14 March 1590: The Battle of Ivry

The Battle of Ivry by Rubens

The Battle of Ivry by Rubens

On 14 March 1590 the Protestant forces of the new French king, Henry IV, faced the armies of the Catholic League, led by the Duke of Mayenne, on the plain of Épieds near Ivry, Normandy. The end of the battle, which was one of many during the long French Wars of Religion, saw Henry victorious and the remaining forces of the Catholic League scattered.

Henry of Navarre had become King Henry IV in 1589 after the assassination of his cousin, Henry III, by a monk. He was the legal heir but had little support in the cities, especially Paris, due to his Protestantism. He had been excommunicated in 1585 by Pope Sixtus V, leaving him in great danger as his murder would not have been a sin.

Although the battle of Ivry was part of a fight for control of the French succession, both sides in the conflict received help from outside France. The Protestant Huguenots of Henry IV received funding from Queen Elizabeth I of England while the Catholic League was supplied with soldiers and received a monthly payment from Philip II of Spain.

When the two sides met on the plain of Épieds near Ivry Henry was outnumbered, his 8,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry faced the 12,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry of the Catholic League. A brief barrage by Henry’s artillery was followed by cavalry charges from both sides. Then the imbalance in the size of the opposing forces was lessened when the League’s mercenaries defected.

Henry’s determined Protestants were able to inflict terrible casualties on the Catholic forces who started to flee the field when their flanks collapsed. The departing armies were pursued and prevented from regrouping, either surrendering or being scattered through the countryside.

Following the battle of Ivry the Catholic League was in disarray and started to fight amongst itself. But Catholic France was still not ready to accept a Protestant king. Henry had temporarily converted to Catholicism after the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572, but in 1593 he converted again to secure the throne. Henry received absolution from Pope Clement VIII in 1595 and the Catholic League was formally disbanded the following year.

The last nobleman submitted to Henry in 1598 and, with the signing of the Edict of Nantes in April of that year, the French Wars of Religion were brought to an end. Under the Edict Huguenots were given freedom of worship and equality with Catholics in public office.

Other events on 14 March

View more March events

Be Sociable, Share!

1 comment to 14 March 1590: The Battle of Ivry

Join the discussion