Last updated: March 1, 2009

The Expedition to the Isle of Rhe

by Edward Herbert, 1st Baron of Cherbury

Isaac Oliver: Edward Herbert, 1st
Baron Cherbury

In the spring of 1627, a fleet of 100 English ships set out from Portsmouth to invade France. In command was the Duke of Buckingham. Things didn't go well.

The ostensible purpose of the expedition was to provide some sort of support for the French Protestants in La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast of France. Instead, the entire English force—some six thousand men at the beginning— was bogged down on the island of Rhé, a few hundred meters off the coast. They remained there, suffering from privation and attacks by the French garrison, until they were forced by the season of the year to return to England. And on the retreat, a large part of the remaining men were massacred.

Modern historians have almost uniformly found fault with Buckingham for his poor planning, lack of strategy and general incompetence as a military commander. This is not, however, the approach that Lord Herbert takes. A contemporary of Buckingham, he wrote this history after the Duke's assassination in order to curry favor with King Charles I, whose favorite Buckingham was. So he portrays the Duke and the Expedition in the best possible light. And much of the narrative is wrung out of the notes that Buckingham himself kept. But despite bias, this is the best contemporary history of the expedition in English.

Cherbury himself comes across as snarky in this book, but he was a highly educated man, trusted at the hightest levels of the English government, an ambassador to France, and an acquintance of some of the most learned men of his day. Biographical information about Lord Herbert is linked above.

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