Battle of Coutras


The Battle of Coutras, fought on 20 October 1587, was a major engagement in the French Religious Wars between a Huguenot (Protestant) army under Henry of Navarre (the future Henry IV) and a royalist army led by Anne, Duke of Joyeuse. Henry of Navarre was victorious, and Joyeuse was killed while attempting to surrender.

Battle of Coutras
Part of the War of the Three Henrys
Bataille de Coutras.jpg
Date20 October 1587
Result Huguenot victory
Huguenot cross.svg Huguenots Blason France moderne.svg Royalist Army
Commanders and leaders
Armoiries Antoine de Bourbon.svg Henry of Navarre Chateauneuf-Randon de Joyeuse Saint-Didier.svg Anne de Joyeuse
5,000 infantry
1,800 cavalry
5,000 infantry
1,800 cavalry
Casualties and losses
40 killed 2,000 men, of which
300 nobility


The Wars of Religion between the Catholics and Protestants in France had begun in 1562 and continued intermittently thereafter, with temporary periods of nominal peace that were often also marked by violence. King Henry III conducted a conciliatory policy, as reflected in the enactment of the Edict of Beaulieu in 1576 and the Edict of Poitiers the following year. But a new crisis arose in 1584 upon the death of the king's only remaining brother, Francis of Alençon. This made Henry of Navarre, a Protestant, heir presumptive to the throne. The League, led by the Duke of Guise, then set the kingdom against the king, who became isolated.

On 18 July 1585, Henry III promulgated an edict canceling all previous edicts, giving precedence "to the Catholics", paying the mercenaries of the League from the Royal Treasury, prohibiting Protestantism in France, and ordering the return of safe Protestant strongholds. Protestants were expelled from power. And while the Guise party won appointments and favours, the king of Navarre was deprived of his functions.

This edict was effectively a declaration of war against the Protestants. Henry of Navarre sought support, initially without success. However, the "privatory bull" (bulle privatoire) by Pope Sixtus V brought him a measure of support from French royalists and Gallican circles; these were joined by the Politiques, supporters of religious tolerance (such as the Governor of Languedoc, Montmorency-Damville) and later England and Denmark, in the wake of the assassination of William of Orange and the success of Spain in its fight against the Protestants of the Netherlands.

Faced with the intransigence of Guise, war was inevitable. Joyeuse was sent south with an army, while Mercoeur invaded Poitou and blocked Condé at La Rochelle.


The clash of the two cavalry forces was to the advantage of the King of Navarre.[1] The Duke of Joyeuse launched a charge at full gallop; by the time they came into contact, his horses were exhausted, and his squadrons of lancers had lost cohesion, rendering them ineffective.[2] For his part, Henry of Navarre adopted an innovative tactic in the disposition of his troops: he inserted the platoons of musketeers (five men abreast) within cavalry squadrons, to improve their support.[3] The charge of the Protestants chevau-légers ('light or medium cavalry') broke the Royalist army, which was routed. The Duke of Joyeuse was defeated, captured, and killed by a pistol shot. 2,000 Catholics were also captured along with Anne's younger brother, Claude Joyeuse (1569-1587), lord of Saint-Sauveur and Jacques d'Amboise, the eldest of the branch of Amboise-d'Aubijoux.

Victory went to the Protestants, led by Henry of Navarre. He recovered the body of Joyeuse and attended a mass in honour of his slain enemies.[4]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Histoire de la Ligue by Louis Maimbourg
  2. ^ Frédéric Chauviré, « Le problème de l’allure dans les charges de cavalerie du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle », Revue historique des armées, 249 | 2007, placed online 1 August 2008. Accessed on 16 Aug 2010.
  3. ^ Frédéric Chauvire. « La charge de cavalerie, de Bayard à Seydlitz » Archived July 20, 2011, at the Wayback Machine- Cahiers du CEHD n° 23, 2004 ISBN 2-11-094729-2, p 111. En ligne, consulté le 3 mars 2007
  4. ^ Pierre Miquel, Les Guerres de religion, Club France Loisirs, 1980 (ISBN 978-2-7242-0785-9), p 344


  • Pierre Miquel, Les Guerres de religion, Club France Loisirs, 1980 (ISBN 978-2-7242-0785-9), p 342-344
  • Pierre de Vayssiére, Messieurs de Joyeuse (1560-1615 ), Paris, Albin Michel, 1926
  • There is a detailed account of the battle in Garrett Mattingly's The Armada.

External linksEdit

  • Histoire de la Ligue par Maimbourg - Paris -1684