The *bonhomme* in his box...
Richelieu: painfully important character in La Rochelle history.
Early XII century, English King, Henri II, Aliénor d'Aquitaine spouse, granted La Rochelle with its free town status. Hence, La Rochelle has been always an independent area with some rebellous spirit...
Later on, the city could tie trade links with England, Flanders, Canada and Antilles (West Indies). XII century: to England and Flanders, salt and wine were exported whilst the city imported wool and materials from them. XV century: with Canada, La Rochelle got familiar with fur trading. Les Antilles and La Rochelle were partners in the slave trade. All those business activities attracted banks as well as Flemish, English, Brittons and Spanish traders in La Rochelle.
Economic power resulted from the rise of those trading activities.. Soon, this openess to the sea induced the openess to protestant principles and ideology, influences that namely came from North Europe, whom La Rochelle got acquaintancies with. Besides, Université de Poitiers contributed to the spread of La Réforme. This high-ranking university was really appreciated by intellectuals, including Jean Calvin, in his time, who used to meet people in the basement of the university, hiding from Catholic authority. Moreover, religious and ethical aspects (mis-respectful and abusive clergymen), inherent in Catholicism, led people to choose Protestantism in that time.
Protestants became powerful in this area. Wasn't La Rochelle a capital city of French protestantism?
Catholic French realm hadn't appreciated that and gave the first assault to stop the rise of protestantism in La Rochelle. Royal army didn't succeed in doing that so, even with Religion wars (1562-1598), the city remained protestant.
Not only, they kept their religious freedom (compared to other French towns)... but with the release of L' Edit de Nantes (inspired by Henri IV, protestant king), French people were given the freedom to choose their own religion. When Henri IV died in 1610, this freedom of choice was not guaranteed anymore. La Rochelle people's concern was right, indeed.
Very soon, Louis XIII, his predecessor, ignored the Edit de Nantes and decided to impose catholicism in the region. Independent and rebellous locals resisted to that royal project.
Yet, Louis XIII was determined in his action and gave the assault. The city relied on England to protect them. The English backed La Rochelle since they have their interest in keeping La Rochelle free (and not under French rule).
In 1627, though, Richelieu gave the final assault by organizing an earth blocus. Every road to la Rochelle was blockaded. No food entering so to eventually suppress 22 000 of 27 000 Rochelais (!). Remaining 5000 ended up eating rats, grass and human flesh. Richelieu epitomizes this sad and horrible time in La Rochelle history. 13 months of starvation...
Still, the "man in the box" at l'H?tel de ville represents Richelieu. Very probably, to symbolize the royal power over rebellous and independent La Rochelle people... In meantime, La Rochelle also has its Mus?e protestant.(+33 5 46 34 17 09) with some well documented collection.