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The Defence Of Rochelle
by [?]


In the old times, when people were in the habit of fighting each other about their religion, the little French seaport Rochelle was called “the city of refuge.” The Huguenots, or French Protestants, held the place, and when the armies of the French king tried to take it, in the latter part of the sixteenth century, they were beaten off and so badly used in the fight that the king was glad to make terms with the townspeople.

An agreement was therefore made that they should have their own religion, and manage their own affairs; and to make sure of this the king gave Rochelle so many special rights that it became almost a free city. After that, whenever a Protestant in any part of France found that he could not live peaceably in his own home, he went to Rochelle, and that is the way the place came to be called the city of refuge.

For a good many years the people of Rochelle went on living quietly. They had a fine harbor of their own, their trade was good, and they were allowed to manage their own affairs. At last the new King of France made up his mind that he would not have two religions in his country, but would make everybody believe as he did. This troubled the people of Rochelle, but the king sent them word that he only meant to make them change their religion by showing them that his was better, and that he did not intend to trouble them in any way.

In those days promises of that kind did not count for much; but the king’s prime-minister, Cardinal Richelieu, who really managed everything, knew very well that Rochelle could give a great deal of trouble if it chose, and so, perhaps, he really would have let the town alone if it had not been for the meddling of the English prime-minister, Buckingham.

This Buckingham, with an English fleet and army, sailed into the harbor of Rochelle in the middle of July, 1627, and undertook to help the people against the French king. If Buckingham had been either a soldier or a sailor, he might have made himself master of the French king’s forts near Rochelle at once; but, although he had command of a fleet and an army, he really knew nothing about the business of a commander, and he blundered so badly that the generals of the French king got fresh troops and provisions into the forts, and were able to hold them in spite of all that the English could do.

Seeing how matters stood, Richelieu at once sent an army to surround Rochelle, and at daylight on the 10th of August the people found a strong force in front of the town. Rochelle had not made up its mind to join the English, and the magistrates sent word to the French general that they wanted peace. They said they were loyal to the French king, and even offered to help drive the English away, if their king would promise not to break the treaty that had been made with them many years before.

It was too late to settle the matter in that way, however. The French general meant to make the town surrender, and so, while the English were fighting to get control of the island of Rhe, at some distance from the town, he began to build works around Rochelle. His plan was to shut the people up in the city and cut off their supplies of food; and when the Rochelle folk saw what he was doing, they opened fire on his men.

The war was now begun, and the Huguenots made terms with Buckingham, hoping, with his help, to win in the struggle. Buckingham promised to help them, and he did try to do so in his blundering way; but he did them more harm than good, for when he found that he could not take the forts he sailed away, taking with him three hundred tons of grain, which he ought to have sent into the town.