A glossary for displaced persons

What status were Huguenot refugees given in their countries of refuge? Were they able to become citizens? Were they naturalized or assimilated?

The answer to these questions depends greatly on where these Huguenots found themselves, as terminology and laws change from country to country. Understanding these terms can give some clarity when reading about our Huguenot ancestors’ plights outside of France.

A denizen generally refers to someone who is not granted citizenship but has some social, economic, and possibly political rights and protections under the law.[1] It is considered a half-way status between citizen and non-citizen.[2] The status is similar to what would today be called “permanent residency” in many nations. Huguenot and other settlers were often required to make a public statement of allegiance to obtain this special status.

A citizen, meanwhile, refers to someone who is offered full rights and protection under the law of the citizenship-granting nation, either by birth, naturalization (jus soli) or descent (jus sanguinis).

“Denizen” status was used in England to grant rights to immigrants considered valuable to the country. Charles II offered “free denizenship” to Huguenots in England, granting them residency and property rights until the 1708 “Foreign Protestants Naturalisation Act” was passed, allowing a pathway for naturalization.[3] Denizen status in England was similar to the “inhabitant” (habitant) status granted to Huguenots in Geneva.

For Huguenots to get citizenship status in nations outside of France, they would need to go by way of naturalization.

Naturalization is the political process of obtaining citizenship in a foreign country on a basis other than ethnicity or descent, while assimilation refers to the cultural and social aspects of integrating into a new country. One can assimilate to a country without being naturalized as citizens (as did Huguenots who assimilated culturally and economically but were only granted denizen-type status). Some countries intertwine assimilation as a requirement for naturalization, exemplified by citizenship tests involving a nation’s history and values.


[1] Łucka, D. (2019). Between Alien and Citizen: Denizenship in the” Old” and” New” Europe. Polish Sociological Review207(3), 337-354.

[2] Groenendijk, K. (2006). The status of quasi-citizenship in EU member states: Why some states have ‘almost-citizens’. In R. Bauböck, E. Ersbøll, K. Groenendijk and H. Waldrauch (Eds.) Acquisition and Loss of Nationality:  Policies and Trends in 15 European Countries (Vol. 1). (pp. 411-429). Amsterdam University Press. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/j.ctt46mw34.15

[3] Tonkin, B. (2015, June 19). Refugee Week: The Huguenots count among the most successful of Britain’s immigrants. Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/refugee-week-huguenots-count-among-most-successful-britain-s-immigrants-10330066.html