The Huguenots were Protestants in Roman Catholic France of the 16th & 17th Centuries. It is believed that the name derives from St Hugo - a Protestant at the time of the Reformation, although other meanings have been suggested.
Their earliest persecutions reached a peak on St Bartholomew's Day, 24th August 1572, when thousands of Huguenots were massacred - 8000 in Paris alone. Persecution continued for another 26 years until the Edict of Nantes (April 1598) permitted them to worship in certain specified places, freed their children enforced Roman Catholic teaching and numerous other civil liberties. Less than a century later, however, in 1685 the edict was revoked by King Louis XIV and they were again persecuted with the utmost severity being driven by torture to receive the Mass. Families were separated as if they were slaves; men sent to the Galleys while women and children were brutally forced to accept a faith they abhorred. The human misery this brought about is too horrible to contemplate.
So it is not surprising that, in spite of the fact they were forbidden to leave, in time more than 400,000 managed to escape. They fled to the Netherlands, Scotland, Ireland and England - many of them settling in Kent and London. Many became Baptists and were the backbone of the Churches which were founded in this part of the country in those days.
In early 1682 Francis and Annah Dansays of Soubise, near Rochefort in the Department of Charente Maritime and their three daughters settled in Rye, Sussex. Francis was described on his denization papers as being a Gentleman and they were French Protestants. By 1701 at the latest a young Franchman from Port d’Envaux, near Taillebourg in the Department of Charente Maritime by the name of David Espinet had also settled in Rye. David was also a French Protestant popularly referred to as a Huguenot although the term is a very broad one and covers both French & Walloon Protestants who were, in general, Calvinists. On 27th December 1705 in Bexley, Kent David Espinet married Mary Dansays, the daughter of Francis & Annah.
Sandhurst Baptist Church possesses a neatly framed page of a very old bible which is thought to have been published around 1678 and is from an edition of Theodore de Beza*. It was a costly production and contained both Testaments, the Apocrypha, the liturgical service of the French Protestant Church, the Psalms set to music, the Catechism, the baptism & marriage service, a concordance of biblical subjects, and a number of engravings illustrative of the Old Testament. It is known that at least three other leaves of this bible still exist; they are also framed and held in trust to be handed down to descendants of the families concerned. It was a similar practise which brought the pages to Sandhurst Baptist Church. On the evening of 25th November 1972, 400 years after the St Bartholomew's Day massacre, there was a knock on the Manse door. When Rev. Alex Law opened it, two men were standing there with a parcel. He invited them in and they handed him the parcel which contained a page from the Huguenots Bible. They told him that they were the last surviving members of their families and they would like the Church to have this precious possession which had been in their families' hands for many years.
Tradition has three versions of events in France concerning hiding the Bible prior to finally travelling to England. It was either hidden in a well in Port d’Evaux or in the grounds of an Inn in the same town or in Calais but all agree that when the Huguenot refugees arrived in Rye and before parting, they tore apart the various books of their Bible and handed one to each of the families among them. In turn these pages were shared between each member of these families.
We cannot now be certain which family brought the Bible with them. It could have been the Dansays in 1682 but that was prior to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes and hiding the bible to avoid persecution would have been unnecessary. It could have been David Espinet some time before 1701 and that would seem most likely.
Why was Sandhurst Baptist Church chosen to receive the bible page? Well, the church dates back to before 1730 and it is known that David Espinet (1712 – 1768) son of the refugee Huguenot was a member at least as early as 1750. Although there was a hiatus in which he and his family attended Rye Baptist Church there were subsequently descendants in membership at Sandhurst right up to the beginning of the 20th century.
In compiling this brief note I would like to acknowledge the research of the late Eric Hugh Ballard contained in his privately published book “Three Centuries of Ballards” a copy of which is held by the church. Eric was five times great grandson of David Espinet the refugee and two times great grandson of Sarah Espinet subsequently the wife of George Ballard through which marriage that branch of the Ballard family from Tenterden, Kent acquired their Huguenot heritage.
Ballard Family Historian
*"All that we know of this our Huguenot ancestor is, that he left all his property for the truth's sake, bringing with him to England, as far as we know, one single treasure, the pearl of great price -- his large Huguenot family Bible, a copy of one of those valuable editions by Theodore de Beza, published about seven years before the revocation of the edict of Nantes". David Espenett (1820 – 1886) “Our Huguenot Ancestors”