The Huguenot Society of Maryland

A History of the Huguenots

Who Were the Huguenots and What Did They Want?

The initial questions are: Who were the Huguenots and what did they want? Who they were is easy to answer. What they wanted is more complicated because their wants were diverse and complex.

The Huguenots were French Protestants, who were members of the Reformed Church. The origin of the word Huguenot is disputed, but it most likely came from Eidgenöß, which is Schweizer-Deutsche, Swiss-German, for confederate. The word was often used in Geneva, Switzerland, where many of the Huguenots had fled from France. The French had difficulty pronouncing the Schweizer-Deutsche word eidgenöß. In fact, it evolved into Eignot and eventually into Huguenot, which the French pronounce without the initial “H” and the final “T” — that is, oo-guh-KNOW. As to the correct English and American pronunciation of “Huguenot”, both English and American dictionaries give as the preferred pronunciation as HYOO guh-not. A few dictionaries give us a second pronunciation, HYOO guh-know. However that is fractured French and questionable English.

Members of the French Reformed Church were not called Huguenots until 1560. At the time, the term Huguenot suggested affiliation with a party with both religious and political goals. The Huguenots ceased to exist as a political party in 1629, following the devastating fall of La Rochelle, a Huguenot stronghold.