Siege of La Rochelle

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Siege of La Rochelle (1627–1628)
(Siège de La Rochelle 1627–1628)
Part of the Huguenot rebellions
Siege of La Rochelle 1881 Henri Motte.png
Cardinal Richelieu at the Siege of La Rochelle, Henri Motte, 1881.
DateSeptember 1627 – October 1628
Result Decisive Royalist victory
Pavillon royal de la France.svg  Kingdom of France Blason de La Rochelle.png La Rochelle
Croix huguenote.svg Huguenots
Flag of England.svg  Kingdom of England
Commanders and leaders
Pavillon royal de la France.svg Louis XIII
Pavillon royal de la France.svg Cardinal Richelieu (Siege commander)
Pavillon royal de la France.svg Toiras (Governor of Île de Ré)
Pavillon royal de la France.svg Bassompierre
Blason de La Rochelle.png Jean Guiton (mayor)
Croix huguenote.svg Soubise (commander)
Flag of England.svg Duke of Buckingham (commander)
Siege Army: 22,001
La Rochelle: 27,000 civilians and soldiers
Buckingham: 80 ships, 7,000 soldiers
Casualties and losses
Siege Army: ?
Toiras: 500 killed
La Rochelle: 22,000 killed
Buckingham: 5,000 killed

The Siege of La Rochelle (French: Le Siège de La Rochelle, or sometimes Le Grand Siège de La Rochelle) was a result of a war between the French royal forces of Louis XIII of France and the Huguenots of La Rochelle in 1627–28. The siege marked the height of the struggle between the Catholics and the Protestants in France, and ended with a complete victory for King Louis XIII and the Catholics.

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

Louis XIII of France King of France and Navarra 1610-1643

Louis XIII was a monarch of the House of Bourbon who was King of France from 1610 to 1643 and King of Navarre from 1610 to 1620, when the crown of Navarre was merged with the French crown.

Huguenots Ethnoreligious group composed of Calvinists from France

Huguenots are an ethnoreligious group of French Protestants.



La Rochelle at the time of the siege. Detail of Claude Lorrain Le siege de La Rochelle, Louvre. Entrance to La Rochelle harbour Claude Lorrain 1631.JPG
La Rochelle at the time of the siege. Detail of Claude Lorrain Le siège de La Rochelle , Louvre.

In the Edict of Nantes, Henry IV of France had given the French Huguenots extensive rights. La Rochelle had become their stronghold, under its own governance. It was the main port for Huguenot seapower, and the strongest centre of resistance against the Catholic royal government. [1] The city was, at this time, the second or third largest in France, with over 30,000 inhabitants.

Edict of Nantes granted the Calvinist Protestants of France (Huguenots) substantial rights

The Edict of Nantes, signed in April 1598 by King Henry IV of France, granted the Calvinist Protestants of France substantial rights in the nation, which was still considered essentially Catholic at the time. In the edict, Henry aimed primarily to promote civil unity. The edict separated civil from religious unity, treated some Protestants for the first time as more than mere schismatics and heretics, and opened a path for secularism and tolerance. In offering general freedom of conscience to individuals, the edict offered many specific concessions to the Protestants, such as amnesty and the reinstatement of their civil rights, including the right to work in any field or for the state and to bring grievances directly to the king. It marked the end of the religious wars that had afflicted France during the second half of the 16th century.

Henry IV of France first French monarch of the House of Bourbon

Henry IV, also known by the epithet Good King Henry or Henry the Great, was King of Navarre from 1572 and King of France from 1589 to 1610. He was the first monarch of France from the House of Bourbon, a cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty. He was assassinated in 1610 by François Ravaillac, a fanatical Catholic, and was succeeded by his son Louis XIII.

La Rochelle Prefecture and commune in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France

La Rochelle is a city in western France and a seaport on the Bay of Biscay, a part of the Atlantic Ocean. It is the capital of the Charente-Maritime department.

The assassination of Henry IV in 1610, and the advent of Louis XIII under the regency of Marie de' Medici, marked a return to pro-Catholic politics and a weakening of the position of the Protestants. The Duke Henri de Rohan and his brother Soubise started to organize Protestant resistance from that time, which ultimately exploded into a Huguenot rebellion. In 1621, Louis XIII besieged and captured Saint-Jean d'Angély, and a blockade of La Rochelle was attempted in 1621-1622, ending with a stalemate and the Treaty of Montpellier.

Marie de Medici Queen of France, second wife of King Henry IV of France

Marie de' Medici was Queen of France as the second wife of King Henry IV of France, of the House of Bourbon. She was a member of the wealthy and powerful House of Medici. Following the assassination of her husband in 1610, which occurred the day after her coronation, she acted as regent for her son, King Louis XIII of France, until 1617, when he came of age. She was noted for her ceaseless political intrigues at the French court and extensive artistic patronage.

Blockade of La Rochelle

The Blockade of La Rochelle took place in 1621-1622 during the repression of the Huguenot rebellion by the French king Louis XIII.

The Treaty of Montpellier was signed in Montpellier on 18 October 1622 between King Louis XIII of France and Duke Henry II of Rohan. The treaty followed the Siege of Montpellier and ended hostilities between French royalists and the Huguenots. Moreover, it confirmed the tenets of the Edict of Nantes, pardoned Henry II, and allowed the Huguenots to maintain their numerous forts and garrisons.

Again, Rohan and Soubise would take arms in 1625, ending with the capture of the Île de Ré in 1625 by Louis XIII. After these events, Louis XIII resolved to subdue the Huguenots, and Louis' Chief Minister Cardinal Richelieu declared this his first priority.

Recovery of Ré island

The Recovery of Ré Island was accomplished by the army of Louis XIII in September 1625, against the troops of the Protestant admiral Soubise and the Huguenot forces of La Rochelle, who had been occupying the Island of Ré since February 1625 as part of the Huguenot rebellions.

Cardinal Richelieu French clergyman, noble and statesman

Cardinal Armand Jean du Plessis, 1st Duke of Richelieu and Fronsac, commonly referred to as Cardinal Richelieu, was a French clergyman, nobleman, and statesman. He was consecrated as a bishop in 1607 and was appointed Foreign Secretary in 1616. Richelieu soon rose in both the Catholic Church and the French government, becoming a cardinal in 1622, and King Louis XIII's chief minister in 1624. He remained in office until his death in 1642; he was succeeded by Cardinal Mazarin, whose career he had fostered.

English intervention

The Duke of Buckingham attempted to lift the siege. GeorgeVilliers.jpg
The Duke of Buckingham attempted to lift the siege.

The Anglo-French conflict followed the failure of the Anglo-French alliance of 1624, in which England had tried to find an ally in France against the power of the Habsburgs. In 1626, France under Richelieu actually concluded a secret peace with Spain, and disputes arose around Henrietta Maria's household. Furthermore, France was building the power of its Navy, leading the English to be convinced that France must be opposed "for reasons of state". [2]

In June 1626, Walter Montagu was sent to France to contact dissident noblemen, and from March 1627 attempted to organize a French rebellion. The plan was to send an English fleet to encourage rebellion, triggering a new Huguenot revolt by Duke Henri de Rohan and his brother Soubise. [2]

Walter Montagu was an English courtier, secret agent and Benedictine abbot.

First La Rochelle expedition

Landing of Buckingham in Sablanceau.jpg
English Siege of Saint Martin 1627.jpg
Left image: Landing of Buckingham in Sablanceau (detail).
Right image: English forces in the Siege of Saint-Martin-de-Ré.

On the first expedition, the English king Charles I sent a fleet of 80 ships, under his favourite George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, to encourage a major rebellion in La Rochelle. In June 1627 Buckingham organised a landing on the nearby island of Île de Ré with 6,000 men in order to help the Huguenots, thus starting the Anglo-French War of 1627, with the objective of controlling the approaches to La Rochelle, and of encouraging the rebellion in the city.

The city of La Rochelle initially refused to declare itself an ally of Buckingham against the crown of France, and effectively denied access to its harbour to Buckingham's fleet. An open alliance would only be declared in September at the time of the first fights between La Rochelle and royal troops.

Although a Protestant stronghold, Île de Ré had not directly joined the rebellion against the king. On Île de Ré, the English under Buckingham tried to take the fortified city of Saint-Martin in the Siege of Saint-Martin-de-Ré (1627), but were repulsed after three months. Small French royal boats managed to supply St Martin in spite of the English blockade. Buckingham ultimately ran out of money and support, and his army was weakened by disease. After a last attack on Saint-Martin they were repulsed with heavy casualties, and left with their ships.


La Rochelle during the siege. La Rochelle during the 1628 siege.jpg
La Rochelle during the siege.
The Siege of La Rochelle (map), Stefano della Bella, 1641 Plan Of The Siege Of La Rochelle in 1628.jpg
The Siege of La Rochelle (map), Stefano della Bella, 1641
La Rochelle, surrounded by Royal fortifications and troops, Jacques Callot, 1630. Siege of La Rochelle by Jacques Callot 1630.jpg
La Rochelle, surrounded by Royal fortifications and troops, Jacques Callot, 1630.
Siege of La Rochelle, with nearby Ile de Re, by G.Orlandi, 1627. Siege of La Rochelle by Orlandi 1627.jpg
Siege of La Rochelle, with nearby Île de Ré, by G.Orlandi, 1627.
First seawall, built by Pompeo Targone, 1627. Pompeo Targone seawall.jpg
First seawall, built by Pompeo Targone, 1627.
Second seawall, designed by Clement Metezeau. Metezeau seawall.jpg
Second seawall, designed by Clément Métezeau.
Construction of a Royal fort in the area of Les Minimes. Siege of La Rochelle construction of a Royal fort.jpg
Construction of a Royal fort in the area of Les Minimes.

Meanwhile, in August 1627 French royal forces started to surround La Rochelle, with an army of 7,000 soldiers, 600 horses and 24 cannons, led by Charles of Angoulême. They started to reinforce fortifications at Bongraine (modern Les Minimes), and at the Fort Louis.

On September 10, the first cannon shots were fired by La Rochelle against royal troops at Fort Louis, starting the third Huguenot rebellion. La Rochelle was the greatest stronghold among the Huguenot cities of France, and the centre of Huguenot resistance. Cardinal Richelieu acted as commander of the besiegers when the King was absent.

Once hostilities started, French engineers isolated the city with entrenchments 12 kilometres long, fortified by 11 forts and 18 redoubts. The surrounding fortifications were completed in April 1628, manned with an army of 30,000.

Four thousand workmen also built a 1,400-metre-long seawall to block the seaward access between the city and harbor, stopping all supplies. The initial idea for blocking the channel came from the Italian engineer Pompeo Targone, but his structure was broken by winter weather, before the idea was taken up by the royal architect Clément Métezeau (or Metzeau) [3] in November 1627. The wall was built on a foundation of sunken hulks filled with rubble. French artillery battered English ships trying to supply the city.

Meanwhile, in southern France, Henri de Rohan vainly attempted to raise a rebellion to relieve La Rochelle. Until February, some ships were able to go through the seawall under construction, but after March this became impossible. The city was completely blockaded, with the only hope coming from possible intervention by an English fleet.

Foreign support for the French Crown

Louis XIII at the Siege of La Rochelle. Louis XIII at the Siege of La Rochelle 17th century.jpg
Louis XIII at the Siege of La Rochelle.

Dutch support

Altogether, the Roman Catholic government of France rented ships from the Protestant city of Amsterdam to conquer the Protestant city of La Rochelle. This resulted in a debate in the city council of Amsterdam as to whether the French soldiers should be allowed to have a Roman Catholic sermon on board of the Protestant Dutch ships. The result of the debate was that it was not allowed. The Dutch ships transported the French soldiers to La Rochelle. France was a Dutch ally in the war against the Habsburgs.

Spanish alliance

In the occasion of the Siege of La Rochelle, Spain manoeuvered towards the formation of a Franco-Spanish alliance against the common enemies that were the English, the Huguenots and the Dutch. [4] Richelieu accepted Spanish help, and a Spanish fleet of 30 to 40 warships was sent from Cadiz to the Gulf of Morbihan as an affirmation of strategic support, [4] arriving three weeks after the departure of Buckingham from Île de Ré. At one point, the Spanish fleet anchored in front of La Rochelle, but did not engage in actual operations against the city.

English relief efforts

England attempted to send two more fleets to relieve La Rochelle.

Second La Rochelle expedition

A naval force led by William Feilding, Earl of Denbigh, left on April 1628, but returned without a fight to Portsmouth, as Denbigh said that he had no commission to hazard the king's ships in a fight, and returned shamefully to Portsmouth. [5]

Third La Rochelle expedition

A third fleet was dispatched under the Admiral of the Fleet, the Earl of Lindsey in August 1628, [5] consisting of 29 warships and 31 merchantmen. [6] In September 1628, the English fleet tried to relieve the city. After bombarding French positions and failing to force the sea wall, the English fleet had to withdraw. Following this last disappointment, the city surrendered on 28 October 1628.


Jean Guitton and the defenders vowing to defend La Rochelle to the death. GuittonJean.jpg
Jean Guitton and the defenders vowing to defend La Rochelle to the death.
The surrender of La Rochelle, 17th century. The surrender of La Rochelle.jpg
The surrender of La Rochelle, 17th century.
Entrance of Louis XIII in La Rochelle, by Pierre Courtilleau. Entree de Louis XIII a La Rochelle par Pierre Courtilleau.jpg
Entrance of Louis XIII in La Rochelle, by Pierre Courtilleau.

Residents of La Rochelle had resisted for 14 months, under the leadership of the mayor Jean Guitton and with gradually diminishing help from England. During the siege, the population of La Rochelle decreased from 27,000 to 5,000 due to casualties, famine, and disease.

Surrender was unconditional. By the terms of the Peace of Alais, the Huguenots lost their territorial, political and military rights, but retained the religious freedom granted by the Edict of Nantes. However, they were left at the mercy of the monarchy, unable to resist later when Louis XIV abolished the Edict of Nantes altogether and embarked on active persecution.

Aside from its religious aspect, the Siege of La Rochelle marks an important success in the creation of a strong central government of France, in control throughout its territory and able to suppress regional defiance. In the immediate aftermath was the growth of the absolute monarchy, but it had long-term effects upon all later French regimes up to the present.

The French philosopher Descartes is known to have visited the scene of the siege in 1627.

The siege was depicted in detail by numerous artists, such as Jacques Callot.

Birdeye views by Jacques Callot

Maps by Jacques Callot



Around the time of the siege, a series of propaganda coins were cast to describe the stakes of the siege, and then commemorate the Royal victory. These coins depict the siege in symbolic ways, showing the city and the English effort in a poor light, while putting an advantageous light on Royal might. [7]

Siege in fiction and film

The siege forms the historical background for the novel The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, père and the book's numerous adaptations to stage, screen, comics and video game.

The 11th book of Robert Merle's Fortune de France series, La Gloire et les perils, deals entirely with the siege of La Rochelle.

In Lawrence Norfolk's 1991 novel, Lemprière's Dictionary, the siege is the central cause of events — entirely fictional — 160 years later in London around the writing of John Lemprière's Classical Dictionary containing a full Account of all the Proper Names mentioned in Ancient Authors.

Taylor Caldwell writes about the siege in great detail in her 1943 novel The Arm and the Darkness; however she has as its commander the fictional Huguenot nobleman Arsene de Richepin, one of the central characters of the book.


  1. Warfare at sea, 1500-1650: maritime conflicts and the transformation of Europe by Glete J Staff, Jan Glete Routledge, 2002 ISBN   0-203-02456-7 p.178
  2. 1 2 Historical dictionary of Stuart England, 1603-1689 by Ronald H. Fritze, p.203
  3. Duffy, p.118
  4. 1 2 The Thirty Years' War by Geoffrey Parker, p.74
  5. 1 2 An apprenticeship in arms by Roger Burrow Manning, p.119
  6. Ships, money, and politics by Kenneth R. Andrews, p.150
  7. Musée d'Orbigny-Bernon exhibit

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Coordinates: 46°10′00″N1°09′00″W / 46.1667°N 1.1500°W / 46.1667; -1.1500