Treaty of Vervins Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Treaty of Vervins ended the war between France and Spain and reinforced the 1559 Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis. It is considered a victory more for France than for Spain.

Summary of Event

Between 1562 and 1598, Catholics and Protestants in France fought eight religious civil wars. The last phase of these wars was known as the War of the Catholic League. Catholic League, War of the (1585-1598) The Catholic League was an extremely zealous religious-political organization given military and financial aid by the devoutly Catholic king of Spain, Philip II. Vervins, Treaty of (1598) Henry IV (1553-1610) Albert VII Bellièvre, Pomponne de Leo XI Mercoeur, Philippe-Émmanuel de Lorraine, duke of Charles Emmanuel I Clement VIII Philip II (1527-1598) Elizabeth I Salisbury, First earl of Philip II (king of Spain) Henry IV (king of France) Elizabeth I (queen of England) Mercoeur, Philippe-Émmanuel de Lorraine, duke of Clement VIII Albert VII Medici, Alessandro de’ Cecil, Robert Bellièvre, Pomponne de Charles Emmanuel I

In 1589, Henry of Navarre became King Henry IV of France. The Catholic League refused to recognize him, because he was a Protestant, so Henry fought the League to defend his crown. Philip II wanted his daughter, the Infanta Isabella, made queen of France, but Catholic League moderates were suspicious of Spain and denounced the plan. The Infanta issue weakened the League and strengthened Henry’s legitimacy as the true king of France.

In 1593, Henry converted to Catholicism Catholicism;France , undermining the ideological foundations of the Catholic League. By the end of 1594, he had destroyed most Catholic League resistance in France and rallied many former enemies to his side. Spanish forces remained in parts of southern France, however, and controlled the province of Brittany. This prompted Henry to declare war on Spain on January 17, 1595. Henry incited anti-Spanish sentiment by portraying Philip as an unscrupulous would-be usurper of the French throne.

The war with Spain was focused on France’s northeastern frontier, where Philip enjoyed solid support. The province of Picardy had been a major Catholic League stronghold in the early 1590’. Although Picardy capitulated in 1594, pro-Spanish interests remained strong in the province. Philip II also maintained an army of sixty thousand in nearby Flanders.

Spanish influence in northern France caused England’s Elizabeth I to offer Henry IV aid. Sealing an alliance between England and France in May of 1596, Elizabeth extended Henry a loan and sent two thousand English soldiers to France to fight Spain. The Dutch United Provinces joined the English-French alliance shortly thereafter, but the alliance did not immediately halt Spanish advances. Spain held the French towns of Doullens and Calais and enjoyed a major success on March 11, 1597, when Spanish troops disguised as peasants took the capital city of Picardy, Amiens.

Henry was dancing when he heard the news of the fall of Amiens. He supposedly uttered the statement, “That’s enough of being king of France, it’s time to be king of Navarre.” Henry mustered his forces and soon raised an army of twenty-three thousand, even though the parlement of Paris hesitated in backing him with necessary finances and many Protestants refused to send troops to help him retake Amiens. Losing Amiens was devastating to Henry because he had been using the city as a munitions depot. When the Spanish captured the city, they also secured a fortune in powder, guns, and cannon. After a bitter six-month siege, Henry recaptured Picardy’s capital city on September 25, 1597.

Henry’s success in Picardy gave him the resolve to end the Catholic League war in Brittany, the last League stronghold. Although Philippe-Émmanuel de Lorraine, duke of Mercoeur, enjoyed a splendid court in the provincial capital at Nantes, his strong ties with the Spanish alienated many of his supporters, who were prepared to accept Henry as king by 1598. Henry marched a large army into Brittany in February of 1598, and the war with the Catholic League came to an end. Mercoeur gave up his ambition to create an independent state in Brittany and capitulated in March of 1598.

Once Amiens was regained, Henry began making peace overtures toward Spain. The papacy supported his effort. Pope Clement VIII hoped to end the hostility between the Catholic countries of France and Spain. He felt the dispute diminished Catholic power in Europe and benefited Protestant influence. Clement had already made peace with Henry and granted him papal absolution in September of 1595. Philip, for his part, was severely overextended both financially and militarily. He needed to settle matters in France. In 1596, after years of war with the northern Protestant provinces in the Netherlands, he had declared the Spanish crown bankrupt and had begun reducing Spain’s international financial commitments.

By 1598, Philip II was “withered and feeble,” and many of his own advisers perceived the war with France as too costly to continue. Philip’s cousin and brother-in-law (and soon to be son-in-law), Archduke Albert VII of Austria, strongly advocated peace with France. Thus, peace talks began, and Rome acted as mediator through the papal legate, Alessandro de’ Medici. England’s secretary of state, Robert Cecil, tried to sabotage the peace settlement, but Pomponne de Bellièvre, representing France, and Archduke Albert, representing Spain, hammered out an accord. The agreement was signed at Vervins, near the border of the Spanish Netherlands, on May 2, 1598.

The provisions of the Treaty of Vervins reinforced the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis Cateau-Cambrésis, Treaty of (1559)[Cateau Cambrésis, Treaty of (1559)] of 1559, so that all towns captured during the war were returned. France lost Cambrai to Spain but regained Ardres, Blavet, Calais, Doullens, Metz, Toul, Verdun, and several other urban centers. France also agreed to papal arbitration over French claims to the principality of Saluzzo, seized by the Spanish ally Charles Emmanuel I, duke of Savoy in 1588. Henry IV swore to observe the Treaty of Vervins at a ceremony held in Paris on June 21, 1598. Two days later, at the Hôtel de Ville, symbols of war were burned in a magnificent ceremony meant to herald the advent of peace. On July 12, 1598, Albert VII participated in a similar ceremony in Brussels.

Clement tried to make headway with Spain over Saluzzo but to no avail. In 1599, Henry suggested ceding the duchy of Bresse to France in place of Saluzzo. The duke of Savoy proved recalcitrant, and France went to war with Savoy in 1600. The Peace of Lyons, Lyons, Peace of (1601) signed on January 17, 1601, relinquished French claims to Saluzzo. Henry accepted the territories of Bresse, Bugey, and Gex instead. While the Treaty of Vervins was considered a French victory, the subsequent Peace of Lyons proved a disappointment, since Saluzzo was more highly valued than Bresse, Bugey, and Gex, and its forfeiture weakened France’s diplomatic power in Italy. Saluzzo dominated a key pass between France and Italy, and without it, French military support of key northern Italian allies became more difficult to deliver.


After Vervins, Philip II decided to loosen his commitments in the southern Catholic Netherlands while continuing his war against the northern Protestant United Provinces. He married his daughter, Isabella, to Archduke Albert and ceded the ten southern provinces to them on May 6, 1598. Philip did not renounce Spain’s hereditary rights to the territory, however, and the southern provinces did not become independent. The southern provinces accepted this arrangement, while the Dutch United Provinces United Provinces in the north continued their resistance to Spanish domination.

The Treaty of Vervins brought financial relief to both France and Spain. Philip returned his army to the Netherlands, preventing more useless expenditures in France. Henry began concentrating on internal reform after years of warfare. The treaty solved little, however, since France violated its terms almost immediately and offered help to the United Provinces. Spain was soon bankrupt again and could not maintain its position as the maker of European diplomacy. Philip had involved Spain in too many ruinous wars and died disillusioned on September 13, 1598. The Treaty of Vervins was only one of many accords involving the Habsburgs that revealed the eclipse of Spain’s imperial power. If the sixteenth century belonged to the Spanish, the seventeenth century would belong to the French.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carter, Charles Howard. The Secret Diplomacy of the Habsburgs, 1598-1625. New York: Columbia University Press, 1964. Exploring early modern diplomacy, the author examines the Treaty of Vervins as one of several peace settlements negotiated by the European powers with the Habsburgs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Darby, Graham, ed. The Origins and Development of the Dutch Revolt. New York: Routledge, 2001. Anthology of scholarship on the causes and consequences of Dutch rebellion against Spanish rule. Includes illustrations, maps, bibliographic references, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Elliott, J. H. Europe Divided, 1559-1598. 2d ed. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2000. Study of the political divisions, intrigues, and strife of the second half of the sixteenth century. Includes genealogical tables, maps, bibliographic references, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Greengrass, Mark. France in the Age of Henri IV: The Struggle for Stability. London: Longman, 1984. Chapter 8 contains a concise discussion of the complications of the Treaty of Vervins with regard to the principality of Saluzzo.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jensen, De Lamar. Diplomacy and Dogmatism: Bernardino de Mendoza and the French Catholic League. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964. One of the first books available in English in which Spanish policy in France during the French religious wars is examined in depth.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kamen, Henry. Golden Age Spain. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1988. A survey of Spanish history from 1470 to 1714. The short book contains a good bibliography with emphasis given to works published in English.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kamen, Henry. “The Habsburg Lands: Iberia.” In Handbook of European History, 1400-1600: Late Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation, edited by Thomas Brady, Jr., Heiko Oberman, and James Tracy. Boston: E. J. Brill, 1994. Reviews major themes in Spanish history and historiography. Excellent bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lynch, John. Spain, 1516-1598: From Nation State to World Empire. Cambridge, Mass.: Basil Blackwell, 1991. A new edition of Lynch’s 1964 work, Spain Under the Habsburgs, revised with new research. Discussion of the Treaty of Vervins is found in chapter 10.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Parker, Geoffrey. The Grand Strategy of Philip II. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998. Contests the traditional view of Philip as conducting his empire by reacting to events as they occurred without any grand plan to guide him. Uses correspondence and other historical documents to delineate a “strategic culture” informing Philip’s decisions and his reign. Includes illustrations, maps, bibliographic references, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Parker, Geoffrey. Philip II. 4th ed. Chicago: Open Court, 2002. A good overview of Philip’s reign, this edition is updated with a new bibliographic essay. Also includes map, portraits, genealogical table, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wernham, R. B. The Return of the Armadas: The Last Years of the Elizabethan War Against Spain, 1595-1603. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. This study of the later Anglo-Spanish Wars discusses the Peace of Vervins and its consequences for the English. Includes illustrations, bibliographic references, and index.

July 16, 1465-Apr., 1559: French-Burgundian and French-Austrian Wars

Aug. 17, 1477: Foundation of the Habsburg Dynasty

1482-1492: Maximilian I Takes Control of the Low Countries

September 22, 1504: Treaty of Blois

June 28, 1519: Charles V Is Elected Holy Roman Emperor

1544-1628: Anglo-French Wars

Apr. 3, 1559: Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis

Mar., 1562-May 2, 1598: French Wars of Religion

July 26, 1581: The United Provinces Declare Independence from Spain

July 7, 1585-Dec. 23, 1588: War of the Three Henrys

Apr., 1587-c. 1600: Anglo-Spanish War

Aug. 2, 1589: Henry IV Ascends the Throne of France

Categories: History