Siege of La Fère, November 1595 - 16 May 1596

The siege of La Fère (November 1595-16 May 1596) saw Henry IV capture the last Spanish outpost south of the Somme, but while he was engaged in the siege the Spanish were able to capture Calais (Ninth War of Religion).

During 1595 Henry had successfully campaigned against a Spanish army that was operating in Burgundy. After the small battle of Fontain-Française the Spanish withdrew from Burgundy, allowing Henry to secure the area. He also moved south to Lyon to gain control of that area.

While Henry was at Lyon he learnt that the Spanish had besieged Cambrai (11 August-9 October 1595). Henry made it back to Paris while Cambrai was still holding out, but was unable to raise sufficient funds and the city fell.

Henry’s new target was La Fère, between Saint-Quentin and Laon. The Spanish had first placed a garrison in La Fère in 1591, one of the conditions they insisted on before they lifted Henry’s siege of Rouen.

Henry attempted to raise troops from Elizabeth I, but she demanded Calais in return, and Henry refused her terms. The Dutch provided 2,000 men, but only after Henry threatened to agree a truce with Spain.

While Henry was besieging La Fère the duke of Mayenne, the last leader of the Catholic League, submitted to him, ended a process that had begun after he lost his power-base in Burgundy in the previous year.

In the spring of 1596 a large Spanish army under the new governor of the Spanish Netherlands, the Archduke Albert, invaded France, officially to lift the siege of La Fere. Henry moved to Saint Quentin to try and intercept the Spanish, but Albert refused to offer battle, and instead moved north-west to capture Calais and the nearby fortresses of Guisnes and Ardres. 

Another crisis came from within Henry’s own camp, where his Huguenot supporters were increasingly angry at the lack of progress in giving them secure legal rights. Two of his main Huguenot supporters, La Trémouille and Henry de la Tour d’Auvergne, duke of Bouillon (also known as Turenne) both left Henry’s camp.

La Fère finally surrendered to Henry on 16 May 1596.

In the aftermath of the fall of Le Fère Henry’s army fell apart. He could no longer pay his mercenary troops, and the noble contingents went home.

The French Religious Wars 1562-1598, Robert Jean Knecht. A useful guide to the complex series of nine French Wars of Religion, including an examination of who the wars began and the main players on both sides, narrative accounts of the wars, overviews of the most important battles and sieges. Also looks at the impact of the wars on France’s neighbours, many of whom got dragged into the conflict, and on a selection of soldiers and civilians. Supported by a series of maps that help show how complex the conflict was
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (7 May 2018), Siege of La Fère, November 1595 - 16 May 1596 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_la_fere.html

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