The Edict of Fontainebleau, 1685

My least favorite thing about Fontainebleau is that this is where Louis XIV promulgated his infamous Edict of Fontainebleau on October 22, 1685, ordering relentless and brutal persecution of the Protestant minority in France.

He prefaced this edict with a few kind words for his grandfather, Henri IV, “King Henry the Great, our grandfather of glorious memory”, but then proceeded to revoke his grandfather’s Edict of Nantes from 87 years earlier.

In his Edict of Nantes, the ex-Huguenot Henri IV had granted the French Protestants (Huguenots) a degree of political and religious freedom, at least in the areas where they mainly lived, thus ending the internal wars of religion that had been going on for well over a century. Henri IV’s son, Louis XIII, confirmed this tolerant tendency in his Edict of Nimes in 1629. But in the first article of his Edict of Fontainebleau, Louis XIV wrote:

“Be it known that for these causes and others us hereunto moving, and of our certain knowledge, full power, and royal authority, we have, by this present perpetual and irrevocable edict, suppressed and revoked, and do suppress and revoke, the edict of our said grandfather, given at Nantes in April, 1598, in its whole extent, together with the particular articles agreed upon in the month of May following, and the letters patent issued upon the same date; and also the edict given at Nimes in July, 1629; we declare them null and void, together with all concessions, of whatever nature they may be, made by them as well as by other edicts, declarations, and orders, in favor of the said persons of the R.P.R., the which shall remain in like manner as if they had never been granted ; and in consequence we desire, and it is our pleasure, that all the temples of those of the said R.P.R. situated in our kingdom, countries, territories, and the lordships under our crown, shall be demolished without delay.” (Quoted from the Internet Modern History Sourcebook)

By “R.P.R.” he meant Religion prétendue réformée, meaning the “so-called reformed religion”.

In the palace of Fontainebleau

Louis XIV signed the Edict of Fontainebleau in the office of his second wife, Françoise d’Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon, in fact probably at her desk. This circumstance lent credence to the rumor that she was the one who had talked him into persecuting the Protestants — a rumor that is still repeated to this day, for instance on at least one Wikipedia page.

But modern scholars who have studied the primary sources consider this to be a legend which has long since been disproved. Françoise Chandernagor writes (in her notes on page 821 of L’allée du Roi) that “in fact, no contemporary historian attributes to Madame de Maintenon the slightest role in this matter.” They tend to lay the blame on Louis XIV himself, who was enough of a religious bigot to persecute heretics on his own initiative, and on his confessor, François de la Chaise (for whom the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris was later named) and especially on his war minister the Marquis of Louvois.

Book by Hervé Le Tellier

I recently came across a reference to this in an unlikely place, namely in a humorous book by a modern French author named Hervé Le Tellier. In his book Les amnésiques n’ont rien vécu d’inoubliable (The amnesiacs haven’t experienced anything unforgettable), Le Tellier writes:

“I am thinking I have the same name as the bastard who revoked the Edict of Nantes, and whom people have fortunately forgotten, otherwise it would be like being called Hitler.” (page 178)

This is a reference to the war minister Louvois, whose full name was François Michel Le Tellier, Marquis de Louvois (1641–1691), in other words “Le Tellier” was his family name.

One of the ‘small apartments’ in the palace of Fontainebleau

None of my photos in this post show the room where the Edict of Fontainebleau was actually signed. The photos show the “small apartments” with furniture from the nineteenth century, since all the earlier furniture was removed and dispersed (or destroyed) during the French Revolution.

By the way, Louis XIV was not the first French king to issue an Edict of Fontainebleau ordering persecution of the Huguenots. 145 years earlier, in the year 1540, the then-king François I issued his own Edict of Fontainebleau which described the Protestant religion as “high treason against God and mankind”, to be punished by torture, loss of property, public humiliation and death.

My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2018.

See also: A new home for the Huguenots, about one of the many places
where the Huguenots settled to escape religious persecution in France.

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