Henri IV protected him in the early years of his life
Henri de Rohan was the grandson of René 1st of Rohan and Isabelle d’Albret, the King of Navarre’s grand-daughter. His father René 2nd of Rohan, prince of Leon and viscount of Porhoët had married Catherine de Parthenay, the heiress of a powerful protestant family in the Poitou. So Henri belonged to a high-ranking noble protestant family from Brittany.
He was the future Henri IV’s cousin and companion. The king made him a duke and a peer of the realm and in 1604 he married Marguerite, the daughter of Maximilien de Béthune, the future duke of Sully.
He had before him a promising career and he made a brilliant start in the king’s army. He fought in the campaign against the Duke of Bouillon, then alongside Maurice de Nassau, the son of William the Silent, he also served in the campaigns in Flanders against the Spanish armies.
The leader of the Protestants
But everything changed for the worse with the murder of the King in May 1610. Whether he had intended to or not, he gradually became the leader of the protestant resistance.
Rohan was to be frequently torn between his loyalty to the protestant cause and his desire to serve the king faithfully. The “pious party” (anti-protestant Catholics), grew in importance under Marie de Médicis who was much less tolerant to the protestants than her former husband had been. He suffered even more at the hands of Louis XIII, who was constantly incited by Richelieu to put down the protestant party.
In 1617, the right to worship was granted to Catholics all over the Béarn. This part of France, ruled by Jeanne d’Albret, had given its allegiance completely to the reformed protestant cause. This decision led to the growth of a resistance movement in support of the “Reformed Cause” and in June 1620 Louis XIII, impatient with parliament’s endless prevarication, decided to invade the Béarn with his army, in order to make sure that his decree of 1617 was carried out. The Reformed Protestants were aghast. They rose in revolt in the provinces of Saintonge, Guyenne, and in Languedoc. In 1621 and 1625 the movement had taken up arms and battles raged around La Rochelle, St. Jean d’Angély, Montauban and Montpellier and Rohan was the leader of the rebels. Although he won a few modest victories and invested a great deal of energy in trying to maintain the last strongholds, Rohan was not very successful in warfare.
During this period, pressure was mounting against La Rochelle month by month – indeed Richelieu was determined to put an end to the matter once and for all. Henri de Rohan tried to gain the support of the English for the reformed cause but unfortunately when the Duke of Buckingham undertook military action in an effort to help, it proved to be a failure. Henri’s brother, Benjamin de Rohan-Soubise, fought alongside him – he was even more determined than his brother to overcome the Cardinal. After a heroic siege of six months, in which Henri’s mother and sister shared the sufferings of the rebels, the town fell into the hands of the royalist troops in October 1628.
After having surrendered at La Rochelle and suffered defeat in the Midi, the reformed armies had to accept the treaty of Alès on the 27th of June 1629, in which they lost the right to gather for political meetings and also abandoned their military strongholds to the King.
The end of his life was not a happy one
The day after peace was proclaimed, Rohan had to go into exile. He settled in Venice – here, he wrote The duke of Rohan’s Apologia on the recent political conflicts in France and his Memoirs were published in 1644, after his death. In this work, he explained the reasons for his military failures in great detail, showing that they were due to the fact that the reformed community was divided against itself.
The following two works : Advice to princes and Christian states, published in 1634 and The perfect captain, published in 1638, were both considered excellent contributions to the political literature of the XVII century.
Regaining royal favour in 1634, the following year he took up the command of the royal troops in Valteline, a province in Northern Italy ; his mission was to prevent the King of Spain’s troops from entering Milan. At first he was successful, but later, stranded in the mountains to the east of Switzerland, he was left without further reinforcements or any precise military orders. He informed Richelieu of his difficulties but to no avail – instead, as he was considered to be the probable cause of the royal troops’ military defeat in Valteline, he was ordered to go back into exile.
The duke of Saxe-Weimar, France’s ally, invited him to take up arms once more, against Germany ; he died on the 28th February 1638 at the battle of Rheinfelden, perhaps having no further desire to live anyway.
His only surviving child, Marguerite, married a catholic nobleman in 1645 called Henri Chabot, thus founding the Rohan-Chabot dynasty.
- CARBONNIER-BURKARD Marianne et CABANEL Patrick, Une histoire des protestants en France, Desclée de Brouwer, Paris, 1998
- DEYON Pierre et Solange, Henri de Rohan, huguenot de plume et d’épée, Perrin, Paris, 2000
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