Siege of Issoire, 20 May-12 June 1577

The siege of Issoire (to 12 June 1577) was the last significant military action during the Sixth War of Religion, and saw Henry III’s army capture a second one of the security towns offered to the Huguenots after the Fifth War of Religion.

The Fifth War of Religion had been ended by the Edict of Beaulieu, which granted freedom of worship outside Paris to the Huguenots, and was very unpopular in Catholic France. Henry III was also unhappy with the treaty, but it had been forced on him by strong Huguenot resistance and a lack of money. However one of the terms of the treaty was that the Estates General should be summoned, and they proved to be very hostile to the Huguenot cause. This allowed Henry to renounce the Edict of Beaulieu and declare that he intended to exterminate Protestantism in France. However the third estate refused to provide any extra taxes, so Henry was only able to raise a small army.

Official command of the army was given to Henry’s brother the duke of Anjou, but in reality the more experienced duke de Nevers had command. He led the army south to besiege Charité-sur-Loire, which fell on 2 May 1577. Anjou then returned to court, where he received a hero’s welcome, and discussed the army’s next move. On 8 May he informed Nevers that the next target would be Issoire, in Auvergne, 115 miles to the south of Charité.

Issoire was one of the eight security towns given to the Huguenots at the end of the Fifth War of Religion in May 1576. In 1577 it was defended by the marquis de Chavignac, although his garrison wasn’t strong enough to stand up to the Royal army, even though it had now shrunk to around 5,000 men.

The Royal army reached Issoire on or around 20 May, but the siege proper didn’t begin until Anjou returned to the army on 28 May. On the following day the town was asked to surrender four times, but Chavignac refused on the grounds that this would be a breach of the edict of pacification of May 1576. Henry III ordered Anjou to punish the town for refusing to surrender.

Issoire finally fell on 12 June. Following Henry’s orders, Anjou allowed his troops to sack the town, burning every house owned by a Protestant. After the fall of the town Anjou returned to court where he received a second hero’s welcome. The army, now reduced to around 2,000 men, headed west towards Perigueux, while Nevers complained that he had run out of ammunition and his men were no longer willing to fight. At Limoges the city offered Nevers 30,000 livres to not billet his troops in the city, and Henry was forced to suggest that he accepted the offer. It was clear that the King had run out of money, and he soon had to recall Nevers and the remains of the army back to court.

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 (21 December 2017), Siege of Issoire, 20 May-12 June 1577 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_issoire.html

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