Revolt of the Huguenots Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Fearing the whittling away of their rights by the centralizing, pro-Catholic policies of King Louis XIII’s regime, the Protestant Huguenots launched the last of the French Wars of Religion. However, in overcoming an English expeditionary force, the powerful French chief minister Cardinal de Richelieu besieged and captured the Huguenot stronghold of La Rochelle to end the conflict.

Summary of Event

The 1598 Edict of Nantes, Nantes, Edict of (1598) proclaimed by King Henry IV Henry IV (king of France) , provided a measure of religious freedom to the minority Huguenot population. It also guaranteed them places du surete, fortified towns the Huguenots were authorized to garrison and maintain in southern and western France. They were given the right to mount what was effectively an independent army and to operate as a state within the French state. [kw]Revolt of the Huguenots (1625-Oct. 28, 1628) [kw]Huguenots, Revolt of the (1625-Oct. 28, 1628) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1625-Oct. 28, 1628: Revolt of the Huguenots[0970] Government and politics;1625-Oct. 28, 1628: Revolt of the Huguenots[0970] Religion and theology;1625-Oct. 28, 1628: Revolt of the Huguenots[0970] France;1625-Oct. 28, 1628: Revolt of the Huguenots[0970] Huguenots;revolt of (1625-1628)

As long as Henry IV (r. 1589-1610) was on the throne, there existed a laissez-faire atmosphere with regard to religious practice, and the Huguenots even were represented on the Royal Privy Council, notably by Maximilien de Béthune, the duke de Sully Sully, duke de . This changed after Henry’s assassination, when the Huguenots were forced out from governmental decision-making. Sully quickly became alienated and resigned in 1611 out of disgust.

Queen Mother Marie de Médicis Marie de Médicis , regent for the nine-year-old monarch Louis XIII Louis XIII;Catholicism and , was a devout Catholic Catholicism;France . When Louis came of age, his own Catholic sensibilities made him anything but sympathetic to his Protestant subjects. He reportedly expressed his desire privately to eradicate Huguenot worship from his realm. The Huguenots saw their rights under the Edict of Nantes challenged bit by bit until their power and influence in court circles were eroded completely. To worsen the situation, most of their principal leaders, such as Sébastien Chateillon of the sixteenth century, François de Bonne (duke de Lesdiguières), and the Condés defected to Catholicism (usually for political reasons). By the 1620’, the powerful de Rohan family was among the very few significant families of the upper nobility to cling to the ancestral Calvinist faith. It was an uncertain time of incompetent and corrupt royal favorites, assassinations, and attempted coups.

In 1617, the king’s Edict of Restitution Restitution, Edict of (1617) to restore Catholic worship in predominantly Protestant Béarn led to a Huguenot assembly at the formidable fortified city of La Rochelle. This assembly was dominated by a militant element and it openly defied the king. Royal military campaigns in 1620, 1621, and 1622 through southern France could not break Huguenot power. However, the Huguenots did lose some important ground: Benjamin de Rohan, seigneur de Soubise, Soubise, seigneur de was heavily defeated at Île de Ries in 1622 Île de Ries, Battle of (1622) and lost Poitou Province, while his brother Henri de Rohan Rohan, Henri de was compelled to sign the Peace of Montpellier, Montpellier, Peace of (1622) which stipulated that the Huguenot garrisons would be dismantled in 1625. Only the Atlantic port of La Rochelle remained defiant.

Early in 1625, Soubise seized the Île de Ré and the Île d’Oléron near La Rochelle and appealed for assistance from King Charles I Charles I (king of England);France and of England. Charles’s marriage to Louis XIII’s sister Henrietta Maria Henrietta Maria seemed to calm the situation, but the French-English alliance broke apart and the French government made a pact of friendship with ultra-Catholic Spain. In July of 1627, Soubise and his brother Henri were promised help by Charles’s royal favorite, George Villiers, the duke of Buckingham Buckingham, first duke of , and an English fleet was accordingly sent to the area. Many believed that Buckingham’s influence had been instrumental in driving France and England into conflict in the first place.

Cardinal de Richelieu Richelieu, Cardinal de;Siege of La Rochelle became first minister of France in 1624 and set out energetically to surround and then to invest La Rochelle La Rochelle, Siege of (1627-1628) in a siege, recognizing the city as key to the struggle. Wearing his own unique armor and personally directing the actual operations—including the construction of a dike to block the port—the cardinal maintained constant pressure on the will and morale of the townspeople. However, a former admiral in the French navy named Jean Guiton Guiton, Jean was chosen as mayor and became the inspirational heart and soul of the city’s resistance. The actual siege began on August 10, 1627, and, almost simultaneously, Buckingham’s fleet appeared.

French minister Cardinal de Richelieu, with his aides, planning an end to the Protestant Huguenots’ siege of La Rochelle.

(Francis R. Niglutsch)

The English force made its first attempt to break the siege by trying to secure a base on the nearby Île de Ré, which was held by a smaller French contingent at Fort St.-Martin. After some initial success, Buckingham’s momentum broke down, and on November 6, 1627, he launched a suicidal attack on the battlements, suffered appalling casualties, and was promptly driven out by a French counterattack. Buckingham returned to England and from May to June, 1628, a second English fleet under William Feilding, Feilding, William the first earl of Denbigh, hovered around the fortifications, only to turn back without attempting a breach. Buckingham, increasingly unpopular, sought to recoup his fortunes by organizing a third—and larger—relief expedition. However, on August 23, 1628, he was stabbed in the chest by an assassin, John Felton, Felton, John and died minutes later. His death marked the end of serious involvement by the English.

Meanwhile, in Béarn and Guyenne, Henri de Rohan held his own against superior forces but, without English assistance, he had no hope of breaking through to La Rochelle. Hemmed in at all sides and racked by starvation and disease, the population had reduced to 5,000 from an estimated 25,000 at the beginning of the siege, La Rochelle surrendered on October 28, 1628. Finally, on November 1, Louis and Richelieu triumphantly rode into town.


After La Rochelle’s capitulation, Henri de Rohan, in Béarn, was forced to come to terms two months later. The settlement, called the Peace of Alais (1629) Alais, Peace of (1629) completely stripped the Huguenots of their fortresses and independent military power. Richelieu, however, proved willing to affirm the basic rights they enjoyed as Protestant Frenchmen under the Edict of Nantes, and they would remain unharmed as long as the cardinal remained in control. The reduction of Huguenot autonomy went a long way toward realizing Richelieu’s dream of a powerful, united French state under a centralized and absolute monarchy.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Burckhardt, Carl J. Richelieu: His Rise to Power. New York: Vintage Books, 1964. A still-useful study that, at times, reads like a novel. Oriented very much in favor of Richelieu.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Holt, Mack P. The French Wars of Religion, 1562-1629. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. A unique and comprehensive account of French sectarian conflict that ties in the seventeenth century war (1610-1629) with the better-known wars of the sixteenth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Levi, Anthony. Cardinal Richelieu and the Making of France. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2000. Richelieu is improbably described as a benevolent reformer. Still, the author’s treatment is reasonably even-handed.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lockyer, Roger. Buckingham: The Life and Political Career of George Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham, 1592-1628. New York: Longman, 1981. Lockyer attempts a more sympathetic and complex analysis of one of the most maligned political figures of the early seventeenth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lublinskaya, A. D. French Absolutism: The Crucial Phase, 1620-1629. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1968. A classic study that depicts the Huguenots as obstacles to the irresistible trend of the centralization of governmental power.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">O’Connell, D. P. Richelieu. New York: World, 1968. In similar fashion to Burckhardt’s book, O’Connell depicts Richelieu quite sympathetically, while emphasizing the weaknesses of Buckingham and his Huguenot allies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Treasure, G. R. R. Cardinal Richelieu and the Development of Absolutism. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1972. Another work that largely sings the praises of Richelieu. Makes a case for the cardinal being more in sympathy with the moderate Huguenots and less of a Catholic extremist than some sources assert.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

First Duke of Buckingham; Charles I; The Great Condé; Henrietta Maria; Louis XIII; Cardinal de Richelieu; Duke de Sully. Huguenots;revolt of (1625-1628)

Categories: History