Siege of Rouen, 29 September-26 October 1562

The siege of Rouen (29 September-26 October 1562) was a major Catholic success early in the First War of Religion, but was marred by the death of Antoine de Bourbon, king of Navarre, one of the most important Catholic leaders.

The Royal (Catholic) army left the area of Paris in July 1562. Blois and Poitiers were taken, and the army then moved to besiege Bourges, which surrendered on 31 August. The Royal commanders then had to decide where to move next.

A move on Orleans was considered, but was rejected, partly because of an outbreak of plague in the city and partly because the Catholic leaders still hoped that Antoine de Bourbon, king of Navarre could persuade his brother Louis, prince of Condé, to abandon the Huguenot cause.

Rouen had already been attacked once, by an army commanded by Charles de Lorraine, duke of Aumale, but this attack, in the first half of July, had been abandoned on 12 July after the failure of a series of attacks on Fort St. Catharine, on the eastern side of the city.

The garrison of Rouen was commanded by Gabriel, count of Montgomery, the man who had mortally wounded Henry II of France in a tournament in 1559. The garrison contained around 800 trained soldiers, backed by up to 4,000 armed citizens. Montgomery could also hope for some English help, for the first contingent of English troops reached Le Havre on 3 October.

The Royal army was much larger. Navarre commanded a force of 16,000 infantry, 2,000 cavalry and a large number of German mercenaries.

The second siege began properly during the first week of October. The fortress of St. Catherine, on the eastern side of the city, fell to an assault led by Duke François of Guise, but during this attack Antoine of Navarre was hit in the joint of his shoulder by an arquebus shot, dying of the wound on 17 November.

In the aftermath of the fall of the fortress the English finally attempted to send reinforcements to the city. A small force under a Captain Leighton had arrived early in the siege, but in mid October a larger force under Killigrew of Pendennis attempted to sail up the Seine, but only the vanguard managed to reach the city. At most the English contribution to the defence numbered around 500 men.

Preparations for the final assault on Rouen began on 21 October. Catherine of Medici attempted to prevent the city from being sacked by offering the army a large payment if they behaved themselves, but this proved to be in vain. On 26 October the walls were breached and the Royal army stormed into Rouen. Most of the English troops were killed and the rest sent to the galleys, while as many as 1,000 people were killed in the sack that followed. Many of the Huguenot leaders managed to escape the fall of the city, including Montgomery.

The fall of Rouen left Orleans and Lyons as the main Huguenot strongholds in France, along with a small English garrison in Le Havre. The situation was temporarily transformed by the Prince of Condé, who made a daring march on Paris. This failed, but did provoke the only major battle of the war, at Dreux, on 19 December 1562.

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 (14 January 2011), Siege of Rouen, 29 September-26 October 1562 ,

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