(This is about 1.5% of my 8th great grandparents; everyone has up to 512 ancestors at this level of their family tree).
From 1598 the Edict of Nantes had granted the Huguenots the right to practice their religion in France without persecution from the state. When in 1685 the Edict of Nantes – the law of toleration toward Protestants – was revoked, my Huguenot forebears abandoned their homes and property and fled to England.
When Louis XIV revoked the Edict he claimed it was no longer needed because there were no Huguenots left in his kingdom and so their special privileges had become unnecessary. He had been persecuting Huguenots for some time, but in 1681 the campaign against them entered a new phase. Louis instituted a policy of ‘Dragonnades‘, meant to intimidate Huguenot families into either leaving France or returning to Catholicism. The policy, in part, instructed officers in charge of travelling troops to select Huguenot households for their billets and to order the soldiers to behave as badly as they could. Soldiers damaged the houses, ruined furniture and personal possessions, and attacked the men and abused the women. Huguenots could escape this persecution only by conversion or by fleeing France.
It is estimated that some 50,000 Huguenots fled France to England. Others settled in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Brandenburg-Prussia, Ireland, and America. It was illegal for Protestants to leave France. The borders were guarded, and disguise and other stratagems were employed to get across.
The majority of the refugees established themselves both as members of the French community in England and also as British subjects. There were three stages to the process: reception by a church in England, grant of denization or permanent residence by the British government, and formal naturalisation. Denization and naturalization required an Act of Parliament, and those seeking naturalization had to present a certificate confirming that they had received the sacraments according to the rites of the Church of England.
When they arrived in London, many Huguenot refugees presented their credentials, ‘Témoignages‘, which were documents from a previous congregation witnessing that the holder was a member of the Reformed Religion, Calvinist Protestantism. With this they could be received into a new congregation. The document gave an indication of when the family had arrived and from where.
The de Crespigny family presented their témoignages credentials at various times. Claude Champion Crespigny (1620-1695) and his wife Marie née de Vierville (1628-1708), my eighth great grandparents, and four of their children: Pierre, Suzanne, Renee and Jeanne, registered their témoignages on 30 June 1687 at the Savoy Church in the West End of London. The two elder daughters Marguerite and Marie were already married and travelled separately. My 7th great grandfather Thomas Champion de Crespigny and his brother Gabriel had been sent separately to England by their parents when they were about 12 years old; Thomas in 1676 and Gabriel in 1678.
The next step was to obtain denization. A denizen was neither a subject (with nationality) nor an alien, but had a status akin to permanent residency today. A denizen had the important right to hold land.
All eight children of Claude and Marie became denizens of England by an Act of 5 March 1691. Their parents, however – Claude and Marie Champion de Crespigny – did not find it necessary it necessary to take that step.
Gabriel was naturalized on 12 March 1699, but Peter and Thomas waited until 1706. It is clear that this final step was not considered urgent: by 1706 Pierre had been in England for twenty years, Thomas and Gabriel perhaps ten years longer; and both held full commissions in the army. There is no mention of any women of the family being naturalised.
When Huguenot refugees first arrived in England they relied on private charity, but in 1689 the joint monarchs William and Mary inaugurated the Royal Bounty with funds from the Civil List – money allocated by Parliament for personal expenses of the royal family. The Bounty was later maintained by Acts of Parliament. During the reign of Queen Anne from 1702 to 1714 the program was known as the Queen’s Bounty. The list of recipients is held in the library at Lambeth Palace, and an extract copy was provided to our cousin Stephen Champion de Crespigny in 1986. In 1707 Marie and Renée – with the surname Champion de Crespigny – were living at 37 Wardour Street, Soho, and the amount of the pension was £18.
Claude and Marie died in London, Claude in 1695 and Marie in 1708. They are buried at Marylebone. Their gravestone indicates that they were refugees from France. Many other members of the family were buried at Marylebone in the family vault. The vault as not survived, but a copy of the headstone is in a garden of remembrance near the site of the old church.
- Minet, William, and Susan Minet, Livre des conversions et reconnaisances faites à l’église françoise de la Savoye 1684-1702, transcribed and edited, Huguenot Society of London Publications XXII, 1914 [archive.org]
- Shaw, William A, Letters of Denization and Acts of Naturalization for Aliens in England and Ireland 1603-1700, Huguenot Society of London Publications XVIII, 1911 [archive.org]
- Shaw, William A, Letters of Denization and Acts of Naturalization for Aliens in England and Ireland 1701-1800, Huguenot Society of London Publications XXVII, 1923 [archive.org]
- de Crespigny, Rafe Champions from Normandy : an essay on the early history of the Champion de Crespigny family 1350-1800 AD. Lilli Pilli, New South Wales Richard Rafe Champion de Crespigny, 2017. Can be viewed at Champions from Normandy