John S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) Abbott.

History of Henry the Fourth, king of France and Navarre online

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War and Woe. 259


Night before the battle.

diminished as. farther and still farther the em-
battled hosts vanished among the clouds. Again
there was the silence of midnight, and no sounds
were heard but the plashing of the rain.

The Royalists and the insurgents, each partj
inflamed more or less by religious fanaticism,
were each disposed to regard the ethereal battle
as waged between the spirits of light and the
spirits of darkness, angels against fiends. Each
party, of course, imagined itself as represented
by the angel bands, which doubtless conquered.
The phenomenon was thus, to both, the omen
of success, and inspired both with new energies.

The morning dawned gloomily. Both armies
were exhausted and nearly frozen by the chill
storm of the night. Neither of the parties were
eager to commence the fight, as each was anx-
ious to wait for re-enforcements, which were
hurrying forward, from distant posts, with the
utmost possible speed. The two next days
were passed in various manoeuvres to gain posts
of advantage. The night of the 13th came.
Henry took but two hours of repose upon a mat-
tress, and then, every thing being arranged ac-
cording to his wishes, spent nearly all the rest
of the night in prayer. He urged the Catho-
lics and the Protestants in his army to do the

260 KiN^. Henry IV. [1590.

Morning of the battle.

same, each according to the rites of his own
Church. The Catholic priests and the Protest-
ant clergy led the devotions of their respective
bands, and there can be no doubt whatever that
they implored the aid of God with as perfect a
conviction of the righteousness of their cause as
the human heart can feel.

And how was it in the army of the Duke of
Mayenne ? They also looked to God for sup-
port. The Pope, Christ's vicar upon earth, had
blessed their banners. He had called upon all
of the faithful to advocate their cause. He had
anathematized their foes as the enemies of God
and man, justly doomed to utter extermination.
Can it be doubted that the ecclesiastics and the
soldiers who surrounded the Buke of Mayenne,
ready to lay down their lives for the Church,
were also, many of them, sincere in their sup-
plications ? Such is bewildered, benighted man.
When will he imbibe the spirit of a noble toler-
ation — of a kind brotherhood ?

The morning of the 14th of March arrived.
The stars shone brilliantly in the clear, cold sky.
The vast plain of Ivry and its surrounding hills
gleamed with the camp-fires of the two armies,
now face to face. It is impossible to estimate
with precision the two forces. It is generally

1590.] War and Woe. 261

Henry's address to his army.

stated that Henry TV. had from ten to twelve
thousand men, and the Duke of Mayenne from
sixteen to twenty thousand.

Before the first glimmer of day, Henry mount-
ed his horse, a powerful bay charger, and ridhig
slowly along his lines, addressed to every com-
pany words of encouragement and hope. His
spirit was subdued and his voice was softened
by the influence of prayer. He attempted no
lofty harangue ; he gave utterance to no clar-
ion notes of enthusiasm; but mildly, gently,
with a trembling voice and often with a moist-
ened eye, implored them to be true to God, to
France, and to themselves.

"Your future fame and your personal safe-
ty," said he, '' depend upon your lieroism this
day. The crown of France awaits the decision
of your swords. If we are defeated to-day, we
are defeated hopelessly, for we have no reserves
upon which we can fall back."

Then assembling nearly all his little band in
a square around him, he placed himself upon an
eminence where he could be seen by all, and
where nearly all could hear him, and then, with
clasped hands and eyes raised to Heaven, offer-
ed the following prayer — a truly extraordinary
prayer, so humble and so Christian in its spirit
of resignation :

262 KiNa Henky IV. [1590.

The prayer of Henry. Anecdote.

" O God, I pray thee, who alone knowest the
intentions of man's heart, to do thy will upon
me as thou shalt judge necessary for the weal
of Christendom. And wilt thou preserve me as
long as thou seest it to Ibe needful for the hap-
piness and the repose of France, and no longer.
If thou dost see that I should be one of those
kings on whom thou dost lay thy wrath, take
my life with my crown, and let my blood be the
last poured out in this quarrel."

Then turning to his troops, he said,

" Companions, God is with us. You are to
meet His enemies and ours. If, in the turmoil
of the battle, you lose sight of your banner, fol-
low the white plume upon my casque. You
will find it in the road to victory and honor."

But a few hours before this. General Schom-
berg, who was in command of the auxiliaries
furnished to Henry by Germany, urged by the
importunity of his troops, ventured to ask for
their pay, which was in arrears. Henry, irri-
tated, replied,

" A man of courage would not ask for money
on the eve of a battle."

The words had no sooner escaped his lips
than he regretted them. Henry now rode to
the quarters of this veteran officer, and thus
magnanimously addressed him :

1590.] War and Woe. 263

Magnanimity of Henry. The battle of Ivry.

" General Schomberg, I have insulted you.
As tliis day may be tlie last of my life, I would
not carry away the honor of a gentleman and be
unable to restore it. I know your valor, and
I ask your pardon. I beseech you to forgive
me and embrace me."

This was true magnanimity. General Schom-
berg nobly replied,

" Sire, you did, indeed, wound me yesterday,
but to-day you kill me. The honor you have
done me will lead me to lay down my life in
your service."

A terrible battle immediately ensued. All
fought bravely, ferociously, infernally. Love
and peace are the elements of heaven. Hatred
and war are the elements of hell. Man, upon
the battle-field, even in a good cause, must call
to his aid the energies of the world of woe.
Eushing squadrons swept the field, crushing be-
neath iron hoofs the dying and the dead. Grape-
shot mowed down the crowded ranks, splinter-
ing bones, and lacerating nerves, and extorting
shrieks of agony which even the thunders of the
battle could not drown. Henry plunged into
the thickest of the fight, every where exposing
himself to peril like the humblest soldier. The
conflict was too desperate to be lasting. In

264 King Henry IV. [1590.

Heroism of Henry. The Leaguers vanquished.

less than an hour the field of battle. was crunson
with blood and covered with mangled corpses.

The Leaguers began to waver. They broke
and fled in awfal confusion. The miserable
fugitives were pursued and cut down by the
keen swords of the cavalry, while from every
eminence the cannon of the victors plowed their
retreating ranks with balls. Henry himself
headed the cavalry in the impetuous pursuit,
that the day might be tlie more decisive. When
he returned, covered with blood, he was greeted
from his triumphant ranks with the shout, Vive
le roi !

Marshal Biron, with a powerful reserve, had
remained watching the progress of the fight,
ready to avail himself of any opportunity which
might present to promote or to increase the dis-
comfiture of the foe. He now joined the mon-
arch, saying,

" This day, sire, you have performed the part
of Marshal Biron, and Marshal Biron that of
the king."

''Let us praise God, marshal," answered
Henry, "for the victory is his."

The routed army fled with the utmost pre-
cipitation in two directions, one division toward
Chartres and the other toward Ivry. The whole

1590.J Wae and Woe. 265

Flight of the Leaguers. Detestable conduct of Mayenne.

Royalist army hung upon their rear, assailing
them with every available missile of destruc-
tion. The Duke of Mayenne fled across the
Eure. Thousands of his broken bands were
crowding the shore, striving to force their way
across the thronged bridge, when the Royalist
cavalry, led by the monarch himself, was seen
in the distance spurring furiously over the hills.
Mayenne himself having passed, in order to se-
cure his own safety, cruelly gave the command
to destroy the bridge, leaving the unhappy men
who had not yet crossed at the mercy of the
victors. The bridge was immediately blown
up. Many of those thus abandoned, in their
terror cast themselves into the flooded stream,
where multitudes were drowned. Others shot
their horses and built a rampart of their bodies.
Behind this revolting breastwork they defended
themselves, until, one after another, they all fell
beneath the sabres and the bullets of the Prot-
estants. In this dreadful retreat more than two
thousand were put to the sword, large numbers
were drowned, and many were taken captive.

In this day, so glorious to the Royalist cause,
more than one half of the army of the Leaguers
were either slain or taken prisoners. Though
the Duke of Mayenne escaped, many of his best

266 KiNa Henry IV. [1590.

Lines on the battle of Ivry.

generals perished upon the field of battle or were
captured. It is reported that Henry shouted to
his victorious troops as they were cutting down
the fugitives, " Spare the French ; they are our

This celebrated battle has often been the
theme of the poet. But no one has done the
subject better justice than Mr. Macaulay in the
following spirited lines. They are intended to
express the feelings of a Huguenot soldier.


"The king has come to marshal us, all in his armor dressed.
And he has bound a snow-white plume upon his gallant

He looked upon his people, and a tear was in his eye ;
He looked upon the traitors, and his glance was stern and

Eight graciously he smiled on us, as rolled from wing to

Down all our line, a deafening shout, ' God save our lord

the king !'
' And if my standard-bearer fall, as fall full well he may,
For never saw I promise yet of such a bloody fray.
Press where ye see my white plume shine, amid the ranks

of war.
And be your oriflamme to-day the helmet of Navarre.'

"'Hurrah! the foes are coming! Hark to the mingled
Of fife and steed, and trump and drum, and roaring cul-
verin !

1590.] War and Woe. 267

Lines on the battle of Ivry.

The fiery duke is pricking fast across St. Andre's plain,

With all the hireling chivalry of Guelders and Almagne.

Now, by the lips of those we love, fair gentlemen of France,

Charge for the golden lilies now — upon them with the
lance I'

A thousand spurs are striking deep, a thousand spears in

A thousand knights are pressing close behind the snow-
white crest.

And on they burst, and on they rushed, Avhile, like a guid-
ing star,

Amid the thickest carnage blazed the helmet of Navarre.

"Now, God be praised, the day is ours! Mayenne hath turn-
ed his rein,

D'Aumale hath cried for quarter, the Flemish count is
slain ;

Their ranks are breaking like thin clouds before a Biscay

The field is heaped with bleeding steeds, and flags, and
cloven mail.

And then we thought on vengeance, and all along our van,

'Remember St. Bartholomew,' Avas passed from man to

But out spake gentle Henry, ' No Frenchman is my foe ;

Down — down with every foreigner ! but let your brethren

Oh, was there ever such a knight, in friendship or in war,
As our sovereign lord King Henry, the soldier of Na-

This decisive battle established Henry on the
throne. Mayenne still held Paris, and many
other important fortresses in other parts of

268 King Heney IV. [1590.

Paris in consternation. Inexplicable delay.

France; but his main army was defeated and
dispersed, and he could no longer venture to
encounter Hemy in the open field. Having
thrown some additional forces into Paris, which
city he knew that Henry would immediately be-
siege, he fled to Flanders to obtain re-enforce-

Paris was in consternation. Not a town in
its vicinity could resist the conqueror. Henry
was but two days' march from his rebellious
capital. The Leaguers could hope for no aid
for many weeks. The Eoyalist cause had many
friends among the Parisians, eager for an oppor-
tunity to raise within their walls the banner of
their lawful sovereign.

Henry had now the entire command of the
Seine from Rouen to Paris. Had he immedi-
ately marched upon the capital, there can be no
doubt that it would have been compelled to sur-
render; but, for some reason which has never
been satisfactorily explained, he remained for a
fortnight within one day's march of the field of
Ivry. Yarious causes have been surmised for
this unaccountable delay, but there is no au-
thentic statement to be found in any letters
written by Henry, or in any contemporaneous
records. The time, however, thus lost, what-

1590.] War and Woe. 269

Magnanimity to the Swiss Catholics.

ever might have been the cause, proved to him a
terrible calamity. The partisans of the League
in the city had time to recover from their panic,
to strengthen their defenses, and to collect sup-

One act of magnanimity which Henry per-
formed during this interval is worthy of record.
Two regiments of Swiss Catholics, who had been
sent to fight beneath the banners of Mayenne,
had surrendered to the royal forces. They were
for a few d^ys intensely anxious respecting their
fate. Henry restored to them their ensigns,
furnished them with money, supplied them with
provisions, and sent them back to their native
country. He gave them a letter to the Swiss
cantons, with dignity reproaching them for their
violation of the friendly treaty existing between
Switzerland and the crown of France.

It was not until the 28th of March that Hen-
ry appeared before the walls of Paris. By this
time the Leaguers had made preparations to re-
sist him. Provisions and miHtary stores had
been accumulated. Troops had been hurried
into the city, and arrangements were made to
hold out till Mayenne could bring them succor.
Now a siege was necessary, v/ith all its accom-
paniments of blood and woe. There were now

270 KiNa Henry IV. [1590.

Paris blockaded. Death of the Cardinal of Bourbon.

fifty thousand fighting men in the city when
Henry commenced the siege with but twelve
thousand foot and three thousand horse.

In this emergence the energy of Henry re-
turned. He took possession of the river above
and below the city. Batteries were reared upon
the heights of Montmartre and Montfau^on, and
cannon balls, portentous of the rising storm, be-
gan to fall in the thronged streets of the me-
tropolis. In the midst of this state of things
the old Cardinal of Bourbon died. The Leag-
uers had pronounced him king under the title
of Charles X. The insurgents, discomfited in
battle, and with many rival candidates ambi-
tious of the crown, were not in a condition to at-
tempt to elect another monarch. They thought
it more prudent to combine and fight for vic-
tory, postponing until some future day their
choice of a king. The Catholic priests were al-
most universally on their side, and urged them,
by all the most sacred importunities of religion,
rather to die than to allow a heretic to ascend
the throne of France.

Day after day the siege continued. There
were bombardments, and conflagrations, and sal-
lies, and midnight assaults, and all the tumult,
and carnage, and woe of horrid war. Three

1590.J War and "^

WOB, 271

Horrors of famine.

Kindness of Henry.

lumdred thousand men, women, and children
were in the beleaguered city. All supplies were
cut off. Famine commenced its ravages. The
wheat became exhausted, and they ate bran.
The bran was all consumed, and the haggard
citizens devoured the dogs and the cats. Starv-
ation came. On parlor floors and on the hard
pavement emaciate forms were stretched in the
convulsions of death. The shrieks of women
and children in their dying agonies fell in tones
horrible to hear upon the ears of the besiegers.
The tender heart of Henry was so moved by
the sufferings which he was unwillingly instru-
mental in inflicting, that he allowed some pro-
visions to be carried into the city, though he
thus protracted the siege. He hoped that this
humanity would prove to his foes that he did
not seek revenge. The Duke of Nemours, who
conducted the defense, encouraged by this un-
military humanity, that he might relieve liim-
self from the encumbrance of useless mouths,
drove several thousands out of the city. Hen-
ry, with extraordinary clemency, allowed three
thousand to pass through the ranks of his army.
He nobly said, "I can not bear to think of their
sufferings. I had rather conquer my foes by
kindness than by arms. " But the number still

272 Kino Heney IV.


Murmurs in Paris.

The assault.

increasing, and the inevitable effect being only
to enable the combatants to hold out more stub-
bornly, Henry reluctantly ordered the soldiers
to allow no more to pass.

The misery which now desolated the city
was awful. Famine bred pestilence. Woe and
death were every where. The Duke of Ne-
mours, younger brother of the Duke of May-
enne, hoping that Mayenne might yet bring re-
lief, still continued the defense. The citizens,
tortured by the unearthly woes which pressed
them on every side, began to murmur. Nemours
erected scaffolds, and ordered every murmurer
to be promptly hung as a partisan of Henry.
Even this harsh remedy could not entirely si-
lence fathers whose wives and children were
dying of starvation before their eyes.

The Duke of Mayenne was preparing to march
to the relief of the city with an army of Span-
iards. Henry resolved to make an attempt to
take the city by assault before their arrival.
The hour was fixed at midnight, on the 24th
of July. Henry watched the sublime and ter-
rific spectacle from an observatory reared on
the heio'lits of Montmartre. In ten massive col-
umns the Eoyalists made the fierce onset. The
besieged v/ere ready for them, with artillery load-

1590.] War and Woe. 273

The suburbs taken. The Duchess of Montpensier.

ed to the muzzle and with lighted torches. An
eye-witness thus describes the spectacle :

"The immense city seemed instantly to blaze
with conflagrations, or rather by an infinity of
mines sprung in its heart. Thick whirlwinds
of smoke, pierced at intervals by flashes and
long lines of flame, covered the doomed city'.
The blackness of darkness at one moment en-
veloped it. Again it blazed forth as if it were
a sea of fire. The roar of cannon, the clash of
arms, and the shouts of the combatants added
to the horrors of the night,"

By this attack all of the suburbs were taken,
and the condition of the besieged rendered more
hopeless and miserable. There is no siege upon
record more replete with horrors. The flesh
of the dead was eaten. The dry bones of the
cemetery were ground up for bread. Starving
mothers ate their children. It is reported that
the Duchess of Montpensier was offered three
thousand crowns for her dog. She declined the
offer, saying that she should keep it to eat her-
self as her last resource.

The compassion of Henry triumphed again
and again over his military firmness. He al-
lowed the women and children to leave the city,
then the ecclesiastics, then the starving poor,

274 King Henry IV. [1590.

Great clemency of Henry.

then the starving rich. Each of these acts of
generosity added to the strength of his foes.
The- famished Leaguers were now in a condi-
tion to make but a feeble resistance. Henry
was urged to take the city by storm. He could
easily do this, but fearful slaughter would be
the inevitable result. For this reason Henry
refused, saying,

" I am their father and their king. I can
not hear the recital of their woes without the
deepest sympathy, I would gladly relieve
them. I can not prevent those who are pos-
sessed with the fury of the League from per-
ishing, but to those who seek my clemency I
must open my arms."

Early in August, more than thirty thousand
within the walls of the city had perished by
famine. Mayenne now marched to the relief
of Paris. Henry, unwisely, military critics say,
raised the siege and advanced to meet him, hop-
ing to compel him to a decisive battle. May-
enne skillfully avoided a battle, and still more
skillfully threw abundant supplies into the city.

And now loud murmurs began to arise in the
camp of Henry. Many of the most influential
of the Catholics who adhered to his cause, dis-
heartened by this result and by the indications

1591.] War AND Woe. 275

Murmurs in the camp. Desultory warfare.

of an endless war, declared that it was in vain
to hope that any Protestant could be accepted
as King of France. The soldiers could not con-
ceal their discouragement, and the cause of the
king was involved anew in gloom.

Still Hemy firmly kept the field, and a long
series of conflicts ensued between detachments
of the Royalist army and portions of the Span-
ish troops under the command of the Duke of
Mayenne and the Duke of Parma. The energy
of the king was roused to the utmost. Victory
accompanied his marches, and his foes were
driven before him.

The winter of 1591 had now arrived, and still
unhappy France was one wide and wasted bat-
tle-field. Confusion, anarchy, and misery every
where reigned. Every village had its hostile
partisans. Catholic cities were besieged by
Protestants, and Protestant towns by Catholics.
In the midst of these terrible scenes, Henry had
caught a glimpse, at the chateau of Coeuvres, of
the beautiful face of Gabrielle d'Estrees. Igno-
bly yielding to a guilty passion, he again for-
got the great affairs of state and the woes of his
distracted country in the pursuit of this new
amour. The history of this period contains but
a monotonous record of the siege of innumera-

276 King Henry IV. [1591.

AAvful condition of France.

ble towns, with all the melancholy accompani-
ments of famine and Wood. Summer came and
went, and hardly a sound of joy was heard amid
all the hills and valleys of beautiful hut war-
scathed France.

There was great division existing among the
partisans of the League, there being several can-
didates for the throne. There was but one
cause of division in the ranks of Henry. That
he was the legitimate sovereign all admitted.
It was evident to all that, would Henry but ab-
jure Protestantism and embrace the Catholic
faith, nearly all opposition to him would instant-
ly cease. Many pamphlets were issued by the
priests urging the iniquity of sustaining a her-
etic upon the throne. The Pope had not only
anathematized the heretical sovereign, but had
condemned to eternal flames all who should
maintain his cause.

Henry had no objection to Catholicism. It
was the religion of five sixths of his subjects.
He was now anxious to give his adherence to
that faith, could he contrive some way to do it
with decency. He issued many decrees to con-
ciliate the Romanists. He proclaimed that he
had never yet had time to examine the subject
of religious faith ; that he was anxious for in-

1591.] Wak and Woe. 277

Attempts to conciliate the Catholics. Curious challenge.

struction ; that lie was ready to submit to the
decision of a council ; and that under no cir-
cumstances would he suffer any change in
France detrimental to the Catholic religion. At
the same time, with energy which reflects cred-
it upon his name, he declared the bull fulmi-
nated against him by Gregory XIV. as abusive,
seditious, and damnable, and ordered it to be
burned by the public hangman.

By the middle of November, 1591, Henry,
with an army of thirty-five thousand men, sur-
rounded the city of Eouen. Queen Elizabeth
had again sent him aid. The Earl of Essex
joined the royal army with a retinue whose
splendor amazed the impoverished nobles of
France. His own" gorgeous dress, and the ca-
parisons of his steed, were estimated to be worth
sixty thousand crowns of gold. The garrison
of Rouen was under the command of Governor
Villars. Essex sent a curious challenge to Vil-
lars, that if he would meet him on horseback or
on foot, in armor or doublet, he Avould maintain
against him man to man, twenty to twenty, or
sixty to sixty. To this defiance the earl add-
ed, "I am thus ready to prove that the cause
of the king is better than that of the League,
that Essex is a braver man than Yillars, and

278 KiNa Heney IV. [1591.

A new dynasty contemplated.

that in J mistress is more beautiful than yours."
Villars declined the challenge, declaring, how-
ever, that the three assertions were false, but
that he did not trouble himself much about the

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Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Henry the Fourth, king of France and Navarre → online text (page 13 of 16)