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King Henri IV was born at Pau in Bearn on December 13, 1553. Raised by his mother, Jeane d?Albret (Queen of Navarre), Henri was brought up in a remote castle in the Pyrenees. He grew up amongst the peasant children of that area and raised on a diet of bread, cheese, and garlic.
As a youngster Henri was brought up in the Protestant faith, which was the opposite of his father?s wishes. As result, Henri was taken to Paris on his father?s orders and given a Catholic tutor. However, he stubbornly refused to attend Mass. Consequently, after the death of his father, Henri was once again instructed by a Protestant tutor. By the age of ten, Henri had already changed religions twice.
Remaining in Paris, Henri attended classes at the College de Navarre. Gradually he learned to speak and write fluent Latin and Greek, and he had managed to attain some Spanish and Italian. In 1567 Henri reestablished himself in Pau, reuniting with his mother and sister Catherine. His education was continued, this time including fencing and military arts.
Five years later, after an outbreak of several religious wars, the marriage between Henri and the reining king?s sister, Marguerite de Valois (a Catholic), was arranged so as to bring temporary peace to France. After Henri?s mother?s death, the wedding took place. The two were wed on August 18, 1572 at Notre-Dame. Little did the new king know, that day would mark the prelude of a great tragedy.
During the wedding, Catherine de Medici consented to the assassination of Admiral de Coligny. On August 22 he was shot at from a window but was merely injured. The Huguenots (French Protestants) were enraged. Queen Medici finally agreed that a general massacre was the only solution to terminate Admiral de Coligny. Before dawn on Sunday, August 24, 1572, the Duc de Guise?s swordsmen broke into the Admirals bedroom. He was brutally skewered with a pike, then his corpse was thrown out of a window and hanged by the ankles from the public gibbet. The signal was given and the Paris mob was unleashed. The mob was totally merciless, savagely slitting the throats of all possible Protestants without the willing pity unto children and pregnant women. The Louvre was transformed into a slaughterhouse; the bodies of dead and tortured Huguenot bodies gathered along staircases and piled up against walls. Henri and his cousin Conde were spared only for the sake that they beheld royal blood within their vanes.
After that, Henri was forced to change his religion for a third time. In addition, he remained prisoner at court for four years.
After the death of King Charles IX, Henry of Navarre?s cousin, Henri III became king. King Henry made peace with the Huguenots. After being defeated multiple times by superior Catholic armies, King Henri III turned to Henri of Navarre for help.
The help of Henri of Navarre made it once again possible for Henri III to recover his lost powers. Together the pair soon controlled the entire area between the Loire and the Seine. On July 30 he besieged Paris with an army of 40,000. On the peak of this achievement, the king was stabbed by Dominican friar, Jacques Clement. Henry III died that night after ordering his followers to take an oath of allegiance to Henri of Navarre.
As result, Henri by name became king of France. However, Henri was refused loyalty by most of his subjects on account that he had been excommunicated and that he was Catholic. Only a mere sixth of France supported Henri. His only source of the reconciliation of loyalty, he soon found, would to be to appeal to those who preferred peace rather than religious war.
After victoring numerous accounts of battle with Catholics, Henry IV eventually managed to besiege Paris with 15000 men in May. Unfortunately, Paris remained totally Catholic. Henri then decided to starve the city into submission rather than cause war. By July Paris was pathetically hungry. Cannibalism was a common case?children could be seen chased through the streets by starving elders. People resorted to eating dead dogs (including the skin), rats, garbage, and flour made from bones (those who ate the flour died). Thirteen thousand French died of starvation.
Paris did not give up. They were by far too proud to surrender to a heretic king. That September Paris was saved by the Duke of Parma who shipped food across the Sine to the city. Henri revoked as winter drew near.
In the summer of 1591 Henri was reinforced with English troops. This brought up the spirits of Henri and the rest of his army.
In November, Henri?s troops besieged Rouen. Taking action to the rumor that Parma was on his way to the rescue, Henri set off with 7000 calvary to stop him. On February 3, 1592, he unexpectedly met with the Spaniards and had to hastily retreat after being injured in the leg by a bullet. He had to be carried around in a litter for many days.
Parma relieved Rouen in April. However, he was trapped by Henri. When all seemed lost, Parma surprisingly evacuated his troops over the Seine by night.
That same year, Henri, convinced by his followers, reconverted into Catholicism. As result, he was crowned and accepted as king in Chartres Cathedral on February 25, 1594.
Although he had earned the loyalty of some Catholics by converting, there were still some who disagreed with the monarchy. Among these was a young scholar named Jean Chastel. Early 1595 he attacked Henri with a knife.
In 1598, Henri began to take procedure into ensuring peace at home. In this, he promoted peace by proclaiming the Edict of Nantes, which was a decree giving partial religious freedom to the Protestants. The Edict of Nantes promoted peace because it gave the Huguenots equal rights to those of Catholics which discouraged rebellion. The Edict of Nantes granted the Protestants the following: the right to build churches, the right to hold services is specified villages, suburbs of and cities besides episcopal and archiepiscopal cities, royal residences and within a five-mile radius of Paris, the right for nobles to hold services in their homes, and the right to hold official positions. The Huguenots were also granted four schools to be Huguenot (Montauban, Montpellier, Sedan, and Saumur). In addition, Protestant pastors were government paid, and 100 fortified cities were given to the Huguenots for eight years. Unfortunately, the promised provisions were never fully carried out.
Henry IV was now fully accepted as king of France. He now had to work at rebuilding his ruined kingdom. Henri?s first concern was to tame the nobility. Then he paid off the national debt by redeeming mortgaged crown revenues and increasing the yield from taxation. Next, he encouraged agriculture, for he knew that it was where France prospered. By 1608, France was exporting grain. Also, waterways and canals were dug, and roads were repaired. In 1601 a Chamber of Commerce was founded, which encouraged horse breeding, linen manufacture, ship building, glass blowing, etc. Mineral resources were scientifically investigated, and Henry created the office of Grand Master of the Mines. Meanwhile, a treaty was with Turkey was managed which obtained valuable facilities in the Levant for French merchants, while there were commercial treaties with England and the German Hansa.
Henri had five children with Marie de Medici. They were:Louis, Elisabeth, Christine, Gaston, and Henriette. Although he divorced Queen Marguerite, she was still good company and his children had become so close to he that they called her Aunt.
By 1610 it seemed that “everyone wanted to kill the king”. Just so, an out of work school master, Francois Ravaillac, dreamt that he had been summoned by God to kill Henri. As Henri drove away in his carriage Ravaillac jumped up from the road and stabbed the king to death with a broken fork. He was truly demented.
In conclusion, King Henri IV was one of the greatest rulers that French monarchy ever saw. King Henri worked for the rights of the citizens. He took responsibility and stood up for himself throughout his life. As Mme de Stael wrote, “He was the most French of all French kings.”
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