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The Huguenots: A Study of a Minority

J.B. Morrall explains the first hundred years in the history of the French Calvinists, whose loyalty to their faith led to civil turmoil in France.

It has often been argued that the Protestant Reformation marks the beginning of the process whereby the modern religiously neutral state was born. This may be true in a long-term sense; but, in its initial sixteenth and early seventeenth-century stages, the rise of European Protestantism led to a closer association of political with religious problems than had ever been the case before.

This was because the civil order and unity of each state now stood or fell according to the magnitude and intensity of its religious divisions. The familiar medieval problem of the justification of resistance to legitimate political authority was given a sharper edge by the Catholic-Protestant conflict, while the bloodiness of the religious strife caused a full programme of royal absolutism to appear to many as the only remedy for a desperate situation.

France provides the aptest illustration of this general European crisis. Countries like Germany, or the Netherlands, may have been ravaged by civil war longer and more intensely, but it is in France that the political consequences of the religious division may be seen most clearly. In that country stands out in bolder relief than elsewhere the conflict between a resolute revolutionary minority, utilizing centrifugal regional and class interests, and a growingly absolutist monarchy, supported by the traditionalist majority of the nation.

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