Huguenot Tutorship In Western Europe, c.1600 - c.1750

Anon, Portrait of William II, Prince of Orange, and Maria Henrietta Stuart, Amsterdam, 1641. Engraving. ©Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Inv. num. RP-P-1905-274. 

In his article dated 1985, Henri Duranton cited one of the Huguenot tutors describing tutorship as un métier de chien (a dog’s profession). Indeed, similar sentiments also echo in other preserved correspondence, such as that of the Huguenot writer Paul Rapin Thoyras, who saw it as one of the most ungrateful professions of the time, where one has no possibility to advance and secure one’s status beyond the particular position.

What were the reasons then behind Huguenots taking up teaching positions and in which countries were most of them employed? It seems that there were many Huguenots who became tutors throughout the seventeenth and in the early eighteenth centuries, in particular in France itself, in the United Provinces and in England, and to a much lesser extent in the Reformed German States. Yet, given the overall population of the Huguenots, the number of tutors among them was comparatively small. As shown by studies that have been conducted ever since 1985, the tercentenary year of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, the majority of those who crossed the French border were day labourers, with much smaller numbers of artisans or traders, and even less of educated people and the nobility. 

Adriaen Jansz van Ostade (1610-85),
Interior of a Schoolroom, Haarlem, 1666.
Oil on canvas.
Wikimedia Commons


However, among the educated refugees we find doctors, journalists, lawyers, ministers and scholars. Upon their arrival, the first concern for the refugees would be finding a way to sustain themselves and their families. This is exactly where their education could become useful. But what made the Huguenots appealing as tutors to the local population and who were these families that employed them?

Why Huguenots as Tutors?

Ever since the rise of Humanism in the fifteenth century and even more so following the Reformation, vernacular languages were on the rise, slowly replacing Latin, which had previously dominated in all spheres of life. While in science Latin remained dominant well into the eighteenth century in Scandinavia and Germany, in the United Provinces of the Netherlands, in France and in England even science was often written in the new lingua franca – French. French became indispensable to a wide range of people: merchants, scholars, noblemen, diplomats, but also to those who wished to benefit from their work, such as craftsmen who wanted to read the newest inventions, doctors who needed to know the latest treatments, and so on; all would need to know French. As the language of diplomacy, trade and to some extent of science, French became more and more prominent, and this is the exact reason why native French speakers were to become so popular as tutors, especially for the higher societal classes. In the seventeenth century, every Prince of Orange and Count of Nassau in the United Provinces had at least one French tutor in their educational entourage.

Yet, this need to learn French does not explain specifically why Huguenots were in high demand, as other French speakers, for example Catholics, or Swiss, could be suitable in this respect. The second reason however was the fact that French manners would become more and more important for court society. In the courts of Leeuwarden and The Hague in the United Provinces, French held a dominant position, and the courts themselves were somewhat modelled on the French court as the centre of patronage for artists and scholars. French “politesse” or politeness was an important tool in the elaborate courtly and diplomatic play at the time. Hence, those families, who either held the courts or participated in them as courtiers, wanted to ensure that their children would continue to be part of them, yet for this they would need to know French manners and culture, in addition to the language. Though I have not found direct evidence for this, it seems that every educated Frenchman or woman would be automatically assumed to have knowledge of this French politeness. Therefore, the French would have an advantage over the Swiss in this respect, and Huguenots present in the Refuge would be well placed to benefit from this assumption.

Finally, the third and most compelling reason why Huguenots were preferred by many of the elite families was because of their Calvinist religion. Local nobility in the United Provinces was mostly Reformed, that is adhering to the same Calvinist doctrine as the Huguenots. In England, the Anglicans and the Puritans were Reformed, though not following the same doctrine as the Huguenots. This choice of a Huguenot tutor was often dictated therefore by the need of the family to ensure that the child did not learn doctrinally problematic ideas from the tutor. Consequently, Huguenots were the safe choice for any Reformed family.

Employers of the Huguenot Tutors and the Relationship between them:

Louise de Coligny, print by Willem Jacobzon,1627.
   Wikimedia Commons.     
Anon, print of Philippe Duplessis-Mornay, 
Wikimedia Commons


The most prominent employer of the Huguenot tutors in the United Provinces was the Orange-Nassau family, with both the Orange branch in The Hague and the Nassau branch in Leeuwarden employing Huguenot tutors for the education of their children. Unfortunately, most of the archives preserved only discuss the education of the young princes, rather than that of the princesses. Yet, ever since Louise de Coligny, fourth wife of William I of Orange, consulted the Huguenot writer Philippe Duplessis-Mornay (1549-1623) about the best way to educate her son, Prince Frederik Hendrik, Huguenot presence at the courts was constant.

Gerard van Honthorst, Frederik Hendrik,
prince of Orange, and Amalia van Solms,
Wikimedia Commons


Frederik Hendrik and his wife, the German-born Amalia van Solms, created a princely court in The Hague, and ensured that their son, the future William II, was educated according to the best standards of the time, while raising him in the Calvinist faith, which at the time was the preponderant religion of the United Provinces. For this task they hired the theologian André Rivet, then a professor at Leiden University, to be the head tutor for their son, a position that required his supervision of the entire educational process. Rivet was so close to Frederik Hendrik that in 1641 he even accompanied the fourteen-year-old William to England to marry his ten year old bride, Maria Henrietta Stuart. Their son, William III, had at least three Huguenots involved in his education, though the head tutor in his case was a Dutch family member.

Jacob van Meurs, Portrait of André Rivet,
1650. Engraving.
© Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Inv. num. RP-P1903-A-23352


The most interesting case is that of the tutors of Johan Willem Friso, of the Nassau branch of the family. Having lost his father Hendrik Casimir II at an early age, it was his mother, Henriette Amalia, who was in charge of his education. In a letter she sent to an unknown person at the court in The Hague, probably with the intention of making William III, who was the Prince of Orange at the time, aware of the unpleasant affair that was unfolding at her court in Leeuwarden, she describes a very difficult situation in which she found herself unable to control her son's French tutors. She asked for reassurance that they “pay [her] the respect they owe [her]”. It is not known how the situation was resolved, but Johan Willem did have two more Huguenots as his tutors later on, among them Jean Lemonon, a professor at Franeker University.

Workshop of Sir Peter Lely, Barbara Palmer,
1st Duchess of Cleveland
Wikimedia Commons


Across the English Channel, Huguenots were employed by several members of the courtly elite for various educational positions. Barbara Palmer, Duchess of Cleveland, 1640-1709, the mistress of Charles II and a keen supporter of all things French, had employed in Paris the Huguenot Jean Rou as a tutor to her and the King’s natural son, Henry Fitzroy, earl of Northumberland. The same Rou was also employed by the Spencer family in Althorp, and Robert Southwell (1635-1702), a diplomat, Secretary of State for Ireland and future President of the Royal Society, hired two travelling Huguenot tutors for his nephew, Philip Perceval, to accompany him on his Grand Tour.

A private tutor would cost a considerable amount of money for the family. Therefore, the affordability of good tutors depended on the family’s wealth. The highest aristocracy could employ university professors, such as Rivet or Lemonon. Lesser noblemen could afford a university graduate, such as Jean Rou. Others would only be able to afford a student as a tutor, and one notable example was the future Huguenot philosopher Pierre Bayle, 1647-1706, who served as a tutor during his student years in the United Provinces. 

Outside the United Provinces and England, only a handful of Huguenot tutors are known. It is difficult to assess the exact reasons for this, as in Reformed Brandenburg for example there were large numbers of Huguenots, but perhaps it had to do with a lesser influence of French culture in the German states than in the other two countries. In this context though, one can think of Madame de Rocoulle, who was the gouvernante of both the future King Frederik William 1 of Prussia and of his son, Frederik the Great; and at the same time, Huguenot schools did exist in various German States, just as in other Reformed countries.

Michaël Green


Further reading

H. Duranton, ‘“Un métier de chien”. Précepteurs, demoiselles de compagnie et bohème littéraire dans le Refuge allemand’, Dix-huitième siècle, 17 (1985): 297-315.

M. Green, The Huguenot Jean Rou (1638-1711): Scholar, Educator, Civil Servant, series: Vie des Huguenots, vol. 69, Paris: Honoré Champion, 2015. 

M. Green, Le Grand Tour 1701-1703. Lettres de Henry Bentinck, vicomte de Woodstock, et de son précepteur Paul Rapin-Thoyras, à Hans Willem Bentinck, comte de Portland, series: Vie des Huguenots, vol. 89, Paris: Honoré Champion, 2021. 

M. Green, 'Bridging the English Channel: Huguenots in the Educational Milieu of the English Upper Class', in: Paedagogica Historica, vol. 54, 4 (2018): 389-409. 

M. Green, 'The Orange-Nassau Family at the Educational Crossroads of the Stadtholder’s Position (1628–1711)', in: Dutch Crossing: Journal of Low Countries Studies, vol. 43, 2 (2019): 99-126. 

M. Green, 'Huguenot Impact on the Education of the Dutch Nobility', in: Review of Social History, vol. 17, 2 (2018): 255-270.

M. Green, 'A Huguenot Education for the Early Modern Nobility', in: The Huguenot Society Journal, vol. 30, 1 (2013): 73-92. 

M. Green, 'Educating Johan Willem Friso of Nassau-Dietz (1687-1711): Huguenot Tutorship at the Court of the Frisian Stadtholders', in: Virtus –Yearbook of The History of the Nobility, vol. 19 (2012): 103-124. 

G. Sheridan, V. Prest (eds.), Les Huguenots éducateurs dans l’espace européen à l’époque moderne, series Vie des Huguenots, vol. 48, Paris: Honoré Champion, 2011.

Share this post

Latest posts


Academy of Saumur American Colonies Andre Rivet archives Arthur Giraud Browning artists Assemblée du Désert Bank of England Bisson Blackfriars bookbinding Bullinger Catherine de' Medici Cévennes Charenton Charles I Christ Church Spitalfields Copenhagen coronations Courtauld David Le Marchand Debonnaire designers diary Digitization Dublin Duke of Savoy Duplessis-Mornay Durham House Dutch Church Edict of Fontainebleau Edict of Nantes Edict of Tolerance Edinburgh Edward VI Élie Bouhéreau Elizabeth I Faversham gunpowder mills Fector Fernand de Schickler Florida Fredericia Frederick William Elector of Brandenburg French Hospital French Protestant Church of London French Wars of Religion galleys gardeners Gaspard de Coligny Geneva Gilbert Burnet Grand Tour Guernsey Hatfield Forest Henri de Ruvigny Henri Duc de Guise Henri IV Henry Austen Layard Henry de Ruvigny Houblon Huguenot Library Huguenot memorials Huguenot Museum Huguenot Society of London Huguenot tutors Huguenot veterans industrial enterprise Isaac Minet ivory carving Jacobus Arminius James I Jean Calas Jean Calvin Jean Despagne Jean Ribit de la Riviere John Colladon John Milton Joseph du Chene Karlshafen Kassel La Rochelle La Société de l’Histoire du Protestantisme Français Le Moyne Lefevre Louis XIV Louise de Coligny Luneray Marsh's Library medical history military history Mount Nod Oliver Cromwell Orange-Nassau paper making Parliament Paul Rapin-Thoyras Pest House Piedmont Pierre Allix Pierre du Moulin Portal Portarlington Portraits Projects Refugees Revocation of the Edict of Nantes Royal Bounty Samuel Pepys Schwedt shipping silk silk velvet silversmithing Soho Southwark Spitalfields St Bartholomew Day's Massacre St Bartholomew's day St Bartholomew's day massacre strangers temples The Shell House Theodore Beza Theodore Colladon Theodore de Beze Theodore de Bry Theodore de Mayerne Thorpe-le-Soken Threadneedle Street Three Mills tidal mills tobacco tobacco farming Torre Pellice Tour de Constance trading Treaty of Utrecht Uckermark Waldensian Waldensians Walloons Wandsworth weavers Westminster Westminster French Protestant School William III William Laud Winchester Zwingli