I have long been very interested in my own family history, following in the footsteps of my father who was a keen amateur genealogist. By profession a chartered accountant, he was at heart a historian with a vast knowledge of heraldry, and even worked for a time as a volunteer guide in Canterbury Cathedral explaining to visitors which families were depicted on the plethora of coats of arms attached to the vaults of the cathedral. He schooled me from an early age in the history of the Henzell family, his mother’s line, which he had meticulously researched to the extent of drawing up a family tree reaching back several centuries. Dwelling in the village of de Hennezel in Lorraine, France, the family were quite rare in being not only a ‘noble’ family with a coat of arms but also masters of the craft of glassmaking (‘nobles verriers’). There is a museum in the village devoted to the family and their activities. As a Huguenot (French Protestant) family they were forced to flee persecution in France after the Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve in 1572 when thousands of Huguenots were murdered through targeted assassinations and Catholic mob violence. Along with other Huguenot families, including the Tyzacks, with whom they had close familial ties, they migrated to various Protestant countries, taking up Queen Elizabeth 1’s invitation to settle in England, where they were granted the use of the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral to hold services in French. These services are still held to this day at 3 pm every Sunday, and as a boy I accompanied my father to attend the occasional service. About one-fifth of the Huguenot population (estimated at 2 million in France in 1562) ended up in England, with a smaller portion moving to Ireland. The Huguenots are credited with bringing the word ‘refugee’ into the English language upon their arrival in Britain when it was first used to describe them.
Huguenot refugees were welcomed by their host countries for various reasons, and not merely the obvious one of being favoured by the Protestant establishment often at war with Catholic enemies. They were valued for the importance they attached to education and literacy associated with their strongly intellectual Calvinist roots, from which they also inherited an active sense of opposition to religious oppression and privilege. They could not only read and write, but were often skilled craftsmen and entrepreneurs, especially prolific in the textile industry. The Henzells made a major contribution to the glassmaking industry in various parts of England, including Stourbridge, Newcastle upon Tyne, and Durham where they established glasshouses. In fact, it is well attested by historians that the contribution of immigrant Huguenot families to the development and modernisation of their host countries was out of all proportion to their numbers. In stark contrast, the departure of the Huguenots was a disaster for France, costing the nation much of its cultural and economic influence. In some French cities, the mass exodus meant losing half the working population.