Personal and Political Aspects in the Correspondence of Henri IV

by Bernerd C. Weber and Gregory David de Rocher


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HENRY IV (1589-1610):


In August, 1589 the Protestant leader Henry of Navarre became the first Bourbon king of France as Henry IV. At the age of thirty-five he followed to the French throne the childless and effeminate Henry III whose unexpected assassination by the young friar Jacques C1ément at the chateau of Saint-Cloud ended forever the rule of the house of Valois. A .long, bitter, and complicated struggle was still necessary before Henry IV could win general acceptance by the French people. The new king had to gain control over the principal centers of monarchical authority and overcome the formidable opposition of the Catholic :League led by Charles of  Lorraine, Duke of Mayenne, head of the great house of Guise. As a military leader the duke held the exalted title of Lieutenant -Général of the realm.

The precarious nature of Henry IV's political position was clearly evident when the Parlement de Paris, the highest judicial body in all France, issued a decree proclaiming Henry of Navarre's uncle, the aged Charles, cardinal of Bourbon, as king under the style of Charles X. The cardinal, however, remained virtually a political cipher in national affairs until his death in May, 1590.  He lacked the opportunity to exercise authority, for Henry IV kept him an a prisoner in Chinon. The military forces of the League, however, could maneuver in a relatively free and effective way.  Not until March, 1594, did Henry IV finally succeed in entering the capital city of Paris; indeed, four more years of bitter conflict were still necessary before peace could be restored throughout the kingdom.  This struggle for the French throne involved foreign states as well, for both Philip II of Spain and Elizabeth I of England directly intervened in French internal affairs.

During this critical period Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma and Philip II's able military commander in the Netherlands, twice intervened in northern France. Leading his veteran army across the frontier, he successfully relieved Henry IV's siege of Paris (1590) and of Rouen (1592). In April, 1592 Parma was wounded while attacking the little town of Caudebec. Carried on a litter back to the Netherlands, he planned yet a third invasion of northern France, but his death early in December, 1592 ended his distinguished military career.  Not all the military successes of this politically uncertain period may be credited to the side of the League, however. Henry IV won two important battles in northern France in these years, one at Arques (September, 1589) and another at Ivry (March, 1590).  In each case Henry's decision to lead an impetuous and unexpected cavalry charge without military reconnaissance caught his enemies off guard.

In January, 1593 the Duke of Mayonne presided over a meeting of the Estates General held in Paris in the great hall of the palace of the Louvre. This legislative body had been summoned for the purpose of choosing a Catholic ruler for France. At this meeting the Spanish envoys attempted to persuade the delegates to select as their rightful sovereign the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, a daughter of Philip II by his third wife, Elizabeth of Valois, elder sister of Henry III. Of course such a choice would have violated the Salic Law which barred the succession of a woman to the French throne. The Parlement de Paris reaffirmed in June the principle that the fundamental laws of the realm must be preserved and then denounced any plan to transfer the French Crown to a foreign prince or princess.  Although the Spanish envoys proposed to marry the Infanta to the young Charles of Guise, nephew of the Duke of Mayenne, the Estates General refused to consider such a proposition.  Prorogued in early August, the Estates General had signally failed in providing a Catholic ruler for France. Meanwhile, internal dissensions within the League itself, caused partly by clashes between the diverse social groups that composed it, prevented any consistent policy from being developed and followed.

The ultimate collapse of the League's authority was hastened by Henry IV's conversion to Roman Catholicism. For many years the French realm had been sharply divided over matters of religion.  Protestant infiltration into Catholic France had begun as far back as the reign of Francis I (1515--1547), "the Renaissance king." During succeeding reigns of French monarchs the number of Protestants, most of whom were Calvinists, continued to increase, and their political strength in the towns became a significant factor in national affairs. Acts of religious violence in abbeys and churches and terrorist attacks against individuals within France occurred with alarming frequency during the period of the 1560's and 1570's. Unsuccessfully the later Valois monarchs generally had attempted to maintain religious unity in the state by upholding the ancient formula of "one faith, one law, one king," but constant pressure moves on the part of both Calvinists and Catholics sometimes forced the Crown to vacillate.  Henry IV's public acceptance of the Roman Catholic faith at the basilica of Saint-Denis on Sunday morning, July 25, 1593 won the support of many conservative officials. There were mixed feelings, nevertheless, about the king's change of religious allegiance. Some Catholics doubted Henry's sincerity while Protestants generally felt outraged by the king's action. Henry IV himself in a personal letter written two days before the momentous events at Saint-Denis referred to his conversion as taking "the perilous leap." Some have suggested that Henry's conversion was purely politically motivated, and cite the famous quotation attributed to him:  "Paris vaut bien une messe," ("Paris is well worth a Mass").

An influential political group known as the Politiques, however, strongly approved the royal conversion.  This particular faction in France, which included many Catholic noblemen, approached the political and religious issues of the day from a pragmatic point of view. They feared that the bitter rivalries in the realm encouraged foreign intervention which would lead to the possible dismemberment of France. The unity of the state and the preservation of the Crown's authority always remained essential parts of the Politique program. As staunch patriots they deeply resented the presence of foreign troops on French soil, and as moderates in religious matters they believed that a policy of toleration must be a necessary step to achieve peace throughout the realm. The Politique point of view was presented favorably in a cleverly written piece of propaganda literature of that time, the Satyre Menipée, also known as LaVertu du Catholicon d' Espagne. Composed by Politique men of letters, this satire circulated widely in manuscript form before its definitive published version appeared in 1594.  Decidedly critical of the-personal ambitions and the hypocrisy of the League leaders, as well as their extremist policies, this pamplet also skillfully presented a legal justification for Henry of Navarre's claim to the French throne.

After his conversion the king took another important step in consolidating his authority by being solemnly anointed and crowned in the Cathedral of Chartres in late February, 1594. At that time Rheims, the traditional ecclesiastical capital of France, remained under the control of the Leaguers. The growing prestige of the monarch following his coronationand along with the political decline of the League placed Henry IV in a more secure position as national leader. Taking advantage of the rising tide of French rationalism, Henry IV formalized his position toward the Spanish monarchy by officially declaring war against it in January, 1595.  Then in September, 1595, after protracted and difficult negotiations which Spanish diplomats had frequently tried to disrupt, the representatives of Henry IV in Rome received from Clement VIII papal absolution and benediction for their king.

The powerful French nobles in the League who had not yet accepted Henry's authority were now won over by large bribes and by the attractive offer of provincial governorships. Such a program expensive though it was, at least cost the state much less than continued fighting. Charles of Lorraine, Duke of Mayenne, gave up further opposition to Henry IV in the fall of 1595, and Philip Emmanuel, Duke of Mercoeur, who held sway in the Celtic Duchy of Britanny, acknowledged Henry of Navarre as rightful king in the spring of 1598. The Duke of Mercoeur, half brother to Henry III's Queen, Louise of Lorraine, had been one of the ablest military leaders fighting against Henry IV. An important intermediary involved in the negotiations with the Duke was the royal mistress Gabrielle d'Estrées who had a special reason for participating in these matters: the peace settlements when finally arranged provided for the betrothal of two young children, namely, Françoise of Lorraine, Mayenne's daughter, to César, Duke of Vendôme, illegitimate son of Henry IV and Gabrielle d'Estrées.

Spanish military intervention in northern France received at least a partial setback because of the friendly assistance of Elizabeth I who supplied men, money, and munitions to aid Henry IV in his struggle for the French throne. Between 1589 and 1595 five separate English military expeditions had been sent to northern France. Meanwhile, English maritime enterprises against Spain continued to the very end of Elizabeth I's reign. Regardless of his military alliance with England and his promise not to make a separate peace, Henry IV began diplomatic negotiations with Spanish representatives at Vervins, a small town on the frontier of Picardy. Despite the recriminations of the Dutch and the English, French and Spanish diplomats signed peace terms on May 2, 1598. Elizabeth I sent a special envoy to the French court to convey her extreme displeasure over the course of events, and in a private letter to Henry IV she complained bitterly about his ingratitude. Nevertheless the interests of French diplomacy had been very well served by this peace. The frontiers of France were restituted essentially as they had been at the peace of Cateau-Cambrésis (April, 1559). Four months after the settlement at Vervins, the aging Philip II died in his palace of El Escorial outside of Madrid. His persistent attempts to dominate political affairs in France had ended in failure. Philip III succeeded his father to the Spanish throne, and although he avoided open war with France, the two countries remained hostile and suspicious of each other.

Within France itself the basis for religious peace was established by the Edict of Nantes (April, 1598) which legally recognized the faith of the Protestant minority (the Huguenots) within a realm which remained officially Roman Catholic. This edict, famous in the annals of religious toleration in Europe, did not represent a particularly novel approach to the question of Church-state relations in sixteenth-century France.  Many of  its specific provisions had been anticipated by the various truces which had ended the intermittent conflicts of the previous four decades.

In a number of towns and cities the Huguenots could now openly practice their religion, although public Protestant worship was specifically banned in Paris and in a radius of five miles around the capital city. The Huguenots gained for themselves specific civil liberties, including eligibility for public offices and the right to enter schools, universities, and guilds. They could also hold consistories, synods, and colloquies. Huguenot pastors, like Catholic priests, were to receive tithes. A special Chambre dÉdit in the Parlement de Paris, designed to assure legal protection for Protestants, provided for the assignment of both Catholic and Protestant judges in cases involving the Huguenot minority. Similarly, bipartisan chambres (chambres mi-parties) were established in certain provincial centers. A number of surety towns (places de sûreté) were provided with the Protestant garrisons paid by the Crown. La Rochelle, Montauban, Montpellier, and Nîmes were famous in sixteenth-century France as important strongolds of Protestant power, and the port city of La Rochelle has been called "the Huguenot capital of France." French Calvinists also received certain fiscal advantages from this edict, for they obtained forgiveness for the seizure of royal revenues, the past appropriation of church property, and the issuance of coinage.

Both sides sharply criticized this compromise because of general dissatisfaction with its terms. Henry IV had considerable difficulty in getting the Parlement de Paris to register the document, but the king firmly told the judges that he insisted on being obeyed. What he had accorded the Huguenots, Henry explained, had been for the good of the state and the maintenance of peace, but even his royal commands could not easily allay old suspicions, animosities, and controversies. The edict was declared perpetual and irrevocable. Thus this compromise created a state within a state with certain definite guarantees of financial support from the Crown. In the next reign the great minister Cardinal Richelieu, deeply concerned over an arrangement so detrimental to the growth of royal absolutism, waged war against the Huguenots and took their last fortified city, La Rochelle. By the peace of Alais (1629) the Huguenots lost their political and military rights, but the Crown reaffirmed their religious and civil liberties.

With the establishment of peace in the realm one of the most urgent tasks confronting Henry IV and his ministers was the economic reconstruction of France after so many years of civil war. Because he possessed the ability to choose wisely his advisers, Henry IV had the assistance of some able ministers in carrying out his internal and external policies. Among his principal advisers were Pomponne de Bellièvre, Pierre de Jeannin, Nicolas Brulart, sieur of Villeroy, Nicolas de Neufville, sieur of Villeroy, and best known of all, Maximilien de Béthune, Baron de Rosny, who was elevated in 1606 to the rank of Duke of Sully. Bellièvre served as Henry IV's chancellor between 1599 and 1607, while Sully in time became the most influential of all the royal councillors. As a young man he had been active in Henry IV's battles for the realm, including participation both at Arques (1589) and Ivry (1590). Sully had been raised as a Huguenot and remained faithful to his religious convictions until his death. Considered by some colleagues as ill-mannered, obstinate, and avaricious, he worked tirelessly in Henry's service, and his reforming efforts achieved results particularly in the field of taxation and finance. As early as 1596 he had been a member of the Conseil des Finances, eventually reaching the high post of Superintendent of Finance. With the subsequent addition of other duties and other titles Sully exercised considerable influence in several sectors of the economy. As a leading Protestant he enjoyed a favored position in the king's council, although his surly manner alienated many.

Confronted with the problem of dealing with the staggering debts of the Crown, Sully did succeed in increasing the yield from taxation, in eliminating some of the excessive corruption among government officials, and in reducing substantially the public debt. Some progress was also made in curbing the independence of various provincial bodies in financial matters and making them subject to orders from Paris. As an important source of income the Crown continued the policy of selling financial and judicial offices and in making these posts hereditary on the basis of an annual payment known as the paulette, so called after a lawer named Charles Paulet. By careful management Sully even succeeded in accumulating a remarkable war chest in the new Bastille treasure chamber.

Sully, whose background was that of an aristocratic landlord, had no doubts about the importance of agriculture in the economic life of the state. "Tilling the soil and pasturage," he once declared, "are the two breasts of France." This statement, however, did not mean that the government excluded all other economic activities as unimportant. Suggestions for more scientific use of arable land were provided in this period by the Huguenot writer Olivier de Serres whose book, the Theatre of Agriculture, first published in 1600, attracted the interest of contemporaries including the king himself. De Serres maintained a model farm at Pradel in Languedoc where he could put theory into practice. The importance of Dutch workers skilled in the draining of fens and marshes brought public attention to the importance of such reclamation efforts, and the importation of experienced Italian weavers aided the development of the silk industry which centered in Tours during Henry IV's reign. The government promoted the manufacture of cloths, pottery, tiles, and glass. Luxury industries founded in this period included the Gobelin tapestry works and the Savonnerie carpet manufactory. Specific attempts were made to improve transport by repairing roads and bridges, and some success was achieved in reducing the vast network of internal tolls which had raised commodity prices. The Government undertook the planning of a system of canals connecting French rivers, and construction began on the Briare canal which connected the Seine and the Loire.

Foreign trades increased as a result of commercial treaties made with the Baltic Hanse, England, and Spain. Mediterranean commerce expanded after Henry IV succeeded In arranging a favorable trade treaty with Turkey which gave special priveleges to French merchants in rich Levantine ports, including the right to maintain resident consuls. Trade expansion brought about a deeper government commitment to the development of the royal navy in both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.  Maritime needs in the Mediterranean became particularly urgent because of the depredations caused by English pirates and Turkish corsairs. Along with the expansion of the French fleet in this area came the establishment of Toulon as a major naval base.
During the struggle between Henry IV and the League, the city of Toulon alone among the Mediterranean ports had been loyal to Henry IV.

During Henry IV's reign French navigators and explorers did much to increase contemporary geographical knowledge of the North American coast and of the famous waterway of the St. Lawrence which Jacques Cartier from Britanny had discovered in 1534. The Huguenot entrepreneur Pierre Du Guast, sieur de Monts, and others established in 1605 Port Royal (now named Annapolis in the later English colony of Nova Scotia), the first abiding French settlement in North America. Samuel de Champlain, most famous of the French explorers and colonizers of this period, made several voyages to the New World.  While in Canada in the summer of 1608 he founded on a huge promontory the small fortress of Quebec, thereby providing France with a strategic base for further exploration of the St. Lawrence river valley and the continued expansion of the lucrative fur trade with the Indians. In the spring of 1609 Champlain joined a Huron war party that went up the St. Lawrence and the Richelieu rivers, eventually discovering the lake which bears his name. Unfortunately Champlain turned a major Indian confederacy against the French when he actively supported the cause of the Hurons against the Iroquois in a fateful battle engagement near Crown Point. Toward the end of Henry IV's reign Marc Lescarbot, a young lawer and poet who had accompanied Champlain on his colonizing enterprise at Port Royal, published his Histoire de la Nouvelle France which aroused considerable interest in the possibilities for further expansion in the New World.

At the same time the French also took an interest in northern South America, especially the coast of Guiana where both the Spanish and the English had made earlier explorations. Joan Mocquet, who later served as Henry IV's custodian of the museum at the Tuileries, made a journey to South America in 1604 and explored the coastline from the Amazon to the Orinoco. He collected a vast amount of information concerning the flora and fauna of this region as well as valuable anthropological data about the Indians. Subsequently Mocquet made an extensive venture to India.

Before Henry IV's death the French became actively involved in serious colonization efforts in North America, and the foundations of a great colonial empire had been laid. During the reigns of Louis XIII and Louis XIV even greater achievements in the colonial field would be made.

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There had been a long tradition of royal patronage of artists and men of letters by the later Valois monarchs, and Henry IV continued this tradition when he came to the French throne. Franiois de Malherbe from Normandy, noted for his reform of poetic techniques, was presented to Henry IV in 1605 through the influence of Cardinal Du Perron, a fellow Normand and poet.  Malherbe received an appointment as a gentleman-in-waiting to the king and having thus been launched at court he remained there until his death in the next reign. Malherbe wrote most of his odes, sonnets, and songs as a court poet. Pierre Matthiou, poet, dramatist, and historian, received the post of royal historiographer.  At one time Matthiou had been a partisan of the Guises, but after Henry's religious conversion he rallied to the king's side. Henry IV urged Matthiou to write a history of France and promised to aid in this effort by supplying particulars of his own reign. In 1594 Matthiou published in two volumes a book entitled Histoire des derniers troubles de France sous Henri III et Henri IV.  He later published other accounts of French history, the last appearing in 1631 as a posthumous work.

The Politique historian and bibliophile Jacques Auguste de Thou, called also Thuanus from the Latinized form of his name, is noted as one of the greatest French historians during Henry's reign. Trained in legal studies, De Thou had also the advantage of travel in Italy, the Germanies, and the Netherlands. He served as a close counselor of the king and played an important role in those negotiations which finally culminated in the Edict of Nantes. Henry IV appointed De Thou as grand maître of the royal library in 1593, and this ardent bibliophile succeeded admirably in augmenting the royal collection of books, especially by acquiring the rich library of Catherine de Medici.  De Thou's chief work was the remarkable Historia sui temporis, the first section of which appeared in 1604, prefaced by a long and interesting letter of dedication to the king. Henry IV also encouraged the Huguenot historian Agrippa D'Aubigné, a humanistically educated French officer who had participated actively in the civil-religious wars of the sixteenth century. D'Aubigné spent years in the composition of his Histoire universelle, but this detailed and colorful narrative did not appear in print until after Henry's death. Another famous work by D'Aubigné is the Tragiques, a long poem in seven parts which blames Catherine de Medici and Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine, for France's religious conflicts. The Tragiques, like the Histoire universelle, was not published until several years after the monarch's death.

Pierre Pithou, a distinguished and versatile lawyer from Troyes, received from the king in 1594 an appointment as procureur général. In this post he had the task of defending royal  priveleges against both feudal and ecclesiastical usurpation. The royal archives were also part of his charge. During the course of a busy life Pithou wrote many legal and historical works, including a treatise on the liberties of the Gallican Church. He had also been one of the contributors to the Satyre menipée. Another literary figure of importance was Pierre Victor Palma-Cayet, one of the best known chroniclers of this period. Like Henry IV he became a convert to Roman Catholicism (Palma-Cayet was a Catholic who had become a Calvinist and then returned to his original faith at the time that Henry IV became converted to Catholicism). Wishing to perpetuate the memory of his reign, Henry IV gave Palma-Cayet an appointment as official chronographer. The two important contributions of Palma-Cayet in historiography are the Chronologie novenaire and the Chronologie septenaire. The first named work, as the title indicates, is divided into nine books, each one covering one year from the time of Henry IV's accession to the peace of Vervins in 1598.  His other work covers the period up to 1601. Palma-Cayet had access to official records, and he enriched his narrative by quoting documents extensively. His historical account is concerned not only with France but also with contemporary developments in Western Europe. These two books, which provide much specific detail, are particularly valuable sources for the events of Henry IV's reign.

Among the best known of all the Huguenot writers favored by the first French Bourbon king was the erudite Isaac Causabon, a theologian and an eminent classical scholar, who received in 1604 the post of sublibrarian of the royal library. Causabon left France after the death of Henry IV, and on the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, went to England where he spent the rest of his career and where he became also a naturalized citizen. He died in 1614 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Special mention should be made of Guillaume de Salluste, sieur du Bartas, who not only was a soldier in the service of Henry of Navarre, but was also a diplomat sent on embassies including that to the court of James VI of Scotland (1587).  His contribution to literature, unlike that of many of his contemporaries, gained immediate and considerable glory. In La Semaine, Du Bartas retraced in epic grandeur the seven days of creation. The work was translated into English and other languages, and impressed and influenced such men as Milton and Goethe.

Other writers encouraged by Henry, if not famous in their own lifetime, were to become so with the passage of time. Jean de Sponde, a Protestant from birth, was supported by Henry before the Béarnais became king of France. As early as 1580 Henry's purse kept Sponde in Basel preparing an edition of the works of Homer. In 1588 he dedicated his Meditations sur les Psaulmes to Henry, and converted to Catholicism only a few days after the king. Henry also won the devotion of Jean de la Ceppède, a magistrate who remained faithful to the royal cause. His Theoremes constitute a great religious epic of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Thus, although not a scholar himself, Henry IV did provide a positive leadership in the encouragement of learning, literature, and the arts during his reign. His interest in cultural matters was genuine, and he effectively continued that tradition of royal patronage which ultimately reached its fullest expression in the long and illustrious reign of his grandson, Louis XIV.

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Henry IV took a keen interest in architectural developments, and during his reign the completion of various new projects significantly modified the general appearance of the medieval city of Paris. The period of the civil-religious wars in sixteenth-century France had not been favorable to extensive building programs. Along the banks of the Seine Henry IV had built a stately gallery (La Grande Galerie) which connected the palace of the Tuileries with the Louvre.  Thomas Coryate, an eccentric English traveller of this period, described this imposing addition as "unspeakably-fair." A smaller gallery (La Petite Galerie), planned along lines sketched out by Catherine de Medici, was also built to connect the two palaces. At the chateau of Saint-Germain-en-Laye two wings were added, and engineers constructed a series of beautiful garden ramps leading toward the Seine. Beneath these ramps could be seen curiously contrived grottoes, some of which were provided with statues of men and animals which could spew forth jets of water. Thousands of trees were planted at Fontainebleau, and the chateau itself was enlarged and redecorated. Ordered parterres, well-cut shrubbery, and the construction of a long canal added to the charms of the chateau's exterior. Thomas Coryate, who also visited Fontainebleau, praised highly the beauty of its elaborate gardens and fountains.

In Paris the Pont-Neuf, begun during Henry III's reign, was finally completed, thereby providing Parisians with their first bridge built without houses upon it. Progress was made in the paving and the cleansing of some Parisian streets. At the Tuileries an orangery was added, and construction began on the Place Dauphine, located on the western end of the Ile-de-la-Cité. Named in honor of the young Louis, heir to the French throne, the Place Dauphine became the first of the symmetrical and ornamental squares of Paris. The impressive buildings in the Place Royale (now the Place des Vosges) afforded seventeenth-century Parisians further evidence of the architectural interests of Henry IV. During the course of the century the Place Royale.became the center of a fashionable residential quarter known as the Marais.

Toussaint Dubreuil, a distinguished French artist of this period, received the royal commission to decorate the Petite Galerie of the Louvre.  He also executed a number of frescoes at Fontainebleau and at the chateau of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.  Many of Henry's commissions served the interests of propaganda for the house of Bourbon. Various artistic creations, for example, emphasized the king's triumphs over civil disorders, his conversion to Roman Catholicism, and the championship of French interests over those of Spain. The equestrian statue of Henry IV which Marie de Medici had placed on the Pont-Neuf also seems clearly to fall within this category.

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Henry is well remembered among the Bourbon kings because of his numerous amorous affairs, for it was generally known that he fathered a number of bastards. Indeed, the Square du Vert Galant constitutes a lasting tribute to Henry IV's amorous activities. Some of his mistresses played an important role in the political and social intrigue of the French court. Twice in his life Henry married. At the age of eighteen he became the husband of Marguerite of Valois, the nineteen-year-old sister of King Charles IX and of his brother Henry, then Duke of Anjou and later Henry III. The marriage took place in Paris before the Cathedral of Notre Dame on August 18, 1572 with the customary pageantry of the French Court for such important royal occasions. This wedding was part of the plan of the queen-Mother, Catherine de Medici, to try to establish a lasting peace between Catholics and Huguenots. Charles, Cardinal of Bourbon, uncle of the bridegroom, performed the marriage ceremony.  By the terms of the marriage contract neither party had to change religious affiliation. The union of Henry of Navarre and Marguerite of Valois, however, took place under most unfortunate circumstances. On August 24, 1572 there occurred in Paris the tragic massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day in which thousands of Huguenots lost their lives. Henry of Navarre preserved his own life by changing his religion. Some years later Henry managed to escape from his close surveillance at the French Court, and in June, 1576 he was formally received back into the Calvinist faith.

Henry's first marriage was not a happy one, and the couple remained childless. Even before Henry of Navarre had succeeded to the throne in August, 1589 the two had separated, and Marguerite of Valois lived for many years in the chateau of Usson in Auvergne. After Henry of Navarre had become king various advisers impressed upon him the desirability of providing an heir to the French Crown in order to avoid the problem of a disputed succession. Henry himself favored the idea of obtaining an annulment of his first marriage and taking as a bride his blond mistress, the beautiful Gabrielle d'Estrées who had already borne him three children. Henry's councillors strongly opposed this idea, but the matter was resolved unexpectedly by Gabrielle d'Estrées's sudden death in April, 1599 after she had given birth prematurely to a stillborn son.

In December, 1599 the Holy See dissolved the marriage of Henry of Navarre and Marguerite of Valois on the grounds that the union had taken place as a result of coercion. Henry IV's second marriage united him with Marie de Medici, the twenty-seven-year-old daughter of the late Francesco I, Grand Duke of Tuscany. The marriage took place by proxy in Florence in October, 1600, and subsequently Marie de Medici, accompanied by an imposing retinue, sailed from Leghorn to the port of Marseilles. At this same time Henry was romantically involved with a young Frenchwoman from Auvergne, Henriette d'Entragues, whose mother Marie Touchot had been a mistress of Charles IX. Marie de Medici was reputedly a difficult and very jealous woman. The marriage was fruitful but far from being a happy one, for the couple had few interests in common. By 1609 the new queen had given birth to three sons and three daughters.  The eldest son was Louis the Dauphin, born at Fontainebleau on September 27, 1601, who would succeed his father in 1610 as Louis XIII.

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In foreign policy Henry IV maintained a strong position against the house of Habsburg, seeking by alliances and otherdiplomatic means to exalt the interests of the Bourbon dynasty throughout western Europe. Although the peace of Vervins (1598) had ended open conflict between France and Spain, both countries mistrusted each other and carried on intrigues to advance their respective interests. The Dutch received aid from France in their long struggle for political independence from Spain, and Philip III became involved in the plots of the brave but avaricious Maréchal de Biron, a duke, peer, and marshal of France,whose conspiracies threatened the security of Henry's throne. After Biron's treachery became known, he was tried by his peers in Paris in the summer of 1602, found guilty, and sentenced to death. His execution occurred in Paris in the courtyard of theBastille late in July, 1602. France also became involved in a sharp dispute with Charles Emmanuel I (1580-1630), the Duke of Savoy, a longstanding ally of Spain and brother-in-law of Philip III. In 1588, near the end of Henry III's reign, the wily duke had seized from France the marquisate of Saluzzo, a small French enclave in the Piedmontese Alps, availing himself of the opportunity to increase his own domains during the internal disturbances within France at that time. Henry IV's attempts to regain this territory and efforts of the papacy to provide mediation seemed to be of little avail. Early in August, 1600 Henry IV declared war against Savoy. The conflict was of short duration.

Charles Emmanuel I had expected help from Spain but received nothing from that quarter. In the peace signed at Lyons in January, 1601 Charles Emmanuel I had to cede to France all the territories located on the left bank of the Rhône which included Bresse, Bugey, Valromey, Gex, and Château-Dauphin. In return France surrendered to Savoy the marquisate of Saluzzo and certain French fortresses on the eastern side of the Alps. These new territories acquired by the French monarch all but blocked effective communication between the Spanish Netherlands and Spanish territories held in northern Italy. Thus the principal supply route of the Spanish army in Flanders, the "Spanish Road" as it was commonly called, now remained confined to one narrow valley and to a single bridge over the Rhône, the pont de Grésin. Both the valley and the bridge were so near the French frontier that Henry IV held power to deny or to delay the passage of any Spanish reinforcements to the Pays-Bas. In a further move to strengthen France's position in this area Henry IV made a treaty in December, 1601 with certain Swiss cantons and obtained for French troops the right of free passage through the Alpine passes.

Toward the end of Henry's reign a new and serious political crisis developed in the Holy Roman Empire. In march, 1609 Duke John William the Simple, a Catholic nobleman and the Duke of Cleves, Berg, and Jülich, Count of Ravensburg and la Mark, seigneur of Ravenstein, died without a direct male heir, leaving a tangled succession problem. Although relatively small in territorial extent, these lands, strategically located on both banks of the Rhine, occupied a position of importance not only to German states but also to the Netherlands and to France as well. A number of contenders laid claim to the rights of succession to these territories, and of these contenders the margrave of Brandenburg and the Count Palatine of Neuburg seemed to have the strongest claim. Both of these rulers professed a Protestant faith so the intricate dynastic problems involved in the secession soon developed into a contest between Catholics and Protestants. In this growing crisis Rudolf II, the Habsburg emperor, intervened as suzerain and ordered the Archduke Leopold in the Netherlands to occupy Jülich with military forces. Meanwhile, in France the Prince of Condé, strongly displeased by Henry's undue attentions to his young wife, formerly Charlotte of Montmorency, fled with his spouse to Brussels, and the Spanish authorities there refused to surrender them to Henry IV. This intrusion of Henry's amorous interests into a serious European crisis appears as a ludicrous side affair.

The trend toward war, however, presaged the possibility of a major outbreak of hostilities. Henry IV strengthened his connections with the United Provinces and with the Duke of Savoy, a turncoat in his military alliances. Sully urged the king to act decisively, although the other councillors preferred a more cautious approach. Two armies were mobilized on French soil, one in Champagne to join with various German princes outside of Jülich and one in Dauphiné to assist the Duke of Savoy in attacking the Spanish held citadel of Milan. Arrangements were made for Henry's absence from his own country, for he planned to participate directly in the campaign in Germany. On May 13, 1610 Marie de Medici was crowned and consecrated at Saint-Denis in order to strengthen her position as Regent when the king went out of the country.

What further plans henry IV might have carried through will always remain one of the unanswered questions of French history, for an assassin's knife abruptly treminated the king's reign. On the afternoon of Friday, May 14, 1610 Henry left the Louvre in a huge and lumbering coach to proceed to the Arsenal for a conference with the Duke of Sully. Several companions attended the king including the Duke of Épernon, the colonel general of the infantry. When the coach turned out of the rue Saint-Honoré into the rue de la Ferronerie, the way was blocked by a traffic congestion. At that point a tall, young, red haired Frenchman named Francois Ravaillac, a native of Angoulême, jumped upon the wheelhub of the coach, and leaning through the open window swiftly stabbed the king twice in his lift side. Ravaillac made no effort to escape. He was seized and taken temporarily to the hôtel de Retz nearby, thereby saving him from a possible lynching by an angry mob which was quickly gathering. The Duke of Épernon threw a cloak over the king who was bleeding profusely at the mouth, told the agitated spectators that the monarch had not been seriously hurt, and turned the coach back to the Louvre. Upon arrival at this palace the king was already dead.  The fanatical Ravaillac, unmarried and unemployed, had succeeded quite by accident in performing this terrible deed which several others before him had tried to perpetrate but failed to complete, such as the famous attempt in December, 1594 when a young law student named Jean Chastel tried to stab Henry IV in the hôtel de Schomberg.

Ravaillac was condemned as a regicide by the Parlement de Paris. After being publicly tortured with great cruelty, four horses pulled him apart in the Place de Grève in Paris on May 27, 1610 before a vast and hostile crowd. Tradition reserved this horrible method of execution for the grave crime of regicide. To the end he insisted repeatedly that he had acted alone and had not been part of any conspiracy, although numerous rumors to the contrary freely circulated throughout Paris and even in foreign countries. His parents were ordered to leave France within a fortnight under pain of death, and his brothers, sisters, and uncles were forbidden henceforth ever to use the name of Ravaillac.

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In Paris Henry's handsome son Louis XIII was only nine years old when he succeeded to the French throne. Later he was crowned in October in the Cathedral of Rheims with great splendor. Marie de Medici, the Queen Mother, assumed the powers of Regent, thereby becoming the real ruler of France. Henry IV was only fifty-six years old when his life ended so unexpectedly and so tragically. Had he escaped assassination he could easily have reigned a number of years more and spared France the dangers and difficulties of a royal minority. His sudden demise created a legend which has continued to the present day.  France's first Bourbon king achieved a higher degree of fame and popularity after his death that during his reign. After the anarchy and the misery of the civil-religious wars he had succeeded in establishing a regime of law and order and in laying firm foundations for the economic growth and prosperity of the state. Quick in speech and in action and possessed with a remarkably strong determination to succeed, he restored general confidence in the monarchy and brought about both the political and the economic recovery of the realm. Henry IV was an astute and clever king, a shrewd judge of character, and capable of arousing in the minds of many who served him a strong feeling of loyalty and devotion. Especially adept in the art of diplomacy, he made conciliation appear as a strong policy, one which could provide pragmatic solutions to many problems.  The Duke of Sully, who knew Henry well, described him as candid and sincere, compassionate, generous, and wise, possessed of a graceful affability and a certain easy gaiety of manner.

Later generations judged his frailties and weaknesses more kindly than did many of his contemporaries. They praised him for his strong and robust temperament, his exuberant energy and refreshing vitality. He was the "Vert Galant," the ardent but certainly not exclusive lover. Although a prolific father, he cared for all his children, both legitimate and illegitimate, and provided for their welfare. Especially among the common people he became a folk hero truly concerned with their welfare and gratefully remembered for his expressed hope that each family could afford a chicken in the pot every Sunday. He held a high place in the esteem of the masses. To them he was indeed "Henry the Great."

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