1902 Encyclopedia > Henry IV, King of France

Henry IV, King of France
(1553-1610)




HENRY IV. (1553-1610), king of France, was born in the castle of Pau in 1553, being son of Antony of Bourbon, king of Navarre and duke of Vendôme, and Jeanne of Albret. By his father he was tenth in descent from Saint Louis, and only a very distant cousin to his predecessor, Henry III. His mother, a grand and noble lady, brought him up as a Calvinist. His education was rough and hard, and fostered that originality of character which so marked his life; his military training was under the great captain, Gaspard of Coligny. In 1571 he was wedded to the daughter of Catherine de' Medici, Margaret of Valois ; and on his mother's death in 1572 he became king of Navarre.

The massacre of St Bartholomew found him in Paris ; but his life was spared on his making a profession of Catholicism, which lasted till he succeeded in escaping from court in 1575. Thenceforward he became acknow-ledged head of the Huguenots, and by his dashing bravery kept life in their dispirited forces. No man was better fitted for such work ; he had all the qualities of a guerilla leader, though he was not a great general. His success at Coutras (1587) and the joyousness and generosity of his character endeared him to his followers, while it secured the respect even of his opponents. After the death of Henry III. he was recognized as king of France by only a portion of the army then besieging Paris (August 4, 1589) ; the Catholic " Politiques " in the army stood aloof and disbanded ; the Huguenots formed the only sound nucleus of his power. A.t Arques (1589) and Ivry (1590) he brilliantly defeated the Leaguers, and resumed the siege of Paris ; Alexander of Parma, however, prevented him from taking Rouen (1592) ; much less could he take Paris. Finding affairs hard, and desiring to be a king and not a guerilla-captain, in 1593 Henry allowed himself to be converted to Catholicism. By this step he struck a deadly blow at the League and made powerless the intrigues of Philip II. For between the fanatical Catholics on one side and the Huguenots on the other lay the great bulk of Frenchmen; the "Politique" party had become more and more powerful, until at length it was felt to be the true national party. The only thing which kept it from Henry was the difference of faith ; that barrier removed, all France at once joyfully accepted him as king. The Leaguers became almost a foreign body ; the Huguenots gloomily accepted his triumph, bought, as they held, at cost of principle. After the battle of Fontaine-Française in 1595 the Spanish and Leaguers were driven out of Burgundy, and the recovery of Amiens from the Spaniards in 1596 secured Picardy and the northern frontier. The Satire Menippee, published in 1593 and 1594, had already con-demned the Leaguers as hirelings of the Spanish king; and in April 1598 by the edict of Nantes Henry assured their position to his old Huguenot followers, while by the peace of Vervins (May 1598) he ended the Spanish war, and took from the League its last source of strength.





After 1598 the energies of Henry IV. were given to the restoration of his country, which in nearly forty years of civil war had suffered terribly ; the organizing genius of Maximilian of Bethune, duke of Sully, restored the finances; agriculture, manufactures, and commerce made marvellous advances. Henry also upheld the authority of France ; in 1601 he acquired Bresse, Bugey, and Valromey from Savoy. He supported the Netherlands against Spain, and he was preparing a great army, which, in combination with the Dutch under Maurice of Nassau, was to interfere in the tangled Cleves-Juliers question, when he was assassi-nated by Ravaillac on the 14th of May 1610. For his character see FRANCE, vol. ix. p. 566.

Henry IV. left no children by his first wife Margaret of Valois; by his second, Marie de' Medici, he had three sons and three daughters,—Louis, who succeeded him as Louis XIII.; a child who died in 1611 ; Gaston, duke of Orleans, the meanest of the race; Elizabeth, wife of Philip IV. king of Spain; Christine, wife of Victor Amadeus, duke of Savoy; and lastly Henriette Marie, queen of England, spouse of Charles I. He also left behind him several natural children, of whom the most celebrated was C^sar, duke of Vendome, son of the famous Gabrielle d'Estrees.

See Pierre l'Estoile, Journal du règne de Henri IV.; Péréfixe, Histoire du roi Henri le Grand ; Xivrey, recueil des lettres missives de Henri IV. (1839-53) ; Palma Cayet, Chronologie novennaire ; Mémoires de Tavannes ; Mémoires de Vieilleville ; Mémoires de Castelnau; Sully, (Economiesroyales; Cimherand Danjou, Archives curieuses ; Art de vérifier les dates, série ii. tom. vi. The reader is also referred to the documents cited by Von Ranke in his Französische Geschichte, and to Olivier de Serres's Théâtre d'agriculture et mesnage des champs. (G. W. K. )







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