Henry IV (King of France and Navarre)
King of France and Navarre, b. December 14, 1553, in the castle of Pau; d. May 14, 1610
Henry IV, King of France and Navarre, son of Jeanne d’Albret and Antoine de Bourbon; b. December 14, 1553, in the castle of Pau; d. May 14, 1610. He began his military career under Admiral de Coligny and, from 1569, played a decisive part in the wars of religion as head of the Protestant party. By the death of the Duke of Anjou, in 1584, Henry of Bourbon became heir-presumptive to the crown of France. The manifesto of Peronne (March, 1585) issued by the Catholic princes, gave proof of their uneasiness; Cardinal de Pelleve and the Jesuit Claude Mathieu expressed their anxiety at Rome. Although Sixtus V, a strong supporter of royal authority, was not in complete sympathy with the program and the action of the League, yet relying on the public right which in the Middle Ages had been acknowledged in the whole of Christian Europe, he took decisive measures against Henry of Bourbon. Wishing France to have a king who was respected and hostile to heresy, he declared that Henry of Bourbon had forfeited his rights to the throne of France, deprived him of the crown of Navarre, and released his subjects from their oath of fidelity (September 9, 1585). The parliamentarians and the Gallican lawyers protested; Hotmann published his “Brutum fulmen Papae Sixti V” in answer to the papal Bull. Henry of Bourbon, appealed to France, through his letters to the clergy and the nobility (January 1, 1586); he attempted to gain the support of the Protestant princes of Germany, and resolved to try the fortune of arms. For the account of the circumstances and the military events that assured the throne to Henry of Bourbon, see House of Guise. To establish himself on the throne his conversion was necessary, and the conversion of Henry IV is still an historical problem, which must be examined in detail. A legend attributes to Henry IV the saying: “Paris is well worth a Mass”; his conversion, then, would only have been a piece of policy devoid of all conviction. No contemporary document records this epigram, though the “Caquets de l’accouchee”, a satirical collection of the year 1622, speaks of Sully saying to Henry IV “Sire, Sire, la couronne vaut bien une messe”, and these words, themselves doubtful, are probably the origin of the famous epigram so often attributed to the king. The opinion that the conversion of Henry IV was not sincere is refuted by the circumstances of his conversion, by the great interest Henry IV took in the so-called theological colloquies between Catholics and Protestants, and by his regarding it as a point of honor to seek and find theological reasons before carrying out that religious change necessitated by political exigency.
When, on August 2, 1589, by the death of Henry III, Henry of Bourbon definitively inherited the royal crown, he had on his side the Protestants, the politiques, who belonged mainly to parliamentary and Gallican circles, and finally many Catholics who entreated him to become a member of the Catholic Church; against him he had the Guises and the League supported by Philip II of Spain and Pope Gregory XIV. Among the Catholics who stood by Henry of Bourbon, a certain number, from 1591 to 1593, seeing that he took no steps to be instructed in the Catholic Faith, began to form a tiers parti, who were in favor of selecting as king the young Cardinal Charles de Bourbon, second son of Louis I, Prince of Conde. Not having received Holy orders, Charles could have married. By the spring of 1593 the more moderate members of the League, fearing the influence of Philip II on French affairs, were in agreement with the tiers parti to elect a Catholic Bourbon, that is to say, Henry of Bourbon, if he would be converted, or, if he would not, Cardinal Charles de Bourbon. Henry IV had declared on several occasions that he would never embrace Catholicism for merely political reasons. “Religion is not changed as easily as a shirt”, he wrote in 1583. “It would be setting very little value on either religion”, said Villeroy, Henry’s representative, in 1592, “to promise a change before being instructed and well-informed.” From March, 1592, Henry IV had an intimate friend in Jacques Davy Duperron, a convert from Protestantism, later a priest and a cardinal, and the conversations with Duperron had a great influence on his mind. The theological conference at Mantes (April, 1593) in which, for seven consecutive days, Duperron argued with four Protestant pastors as to whether the whole Christian doctrine is contained in the Sacred Scriptures, ended in the defeat of the pastors. One of them, Palma Gayet, who had been Henry of Bourbon’s tutor, carried away from the discussion the germs of his own conversion to the Catholic Faith. At the same time Sully, although he was a Protestant, told Henry IV that the means of salvation through Christ were to be found in the Catholic as well as in the Reformed Church, and he urged him to become a Catholic in order to win the tiers parti over definitively. Henry IV announced to the Grand Duke of Tuscany on April 26, 1593, and to the Prince de Conti on May 10, 1593, his coming submission to the Catholic Church; on May 16 the royal council pronounced in favor of the conversion. In the beginning of June Henry IV assisted at Mantes at another discussion on the Church and salvation, in which Duperron, who had just been named Bishop of Evreux, again vanquished two Protestant pastors; then on July 22 he went to Saint-Denis, where a score of bishops and theologians awaited him. The following morning he had a conference with Duperron, with the Archbishop of Bourges, and with the Bishops of Le Mans and Nantes; he questioned them on three points that were not yet clear to him—the veneration of the saints, auricular confession, and the authority of the pope. The discussion lasted five hours. That afternoon, after a lengthy discussion, Henry signed a formula of adhesion to the Catholic Faith, and a special promise of obedience to the Holy See. On July 24 he renewed his declaration before the assembled theologians; and on 25 July, amidst great pomp, Renaud de Beaune de Semblancay, Archbishop of Bourges and Grand Almoner of France, received his abjuration at the door of the basilica of Saint-Denis, and then heard his confession. The joy of the people was unbounded.
But it was necessary to have the situation regularized by the Holy See, which had formerly excommunicated Henry of Bourbon. An officer of the king’s household, La Clielle, was dispatched to Rome in September to announce to Pope Clement VIII that Louis de Gonzague, Duke of Nevers, would soon arrive with a solemn embassy to offer the pope the obedience of Henry IV. Cardinal Toledo informed La Clielle, in the name of Clement VIII, that it was first necessary for Henry to do penance and be absolved from the crime of heresy, and that the embassy would not be received for the time being. In fact, the Jesuit, Possevino, was sent to meet it and to forbid it to come to Rome, though Nevers was permitted to enter the city alone, and even then, not as an ambassador, but as a private individual; between November 21, 1593, and January 14, 1594, he had five audiences with the pope, but obtained nothing, the pope refusing even to receive three of the French bishops, then in Rome, who had taken part in the ceremonies at Saint-Denis. In February, 1594, Cardinal de Plaisance, papal legate in France, learning that Henry IV was to be consecrated at Chartres on February 27, informed the Catholics that he would not be absolved. This caused a great sensation in France, and soon Cardinal de Plaisance began to fear that a schism like that of Henry VIII in England was imminent. Cardinal de Gondi, Archbishop of Paris, finally won (May, 1594) the consent of Clement VIII to enter into negotiations with Henry IV. Henry first charged Arnaud d’Ossat, a priest living in Rome, with the preliminary secret negotiations. The papacy first contended that Henry required not only absolution, but rehabilitation, which would render him capable of being recognized as a legitimate sovereign; d’Ossat, little by little, won some concessions. But the measures taken by the Parlement of Paris against the Jesuits in January, 1595, after the attempt of Jean Chastel on the life of Henry IV, were exploited at the papal court by the ambassador of Philip II; and Clement VIII seemed, for a time, decided to make the recall of the Jesuits the condition sine qua non of the absolution of Henry. It was a French Jesuit, Alexandre Georges, who, being presented to the pope by Father Acquaviva, general of the Society, represented to Clement VIII that the public weal demanded a prompt reconciliation between the Holy See and France. Clement allowed himself to be persuaded, and on July 12, 1595, Duperron, the official ambassador of Henry, arrived in Rome to settle the conditions of absolution. Clement VIII did not confirm purely and simply the absolution pronounced at Saint-Denis, but took another course, and on September 17, 1595, in the portico of St. Peter’s, solemnly declared the King of France free from all excommunication. This moral triumph was followed by the victory of Fontaine Francaise (1595) which gave Burgundy to Henry IV, by the capture of Amiens which gave him Picardy, by the defection of the Duke of Mercoeur which put him in possession of Brittany, and by the Treaty of Vervins, concluded in 1598 with Philip II. On the dissolution of his marriage with Margaret of Valois, sister of Charles IX, by the Holy See, in 1599, he married Marie de’ Medici (1600). This union resulted in an increase of French influence in Italy.
Henry’s foreign policy consisted in preserving peace to allow France time to strengthen her finances and her army; he negotiated with the Low Countries against Spain, and with the Protestant princes of Germany against the empire, but without going the length of open hostilities. His plan was to gather the weaker states around France and unite against the Hapsburgs. Sully in his “Economies Royales” credits him with projecting a coalition of all the states of the empire against the Hapsburgs of Vienna and Madrid, and with planning, on their downfall, a redivision of Europe into fifteen states (six hereditary monarchies, six elective monarchies, and three republics), between which peace would be guaranteed by congresses of perpetual peace. It is now proved that this pretended plan, called by many historians the grand dessein of Henry IV, was entirely the product of Sully’s imagination, and that he amused himself in his old age with forging letters and stories wholesale to have the history of this “great design” believed.
The domestic policy of Henry IV was marked by an increased centralization of the royal authority and by great industrial, commercial, and agricultural prosperity, due in a large measure to the intelligent solicitude of Sully. France enjoyed a period of genuine religious peace during the last twelve years of Henry’s reign. The Edict of Nantes (see France; Huguenots) guaranteed security to the Protestants, and Catholicism arose from the ruin caused by the long years of religious warfare. In the name of the Assembly of the Clergy in 1596, Claude d’Angennes de Rambouillet, Bishop of Le Mans, complained to Henry IV of the appointment of unworthy candidates and of children to abbacies and bishoprics. Henry promised to give the matter his attention; he nominated d’Ossat bishop and tried to induce St. Francis de Sales to settle in France. But the abuses continued, when it suited the whims of the king; he appointed one of his illegitimate sons Bishop of Metz at the age of six, and a child of four years of age Bishop of Lodeve. The reform of the Church was begun through the initiative of Catholic piety and not by the influence of royalty. Henry IV, however, contributed towards it, owing to the influence of Pierre Coton (q.v.), by favoring the work of the Jesuits, who, although they had been banished by a decree of the Parlement of Paris, were left undisturbed in the districts under the jurisdiction of the Parlements of Bordeaux and Toulouse. The Edict of Rouen (1603) authorized them to remain in all places where they were established, and, further, to found colleges at Lyons, Dijon, and La Fleche, and in 1605 they were permitted to return to their College de Clermont at Paris.
Henry IV, despite the efforts of d’Ossat and Duperron, did not dare, through fear of the reformers and the parlementaires, to allow the publication of the decrees of the Council of Trent in France, but the researches of the Abbe Couzard with regard to the embassy of Philippe de Bethune, a younger brother of Sully, and a convert from Protestantism, at Rome (September, 1601-June, 1605) show that the relations of Henry towards the Holy See were marked by a very cordial respect, frankness, and a conciliating attitude. The frivolity of Henry IV in his private life won for him the nickname Vert galant; the royal mistresses Gabrielle d’Estrees and Henriette d’Entraigues are notorious. He was assassinated by Ravaillac on May 14, 1610.