Sunday, 3 March 2019

My Huguenot ancestors

Refugees play a major role in my book 'De Batavier', which will be published in two weeks' time. In all the political bickering about refugees we would almost forget how many born and bred 'real' Dutch people are descended from, as they are called today, 'migrants'. Some sources mention huge percentages of foreigners in 17th century Dutch cities: French, Polish and Germans as well as Portuguese and German Jews.

I also am a refugee. More precisely, I am descended from refugees.

In 1610 Jean Polet and his wife Marie Baisseur left Tourcoing on the border between France and the Spanish Netherlands with their children, bound for Leiden in the Dutch Republic. I do not know about their journey, nor of the dangers they had to endure. They were French Protestants, Huguenots fleeing persecution by the then French state. Either that, or they were simply economic migrants - the truth is hard to determine after 400 years. However, Tourcoing and Lille did not belong to the places de sûreté in which the Huguenots, according to the Edict of Nantes of 1598, knew self-government and security. The Spanish Netherlands, through which they had to travel north, were equally unsafe for the family.

Throughout the 17th century, French Protestants would flee their country as Cardinal Richelieu and his successor De Mazarin gradually stepped up persecution. In 1685 Protestantism was declared illegal by Louis XIV in the Edict of Fontainebleau. The destination of this migration wave? The Republic of the Netherlands, Württemberg, Brandenburg, Prussia, Switzerland, England, eventually even the Cape Colony. The estimates range from 200,000 to half a million displaced people.

Persecution of Huguenots in La Rochelle, 1661
Image from Wikipedia

Interestingly, the Dutch Republic, which initially received the Huguenots with open arms because they brought with them money, knowledge and activity, and also strengthened the rather strict Calvinist church of the 17th century, eventually began to impose more restrictions. This had a political and economic background: some of the more liberal-minded authorities didn’t like the stiff-necked Calvinists, and in addition, financial guarantees were increasingly demanded of the newcomers. In that sense, the attitude towards refugees has changed little in four centuries. 

An interesting article about the Huguenots can be found on Wikipedia.

Jean and Marie Polet had five children. In 1608 their son Jacques was born in Tourcoing, who would later succeed his father in his small business as a fuller on the Vollersgracht in Leiden. Jacques Polet and his wife Judith Carette (also of French descent) are my ancestors, through their son Anthoine, born 1645.

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