At one point Henri of Navarre had been excluded from the succession.
Catherine de’ Medici (spouse of King Henri II) had ensured her regency of the nine-year-old King Charles IX in 1560 only by making a deal with Antoine of Bourbon, who many considered had the right, as First Prince of the Blood, to be the regent.
Catherine de’ Medici, Queen of France
In a kingdom that the Salic Law excluded women from succession to the throne, Catherine had overcome prejudice against government by a woman and been elected governor (gouvernante) of France with sweeping powers. However, she accepted that none of her three daughters would ever inherit the French throne. By 1572, only two of her sons remained alive, she brokered a marriage between her daughter Margaret and Henry, who that year became King Henry III of Navarre after the death of his mother, Jeanne d’Albret while she was buying clothes for the wedding in Paris. The marriage was intended to unite the interests of the house of Valois with the house of Bourbon.
Henri of Navarre always emphasised the significance of his blood, rather than religion, when he challenged the Guise-led Catholic League. After the League forced Henry III to sign the Treaty of Nemours, which excluded Navarre from the succession, in July 1585, the latter issued a manifesto condemning the pact as:
A peace made with foreigners at the expense of the princes of the blood; with the House of Lorraine at the expense of the House of France; with rebels at the expense of obedient subjects; with agitators at the expense of those who have brought peace by every means within their power…. I intend to oppose it with all my heart, and to this end to rally around me… all true Frenchmen without regard to religion, since this time it is a question of the defence of the state against the usurpation of foreigners.
The pull of such propaganda remained so potent that even after 25 years of civil war, “many good Catholics flooded to his standard”.
Henri of Navarre’s pedigree gave him a special place of honour in the French nobility since all scions of the Bourbon line were acknowledged as the princes of the blood. As Head of the House of Bourbon, Henri was officially the First Prince of the Blood, the first nobleman of the kingdom.
At the death of Henri III, Henri of Navarre became Henri IV of France and Navarre. He was the legitimate successor designated by the Salic law, but his authority was rejected by most of Catholic France. Next in line to Henri in the throne of France was his elderly uncle Charles, Cardinal de Bourbon. The cardinal had been detained by Henri III for having been the royal candidate of the Catholic League and Spain.
Charles, Cardinal de Bourbon
The Parlement of Paris proclaimed the Cardinal de Bourbon as King Charles X of France in 1589. But despite their similar names, the French Parlement is not an equivalent of the British Parliament, which had the power to choose the king and regulate the succession. The French Parlement is a court of justice, not a sovereign legislative body.
Events favored the cause of Henri IV. He won brilliant victories at Arques and Ivry. In 1591, the Cardinal de Bourbon died. The heir presumptive of Henri IV was now the infant Henri, Prince of Condé (1588–1646) son of a Protestant prince. The remaining Bourbons supported the claim of their chief. The Catholic League were left without a plausible successor to the throne. Henri converted to Catholicism in 1593, and was anointed at Chartres the next year.
The proclamation of Charles, Cardinal de Bourbon, as King Charles X, went against the principle of primogeniture, and was therefore void. By the principle of continuity of the crown, the reign of Henri IV is dated from 1589, immediately after the death of his predecessor, and not from 1594, when he was crowned, or in 1593, when he became a Catholic. Contrary to the interpretation of the League, the late conversion of the “relapsed heretic” Henri IV was not enough to exclude him from the succession.
Henri IV, King of France and Navarre
Arrêt Lemaistre emphasized the fulfillment of all the principles of royal succession prior to the recognition of a king:
* Masculinity could be fulfilled by any male;
* Male collaterality could only be fulfilled by an agnate of the royal line;
* Primogeniture could only be fulfilled by one person, the head of the royal line;
* Inalienability meant that no member of the royal line can be deprived of his position, since it would break the order of primogeniture;
* Catholicity can be fulfilled by any Catholic.
Hence, at any point in time only one person has the potential of fulfilling all the conditions of French kingship — the chief of the Capetian dynasty. His non-fulfillment of the only remaining condition, Catholicism, will not necessarily exclude him, such being contrary to the inalienability principle. By not being a Catholic, what he actually does is to delay the full acquisition of his royal powers, which would be exercised by other persons, as happened during the Protestantism of Henri IV (1589-1593).