La Rochelle, a city on the western coast of France, housed some of the most important—and hated—Huguenots in France: Prince de Condé, Admiral Coligny, and Jeanne d’Albret. La Rochelle could not escape being the target of the Catholic Queen Mother of France and of her son, the very young King Charles IX. Armies were on their way.
Louis de Bourbon, the Prince of Condé, was a talented general who went out to meet the challenge. On March 13, 1569, the armies clashed in Jarnak, near a river outside La Rochelle. Condé led a well-trained Huguenot army, but it was far outnumbered by the Catholic one. The Queen Mother had hired thousands of German soldiers to add to her troops, and they brought a surprise attack from the south. They defeated the Huguenot army and the Prince of Condé was killed. It was a hard loss to hear reported inside the city walls of La Rochelle. Even though many Huguenot soldiers had escaped, they all were left in despair. What could be done now?
Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre, did not give up. She dried her tears. She mounted a horse and rode out to meet the troops. She took her son, Henry, with her, along with Condé’s own son. Henry rode on her right, and Condé’s son rode on her left.
The men of the Huguenot army still sat saddened and stunned when they saw three horsemen coming toward them. Who were they? A woman appeared to be in the middle. On either side of her was a young man. Maybe they were boys. Who were they? They drew nearer. It was the queen! The Queen of Navarre and the sons of the royal line! The soldiers were heartened. They gathered round their queen.
“Children of God and of France,” she said, “Condé is dead, but is all therefore lost? No. The God who gave him courage and strength to fight in this cause has raised up others worthy to succeed him. To those brave warriors I add my son…I offer you everything I have to give—my dominions, my treasures, my life, and what is dearer to me than all, my child. I swear to defend to my last sight the holy cause that now unites us!”
The men cheered and committed their loyalty to young Henry. It was as if all La Rochelle sighed in relief.
Henry was only fifteen years old when he began to lead them. He learned the necessary skills of a soldier while the more experienced military leaders helped him. In time it would be shown that he had inherited his mother’s courage for the battle, if not her consistent defense of the Reformed faith. But for now, the men needed to regroup, and more battles needed to be fought. Admiral Coligny, an able man who was of the highest military rank in France, was on the side of the Huguenots, and on Henry’s side now, too. No, all was not lost.