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"Edict of Potsdam," issued by Frederick William ("the Great Elector") (October 29, 1685)

French king Louis XIV’s 1684 revocation of the 1598 Edict of Nantes, which had guaranteed the French Calvinists’ (i.e. Huguenots’) religious practice and autonomy, drove some half-million of them into exile. With this edict, Brandenburg’s Frederick William (“the Great Elector”) famously offered them refuge. In the end, however, only 20,000 French Calvinists accepted his generous offer of logistical, material, and legal aid, with the others preferring to settle in more westerly lands. The “Edict of Potsdam” was not an appeal for religious tolerance, as it brusquely denied its favors to French Catholics who wished to settle in Brandenburg-Prussian lands. Rather, it was an expression of religious solidarity with “Our French co-religionists of the Evangelical-Reformed faith,” and a political act that aimed to strengthen Frederick’s realm by adding immigrant farmers, artisans, and manufacturers to his war-thinned population. He also promised access to state employment to French Calvinist noble refugees (though they would have to purchase their own landed estates). Of this opportunity they made excellent use.

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Edict of Potsdam

October 29, 1685

We, Frederick William, by Grace of God Margrave of Brandenburg, High Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Empire and Elector, Duke in Prussia, Magdeburg, Jülich, Cleves, Berg, Stettin, Pomerania, of the Cassubians and Wends, also in Silesia, of Crossen and Jägerndorf, Burgrave of Nuremberg, Prince of Halberstadt, Minden, and Camin, Count of Hohenzollern, the Mark and Ravensberg, Lord of Ravenstein and the Land of Lauenburg and Bülow, etc.,

Do hereby proclaim and make known to all and sundry that since the cruel persecutions and rigorous ill-treatment in which Our co-religionists of the Evangelical-Reformed faith have for some time past been subjected in the Kingdom of France, have caused many families to remove themselves and to betake themselves out of the said Kingdom into other lands, We now, out of the righteous sympathy which We must in justice feel toward these, Our co-religionists, who are oppressed and assailed for the sake of the Holy Gospel and its pure doctrine, have been moved graciously to offer them through this Edict signed by Our own hand a secure and free refuge in all Our Lands and Provinces, and further to announce to them what justice, liberties and prerogatives We are most graciously minded to concede to them, in order to relieve in some measure and make more tolerable the great need and tribulation with which it has pleased the Almighty, according to His only wise and inscrutable counsel, to afflict so important a part of His Church.

1. In order to make it easier for all those who may resolve to settle in Our Lands to reach and move there, We have commanded Our Envoy Extraordinary to the States General of the United Netherlands, von Diest, and Our Commissioner in Amsterdam, Romswinckel, to procure for all Frenchmen of the religion reporting to them ships and other necessaries, and to transport them and theirs from the Netherlands to Hamburg, where Our Aulic Councillor and Resident in the Circle of Lower Saxony, von Gericke, will give them all further facilities and help needed by them, that they may be conveyed to the place in which they have chosen to establish themselves in Our Lands.

2. In respect of those who wish to proceed to Our Lands via Sedan, from Champagne, Lorraine, Burgundy, and the southern provinces of France, without going through the Netherlands– such persons are to travel to Frankfurt am Main and there to report to Our Councillor and Resident, Merian, or to Our agent Lely in Cologne on the Rhine, and We have instructed both to provide them with money, passports, and ships and to send them down the Rhine to Our Duchy of Cleves, where Our Government will see to it that they are either established in Our Lands of Cleves and Mark or, if they wish to go further into others of Our Provinces, are provided with all necessaries therefor.

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