Thursday, October 27, 2011

One of the Most Powerful Huguenots in History: Henri de Rohan

by Shawn Lamb

Like many who are historical fiction fans, there is one period in history that captures attention over others. For me, it is the 17th century and catapulted by the classic The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. While other teenage girls swooned over Mr. Darcy, I wanted to fight beside D’Artangan. Eventually, I did take up fencing and competed with an eye toward the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

But when I began writing my own musketeer story at age 16, my research took me down a different path. In Dumas’ classic, Richelieu is the main antagonist to the musketeers, yet the entire story came from a Catholic slant. So who where these Huguenots at La Rochelle? And why did Richelieu want to destroy them?

Absent from Dumas’ story and little mentioned in history, I stumbled upon a most
fascinating and key figure to the Huguenots – in fact to all of Protestantism during this time– Henri de Rohan.

Henri was the second son of the Viscomte de Rohan and born August 21, 1579. The family was considered a dynasty in France and he was cousin to Henry of Narrave, later King Henry VI of France. The Rohan family was well connected throughout Europe.

He began his military career at the age of sixteen and quickly distinguished himself in battle and strategy. Queen Elizabeth I called him her personal knight and he was named Godfather to Charles I. In 1603, Rohan was made a peer and given the title duke by Henry VI. Two years later he married Duc de Sully’s daughter and solidified his prominence among the French nobility.

Yet unlike many noblemen of his day, Rohan remained stubbornly loyal to his faith,
friends and family. Even when Henry VI renounced the Protestant faith and embraced
Catholicism, Rohan didn’t turn on him like others, who eventually assassinated the king for his betrayal. Instead, Rohan supported Henry’s young son, Louis XIII, with his military prowess and counsel. In turn, Louis respected and even held affection for his father’s friend and cousin. It wasn’t until persecution of the Huguenots grew dangerous that Rohan turned his industry to defending his faith and raise armed rebellion. But he directed his attacks toward the Catholic Church and Richelieu, not Louis.

Conflict between the French Catholics and Protestants was a war, within a war. All of Europe was in upheaval whether vying for power, expanding their holdings or attempting to put down the rising Protestant religion. Rohan’s influence spread far and wide due to his personal intrigue more than his family’s reputation. He was among the few who couldn’t be bought, cajoled, threatened or coerced. In this attribute lay his greatest asset and the one factor that made kings recoil and Cardinals to tread lightly.

Joined with his younger brother, Benjamin, Rohan led the fight of the Huguenots against total annihilation. His strength and fortitude kept the struggle alive even after humiliating defeats and terrible loses gained under Henry VI and the Edict of Nantes. Rohan held so much sway that a single act changed the course of the entire Huguenot population in France.

So my musketeer turned from of imitating Dumas to The Huguenot Sword, a novel highlighting the desperate struggle of one faith to survive. The dangers they faced in public for being different, the personal sacrifices of dividing families and eventually, the harrowing siege of La Rochelle, where the fate of all hung in the balance.



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Beginning her writing career in television, Shawn wrote for Filmation Studio’s series BraveStarr. She won several screenwriting awards including a Certificate of Merit from the American Association of Screenwriters. Recently she became a winner in The Authors Show contest 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading for 2011. She currently lives in Nashville with her husband Rob and their daughter, Briana.

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