Cross of Malta, thus named because it was the insignia of the Knights of Malta, descendants of the hospice-keepers of St John of Jerusalem. This design, similiar to The Cross of Toulouse or the Languedoc Cross, was popular and known as early as 1100 AD. The same design could be found on wrought-iron stairways, window clasps, fabric and old wardrobes.
December 31, 1578, Henri III, desiring to prove that he was a good Catholic, and wanting to mark his kingship on Pentecost Sunday, founded the Order of the Knights of the Holy Spirit. Naturally, only Roman Catholics could aspire to this privilege. The insignia of the order was the Cross of Malta, hanging from a blue ribbon. At the center of the Holy Spirit Cross was a dove, with the slogan, "By the Head and by the Spirit." The Huguenot cross is believed to have been a sign of recognition among the French Protestants as early as the 17th century. It was patterned after the Order of the Holy Spirit insignia worn by Henry IV of Navarre, who issued the Edict of Nantes in 1598 to protect Protestant freedoms.
April 9, 1693, Louis XIV inaugurated the Order of Saint-Louis, for the purpose of rewarding the military valor of his officers. But, again, the King stipulated that it was only open to those who, "made profession of the catholic, apostolic and roman religion." Like its predecessor, this order was suppressed at the Revolutions of 1789 and 1830.
March 10, 1759, Louis XV created the Medal of Military Merit, which could be earned by Protestant officers, as long as they were not French. Although this has little significance anyway, since the date is much later than the period of Huguenot prime.
What is the connection to Protestants, then? From the realm of honorary decorations let us go briefly to that of jewelry, now. The emblem of the dove has been used for a long time in various regions of France, both Protestant and Catholic, as a Christian symbol. Protestants, however, having been excluded from the great military orders, looked nevertheless to wear a sign that was recognizable, Christian, yet not identical to the official one.
Two basic forms exist. The first is a Maltese Cross with a phial, or drop of anointing oil, hanging from it. The second is the Maltese Cross with the dove, or symbol of the Holy Spirit hanging from it.
The first Huguenot Cross, that is, the Cross of Malta, plus the phial, appeared in the latter half of the 17th century. The best guess is that it was made especially for the Huguenots (Protestants, from the word,"Eidgenossen," or confederates) by a jeweler from Lyon. It seems also that various Southern jewelers began to make these crosses at the same time.
What makes it specifically Protestant? Only two hypotheses are considered valid. The first is that the phial meant Protestants were obedient to the King, despite his persecuting them. The second is coincidence, that is, jewelers sold these to Protestants until they became simply the only clients for it.
The cross with the dove is easier to explain. It was created by a jeweler from Nomes, named Maystre, around 1688. Protestants had repugnance for the normal Latin cross, but they could accept the Maltese Cross. And they were particularly attached to the Holy Spirit, especially when the prophetic movement began, during persecutions. Lay people depended on the Spirit to lead the church, and so Maystre and others seized the occasion for their business. But essentially these crosses are popular simply because Protestants became enthusiastic about them then, and now.
The Huguenot Cross is replete with symbolism. The insignia consists of an open four-petal Lily of France,representative of the Mother Country of France. The four petals signify the Four Gospels. Each petal, or arm, has at its edge, two rounded points at the corners. These rounded points are regarded as signifying the Eight Beatitudes. The four petals are joined together by four fleur-de-lis, also reminiscent of the Mother Country of France. Each fleur-de-lis has has three petals. The twelve petals of the four fleur-de-lis signify the Twelve Apostles. An open space in the shape of heart is formed between each fleur-de-lis and the arms of the two petals with which it is joined. This shape -- a symbol of loyalty -- suggests the seal of the great French Reformer, John Calvin. A descending dove pendant representing the Saint Esprit or "Sainted Spirit" -- the guide and counselor of the Church -- is suspended from a ring of gold attached to the lower central petal.