Report from the 1999 Nijhoff
Study Grant Recipient

By Jeffry Larson

WESS Newsletter

Fall 2001, Vol. 25, no. 1

Association of College & Research Libraries
© American Library Association

Huguenot Resistance to the Gregorian Calendar Reform in France

Almost all that has been written on the revision of the Julian calendar in the 16th century deals with the astronomical reasons for it or with the concomitant problems in dating events and documents. The calendar reform had seldom been studied in depth as an event in itself. Last year I received a Martinus Nijhoff International West European Specialist Study Grant to study the dissemination of the Gregorian calendar reform in France during the Wars of Religion.

Outside the papal states the channels for disseminating the new calendar were from the Vatican via the papal nuncios to national sovereigns, who in turn, after ratifying it and having it printed, sent it on to the bishops in their countries. Thus, the chain was from ecclesiastical to secular then back to ecclesiastical authorities. In France, because of delays in printing and perhaps due to muted opposition in Parlement by Gallicans—partisans of national ecclesiastical autonomy—the reform was implemented only in December 1582, two months after Italy and Spain.

Coincidentally with the granting of the award, there appeared a lengthy article in the Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes by Jérôme Delatour based on collaborative archival research, largely in the Archives Nationales and the Bibliothèque Nationale, focusing just on this topic (my thanks to Bill Monroe of Brown University for the tip). Since such a large amount of the task had already been accomplished by others, I resolved to look for relevant materials where the team of researchers from the l’École des Chartes had not, namely among the unpublished letters of Henri III and Huguenot pamphlets in Parisian collections, and in diplomatic correspondence in the Secret Archives of the Vatican.

Henri III’s letters are still in the process of being published; fair copies of them have been brought together in the Bibliothèque de l’Institut de France for the editorial project ( last year, after a gap of 6 years, the letters for 1580-1582, were published, but not extending into 1583). Scanning these documents, I discovered that calendar reform was not dealt with at the level of correspondence between sovereigns, which focused mostly on dynastic politics, foreign relations, and ecclesiastical appointments. The calendar was discussed, though not extensively, in the correspondence of the papal nuncio to France, whose letters have been published, with a few passages summarized. (I later checked the summaries against the originals in the Vatican Archives, but found nothing missing of import.)

Delatour had also analyzed the erudite Huguenot and Catholic treatises about the 1582 reform (which had led up to a bull in 1603 reaffirming the reform). So I looked for polemics at a more grass-roots level. Although the Bibliothèque de la Société de l’Histoire du Protestantisme Français was said by two research guides to have extensive pamphlet holdings, I found no such collections there. I shall extend my search to the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, repository of much ephemeral material, and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

What conflict over the calendar that took place was isolated in time and space, and was reported not from Paris to the Vatican, but in the opposite direction. Delatour writes that a lawyer of Avignon (“un avocat d’Avignon”) informed the Vatican of a priest being chased out of his parish in Courthezon, a town in southern Orange, for having published the new calendar. It was this incident that the Vatican asked its nuncio to bring to the attention of the French court. The correspondence from Avignon to the papal secretary revealed that the informant was in fact the Cardinal d’Armagnac (misread as “avocat”?), co-legate of Avignon and bishop of the diocese. As representative of the Pope in Avignon, the Cardinal had implemented the new calendar at the same time as in Italy and Spain. However, as the Cardinal clearly explains in his letter to the Vatican, the archdiocese was not co-terminous with the papal state, but overlapped to include the parish of Courthezon in the principality of Orange, a hotbed of Protestant resistance. Evidently, the locals did not accept being ten days ahead of their compatriots and fellow market-goers in Orange, even if it was for only for a few weeks and only in one parish. This clarification I plan to publish with appropriate documentation.

To identify the chronology of effective Huguenot acceptance of the Gregorian calendar, I now plan to look for 10-day gaps in congregational registers (baptisms, marriages, funerals, etc.), which are primarily in the Archives Nationales.

Much remains to be done, but I have unearthed a clarified account of the only recorded overt Huguenot resistance to the Gregorian calendar reform. I am very grateful to Martinus Nijhoff International and to my WESS colleagues for the opportunity to initiate this research.

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