Military Wiki
Battle of Besançon
Part of the French Wars of Religion
Vue Besançon Pierre d'Argent.jpg
Cavalier view of Besançon by Pierre d'Argent in 1575
Date21 June 1575
LocationBesançon, Franche-Comté, eastern France
47°14′35″N 6°01′19″E / 47.24306°N 6.02194°E / 47.24306; 6.02194Coordinates: 47°14′35″N 6°01′19″E / 47.24306°N 6.02194°E / 47.24306; 6.02194
Result Catholic victory
Croix huguenote.svg Huguenots Emblem of the Papacy SE.svg Catholics
Citizens of Besançon
Commanders and leaders
Capitaine Paul de Beaujeu Claude de La Baume
Around 150 Around 300
Casualties and losses
At least 35 Unknown

The Battle of Besançon was fought on 21 June 1575 in the city of Besançon, Franche-Comté, between the Protestants and Catholics of the city. Prior to the battle, the Huguenots were expelled from Besançon for heresy and fled to Switzerland and Montbéliard, where they developed an army in an attempt to turn the city into a stronghold of the Protestant Reformation. Several hundred soldiers marched towards the city, and unexpectedly part of the army was blocked. After entering the city, the battle began, the outcome of which was an overwhelming Catholic victory. The majority of the Protestant army managed to escape, but those who were captured were hung with traitors. This event resulted in the final takeover of the region by the Catholic church after decades of Protestant expansion.


In Besançon, the Catholics had performed executions on Protestants for religious reasons since 1528.[1] However, the preaching of William Farel,[2] Theodore Beza and John Calvin had resulted in people's religious views to change towards Protestantism.[3] Despite the punishment, prosecution, and banning of Protestants in Besançon, Archbishop Antoine struggled to contain the spread of Protestant ideas, which were spread by propaganda, religious gatherings, and iconoclastic attacks.[4] On 1 March 1562, the Massacre of Vassy occurred resulting in the initiation of the French Wars of Religion. At this time, Besançon was an independent republic protected by the Holy Roman Empire, and was mainly untouched by conflict in its infancy. Despite the restrictions, many French reformers flocked to the city, who were mainly Protestant.[4]

After 1571, the situation changed abruptly in Besançon, leading to the people to call for Philip II of Spain to help fight all heresies.[4] The new archbishop Claude de La Baume then demanded the expulsion of anybody suspected of heresy from Besançon.[5] Local authorities kept count of the Protestants in the city, but later expelled fifty Protestants from the city, who took refuge in Switzerland and Montbéliard.[4] In 1572, the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre caused an increase of violence in the region,[4] and those who were expelled from the city gathered in Montbéliard and Neuchâtel,[5] before marching to the city in 1575.[4][6][7]


Protestants in Franche-Comté were expelled from the region and met in Montbéliard and Switzerland to organise the capture of Besançon.[8] Desiring assistance, they enlisted some Swiss and Montbéliards to fight with them.[9][10] Originally, the soldiers were incredibly well organised, with 300 soldiers coming from Switzerland and 150 coming from Montbéliard, and no less than 6,000 men were to be provided by the Holy Roman Empire if the city fell. The people of Besançon were on their guard, and the assault was carefully planned to be unexpected. It was planned that those from Neuchâtel would enter through the Notre-Dame, and those from Montbéliard would enter the city through the Battant.[11]

On the night of 20 June, two armed Protestant corps were travelling towards the city from Montbéliard and Neuchâtel. However, some of the group from Neuchâtel decided to abandon the battle as their request for extra pay had been denied, and the others continued upstream. The remaining soldiers from Neuchâtel fought with the inhabitants of Morteau,[5][12][13] but after a fierce battle, were forced to retreat.[12][11] Despite waiting for the group from Neuchâtel, who could not be found,[14] Capitaine Paul de Beaujeu decided to continue with the plan.[5][12] By midnight,[15] the soldiers reached Palente, and hid in the forests of Chalezeule while establishing a plan of attack.[14] With the help of a dozen small boats laid end-to-end, the soldiers were able to cross the Doubs.[15] To continue with the attack, the soldiers were equally dependent upon the help of the townspeople.[14][16]


Equipped with ladders, ropes, weapons and ammunition, the soldiers managed to obtain the keys of the Battant through a man named Le Goux, after threatening notary Jean Papay. After crossing Battant Bridge, the soldiers entered the heart of the city and prepared for attack,[5][17] with help of townspeople Recy and upholsterer Augustin.[16][18] They seize armaments located near the Battant,[17] with the intention of sacking the archdiocese and churches, and killing Catholic priests and church leaders.[19] The soldiers then separated into groups: some gathered around the Battant, while about 70 men, both mounted and on foot, reached the high street, while those going towards the Battant passed along the Rue des Granges. Both groups were joined by many townspeople. Up until this moment, several houses had been destroyed (such as that of Madame de Thoraise of Chavirey),[18] and an attack on the town hall wounded one Catholic.[20]

François de Vergy, a member of the House of Vergy, had been informed of the event by the townspeople, and arrived in Besançon at dawn.[21] He asked the soldiers if they were friendly, at which the insurgents responded with violence.[14] After several exchanges of gunfire, the battle moved to the high street, where the Protestants had an advantage after taking two pieces of artillery near the Battant.[22] Two hours after the battle moved to the high street, François de Vergy led a group of monks and priests to the battle equipped with three cannons.[22] The first two cannons did not fire, causing doubt in the Catholic ranks, despite having over 300 men, many more than the Protestant forces.[22] However, the third cannon fired successfully causing panic among the Protestants.[22] Despite this, the Protestants continued to fight using cannons,[16] firearms, and knives in an attempt to stop the Catholic forces, which were led by Claude de La Baume.[14][19] The Protestant leader was severely injured and his horse was hit, causing disorder in the ranks of Huguenot troops, ultimately resulting in their attempts to escape the battle.[5][23]

After the Protestants were caught in crossfire by townspeople engaging in the Battle,[14] many decided to flee through the Battant.[24] They took the portcullis down but couldn't find the boats to cross the Doubs, so some soldiers chose to swim, many of whom drowned,[4][5][18] including goldsmith Guillaume Laboral from Montbéliard.[25][26] Those who did not escape the battle were to be executed at the gallows,[27] which occurred on the same day or later in the week.[26] In total, twenty Protestants were killed in combat, and a couple drowned in the Doubs. The Father Faverney Antoine d'Achey and the army in Vesoul were dispatched to rescue the city, not knowing that the battle had already ended. Nonetheless, Luis de Requesens y Zúñiga thanked Achey for his attempts.[28]


The morning after the battle, forty young noblemen from Besançon were executed after lengthy torture sessions;[5] it was suspected that they helped the Protestant forces enter the city. Other citizens expected of heresy were to receive the same punishment, or were imprisoned, banished from the city, or lost their money and possessions.[24] Many citizens were publicly hung in front of the city hall,[29] such as Pierre Nicolas.[30] Some Protestants were hung, beheaded, and quartered or dragged onto a stack of bodies. Some Protestant corpses were cut up and the pieces exposed on the city gates.[24][30] Masses were held at St. Jean's Cathedral and St. Stephen's Cathedral of Besançon to celebrate the defeat of the Huguenots.[24]

To remember the Catholic victory, Claude de La Baume started a local festival that took place on 21 June, resulting in his promotion to cardinal by Pope Gregory XIII[5] and a pension of 1,000 ducats from Philip II of Spain.[31] The citizens of Morteau, who stopped the troops from Neuchâtel, were promoted to citizens of Besançon and received significant financial compensation.[32] François de Lette was forced into exile,[33][34] and Paul de Beaujeu left the region and travelled to Switzerland.[16]

See also



  • Defrasne, Jean (1990) (in French). Histoire d'une ville, Besançon: le temps retrouvé. Cêtre. 
  • Düring, Ingar (1999) (in French). Quand Besançon se donne à lire: essais en anthropologie urbaine. Paris/Montréal: L'Harmattan. ISBN 978-2-7384-7665-4. 
  • "Bulletin de la Société de l'histoire du protestantisme français" (in French). Agence centrale de la Société. 1861. 
  • Joseph Fr. Michaud; Louis Gabriel Michaud (1811) (in French). Biographie universelle (Histoire, par ordre alphabétique). Michaud brothers. 
  • "A Chronology of Besançon" (in French). Racines Comtoises. 
  • "A Chronology of Besançon" (in French). Cancoillotte. 
  • Fleury-Bergier, Célestin (1869) (in French). Franc-comtois et Suisses. J. Jacquin. 
  • von Müller, Johannes; Glutz-Blotzheim, Robert; Hottinger, Johann Jakob; Vulliemin, Louis; Monnard, Charles (1841) (in French). Histoire de la Confédération suisse. 12. T. Ballimou. 
  • Besson, Nicolas François Louis (1867) (in French). Annales Franc-Comtoises. 7. 
  • Laurens (1837) (in French). Annuaire statistique et historique ou département Du Doubs pour l'année 1837. Sainte-Agathe. 
  • Haag, Emile (1847) (in French). La France protestante ou vies des protestants français qui se sont fait un nom dans l'histoire. Cherbuliez. 
  • Prinet, M. (1909) (in French). Mémoires et documents inédits pour servir à l'histoire de la Franche-Comté. Academy of Besançon. 
  • Rougebief, Eugène (1851) (in French). Histoire de la Franche-Comté ancienne et moderne: précédée d'une description de cette province. University of Lausanne. OCLC 421891117. 
  • Constant, Tournier (1910) (in French). La Crise huguenote à Besançon au XVIe siècle. ISBN 9781246020960. 
  • Guenard, Alex (1860) (in French). Besançon: description historique des monuments et établissements publics de cette ville. Baudin. 
  • Clade, Jean-Louis (2001) (in French). Si la Comté m'était contée. Editions Cabedita. ISBN 2882953313. 
  • Brault-Lerch, Solange (1976) (in French). Orfèvres de La Franche-Comté et de la principauté de Montbéliard du Moyen Age au XIXe siècle. Librairie Droz. ISBN 2600042970. 
  • Morey, Joseph (1878) (in French). Notice historique sur Faverney et son double pèlerinage, par l'abbé. J. Jacquin. 
  • Stoulig, Claire (2007) (in French). De Vesontio à Besançon. CHAMAN Edition. ISBN 297004353X. 
  • Rochelandet, Brigitte (2002) (in French). Les mystères de Besanço n: énigmes et découvertes. Editions Cabedita. ISBN 2882953631. 
  • Castan, Auguste (1891) (in French). La rivalité des familles de Rye et de Granvelle au sujet de l'archevêché de Besançon, 1544-1586. University of Princeton. 
  • Suchaux, L. (1866) (in French). La Haute-Saône: dictionnaire historique, topographique et statistique des communes du département. A. Suchaux. 

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