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 Protestant King
Henry IV (of Navarre) [1589-1610]

Henry III was the last of the Valois, for his youngest brother had died before him, and he left no son. The heir to the throne then was the Bourbon Prince, Henry of Navarre. Before Henry III died he had acknowledged him as his heir, and kissed him. But in his dying voice he murmured, "Brother, I assure you, you will never be King of France if you turn not Catholic, and if you humble not yourself to the Church."

So true was this that when with tears in his eyes Henry of Navarre entered the room where his cousin lay dead, he was greeted with sullen looks. With clenched fists and dark frowns the Catholic nobles muttered, "Death, rather than a Huguenot King."

Yet many rejoiced at the death of the King. The friends of the Duke of Guise who had worn mourning now dressed themselves in green to show their joy. His sister drove through Paris shouting with delight, crying out to all the passers-by, " Good news, my friends! Good new r s! The tyrant is dead. There is no more a Henry of Valois in France!"

The Huguenots and some of the less zealous Catholics now acknowledged Henry of Navarre to be their rightful King. But the Leaguers would have none of him, and they proclaimed the Cardinal of Bourbon King, under the title of Charles X. King Philip of Spain, too, setting Salic Law at naught, claimed the throne for his daughter Isabella. For, you remember, Philip had married a French princess for his third wife, and he now claimed the throne in exactly the same way as King Edward had claimed it so long before.

Seldom has a King in coming into his kingdom found it in greater confusion. Henry of Navarre had to fight for his throne, and he had to fight in poverty, for his tiny kingdom of Navarre supplied him with little money. He had not even money enough with which to buy clothes. He could not have worn mourning for the dead King had he not taken Henry Ill's own clothes and had them made to fit himself. How then could he pay for an army to fight his cause?

He had not enough soldiers to go on with the siege of Paris, so he moved away to Normandy and took possession of Dieppe. This was of great use to him. For Queen Elizabeth had promised him help. And in Dieppe he found a port by which he could receive the soldiers which she sent to him.

It was the ninth war of religion which had now begun. And very soon the skill and bravery which Henry showed won many hearts for him. Province after province yielded to the new King.

At length Henry won a great victory at Ivry. The army of the League was much larger than Henry's. But in the hour of danger the King was ever gay and courageous. It was a cold and windy March morning, the ground was heavy with rain, and dark rain clouds drove overhead. But gloomy though the day was, it did not damp Henry's spirits.

Gallant and gay and every inch a King he looked as he rode up and down in front of his troops. On his helmet he wore a great white plume which the March wind tossed this way and that. Upon his horse's head there was another.

"Comrades," cried Henry, "God is with us! There are your foes! Here is your King! Up and at them! If lose your standards follow my white plume. You will find it ever on the road to honor, and please God to victory."

Then throwing his reins over one arm Henry clasped his hands, and raised them to heaven. "O Lord," he cried, "Thou knowest my heart, and with Thine eye dost pierce my secret thoughts. If it be best for this people that I win the crown, aid us. But if it be Thy will to take away my kingdom take my life also; let me die fighting at the head of these brave soldiers who give their lives for me."

When he had finished these words there arose from the army a great shout, "God save the King!" From rank to rank it echoed and thundered, in mighty waves of sound.

Who would not follow such a leader? Who would not gladly die for him? Behind their King the knights and nobles charged amain, they carried all before them, and the Leaguers were scattered in flight.

But even after the great victory of Ivry the war went on for nearly three years. Paris still held out against a Protestant King. At length, however, both sides grew weary of the strife. The Cardinal King, the so-called Charles X, had long been dead, and the Leaguers knew not whom to choose in his place. The young Duke of Guise, the Duke of Mayenne, and the Spanish Princess Isabella all claimed the right. So there was strife within the Catholic party.

[Illustration] from History of France by H. E. Marshall


And now Henry chose this time to take a great and hazardous step. He had never been a bigot that is, he had not clung blindly and without reason to the Protestant religion. The peace of France was more to him than any form of religion. So now, seeing no other way, he determined to take the perilous leap and become a Catholic. "Paris is worth a mass," he said a little lightly.

But he was grave enough at heart. He sent for the bishops and argued long with them.

"See," he said at length, while the tears stood in his eyes, "to-day I put my soul into your hands. I pray you guard it well. For where you make me to enter, there I shall abide. I shall not go thence until I die. That I protest and swear to you."

Two days later, clad all in white satin, with a black cloak hanging from his shoulders, he went to the great church of St. Denis. With him were the princes and lords of the kingdom, and the whole court. Before him marched a bodyguard of soldiers in full armor.

With trumpets blowing, and drums beating, Henry passed through gaily decorated streets. Flags and silken hangings fluttered in the breeze, flowers carpeted his path. And all along the way the people cheered and cried, "God save the King!"

When the procession reached St. Denis they found the great gates fast shut. The Lord High Chancellor advanced, and knocked loudly upon them. Slowly they were swung open. And there at the great west door Henry saw a crowd of priests and bishops, clad in splendid robes and carrying the cross, the gospels, and the holy water. In front of them the Archbishop of Bourges was seated in a chair covered with white silk, and decorated with the arms of France and of Navarre. As the King mounted the steps, the Archbishop rose. "Who are you?" he asked.

"I am Henry, the King of France and of Navarre," was the reply.

"What do you want?"

"I want to be received into the Catholic Church," replied Henry.

"Do you desire it sincerely?"

"I wish it and I desire it," said Henry, kneeling at the Archbishop's feet. Kneeling there he repeated the Creed in a loud, clear voice. Then amid the shouts of the people and the firing of cannon he was led into the church. There before the altar he once more knelt.

When at last the long ceremony was over, the King, followed by a wonderful throng of people, returned to his palace through the same flower-strewn streets, resounding with cries of "God save the King!"

Whether we think that Henry was right, or whether we think that he was wrong, in thus denying the faith in which he had been brought up, he was certainly wise. It was the only way in which to bring peace to France. Many even among the Huguenots saw that, and Henry's chief adviser, Sully, himself a staunch Huguenot, advised at which him to take the step. But some too of his best friends were hurt to the heart at what seemed to them treachery. They sadly went to their own homes, and took no more part in the ruling of the land.