Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

The War of the Three Henries
Henry III [1574-1589]

In May 1574, Charles IX died. He was only twenty-three, and had reigned fourteen years. He left no son, and his brother, Henry Duke of Anjou, succeeded to the throne. When Charles died Henry was in Poland, for the Poles had chosen him as their King. But as soon as he heard that he was King of France, he gave up the crown of Poland and returned home.

The confusion in France was now worse than ever. The great leaders of the two parties were dead, but their sons took their places. On the Catholic side there was the young Duke Henry of Guise. On the Protestant side there were Henry of Navarre and his cousin, Henry of Conde, the sons of King Anthony of Navarre and of his brother, the Prince of Conde. Besides the Catholics and the Huguenots there was also a third party called the "Politics." Many of these were Catholics who wanted to see the rebellion put to an end, and who yet wanted to allow the Huguenots to worship God in their own way. At the head of this party stood the King's youngest brother, Francis Duke of Alencon.

Henry III was twenty-two when he came to the throne. He was a bad and silly king. Very proud of his looks, he spent nearly all the morning dressing himself. He painted his face, dyed his hair, wore ear-rings, thought more of his clothes than any vain woman, and gave a great deal of time to inventing new fashions. He thought so much of these things that it became the fashion for the favored people in the court to come to watch the King get up and dress, and a great ceremony was made of it.

Henry surrounded himself with courtiers as silly and empty-headed as himself. They were called his Mignons or Darlings. Both he and they made great pets of tiny dogs, monkeys, and parrots. Henry would often walk about with a sword by his side, a turban on his head, and a basket full of tiny dogs hung around his neck.

But besides being silly, Henry was bad. He would spend days and nights in shocking wickedness. Then afraid of being punished for what he had done he would walk barefoot through the streets clad in sackcloth, beating himself with knotted cords in penance. But this was not religion, only fear of punishment. He was afraid of death, afraid of hell, and when there was a thunderstorm he would run to hide himself in the lowest cellar of his castle, weeping and trembling with fear.

Such a King could do little to quiet the angry passions which had been raised, and the dreadful wars of religion went on. Between 1574 and 1580 the fifth, sixth, and seventh civil wars are counted. Each peace granted the Protestants some rights. Each peace made the Catholics angry, and afraid lest their power should wane. In 1584, too, the Duke of Alencon died. He was the King's only remaining brother. Henry had no children. So the next heir was Henry of Navarre, a Protestant. This made the Catholics still more fearful. So all over France they began to form a league for the defense of their religion. It was given the name of the Holy League. Henry of Guise was the head of it, and he soon became so powerful that the King was afraid of him and did everything he asked. All the chief posts in the kingdom were given to Guise and his friends, and Henry promised to undo all the laws giving freedom to the Huguenots.

When the Protestants heard of it they were filled with dread and once more they took up arms. This eighth civil war is called the War of the Henries because the leaders on all sides were named Henry— King Henry III, Henry of Guise, and Henry of Navarre.

Henry III had been forced to throw in his lot with Henry of Guise, but he did not love him. His real hope was that both Protestants and Catholics would be killed in such numbers that he would be left free to do as he liked.

But although, at Coutras, the Protestants won the greatest victory they had ever won, the war ended in a triumph for Henry of Guise.

The people of Paris, who were nearly all Catholics, were delighted with the Duke's success. They praised him as a hero almost as they had praised his father after the taking of Calais. But the King, jealous of the love the people gave him, fearful of his growing power, forbade Guise to come to Paris.

When King Henry himself returned to his capital the people looked coldly on him. As he rode through the streets hardly a voice was raised to cheer him. The people wanted their hero, and Henry had forbidden him to come.

But in spite of the King's command Guise came. As he rode through the streets the people recognized him, and cheer after cheer burst forth from them till from street to street the sound rolled in a thunder of applause.

"Long live Guise! Long life to the Pillar of the Church."

The people crowded round him to kiss his hand, to touch his coat, weeping, laughing, blessing him, scattering flowers in his path. It was a splendid triumph; all Paris went mad. Gallant, young, smiling and gracious, the Duke rode through it.

But there was one man in Paris who was ill pleased. That was Henry III. "He has come!" cried the King when he heard of it. "By heaven he shall die for it!"

"Sire, if it please you to honor me with the command," said a courtier, "to-day I will lay his head at your feet."

But the King was not yet ready for that.

Guise came to the King and bowed low before him. White and trembling with passion, Henry bit his lip.

"Sir Duke," he said, "I find it passing strange that you have the hardihood to come to me against my will and my command."

"Sire," replied the Duke, "I come to defend myself from the falsehoods of my enemies."

Shaken with anger, the King turned away in silence, and the Duke quickly left the court, glad to escape with his life.

The King now filled Paris with troops, who took possession of all the chief places. But the people rose in revolt. They overpowered the soldiers. They threw up barricades and stretched chains across all the streets leading to the palace, so that the King was really in a state of siege. Shops were shut, alarm bells were rung, and Paris from end to end was in uproar.

For hours the Duke looked on, doing nothing. Then later in the afternoon he left his house, and rode unarmed through the seething streets, carrying only a stick in his hand.

He was greeted with shouts of joy, "Long live Guise! Long live Guise!" And he, taking off his large hat, bowed and smiled to the yelling crowd, saying, "My friends, it is enough. Sirs, it is too much. Cry, "God save the King!'"

At the sound of his voice the fury of the people was quieted. But the barricades were not taken down, the people were still in revolt and ready to besiege Henry and take him prisoner. He knew it, and fled away in haste, swearing never to re-enter the town but through a breach made by his cannon.

Guise was now master, and the King was obliged to do everything he wished. Guise found many ways of showing his power, and of insulting and humiliating the King. Henry's anger against his rival grew hotter and hotter, until he resolved to be rid of him.

Very early on the morning of Christmas Eve, 1589, in his castle at Blois, Henry called together his council and his special bodyguard called the "Forty-five" because of their number. First he met his council. "The Duke," he said, "is so blinded by ambition that he is ready to take both my crown and my life. It has come to this, either he or I must die. And it must be this day. Will you aid me?"

"You may count upon our aid and our lives," they cried.

Then Henry went to the Forty-five. "You know all the insolence and the wrongs I have had to suffer these many years from the Duke of Guise," he said. "At last it has come to this that this morning either he or I must die. Will you promise to serve me and to avenge me by taking his life?':

With one voice they cried. "He shall die!"

"Let us see," said the King, then, "which of you have daggers?"

There were eight who had them. These men the King hid in the gallery through which the Duke must pass, and bid them kill him. Then as he waited, Henry walked back and forth in great excitement, unable to sit still. He already rejoiced in the thought of the Duke's death. "He is great and powerful," he said, "and I shall be right merry."

At length the Duke came. He had been warned not to go to see the King that morning, for already it was whispered abroad that the King meant to kill the Duke. But Guise paid no heed to the warning. "He will not dare," he said proudly.

Dressed in gray satin, a cloak about his shoulders and his sword by his side, his head held high, for was he not the greatest man in all France? he stepped toward the King's room.

Suddenly, as he walked jauntily along, a man darted upon him and struck him in the breast, crying, "Ha, traitor, you shall die!" another threw himself at his knees, a third struck him in the back.

"Help! my friends, help!" cried the Duke. But no help came. He tried in vain to draw his sword; it was entangled in his cloak. But with his bare hands he fought, and so strong was he that he dragged his murderers with him from one end of the room to the other and fell dying at the feet of the King.

"My God," said Henry, suddenly awed at the sight, "how tall he is! He looks even taller than when he was alive!" Then he brutally kicked the poor, dead body as once Guise had kicked that of Coligny, and turned away.

"I am King of France at last," he said to his mother; "the King of Paris is dead."

"You have killed the Duke of Guise!" she cried, struck with horror. "God grant that by this death you become not King of nothing at all. You have cut your coat, but can you sew it?"

Queen Catherine did not live to learn the answer to her question. For a few days later this scheming woman who had used and betrayed Huguenot and Catholic alike in her desire for power, died hated, and despised by all.

When the news of the Duke's murder reached Paris becomes the people rose in fury. They took as their leader the Duke of Mayenne, a brother of the murdered Guise.

To meet this outburst Henry knew not what to do, for he had few soldiers and no money. So, strange to say, he made friends with Henry of Navarre. At once the Huguenots gathered to him in great numbers, and together the two Kings marched to besiege Paris.

The siege had scarcely begun when one day a friar came seeking the King, saying he had business with him. It was already late, so the friar was told he must wait till morning, and then he should surely see the King.

So early next morning the friar was brought to Henry. The King had not yet put on his buff coat, being only half dressed, and was sitting in his bedroom in a loose silk undercoat.

The friar bowed low before him, and gave him a letter, saying he had also a secret to tell. Henry took the letter and began to read it.

As soon as the friar saw that his thoughts were upon the letter he quickly drew a knife from his sleeve. One moment it flashed, the next it was buried in the King's body.

"Ah, the wicked monk!" cried Henry; "he has killed me! he has killed me!" With all his strength he drew the knife from the wound and struck at the friar's forehead. Hearing the cry and the noise, the King's guards rushed in, and in a moment the friar lay dead at Henry's feet, pierced by many wounds.

At first it was thought that the King's wound was not dangerous. But during the night he became very ill, and in a few hours he died. He was thirty-six and had reigned for fifteen years.