Henri de Bourbon was crowned King of Navarre on 9 June 1572 at the death of his mother Queen Jeanne III. Baptised a catholic but raised a protestant he was acutely aware of the suffering during the French Wars of Religion and only narrowly escaped assassination in the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. More than 3,000 Huguenot Protestants were murdered in Paris and up to 70,000 more as the massacre spread across France. Henri enacted the Edict of Nantes in 1598 to grant the French Protestants the right to practise their religion anywhere in France except for Paris and the wars finally came to an end after 36 years. Not before many thousands more were forced to abandon their homes and possessions to flee for their lives to protestant countries.
Image: Miniature portrait of Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard 1572. Image courtesy of Sarah Jane Downing Collection.
Queen Elizabeth I welcomed the Huguenot Protestants with open arms. It made a powerful political and religious statement to predominantly Catholic Europe, and it was a wonderful opportunity to add new skills to the British repertoire. England had been renowned for fine woollens since the medieval era, but was not very up to date with the ‘new draperies’ the light woollen blends that were the speciality of Holland and France and they had to be imported at considerable expense.
Image: Huguenot Lovers on St Bartholomew's Day by J E Millais. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The arrival of the ‘Artisan Strangers’ brought new skills and techniques to the worsted industry and introduced a selection of new fabrics including, russels, darnick, tuff mockado, lace, caffa, fringe, Walloon tufted fabrics, and changeable silks. These helped to bring a new age of prosperity as Britain began to develop a prodigious export trade in fabrics and finished goods.
Equally the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 brought another influx of refugees and their valuable new skills. Thousands more Huguenot Protestants were forced to flee persecution and again were invited to settle in Britain so long as they would generously share their skills and undertake to educate a generation of apprentices with their skills including the art of lustriating silks to create lutestring, the creation of grosgrain ribbon, and velvety moleskin.
Image: Dress of Spitalfields silk. Image courtesy of Alamy.
Read more in my series of Textile Towns (click on the link to read the full article) especially Spitalfields in Selvedge issue 99 and my series of Fabric Swatches (click on the link to read the full article) especially Lutestring Silk in Selvedge issue 91.