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A BRIEF HISTORY OF LA ROCHELLE

9th century: La Rochelle appeared as a small village, where surrounding marsh inhabitants gathered. 
10th Century: The town of La Rochelle founded - almost a natural harbor in a well protected corner of Biscay.
12th Century: The most important commercial harbor serving western France.
1137: Guillaume, 10 Duke of Aquitaine, made it a Freeport.
1230: The Knight Templers, who later became the British 'Free Masons', establish a fleet of merchant ships in La Rochelle.  King Henry III gave them a license to bring wine from La Rochelle to England.
15th Century: La Rochelle is now the largest harbor on the Atlantic coast of France, trading mainly in wine and salt.

1585: The majority of the inhabitants became Protestants with the Huguenots. La Rochelle becomes the greatest stronghold of the Huguenots in France and the centre of resistance. The King Louis XIII is not amused.
1568: La Rochelle adopts Protestant ideas starting a period of prosperity.

Siege of La Rochelle, 1628-1629

1620s: The city enters into conflict with the central authority of the King Louis XIII. The Duc de Richelieu is sent to sort it out - with the musketeers.

June 1627: The English King Charles I sends his favorite commander, The Duke of Buckingham, with 80 ships and 6,000 men to help the La Rochelle rebels. They landed on the Isle de Rey, which was still loyal to the French King Louis, and tried to capture St Martin. Louis sent small ships with cannon and  troops to reinforce the stronghold and eventually Buckingham lost so many soldiers he was forced to withdraw back to the UK leaving La Rochelle to defend itself.

September 10th 1627: French Royal troops approached La Rochelle and cannon shots were exchanged. This resulted into the Siege of La Rochelle. The Knight Templar are forced into hiding and some manage to escape via the cellars and tunnels under the town.
French engineers isolated La Rochelle with entrenchments 12 kilometers long, fortified by 11 forts and 18 redoubts. They also built with 4,000 workmen a 1,400 meters long seawall, to block the seaward access to the city. The wall was built on top of a foundation made of sunken hulks, filled with rubble.

September 1628: French artillery bombards the city. The English send another fleet to try to help and the ships bombard the royalist positions. The French fire their cannon at the English ships with great success and the English ships withdraw over the horizon.

October 28, 1628: After seeing the English protestant ships retreat the city of La Rochelle surrenders, looses it’s Mayor - Jean Guitton and all it’s privileges including that of ‘Freeport’.  The residents of La Rochelle had resisted for 14 months, under the leadership of the mayor Jean Guitton and with the gradually diminishing help from England. During the siege, the population of La Rochelle decreased from 27.000 to 5,000 due to casualties, famine and disease. 
The Siege forms the background for The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas.

17th - 19th centuries

1670: La Rochelle constructs small rapid boats which served everywhere as scouts and which were called frigates.  Their total length often attained thirty meters and the height, eight meters. The crew of these boats rarely surpassed thirty sailors.  To assure their defense, the vessels were prepared with about fifty cannons.

1689: The persecution of the Huguenots culminated with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV and many Huguenots emigrated, founding cities like New Rochelle in the vicinity of  New York.

1700s: La Rochelle trades with the ‘New World’, dealing in the slaves from Africa, sugar from the Antilles and most importantly the fur trade from Canada to where more colonists emigrated than from any other single town in France. This was a period of high financial, artistic, cultural and architectural achievements for the city.

1789-1799: During the French revolution life was relatively peaceful in the city, especially in comparison with nearby places such as Rochefort, where the clergy was violently purged, and the Vendée area, where a counter-revolutionary uprising took place, leading to a bloody civil war between monarchists and republicans throughout 1793.

1864: The "Bassin à Flot"  of the harbor of La Rochelle was the site for the maiden dive experiments, of the first mechanically-powered submarine in the World, Plongeur, commanded by Marie-Joseph-Camille Doré, a native of La Rochelle. The submarine was armed with a ram to hole the hull of enemy ships, and electrically fired torpedo, fixed at the end of a pole!

February 18, 1864: Plongeur was towed to La Pallice and dived to 9 meters. First mechanically powered submarine in the world!

WWII

During the Second World War, Germany established a submarine naval base at La Pallice, the new commercial port of La Rochelle. A German stronghold, La Rochelle was the last French city to be freed at the end of the War. 

1939: When the German armies arrived, 'Mayor Léonce Vieljeux' was the city’s first resistance fighter. He opposed the posting up of Nazi propaganda and at the same time he was helping the engineers and workmen in his factory who belonged to the Alliance resistance network to find escape routes.

Sunday June 23rd 1940: The first German to come to him was a lieutenant carrying under his arm a swastika flag which we wanted to fly from the roof of the city hall. Léonce Vieljeux sent the reply that he was a colonel, and that he would not take orders from an inferior officer, even if he was from a victorious army.

September 22nd 1940: Léonce Vieljeux was relieved of his office of mayor, and expelled from the city in 1941. After returning to the city he sent to the Schirmeck concentration camp near to Strasbourg. He remained there from until September 1st 1944.When he was taken to the Struthof concentration camp.
Léonce Vieljeux, in his 80th year, was shot together with 300 men and 92 women at Struthof concentration camp.

January 27th 1945: His funeral service was held in the Protestant church, before a crowd of 3000 citizens of La Rochelle, of all religious persuasions.

September 12th, 1944 to May 7th, 1945: The advancing Allied troops besieged the 20,000 Germans troops in La Rochelle, Isles de Rey and l’Oléron. After the main German capitulation on May 7th 1945 the Germans in La Rochelle, agree to surrender.

May 8th 1945: French troops entered La Rochelle.
The submarine naval base at La Pallice still exists and was used for the for the German television film ‘Das Boot’. The U-Boat scenes in the movie ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ were also shot in La Rochelle.

1980s

The important Atlantic fishing fleet is moved from the Old harbour to specially built facility at La Pallice allowing for development of yachting facilities near the centre of town.

June 24, 1982: JEAN-LOUP CHRÉTIEN, who was born and educated in La Rochelle, becomes France’s first man in space. A veteran of three space flights, Chrétien was the 10th Intercosmos cosmonaut, and spent a total of 43 days, 11 hours, 18 minutes, 42 seconds in space.