Historiographical Asessment of "Huguenot Heartland: Montauban and Southern French Calvinism During the Wars of Religion" by Philip Conner

Topics: French Wars of Religion, Calvinism, St. Bartholomew's Day massacre Pages: 8 (2543 words) Published: October 22, 2008
Huguenot Heartland
Montauban and Southern French Calvinism during the Wars of Religion by Philip Conner

The book I am presenting here is 'Huguenot Heartland: Montauban and Southern French Calvinism during the Wars of Religion', by Philip Conner

As the title suggests, this book deals with the rapid spread and influence of Calvinism in Southern France. The real focus is on the Midi-Region, and particularly the importance of the city of Montauban.

The motivation of the author to talk about this specific subject is explained on page 4, I quote:

“It seems somewhat perverse that most studies of French Calvinism have focused on Northern France where Calvinism ultimately failed, whereas in the South, the Huguenot movement achieved a position of dominance that was not so easily relinquished.”

The author's critique on the historiography of the French Wars of Religion is clearly that he thinks that the importance of the Huguenot movement in the South of France has been neglected. He also thinks this omission is all the more striking because of the Calvinist longevity in the South, which far surpassed that of the North.

Also, in his eyes the apparent negligence in historiography for the importance of the city of Montauban itself is unjust, I quote:

“Nevertheless it seems preposterous that these Southern Huguenot strongholds continue to go unnoticed in the literature, particularly in Montauban's case which boasted, as we have already seen, one of the largest concentrations of Protestant strength in the whole of France”

The author also suggests three possible explanations for this apparent discrepancy:

IThe City of Montauban today is relatively unimportant. Even though it is the capital of the département Tarn-et-Garonne, its close proximity to Toulouse makes it relatively obscure. Toulouse lies 50 kilometers south of Montauban, and is the captial of the whole region, and the largest city in a wide radius.

IIThe City of Montauban has also always been the smaller one between the other Southern Huguenot strongholds. Cities like Nîmes, Montpellier and La Rochelle were giants in comparison to Montauban with its mere 12.000 inhabitants in the 1560's.

IIIThe relative lack in archives makes the city less alluring for historians. A city like Nîmes quickly outshines Montauban thanks to its abundance in civic and ecclesiastical documentation.

IVAs a fourth reason I would add the relative unimportance of the city. The city had an undeniably pivotal role in its immediate area, but it rarely was directly involved on the national level. Only once did the city send troops outside its region. In the Midi area Montauban was all the more important.

To understand the politics of Montauban you would need to know the dealings of the major political bodies in the town. In Montauban, this consisted of three bodies: 1: The Consulate, who actually governed the town

2: The Seneschal Court, the royal representation
3: The Consistory: this is a council of elders and deacons of the congregation (in this case, the calvinists of Montauban). Even though this is actually a ecclesiastical body, it also wielded significant political influence in the city, as the author points out.

But, as mentioned before, the survival of the documents of these bodies are very rare. The minutes of the town council for example are largely missing for the time prior to the year 1581. This is very sorry loss, for the three preceding decennia were arguably the most important ones. In this relatively short period of time, there was a wave of calvinist fervour sweeping the land. Because of this lack it is difficult to see how the town initally reacted to these turbulent times, and it would also have shown how it transformed itself in a very short period of time to a bastion of devout calvinism. Another potentially influential source, the records of the consistory, are only there for the years 1595-1598, which is another blow to a...
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