The Treaty of Vervins (2 May 1598) ended the fighting between France and Spain in the Ninth War of Religion, and effectively ended the long series of wars of religion that had divided France since 1562.
In the autumn of 1596 Philip II was forced to declare Spain bankrupt. His French allies had almost all given up, and even the duke of Mayenne, the last leader of the Catholic League had made peace with Henry early in the year. The Spanish lost their last stronghold south of the Somme when La Fère surrendered on 16 May 1596. There were still Spanish garrisons in Brittany, and his governor of the Spanish Netherlands, the Archduke Albert, captured Calais while Henry was besieging La Fère, but Philip’s enthusiasm for the war was waning. He was aware that his health was failing, and he wanted to give his son a peaceful start to his reign, and to help secure his daughter Isabella’s position as joint sovereign of the Spanish Netherlands.
Early in 1597 Spanish troops captured Amiens, their last success of the war. Henry soon raised a large army and laid siege to Amiens. By now Philip had begun to put forward peace terms, but Henry refused to consider them until he had recovered Amiens, Calais and Ardres.
Amiens surrendered to Henry on 25 September. He then moved into Brittany, where the Duke of Mercouer, the last significant French nobleman still holding out finally made peace with him.
The time was now right for peace with Spain. Philip opened formal negotiations in October 1597. Henry was also looking for peace, and the return of the border towns lost to the Spanish. However Henry’s freedom of action was theoretically limited by a recent alliance with England and the Dutch, signed in 1596, in which he had agreed not to make peace without their consent.
On 12 January Henry ordered his representatives to begin formal negotiations with the Archduke Albert at Vervins. With both sides eager for peace, it didn’t take long for the treaty to be agreed, and the Treaty of Vervins was signed on 2 May 1598.
The most important part of the treaty was that the conditions of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis, which had ended the Valois-Hapsburg Wars, were put back in place, so both sides returned all towns they had taken since then. This meant that the French got back Calais and the lost towns in Picady, and Blavet in Brittany, while giving up their claim to Cambrais. Elizabeth I and the Dutch were given the option to sign up to the treaty if they so desired, a clause designed to get around Henry’s promise not to make peace without them. The treaty also included the Swiss, Geneva and the duke of Savoy, one of Philip’s more active allies.
The treaty ended a long period of conflict between France and Spain. The attempt to include the duke of Savoy was less successful, and a short war was needed before he agreed to a separate peace, the Treaty of Lyon (1601).