Battle of Ivry

From Academic Kids

The Battle of Ivry was fought on March 14, 1590, during the French Wars of Religion. The battle was to be a decisive victory for Henry of Navarre, the future Henry IV of France, leading Huguenot forces against the Catholic League forces led by the Duc de Mayenne. Henry's forces were victorious and he went on to lay siege to Paris.

The battle occurred on the plain of Épieds near Ivry (later renamed Ivry-la-Bataille), Normandy. Ivry-la-Bataille is located on the Eure River and about thirty miles west of Paris, at the boundary between the Île-de-France and the Beauce regions.


Since Henry III, King of France, died without issue, and his brother, the Duc d'Alençon died in 1584, his cousin Henry of Navarre became the legitimate successor to the throne. However, Henry of Navarre was unpopular in the South, and not trusted by part of the army. Therefore, the rest of the country refused to recognise as its future King a Calvinist whom Pope Sixtus V had excommunicated along with his cousin, Henri Prince de Condé. The Catholic League took every opportunity to fight against the legitimate King and his successor.

In December 1584, the Duke of Guise signed a treaty on behalf of the League with Philip II of Spain, who supplied a considerable annual grant to the League over the following decade hoping to destabilize the French Monarchy. The House of Guise had long been identified with the defence of the Catholic Church. The Duke of Guise and his relations, Mayenne, Aumale, Elboef, Mercoeur and the Duke of Lorraine controlled extensive territories that were loyal to the League. The League also had a following among the urban middle classes.

Navarre sought foreign aid from the German princes and Elizabeth of England. Meanwhile, the people of Paris, under the influence of the Committee of Sixteen were becoming dissatisfied with Henri III and his failure to suppress the Protestants. In May 1588, a popular uprising raised barricades on the streets of Paris and Henri III fled the city. The Committee of Sixteen took complete control of the government and welcomed the Duke of Guise to Paris.

The League pressed for a meeting of the Estates-General, which was held in Blois. Guise was murdered on Christmas Eve in 1588 at Blois at this meeting with Henri III. The duke's brother, the Cardinal de Guise, was also ruthlessly dispatched. It thus fell upon their younger brother, the Duc de Mayenne, to become the leader of the Catholic League.

Henry's defeat of the House of Guise was fleeting. The League presses began printing anti-royalist tracts. The Sorbonne proclaimed that it was just and necessary to depose Henri III, and that any private citizen was morally free to commit regicide. In July 1589, in the royal camp at Saint-Cloud, a monk named Jacques Clément gained an audience with the king and put a long knife into his spleen. On his deathbed, Henri III called for Navarre and named him his heir.

The City of Paris supported the League and had Mayenne appointed as Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom. He and his troops controlled rural Normandy. However, in September 1589, Henry inflicted a serious defeat on Mayenne at Arques.

Henry's army swept through Normandy, taking town after town that winter. On March 14, 1590, he inflicted a crushing defeat on the League at Ivry.

The Battle of Ivry

Henry had moved rapidly to besiege Dreux, a town controlled by the League. As Mayenne followed intending to raise the siege, Henry withdrew but stayed within sight. He deployed his army on the plain of Saint André between the towns of Nonancourt and Ivry.

The army of the Catholic League consisted of citizens led by priests and rebellious nobles, Swiss infantry under Appenzel, spearmen brought from Flanders by Philip, Count of Egmont, and the troopers of the Guise family with the Duke of Mayenne in command.

At first light on March 14, 1590, the two armies engaged. The Duke had 12,000 foot soldiers supported by an assortment of German and Swiss infantry and 4,000 cavalry, 2,000 of whom were Spanish. The King had only 8,000 foot soldiers and 3,000 men on horseback.

The action began with a few deadly cannon volleys from the six pieces of the royal artillery, which was under the command of the master, La Guiche. The cavalry of the two sides then clashed with a dreadful force. The Duke of Mayenne followed up with the mercenary troops of the Guelders and Almayne across the open field. The mercenaries, who were mostly sympathetic to the Protestant cause, fired in the air and put their spears in rest.

Mayenne charged with such a fury that after a terrible fusillade and a struggle of a full quarter of an hour which left the field covered with dead, following the defection of his mercenaries, the opposing left flank fled and the right was pierced and gave way.

Aumont soon overcame the League's light horse and their royalist counterparts retreated under the attack of a Walloon (essentially Belgian) squadron backed up by two squadrons from the League. It was then the turn of the Maréchal d'Aumont, the Duc de Montpensier and the Baron de Biron to charge the foreign cavalry, forcing it into a retreat. Marshal de Biron, in command of the rear-guard, joined up with the king who, without stopping after his victory, had crossed the river Eure in pursuit of the enemy.

However, the decisive event took place elsewhere on the battlefield: the King charged the League's lancers, who were unable to get far enough back to use their weapons.

Mayenne was driven back, the Duke of d'Aumale forced to surrender, and the Count of Egmont killed. The Duke of Mayenne had lost the battle. The king pursued the losers, many of whom surrendered for fear of falling into worse hands, their horses being in no condition to get them away from danger. The countryside was full of Leaguers and Spaniards in flight, with the king's victorious army pursuing and scattering the remnants of the larger groups that dispersed and re-gathered.

Henry of Navarre so defeated Mayenne at Ivry that he became undisputed king of France. He made a wise ruler, and was one of the best loved of all French kings. He was famous for his gallant bearing, his chivalry, and his bravery, all of which he had shown very strikingly at Ivry.

With the Edict of Nantes which granted freedom of worship throughout France and established Protestantism in 200 towns, and with the Treaty of Vervins with Spain (both in 1598), Henry IV brought the Wars of Religion to as successful a conclusion as the Protestants could d'Ivry


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