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  • Writer's picturejoyce hampton

Huguenots – departure, escape, capture and the galleys.

Leaving their homeland was often a sad and desperate decision to make. Once made, often the journey itself could be both difficult and extremely dangerous.

When Huguenots first decided to leave their homeland, they could and indeed did return to their homeland if, for example, they had originally lived in Normandy as England was assessable from that coastline. My own ancestor left his hometown of Luneray, Normandy and took ship to Dover in 1681, he then travelled to Canterbury. He settled there for a while before deciding to journey onto London. As he approached the capital via Blackfriars bridge, he stopped to mend his shoes before continuing his journey to Spitalfields an area where many Huguenots were beginning to live and work. He was for a while, still able to return to Normandy, to see his family and to conduct business there.

The Edict of Nantes had been signed by Henri IV in 1598 and had given Huguenots some freedom of worship but when Henri IV was assassinated in May 1610, his son Louis XIII was still a child, and his Catholic mother became Regent of France. He was undoubtedly influenced favourably towards the Catholic faith and so during his reign an erosion of the Edict of Nantes began. However, it was during the reign of his son Louis XIV that the Edict was revoked.

Leading up to the Revocation in 1685, many Huguenots had watched anxiously at the increased oppression towards the Huguenots. In 1681 a French government policy instituted by Louis XIV came into law and thus the feared Dragoons were formed. Their arrival and subsequent cruel treatment of Huguenots led to these raids becoming known as ‘Dragonnades.’

The account I am going to describe in this blog, is that of Jean Marteihle from Bergerac. His is a rare eye-witness account of galley life. In 1700 when the Due de la Force was given permission to ‘convert’ the local Huguenots: 22 dragoons were forcibly billeted with the Bergerac family; Jean’ father was imprisoned, and his mother tortured into signing a renunciation of her faith. Jean and his companion attempted to escape to Holland but were captured at the French frontier near Marienbourg and imprisoned in Tournay. Having been condemned to the galleys, the young men were held for several months in Lille. In January 1702, they were advised by the sympathetic prison governor to avoid the arduous march to Marseille by joining the last of the bands of convicts heading for Dunkirk where six galleys of the Atlantic fleet were based. They were given a wagon and spared the worst deprivations of the journey, but on arrival, they were assigned to the galleys: Marteihle served first on board Heureuse, then later on the flagship La Palme.

When Dunkirk was surrendered to the English in 1712, the galley slaves, including Marteihle were transferred to Marseille. Often, they were mistreated and frequently abused by the authorities. The men would be so stiff and tired from hours of toil, but they would still be chastised physically and dragged back to their chain. Many died whilst serving on the galleys.

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