St. Vincent’s Reading List LXVII: Louis XIII and the Siege of La Rochelle

Histoire de la Rebellion des Rochelois, et de Leur Reduction à l’Obeyssance du Roy, by Abel de Sainte-Marthe and translated by Jean Baudoin. Paris: chez Jacques Villery, 1629.

A digitized version of this text can be viewed here.


During 1627-1628 the French Crown, under Louis XIII, laid siege to La Rochelle, the principal Huguenot stronghold and seaport in southwestern France. The long simmering conflict between Catholicism and Protestantism in France, which had been going on for close to a century, ended with the definitive defeat of the Huguenots at La Rochelle. Despite the naval aid sent to La Rochelle by Charles I of England, the town was completely surrounded and effectively blockaded. Over the course of the fourteen month assault the population of the city was decimated, and in the end its surrender in 1628 was unconditional. The subsequent Peace of Alais gutted almost all of the concessions granted to the Huguenots in 1598 by then-king Henry IV in the Edict of Nantes.

The leadership of Louis XIII in this struggle, and indeed his presence on the battlefield during the siege, was one of the high-points of his reign. It contributed to the ultimate success of the Bourbon monarchy’s plan for restoring the power of the king within the kingdom, and the power of France within the European balance of power.

Siege of La Rochelle, by Jacques Callot (courtesy of la Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris)

This volume was originally written in Latin by Abel de Sainte-Marthe (1566-1652), who attributes the victory of the siege to the King’s wisdom and leadership and includes a poem written to celebrate Louis XIII’s victorious return to Paris. Sainte-Marthe was a Conseiller d’État and served as Garde de la Bibliothèque du Roi. The work was written by “order and commandment of the King.” The translator was Jean Baudoin (1590?-1650), Interprete Ordinaire pour sa Majesté des Langues Estrangeres. Baudoin was also one of the first members of the Richelieu’s Academie Française.

Vincent de Paul was very aware of the military, political and religious situation in La Rochelle. In June 1628, while leading the siege of the city, Louis XIII had sent a letter to Pope Urban VIII asking for approval for the Congregation of the Mission. After the forced restoration of Catholicism in the city and region Vincent became a close associate of Jacques-Raoul de la Guibourgère, who served as bishop of La Rochelle from 1646 until his death in 1661. Almost all of the first Lazaristes sent by Vincent to Madagascar would leave from this port.

In a 1637 letter to Bernard Codoing Vincent, on the topic of La Rochelle, wrote: “O Monsieur, how many spiritual needs there are in that locality, where there are so many heretics for want of having heard God spoken of, so they say, in the Catholics’ church! It was in that area that the heresy was first spread, diffused, and most obstinately defended. It was from there that it drew its main strength for the overthrow of our holy religion and even of the State, if it had been able to do so.  Oh! What a great empire Satan had and still has there!”[1]


[1] Vincent de Paul. Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, Vol.1, p. 404-405.



St. Vincent’s Reading List is a recurring blog series exploring texts known to have been read and recommended by Saint Vincent de Paul, those which can be presumed to have been read by him, and works published during his lifetime (1581-1660) illustrating his world. All materials discussed are held by DePaul University’s John T. Richardson Library. The entire series may be viewed here.

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