My journey began in Halle in August 2011, ten days after my PhD graduation in Norwich. I had never been to Germany before, nor did I speak a word of German at the time. All I knew was that Halle was the only city the Camisards had visited twice and also the one where they had stayed the longest during their continental missions in 1711 and 1713. Unfortunately, their collections of prophecies give virtually no information on the conditions of their stay nor on their local contacts. They do provide us, however, with a detailed itinerary and chronology.
My four missionaries were the prophets Elie Marion and Jean Allut, and their two scribes Charles Portalès and Nicolas Fatio de Duillier. They only passed by Halle for a day on 16 August 1711, where they met the Pietist theologian August Hermann Francke (1663-1727), but returned for one month two years later in May-June 1713. Berlin had been the main stopover on this first mission, which had originally lead me to suspect some Philadelphian contacts. For by then the French Prophets had attracted a substantial number of Philadelphians and Jane Lead had readers and correspondents in many parts Germany. But this was to forget another network of much greater importance.
Halle was the third most important refuge for French Protestants after Berlin and Magdeburg in early eighteenth-century Brandenburg-Prussia. The Elector Friedrich Wilhelm of Hohenzollern’s Edict of Potsdam (1685) had granted Huguenots freedom of religion as well as many economic and fiscal privileges to attract them to his remote principality, whose economy and demographics still had not recovered from the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). Some 14,000-20,000 Huguenots settled in Brandenburg-Prussia as a result, where they established 48 colonies between 1686 and 1731. Halle alone counted over 700 Huguenots by 1700. Most of these originated from the southern French provinces of Languedoc, Vivarais and Dauphiné, while a second wave came from Champagne.
The Huguenot colony was located around the Moritzburg castle in the heart of Halle, where the cathedral also welcomed the French Reformed Church from 1688. Refugees consisted largely of craftsmen, artisans and merchants (stocking weavers, hat makers, glove makers…); Textile manufactures were rapidly established thanks to the King’s financial assistance and goods were exported to Leipzig, where other Huguenots lived. Although refugees were naturalised as Prussian citizens in 1709, it took several generations to integrate them. The colony enjoyed its own administrative, ecclesiastical and judicial authorities, it appointed its own director and treasurer, and French remained its official language until its demise in 1806.
For all these reasons Halle seemed a natural destination for the Camisard missionaries. Yet their claims to prophecy and miracles appealed predominantly to the local Pietist community. That is why the Francke Foundations looked to be a promising starting point for my project. As I arrived at the Information Centre and began reading about the building’s history, it suddenly hit me that I was in fact standing in Francke’s former house almost exactly –providentially?– 300 years day for day after the Camisards visited him. The journey continues…