Faced with oppression at home, many Huguenots decided to take the risk of fleeing to another Protestant country so that they could continue to practise the religion to which they had sworn allegiance – despite the fact that, if they were caught, the penalties were very great: sent to the Galley ships or imprisonment for life.

huguenot wine barrels
Wine Barrels

It is estimated that around 200,000 Huguenots left France and moved to neighbouring countries including Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany whilst others went to South Africa, America, Ireland and England.

Although the percentage of emigrants was small, the impact was large because those who left were often young and well qualified. Many were skilled craftsmen, whose talents were valued wherever they settled and whose absence damaged those industries in France.

Those leaving from the maritime regions to the north and west had a tendency to aim for England or Holland, while those in the east of the country attempted to cross the border into Germany or Switzerland.

One account of a family leaving by boat for England tells the story of small children hiding under the deck while they heard the sounds of the soldiers searching the vessel – who pushed their swords between the planks of the deck to try to pierce any fugitives who might be hiding below. But they were not discovered, and 11 hours later reached the port of Falmouth, England…..and safety.

  1. What could have happened to a Huguenot caught trying to leave the country?
  2. What percentage of the population of France did the flight of the Huguenots represent?
  3. Why were they so much missed by France?
  4. How did the place where the Huguenots lived affect the choice of where they fled?
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