King Henri IV


     King Henri IV was born
at Pau in Bearn on December 13, 1553. Raised by his mother, Jeane d’Albret
(Queen of Navarre), Henri was brought up in a remote castle in the Pyrenees. He
grew up amongst the peasant children of that area and raised on a diet of bread,
cheese, and garlic. As a youngster Henri was brought up in the Protestant faith,
which was the opposite of his father’s wishes. As result, Henri was taken to

Paris on his father’s orders and given a Catholic tutor. However, he
stubbornly refused to attend Mass. Consequently, after the death of his father,

Henri was once again instructed by a Protestant tutor. By the age of ten, Henri
had already changed religions twice. Remaining in Paris, Henri attended classes
at the College de Navarre. Gradually he learned to speak and write fluent Latin
and Greek, and he had managed to attain some Spanish and Italian. In 1567 Henri
reestablished himself in Pau, reuniting with his mother and sister Catherine.

His education was continued, this time including fencing and military arts. Five
years later, after an outbreak of several religious wars, the marriage between

Henri and the reining king’s sister, Marguerite de Valois (a Catholic), was
arranged so as to bring temporary peace to France. After Henri’s mother’s
death, the wedding took place. The two were wed on August 18, 1572 at

Notre-Dame. Little did the new king know, that day would mark the prelude of a
great tragedy. During the wedding, Catherine de Medici consented to the
assassination of Admiral de Coligny. On August 22 he was shot at from a window
but was merely injured. The Huguenots (French Protestants) were enraged. Queen

Medici finally agreed that a general massacre was the only solution to terminate

Admiral de Coligny. Before dawn on Sunday, August 24, 1572, the Duc de Guise’s
swordsmen broke into the Admirals bedroom. He was brutally skewered with a pike,
then his corpse was thrown out of a window and hanged by the ankles from the
public gibbet. The signal was given and the Paris mob was unleashed. The mob was
totally merciless, savagely slitting the throats of all possible Protestants
without the willing pity unto children and pregnant women. The Louvre was
transformed into a slaughterhouse; the bodies of dead and tortured Huguenot
bodies gathered along staircases and piled up against walls. Henri and his
cousin Conde were spared only for the sake that they beheld royal blood within
their vanes. After that, Henri was forced to change his religion for a third
time. In addition, he remained prisoner at court for four years. After the death
of King Charles IX, Henry of Navarre’s cousin, Henri III became king. King

Henry made peace with the Huguenots. After being defeated multiple times by
superior Catholic armies, King Henri III turned to Henri of Navarre for help.

The help of Henri of Navarre made it once again possible for Henri III to
recover his lost powers. Together the pair soon controlled the entire area
between the Loire and the Seine. On July 30 he besieged Paris with an army of

40,000. On the peak of this achievement, the king was stabbed by Dominican
friar, Jacques Clement. Henry III died that night after ordering his followers
to take an oath of allegiance to Henri of Navarre. As result, Henri by name
became king of France. However, Henri was refused loyalty by most of his
subjects on account that he had been excommunicated and that he was Catholic.

Only a mere sixth of France supported Henri. His only source of the
reconciliation of loyalty, he soon found, would to be to appeal to those who
preferred peace rather than religious war. After victoring numerous accounts of
battle with Catholics, Henry IV eventually managed to besiege Paris with 15000
men in May. Unfortunately, Paris remained totally Catholic. Henri then decided
to starve the city into submission rather than cause war. By July Paris was
pathetically hungry. Cannibalism was a common case—children could be seen
chased through the streets by starving elders. People resorted to eating dead
dogs (including the skin), rats, garbage, and flour made from bones (those who
ate the flour died). Thirteen thousand French died of starvation. Paris did not
give up. They were by far too proud to surrender to a heretic king. That

September Paris was saved by the Duke of Parma who shipped food across the Sine
to the city. Henri revoked as winter drew near. In the summer of 1591 Henri was
reinforced with English troops. This brought up the spirits of Henri and the
rest of his army. In November, Henri’s troops besieged Rouen. Taking action to
the rumor that Parma was on his way to the rescue, Henri set off with 7000
calvary to stop him. On February 3, 1592, he unexpectedly met with the Spaniards
and had to hastily retreat after being injured in the leg by a bullet. He had to
be carried around in a litter for many days. Parma relieved Rouen in April.

However, he was trapped by Henri. When all seemed lost, Parma surprisingly
evacuated his troops over the Seine by night. That same year, Henri, convinced
by his followers, reconverted into Catholicism. As result, he was crowned and
accepted as king in Chartres Cathedral on February 25, 1594. Although he had
earned the loyalty of some Catholics by converting, there were still some who
disagreed with the monarchy. Among these was a young scholar named Jean Chastel.

Early 1595 he attacked Henri with a knife. In 1598, Henri began to take
procedure into ensuring peace at home. In this, he promoted peace by proclaiming
the Edict of Nantes, which was a decree giving partial religious freedom to the

Protestants. The Edict of Nantes promoted peace because it gave the Huguenots
equal rights to those of Catholics which discouraged rebellion. The Edict of

Nantes granted the Protestants the following: the right to build churches, the
right to hold services is specified villages, suburbs of and cities besides
episcopal and archiepiscopal cities, royal residences and within a five-mile
radius of Paris, the right for nobles to hold services in their homes, and the
right to hold official positions. The Huguenots were also granted four schools
to be Huguenot (Montauban, Montpellier, Sedan, and Saumur). In addition,

Protestant pastors were government paid, and 100 fortified cities were given to
the Huguenots for eight years. Unfortunately, the promised provisions were never
fully carried out. Henry IV was now fully accepted as king of France. He now had
to work at rebuilding his ruined kingdom. Henri’s first concern was to tame
the nobility. Then he paid off the national debt by redeeming mortgaged crown
revenues and increasing the yield from taxation. Next, he encouraged
agriculture, for he knew that it was where France prospered. By 1608, France was
exporting grain. Also, waterways and canals were dug, and roads were repaired.

In 1601 a Chamber of Commerce was founded, which encouraged horse breeding,
linen manufacture, ship building, glass blowing, etc. Mineral resources were
scientifically investigated, and Henry created the office of Grand Master of the

Mines. Meanwhile, a treaty was with Turkey was managed which obtained valuable
facilities in the Levant for French merchants, while there were commercial
treaties with England and the German Hansa. Henri had five children with Marie
de Medici. They were:Louis, Elisabeth, Christine, Gaston, and Henriette.

Although he divorced Queen Marguerite, she was still good company and his
children had become so close to he that they called her Aunt. By 1610 it seemed
that "everyone wanted to kill the king". Just so, an out of work
school master, Francois Ravaillac, dreamt that he had been summoned by God to
kill Henri. As Henri drove away in his carriage Ravaillac jumped up from the
road and stabbed the king to death with a broken fork. He was truly demented. In
conclusion, King Henri IV was one of the greatest rulers that French monarchy
ever saw. King Henri worked for the rights of the citizens. He took
responsibility and stood up for himself throughout his life. As Mme de Stael
wrote, "He was the most French of all French kings."