Legal Research Reports:The Revocation of Huguenot Rights to French Citizenship

You are subscribed to Legal Research Reports from the Library of Congress.

The Revocation of Huguenot Rights to French Citizenship

The Law Library of Congress is proud to present the report, The Revocation of Huguenot Rights to French Citizenship

The 1685 revocation of the Edict of Nantes deprived French Protestants, otherwise known as the Huguenots, of all religious and civil liberties.  This led to the widespread persecution of Huguenots, and over 400,000 emigrated from France as a result.  Religious freedom was re-established during the French Revolution, and a 1790 law provided that descendants of French individuals who had fled the country due to religious persecution had a right to settle in France and claim French citizenship.  This rule, confirmed in a slightly amended form in 1889, remained applicable until 1945, when the French Citizenship Code abrogated almost all prior legislation on the matter of citizenship, including the laws of 1790 and 1889.

The 1945 French Citizenship Code was adopted by way of an ordonnance, which is, in this context, an act of delegated legislation.  The French Constitution allows, under certain conditions, the executive branch to legislate in lieu of Parliament.  These acts of legislation, which are subject to both prior authorization and later confirmation by Parliament, are called ordonnances.  Once an ordonnance has been ratified or confirmed by Parliament, it becomes the equivalent of a law.  An ordonnance may amend or entirely abrogate prior legislation. 

The concept of delegated legislation has existed in France for a long time, under different names.  However, the 1945 ordonnance that instituted the then-new French Citizenship Code never authorized by Parliament, because France had no Parliament to speak of between July 1940 and October 1945.  It does not appear that the legality and legitimacy of the ordonnances of 1945 were ever challenged, and French courts treat them as a valid exercise of legislative authority.  The 1945 ordonnance which abrogated the right to French citizenship for descendants of Huguenots should therefore be seen as a valid piece of legislation under French law.

This report is one of the many prepared by the Law Library of Congress. Visit the Comprehensive Index of Legal Reports page for a complete listing of reports and the Current Legal Topics page for our highlighted and newer reports.