Action of Aumale or the Bresle, 3 February 1592

The action of Aumale or of the Bresle (3 February 1592) was a minor skirmish during the duke of Parma’s successful attempt to raise the siege of Rouen, notable as the only time Henry IV of France was wounded during his military career (Ninth War of Religion).

Henry’s siege of Rouen began in November 1591. Although the defenders were well organised and well led by André de Villars-Brancas, Henry had managed to raise one of his largest armies, with a mix of English, German, Swiss, Dutch and French troops. The defenders of Rouen were forced to ask for help from the Spanish, who had a powerful army in the Spanish Netherlands, commanded by Alexander Farnese, prince of Parma.

Parma agreed to come to the aid of Rouen, in return for permission to place a garrison in La Fère, near the Flemish border. In December he met up with Mayenne, giving him a total force of 13,645 infantry and 4,061 cavalry. The combined army then advanced west through Picardy towards Normandy.

Henry responded by leading a small part of his army east to intercept and harass Parma. The first clash came just to the east of Aumule, on the Bresle River, which marks the border between Picardy and Normandy. The main part of Henry’s army, under the duke of Nevers, held a bridge over the Bresle, while Henry led a small force of cavalry further east.

Henry’s small party ran into the entire Spanish army. Parma sent forward some cavalry, and Henry responded by advancing to attack. However he then realised that the Spanish had also sent forces of light cavalry around his flanks to cut him off from the bridge, and was forced into a fighting retreat. His famous white plume was spotted, but even so Parma refused to order a general advance that might have captured the king, in the belief that Henry wouldn’t have advanced so far unless it was a trap. As a result Henry was able to get back to the bridge, although sixty noblemen from his party were killed and Henry himself was hit in the loins by a half-spent musket ball as he was crossing to safety.

In the meantime the defenders of Rouen launched a sortie (26 February), wounding Henry’s commander at Rouen, Marshal Biron, and capturing or destroying many of his cannon. Parma’s French allies weren’t keen on seeing a Spanish army actually occupy the city, and now claimed that Rouen had been saved. Parma moved back into Picardy to besiege Rue, but Henry soon recovered from his wound and took command of the siege. The defenders were forced to ask for Parma’s help once again, and on 20 April Henry was forced to lift the siege. Parma and Mayenne then entered Rouen in triumph on 21 April.

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 (13 April 2018), Action of Aumale or the Bresle, 3 February 1592 ,

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