Henri IV of Navarre
December 14, 1553-May 10, 1610
"Paris is worth a Mass"by Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Throughout the course of history, Christians have been persecuted severely in different parts of the world. After the Protestant Reformation led by German princes and Martin Luther, there came a time when Christians persecuted their fellow brethren. In France particularly the harassment of those who did not adhere to traditional Roman Catholicism was unusually harsh. Mass murder and wholesale manslaughter of French Protestants became popular ways for bloodthirsty mobs to get away with atrocities and plunder in the name of religion. Known as Huguenots, these French who preferred to worship God in their own way realized that in order to survive they would have to fight for the right to not go to Mass. Thus began the Wars of Religion. Gaspard de Coligny was one of the Huguenot leaders, but he was not as influential in court even though he was a great military leader. Louis I, also known as the prince of Conde, was more powerful at court than any other Huguenot noble, so he was nominally the leader of their party. When he died at the battle of Jarnac, the French Protestants lost a powerful part of their cause. They needed a new leader who could fill the shoes of Conde and had connections to the royal family. In stepped the young Henri of Navarre, brought to the camp of Coligny by his mother Jeanne d’Albret during the third religious war. His parents had prepared him for this and now he was about to take his place as the leader of the Huguenot cause in France.
Born on December 14, 1553 in Basses Pyrénées in the southwest of France to parents Antoine de Bourbon and Jeanne d’Albret, Henri was raised a Calvinist. His mother believed in leading a simple life, so as a result, Henri grew up much like any other peasant would have in 16th century France. He was taught to endure hardship and suffering and gained a great love for the outdoors. This love of the outdoors and ability to endure suffering later made him popular with his soldiers, as he would see to their needs and make sure they were as comfortable as possible.
At the age of four he was sent to court to learn how to be a gentleman. When he turned eight he was sent to Paris to attend the College de Navarre. He was brought back home in 1565 to Bearn. There he would continue his outdoor training and strengthen his beliefs in the Huguenot cause as he waited for his opportunity to lead the fight for religious freedom. When Conde died at Jarnac, Jeanne d’Albret brought her young sixteen-year-old son to the Huguenot party. Although too young to lead them in battle, Henri was accepted as the leader of the Huguenots. He learned from Coligny about commanding an army at the battle of Arnay-le-Duc in Burgundy. When his mother died on June 9, 1572, he was now officially the king of Navarre. Later that year he married Margaret of Valois, daughter of Catherine de Medici, queen mother of France. This took place with much festivity on the 18th of August, 1572. Margaret of Valois was Catholic, as was her mother. This marriage was hoped to be a binding tie between Huguenots and Catholics of France and hopefully put an end once and for all to the Wars of Religion.
Most of the Huguenot nobles attended the wedding of their leader, and for many of them this had been their first time back at court since the wars began. With all the leaders of the Huguenots in one place, the royal family of Guise began plotting with Catherine de Medici to get rid of the whole Huguenot movement under the guise of promoting Catholicism, and thereby gain power for themselves. On August 24, 1572, the wholesale massacre of Huguenots in Paris that is known as St. Bartholomew’s Day took place. This act wiped out the Protestant nobility of France and seriously dampened the Huguenot’s chance of survival. All throughout the surrounding French countryside uprisings took place in which mobs killed and destroyed thousands of Huguenots, sparing neither age nor sex. Henri was able to escape this massacre by virtue of his being related to the king through marriage, but he was held captive in the king’s palace in Paris until 1576. On the second of February of that year that he finally made his escape from Paris. During his time in captivity he had feigned a conversion to Catholicism; now that he was back among his followers he reverted to Protestantism.
Henry wanted there to be peace in France, and he realized the only way this could happen would for him to gain the throne of France. The family of Guise, a very powerful Catholic family who had planned the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre and had instigated the wars of religion, were also hoping to inherit the throne after the current king, Henri III, died. Starting on the 5th of May, 1580, Henri began his quest to gain the kingdom of France by taking over the city of Cahors. When Henri III brother, the duke of Anjou, died on the 10th of June, 1584, Henri of Navarre was now the official heir of the French king. Yet he had to fight with the family of Guise in order to maintain this right. Thus began the seventh war of religion, or the war of the three Henri’s. In 1587, Henri was able to win a battle against the king’s army at Coutras. Yet before the king died in 1589, he had used Henri of Navarre to defend himself against the Catholic League led by the family of Guise. Henri III eventually announced on his deathbed that Henri of Navarre should be appointed king in his place. But Henri would still have to fight for his kingdom. Henri won major battles over his opponents at Argques on September 28, 1589, and at Ivry on March 14, 1590. In 1593, Henri took the fight out of his opponents by converting to the Catholicism. He is quoted as having said, “Paris is worth a mass.” He was accepted as king in Paris a year later.
Henri had a very successful tenure as king. He ended any thoughts of Spain taking over France by going to war with them in 1595 and ending it with the Treaty of Vervins in 1598. In that same year he ordered the Edict of Nantes, which basically gave religious and political freedom to non-Catholics. With the help of his top aid and friend the duc de Sully, Henri sought to reform his country. He cut out government offices that did not do anything, cut the national debt, and focused on helping the majority of France by undertaking agriculture programs and reforms in industry. Although his people loved him, he would frequently act like a dictator by refusing to listen to the counsel of his nobles and ruthlessly cutting down any that opposed him. Yet this way of ruling kept peace in the country as he used bribes and threats to quell the opposition of the nobility.
His people loved Henri as he promoted peace and prosperity. Although he was an upstanding figure of the times in public, his private life left much to be desired. He was somewhat of a ladies man, but nevertheless, God used him to accomplish great things. During a time when it was unpopular to be Huguenot, he stood up for his followers and defended the true Christian faith. Although he may not have been the greatest man in his personal life, God raised up Henri of Navarre to defend those who were being mercilessly slaughtered for choosing to worship God in the right way. He was a tool that God used to end persecution in France.
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