Anne of Brittany, Catholic League, Duke of Guise, Henry II of France, Henry III of France, Henry IV of France & Navarre, House of Bourbon, Huguenot, Kingdom of France, Kingdom of Navarre, Louis XIII of France, Salic Law, War of the Three Henries, Wars of Religion
On this date in History: Henri IV was crowned King of France at the Cathedral of Chartres on February 27, 1594.
Henri IV (December 13, 1553 – May 14, 1610), also known by the epithet “Good King Henry”, was King of Navarre (as Henri III) from 1572 to 1610 and King of France from 1589 to 1610. He was the first monarch of France from the House of Bourbon, another branch of the Capetian dynasty (through Louis IX, as the previous House of Valois had been through Philippe II). He was assassinated in 1610 by François Ravaillac, a fanatical Catholic, and was succeeded by his son Louis XIII.
Henri was born in Pau, the capital of the joint Kingdom of Navarre with the sovereign principality of Béarn. His parents were Queen Joan III of Navarre (Jeanne d’Albret) and her consort, Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme. Although baptised as a Roman Catholic, Henri was raised as a Protestant by his mother, who had declared Calvinism the religion of Navarre. As a teenager, Henri joined the Huguenot forces in the French Wars of Religion. On June 9, 1572, upon his mother’s death, the 19-year-old became King of Navarre.
At Queen Joan III’s death, it was arranged for Henri to marry Margaret of Valois, daughter of Henri II and Catherine de’ Medici. The wedding took place in Paris on August 18, 1572 on the parvis of Notre Dame Cathedral.
Henri became heir presumptive to the French throne in 1584 upon the death of François, Duke of Anjou, brother and heir to the Catholic Henri III of France who had succeeded Charles IX in 1574. Because Henri of Navarre was the next senior agnatic descendant of King Louis IX, King Henri III of France had no choice but to recognise him as the legitimate successor. Salic law barred the king’s sisters and all others who could claim descent through only the female line from inheriting. Since Henri of Navarre was a Huguenot, the issue was not considered settled in many quarters of the country, and France was plunged into a phase of the Wars of Religion known as the War of the Three Henries. Henri III of France and Henri III of Navarre were two of these Henries.
The third was Henri I, Duke of Guise, (the eldest son of François, Duke of Guise, and Anna d’Este. His maternal grandparents were Ercole II d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, and Renée of France, herself the second daughter of Louis XII of France and Anne of Brittany) who pushed for complete suppression of the Huguenots and had much support among Catholic loyalists. The Catholic League accepted Henri, Duke of Guise because of his staunch Catholicism, despite his claim to the throne being in contention with the Salic Law for his claimed descent from Louis XII of France, his great-grandfather, was through the female line. Political disagreements among the parties set off a series of campaigns and counter-campaigns that culminated in the Battle of Coutras.
In December 1588, Henri III of France had Henri I of Guise murdered, along with his brother, Louis Cardinal de Guise. Henri III thought that the removal of Guise would finally restore his authority. Instead, however, the populace were horrified and rose against him. In several cities, the title of the king was no longer recognized. His power was limited to Blois, Tours, and the surrounding districts. In the general chaos, the king relied on King Henri of Navarre and his Huguenots.
The two kings were united by a common interest—to win France from the Catholic League. Henri III acknowledged the King of Navarre as a true subject and Frenchman, not a fanatic Huguenot aiming for the destruction of Catholics. Catholic royalist nobles also rallied to the king’s standard. With this combined force, the two kings marched to Paris. The morale of the city was low, and even the Spanish ambassador believed the city could not hold out longer than a fortnight. But Henri III was assassinated shortly thereafter (August 2, 1589) by a fanatical monk.
When Henri III died, Henri of Navarre nominally became king of France. The Catholic League, however, strengthened by support from outside the country—especially from Spain—was strong enough to prevent a universal recognition of his new title. Most of the Catholic nobles who had joined Henri III for the siege of Paris also refused to recognize the claim of Henri of Navarre, and abandoned him. He set about winning his kingdom by military conquest, aided by English money and German troops. Henri’s Catholic uncle Charles, Cardinal de Bourbon, was proclaimed king by the League, but the Cardinal was Henri’s prisoner at the time. Henri was victorious at the Battle of Arques and the Battle of Ivry, but failed to take Paris after besieging it in 1590.
When Cardinal de Bourbon died in 1590, the League could not agree on a new candidate. While some supported various Guise candidates, the strongest candidate was probably the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain, the daughter of Felipe II of Spain, whose mother Elisabeth had been the eldest daughter of Henri II of France. In the religious fervor of the time, the Infanta was recognized to be a suitable candidate, provided that she marry a suitable husband.
The French overwhelmingly rejected Felipe II’s first choice, Archduke Ernest of Austria, the Emperor’s brother, also a member of the House of Habsburg. In case of such opposition, Felipe indicated that princes of the House of Lorraine would be acceptable to him: the Duke of Guise; a son of the Duke of Lorraine; and the son of the Duke of Mayenne. The Spanish ambassadors selected the Duke of Guise, to the joy of the League. But at that moment of seeming victory, the envy of the Duke of Mayenne was aroused, and he blocked the proposed election of a king.
The Parlement of Paris also upheld the Salic law. They argued that if the French accepted natural hereditary succession, as proposed by the Spaniards, and accepted a woman as their queen, then the ancient claims of the English kings would be confirmed, and the monarchy of centuries past would be nothing but an illegality. The Parlement admonished Mayenne, as Lieutenant-General, that the Kings of France had resisted the interference of the Pope in political matters, and that he should not raise a foreign prince or princess to the throne of France under the pretext of religion. Mayenne was angered that he had not been consulted prior, but yielded, since their aim was not contrary to his present views.
Despite these setbacks for the League, Henri remained unable to take control of Paris.
On July 25, 1593, with the encouragement of his great love, Gabrielle d’Estrées, Henri permanently renounced Protestantism and converted to Roman Catholicism—in order to obtain the French crown, thereby earning the resentment of the Huguenots and his former ally Queen Elizabeth I of England. He was said to have declared that Paris vaut bien une messe (“Paris is well worth a mass”), although there is some doubt whether he said this, or whether the statement was attributed to him by his contemporaries. His acceptance of Roman Catholicism secured the allegiance of the vast majority of his subjects.
Since Reims, the traditional location for the coronation of French kings, was still occupied by the Catholic League, Henri IV was crowned King of France at the Cathedral of Chartres on February 27, 1594. He did not forget his former Calvinist coreligionists, however and was known for his religious tolerance. In 1598 he issued the Edict of Nantes, which granted circumscribed toleration to the Huguenots.