Carolyn Lougee recognized for book on French Protestants’ experiences in 17th century

Carolyn Lougee
Carolyn Lougee

CAROLYN LOUGEE, the Frances and Charles Field Professor of History, Emerita, was recently honored with two awards – the 2016 David H. Pinkney Prize and the 2017 Frances Richardson Keller-Sierra Prize – for her 2016 book, Facing the Revocation: Huguenot Families, Faith, and the King’s Will.

The book examines the story of a family of French Protestants, or Huguenots, and their experiences after King Louis XIV criminalized their faith in the late 17th century. The Robillard de Champagné family was among the many families that had to decide whether to obey the new law and convert to Catholicism or secretly flee France.

The result of about 18 years of research, the book challenges the way the history of Huguenots has been told over the past 300 years. Historians have generally described the Huguenots who fled France as having a deeper commitment to their Protestant faith and those who stayed in France as corrupt and venal. Lougee’s study of one family’s narrative paints a more complex picture of that time.

“This richly researched and elegantly written work painstakingly reconstructs the world of French Huguenots,” read the citation letter for the Pinkney Prize. “This is an extraordinary and sensitive book written by a scholar who is deeply immersed in the sources, a micro-history whose significance is very much in a macro vein.”

The Pinkney Prize, awarded by the Society for French Historical Studies, annually honors the most distinguished book in French history that is written either by a U.S. or Canadian citizen or by someone with an appointment at an American or Canadian college or university. The Western Association of Women Historians awards the Keller-Sierra Prize every year to the best single-authored, originally researched monograph written by a member of the association.

Lougee, who retired in 2015 after a 42-year career at Stanford, said she was thrilled to see her work recognized.

“It’s wonderful to have your colleagues appraise your work and compliment it with a prize,” Lougee said.

Lougee, who specializes in early modern France, got the idea for her book while looking for 17th-century women’s autobiographies. She stumbled on a 1928 reprint of a memoir of Marie de La Rochefoucauld, a French Protestant woman who fled to England in the late 17th century.

Over the next decade, Lougee traveled numerous times to Europe to track down the woman’s family, as well as the original manuscripts and documents that helped paint the full story of the woman and of her family. At one point, Lougee spent about four years trying to access one set of documents in France.

“Each of these individuals who was faced with criminalization of their faith had a lot more going on in their life,” Lougee said. “I tried to complicate the story of the decision-making that Huguenots went through during that time.”