Huguenot – or not?

An Eyewitness Account of the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre by François Dubois (1529–1584)

Two recent episodes of the “Who Do You Think You Are” TV series in the US and the UK featured celebrities discovering Huguenot roots. American TV host Tom Bergeron and British actor Derek Jacobi learned about their French Huguenot ancestors and the challenges they faced in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Huguenot is a term referring to French protestants who suffered religious persecution in France. They were primarily well educated merchants, artisans, and professional people in trades such as wool and silk weaving. One of the most notorious attacks on the Huguenots was the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Paris in 1572. The protestant Prince Henri de Navarre was set to marry the catholic sister of France’s King Charles IX, and well known protestants were in town for the wedding. Catholic leaders and members of the royal family came up with a plan to murder a number of the protestant wedding guests. The king is said to have ordered “the death of all the Protestants of France, so that none would remain to reproach him later.” Over the course of three days, about 3000 men, women, and children were massacred.

The dangerous situation in France led many Huguenots to escape to other, more welcoming areas of the world, such as England, the West Indies, and colonial America.  One possible early Huguenot immigrant to the Manchester area of England was my husband’s ancestor Thomas Mallalieu. Thomas’ name was recorded in many different forms in historic documents, such as Marralew, Maralew, and Mallelew. The first time his name appears is in the 1588 inventory of a James Kenworthy of Saddleworth, in Yorkshire, who records a debt incurred by Thomas of 11 shillings and 8 pence.

The local Saddleworth belief was that Thomas, the Mallalieu progenitor, was a Huguenot. One bit of evidence to support this thought is that Thomas was described in several period documents as bearing the alias “French”. From the usage of this alias, it appears to have been a nickname, perhaps distinguishing Thomas’ origins from his English neighbors. Judging by the dates of his marriage and the baptisms of his children (up to about 1620), it appears that he was a young man in 1588, which may indicate that he left France at the perilous time period following the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.

Descendants of Thomas Mallalieu eventually spread across the world to former British colonies in southern Africa, New Zealand, the United States, and the Caribbean. In my husband’s case, his ancestor Frederick Walton Mallalieu left the Droylesden area of Manchester in the early 19th century and started a new Mallalieu branch in the West Indian island of St. Kitts.









  1. TLC TV (US) Who Do You Think You Are episode explores Tom Bergeron’s Huguenot roots in France
  2. BBC One TV (UK) Who Do You Think You Are episode with Derek Jacobi learning about Huguenot ancestors who relocated to England
  3. BBC Legacies London: Immigration and Emigration, The Huguenots about immigrant silk weavers
  4. The Huguenot Society of North America, Huguenot history
  5. Huguenot Society of South Carolina, Huguenot history
  6. The Huguenots, their settlements, churches, & industries in England and Ireland; by Samuel Smiles 1869. Notes that Huguenot weavers relocated to the area of Manchester, England (including Saddleworth)
  7. Saddleworth Historical Society Bulletin (volume 42, number 1) Spring 2012, “Origins of the Saddleworth Mallalieu family” by Mike Buckley, a fascinating and thorough historical look at the Mallalieu family origins in England

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