Siege of Paris, November 1589

The siege of Paris (November 1589) was a short lived attempt by Henry IV to capture Paris and secure his position as King of France (Ninth War of Religion).

The Eighth War of Religion had ended when Henry III was assassinated while attempting to besiege Paris with Henry of Navarre at his side. After the death of the king, Navarre became king as Henry IV, but many of the Catholic Royalists who were willing to acknowledge him as king were less willing to fight alongside him and withdrew from the army. This forced him to lift the first siege of Paris of 1589. He split his army, and took part of it north into Normandy. His main opponent, Charles of Mayenne, the new commander of the Catholic League, followed him into Normandy, and caught up with Henry at Dieppe. Henry decided to make a stand just to the south of the port, and won a significant victory over Mayenne at the battle of Arques (21 September 1589), defeating a Catholic attack on his fortified camp.

In the aftermath of his victory at Arques, Henry VI was reinforced by 4,000 troops sent by Elizabeth I of England, commanded by Lord Willoughby. He also ordered Henri d’Orleans, duke of Longueville and Marshal Jean d’Aumont to join him with their forces, giving him 18,000-20,000 men. Henry then took this army south to renew the siege of Paris.

Henry reached Bagneux, just to the south of Paris, on the last day of October 1589. His troops spent the night at Montrouge, Gentilly, Issy and Vaugirard, at the time villages just outside Paris, in a bend on the left bank of the Seine.

On 1 November Henry launched an attack on the suburbs on the left bank. At this point the city walls enclosed a much smaller area than the later walls that were later removed to create the boulevards that surround the arrondissements. On the left bank the walls began opposite the Louvre and curved around to the east to protect an area around the Ile de la Cite and the original heart of Paris.  

Henry split his army into three columns, giving command of one to Francois de la Noue and the young son of Admiral Coligny.

On the left wing La Noue’s column reached the banks of the Seine close to the Tour de Nesle, where La Noue made a spirited but rather pointless attempt to swim the river, before being recalled by Henry. Part of his force even managed to get through the nearest gate - the Porte de Buci. However Henry failed to support this brief success, or to bring up his artillery, and the change of a quick success soon disappeared. His army did plunder the left bank suburbs, and shocked the Catholic population of Paris.

While Henry was attacking in the south, Mayenne entered the city from the north and bolstered the defences. Henry realised that it was no longer possible for him to capture the city, and withdrew to the south. He captured Vendome, and then made for Tours, where he took over Henry III’s administration in exile. The war resumed in earnest in the spring of 1590, with a series of sieges. Mayenne besieged Meulan, while Henry besieged Dreux, in an attempt to isolate Paris. Mayenne attempted to lift the siege, but instead suffered another major battlefield defeat at Ivry (14 March 1590).

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 (22 March 2018), Siege of Paris, November 1589 ,

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