This analysis of “Ivry” is reprinted from Historic Poems and Ballads. Ed. Rupert S. Holland. Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs & Co., 1912.
THIS splendid poem tells of the battle of Ivry, fought in 1590 between the Huguenots, or Protestants, under Henry of Navarre, and the Catholics, led by the Duke of Mayenne. Navarre was a small kingdom lying partly in France and partly in Spain, and Henry’s mother was its queen. The king of France, Henry III, had tried to reconcile the Catholics and Huguenots, but the Catholics distrusted him, and formed a “League” to fight for their faith. This brought about a great civil war in France.
Henry III was assassinated in 1589. He had chosen his cousin, Henry of Navarre, to succeed him, but the leaders of the League and the people of Paris opposed this. Henry of Navarre defeated Mayenne at Ivry, which is about thirty miles west of Paris, and as a result of this victory became undisputed king of France. He made a wise ruler, and was one of the best loved of all French kings. He was famous for his gallant bearing, his chivalry, and his bravery, all of which he had shown very strikingly at Ivry.
Macaulay pictures the enthusiasm of a follower of Henry at the battle. The Huguenots have won, thanks to the Lord of Hosts and their king, and there shall be rejoicing in the city of La Rochelle, a Huguenot stronghold on the western coast of France.
Then the Huguenot soldier describes the battle. The army of the Catholic League faced them, made up of citizens led by priests and rebellious nobles, Swiss infantry under Appenzel, spearmen brought from Flanders by Philip, Count of Egmont, the troopers of the Guise family, who came from the province of Lorraine, with the Duke of Mayenne himself in command of them. As the Huguenots looked at their enemies they remembered the Massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572, when Catherine de’ Medici had tried to kill all the Huguenots in France, and had killed so many in paris that the River Seine ran with blood; and they remembered that their great leader, Admiral Coligny, had been one of the first to fall.
Then Henry of Navarre rode out before his troops, with a snow-white plume fastened to his helmet. He bade his men follow him, and if the standart-bearer fell to take his white plume for their guide and flag of battle.
The enemy charged, the Duke of Mayenne leading the mercenary troops of Guelders and Almayne across the open field. A thousand Huguenot knights set their spears in rest, and followed Henry’s plume as he dashed forward. The armies met, and Mayenne was driven back, the Duke of d’Aumale forced to surrender, and the Count of Egmont killed. The Huguenots raised the cry, “Remember St. Bartholomew!” but Henry called to them to pursue the foreign soldiers, but to spare their French brothers. As if the mark the downfall of the great Catholic house of Guise, the Huguenot Duke of Sully, Baron of Rosny, captured the black and white standard of that family.
The poem ends with a call to the daughters and wives of Vienna and Lucerne to weep for their fathers and husbands who had been killed fighting for the League, to Philip II of Spain, an ally of Mayenne, to send his Mexican gold to Antwerp so that the monks might pray for his Flemish spearmen, to the soldiers of the League to be prepared for further battle, and to the people of St. Geneviève’s city of Paris to watch for the victorious arrival of the Huguenots under their valiant king.
In this poem Macaulay catches the gallant spirit of the follower of Henry of Navarre as vividly as he describes the simple patriotism of a citizen of the Roman Republic in “Horatius.”