

Christenson’s page, ‘Elroy’s Huguenot History’, gives us an insight as to what life was like for Protestants in France after the Reformation. You might wish to read my post ‘A Huguenot timeline’ if you haven’t already done so. It will help tie the main historical dates together.

Elroy tells us that after 1555, Calvinism expanded quickly. At one point, there were more than 1,000 congregations with 2m members in total. Most of the Protestant churches were in the southern half of the country. This is not unusual, given that that part of the country is quite independently-minded; the proliferation of mountains — the Pyrenées and the Alpes-Maritimes — contribute to this state of mind.

Cautious living

Le Bapteme Cladestin, by Jeanne Lombard. Musee du desertElroy describes the efforts the Huguenots went to in order to avoid problems with civil and Catholic authorities (emphases mine). The accompanying painting by Jeanne Lombard, The Clandestine Baptism, also comes from his site:

The Protestants that remained with their faith were forced into secret worship ceremonies and endured constant alertness to avoid discovery. They disguised their pulpits as wine barrels or made them collapsable for easy concealment. They made miniature bibles that they hid easily including in the buns of women’s hair. They hid their ministers in caves and secret compartments. The town of Anduze, just west of Alès, became the center of Protestant resistance under the leadership of the Duc de Rohan and were the most challenging of papal and the king’s authority. The village had strong fortifications with rugged hills surrounding it. This allowed the Camisards group, as they were known, to hold off the kings army of 25,000 men for over two years after their initial attack in 1629. If they were discovered they were subjected to forced conversion. Unrepentant women were imprisoned in various chateaux across France. Many men ended up chained to a galley oar on royal ships while others were simply killed. [Musée du désert]

Louis XIV didn’t worry too much about the Huguenots until he married the devoutly Catholic Mme de Maintenon in 1684. The following year, he revoked the Edict of Nantes which sent shockwaves through Protestants across the land.

Catholic France knew that the Huguenots were enterprising, experts in their fields and contributors to the economy. This is how the King, Catholic noblemen and authorities managed to have their cake and eat it during these years of persecution:

Ministers of the faith were given two weeks to leave France while their congregation was denied the right to exit. If the ministers didn’t leave they were arrested and forcibly removed from the country. Protestant reaction was swift. Since entire industries were controlled by the Huguenots and because their wealth and industry was important to the economy, it was very important to keep these people in France. Soldiers were stationed at the borders of France to prevent their emigration. They were then pushed back to their villages and forced to convert to Catholicism. Nevertheless, an estimated 300,000 people were able to get out of the country and took their money, skills and industry to the other countries which profited from these new immigrants. [Pigeaud ]

The Brassieurs fled to England first, then set sail for the American colonies. They left long before the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes:

Our Brashears had probably gone to England about 1628 after Cardinal Richelieu’s suppressions at La Rochelle. Since their suppression campaign centered on Anduze, they could have very easily gone down the Rhone River from the Lyon or Alès regions to Marseille and picked up another boat there. (I personally favor this version without any firm facts to substantiate it.) If they were forced out at La Rochelle it would have been an easy trip from this port to go north along the coast and to cross the English Channel to Great Britain. England then was an ideal destination for this dispossessed group. By colonial association with Great Britain the leaders of Maryland, established in 1632, let it be known that they welcomed the Huguenots and other faiths. The second Lord Baltimore, Cecil Calvert, a Roman Catholic, believed in religious freedom and welcomed all settlers.

Benjamin Brashear is documented to have arrived in the Colonies from England in 1637 while Robert Brashear, his father, may have been here by 1636. They first settle in Virginia and gravitate to Maryland where he states in a document for citizenship that he had been previously a subject of the King of France. Several researchers have indicated that the immigrating Brassieur family had been residents of Avignon, in southern France. If they were in fact Calvinists in Avignon, it would give them good reason to leave since this was a Catholic strong-hold since before the Renaissance. A ruin still exists in Avignon of the Pope’s Palace created during the great schism.

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