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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Battle of Ivry
By Henry Martyn Baird (1832–1906)
 
From ‘The Huguenots and Henry of Navarre’

THE BATTLE began with a furious cannonade from the King’s artillery, so prompt that nine rounds of shot had been fired before the enemy were ready to reply, so well directed that great havoc was made in the opposing lines. Next, the light horse of M. de Rosne, upon the extreme right of the Leaguers, made a dash upon Marshal d’Aumont, but were valiantly received. Their example was followed by the German reiters, who threw themselves upon the defenders of the King’s artillery and upon the light horse of Aumont, who came to their relief; then, after their customary fashion, wheeled around, expecting to pass easily through the gaps between the friendly corps of Mayenne and Egmont, and to reload their firearms at their leisure in the rear, by way of preparation for a second charge.  1
  Owing to the blunder of Tavannes, however, they met a serried line of horse where they looked for an open field; and the Walloon cavalry found themselves compelled to set their lances in threatening position to ward off the dangerous onset of their retreating allies. Another charge, made by a squadron of the Walloon lancers themselves, was bravely met by Baron Biron. His example was imitated by the Duke of Montpensier farther down the field. Although the one leader was twice wounded, and the other had his horse killed under him, both ultimately succeeded in repulsing the enemy.  2
  It was about this time that the main body of Henry’s horse became engaged with the gallant array of cavalry in their front. Mayenne had placed upon the left of his squadron a body of four hundred mounted carabineers. These, advancing first, rode rapidly toward the King’s line, took aim, and discharged their weapons with deadly effect within twenty-five paces. Immediately afterward the main force of eighteen hundred lancers presented themselves. The King had fastened a great white plume to his helmet, and had adorned his horse’s head with another, equally conspicuous. “Comrades!” he now exclaimed to those about him, “Comrades! God is for us! There are his enemies and ours! If you lose sight of your standards, rally to my white plume; you will find it on the road to victory and to honor.” The Huguenots had knelt after their fashion; again Gabriel d’Amours had offered for them a prayer to the God of battles: but no Joyeuse dreamed of suspecting that they were meditating surrender or flight. The King, with the brave Huguenot minister’s prediction of victory still ringing in his ears, plunged into the thickest of the fight, two horses’ length ahead of his companions. That moment he forgot that he was King of France and general-in-chief, both in one, and fought as if he were a private soldier. It was indeed a bold venture. True, the enemy, partly because of the confusion induced by the reiters, partly from the rapidity of the King’s movements, had lost in some measure the advantage they should have derived from their lances, and were compelled to rely mainly upon their swords, as against the firearms of their opponents. Still, they outnumbered the knights of the King’s squadron more than as two to one. No wonder that some of the latter flinched and actually turned back; especially when the standard-bearer of the King, receiving a deadly wound in the face, lost control of his horse, and went riding aimlessly about the field, still grasping the banner in grim desperation. But the greater number emulated the courage of their leader. The white plume kept them in the road to victory and to honor. Yet even this beacon seemed at one moment to fail them. Another cavalier, who had ostentatiously decorated his helmet much after the same fashion as the King, was slain in the hand-to-hand conflict, and some, both of the Huguenots and of their enemies, for a time supposed the great Protestant champion himself to have fallen.  3
  But although fiercely contested, the conflict was not long. The troopers of Mayenne wavered, and finally fled. Henry of Navarre emerged from the confusion, to the great relief of his anxious followers, safe and sound, covered with dust and blood not his own. More than once he had been in great personal peril. On his return from the melée, he halted, with a handful of companions, under the pear-trees indicated beforehand as a rallying-point, when he was descried and attacked by three bands of Walloon horse that had not yet engaged in the fight. Only his own valor and the timely arrival of some of his troops saved the imprudent monarch from death or captivity.  4
  The rout of Mayenne’s principal corps was quickly followed by the disintegration of his entire army. The Swiss auxiliaries of the League, though compelled to surrender their flags, were, as ancient allies of the crown, admitted to honorable terms of capitulation. To the French, who fell into the King’s hands, he was equally clement. Indeed, he spared no efforts to save their lives. But it was otherwise with the German lansquenets. Their treachery at Arques, where they had pretended to come over to the royal side only to turn upon those who had believed their protestations and welcomed them to their ranks, was yet fresh in the memory of all. They received no mercy at the King’s hands.  5
  Gathering his available forces together, and strengthened by the accession of old Marshal Biron, who had been compelled, much against his will, to remain a passive spectator while others fought, Henry pursued the remnants of the army of the League many a mile to Mantes and the banks of the Seine. If their defeat by a greatly inferior force had been little to the credit of either the generals or the troops of the League, their precipitate flight was still less decorous. The much-vaunted Flemish lancers distinguished themselves, it was said, by not pausing until they found safety beyond the borders of France; and Mayenne, never renowned for courage, emulated or surpassed them in the eagerness he displayed, on reaching the little town from which the battle took its name, to put as many leagues as possible between himself and his pursuers. “The enemy thus ran away,” says the Englishman William Lyly, who was an eye-witness of the battle; “Mayenne to Ivry, where the Walloons and reiters followed so fast that there standing, hasting to draw breath, and not able to speak, he was constrained to draw his sword to strike the flyers to make place for his own flight.”  6
  The battle had been a short one. Between ten and eleven o’clock the first attack was made; in less than an hour the army of the League was routed. It had been a glorious action for the King and his old Huguenots, and not less for the loyal Roman Catholics who clung to him. None seemed discontented but old Marshal Biron, who, when he met the King coming out of the fray with battered armor and blunted sword, could not help contrasting the opportunity his Majesty had enjoyed to distinguish himself with his own enforced inactivity, and exclaimed, “Sire, this is not right! You have to-day done what Biron ought to have done, and he has done what the King should have done.” But even Biron was unable to deny that the success of the royal arms surpassed all expectation, and deserved to rank among the wonders of history. The preponderance of the enemy in numbers had been great. There was no question that the impetuous attacks of their cavalry upon the left wing of the King were for a time almost successful. The official accounts might conveniently be silent upon the point, but the truth could not be disguised that at the moment Henry plunged into battle a part of his line was grievously shaken, a part was in full retreat, and the prospect was dark enough. Some of his immediate followers, indeed, at this time turned countenance and were disposed to flee, whereupon he recalled them to their duty with the words, “Look this way, in order that if you will not fight, at least you may see me die.” But the steady and determined courage of the King, well seconded by soldiers not less brave, turned the tide of battle. “The enemy took flight,” says the devout Duplessis Mornay, “terrified rather by God than by men; for it is certain that the one side was not less shaken than the other.” And with the flight of the cavalry, Mayenne’s infantry, constituting, as has been seen, three-fourths of his entire army, gave up the day as lost, without striking a blow for the cause they had come to support. How many men the army of the League lost in killed and wounded it is difficult to say. The Prince of Parma reported to his master the loss of two hundred and seventy of the Flemish lancers, together with their commander, the Count of Egmont. The historian De Thou estimates the entire number of deaths on the side of the League, including the combatants that fell in the battle and the fugitives drowned at the crossing of the river Eure, by Ivry, at eight hundred. The official account, on the other hand, agrees with Marshal Biron, in stating that of the cavalry alone more than fifteen hundred died, and adds that four hundred were taken prisoners; while Davila swells the total of the slain to the incredible sum of upward of six thousand men.  7
 
 
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