Bourne Archive: FNQ: 17th Century                              Latest edit 25 Jan 2010.   

Interactive version ©2006 R.J.PENHEY

The Bourne Archive


Fenland Notes and Queries. This will have been originally in the quarterly Part 3, October 1889. Edited by W.H. Bernard Saunders, F.R. Hist. Soc.

Articles 1 to 237 (April 1889 to October 1891) were re-published as Volume 1, in 1891, by Geo. C. Caster, Market Place, Peterborough.

This quarterly periodical which, from the second volume (part 12) became associated with the name of W.D. Sweeting, took the form of a forum in which people sent in questions about the history, ecology and so on of the Fens and the region’s environs and others replied with some sort of answer. Some ‘answers’ seem to have been spontaneous, so qualifying as ‘notes’.

My thanks to the trustees of the Willoughby Memorial Library for the loan of the copy from which the following was transcribed.

Seventeenth Century and Civil War.

62.    French Protestant Refugees in the the 17th century many French Protestant families fled to England, and some of them settled at Needingworth and the neighbourhood. One of the Holywell registers contains a few notes about the briefs collected for their relief.

“Collected upon ye brief for Michael Kys and Peter Kys, Hungarians, ye sum of 5/-.” July 16, 1667.

“Collected upon ye brief for the French Protestants: paid to Mr. Salmon 12/-.” 1689.

“Collected upon ye brief for the poor exiled Vaudois and French Protestants, £1 18 11.”

Herbert E.Norris.


 Holywell had developed near a clean water supply on an island of higher ground, by the River Great Ouse. As the river became less important economically than the nearby road, the bulk of the parish’s settlement migrated to Needingworth, on the A1123 road (TL3472). Holywell church is at TL336708.

This little FNQ article is included here as a reminder that the seventeenth century events in England took place in a context not only of Britain and Ireland, as modern historians are keen to remind us but also in a Europe-wide context. The Turkish (Ottoman) Empire was pressing the German (Holy Roman) Empire from the south-east. Hungary, a name then given to a more extensive area than the modern country, was squeezed between them. By 1683, it was mostly inside the Ottoman Empire. Emperors and popes were struggling to retain their revenues in the face of religious and civil independence movements. Despite their efforts, financial power was beginning to drift northwards into other hands. This process was hastened by events like the dispersal of the French Protestants into places like north Germany, the Netherlands, London and possibly, Needingworth.

Norris assumes that they settled in the village but on the evidence he presents, that can not safely be claimed. The idea of a brief is fairly frequently mentioned by historians. It is a written document and that is what historians concern themselves with. In this instance it is a letter patent from the king in his capacity as head of the Church of England, authorizing church congregations throughout the kingdom, to make a collection on behalf of someone or more often, some people judged to be in need of and worthy of financial help. It was also known as a church brief or a king’s letter (OED).  The money was collected at Holywell but the Hungarians and Huguenots may have been far away.

1667 fell during a period when most of Hungary was on the Turkish side of the front line between the German and the Turkish empires. Suleiman I took Buda in 1526 and it was still in Turkish hands until 1687, after the Siege of Vienna in 1683 (Stewart).

 In 1685, with Cardinal Richelieu’s advice, Louis XIV had revoked the Edict of Nantes which led to a mass migration of Huguenots (Palmer). Vaud is a French-speaking part of Switzerland, a canton since 1803 (PLI 2007). Its main town is Lausanne, where Pierre Viret, a co-worker of John Calvin had based himself. Viret made tours in France, expressing his view of religion, gaining many converts. This troubled Richelieu who saw the lack of Huguenot obedience to his will as more important than the prosperity which their enterprise brought to France. It is easy to see a parallel between this and the confrontation between the king and commons in England, which emphasises the Europe-wide nature of the social and religious upheavals in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Partly as a result of their having seen the effects of clashes such as this, French parliamentarians passed the Law of 1905 which separated civil authority in France, from any religious one. They doubtless had the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches in mind but the subject has recently come to attention again, in relation to Muslim religious authority.