The Battle of Dreux

An attack at the Battle of Dreux, the first general engagement of the civil wars. The Protestant army ran into the Catholic army on the road to Dreux, because of a criminal lack of foresight by Condé in posting any kind of advance scouts. Although both sides probably had roughly the same amount of cavalry with them, the Catholics had much more infantry and the benefit of superior organization (although not a more intelligent commander). The two armies stood around for two hours looking at each other before the action began -- La Noue says in his Discours that this was because it was the first time two French armies had faced each other in over a century, and each had friends and brothers on the other side and was afraid to begin what would no doubt become the first act in a great tragedy.

In the center is a pike square, with some arquebusiers firing under their protection. The first rank of pikemen crouch low so that the rank behind them can also lower their pikes to accept the charge against them -- the arquebusiers have to scoot for cover. They are being attacked by cavalry from the front and flank. This is a detail from the whole battle scene (which I do not have). At the top is the village of Bleinville, which marked the left of the Catholic line, which was routed by Admiral Coligny's horse. The Catholic right fared much better, letting Condé exhaust his cavalry on futile charges against a solid Swiss pike phalanx before Guise brought out his reserves of horse and foot. The remains of the Huguenot army retreated in good order under Coligny, who maintained completely his freedom of movement in the countryside. It is an intense irony that each of the commanders-in-chief, Montmorency for the Catholics and Condé for the Huguenots, was captured by the other side because each was behaving more like a front-line cavalry captain than the general of army -- a chronic incapacity that they both shared. Montmorency was still leading charges at 70 years old.

Home to Poulet GaucheBack to Wars of ReligionBibliography

-c. t. iannuzzo, with a great debt to Sir Charles Oman