Saturday, May 19, 2012

May 19, 2012

The Battle of Ivry: Imagination-Style

           “Companions! If you today run at risk with me, I will also run at risk with you; I will be victorious or die. God is with us. Look at his and our enemies. Look at your king. Hold your ranks, I beg of you; and if the heat of battle makes you leave them, think also of rallying back: therein lies the key to victory. You will find it among those three trees that you can see over there on your right side. If you lose your ensigns, cornets or flags, do never lose sight of my panache; you will always find it on the road to honor and victory.”

Such was the speech of King Henri de Navarre. Many Huguenot soldiers decided then and there that they would follow him forever --- if they survived what would become one of the most well-known battles of the French Wars of Religion. Just beyond the opposing armies lay two dense forests cut back so they appeared to have been dropped in the middle of the plain for no reason. Men shivered in the chilly predawn spring breeze.  It was the 14th of March in the year 1590; to the men of Henri de Navarre’s army, the idea of espousing a cause that could very well swing the fortunes of the much-persecuted Protestant movement sent adrenaline flowing and spirits soaring.

The world was tearing apart at the seams. France’s Catholics rallied with powerful Spain whenever they thought it necessary, while French Huguenots and their fellow Protestants in England cast their lots together as well. The opponents of Calvinism wished them gone, by war or by fire, however they might accomplish such an end. Religious vitriol had been raging for decades. Europe thought of nothing but Catholic and Protestant. Every man’s life had become about these differences. Like the phoenix, the Huguenots always rose from the ashes, coming back stronger. They determined they would no longer be led to the stake like sheep to the slaughter. 

The Battle of Ivry took part during the eighth such War of Religion fought on French soil. There must have been something awe-inspiring in the moments before battle; excitement, fear, anticipation. Mayhap it was the knowledge that they were fighting to avenge decades of martyrs, countless battles, endless sieges, and the horrors of the Saint Bartholomew’s that made Protestant hearts strive so valiantly for victory. 

While most of the Catholics were French, they had Swiss and German footmen at their disposal, as well as Spanish cavalry. The Huguenots had 8,000 infantrymen. The Catholics had 12,000. That did not bode well. Yet one must doubt that the Huguenots were very worried. Rumor had it that the enemy army was full of untrained nobleman and Catholic friars. Men must have mused, as I myself have, that battles were so beautiful before they began. Each side was drawn up in colorful array . . . banners flew as arquebusiers, lancers, infantrymen, and cavalry alternated along the lines. 

Both armies had powerful artillery at their disposal along the front lines. The Plain of Saint André was beautiful and deceptively quiet; few of the men likely knew much geography, but most would have known that the armies were gathered near the town of Ivry. Suddenly, artillery broke the stillness of the dawn. BOOM! One, two, three, four, five, six. Each blast flipped men’s hearts in their chests. For the Huguenots, there was so more at stake than could ever be imagined. They were fighting for their very rights, for the survival and furtherance of their religion, for their peace and safety and for the security of their women and children. 

The Catholic Duc de Mayenne spurred his cavalrymen into frenzy on some ill-fated charge. For about fifteen minutes there was nothing but blind, furious action. That was only the prelude. The Huguenots were pleased to note that some of the Swiss and Germans abandoned their commanders in the heat of the moment. Whether this was due to fear or a desire to protect the Protestants they secretly admired, none could tell. It did not matter. Mayenne’s right flank was breached.

Henri de Navarre dashed madly after the fleeing foe as soldiers watched through the haze of their own struggles. Few Huguenot soldiers of that day and age would have seen war as “glorious.” Perhaps as children they thought that way, but after a few such battles full of guts and gore and helpless screams and clashing steel and heart-pumping mayhem, such notions were quickly obliterated. Yet the Huguenots had much to show for their efforts at Ivry. Their tactics worked . . . they won the day and another victory for the Protestant faith in France.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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