Lehaucourt: The Reformed Church at St. Quentin

The Edict of Nantes and its effect on the Huguenot community around Saint-Quentin, France

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Henri IV enacted the Edict of Nantes in April 1598, which was recorded by the Parliament of Picardy only on the 25th of February the following year. The Edict gave to every Lord upholding the law or possessing full estate ownership and coat of arms, the right to exercise his religion and to hold religious meetings in his house or estate, provided that it was his principal residence.

If this lord was absent, the religious assemblies could take place only if his wife or her family were present. In the other houses of his estate which did not conform, the practice would be lawful for the family only (except for baptisms and visits of friends and others), provided that these houses were not in a city belonging to a well-to-do (senior) Catholic lord, or unless it would be with his permission. Furthermore, in each district or government jurisdiction, there was provision for a place of public worship (article XI).

There were three commissioners, instructed by the king, to enforce the edict in Picardy. These "edict commissioners" were Chaulnes, Longrenier and Jeannyn. However the Protestants, after having put in a request to King Henri IV, did not wait for the registration of the edict before resuming their religious exercise in Catelet.

From the end of 1598 to 1599, several pastoral acts were found on the registers of Catelet. Despite the capture of the fortress by the Spaniards the pastoral documents were miraculously preserved. The minister at that time was Jehan Duperche, but other ministers also appear on certain acts. (Jacques de Veines, minister at Crépy or Zacharie Richard, minister of Loeuilly). The Protestants wanted to keep their place of worship in Catelet, but they received no permission. It was rejected because the place was not very safe - which was true - since it likely would fall into enemy hands again. They came to realize that Haucourt was in a much better location. Moreover, it was only two miles away from Saint-Quentin, via the old road known as the 'forbidden road' (or 'the way of exiles'). It also happened to be close to Bohain, where many original Spanish heretics from Cambrésis had taken refuge, welcomed by the reformed people in Thiérache. Minister Duperche then discontinued the religious service in Catelet to practice it in Haucourt. He had to remain in Bohain, however, because he was not permitted to live in Saint Quentin. Indeed, the magistrates of the city always regarded those of the new religion with much mistrust. Therefore they enacted a law as of March 31, 1599 prohibiting foreigners from residing in the city without permission of its magistrates. In practice, permission was granted to refugees who could bring wealth and profit to the city, while others were repelled.

From 1601 to 1607, David Richier was the Minister of Haucourt. More spoiled than his predecessor, he obtained the right to stay in Saint-Quentin with his wife, Marguerite Gellé. However, the inhabitants of Saint-Quentin remained very opposed to the Huguenots. In December 1602, they sent a remonstrance to the king. They accused those of the R.P.R. (alleged reformed religion, or reformed protestant religion) of doing big business in linen, enriching themselves and of buying buildings where they used displaced labourers who had come from the other side of the border. They underscored the danger represented by these foreigners of whom some could be "dangerous spies". Henri IV gave them little credence, reminding them that the laws had to apply to all, whatever their religion.

The authorities of Saint-Quentin also harrassed Nicolas Philippe, a Huguenot who had received his brother, his daughter, and her son-in-law at his home without the required permission. Philippe, moreover, was shown to have held assemblies at his place and to have sung Psalms aloud, to the great dismay of his neighbors. Nicolas Philippe appealed to Parliament which threw out the case by simply deferring it.

In any case, in spite of the edict of Nantes, the hour of reconciliation had not yet come. Catholics, including officers of the king and other people, did not miss an opportunity to harass those of the new religion. For instance, they charged into their conferences simply to disrupt their deliberations.

After Richier, Pastor Duval came to maintain the Church of Haucourt, from June 1607 to 1610. His successor, Pastor Pierre Brisbar, and several co-religionists sent a request to the "commissioners of the edict", asking permission to conduct their worship in the suburbs of Saint-Quentin and to open a school for the Protestant children. Questioned by the commissioners, the authorities of Saint-Quentin were not in the least impressed. Not only did they seek to oppose their requests, but they used them to attack the Protestants on another point of contention: it concerned burials. The magistrates of Saint-Quentin required the Protestants to bury their dead without large assemblies and they were also subject to authorization as to the hour of burial.

The commissioners then began giving the reasons to the Saint-Quentinois magistrates on this last point... As for the request to conduct worship services in the suburbs and the creation of the school, the authorities intervened with his Majesty the Viscount of Auchy, governor of Saint-Quentin, and nothing was granted to the Protestants.

Brisbar's tenure lasted until about 1617, after which no trace of his signature could be found in the pastoral documents of Haucourt.

In 1623, Isaac de Juigné remained only a few months as pastor of the Church of Saint-Quentin and was replaced shortly thereafter by Jean Mettayer . Vexations increased. In 1630 a lawsuit was brought against Josué Bertin, a Huguenot tailor, for having used his scissors on the last day of the Our-Lady! A few years later, Marie Warquin was condemned for having opened a butter shop on the isle of Saint-Quentin, a sacred place where the body of a martyred patron saint of the city had been found.

Indeed, political turmoil would not bypass the worried reformed of Vermandois. Richelieu had declared war on the house of Austria and broken with the Spaniards. As the exercise of reformed worship in Haucourt seemed likely to be curtailed, it was necessary to seek another place of worship. Because of this, lord Robert de Saint-Delys, knight, baron de Heucourt, lord high-dispenser of justice of Heucourt, Urvillers and other places, resorting to the provisions of the edict of Nantes in 1636, declared his lordly house in Urvillers, to be his principal residence in which he intended to conduct the Reformed Protestant Religion services. Current events gave him justification: the brother of the King of Spain, governor of the Netherlands, had invaded Picardy, Thiérache, Vermandois, Santerre, Amiénois and Ponthieu. His troops, made up of Polish, Hungarian and Croatian mercenaries, had a terrifying aspect: they had been made even more savage by the non-payment of their wages. Therefore they readily massacred, plundered, burned, and violated. The miserable survivors took refuge in the many underground cellars in the area, dying of hunger and disease. Haucourt, along with a number of other villages, was torched and destroyed. Once again the precious registers of the Church, undoubtedly carefully hidden, were preserved.

It is unknown whether any religious service was conducted as envisaged by Robert de Saint-Delys. The latter was accused, doubtless wrongly, of treason and condemned to death. His possessions were confiscated and he was decapitated in front of the citadel of Amiens on September 11, 1638, thereby eliminating a Huguenot lord regarded as too active. Apparently, on the other hand, parochial acts were practised in Villers-Saint-Christophe, an old Calvinist locality for nearly one century where a satellite of the Church of Saint-Quentin had been established.

At the beginning of the year 1641, worship and parochial acts could take place at the castle of Pommery, which Madam de Barisy, a faithful follower of the reformed religion, had made available. Respectful of the edicts, Madam de Barisy had two years earlier officially informed the officers of the king of her intention to accomodate their co-religionists. She had made all the necessary formalities at the clerk's office. However, the first meetings had hardly taken place when the opposition increased. Madam de Barisy was challenged for being in violation of the rules. It was pointed out that she did not live there, but in fact resided in Saint-Quentin. In addition, Pommery was not the stronghold of Haubert. The fear was that, the house being isolated on the other side of the Somme, enemies could take it under pretext of going to the worship services. Once there, they were in a position to invade Saint-Quentin. All these attacks bore fruit; fifteen days had not passed that the administrator officer of justice prohibited reformed religious services from being conducted at Pommery. Moreover, he declared that the Protestants could resume their religious services at the place "intended for this purpose", that is to say, in Haucourt. But the temple had been demolished during the war four years previously, so on advice of the king, the Huguenots pressed their claim to resume worship services at Pommery. However, six months later the Council still hadn't made a decision. Just under two years later a favourable opinion was finally returned and worship services in Pommery resumed in December, 1643.

Unfortunately the problems were not over. Indeed, Madam de Barisy died in February 1646 and the heirs to Pommery (staunch Catholics), requested that the reformed people vacate their premises. Nevertheless they were allowed to remain in Pommery until 1650.

However it was essential to find another place for the religious assemblies. The Huguenots instructed their deputy general to intervene with the king and, finally, the latter ordered the lieutenant-general of Saint-Quentin to settle the matter (by an arbitrary warrant dated May 16, 1653). Things continued to drag on and some four years passed before the administrative officer (intendant) designated the village of Dallon. Upon learning of this decision, Pastor Jean Mettayer was dismayed: he didn't want anything to do with this place! The Huguenots had awaited an answer for so long that they had time to think over the problem and they had other views!

Indeed, the Church of Saint-Quentin owned a small piece of property in Haucourt inherited from Madam de Barisy. The church also had a considerable sum coming from various donations. Put together, the church intended to acquire some property to enlarge the parcel left to them by Madam de Barisy. Thus the Church hoped that its assemblies would take place in Haucourt and not in Dallon. Supported by the seniors of the church, Louis Crommelin and Jean Mettayer used the same arguments which had been advanced against them by adversaries in an earlier project: it was pointed out that Dallon was located in close proximity to Saint-Quentin and could be easily taken by enemies, presenting a real danger to the city! This objection was undoubtedly taken into account because the Dallon project was abandoned.

The treaty of Pyrenees was signed in November 1659, putting an end to the war against Spain. The moment seemed more favourable to begin construction of a new temple to which a consistorial house (manse) would be added. Construction of a temporary building began, that is a barn, in the garden of the Lord of Le Haucourt. At this time the Church of Saint-Quentin acquired by a legal agreement dated January 20th, 1662 before M. Langellerie, royal notary at Saint-Quentin, the property adjoining the small heritage left by Madam de Barisy, all of it located near the site of the old temple destroyed during the war.

The work began. However, the bishop of Noyon saw the church rise with anger. He soon put forward arguments intended to stop the construction. 'This work was contrary to edicts and proscriptions; the site was in view of the parochial Roman Catholic Church and within earshot of the reformed sermons!' In view of these charges, the king ordered a suspension and "to get back to the parties within a month". Complications followed. To begin with, City hall barred the Huguenots from the marketplace and the roads leading to Le Haucourt. The Protestants complained to the baillif who told them to appeal elsewhere.

The magistrates of Saint-Quentin then intervened in the controversy which pitted the Huguenots against the Bishop who had asked for a complete halt to the construction. They claimed that the reformers were determined to build a fortress to lay seige to Saint-Quentin. Then, driven by jealousy and intolerance, they added: "...and then we will see them like a sort of army - those in coaches, others in carts, others on horseback, crossing the whole city. Inevitably incidents will occur in a city where everyone is polarized on matters of religion and made worse by the fact that those of the reformed faith display greater wealth being merchants who have established silk and linen factories and a linen trade with the Dutch. Besides, there is no more need to drive a coach in the city than there is to dress in fine garb in order to hear a sermon. This would only inflame the people who beheld this kind of pageantry and empty display, etc."

It was not until the end of 1662 that a decision was made. The Parliament directed the Protestants to behave more modestly and not to begin their sermon until the end of the mass. If certain conditions were met (limited size of the church, no bell or bell tower to be added), construction would be allowed to resume. However the bishop of Noyon, whose humor did not improve by seeing the walls going up, was waiting with new attacks against the clergymen. He got wind of what the minister Jean Métayer preached, not only in his main place of worship, but also in their chapels. Now, by a declaration made in December 1634, Louis XIII forbade ministers of the reformed Protestant religion "from preaching any sermon or conducting services outside their own residence". When this edict was confirmed by Louis XIV in October 1664, while the Temple was still under construction, the bishop found the opportunity to take revenge and denounced the minister.

For their part, the reformed folk, confiding in the justice of their king, sent a request to his minister Colbert. They complained about all the humiliations which they had experienced by the authorities of Saint-Quentin. They complained that they were being treated like spies, some being hounded out of the city, and being made to pay higher taxes than the other inhabitants. Some were also forced to accommodate soldiers free of charge (draggonades) while other landlords were entitled to compensation. Colbert studied the problem. He took nearly two years to respond and, in a genuine concern for justice, ordered the authorities of Saint-Quentin to distribute officers of the king impartially among the inhabitants, irrespective of the religion of the landlord. A summation addressed three months later by the authors of the request to the mayor and aldermen of the city shows that, in spite of the orders by Colbert, the authorities of the inhabitants of Saint-Quentin continued to act as before, at least for a time...

After the end of its construction, the church of Le Haucourt finally gave the Huguenots an appropriate place for practicing their religion. But, to go from Saint-Quentin to Haucourt, the road was long; it was necessary to travel eight kilometers! Those who went on foot took a road called 'the road of the exiles'. It took them two good hours of travelling through ruts and quagmires and as much time to return... To go there in by cart, it was necessary to take a road more suitable for carriages, which required a detour.

The extent of the parish coincided somewhat with that of Vermandois in the 17th century. It probably encompassed the cantons of Catelet, Bohain, Vermand, Saint-Quentin and Saint-Simon, a portion of the canton of Guise located on the right bank of the Oise, almost all of the canton of Moy in Aisne, a portion of the cantons of Ham and Roisel in the Somme, the villages of Villers-Outréaux, Malincourt, and others in the North.

On February 7, 1668, the church of Saint-Quentin had the misfortune of losing its reverend Jean Mettayer. He had devoted his heart and soul to his congregation. The 26 heads of the parish kindly requested the synod of Charenton to appoint his son Samuel Mettayer to succeed him. In actuality, the synod had already named Samuel Mettayer eight years earlier as a pastor attached to the church of Saint-Quentin, but the authorities of the city had never recognized him until then, under the pretext that the laws only allowed for one minister per parish. On top of that, he was required to pay taxes, something which clergymen were normally exempt from...

The continual harrassment and the varied difficulties imposed on the reformed people eventually bore fruit. In 1670, ten of them had sent a request to the authorities of the city for permission to form a corporation of linen merchants in association with some Catholic merchants. Tired and doubtful of a better future, they declared that they had rejoined the Roman Catholic religion. In desperation, it was broken men who had resorted to this. In fact, three of them, while still Protestants, had signed the request for the appointment of Samuel Mettayer only a short time before. Others, bothered by their conscience, could not bring themselves to affix their signatures to the bottom of the request. But this catholic declaration did not prevent the authorities from continuing to levy burdens in kind upon them similar to those imposed on the other Huguenots as before (a bed, tables, chairs, for the wife of the governor, etc.). In the end, several of these unhappy souls died without having renounced the new rules under which they lived.

However, in spite of all the efforts of the clergy and of the mayor and aldermen of Saint-Quentin, the reformation continued. In spite of persecutions, the number of adherents even increased. Some were even found among the former Capuchin friars of Saint-Quentin! The scandal reached its peak when Sister Agnès was converted, a superior in the hospital in Saint-Quentin. She had to abruptly leave her convent and take refuge in Geneva.

The resumption of the war with Spain in October 1673 caused more concerns. On two occasions the new reformed pastor had to billet soldiers sent by the quartermaster of the garrison, (draggonades) in contempt of Article 44 of the Edict of Nantes. Samuel Mettayer protested vigorously and took out a personal writ against the mayor and aldermen. But the king rejected his application, prompting the authorities to send the minister a captain and two additional cavaliers to accommodate! At the same time, considering the requirements for war, several canons too were instructed to billet servicemen (soldiers).

Lehaucourt registry of the burial of Pierre Crommelin, 1678.
Click to enlarge.


Another problem of this time was that of the tombstones. According to the directives, the burial of Protestants were now to be done without any external solemnity and the graves were just to be covered with a small mound of soil. The wealthy Samuel Crommelin, however, wanted to put a tombstone on the grave of his father, Pierre. He requested permission from the consistory of Saint-Quentin and received it. That shocked the other Huguenots who called upon the synod of Charenton. The latter repudiated the consistory's decision, ordering a cancellation of what had been done "in the name of the government", and insisted that similar errors never be repeated in the future. These unhappy feuds between Protestants happened with the full knowledge of the Catholics.

Once they got wind of the incident, the Catholics became excited and went to inspect the headstone of the accused. An engraved sentence expressed the wish that the deceased would someday be resurrected and go to heaven. This was intolerable! How was it possible that a Huguenot could be allotted a tombstone similar to theirs?! But what was even more scandalous was the engraved sentence which claimed that a dissenter from the church of Rome would have the right to go to heaven! The bishop of Noyon sent a request to M. de Breteuil, administrative officer of Picardy. Dutifully he told the Protestants that in future they no longer would be permitted to have a cemetery in the middle of the city. However, it appears as though this request by the bishop never came to fruition.

Having used various means to ruin the Protestant industry of Saint-Quentin, thereby bringing it to a standstill, the civic authorities then tried to re-start two of the factories under their own control. The factories were seized through the exploitation of a trade union to which the king could add new members of his liking and the ability to dismiss "wrong-thinking" workmen. The Huguenot owners defended themselves by sending a memo to Colbert. He intervened by sending an administrative officer of Picardy this note:

Dear Sir,
I am sending you a notice, which was given to me, concerning the factories of Saint-Quentin. It is imperative that you pay specific attention to this city; to work on the conversion of the Huguenots who live there in great numbers, that is to say to prevent their departure for Holland, and thereby enhancing the considerable manufactures which are established there...

I am your very humble and very affectionate servant, Mr. Vostre.

In Fontainebleau, August 13, 1681 Colbert.

The affair did not end there.

Being forced to make him move his business from a suburb of Saint-Nicaise ruined Jehan Vasselart, another industrialist, a gauze manufacturer. Foolishly he complained in front of witnesses, was arrested, but was able to escape and flee successfully.

Finally, king Louis XIV, who did not want any more new Huguenots in his kingdom, took increasingly drastic measures against the reformed. He decided, for example, to disenfranchise children from the authority of their parents in the area of religion from age seven years and up. These children could renounce their faith without their father and mother being able to oppose to it. The situation ended up becoming intolerable. Many families left for self-imposed exile or prepared to do so. In Saint-Quentin the municipal authorities themselves started to get excited. Admittedly, they sought by all means possible to discourage the Huguenots but, if they left, then manufactures would disappear and with them would go the prosperity of the city! City hall notified M. de Breteuil, the administrative officer of Picardy, who in turn contacted the minister about it.

To block the departure of his Huguenot subjects from the kingdom, Louis XIV took several measures. In June 1681, he forbade all those of the Reformed Protestant religion from having their children raised in foreign countries before the age of sixteen. This implied that, if the parents left, they were not allowed to take their children. In addition, by a declaration of July 14, 1682, the reformed folk (and potential buyers of their real estate) were informed that any real estate sales made less then a year before they left the kingdom would be nullified and the property would be confiscated.

However, many Huguenots continued to flee after having secured their fortunes in advance and having removed their furniture and merchandise. The most careful ones left via Paris, while the more desperate ones fled hurriedly via Valenciennes.

In 1683, the church of Saint-Quentin, far from finding serenity, still had to undergo some difficult trials. One of its members, Pierre de Noyelle, linen-maker in Bertaucourt (near Pontru) had the young Ambroise Pointier as an apprentice. He made him read some prohibited books and took him along to the church at Le Haucourt. Since 1680, it was officially forbidden for a catholic to change his religion. A person with good intentions informed on the young Pointier, suspecting him of being converted. He was arrested and condemned to make honourable amends in an iron collar before the criminal lieutenant who fined him "forty pounds to the king".

One month later, he was still in prison. Supported from the outside by his boss and friend, Pierre de Noyelle, he took part in a riot of the prisoners who intended to escape and flee. However, luck was not with him because this action failed, earning him an additional fine of sixty pounds and a sentence of five years in jail! Pierre de Noyelle was also arrested for having taken part in the plot with the prisoners. He was also charged with attempting to convert a Catholic.

At this time, the senior canonry and chapter of the royal and pro-Episcopal church of Saint-Quentin petitioned against three other members of the Huguenot church: Samuel Mettayer, Elisabeth Bossu and Marie Testart. Six major charges were drawn up against Reverend Mettayer.

1) Holding secret assemblies in his house.
2) Having performed baptisms in the city of Saint-Quentin which should have been done in Le Haucourt.
3) Having allowed foreign ministers to preach.
4) Having converted Catholics, of whom Pointier and a certain one from Luxembourg, converted by his preaching, was now practicing the reformed Protestant religion.
5) Having taken in several non-religious or secular people for the purpose of proslytizing.
6) Having repeatedly converted people.

Elisabeth Bossu and Marie Testart were accused of having contributed to the conversion of two Capuchins and the nun mentioned earlier, (Father Constantin, Father Delafons and Sister Agnès).

The accused persons defended themselves skillfully, point by point. But the prosecutors supported the charges raised against them and asked to have them join in the lawsuit against the other heretics, namely knowing Pierre de Noyelle, two other silk workers and a female worker, these last three Catholics having been converted recently.

After deliberations, the aforementioned Luxembourger and the female worker were given a fitting penalty: perpetual banishment after being led in front of the the church of Saint-Quentin with a rope around their necks. The converted catholic workmen were condemned to a penalty at hard labour. Pierre de Noyelle had to pay a fine of "one hundred pounds towards the king" and was banished to five years of sweeping in Vermandois.

Samuel Mettayer was condemned to a fine of "six hundred pounds towards the king" and was forever banned from being a clergyman in the kingdom. Elisabeth Bossu was condemned to be admonished in the presence of people of the king and fined three hundred pounds. The judgment of Marie Testart was made later.

Samuel Mettayer, Elisabeth Bossu and Marie Testart appealled their sentence in Parliament. On July 17, 1684 the final judgment restricted Samuel Mettayer to performing religious services and the function of minister for only six months, after which time the church of Le Haucourt would be closed. The two women were sentenced to be admonished and each was to pay a fine of three hundred pounds.

The sentence of the criminal lieutenant, mitigated by the court of the Parliament, underscored the precarious situation of the Protestants. From elsewhere came reports of new rigors being imposed in all of France. This state of affairs motivated them even more to leave the country. Many were those of Saint-Quentin who sold their furniture and began leaving with what money they had, sometimes even going with their possessions.

Source: Chantal Roelly webpage. Translated from the French language by Patrick Serné on January 31, 2002. [See also for good footnotes, and also for additional information.]

Another Article About Lehaucourt


History of the temple

Drainage works have recently taken place on the André-Courtois place at Lehaucourt. The trenches are filled up and tomorrow all the residents will benefit as waste waters will flow through the sewer again... However, the area conceals in its memory, even if no physical traces remain, the existence of a protestant worship center which goes back to the XVIe century.

At that time, a temple was built in Lehaucourt by decision of the "Reformed" people of the town of Amiens. This construction, in a parish close to Saint-Quentin, was meant neither to offend local feelings nor the rules of the powerful collegiate church.

From that time on the so-called "reformed" worship was thus renowned in Lehaucourt for the Saint-Quentin area. All reformed people had to travel to Lehaucourt which took them some two to three hours walk every Sunday by the way known as "exile road". The registers noted a strong growth since the church began. For the period 1599-1617, 857 baptisms and 121 marriages were recorded with a peak in 1603.

In 1636 the imperial catholics furiously pursued the Protestants in the area thereby devastating the North, and Lehaucourt was no exception. The house of worship was set on fire... On July 9, 1641, the re-building of Lehaucourt temple was ordered by council decree.

Thanks to private gifts a temple was rebuilt. The worship thrived once again and from all directions the Protestants gathered there to worship. But in 1683 the worship was again forbidden, which consequently led to the closing of the temple. The building was plundered and dismantled and the benches were sent to the court of justice of Saint-Quentin...

Although the services of worship were forbidden, the spirit of the reformation remained intact, albeit clandestinely. Congregations assembled in various barns at Nauroy, Villers-Outreaux, and Beaurevoir until the so-called reformed religion was recognized once again following the French Revolution.


An example of the persecution suffered by Crommelins after the 1685 revocation of the Edict of Nantes can be seen in the imprisonment of Adrien (Andre?) Crommelin, in the Bastille at Paris beginning in December 1685. The brother of his brother-in-law, François Ammonet (who married Jeanne Crommelin) was also imprisoned for his faith, 1686-1687.

A history of the Protestant Crommelins was prepared in 1932.

You can also visit the James Wylie website for a comprehensive overview of the development of Protestantism in France.

French Huguenots (Picardie)
Protestant churches currently in the Picardy region.