Countries of Refuge : Switzerland

In the XVIIIth century, many Huguenot refugees passed through the Swiss cantons and the Republic of Geneva, but few actually settled there.

The Republic of Geneva

  • Genève, intérieur du Temple de la Fusterie
    Geneva, inside view of the Fusterie temple © Reymond

Geneva was a special case – this was because the Reformation had come to this town thanks to the General Council, who passed a special bill on 21st May 1536 ; another reason was that Calvin lived there. Indeed, as soon as the persecution of the protestants started in the XVIth century, Geneva attracted a great number of French refugees.

When the second wave of emigration took place after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, few of those fleeing France settled in Geneva. For the most part, in the XVIIIth century, they only passed through the town ; there were a great number of them, sometimes as many as 350 a day received help and financial support from the local authorities. Louis XIV forced Geneva to accept the installation of a French Resident, whose role was to supervise the refugees and to limit their number.

The Swiss cantons

  • Plaque commémorative du Séminaire de Lausanne (1769-1812).
    Commemorative plaque in memory of the Seminaire de Lausanne, founded by Antoine Court © O. d'Haussonville

The situation in the Swiss cantons was similar to that in Geneva : they had already absorbed a great number of refugees during the first wave of immigration. In addition they were also forbidden to take in rebels to the French monarchy. They had made an agreement with François Ier (later renewed under Louis XIV) that the king of France could recruit all the soldiers he needed from the Swiss cantons. This was called the “permanent peace treaty”.

In this way, in the XVIIIth century, many refugees only passed through Switzerland, where they were given help immediately, but then guided towards the German States and free towns. Here, there was an excellent immigration structure which had been set up to look after their needs.

The people living in the Vaud area gave substantial help to the refugees

It was in the Vaud area that there was a record number of refugees. As in Berlin at the beginning of the XVIIth century, about a quarter of the population of Lausanne were Huguenots.

In Lausanne and also in Geneva, texts written by French pastors back in the XVIIth century were reprinted in great number.

And it is from these two towns that travelling salesmen left for France, secretly bringing into the country copies of the New Testament in French, religious tracts or works by the reformers. What’s more, in Lausanne, there was a Seminary, founded by Antoine Court in 1729 ; this gave future pastors the theological training they needed before returning secretly to France.

Antoine Court, based in Lausanne (where he had taken refuge in 1729), spent his time trying to get the Countries of Refuge to recognize the Churches of the “Désert”. In the 1744 Synod, he succeeded Benjamin du Plan as “Deputy General of the Church”, representing the Churches of the “Désert” all over Europe.


  • Books
    • Collectif, La Suisse et le Refuge, accueil et passage, La Table Ronde, Marseille, 1985
    • FATIO, Olivier (dir.), Genève au temps de la révocation de l’édit de Nantes (1680-1705), Champion, Paris, 1985
    • MAGDELAINE, Michelle, Le Refuge huguenot, Colin, Paris, 1985, Volume 1

Associated notes

Notes to be discovered