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Henri IV - An unfinished reign

Arques and Ivry

Victory in two battles bolstered Henri's legitimacy, since they laid the foundations of an image of the victorious monarch blessed by providence.

The first was a series of combats that took place in the vicinity of Dieppe between 15 and 27 September 1589, now known as the Battle of Arques. Having reached Normandy, where English reinforcements were waiting, Henri IV's army was forced to engage with the army of the League, led by the duc de Mayenne . Although his was the smaller force, Henri once again demonstrated his genius as a tactician, particularly on 21 September, which proved to be decisive. Intending to press their advantage, his troops then marched towards Paris in an attempt to finally force their way into the resistant city. They managed to conquer certain outlying areas, but this first siege of Paris ended in failure. It would be another five years before Henri IV would enter "his" capital.

Although the war bogged down during the winter of 1589–90, a second decisive battle was fought at Ivry, near Dreux. It took place on 14 March 1590, and once again pitted Henri IV's royalist soldiers against those of the League, led by Mayenne, this time aided by Spanish troops and German reiters. As at Coutras and Arques, Henri was outnumbered. And yet, he showed a faith and a determination that galvanised his men. His famous speech before the battle says it all: "My companions, God is with you. Over there are his enemies and yours. Here is your king. Have at them! If you cannot find your standards, rally to my white plume. You will find it one the road to victory and honour." During the battle, the king set the example by charging the lines of the Leaguers on several occasions, contributing to their breaking rank. At the battle's end, the victory was overwhelming: Mayenne's forces had lost 6,000 men as well as their banners and artillery. As he had been at Coutras, Henri was magnanimous towards those he had beaten. He did not press his advantage, and left it to the chroniclers to take his actions and turn them into legend.

Related multimedia

Title: Henri IV at the Battle of Arques

Henri IV at the Battle of Arques
© RMN / René Gabriel Ojéda
Caption:
Henri IV at the Battle of Arques (21 September 1589), oil on wood, 1st quarter of the 17th c. Musée national du château de Pau, Inv. P. 84-14-1.

Title: The Battle of Arques

The Battle of Arques
© RMN / René-Gabriel Ojéda
Caption:
The Battle of Arques, 21 September 1589, drawing, 18th c. Musée national du château de Pau, P56-16-41-1

Title: Henri IV sending supplies into Paris

Henri IV sending supplies into Paris
© RMN / René-Gabriel Ojéda
Caption:
Henri IV sending supplies into Paris, to which he is laying siege (1590), drawing by Auguste-Xavier Leprince, 1821. Musée national du château de Pau, P62-6-5

Title: Henri IV at the Battle of Ivry

Henri IV at the Battle of Ivry
Musée du château Henri IV, Nérac / photo by Yves Monet
Caption:
Henri IV at the Battle of Ivry, painting by Théodore Chrétien.

Title: Organisation and map of the Battle of Ivry

Battle of Ivry
© RMN / René-Gabriel Ojéda
Caption:
Organisation and map of the Battle of Ivry (14 March 1590), engraving by Frans Hogenberg, 16th c. Musée national du château de Pau, P59-15-4

Title: Organisation of the Battle of Ivry (14 March 1590)

Battle of Ivry
Musée national du château de Pau / Jean-Yves Chermeux
Caption:
Organisation of the Battle of Ivry (14 March 1590), engraving by Frans Hogenberg, 16th c. Musée national du château de Pau, P 64.19.4

Title: Battle of Ivry and the surrender of Mantes

"La Belle Cheminée" at the Château de Fontainebleau
© RMN / Martine Beck-Coppola
Caption:
Fragments of "La Belle Cheminée" at the Château de Fontainebleau depicting the Battle of Ivry and the surrender of Mantes (1597–1600), by Mathieu Jacquet. Musée du Louvre

Title: Battle of Ivry in 1590: Henri IV and his white plume

Henri IV at the battle of Ivry
© RMN / René-Gabriel Ojéda
Caption:
Battle of Ivry in 1590: Henri IV and his white plume, drawing by Alexandre Joseph Desenne, Illustration for the Henriade, 19th c. Musée national du château de Pau, P2000-1-1

Title: Henri IV brings peace to France, supported by religion

Henri IV brings peace to France, supported by religion
© RMN / René-Gabriel Ojéda
Caption:
Henri IV brings peace to France, supported by religion (detail), oil on wood, French School, 4e quart 16th c. Musée national du château de Pau, P.80-10-1
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