Henri IV (1553–1610)
Henri IV (1553–1610)
The first monarch of the Bourbon dynasty of France, Henri IV was king from 1589 until his assassination in 1610. He was born in the town of Pau, the son of Antoine de Bourbon, the Duke of Vendome, and Jeanne d'Albret, the Queen of Navarre, a committed Calvinist Protestant.
He fought for the Huguenots (Protestants) during the Wars of Religion. In 1572, he became Henri III, king of Navarre. His marriage in 1572 to Marguerite de Valois, the sister of King Charles IX, inspired the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre of August 24, in which Protestants throughout the kingdom were murdered by the thousands. Henri claimed to convert to Catholicism, the faith of his new bride, but he was held under arrest for several years. He escaped his confinement in 1576 and took the field at the head of the Huguenot forces.
In France, according to the Salic law, women could not reign as monarchs. Without a male heir, King Henri III recognized Henri of Navarre as legitimate heir to the throne through the latter's descent from King Louis IX. As a Huguenot (Protestant) in Catholic France, however, Henri was strongly opposed by the French church as well as a powerful faction of nobles, led by Henri, Duke of Guise. In 1588, Henri of Guise was murdered on the orders of Henri III, who was in turn assassinated by a monk. As a result of these events, Henri of Navarre became Henri IV, king of France, at the age of thirty-six in 1589. The allies of the Catholic Church forced him out of Paris, however, and named Henri's uncle Charles as King Charles X. Henri held Charles in his custody but was forced to rally an army and fight for the kingdom that was legitimately his to rule.
Stymied in his efforts to capture Paris, Henri publicly declared his conversion to Catholicism in 1593. The announcement ended the wars of religion, and Henri was crowned in 1594. Determined to end the generation of violence between Catholics and Protestants, in 1598 he passed the Edict of Nantes, which allowed Protestants freedom of religion throughout the kingdom. With the Duke de Sully, his able minister, Henri was an active king, working in support of important reforms. The French economy was improved through reclamation of marshland and other measures to promote agriculture. The state's finances were put on sound footing, and Paris became the sight of important public works projects, including the Grand Gallery of the Louvre, a residential square known as the Place Royale, and the famous Pont Neuf, a wide, paved bridge across the Seine River. Henri also promoted explorations to North America that allowed France to establish its claims to Canada. Although he was a popular monarch, known best for his proclamation that the French would enjoy “a chicken in every pot,” the bitter resentment against his Protestantism still burned in France, and in 1610 he was assassinated by a devout Catholic believer, Francois Ravaillac. His nine-year-old son Louis, the daughter of his third wife Marie de Médicis, inherited the throne of France as Louis XIII.
See Also: Bourbon dynasty; France; Henri III
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