European Ancestors – Understanding France (24) – Religion and the Waldensians

Courtesy of Wikipedia
Flag adopted 15 Feb 1794

This post is part of a series about genealogy in France. You can read the complete series HERE.

Waldensians, known as the Poor men of Lyon were a religious movement from 12th Century which spread to the Alps of France and Italy, based on the religious teachings of Peter Waldo, a wealthy merchant who in 1173 gave away his property to preach apostolic poverty on the way to perfection.

Conflict with the Catholic church began and by 1215 followers of the faith were labelled as heretical, due to them failing to recognise the Prerogatives of the local Bishops over content and for failing to recognise and observe the standards of those who were fit to preach. Members were offered the chance to return to the Catholic faith, which some did, bearing the label of “poor Catholics”. Others did not and over the following Centuries many were persecuted.

In the 16th Century they were absorbed into the Protestant movement under the influence of an influential Swiss reformer, called Heinrich Bullinger. Aligning themselves with Protestantism, with the Resolution of Chanfaran on 12 September 1532, and formerly became part of the Calvinist tradition – members of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe.

During the 17th Century there were almost destroyed, through a series of conflicts between the Communities and the Savoyard military in the Dutchy of Savoy between 1655 and 1690, though to be fair these battles were with the church rather than militaristic. The Piedmontese Easter was the catalyst for the next series of events. It was reported in 1685, that there were about 15,000 Waldensians following the faith

In certain areas of Piedmont there was tolerance and freedom of beliefs which had been documented over centuries. These rights were threatened, indeed two specifically undermined the situation further:

  • Edict of 15 May 1650 redacting the agreed privileges.
  • Edict of 25 January 1655 which was a religious expulsion order

The order specified that every head of household with the individuals of that household, and of the religion, of every specific “rank” were not permitted to inhabit or possess property in  Lucerne, St. Giovanni, Bibiana, Campiglione, St. Secondo, Lucernetta, La Torre, Fenile and Bricherassio, and should, within three days of the publication of the order depart from the place, under pain of death, and confiscation of their homes and property, unless they returned to the Catholic faith.

Upon refusal, the government sent soldiers to plunder and destroy Waldensian homes and some 15,000 soldiers were garrisoned there. On 24 April 1655, Piedmont Easter, a massacre began. The slaughter of between 4,000 and 6,000 civilians which led to the Movement of refugees to the Valley of Perosa. Several states intervened – England, France, Germany and Protestant areas of Switzerland. On 18 August a peace treaty between Charles Emmanuel II and the Waldensians was issued, known as the Pirenolo Declaration of Mercy.

In 1685 King Louis XIV rescinded the Edict of Nantes and began purging the Waldensians, forcing some to convert to Catholicism. Fighting broke out again, a great many Waldensians were killed, their meagre forces crushed within days. The fighting did not stop there, more than 2,000 Waldensians were killed in later massacre’s, and 3,000 survivors, mostly children were forced to convert through baptisms and placed in Roman Catholic homes. A further 8,500 were incarcerated in a number of fortresses, and by the time of their release the number had dwindled to a little more than 3,840. A number fled to Switzerland or Germany during 1685-1687. Others were resettled by Catholic Savoyard Subjects from elsewhere in the summer of 1686 as part of a government colonialism scheme to confiscate and resell Waldensian homes.

On 17 September 1686 some Waldensians were granted a free pass to Switzerland, some prisoners released as were the forcibly converted children who returned to their families. Many Waldensians settled in Bradenburg, Wullemburg, Hesse and Palatine between 1687 and 1689. On 23 May 1694 the official annulment of the Edict of Persecution was undertaken followed by new legislation of Edict of Reintegration allowing Waldensians to live in their original place of residence. On 29 June 1696 in Savoy a separate peace deal with France was agreed, that some land originally promised could only be granted on the understanding that no Protestants were to reside there. All reformed Christians born in France would be expelled from the Dutchy of Savoy-Piedmont, which was swiftly followed on 1 July 1689 by an edict expelling French born Protestants from Savoy-Piedmont subjecting 3,000 Waldensians to leave the valleys within two months.

Map Courtesy of Wikipedia

This has been a whistle-stop view of the Waldensian turmoil, but in closing it is important to understand that whilst this is a post about France there are significant overlaps with Italy.

Borders were not as they are now, as this part of Italy was originally French. Movement to safety was undertaken by the Waldensians with them moving across Europe and further still in the 17th and 18th Centuries, to Argentina, Uruguay, and the United States. Some migration was direct, in other instances migration occurred in more than one stages. In some cases out of necessity, in other instances they were encouraged to migrate again with people they knew or perhaps met following the initial move. That is something that drives the focus on surnames with groups that have migrated.

About Julie Goucher

Genealogist, Author, Presenter, native Guildfordian, avid note taker and journal writer. Lover of Books, Stationery & History; Surnames, Butcher & Orlando One-Name Studies. Pharos Tutor for all One-Name Studies/surname courses as well as Researching Ancestors from Continental Europe.
This entry was posted in European Ancestors, France, Italy, Understanding France Series. Bookmark the permalink.

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