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Henry IV (13 December 1553 – 14 May 1610) was King of France from 1589 to 1610 and (as Henry III) King of Navarre from 1572 to 1610. He was the first monarch of the Bourbon branch of the Capetian dynasty in France. His parents were Queen Jeanne III and King Antoine of Navarre.

As a Huguenot, Henry was involved in the Wars of Religion before ascending the throne in 1589. Before his coronation as king of France at Chartres, he changed his faith from Calvinism to Catholicism, and, in 1598, he enacted the Edict of Nantes, which guaranteed religious liberties to the Protestants and thereby effectively ended the civil war. One of the most popular French kings, both during and after his reign, Henry showed great care for the welfare of his subjects and displayed an unusual religious tolerance for the time. He was assassinated by a fanatical Catholic, François Ravaillac.

Henry was nicknamed Henry the Great (Henri le Grand), and in France is also called le bon roi Henri ("good king Henry") or le Vert galant ("the Green gallant"), a reference to both his dashing character and his attractiveness to women. He also gave his name to the Henry IV style of architecture, which he patronised. He is the eponymous subject of the royal anthem of Francemarker, Marche Henri IV.


Henri de Bourbon' was born in Paumarker, the capital of the French province of BĂ©arn. Although baptised as a Roman Catholic, Henry was raised as a Protestant by his mother Jeanne d'Albret; Jeanne declared Calvinism the religion of Navarre. As a teenager, Henry joined the Huguenot forces in the French Wars of Religion. On 9 June 1572, upon Jeanne's death, he became King Henry III of Navarre.

It had been arranged, before Jeanne's death, that Henry would marry Marguerite de Valois, daughter of Henry II and Catherine de' Medici. The wedding took place in Paris on 19 August 1572 on the parvis of Notre Dame cathedral. On 24 August, the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre began in Paris, and several thousand Protestants, who had come to Paris for Henry's wedding, were killed and thousands more throughout the country on the days that followed. Henry narrowly escaped death thanks to the help of his wife. He was made to live at the court of France, but escaped in early 1576; on 5 February of that year, he abjured Catholicism at Toursmarker and rejoined the Protestant forces in the military conflict.

Henry of Navarre became the legal heir to the French throne upon the death in 1584 of François, Duke of Alençon, brother and heir to the Catholic King Henry III, who had succeeded Charles IX in 1574. Because Henry of Navarre was a descendant of King Louis IX, King Henry III had no choice but to recognise him as the legitimate successor. Salic law disinherited the king's sisters and all others who could claim descent by the distaff line. However, since Henry of Navarre was a Huguenot, this set off the War of the Three Henries phase of the French Wars of Religion. The third Henry, Henry I, Duke of Guise, pushed for complete suppression of the Huguenots, and had much support among Catholic loyalists. This set off a series of campaigns and counter-campaigns culminating in the battle of Coutras. In December 1588, Henry III had Henry de Guise murdered, along with his brother, Louis Cardinal de Guise. This increased the tension further, and Henry III was assassinated shortly thereafter by a fanatic monk.

On the death of Henry III on 2 August 1589, Henry of Navarre nominally became the king of France. But the Catholic League, strengthened by support from outside, especially from Spain, was strong enough to force him to the south, and he had to set about winning his kingdom by military conquest, aided by money and troops bestowed by Elizabeth I of England. The League proclaimed Henry's Catholic uncle Charles, the Cardinal de Bourbon, King as Charles X, but the Cardinal himself was Henry's prisoner. Henry was victorious at Ivry and Arques, but failed to take Paris.

After the death of the old Cardinal in 1590, the League could not agree on a new candidate. While some supported various Guise candidates, the strongest candidate was probably Infanta Isabella, the daughter of Philip II of Spain, whose mother Élisabeth had been the eldest daughter of Henry II of France. The prominence of her candidacy hurt the League, which thus became suspect as agents of the foreign Spanish, but nevertheless Henry remained unable to take control of Paris.

With the encouragement of the great love of his life, Gabrielle d'Estrées, on 25 July 1593 Henry permanently renounced Protestantism, thus earning the resentment of the Huguenots and his former ally, Queen Elizabeth. He was said to have declared that Paris vaut bien une messe ("Paris is well worth a mass"), but this may have been recently refuted . Thus his entrance into the Roman Catholic Church secured for him the allegiance of the vast majority of his subjects, and he was crowned King of France at the Cathedral of Chartresmarker on 27 February 1594. In 1598, however, he declared the Edict of Nantes, which gave circumscribed toleration to the Huguenots.

Henry's first marriage was not a happy one, and the couple remained childless. Henry and Marguerite had separated even before Henry had succeeded to the throne in August 1589, and Marguerite lived for many years in the château of Usson in Auvergne. After Henry became king of France, it was of the utmost importance that he provide an heir to the crown in order to avoid the problem of a disputed succession. Henry himself favoured the idea of obtaining an annulment of his marriage to Marguerite, and taking as a bride Gabrielle d'Estrées, who had already borne him three children. Henry's councilors strongly opposed this idea, but the matter was resolved unexpectedly by Gabrielle's sudden death in the early hours of 10 April 1599, after she had given birth prematurely to a stillborn son. His marriage to Marguerite was annulled in 1599, and he then married Marie de Médicis in 1600.

Henry IV proved to be a man of vision and courage. Instead of waging costly wars to suppress opposing nobles, Henry simply paid them off. As king, he adopted policies and undertook projects to improve the lives of all subjects, which made him one of the country's most popular rulers ever.

A declaration often attributed to him is:

This egalitarian statement epitomises the peace and relative prosperity Henry brought to France after decades of religious war, and demonstrates how well he understood the plight of the French worker or peasant farmer. Never before had a French ruler even considered the importance of a chicken or the burden of taxation on his subjects, nor would one again until the French Revolution. After generations of domination by the extravagant Valois dynasty, which had caused the French people to pay to the point of starvation for the royal family's luxuries and intrigue , Navarre's charisma won the day.

Henry's forthright manner, physical courage and military successes also contrasted dramatically with the sickly, effete languor of the last tubercular Valois kings, as evinced by his blunt assertion that he ruled with "weapon in hand and arse in the saddle" (on a le bras armé et le cul sur la selle).

During his reign, Henry IV worked through his faithful right-hand man, the minister Maximilien de Béthune, duc de Sully (1560-1641), to regularise state finance, promote agriculture, drain swamps to create productive crop lands, undertake many public works, and encourage education, as with the creation of the Collège Royal Henri-le-Grand in La Flèche (today Prytanée Militaire de la Flèchemarker). He and Sully protected forests from further devastation, built a new system of tree-lined highways, and constructed new bridges and canals. He had a 1200 m canal built in the park at the royal Château at Fontainebleaumarker (which can be fished today), and ordered the planting of pines, elms and fruit trees.

The king renewed Paris as a great city, with the Pont Neufmarker, which still stands today, constructed over the Seinemarker river to connect the Right and Left Banks of the city. Henry IV also had the Place Royale built (since 1800 known as Place des Vosgesmarker), and added the Grande Galerie to the Louvremarker. More than 400 metres long and thirty-five metres wide, this huge addition was built along the bank of the Seine River, and at the time was the longest edifice of its kind in the world. King Henry IV, a promoter of the arts by all classes of people, invited hundreds of artists and craftsmen to live and work on the building’s lower floors. This tradition continued for another two hundred years, until Emperor Napoleon I banned it. The art and architecture of his reign have since become known as the Henry IV style.

King Henry's vision extended beyond France, and he financed several expeditions of Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Monts and Samuel de Champlain to North America that saw France lay claim to Canada.

International trade and diplomacy under Henry IV

Far-East Asia

During the reign of Henry IV, various enterprises were set up to develop trade to faraway lands. In December 1600 a company was formed through the association of Saint-Malomarker, Laval and Vitré, to trade with the Moluccasmarker and Japanmarker. Two ships, the Croissant and the Corbin, were sent around the Cape in May 1601. One was wrecked in the Maldivesmarker, leading to the adventure of François Pyrard de Laval who managed to return to France in 1611. The second ship, onboard which was François Martin de Vitré, reached Ceylonmarker and traded with Achehmarker in Sumatramarker, but was captured by the Dutch on the return leg at Cape Finisterremarker. François Martin de Vitré was the first Frenchman to write an account of travels to the Far East in 1604, at the request of Henry IV, and from that time numerous account on Asia would be published.

From 1604 to 1609, following the return of François Martin de Vitré, Henry IV of France developed a strong enthusiasm for travel to Asia, and attempted to set up a French East India Company on the model of Englandmarker and The Netherlandsmarker. On 1 June 1604, he issued letter patents to Dieppe merchants to form the Dieppe Company, giving them exclusive rights to Asian trade for 15 years, but no ships were finally sent until 1616. In 1609, another adventurer, Pierre-Olivier Malherbe returned from a circumnavigation, and informed Henry IV of his adventures. He had visited Chinamarker, and in Indiamarker had an encouter with Akbar.

Ottoman Empire

Even before Henry's accession to the throne, the French Huguenots were in contact with the Moriscos in plans against Habsburg Spain in the 1570s. Around 1575, plans were made for a combined attack of Aragonese Moriscos and Huguenots from BĂ©arn under Henri de Navarre against Spanish Aragonmarker, in agreement with the king of Algiersmarker and the Ottoman Empire, but these projects foundered with the arrival of John of Austria in Aragon and the disarmement of the Moriscos. In 1576, a three-pronged fleet from Constantinoplemarker was planned to disembark between Murciamarker and Valencia while the French Huguenots would invade from the north and the Moriscos accomplish their uprising, but the Ottoman fleet failed to arrive.

After his crowning, Henry IV continued the policy of Franco-Ottoman alliance and received an embassy from Mehmed III in 1601. In 1604, a "Peace Treaty and Capitulation" was signed between Henry IV and the Ottoman Sultan Ahmet I, giving numerous advantages to France in the Ottoman Empire. An embassy was sent to Tunisiamarker in 1608, led by M. de BrĂŞves.

Assassination and aftermath

François Ravaillac, assassin of King Henry IV, brandishing his dagger, in a 17th-century engraving
Assassination of Henry IV, an engraving by Gaspar Bouttats
Henri IV, Marie de' Medici and family
Although he was a man of kindness, compassion, and good humor, and was much loved by his people, Henry was the subject of several murder attempts (by Pierre Barrière in August 1593, and Jean Châtel in December 1594). On 14 May 1610, King Henry IV was assassinated in Paris by a Catholic fanatic, François Ravaillac, who stabbed the king to death while he rode in his coach. Henry was buried at the Saint Denis Basilicamarker. His widow, Marie de' Medici, served as Regent to their 9-year-old son, Louis XIII, until 1617.

The reign of Henry IV made a lasting impact on the French people for generations after. A statue of him was built in his honor at the Pont Neufmarker in 1614, only four years after his death. Although this statue - as well as those of all the other French kings - was torn down during the French Revolution, it was the first to be rebuilt, in 1818, and it still stands today on the Pont Neuf. A cult surrounding the personality of Henry IV emerged during the Restoration. The restored Bourbons were keen to downplay the contested reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI, and instead emphasised the reign of the benevolent Henry IV. The song "Vive Henri IV" ("Long Live Henry IV") was used during the Restoration as an unofficial anthem of France, played in the absence of the king. In addition, when Princess Maria Carolina of the Two Sicilies gave birth to a male heir to the throne of France, seven months after the assassination of her husband Charles Ferdinand, duc de Berry by a Republican fanatic, the boy was conspicuously called Henri in reference to his forefather Henry IV (see Henri, comte de Chambord). The boy was also baptised in the traditional way of Béarn/Navarremarker, with a spoon of Jurançon wine and some garlic, as had been done when Henry IV had been baptised in Pau, although this custom had not been followed by any Bourbon king after Henry IV.

Henry IV's popularity continued, when the first edition (in French) of his biography, Histoire du Roy Henry le Grand, was published in Amsterdam in 1661. It was written by Hardouin de Péréfixe de Beaumont, successively Bishop of Rhodezmarker and Archbishop of Paris, primarily for the edification of Louis XIV, grandson of Henry IV. A translation into English was made by James Dauncey, for another grandson, King Charles II of England]. An English edition came of this, being published at London two years later, in 1663. Numerous French editions have been published. However, only one more (with disputable accuracy) English edition was published, before 1896, when a new translation was published.


Henry IV was the son of Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme and Jeanne d'Albret, Queen of Navarre. He was born in the Château de Paumarker, Pyrénées-Atlantiquesmarker, in the southwest of France (former province of Béarn). Henry's mother was the daughter of Marguerite d'Angoulême, a sister of King Francis I of France, making him a second cousin of Kings Francis II, Charles IX and Henry III. However, it was to his father, a tenth-generation descendant of King Louis IX, that Henry owed his succession to the throne of France: in application of the Salic Law, which disregarded all female lines, Henry was the senior descendant of the senior surviving male line of the Capetian dynasty. At the death of Henry III of France, who had no son, the crown passed to Henry IV. The new king, however, had to fight for some years to be recognised as the legitimate king of France by the Catholics, who were opposed to his Protestant faith.


Marriages and legitimate children

On 18 August 1572, Henry married his second cousin Margaret of Valois; their childless marriage was annulled in 1599. His subsequent marriage to Marie de' Medici on 17 December 1600 produced six children:

Name Birth Death Notes
Louis XIII, King of France 27 September 1601 14 May 1643 Married Anne of Austria in 1615.
Elizabeth, Queen of Spain 22 November 1602 6 October 1644 Married Philip IV, King of Spain in 1615.
Christine Marie, Duchess of Savoy 12 February 1606 27 December 1663 Married Victor Amadeus I, Duke of Savoy in 1619.
Nicolas Henri de France, duc d'Orléans 16 April 1607 17 November 1611 .
Gaston, Duke of Orleans 25 April 1608 2 February 1660 Married (1) Marie de Bourbon, Duchess of Montpensier in 1626.
Married (2) Marguerite of Lorraine in 1632.
Henrietta Maria, Queen of England 25 November 1609 10 September 1669 Married Charles I, King of England in 1625.



  • Baird, Henry M., The Huguenots and Henry of Navarre, Vol. 1 & 2, Charles Scribner's Sons:New York, 1886.
  • Baumgartner, Frederic J. France in the Sixteenth Century. London: Macmillan, 1995. ISBN 0333620887.
  • de La Croix, Rene, Duc de Castries, The Lives of the Kings & Queens of France, Alfred A. Knopf:New York, 1979.
  • Dupuy, Trevor N., Curt Johnson and David L. Bongard, The Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography, Castle Books, 1995.
  • Holt, Mack P. The French Wars of Religion, 1562–1629. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 9780521547505.
  • Knecht, R. J. Catherine de' Medici. London and New York: Longman, 1998. ISBN 0582082412.
  • Knecht, R. J. The French Religious Wars, 1562–1598. Oxford: Osprey, 2002. ISBN 1841763950.
  • Knecht, R. J. The Rise and Fall of Renaissance France, 1483-1610. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001. ISBN 0631227296.
  • Moote, A. Lloyd. Louis XIII, the Just. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991. ISBN 0520075463.


  • George Chapman (1559?-1634), The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Byron (1608), Ă©d. John Margeson (Manchester: Manchester University press, 1988).
  • M. de Rozoy, Henri IV, Drame lyrique (1774).

Further reading

  • Baumgartner, Frederic J. France in the Sixteenth Century. London: Macmillan, 1995. ISBN 0333620887.
  • Briggs, Robin. Early Modern France, 1560–1715. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977. ISBN 0192890409.
  • Bryson, David M. Queen Jeanne and the Promised Land: Dynasty, Homeland, Religion and Violence in Sixteenth-century France. Leiden and Boston, MA: Brill Academic, 1999. ISBN 9004113789.
  • Buisseret, David. Henry IV, King of France. New York: Routledge, 1990. ISBN 0044456352.
  • Cameron, Keith, ed. From Valois to Bourbon: Dynasty, State & Society in Early Modern France. Exeter: University of Exeter, 1989. ISBN 0859893103.
  • Finley-Croswhite, S. Annette. Henry IV and the Towns: The Pursuit of Legitimacy in French Urban Society, 1589–1610. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. ISBN 0521620171.196
  • Frieda, Leonie. Catherine de Medici. London: Phoenix, 2005. ISBN 0173820390.
  • Greengrass, Mark. France in the Age of Henri IV: The Struggle for Stability. London: Longman, 1984. ISBN 0582492513.
  • Holt, Mack P. The French Wars of Religion, 1562–1629. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 9780521547505.
  • Lee, Maurice J. James I & Henri IV: An Essay in English Foreign Policy, 1603–1610. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970. ISBN 0252000846.
  • LLoyd, Howell A. The State, France, and the Sixteenth Century. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1983. ISBN 0049400665.
  • Lockyer, Roger. Habsburg and Bourbon Europe, 1470–1720. Harlow, UK: Longman, 1974. ISBN 0582350298.
  • Major, J. Russell. From Renaissance Monarchy to Absolute Monarchy: French Kings, Nobles & Estates. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. ISBN 0801856310.
  • Mousnier, Roland. The Assassination of Henry IV: The Tyrannicide Problem and the Consolidation of the French Absolute Monarchy in the Early Seventeenth Century. Translated by Joan Spencer. London: Faber and Faber, 1973. ISBN 0684133571.
  • Pettegree, Andrew. Europe in the Sixteenth Century. Oxford: Blackwell, 2002. ISBN 063120704X.
  • Salmon, J. H. M. Society in Crisis: France in the Sixteenth Century. London: Ernest Benn, 1975. ISBN 0510263518.
  • Sutherland, N. M. Henry IV of France and the Politics of Religion, 1572–1596. 2 vols. Bristol: Elm Bank, 2002. ISBN 1841508462.
  • Sutherland, N. M. The Huguenot Struggle for Recognition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1980. ISBN 0300023286.
  • Sutherland, N. M. The Massacre of St Bartholomew and the European Conflict, 1559–1572. London: Macmillan, 1973. ISBN 0333136292.
  • Sutherland, N. M. Princes, Politics and Religion, 1547–1589. London: Hambledon Press, 1984. ISBN 0907628443.

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