Henry IV of France

Eyridiki Sellou | Apr 26, 2023

Table of Content


Henri IV, known as "the Great" or "the Gallant Green", born as Henri de Bourbon on December 13, 1553 in Pau and assassinated on May 14, 1610 in Paris, was King of Navarre from June 9, 1572 under the name of Henri III, and King of France under the name of Henri IV from August 2, 1589 until his death in 1610. He thus combined the dignities of King of France and King of Navarre, and was the first King of France of the Capetian House of Bourbon.

Henri de Bourbon was the son of Jeanne d'Albret, Queen of Navarre (herself the daughter of Marguerite d'Angoulême, sister of François I), and of Antoine de Bourbon, head of the House of Bourbon. Descending in the male line from King Saint Louis in the tenth generation, he is the first prince of the blood and, according to the "Salic law", the natural successor of the kings of France of the house of Valois, if they die without legitimate male descendants, which is the case of all the sons of Henry II.

Although baptized Catholic, he was raised in the Reformed religion and became involved in the Wars of Religion as Prince of the Blood, King of Navarre and leader of the Protestant nobility. He abjured Protestantism in 1572, just after his marriage to Marguerite de Valois and while the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre was taking place, but he returned to it in 1576 after having managed to flee the French court.

In 1584, upon the death of Duke François d'Anjou, younger brother and heir to King Henri III of France, he became the legitimate heir to the throne. Religious unrest was exacerbated, particularly under pressure from the Catholic League, which refused to see a Protestant ascend the throne.

In 1589, after the assassination of Henri III by the monk Jacques Clément, Henri of Navarre became king of France. But he had to continue the war against the League. To strengthen his legitimacy, he ended up solemnly reconverting to Catholicism, on July 25, 1593, during a ceremony in the Basilica of Saint-Denis, which allowed him to be crowned in 1594, not in Reims but in Chartres. Part of the League continued to fight until 1598, when, after receiving the surrender of the Duke of Mercoeur, governor of Brittany, in Angers, Henri IV signed the Edict of Nantes, a pacification edict authorizing Protestant worship according to certain conditions, thus putting an end to more than three decades of religious wars in France.

Twelve years later, while preparing a war against Spain, Henri IV was assassinated on the rue de la Ferronnerie, in Paris, by a fanatical Catholic from Angoulême, François Ravaillac.

His reign is characterized by the good management of his Prime Minister, the Duke of Sully. In particular, some major works were undertaken during his reign.

Catholic birth and baptism

Henri was born on the night of December 12-13, 1553 in Pau, then the capital of the sovereignty of Bearn, in the castle of his maternal grandfather, the King of Navarre. Henri d'Albret had long wanted his only daughter to give him a male heir. According to the tradition reported by the chroniclers (Jean-Baptiste Legrain), Henri, as soon as he was born, was given into the hands of his grandfather, who took him to his room, rubbed his lips with a clove of garlic and made him breathe a cup of wine, undoubtedly of Jurançon, where the king of Navarre had a vineyard bought in 1553. This "Béarnese baptism" was a common practice with newborns, with the aim of preventing illness, and this type of blessing persisted in the following centuries for the baptisms of children of the House of France. Henri d'Albret offered her a turtle shell, which is still on display in a room in the castle of Pau that an uncertain tradition gives as being the "room of Henri IV" inserted in the apartment of Jeanne d'Albret. According to the custom of the crown of Navarre, he receives as the eldest son the title of prince of Viane.

The future Henri IV was baptized in the Catholic religion a few weeks after his birth, on March 6, 1554, in the chapel of the castle of Pau, by the cardinal of Armagnac. His godparents were the kings Henri II of France and Henri II (king of Navarre) (hence the choice of the name Henri), his godmothers were the queen of France Catherine de Médicis and Isabeau d'Albret, his aunt, widow of the count of Rohan. During the ceremony, the King of France Henri II was represented by the Cardinal de Vendôme, brother of Antoine de Bourbon.

Early childhood

Henri spent part of his early childhood in the countryside of his country at the castle of Coarraze. He frequented the peasants during his hunting trips, and acquired the nickname of "miller of Barbaste". Faithful to the spirit of Calvinism, his mother Jeanne d'Albret took care to educate him in this strict morality, according to the precepts of the Reformation.

When Charles IX came to power in 1561, his father Antoine de Bourbon brought him to live at the French court. There he rubbed shoulders with the king and the princes of the royal house who were his age. His parents were at odds over his choice of religion, his mother wishing to educate him in Calvinism, and his father in Catholicism.

Throughout his life, Henri rarely stayed on the lands of his paternal ancestors, the county and then the duchy of Vendôme, as the castle of Vendôme was no longer the family's main residence.

War of religion

During the first war of religion, Henri was placed in Montargis under the protection of Renée de France. After the war and the death of his father, he was kept at court as a guarantor of the agreement between the monarchy and the Queen of Navarre. Jeanne d'Albret obtained from Catherine de Medici the control of his education and his appointment as governor of Guyenne (1563).

From 1564 to 1566, he accompanied the royal family on its grand tour of France and met up with his mother, whom he had not seen for two years. In 1567, Jeanne d'Albret made him come back to live with her in Bearn.

In 1568, Henri participated as an observer in his first military campaign in Navarre. He then continued his military apprenticeship during the Third War of Religion. Under the tutelage of Admiral de Coligny, he attended the battles of Jarnac, La Roche-l'Abeille and Moncontour. He fought for the very first time in 1570, during the battle of Arnay-le-Duc.

At the French court

In 1572, Henri came (one of the few times) to the castle of Vendôme to bury his mother in the collegiate church of Saint-Georges, necropolis of the Bourbon-Vendôme family, next to her husband Antoine de Bourbon.

That same year, succeeding his mother Jeanne d'Albret, Henri de Navarre became king of Navarre under the name of Henri III. On August 18, 1572, he was married in Paris to the sister of King Charles IX, Marguerite de Valois (better known from the nineteenth century under the nickname "Queen Margot"). This marriage, which Jeanne d'Albret opposed at first, was arranged to promote reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants. As Marguerite de Valois, a Catholic, could only marry in front of a priest, and Henri could not enter a church, their marriage was celebrated separately, with the bride and groom staying in the square of Notre-Dame. It was customary in the Middle Ages for the wedding to be celebrated in front of the church porch. Several days of celebration followed.

However, in a very tense climate in Paris, and following an attack on Gaspard de Coligny, the wedding was followed a few days later by the St Bartholomew's Day massacre. Spared from the killings because of his status as a prince of the blood, Henri was forced a few weeks later to convert to Catholicism. Under house arrest at the French court, he became politically involved with the king's brother François d'Alençon and participated in the siege of La Rochelle (1573).

After his participation in the Malcontents' plots, he was held prisoner with the Duke of Alençon at the dungeon of Vincennes (April 1574). The king's clemency saved him from the death penalty but he was kept at court. At the advent of Henry III, he received a new pardon from the king in Lyon and participated in the ceremony of his coronation in Reims.

The court of Nerac

After spending more than three years as a hostage at the court, he took advantage of the troubles of the Fifth War of Religion to flee on February 5, 1576. Having joined his supporters, he returned to Protestantism, abjuring Catholicism on June 13. He naturally supported the cause of the Malcontents (an association of Catholics and moderate Protestants against the government), but with a moderate spirit, he did not get along with his cousin the Prince of Condé who, of an opposite temperament, fought zealously for the triumph of the Protestant faith. Henri de Navarre intended to spare the French court and to secure for himself the position of governor (administrative and military representative of the king) in Guyenne. In 1577, he participated timidly in the sixth war of religion led by his cousin.

Henri was now confronted with the distrust of the Protestants who reproached him for his lack of religious sincerity. He keeps away from Bearn which is firmly held by the Calvinists. Henri was even more confronted with the hostility of the Catholics. In December 1576, he almost died in a trap set up in the city of Eauze; Bordeaux, the capital of his government, refused to open its doors to him. Henri then settled along the Garonne River in Lectoure and Agen, which had the advantage of being located not far from his castle in Nerac. His court was composed of gentlemen from both religions. His advisors were mainly Protestants, such as Duplessis-Mornay and Jean de Lacvivier.

From October 1578 to May 1579, the queen mother Catherine de Médicis visited him to complete the pacification of the Kingdom. Hoping to keep him more easily in obedience, she brought back his wife Marguerite.

For several months, the Navarre couple lived in style at the castle of Nerac. The court enjoyed itself in hunting parties, games and dances, which the pastors complained bitterly about. Under the influence of the platonic ideal imposed by the queen, an atmosphere of gallantry reigns over the court which also attracts a large number of scholars (such as Montaigne and Du Bartas). Henri himself indulged in the pleasures of seduction - he fell in love with two of the queen's ladies-in-waiting in turn: Mlle Rebours and Françoise de Montmorency-Fosseux.

Henri then took part in the seventh war of religion, which was revived by his co-religionists. The capture of Cahors, in May 1580, where he managed to avoid looting and massacre despite five days of street fighting, earned him great prestige both for his courage and his humanity.

Between 1582 and 1590, Henri de Navarre had a relationship with the Catholic Diane d'Andoins, to whom he promised marriage and who supported him financially, the only one of his mistresses to be associated with his affairs: she seems to have played the role of political advisor as well as confidante. The king's feminine adventures created discord within the couple, who still had no children, and caused Marguerite to leave for Paris. The blow of glare of Marguerite in Agen (1585) will consume their final rupture.

Heir to the throne of France

In 1584, the younger brother of the king of France, François d'Anjou, died without an heir. Not having one himself, King Henry III considered confirming Henry of Navarre as his legitimate heir. He sent the Duke of Épernon to invite him in vain to convert and return to the court. But a few months later, forced to sign the Treaty of Nemours to pledge his allegiance to the Holy League, he declared war on it and outlawed all Protestants. Rumor has it that in one night, half of the mustache of the future Henry IV turned white.

Then begins a conflict where Henri of Navarre confronts on several occasions the Duke of Mayenne. Relapsed, Henri is again excommunicated by the pope, then has to face the royal army that he beats at the battle of Coutras in 1587.

Several reversals appear in 1588. On March 5, 1588, the sudden death of Prince Henri de Condé clearly placed the King of Navarre at the head of the Huguenots. On December 23, 1588, in a "coup de majesté", the king of France had the duke Henri de Guise assassinated, as well as his brother, Cardinal Louis, the next day. The change in the political situation pushed the sovereigns of France and Navarre to reconcile. The two kings met at the castle of Plessis-lèz-Tours and signed a treaty on April 30, 1589. Allied against the League, which controlled Paris and most of the kingdom of France, they managed to lay siege to Paris in July of the same year.

On August 1, 1589, King Henry III was assassinated by Jacques Clément, a fanatical Catholic monk. Before dying the next day from a wound to the lower abdomen, he formally recognized his brother-in-law, King Henry III of Navarre, as his legitimate successor, who became King Henry IV of France. On his deathbed, Henri III advised him to convert to the religion of the majority of the French.

For Henry IV begins the long reconquest of the Kingdom, because three quarters of the French do not recognize a Protestant nobleman as king. The Catholics of the League refused to recognize the legitimacy of this succession.

War against the league

Aware of his weaknesses, Henri IV had to conquer the minds. The Catholic royalists asked him to abjure Protestantism, he who at nineteen years old had already changed religion three times. He refused, but in a declaration published on August 4, he indicated that he would respect the Catholic religion. Many were reluctant to follow him, some Protestants like La Trémoille even leaving the army, which was reduced from 40,000 to 20,000 men.

Weakened, Henri IV had to abandon the siege of Paris because the lords returned home, not wanting to serve a Protestant. Supported by Spain, the Leagueers re-launched hostilities, forcing him to withdraw personally to Dieppe, because of the alliance with Queen Elizabeth I of England, while his troops were withdrawing everywhere.

However, Henri IV was victorious over Charles of Lorraine, Duke of Mayenne, on September 29, 1589 at the Battle of Arques. The 10 000 men of the king having beaten 35 000 leaguers, an analogy is made with the victory of David against Goliath. In addition to the support of the nobles, Huguenots and politicians reassured by this solid and humane warlord, the support of Conti and Montpensier (princes of the blood), Longueville, Luxembourg and Rohan-Montbazon, dukes and peers, of Marshals Biron and d'Aumont, and of a fair number of nobles (from Champagne, Picardy, Île-de-France) was added.

He subsequently failed to retake Paris, but stormed Vendôme. There too, he made sure that the churches remained intact, and that the inhabitants did not suffer from the passage of his army. Thanks to this example, all towns between Tours and Le Mans surrendered without a fight. He defeated again the Ligueurs and the Spaniards at Ivry on March 14, 1590, where the myth of the white plume was born, because Henri IV is said to have shouted: "Rally to my white plume, you will always find it on the way to glory. He besieged Dreux without success and then starved Paris, but could not take the city, which was supplied by the Spanish. The approach of the Duke of Mayenne and the Duke of Parma made him lift the siege.

The Protestants reproached him for not giving them freedom of worship: in July 1591, he re-established by the Edict of Mantes (not to be confused with the Edict of Nantes of 1598) the provisions of the Edict of Poitiers (1577), which gave them a very limited freedom of worship. The Duke of Mayenne, then at war with Henry IV, convened the Estates General in January 1593, with the aim of electing a new king. But he was foiled: the states negotiated with the king's party, obtained a truce, and then his conversion. Encouraged by the love of his life, Gabrielle d'Estrées, and especially very conscious of the exhaustion of the forces in presence, as well on the moral level as financial, Henri IV, in fine political, chooses to abjure the Calvinist faith. On April 4, 1592, by a declaration known as "expedient", Henri IV announces his intention to be educated in the Catholic religion.

Henri IV solemnly abjured Protestantism on July 25, 1593 in the Basilica of Saint-Denis where he was baptized by Jacques Davy du Perron. It was wrongly said that "Paris is worth a mass" (1593), even if the background seems to make sense.

Abjuration and coronation of the king

In order to accelerate the rallying of the cities and provinces (and their governors), he multiplied the promises and gifts, for a total of 25 million pounds. The resulting increase in taxes (a 2.7-fold increase in the taille) provoked the revolt of the croquants in the provinces most loyal to the king, Poitou, Saintonge, Limousin and Périgord.

At the beginning of 1594, Henri IV successfully besieged Dreux and was then crowned on February 27, 1594 in Chartres Cathedral: he was one of the three kings of France crowned elsewhere than in Reims and Paris, which were in fact held by the League army. His entry into Paris on March 22, 1594, where he distributed tickets expressing his royal pardon and, finally, the absolution granted by Pope Clement VIII on September 17, 1595, ensured the gradual rallying of all the nobility and the rest of the population, despite the strong reluctance of the most exalted opponents, such as Jean Châtel who attempted to assassinate the king on December 27, 1594 at the Hotel du Bouchage near the Louvre, where his mistress Gabrielle d'Estrées lived. He defeated the army of the League at Fontaine-Française.

The war against Spain and Savoy

In 1595, Henri IV officially declared war on Spain. This was a clever strategy that made the last of the League, financially supported by Philip II, into traitors. The king then experienced enormous difficulties in repelling the Spanish attacks in Picardy. The capture of Amiens by the Spaniards and the landing of a Hispanic troop in Brittany, where the governor Philippe Emmanuel de Lorraine, duke of Mercœur, cousin of the Guise and brother-in-law of the late king Henri III, still did not recognize Henri IV as king, left him in a perilous situation.

The king also lost the support of the Protestant nobility. Following the example of La Trémoille and Bouillon, they refrained from appearing in battle. Shocked by his conversion and by the many personalities who imitated him, the Protestants in full disarray reproached the king for having abandoned them. They met regularly in assembly to reactivate their political organization. They went so far as to seize the royal tax for their own account.

After subduing Brittany, ravaging Franche-Comté and taking Amiens back from the Spaniards, Henri IV signed the Edict of Nantes in April 1598, which established a peace between Protestants and Catholics. Nantes is the city where the governor of Brittany and the last of the Ligourists, the Duke of Mercoeur, is based, and whose rallying Henri has bought. In total, the rallies of nobles cost 35 million livres tournois. The two armies being at the end of their forces, on May 2, 1598 the peace of Vervins was signed between France and Spain. After several decades of civil wars, France was finally at peace. Henri IV led a "battle of the edict" to get the various parliaments of the kingdom to accept the Edict of Nantes. The last one was the Parliament of Rouen in 1609.

However, the article of the peace of Vervins concerning the duke of Savoy became the cause of a new war. On December 20, 1599, Henri IV received Charles-Emmanuel I of Savoy at Fontainebleau to settle the dispute. In March 1600, the duke of Savoy asked for a three-month period of reflection and left for his States. The term of three months having expired, Henri IV summoned Charles-Emmanuel to declare himself. The prince answers that the war would be less prejudicial to him than a peace like that which one offers to him. Immediately, Henri IV declares him the war, on August 11, 1600.

Marriage with Marie de Medici

Henri IV is approaching fifty and still has no legitimate heir. For several years, Gabrielle d'Estrées has been sharing his life but, not belonging to a ruling family, she can hardly claim to become queen. Behaving all the same as such, Gabrielle arouses numerous criticisms, as much from the royal entourage as from the pamphleteers, who nickname her the "Duchess of Garbage". Her death occurred suddenly in 1599, probably of a puerperal eclampsia, allows the king to consider taking a new wife worthy of his rank.

In December 1599, he obtained an annulment of his marriage to Queen Marguerite, and married Marie de Médicis, daughter of François I de Médicis and Jeanne d'Autriche, and niece of Ferdinand I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, in the cathedral of Saint-Jean de Lyon on December 17, 1600. This marriage was a double blessing since the dowry allowed to erase a whole year of debts and Marie de Médicis gave birth to the dauphin Louis the following year, thus ensuring the future of the Bourbon dynasty.

Henri IV compromises his marriage and his crown by continuing his extramarital relationship, begun shortly after the death of Gabrielle d'Estrées, with Henriette d'Entragues, an ambitious young woman, who does not hesitate to blackmail the king, to legitimize the children she has had from him. Her requests rejected, Henriette d'Entragues plots several times against her royal lover. In 1602, when Henri IV came to present his goddaughter, Louise de Gondi, at the Saint-Louis de Poissy Priory, where she became prioress in 1623, he noticed the beauty of Louise de Maupeou, whom he courted.

In 1609, after several other flings, Henri will fall in love with the young Charlotte-Marguerite de Montmorency.

Reconstruction and pacification of the Kingdom

To govern, Henri IV relied on competent ministers and advisors such as the Baron de Rosny, the future Duke of Sully, the Catholic Villeroy and the economist Barthélemy de Laffemas. The years of peace allowed to replenish the coffers. Henri IV had the great gallery of the Louvre built, linking the palace to the Tuileries. He launched several campaigns to enlarge and decorate the great royal castles in Fontainebleau and Saint-Germain-en-Laye, calling on several talented sculptors (Pierre Biard l'Aîné, Pierre Franqueville, Mathieu Jacquet, Barthélemy Prieur, Jean Mansart) and French and Flemish painters (Toussaint Dubreuil, Ambroise Dubois, Jacob Bunel, Martin Fréminet). He set up a modern urban planning policy. He continued the construction of the Pont Neuf, which had been started under his predecessor. He had two new squares built in Paris, the Place Royale (today's Place des Vosges) and the Place Dauphine, on the Ile de la Cité. He also planned to create a semi-circular "Place de France" in the northern part of the Marais, but it was never built.

However, his reign saw the uprising of peasants in the center of the country and the king had to intervene at the head of his army. In 1601, after the Franco-Savoyard war, the treaty of Lyon established a territorial exchange between Henri IV and Charles-Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy: the Duke gave to France Bresse, Bugey, the countries of Gex and Valromey, possession of the Duchy of Savoy for several centuries, but the control of the Marquisate of Saluces, in Italian territory, was recognized. After the treaty, Henri IV had to face several plots directed from Spain and Savoy. He had the Duke of Biron executed and the Duke of Angouleme, the last of the Valois, the bastard son of Charles IX, embassied.

To reassure the former supporters of the League, Henry IV also favored the entry into France of the Jesuits who during the war had called for the assassination of the king, created a "fund of conversions" in 1598. He was reconciled with the Duke of Lorraine Charles III and married his sister Catherine of Bourbon to the latter's son. Henri IV was a fervent Catholic - without being devout - and encouraged his sister and his minister Sully to convert, but none of them did.

Economic recovery

Little by little, France had to be rehabilitated. Agricultural production returned to its 1560 level in 1610. The desire for peace is unanimous: it favors the implementation of the Edict of Nantes, the reconstruction, in Languedoc and Northern France, has a ripple effect on the entire economy.

The king and his minister Sully were aware that the arts and crafts of excellence had a role to play in the economic recovery of the kingdom. In particular, Henri IV sought to put an end to the massive imports of tapestries from Flanders, which unbalanced the French balance of trade: in 1597, he offered the master weaver Girard Laurent the opportunity to establish himself in the former Jesuit House (deserted by the Jesuits following their expulsion from the Kingdom), where he was joined by the weaver Maurice Dubout. In 1606, the two upholsterers of the king moved into the new galleries of the Louvre, which the king transformed into a veritable "nursery" for artists. Painters, sculptors, embroiderers, goldsmiths, armourers and engineers were housed there and benefited from a patent that kept them away from the restrictive rules of corporations. At the same time, the Flemish weavers Marc de Comans and François de La Planche received authorization to open a tapestry factory "façon de Flandres" in the workshops of the faubourg Saint-Marcel. It is the ancestor of the famous royal manufacture of Gobelins.

Barthélemy de Laffemas and the Nîmes gardener François Traucat were inspired by the work of the Protestant agronomist Olivier de Serres and played a major role in the history of silk by having millions of mulberry trees planted in the Cévennes, Paris and other regions.

The Briare canal linking the Seine and the Loire for agricultural development was the first river transport canal dug in France. Other projects were prepared but then abandoned at the death of Henri IV.

"Chimerical hen that King Henry would have promised to all all the pots in the kingdom, the chicken in the pot has been built up the eighteenth century as a mythical dish and a place of of memory". But in a quarrel with the duke of Savoy, he would have pronounced his desire that each ploughman has the means to have a hen in his pot. The Duke of Savoy, visiting France, learning that the king's guards were paid only four écus per month, proposed to the king to offer them each a month's pay; to which the king, humiliated, replied that he would hang all those who would accept, and then evoked his wish for prosperity for the French, symbolized by the chicken in the pot. His minister Sully explains in his memoirs entitled Les Œconomies royales his conception of the prosperity of France, linked to the development of agriculture: "pasture and ploughing are the two breasts of France."

Sully solved the debt problem by declaring France bankrupt with respect to some creditors and negotiating lower repayments with respect to others. For example, in 1602, France owed 36 million livres tournois to the Swiss cantons, but after negotiations, it owed only 16 million in 1607. From 1598 onwards, an investigation against false nobles was launched. Also, in 1604, a succession tax for officers' offices was created: the paulette. The officer had to pay every year one sixtieth of the value of the office so that it became hereditary.

The society remained violent, however, with discharged soldiers forming militarily organized bands that scoured the countryside. Chased by the legitimate royal forces of order, they gradually disappeared in the 1600s. The customs within the nobility also remained violent: in 1607, 4,000 deaths by duel were recorded; moreover, the kidnapping of young girls to be married provoked private wars, where the king had to intervene.

French implantation in America

Following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Henri supported maritime expeditions to South America and favored the project of establishing a settlement in Brazil. But it was in New France that the French managed to establish themselves permanently. In 1599, the king granted a monopoly on the fur trade in Tadoussac, New France, to François Dupont-Gravé and Pierre Chauvin. Thereafter, Henri IV gave the monopoly of the fur trade and charged Pierre Dugua de Mons (Protestant) with the task of setting up an expedition, under the orders of Samuel de Champlain, and establishing a French post in Acadia. The first of these was on St. Croix Island (now Dochet Island in Maine) in 1604 and then at Port-Royal in New France in the spring of 1605. But the monopoly was revoked in 1607, which put an end to the settlement attempt. The king asked Samuel de Champlain to report on his discoveries. In 1608 the monopoly was re-established, but only for one year. Champlain was sent, along with François Dupont-Gravé, to found Quebec, which was the beginning of French colonization in America, while de Mons remained in France to extend the monopoly.

Murder and Funeral

The end of Henry IV's reign was marked by tensions with the Habsburgs and the resumption of hostilities against Spain. Henry IV intervened in the conflict of succession that opposed the Catholic emperor to the Protestant German princes, whom he supported, in the succession of Cleves and Juliers. The flight of the Prince of Condé in 1609 to the court of the Infanta Isabella rekindled tensions between Paris and Brussels. Henri IV, considering his army ready to resume the conflict that had stopped ten years earlier, allied himself with the German Protestants of the Evangelical Union. On April 25, 1610, François de Bonne de Lesdiguières, representative of Henri IV of France in the castle of Bruzolo in the Susa Valley, signed the treaty of Bruzolo, with Charles-Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy.

The outbreak of a European war did not please the Pope, who was concerned about peace between Christian princes, nor the French subjects, who were worried about their own peace. Unable to accept an alliance with Protestant princes against a Catholic ruler, priests revived the heated spirits of the former Ligueurs with their sermons. The king also saw a party opposing his policy within the queen's entourage. The king was in a fragile position, not only because of the Catholics, since the Protestants were trying to maintain their political privileges thanks to the Edict of Nantes.

While preparing for the war, the official coronation of the queen in Saint-Denis was being prepared. This took place on May 13, 1610. The next day, while crossing Paris to visit the ailing Sully, the king was stabbed by François Ravaillac, a fanatical Catholic, at 8-10 rue de la Ferronnerie in Paris. In the carriage that brought him back to the Louvre, King Henri IV died of his wounds, at the age of 56. The investigation concluded that it was the isolated action of a madman.

Ravaillac was drawn and quartered on May 27, 1610 in the Place de Grève, Paris, for having assassinated King Henri IV.

After the autopsy and embalming of the deceased king, who had promised his royal relic to the Jesuit College of La Flèche, his heart was placed in a lead urn contained in a silver reliquary sent to the church of Saint-Louis de La Flèche and his body was exhibited in a parade room in the Louvre, followed by his effigy in the Hall of Caryatids.

Henri IV was buried in the Basilica of Saint-Denis on July 1, 1610, after several weeks of funeral ceremonies that had already begun to give birth to the legend of the good King Henri. During a court session held on May 15, 1610, his nine-year-old eldest son, King Louis XIII, proclaimed the regency of Queen Marie de Médicis, widow of Henri IV.

Successive coats of arms

His first marriage with Marguerite de France was infertile. The king was indeed affected by a congenital malformation of the reproductive organs known as hypospadias resulting in a curvature of the penis accompanied by a phimosis. His malformation was only corrected by an operation when the king was over 40 years old. Henri IV had six children from his marriage with Marie de Medici:

Illegitimate descendants

Henry IV also had at least 12 illegitimate children:

The legend of Good King Henry: a late cult

From the beginning of his reign, at the request of his advisors such as Philippe Duplessis-Mornay, Henri IV used itinerant printing houses to distribute portraits and leaflets trying to make him look like an "ideal prince". Nevertheless, Catholics considered him a usurper, some Protestants accused him of treason since he had changed his religion six times and the people saw him as a tyrant who levied many taxes. His assassination by François Ravaillac turned him into a martyr.

In 1601, an illustrated hagiographic work of 244 pages was published under the title of Labyrinthe royal de l'Hercule gaulois triomphant. On the subject of the fortunes, battles, victories, trophies, triumphs, marriages & other heroic & memorable deeds of the most august & most christian prince. Henry IIII.. king of France, & of Navarre.

It was in the 18th century that the legend of the good King Henry was formed and developed. This icon became so popular that it remained an epinal image. In honor of Henri IV, Voltaire wrote in 1728 a poem entitled La Henriade. On February 12, 1792, the deputy Charles Lambert proposed to bury his body and that of Louis XII in the Pantheon, both being, according to him, "the only ones of our kings who have shown themselves to be the fathers of the people.

When we look at his letters, it is undeniable that King Henry was anxious to be close to the people, not hesitating to discuss with everyone even with little time on his hands (see letter opposite).

Despite this positive image, his tomb in Saint-Denis did not escape desecration in 1793, due to the hatred of monarchical symbols during the French Revolution. The Convention had ordered the opening of all royal tombs to extract the metals. The body of Henri IV is the only one of all the kings to be found in an excellent state of preservation due to his exsanguination. It was exposed to passers-by, standing, for a few days. The royal remains were then thrown, in a jumble, into a common grave to the north of the basilica, except for a few pieces of remains that were kept in private homes. Louis XVIII ordered their exhumation and their return to an ossuary under the crypt, where they are still today.

As early as 1814, the idea of re-establishing the equestrian statue of the king destroyed during the Revolution was considered. Cast in 1818, the new equestrian statue was made from the bronze of the statue of Napoleon on the Vendôme column. The romantic century perpetuated the legend of the Good King Henry, gallant, brave and good-natured king, playing on all fours with his children and the great singer of the famous Poule-au-pot.

In fact, the State had, after the recent troubles, a great need to restore a positive image of the monarchy; Chilperic and Charlemagne seemed too far away; the Louis: ... VII, VIII, X, XII were too obscure (Louis IX judged, undoubtedly, too religious. The other Louis: XI, XIII, XIV, etc. aroused very bad memories... It was thus necessary in a true operation "advertising" to find a monarch who collected the maximum of votes: "the good King" held this role for the posterity. Alexandre Dumas made him an epic hero in his work Les Grands Hommes en robe de chambre: César, Henri IV, Richelieu in 1856.

The castle of Pau continues to cultivate the legend of the good king Henri. You can still see his cradle made of a sea turtle shell. It is in the tradition of Bearn that his first baptism took place: his lips were moistened with Jurançon wine and rubbed with garlic, to give him strength and vigor. He owes his nickname of "Vert-galant" to his ardor towards his 73 official mistresses, giving him 22 legitimate or unrecognized children who live at the Court.

In the first chapter of L'Homme aux quarante écus, Voltaire mentions a golden age for the people under Henri IV and Louis XIII because of the relative modicity of the tax.

More recently, contemporary historiography has re-established the image of a king who was little appreciated by his subjects and who had great difficulty in having his policies accepted. Moreover, his comings and goings from one confession to another, the abjuration of August 1572 and the solemn one of July 25, 1593, earned him the enmity of both camps. This king was well aware of this and towards the end of his life he is said to have said the following: "You do not know me now, you people, but I will die one of these days, and when you have lost me, you will know what I was worth.

Every year since 1604, a mass for the prosperity of France is celebrated in the Basilica of St. John Lateran by the papal vicar on the anniversary of his birth.

An object of hate

Before being loved by the people, Henri IV was one of the most hated kings, especially by the Catholic party, his effigy burned and his name associated with the devil or the Antichrist as in the fanatical sermons of the leftist Jean Boucher. Because of the daily hammering of league priests during the last war of religion, there were no less than a dozen assassination attempts against him, including the Orleanian boatman Pierre Barrière arrested in Melun (armed with declared intent) on August 27, 1593, who was rolled and burned on the Place du Martroy in Melun, and Jean Châtel who wounded the king in the face on December 27, 1594, in the Rue Saint-Honoré, at his mistress's house. His assassination by Ravaillac was even experienced by some as a deliverance, to the point that a rumor of a new St. Bartholomew's Day spread during the summer of 1610.

Incessant attacks: physical or moral or religious... without even mentioning the Marthe Brossier affair crudely set up by the League (see: "Nouvelle collection des mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de France", by Joseph Fr. Michaud, Jean Joseph François Poujoulat - 1838 - France).

A (mostly) posthumous popularity

The growing popularity of the king may be due to his attitude during sieges: he made sure that the captured cities were not plundered and their inhabitants were spared (as early as the siege of Cahors in 1580). He was also magnanimous with his former league enemies, especially after the surrender of Paris. He preferred to buy rallies, rather than wage war to conquer his kingdom. Contemporary historiography has also confirmed the king's real attachment to Catholicism after his conversion, despite a marked retreat from religious dogmas, whether Catholic or Protestant.

Having been the last count of Foix, Henri IV remained a king of great importance for the people of Ariege and is often cited in local history.

The song Vive Henri IV! which was written in his honor was enduringly popular in France from 1774. Under the Restoration, its tune was frequently played in ceremonies held outside the presence of the King and the royal family. It was then considered a quasi-official song of the monarchy.

The heart of Henry IV

Twenty days after the death of Henri IV, the heart of the monarch was placed in the altarpiece of a side chapel of the church of the college of La Flèche. In February 1643, the heart of Marie de Médicis joined that of her husband. During the Revolution, on the 7th of Vendemiaire year II, the representative of the people Didier Thirion had the heart of the king and Marie de Médicis burned in the public square by the troops of general Fabrefond. The heart of Henri IV was kept in an oak box which was broken, and the lead box inside was opened; it bore the epitaph: "Cy gît le cœur de Henri-le-Grand" (Here lies the heart of Henri the Great). A blackened and solid heart was extracted and burned at the stake in the Place de la Révolution.

Once the crowd dispersed, Charles Boucher, the former surgeon of the College, recovered the ashes of these two hearts which he kept, at his home, in a glass ampoule of which he made an object of veneration for his family. The ampoule was returned to the college of La Flèche at the Restoration. On July 6, 1814, Boucher's widow had the ashes placed in a white glass vial, enclosed in a heart-shaped gilded lead box, which was carried in a solemn procession by the mayor and given to General Dutheil, commander of the Prytanée, who finally placed the ashes on a platform in the church choir, in a niche at the top of the grandstand.

Controversy around the head of Henry IV (2010-2013)

In 2010 and 2012, a team of scientists gathered around the forensic physician Philippe Charlier would have succeeded in authenticating the mummified head of the king, which would have been separated from his body during the Revolution - even if no archival document reports it. During the Terror, the king's tomb in the basilica of Saint-Denis was, like those of other monarchs, desecrated. His body, exposed to the public for two days, was then thrown, with those of the other kings, in a common grave. At the beginning of the 20th century, a collector claimed to have the mummified head of the king. It was not until the quadricentennial of the king's assassination in 2010 that scientific analyses were carried out on the alleged relic.

A first study would have found thirty points of agreement confirming that the identity of the embalmed head was indeed that of King Henry IV, with, according to the authors of this study, "99.99% certainty". This conclusion was confirmed in 2012 by a second study at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Barcelona, which managed to extract DNA and compare it with the supposed DNA of Louis XVI (from a handkerchief that would have been soaked in the blood of the king on the day of his execution). On the occasion of the announcement of the results, an image of the royal face created virtually in 3D was presented to the public.

This authentication is contested by several historians, geneticists, forensic scientists, archaeologists, paleoanthropologists and journalists, such as Joël Cornette, Jean-Jacques Cassiman, Maarten Larmuseau, Geoffroy Lorin de la Grandmaison, Yves de Kisch, Franck Ferrand, Gino Fornaciari.

In December 2010, Prince Louis de Bourbon addressed President Nicolas Sarkozy to obtain the reburial of the presumed head of his grandfather in the royal necropolis of the basilica of Saint-Denis. According to Jean-Pierre Babelon, Nicolas Sarkozy initially planned a ceremony for May 2012. However, the controversy surrounding the relic and the presidential campaign postponed the date of the celebration and the project was then abandoned by François Hollande.

On October 9, 2013, a scientific article published in the European Journal of Human Genetics, co-authored by geneticists Maarten Larmuseau and Jean-Jacques Cassiman of the Catholic University of Leuven, and historian Philippe Delorme, demonstrated that the Y chromosome of three currently living princes of the House of Bourbon differed radically from the DNA signature found in the head as well as in the blood analyzed during the 2012 study. The conclusion of this article is that neither of these two "relics" is authentic.

Its motto, Duo prætendit unus, can be translated as "One protects the other" (France and Navarre).

(non exhaustive list)


  1. Henry IV of France
  2. Henri IV (roi de France)
  3. Henri de Bourbon est le troisième roi de Navarre, puis le quatrième roi de France à porter ce prénom. Deux « Henri III » règnent donc simultanément durant les guerres de religion : le roi de France Henri de Valois (1574-1589) et le roi de Navarre Henri III de Bourbon (1572-1610). En 1589, Henri de Bourbon succède à Henri de Valois sur le trône de France, portant le titre de roi de France et de Navarre.
  4. Le roi Charles IX a eu un fils illégitime, Charles de Valois-Angoulême.
  5. 1 2 На самом деле эта, весьма точно характеризующая ситуацию, фраза встречается в анонимном литературном произведении 1622 года «Les Caquets de l’accouchée» («Пересуды»), в котором её произносит герцог Сюлли в ответ Генриху IV на вопрос, почему он не ходит к мессе так же часто, как король. Посмотреть фрагмент произведения можно здесь
  6. Вплоть до Великой французской революции Французское королевство официально именовалось «королевство Франция и Наварра»
  7. Malettke 2008, S. 31.
  8. Hinrichs 1994, S. 153, zit. nach Malettke 2008, S. 31f.
  9. Malettke 2008, S. 33.
  10. Matthias Schulz: Begräbnis für einen Kopf. Frankreich feiert die Rückkehr des legendären „guten Königs“ Heinrich IV. Sein Schädel wurde auf einem Dachboden entdeckt. In: Der Spiegel. Nr. 51, 2010, S. 135 (online – 20. Dezember 2010).  Vgl. Philippe Charlier, Isabelle Huynh-Charlier, Joël Poupon, Christine Keyser, Eloïse Lancelot, Dominique Favier, Jean-Noël Vignal, Philippe Sorel, Pierre F. Chaillot, Rosa Boano, Renato Grilletto, Sylvaine Delacourte, Jean-Michel Duriez, Yves Loublier, Paola Campos, Eske Willerslev, M. T. P. Gilbert, Leslie Eisenberg, Bertrand Ludes, Geoffroy Lorin de la Grandmaison: Multidisciplinary Medical Identification of a French King’s Head (Henri IV). In: BMJ 2010;341:c6805 vom 14. Dezember 2010. PMID 21156748.
  11. Κατά τη Modern History του Cambridge (1907, v. III, 18) η υποψία αυτή είναι αστήρικτη.

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