Gateway to the Classics: Historic Poems and Ballads by Rupert S. Holland
Historic Poems and Ballads by  Rupert S. Holland


T HIS 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 standard-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 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 to 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."


by Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay

Now glory to the Lord of Hosts, from whom all glories are!

And glory to our Sovereign Liege, King Henry of Navarre!

Now let there be the merry sound of music and of dance,

Through thy corn-fields green, and sunny vines; O pleasant land of France!

And thou, Rochelle, our own Rochelle, proud city of the waters,

Again let rapture light the eyes of all thy mourning daughters.

As thou wert constant in our ills, be joyous in our joy,

For cold, and stiff, and still are they who wrought thy walls annoy.

Hurrah! Hurrah! a single field hath turned the chance of war,

Hurrah! Hurrah! for Ivry, and Henry of Navarre.

Oh! how our hearts were beating, when at the dawn of day

We saw the army of the League drawn out in long array;

With all its priest-led citizens, and all its rebel peers,

And Appenzel's stout infantry, and Egmont's Flemish spears.

There rode the brood of false Lorraine, the curses of our land;

And dark Mayenne was in the midst, a truncheon in his hand:

And, as we looked on them, we thought of Seine's empurpled flood,

And good Coligni's hoary hair all dabbled with his blood;

And we cried unto the living God, who rules the fate of war,

To fight for His own holy name, and Henry of Navarre.

The King is come to marshal us, in all his armor drest,

And he has bound a snow-white plume upon his gallant crest.

He looked upon his people, and a tear was in his eye;

He looked upon the traitors, and his glance was stern and high.

Right graciously he smiled on us, as rolled from wing to wing,

Down all our line, a deafening shout, "God save our Lord the King!"

"And if my standard-bearer fall, as fall full well he may,

For never saw I promise yet of such a bloody fray,

Press where ye see my white plume shine, amidst the ranks of war,

And be your oriflamme to-day the helmet of Navarre."

Hurrah! the foes are moving. Hark to the mingled din

Of fife, and steed, and trump, and drum, and roaring culverin.

The fiery Duke is pricking fast across Saint André's plain,

With all the hireling chivalry of Guelders and Almayne.

Now by the lips of those ye love, fair gentlemen of France,

Charge for the golden lilies,—upon them with the lance.

A thousand spurs are striking deep, a thousand spears in rest,

A thousand knights are pressing close behind the snow-white crest;

And in they burst, and on they rushed, while, like a guiding star,

Amidst the thickest carnage blazed the helmet of Navarre.

Now, God be praised, the day is ours. Mayenne hath turned his rein.

D'Aumale hath cried for quarter. The Flemish count is slain.

Their ranks are breaking like thin clouds before a Biscay gale;

The field is heaped with bleeding steeds, and flags, and cloven mail.

And then we thought on vengeance, and, all along our van,

"Remember St. Bartholomew," was passed from man to man.

But out spake gentle Henry, "No Frenchman is my foe:

Down, down with every foreigner, but let your brethren go."

Oh! was there ever such a knight, in friendship or in war,

As our Sovereign Lord, King Henry, the soldier of Navarre?

Right well fought all the Frenchmen who fought for France today;

And many a lordly banner God gave them for a prey.

But we of the religion have borne us best in fight;

And the good Lord of Rosny hath ta'en the cornet white.

Our own true Maximilian the cornet white hath ta'en,

The cornet white with crosses black, the flag of false Lorraine.

Up with it high; unfurl it wide; that all the host may know

How God hath humbled the proud house which wrought His church such woe.

Then on the ground, while trumpets sound their loudest point of war,

Fling the red shreds, a footcloth neat for Henry of Navarre.

Ho! maidens of Vienna; ho! matrons of Lucerne;

Weep, weep, and rend your hair for those who never shall return.

Ho! Philip, send, for charity, thy Mexican pistoles,

That Antwerp monks may sing a mass for thy poor spearmen's souls.

Ho! gallant nobles of the League, look that your arms be bright;

Ho! burghers of Saint Geneviève, keep watch and ward to-night.

For our God hath crushed the tyrant, our God hath raised the slave,

And mocked the counsel of the wise, and the valor of the brave.

Then glory to His holy name, from whom all glories are;

And glory to our Sovereign Lord, King Henry of Navarre.

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