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 Edict of Nantes — France at Peace
Henry IV (of Navarre) [1589-1610]

But although by becoming a Catholic Henry had reconciled many of his people to him, much remained for him to do. For the Leaguers still held out, and they had possession not only of Paris, the capital, but of Reims, the city in which the Kings of France were crowned.

Henry felt that he must be crowned, that never until he was, would the common people really look upon him as their true King. So with great and solemn ceremony he was crowned at Chartres.

Then he marched to Paris, and Paris opened her gates to the King. While all the bells in the city clashed and clanged with joy the people shouted, "God bless the King and the Peace! God save the King!"

And as he rode along Henry with kindly eyes looked upon the eager crowd which surged around him. "Poor people," he said, "they are hungry for the sight of their King."

As he crossed the threshold of the splendid palace of the Louvre and heard the shouts in his ears it seemed to Henry he must be dreaming. "My lord," he said, turning to the Chancellor, "dare I believe that I am where I am?"

"Sire," replied he, smiling, "I think there is no doubt about it."

"I do not know," said the King, "the more I think about it the more I am astonished."

But Henry was in deed and in truth at last King of France. Even the young Duke of Guise and the leaders of the League yielded to him. He still had, however, a great enemy in Philip of Spain.

The Leaguers had been helped by King Philip of Spain, and there were many Spanish soldiers in Paris when the King entered in triumph. Henry sent them all away. "Give my compliments to your master," he said, "and don't come here again." But Philip still continued plotting against him, and Henry once more declared war. This war lasted for three years and was ended by the Peace of Vervins. This peace left things in almost the same position as at the Peace of Cateau-Cambresis, signed forty years before in the reign of Henry II.

Thus France had endured forty years of war and bloodshed for nothing. But at least peace had at last been won. And Henry now began this time of quiet by signing the Edict of Nantes. It is the act for which perhaps his reign is most remembered. By this Edict the Protestants were allowed the freedom of their religion throughout the kingdom, they were made equal with the Catholics in every way, and were allowed to serve their country in the state and in the army. They were also given certain towns as places of safety.

These favors to the Huguenots made many of the Catholics angry, and the Parliament at first would not pass the Edict. Some of its members even went to see the King to try to persuade him against this act. He listened to them patiently, and then he spoke.

"I come to speak with you," he said, "not in my royal robes, not with my sword by my side and my helmet on my head, nor yet as a prince who receives foreign ambassadors. But dressed as the simple father of a family I come to speak to my children."

But although his words were gentle he was firm. "Those who do not want my Edict to pass want war," he said. Then he grew more stern. "And I will declare it to-morrow, but I will not make it. You will make it. I have made the Edict, and I command you to serve it, I am King now, and I speak as King. I will be obeyed."

Again he grew more gentle. "Do what I command you," he pleaded, "or rather what I beg of you. You will do it not only for me, but also for yourselves, and for the good of peace."

So at length the Edict was passed. And in the calm which followed Henry did much for the happiness of his people. In this his chief friend and helper was the great Duke of Sully. He had been Henry's friend in the old fighting days. He had shared all his hardships, had marched beside him in rags and hunger, in weariness and want. Now he shared his good fortune and his splendor, and to the last day of his life he remained the King's greatest friend.

Sully looked after the money of the nation, and he looked after it so well that although the taxes were made less the King had far more money to spend. When Henry came to the throne he found nothing but debts. When he died he had paid off a great many of these debts and left his treasury full.

Yet he spent much money for the good of the country, Roads and canals were made, bridges were built, marshes were drained, much was done in every way for the farmers. For in farming Sully saw the great wealth of France.

Much was done too for manufactures. For in manufactures Henry saw the great wealth of France. Here he and his adviser Sully differed. Henry was specially interested in silk manufactures. He had mulberry trees planted, and encouraged the people to raise silkworms, from which to get the raw silk.

Sully did not like to see so much money being spent on mere fashion and finery, and he tried to stop the King. What need was there for people to wear silk and velvet, he asked. He declared that he would make a law forbidding people to wear such splendid clothes. But the King laughed.

"I would rather fight the King of Spain in three pitched battles," he said, "than face the judges and great people, and above all their wives and daughters, if I made such stupid rules."

So he had his way. He encouraged the silk manufactures as much as he could, and the first time he wore a pair of silk stockings made in France he showed them off to all his courtiers with great pride. The beginnings were small. But to-day the French silk industry is worth millions to the country.

It was now too that Frenchmen first settled in Canada, and that Quebec was founded by Champlain, and France, at Peace at home, began to build up a great colonial empire.

But at length Henry turned his thoughts from all these peaceful things to war once more. At the treaty of Vervins he had forced Philip of Spain to make peace, but he had meant to begin the struggle again, and break the power of the King of Spain and Emperor of Germany as soon as France was strong enough. For as long as Spain remained as powerful as in the days of Philip II the peace of all Europe was threatened.

Henry now thought that the time had come, and he began to make great preparations tor war with Spain, It was not to be a French war only. It was to be a war of all Europe. A Catholic, Henry placed himself at the head of the Protestant armies. The Dutch and the reformed princes of Germany joined him, as well as the Italian princes who wished to be free of Spanish interference. Henry hoped for an easy victory. Then he meant to rearrange the states of Europe so that war would no more be possible.

Henry was already fifty-seven, a great age at which to begin so tremendous an undertaking. Still he hardly hesitated, although he was sometimes haunted by dark forebodings of evil.

A few days before the date fixed for his setting out for battle he was talking with some of the nobles. "Ah," he said suddenly, "you do not know me now, you others. But I shall die one of these days, and when you have lost me then you will know what I was worth, and the difference between me and other men."

"By heaven, Sire," cried one of them, "will you never cease vexing us by telling us that you will die soon? Why, you are only in the flower of your age. You will live, please God, some good long years to come."

Still all morning Henry was restless and uneasy. But when a young gentleman of the court came to tell him that an astrologer had foretold that the day would be one of danger, Henry laughed.

"The astrologer is an old rascal," he said, "who wants your money, and you are a young fool to believe him. Our days are in the keeping of God."

Yet Henry could not get rid of his sadness and gloom.

"Sire," said one of his household, "you are sad and thoughtful. Will you not go out a little, and take the air? That will refresh you."

"A good idea," said the King. "Order my carriage. I will go to the Arsenal and see Sully, who is not well."

So the carriage was made ready, and Henry set out with several gentlemen. As they drove through a narrow street the carriage met two carts which blocked the way. The horses drew up for a few minutes until the road could be cleared to allow the King to pass. While the carriage waited a man suddenly leaped on to the wheel at the side next the King. He was a wild, half -mad bigot, who hated the King because of the Edict of Nantes, and had vowed his death. He raised a knife and struck.

"I am wounded!" cried Henry. Again the knife flashed. The King gave a deep sigh and lay still.

At once the street was in an uproar, the people crying aloud in rage and sorrow. But one of the gentlemen who was with the King shouted to the people that he was only wounded. The horses' heads were turned, and quickly they drove back to the palace. Gently the King was lifted from his carriage, and carried to his room. He neither spoke nor moved. He was quite dead.

No greater King has ever ruled in France. No King who cared so much for the happiness of his people ever sat upon the throne. He was a great soldier, and a great statesman, and above all he loved justice and toleration. And when it was known throughout Paris that Henry the Great was dead the people wept as they had never wept for any King before.