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The 30 years war

During the first Huguenot wars the Protestant German countries were already safe places for the refugees. Particularly as in the Netherlands, after 1567 the restoration under the Duke of Alba, governor for the Spanish king, was accomplished with large hardness, many families fled to Germany. They founded some Walloon settlings such as Frankenthal, Mannheim, Heidelberg and Hanau, to name only some, from which families later moved on into the Uckermark. But also in the German Empire a war raved from 1618 to 1648. The opponents were the Protestant sovereigns supported by Denmark and Sweden against the Catholic house of Habsburg, which reigned Austria, Spain, the Spanish Netherlands and the largest part of Germany and Italy. Since France was interested in weakening the Habsburgerian, it supported the Protestant sovereigns abroad while suppressing the Protestant movement in it’s own country. By the movements of the different armies whole regions in Germany were devastated. Far more than half of the German population died (of 18 million 7 million survived). In northern Brandenburg the population loss amounted to over 70%. There had been 250 fire places (i.e. about 2000 inhabitants) in Strasburg/Uckermark in 1618, in 1648 after the war only 9 citizens (with families and servants thus about 100 persons) lived in the ruins of the city. Mannheim was also nearly completely destroyed. In this devastating war many records and church books, if kept at all, were lost. The 30 years war therefore is for most family researchers in Germany the termination point of their research.

The Westfalian peace of 1648 terminated the war on German soil, the Empire became a confederation of states of practically sovereign princes, and the religious confessions became legally equal. North and Central Germany, as well as the Pfalz and Wuerttemberg remained Protestant, while the Austrian hereditary countries, Bavaria, and the large religious principalities in the Rhine Main area and the Danube area remained catholic. The peace treaty also made an end to the political power of the Pope.

This map of the German Empire after 1648 (745Kb click for enlargement) shows clearly how torn apart it was. Thus not only Brandenburg in the east and the north of Berlin did belong to the Hohenzollern, but also scattered marks such as Cleve on the Rhine (and some parts further east not on this map). 

The population of Brandenburg was Lutheran Protestant (the Luther city Wittenberg is located in Brandenburg), the Hohenzollern sovereign of the country was however of Calvinist-Reformed confession.  

The Palatinate succession war  

After the end of the 30 year war again many refugees came from France and settled in the “Kurpfalz”, an area around today's Ludwigshafen on the Rhine. So did my ancestors Guillaume FOUQUET and Susanne FIERET, which married 1653 in Frankenthal. Guillaume originated from the small place Jeantes in the Thierache, his wife was from Cuiry les Iviers near Jeantes. Together with many other refugees from north France and Flanders they rebuilt the destroyed villages and cities and lived there for about 30 years in relative security. Still near the border to France, probably they hoped to be able to return to their homeland one day.

About at the same time as the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 another war with France broke out in this area. The palatinate sovereign Kurfuerst Karl Ludwig had married his daughter Elizabeth Charlotte in 1671 (better known as Liselotte of the Pfalz) with the duke Philipp of Orléans, the brother of Ludwig XIV. He had wanted to secure his territory by family relations with the strong neighbor. However in vain, parts of the Pfalz were devastated 1674 during the Dutch war by French troops under marshal Turenne. In the consequence France claimed different areas at the west border of the German Empire. The French annexations achieved their temporary culmination during the regency of Kurfuerst Karl II. (1680 - 1685), the successor of Karl Ludwig, with the fall of the city of Strasbourg on September 30, 1681. As Karl II. 1685 died childless after short government the French king Louis XIV. claimed hereditary rights on parts of the Pfalz in the name of his sister-in-law Liselotte (the sister of the deceased Kurfuerst). The Palatinate succession war (1688-1697) developed, which was fought with so far unknown brutality, according to the principle "burned earth". Systematically cities, villages and castles were destroyed and burnt to ashes, the country devastated worse than in 30 the year war. Thus the Palatinate Huguenot settlements were endangered again and numerous "Pfaelzer" fled after 1685. Some went eastward to Hessen others as far as to America. In 1689 the Walloon parish of the rebuilt Mannheim fled as a whole group to Magdeburg, taking their church books with them.

The Edict of Potsdam

As Louis XIV. revoked the Edict of Nantes at the 18.Oktober 1685 and thus forbade the reformed faith, the Friedrich Wilhelm “the great elector” issued already ten days later at the 29.Oktober 1685 the Edict of Potsdam. He invited the"Evangelist-Reformed of French nation", to settle in his lands. In this edict quiet concrete information was given, how to bring the refugees on ships or roads into Brandenburg.  

By the Edict of Potsdam the new settlers received among other privileges:

Hugo Vogel, 1885: 

Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg, the "Great Elector" 

welcomes Huguenot refuges from France in his castle in Potsdam

Exemption from taxes (except for the Akzise, a kind of value added tax) for the first ten years completely and for the second ten years to the half. 

Land assignments and building material for houses and agricultural buildings. 

Freedom of military service and bondage for "all times". 

The right to own jurisdiction for controversies within the colony

An own minister and room for the service. 

Freedom of trade and free entrance to the guilds.

All these privileges were assured to refugees also which fled France before the publication of the Edict, excluded were only French Catholics.
Huguenot history general

Strasburg in 17th century