Book Review : The Huguenots
10 October 2013
Geoffrey Treasure's hefty "The Huguenots" was published by Yale University Press earlier this year with this blurb from the publisher:
Following the Reformation, a growing number of radical Protestants came together to live and worship in Catholic France. These Huguenots survived persecution and armed conflict to win—however briefly—freedom of worship, civil rights, and unique status as a protected minority. But in 1685, the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes abolished all Huguenot rights, and more than 200,000 of the radical Calvinists were forced to flee across Europe, some even farther. In this capstone work, Geoffrey Treasure tells the full story of the Huguenots’ rise, survival, and fall in France over the course of a century and a half. He explores what it was like to be a Huguenot living in a “state within a state,” weaving stories of ordinary citizens together with those of statesmen, feudal magnates, leaders of the Catholic revival, Henry of Navarre, Catherine de’ Medici, Louis XIV, and many others. Treasure describes the Huguenots’ disciplined community, their faith and courage, their rich achievements, and their unique place within Protestantism and European history. The Huguenot exodus represented a crucial turning point in European history, Treasure contends, and he addresses the significance of the Huguenot story—the story of a minority group with the power to resist and endure in one of early modern Europe’s strongest nations.
For a few years, now, authors -- and some readers -- have bemoaned the collapse of the infrastructure of publishing companies and Mr. Treasure's thorough history is a good example of why. Publishing companies have been doing away with employees such as editors, fact-checkers, proofreaders. In their places, they have hired.....no one.
Mr. Treasure retired from his job as senior master at Harrow School when he was sixty-two, in 1992. Since then, he has published a number of books, including a biography of Mazarin. "The Huguenots" is an extraordinarily comprehensive history of the French Protestants, placing them in the context of European Protestant beginnings and showing that they were not passive victims of religious persecution but were themselves most militant, marching into war bellowing their own Battle Psalm. He is clearly an expert on his subject, but Mr. Treasure's erudition -- and his readers -- have been sorely let down by his publisher's failings:
- An editor would have helped Mr. Treasure clarify just what type of book he was writing, either scholarly treatise or popular history. Though the book is marketed to the general public, the author seems to assume the reader has an extensive knowledge of French history under his or her belt. We required a couple of encyclopaedias to help us along, as well as complete genealogies of the Valois and Bourbons.
- An editor might have pointed out that end notes that refer to other pages in the book are not much help. Essentially, they say "I'll get to that later."
- A proofreader or fact checker might have caught typos and mistaken dates, such as that concerning one of the crucial events before the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew's Day, the hanging of Philippe de Gastine, given as being in 1569 instead of 1571; or the transposition that places Achille de Harlay's petition to the king in 1589 instead of 1598.
- An editor would have guided Mr. Treasure's style from one that reads like a bumpy ride on a bad road (often giving the sense that we are reading his notes) to a smoother prose with greater clarity.
- The little Glossary is a nice touch, especially as Mr. Treasure sprinkles his writing with rather a large number of French words.
- A few maps would have helped.
- A chronology would have helped.
- A bit less popular psychology as an effort to explain barbarism would have helped.
In short, imperfect but essential.
Click on the cover in the right-hand column of this page to buy it.
©2013 Anne Morddel