Henry IVHenri Quatre
Henry IV. (Henri Quatre), cousin of Henry III., was the third son of Antoine de Bourbon and Jeanne d'Albret, daughter of the King of Navarre and Beam, in which latter he was born in 1553. He is thus known in history as "Le Bearnais" and Henry of Navarre before he becomes Henri Quatre. He was educated as a strict Calvinist by his mother, and was brought to La Rochelle in his seventeenth year from the feai that he would be carried off to the Spanish court. The same year he was present at Jarnac. By the treaty of St. Germains, which closed the third Huguenot war, Henry of Navarre was to be betrothed to Marguerite de Valois, the sister of Henry III., and the marriage took place a week before St. Bartholomew's Day, 1572. To save himself from death in the massacre Henry had to profess himself a Catholic, and till 1576 he was practically a prisoner at the French court. Having escaped to Alencon, he again took command of the Huguenot army, and by his conduct aided greatly the cause of his co-religionists. In the last years of "Henry III. the cousins were allied against the Guises and Spain, and on the death of the king Henry of Navarre claimed the crown as nearest male descendant of the house of Valois. He was opposed by Philip II. of Spain on behalf of his daughter, while the League put forward Cardinal Bourbon, and thus divided the Catholic interest.
In 1590 Henry defeated Mayenne, Bourbon's general, at Ivry, and after three years of fighting he came to the conclusion that Paris was well worth a mass ("Paris vaut bien une messe"), and therefore formally recanted his Protestantism before the States-General, who at the same time declared the Spanish pretensions invalid. Paris admitted him within its gates next year, and from this time Henry was virtually king, although the war went on till the Peace of Vervins in 1598. In that year was issued the Edict of Nantes, giving freedom of worship to the Huguenots. During the reign of Henry IV. the work of organising the kingdom begun by
Louis XI. was again taken up. Great financial reforms were carried out by the Duc de Sully (q.v.), to whom Henry in great measure owed his position, and by the making of roads and canals the different provinces were brought more closely together, and France began to become one united well-administered kingdom. Henry had just married a second time, and was contemplating a fresh war with Spain, when, on May 14, 1610, he was assassinated by Ravaillac, who had been instigated by the Jesuits. Henry IV. was, with the possible exception of Louis IX., the greatest of the French kings. The necessities of his position made him, like Frederick the Great, a Protestant hero, but he was in no sense attached to religious principles, and, in spite of many fine qualities, was, in his private life, as licentious as most Frenchmen of the time.