The Siege of La Rochelle

Cardinal Richelieu at the siege of La Rochelle, Henri-Paul Motte

Cardinal Richelieu at the siege of La Rochelle, Henri-Paul Motte

By the Edict of Nantes (1598), King Henry IV gave French Huguenots extensive rights. La Rochelle, situated on the Atlantic coast of France, became a Huguenot stronghold, and at that time, the second or third largest city in France, with over 30,000 inhabitants. However, the assassination of Henry IV in 1610, and the advent of Louis XIII under the regency of Marie de' Medici, marked a return to intense persecution. Louis XIII wished to suppress the Huguenots, and his Chief Minister, Cardinal Richelieu, declared that to be the first priority.

In 1627 Royal forces began surrounding La Rochelle with an army of 7,000 soldiers, 600 horses and 24 cannons. Cardinal Richelieu acted as the commander of the besieging troops. Once hostilities started, engineers isolated the city with entrenchments 7 miles long, fortified by 11 forts and 18 redoubts. A seawall was built to block seaward access to the city. The surrounding fortifications were completed in 1628, manned with an army of 30,000. The residents of La Rochelle were surrounded and cut off from receiving food and vital supplies. They resisted surrender for 14 horrific months. During the siege, the population decreased from 27,000 to 5,000 due to casualties, famine, and disease.

To escape persecution, many Huguenots migrated to dozens of countries around the globe during the 16th-17th centuries. (Some went to the New World and founded the city of New Rochelle, New York.) And yet, the Reformed Faith of the Huguenots remains alive to this day in France! The Huguenot Fellowship exists to help support the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the French-speaking world, focusing on the Reformed Seminary in Aix-en-Provence, France (La Faculté Jean Calvin). Please consider becoming a friend and faithful partner through your prayers and regular contributions!

Paul Revere, an American Huguenot

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The “eighteenth of April in Seventy-Five” is a date familiar to Americans thanks to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s stirring poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” This vivid recounting of the courageous night ride that gave the alert that British Regulars were marching on Lexington and Concord has thrilled readers for generations. The ensuing skirmishes, which forced a retreat of the British, are considered the first battles of the American Revolution.

Who was this Boston silversmith, the American patriot with the French-sounding last name? Paul Revere was the son of Apollos Rivoire, who was born in 1702, in Riocaud, in the Gironde valley, near Bordeaux. The family was French Huguenot, and because of the persecutions following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685), many thousands of Huguenots were forced to flee to Protestant tolerant countries. The child Apollos was first sent for safety to an uncle on the island of Guernsey, but then the uncle paid for his nephew’s sea passage to Boston in the New World. Puritan New England was a welcome destination for the Huguenots escaping persecution. In 1735 most of Boston’s 14 established churches were Calvinist; one was French Reformed. Apollos turned 13 on that sea voyage, and was apprenticed to a master goldsmith where he became a skilled artisan, skills and training he eventually passed on to his son.

Apollos changed his name to Paul Revere (easier for English colonists to pronounce), and married Deborah Hitchborn, a 4th generation descendant of English forebears who had come from Lincolnshire in what is called the Great Puritan Migration. Thus both sides of the famous Paul Revere’s family were deeply rooted in Calvinist, reformed, independent thinking. And, it was said that Paul, the American patriot, “attended church ‘as regularly as the Sabbath came’” (David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride).

Paul Revere’s service to his country did not end with that midnight ride. He was a leader of the famous Boston Tea Party, and worked for the cause of liberty as a bold and much respected member of his community. The faith and courage of Paul’s Huguenot father, who crossed the Atlantic as a boy to build a new life on a new continent, was manifest in the life of his son, the American patriot Paul Revere.

David Hackett Fischer’s excellent Paul Revere’s Ride, (New York, Oxford University Press, 1994) is the source of much of this information, and gives a careful, well researched account of the man and the beginnings of the American Revolution.

Linda Boice

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