England’s Indebtedness To The Huguenots

Before the 14th century, the people of England worked mainly in agricultural occupations. There were very few skilled trades and industries. For example, most clothing had to be imported from other countries, because even though the wool used to make it was from England, it had to be shipped to Flanders, France, and Germany to be dyed and manufactured. To remedy this, several successive kings of England, starting with Edward III, invited foreign craftsmen to come over into England. Some did, but there were many advantages to staying in their own countries, so they did not emigrate in large numbers.

In the early part of the 16th century, the Reformation under Luther took place, causing a complete revolution in religious opinions throughout Europe. Among those most closely linked with the Reformed faith were the people of the Netherlands and the Huguenots, or Protestants, of France.

The people of the Netherlands were under the dominion of Spain at that time. The king of Spain, Philip II, hated the Reformed faith and was determined to use any means possible to stamp it out among his subjects in the Netherlands. He sent a vast army under the command of the Duke of Alba to accomplish his design. Many fell victim to the cruelty of their persecutors, counting the Word of God and the privileges of the gospel much more precious than life. However, others prepared to leave the country, and with the previous invitations from England still extended, they fled there for asylum, where they were readily welcomed.

In France, somewhat similar scenes had taken place against the Huguenots, culminating at length in the terrible massacre of St. Bartholomew in August 1572. Worn out by continued persecution and desiring liberty of conscience in the worship of God, the Huguenots joined the refugees from the Netherlands, seeking refuge in England, then under the reign of Elizabeth. Here they settled in large numbers throughout the land, especially in the south.

Having settled down, the refugees began to pursue the callings which they had followed in their own country. Among them were cloth-makers from Antwerp and Bruges, lace-makers from Valenciennes, cambric-makers from Cambray, glass- workers from Paris, weavers from Meaux, merchants and tradesmen from Rouen, and shipwrights from Dieppe and Havre. Some, too, were millers, potters, smiths, brewers and hat-makers. Other industries brought to England by these men included the dyeing of fabrics, the manufacture of felts, the making of brass plates for culinary utensils, the manufacture of tapestry, the art of printing wallpapers, and the striping and flowering of silks and damasks; as well as skilled work in metals and the making of cutlery, jewellery, and mathematical instruments. They also revived gardening, with many of the grounds at Wandsworth, Battersea, and Bermondsey owing their origin to Flemish refugees.

In 1621, when a census was taken of the city of London, there were found to be 10,000 of the refugees in that city alone, carrying on 121 different trades. All of these were trades and industries which, prior to the coming of the foreign Protestants, were practically unknown in England.

The industries introduced in this way soon lifted England high among the nations, with the general results of abundant employment, cheap food, and great prosperity throughout what had been an impoverished kingdom at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign; “these blessings from God,” Bishop Parkhurst declaring, “having happened by reason of the godly exiles who were so kindly harboured there.”

Thus, we see England’s indebtedness, under God, to the Protestant refugees from France and the Netherlands. There was never a reason to regret admitting them to this country. Honest and God-fearing, they proved to be peaceful and law- abiding citizens. They had come to England in order that they might have liberty of conscience and freedom to worship God according to the teaching of His Word; and having this privilege granted them, they were quite content. Wherever they went, they formed themselves into congregations, having their own ministers to instruct them in the mysteries of the gospel.

B.A.W, Friendly Companion 1904 [adapted]

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