Battle of La Roche-Abeille, 25 June 1569

The battle of La Roche-Abeille (25 June 1569) was a minor Huguenot victory that came after their army had been joined by reinforcements from Germany.

The spring of 1569 had opened with a major defeat for the Huguenots. In March Condé and Coligny had left La Rochelle and moved south to unite with another Huguenot army moving north from the south of France. They had run into the Royal army around Jarnac and been attacked while still scattered. Condé was captured and murdered, and the demoralised army retreated to Cognac.

One of the factors that helped restore Huguenot morale was the knowledge that an army of German Protestants under the Duke of Zweibrucken was on its way. This army captured La Charité on the Loire on 20 May. This news encouraged Coligny to lead his army east from the vicinity of La Rochelle in an attempt to unite with the Germans. On 11 May Coligny found Zweibrucken at Nexon (close to Limoges), but the German leader was mortally ill, and died later on the same day.

By this point a Royal army, under Henry, duke of Anjou (the further Henry III) was close by. Anjou's aim was to prevent the Germans joining up with the Huguenot army, but on 23 June the Protestant allies met at Yrieix. Anjou, who had been advancing south on a parallel line, was at Roche l'Abeille.

The newly united Huguenot army was around 17,000-20,000 strong. The Royal army had also been reinforced on 23 June, by a force of Italian troops under Philip Strozzi sent by the Pope. 

The two armies clashed at Roche l'Abeille. They were separated by a valley, with most of the Royal army on the heights above the town. Two regiments of foot, including the Italians, were left at the foot of the hill. Coligny ordered his cavalry, supported by 3,000 arquebusiers, to attack these isolated troops. The resulting battle was fought in such heavy rain that the arquesbuses were said to have been more use as clubs. The two Catholic regiments were crushed and Strozzi was captured. The battle also saw Henry of Navarre (the future Henry IV in his first battle) lead a cavalry charge and begin to earn his reputation for valour. 

In the aftermath of the battle the Royal army began to dissolve. Anjou made the best of the situation by abandoning any plans for a summer campaign in the hope that the Protestant army would disintegrate without an active enemy to face. Instead the Protestants moved to besiege Poitiers (July-September 1569), a move that had a very similar effect as their army began to waste away under the walls of the city.

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 (28 January 2011), Battle of La Roche-Abeille, 25 June 1569 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_la_roche_abeille.html

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