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This week we’re exploring the arrival of Huguenots to England in Shakespeare’s lifetime. During Catherine de Medici’s reign as Queen consort in France, the country was anything but hospitable to Protestants. The St. Bartholomew Day’s Massacre in the late 16th century saw thousands of Huguenots rounded up and slaughtered. That was only one event where Huguenots were proven unwelcome, and in danger, to remain in France. Throughout the reigns of Edward VI, Elizabeth I, and on into the 18th century reigns of James II, and beyond, England as a Protestant nation became a safe haven for refugee French Calvinists. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, the impact of the arrival of Huguenots seems to have been significant, with Shakespeare writing about “strangers” over 70 times across his works, often using the term to describe someone from another country, who may not speak English, and is simultaneously in need of a welcome, and to be viewed with necessary suspicion. We see plays like Hamlet extending a hand of friendship when Hamlet says in Act I “And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.” And yet, in Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act V, Rosalind being much less accommodating, saying, “Since you are strangers and come here by chance, We’ll not be nice“ While these references could refer to any international Immigrant, many believe that Shakespeare commented directly on the plight of the Huguenots from France, with one impassioned speech about how to treat so called Strangers, that is given in the historical play Sir Thomas More. Furthermore, we know that William Shakespeare had direct personal connections to Huguenots, having lived for a time as a lodger in London with Christopher and Mary Mountjoy, a French Huguenot couple. Here today to tell us more about the plight of refugee French Calvinists in the life of William Shakespeare is our guest and Fellow of the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland, Joyce Hampton.  

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Joyce Hampton is author of two books the second being a comprehensive history of the Huguenots. She is currently writing her third book, also on Huguenot history, that will tell the stories of the lives of several Huguenot women. Joyce is a member of the Huguenot Society of Great Britain and Ireland,  serving on the Council there,  and works with the President and Vice President of the Huguenot Society to raise awareness of and stimulate interest in, the Huguenots and the Society.

I’ll be asking Joyce Hampton about:

  • At what volume were Huguenots coming to England in the mid 16th, early 17th centuries?
  • Are the Huguenots the reason that the word “refugee” came to be a part of the English language?  
  • What was the opinion in England about this influx of French refugees to this country? How were Huguenots received?
  • …and more!

Devil land by Clare Jackson, begins in the year 1588, during the reign of Elizabeth I and continues through an immense century of change, throughout the Stuart dynasty and Cromwell, onto William III, 1688. The book includes some very useful information regarding Huguenots.  

Catherine de Medici, by Leonie Freida, covers the life of Catherine but significantly includes the reigns of each of her sons during the Wars of Religion, which is an overview of the Huguenot history from that perspective.  

“He must think us some band of strangers i’ the adversary’s entertainment.”

— Alls Well That Ends Well (IV.1)

Edward VI granting letters patent dated July 24, 1550, for the foundation of the Strangers’ Church in London, of which the celebrated John A. Lasco was made Superintendent | Wellcome Images | This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. | Source

Huguenots Coming to England in Droves

Huguenots were Protestants in France following the teachings of John Calvin, who were fleeing their home country due to intense religious persecution. France was Catholic and actively rounding up and murdering French Protestants. As the Huguenots fled, they landed in countries such as England where the overall religious climate was more hospitable. They set up new lives in their new countries where they could enjoy religious freedom.

Huguenots coming to England is a reason the word “refugee” exists in the modern English language. “Although no one is certain as to the exact origins of the name, [Huguenots] many believe the term to have originated from German or Flemish phrases describing the act of personal worship at home.” (Source)

Huguenots were largely well received in England, where both the people and the government were keen to welcome a skilled workforce. While the skills of the Huguenots were impressive and useful, there was some resentment from established business owners in England.

For example – “1593—resentment did occur. “The capital’s businessmen and traders felt threatened by the foreigners presenting competition to business and industry. They organized petitions and lobbied parliament for protection. According to the book The Lodger, Shakespeare on Silver Street by Charles Nicholl, the London traders were grieved at the great number of strangers settling amongst us. Especially the merchants and handicraftsmen, but having said all that, overall they were welcomed because they were Protestants, and the mid16th-18th century there was a persistent fear in England for the agendas of the European catholic powers. The government had viewed the influx as a mixed bag, some good and some bad, so they wanted to keep tabs on the Huguenots, but at the same time, they were happy to accept the benefits of the wealth they were bringing to their new land of adoption. In this era, most men and women in France and England were agriculturally based in rural occupations.”

Description de l’étendue approximative des territoires controlés par la noblesse huguenotte (calviniste/réformée) et la noblesse catholique, ainsi que de leurs territoires mutuellement contestés, pendant les Guerres de Religion (1562-1598). La partie à majorité luthérienne (concentrée en Alsace germanophone, en Moselle germanophone et autour de Montbéliard) appartenait au Saint Empire Romain à l’époque. | English Translation: Description of the approximate extent of the territories controlled by the Huguenot nobility (Calvinist/Reformed) and the Catholic nobility, as well as their mutually disputed territories, during the Wars of Religion (1562-1598). The Lutheran-majority part (concentrated in German-speaking Alsace, German-speaking Moselle and around Montbéliard) belonged to the Holy Roman Empire at the time. | Created by wikimedia user Ernio48 | This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. | Source

Key for the map shown here. First in French, then a translation in English is provided below. Translation by Cassidy Cash.

“Religion groans at it.”

— Timon of Athens (III.2)

Shakespeare living with Huguenot Family the Mountjoys

We know that Christopher and Mary Mountjoy were a Huguenot family living on Silver Street in London, because we have records of William Shakespeare living with them as a lodger from 1602-1604. Joyce explains the evidence of the Mountjoy family is consistent with what we know about Huguenot families—they often lived in the buildings where they worked as craftsmen or businessmen.

[The Mounjoys are] a good example of one of the things they did. Richard Field, was the second husband of a Huguenot book binder, Jaqueline Vautrollier —Richard had served an apprenticeship with Thomas Vautrollier and was later commissioned by Shakespeare to print Venus and Adonis and other earlier works… this was a good means of income whether indigenous or a stranger. Printing and publishing was taking off at this time. William De Laune purchased a tenement in Blackfriars, London in 1593 parts were then leased to other Huguenots. There were Englishmen as well who leased property, but many setup their business in the trade they were trained in, living and working in the property. Willam’s son, Gideon, trained as an apothecary and led a movement to create the Guild of Apothecaries, incorporated 6 Dec 1617, known as The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries 

Images reproduced by permission of The National Archives, London, England. Terms of use: The National Archives give no warranty as to the accuracy, completeness or fitness for the purpose of the information provided. Images may be used only for purposes of research, private study or education.  Applications for any other use should be made to The National Archives Image Library, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU, Tel: 020 8392 5225   Fax: 020 8392 5266. | Document-specific information | Creator: Court of Requests
Title: Interrogatories and depositions in Belott v Mountjoy, on behalf of Stephen Belott [including that made by William Shakespeare] | Date: May 11, 1612 | Repository: The National Archives, Kew, UK
Call number and opening: REQ 4/1/4/1 | Source

“A noble troop of strangers; For so they seem: they’ve left their barge and landed; And hither make, as great ambassadors From foreign princes.”

— Henry VIII (I.4)

Massacre_de_Vassy_1562, beginning of the War of Religion| Public Domain | Source

Huguenots Compared to English Protestants

Huguenot religion was Protestant, but there were some differences in worship. The Huguenots practiced personal worship at home, for example, rather than in a grand cathedral. Joyce explains that while there was some separation between the practice of the Huguenot religion and traditional English Protestants, there was largely little to no friction.

Huguenots and the established Church of England largely shared the Calvinist theory: they both rejected icons, images and relics in churches. However, the English church was governed by bishops operating under the crown. Huguenots had a less hierarchal system of regional synods, ministers, and lay elders. The other difference is that the English Book of Common Prayer incorporated medieval church liturgy.  

“What would these strangers? know their minds, Boyet: If they do speak our language,’tis our will: That some plain man recount their purposes Know what they would.”

— Love’s Labour’s Lost (V.2)

January 1588, “Horrible cruelties of the Huguenots in France: Has. At Cléry, after having devastated the interior of the church and plundered all that it contained precious, both relics and other objects used for worship, they broke the tomb of the king of France Louis, eleventh of the name, and burned his bones, as if they wanted to erase forever his memory. Elsewhere they did not even spare the ancestors of the King of Navarre their leader (so full of inhumanity are they); nor likewise the burial place of Count Jean d’Angoulême, a man of very good and holy life. B. In a village called Pat, six or seven miles from Orleans, twenty-five Catholics pursued by these madmen, finding no other place of retreat, took refuge in the church. Of this number were some children who, in order to save themselves, climbed into the bell tower. But the enemies having set fire to the church, these poor children, constrained by the flame that won them and the smoke that choked them, rushed downstairs; and, falling into the clutches of these cruel tigers, were thrown into the fire where they ended their days. C. Several priests were tied up with halters, and dragged behind the horses. The rage of the wicked does not let us rest The sacred bones of the saints at the enclosed sepulchers. They envy the dead supreme tributes, Believing to delight their glory with their bones, Kings and lords throw ashes to the winds. Without mercy or thanks for their very monarchs.”| Translated by Cassidy Cash | Image Public Domain | Source

Huguenots Travel to the New World in search of Religious Freedom

Along with the Pilgrims and Puritans who sought to establish new settlements in North America where they could practice their religion in peace, the Huguenots were attracted by this offer of freedom as well. Their skills at trades and crafts made them additionally attractive to the voyagers who could benefit from their talents in the establishment of a new colony.

They were keen to forge a new beginning in places like Virginia. There had been attempts to settle in America before the 1620s, but they were unsuccessful. They were not only interested in the freedom of worship, but Virginia offered a mild climate and rich soil, which are great for vine planting and growing wine.  

The Huguenots were known for their specific skills as well as for their religion. One of their most recognizable skills associated with Huguenots (similar to how high quality furniture is associated with the Amish) was both silk weaving and wine making.

The Huguenots were known for their specific skills as well as for their religion. Two of the most recognizable skills associated with Huguenots (similar to how high quality furniture is associated with the Amish) was both silk weaving and wine making. 

They were highly skilled silk weavers and people often say ‘Oh, silk weavers’, but they were also silversmiths, watch/clock makers, jewelers, furniture makers and skilled in many other trades. All these things would create  high-value products, much sought after by wealthy members of society. And not only in England, these products would also be exported, adding to the wealth of their country of adoption through taxes. They were also found in the army, navy, and some came over as teachers or doctors, but those who left for the American colonies were keen to try their hand at clearing and settling virgin territory.  


French Huguenot couple who sailed on the Mayflower. “It is supposed that the Mohnes family were Walloonsor French Huguenots. William Molines and his daughter Priscilla, (afterwards wife of John Alden), and Philip De laNoye and others re-mained in Leyden. That is when the French Huguenots went to Guiana. After this they went to England and joined the Pilgrims there. They embarked in the Speed-well, but in the readjustment of the passengers after the ship Speedwell gave out, we find them in the May-flower. William Mullins and his wife” The image is not clearly identified. I am assuming it is of Gilbert and Evelina Ruggles, or possibly William Mullins and his wife, or even of William Molines and his daughter. Again, the image does not make that clear.| Public Domain | Source

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That’s it for this week! Thank you for listening. I’m Cassidy Cash, and I hope you learn something new about the bard. I’ll see you next time!