King of Navarre and leader of the Huguenots during the wars of religion, Henry IV became king of France in 1589. First sovereign of the Bourbon dynasty, he worked to pacify the kingdom (Edit of Nantes), and to restore the authority of the monarchy undermined by the civil war. His assassination by Ravaillac on May 14, 1610 forged his legend and made him enter the popular imagery in the pantheon of just and good kings. Henri IV will remain in the collective imagination as the "green galant", the ardent creator of the chicken in the pot, the "human" King, close to his subjects and their misery ... What is he hiding behind the golden legend crowned with eternal glory?
The child king of Navarre and rival of the Valois
Born August 18, 1572, Henri de Navarre was in a way an upstart, a "peasant of the Pyrenees", a "Béarnais" ... an operetta king caught between Spain and France. However, he was also the first prince of blood, accessible in direct line to the throne of France because he was descended from Saint Louis through his father Antoine de Bourbon. From his childhood, after an education in the fresh air of Béarn with his mother Jeanne d'Albret, he was the object of negotiations and sent to the Court of France of the Valois. He becomes a political pledge of alliance between the two kingdoms and a hostage.
At the end of the 16th century, no one would have bet on the extinction of the reigning race of the Valois. Henry II, son of Francis I, had many descendants from his union with Catherine de Medici. This new generation will however disappear and throw the crown in a dark game and a dynastic battle from which France will rise bloodless.
Heir to a state which broke with the papacy, chief appointed by the Huguenots, Henri III (because it is his title in Navarre) became in 1572 on the death of his mother the guardian and protector of this political heritage but above all spiritual.
Politically married to Marguerite de Valois, the "Queen Margot", he becomes more than ever a hostage of the Valois and heir "parpaillot" of the very Christian Kingdom of France. His wedding ended in the blood of the Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre on the night of August 23-24, 1572. For him began nearly four years in gilded but forced prison which would be the completion of his political training. The death of Henri III without descendants will make him the king of France.
The King of War, Love and Fickleness
Henry spent more time on the leather of his saddle than on the velvets of a throne. The rather spartan military training of his childhood will be profitable to him. Leader of the Huguenots from 1569 during the assembly of La Rochelle, it was in this capacity that he led an open war against the King of France. However, without heirs and threatened by the rise in power of the House of Lorraine and Guises, Henri III decides to merge with Henri. Henry III barely had time to assassinate the Duke of Guise, when he succumbed to the dagger of the Monk Jacques Clément. Heir designate, Henry IV will have to arm himself with patience to reconquer the throne of France from 1589. Cunning and strategist, these qualities will make him a feared and respected warlord. Only Paris will be worth a real snub to him because the city fanaticized by the monks and the League will not give up arms until he is converted, and recognizes him as king in 1594.
A religious fickleness which is comparable to a certain political opportunism. As a child, his mother Jeanne d`Albret introduced him to Calvinism. However Henri IV will never be Saint Louis and will have a certain detachment for religion allowing him great tolerance. We can no longer count his abjurations, his comings and goings between the Catholic and Protestant faith. Beating the standard of the Huguenots, the latter took his conversion rather badly in order to secure the crown of the Lilies. Tolerant, he proclaimed the Edict of Nantes on April 13, 1598, had to convert to Catholicism and thus managed to settle, at least for a time, the question of the wars of religion.
To this versatility is added that of women. Politically married to Marguerite de Valois, Henri IV was a prisoner of his senses and could not help promising anything and everything, including marriage… he signed contracts committing himself to making such and such a queen of France. his adventures among which Gabrielle d'Estrées for example. Henri is however married and will begin a long separation process with Margot. Recluse in her captivity, the heiress of the Valois refuses to give way to schemers and adventurers and does everything to delay the proceedings. She will agree to bow to Marie de Medici, the "banker".
Henri IV, the King with the white plume
On his arrival in business, Henri IV first decided to attach Navarre to France, entities which would merge during the Revolution. Surrounded by good ministers such as Sully, Henri IV reorganized the Kingdom of France. The economy, the finances are on the mend. From this time the golden legend of the king will be born, which will flourish during the restoration in 1814. Agriculture, trade, everything is done to make France a rich power. Added to this success is a climate of peace which helps the success of enterprises and measures. In prosperity, the kingdom returns to artistic, cultural and urban research.
It was also under his reign that the exploration and colonization of Quebec was revived, with Samuel Champlain's expeditions along the Saint Laurent. Outside, he maintained his policy of mistrust towards the Habsburgs who surrounded France, going so far as to ally with the German princes and the Swiss ready to go to war against Spain. He also forced the Duke of Savoy to cede Bresse, Bugey and the country of Gex to him (1601).
However, the chicken in the pot is not every Sunday on the plates of the French and despite his common sense and his simplicity, Henri IV is far from being unifying and well-liked. The peasant agitation, the opposition of ultra-Catholic and unarmed Protestants largely explain the tragic end of the "Vert galant".
A stab and the legend was born
On May 14, 1610, Henri IV indeed had an appointment with the legend. Ravaillac committed the supreme crime of assassinating a sacred king and anointed by the Lord. While his punishment has been the subject of numerous correspondence, the death of Henri IV is greeted with a certain calm in France. It must be said that in 1610 many French people had to complain about the King ...
Wasn't it said that he was going back to his old religion by allying himself with the Protestant powers? Was he not going to wage war against Spain on the pretext that the Prince of Condé had fled to the Austrian Netherlands with his wife, Charlotte de Montmorency, whom he coveted with envy? These relayed rumors found echoes among Catholics, courtiers and imminent members of the Court. They found echoes in the sermons of the Jesuits who justified regicide against a tyrant ... Thus in 1610 Henry IV was a tyrant in the eyes of many ...
The stab at rue de la Ferronnerie in Paris comes just after the coronation of Marie de Medici who was to exercise the regency (and who will exercise it for Louis XIII), the king having to go to war. The assassination closes an era but opens the legend. A golden legend in the service of the restoration of the Bourbons in 1814. The legend of a brave warrior, tolerant and in love with life and women ... But let us not forget that any legend is questionable. In 1793 during the desecration of the royal tombs at Saint Denis basilica, if a soldier cut Henri IV's mustache as a talisman and protection, a woman would not hesitate to slap the corpse ...
- Henri IV - The Child King of Navarre, by Michel Peyramaure, Robert Laffont editions, 1999
- Henri IV the enthusiast of André Castelot. Perrin, 2005.
- Henry IV on the website of the Ministry of Culture.
- The site of the Château de Pau