Henry IV - ...The King Who Invented The...Flirt!
Henri IV, Henri IV... so many places to see so little time.
The story of the life of King Henry IV begins in the winter of 1533 in the Pau Castle - where he was born and finishes in the summer of 1610 in Paris when he was killed by the religious fanatic Ravaillac in Paris.
Henry IV is considered even now in the republican France "Le Bon Roi Henri"; - the good king!
His legend is marked by his bravery on the battle fields - "Le Panache Blanc" - his appetite for love -"Le Vert Gallant" and his care for the ordinary people -"La Poule au Pot".
Le Vert Galant
Henry IV is the first king from the Bourbon branch on the throne of France. His father was Antoine de Bourbon-Vendome of the Capetian dynasty - the fashionable prince who introduced the wearing of earrings and bracelets for men to the French. Henri owes his ascension to the throne to a number of circumstances that include the death of the last three kings from the Valois branch - the brothers - Francois II (the first husband of the famous Mary Queen of Scots), Charles IX and Henry III without male legitimate descendents, the Salic Law of France, his position in the Capetian genealogic tree as the grandson of Marguerite d'Angouleme the sister of Francois I de Valois and last but not least his friendship with king Henry III - his brother-in-law - who names him his successor..
According to the legend the future of Henri of Navarre as a King of France was predicted by Nostradamous in 1564 who after… medically examining!!! - Nostradamous was also a medical doctor - the direct heirs to the crown, the children of France, and their cousin, they young Henri, exclaimed "Your master will be the king of France of of Navarre!" (The legend continues to say that all his life Henri IV remembered this prophecy!)
At his birth, with all the above circumstances still laying in the future, Henry was the grandson and the direct descendant of the King Henri II d'Albret of Navarre and famous scholar Queen Marguerite. The little kingdom of Navarre, squeezed between the mighty French to the North and Spanish to the South kingdoms, lost in the beginning of the 16th century its southern part to its powerful neighbor and was left with only the Bearn region, on the northern slopes of the Pyrenean mountains.. The d’Albrets, descendents of the Foix-Bearn House, were Navarre's reigning family since the end of the 15th century.
The future king Henri was born at around 1 am in the night of December 13, 1553 on the second floor of the Pau Castle and it is said that when seeing him his grandfather exclaimed "The sheep gave birth to a lion"; a reference to the birth of Jeanne d'Albret, the new mother and his own daughter, when - in a time when the birth of a daughter to a reigning prince was considered a disappointment- there were Spanish voices that mocked the event by cried out that "A cow gave birth to a sheep" (the cow being the badge of Bearn).
At his birth his grandfather performed on him the ancestral "Bearn baptism" - a tradition still performed today in Bearn - which consists of rubbing a clove of garlic on the newborn's lips and giving him/her to drink a drop of the local wine: the Jurancon!
The giant turtle carapace that was used as the little Henry cradle can be still seen today sitting majestically on a pedestal and surrounded by the flags of the monarchy - a monument set up during the reign of king Louis XVIII- in the Pau Château (see gallery).
The future king was born as a catholic but was raised a protestant as his mother Jeanne d'Albret converted to Calvinism - officially on Christmas day 1560 - and became a leader of the French protestant movement.
The story of the life of King Henry is partly the story of a France torn apart by the wars of religions. During his life time his will change his religion not less then …6 times.
After a childhood spent in the Castle of Coarraze in Bearn - now a not very glamorous private property that can be visited with the accord of its current owners - in the care of his aunt Suzanne de Miossens, Henry is taken to the France Court in Paris where Catherine de Medicis, the Queen Dowager, is decided to marry him in due time with her daughter, the catholic Marguerite de Valois - the famous Queen Margot - in hope of bringing an alliance between Catholics and Protestants. According to some legends Henri is betrothed to Marguerite at his first visit to Paris in April 1558 when together with his parents he attends the wedding of Francis de Valois, Marguerite's brother, and Mary Queen of Scots.
The marriage takes indeed place on the 18th of August 1572 in Paris but instead of bringing a reconciliation between the religious parties, with all the protestant leaders in the Capital for the celebration, is rocked by the protestant massacre that the history is calling the "Night of Saint Barthélemy" Even the groom is taken prisoner forced to renounce Protestantism.. Henri remains a prisoner in Louvre until the 4th of February 1576 when he manages to escape to Nérac a town situated in his native Navarre. Here he and his queen, who joins him in 1578, set up a magnificent court. Unfortunately from the whole Nerac castle remains nowadays only the north wing.
Henri remains based in Nerac until 1585. His life during this period is the inspiration of Shakespeare's "Love's Labour Lost" play and is the beginning of the legend of King Henri as "Le Vert Galant" - The Vigorous Suitor - and the legend of Fleurette - the young daughter of the gardener of the Nerac palace whom the king seduces and abandons. The legend continues by saying that the poor Fleurette killed herself. Her name however survived in the French expression "conter Fleurette"; that in English became flirt. On the beautiful walkway on right bank of the river Baïse, in the park called "La Garenne" one can still admire the statue of Fleurette, the work of sculptor Daniel Campagne, placed in 1896 inside one of the grottoes of the park.
Paris vaut bien une messe
During this time Henri is also the head of the protestant movement if France and as such is involved in the religious wars.
On the 2nd of August 1589 the French king Henri III de Valois is mortally injured and before dyeing names as his successor Henri de Navarre under the name Henri IV of France. To protect the spirit of independence of the people from his native Béarn he also keeps the title "King of Navarre" . This is the time when Henri, renouncing Protestantism, says the now famous phrase: "Paris deserves a mass".
Le Panache Blanc
It will take Henri IV 9 years to pacify his kingdom. It is at the onset of one of the many battles during this time that the memorable "Panache blanc"- " White Feather" phrase is pronounced. Before the battle of Ivry on the 14th of March 1590, that brings face to face the royal armies led by Henri IV and the armies of the ultra-catholic league, and that finishes with the royal victory, the king pronounces the famous speech: "Soldiers, you are French and I am your king. There is the enemy. Children keep your ranks. If you do not see anymore the banners watch the feather of my hat. It will always lead you on the path of honor and victory!"
The wars of religions are brought to an end by the edict of Nantes, signed on the 30th of April 1598 and that establishes the conditions of a peaceful coexistence between the Catholics and the Protestants.
With the peace now achieved in France there are 2 important things that need to be done: the country reconstruction and prosperity and the establishment of a Bourbon dynasty. The good King Henri fixes as his goal the famous “La Poule au Pot”, he promises each worker in the kingdom the possibility of having a chicken soup each Sunday! Founding a Bourbon dynasty means finding a new wife since his marriage with the Queen did not produce any offspring. Henri tries to nullify his first marriage and sends Margot to Cazeneuve castle. His desire to marry his long-time mistress and mother of his illegitimate children Gabrielle d’Estreés cannot be fulfilled since Gabrielle dies suddenly in childbirth. Henri marries Marie de Médicis "the big banker" on the 17th of December 1600 and on the 27th of September 1his first son and the Dauphin of France the future Louis XIII is born.
King Henri IV of France dies on the 14th of May 1610 one day (13 of May 1610) after his wife Marie de Médicis is anointed Queen. He is on the road in Paris to meet his prime-minister Sully when his carriage is stopped on the Ferronerie Street, a street narrow and full of roadblocks. The assassin, François Ravaillac, a religious fanatic stabs the king 3 times. Henri dies hours after being taken back to Le Louvre. It was the 18th tentative against his life!
The king is buried on the 1st of July 1610 in the Cathedral of Saint-Denis the traditional resting place of the French monarchs. And while his legend continues to inspire us and the dynasty that he founded crossed centuries - it ended with King Charles X - even his body did not find the rest it deserved. During the French Revolution the Convention - the leading body of the period - decided in 1793 that all the graves of kings need to be destroyed. The body of King Henri IV was found to be wonderfully preserved but this did not save it from being thrown in the common grave. When in 1817 king Louis XVIII during Restoration orders this tomb to be opened the corpse of King Henri is found without its head. The head surfaces in 2008 when a collector - who was keeping it in a cupboard! - gives it to Dr. Philippe Charlier, a French leading pathologist, who identifies the remains as being the skull - still wonderfully preserved! - of the great King Henri IV.
There are many other stories, legends and anecdotes related with the good King! One famous one is the joke regarding the favorite wine of Henri and it goes: "What color was the WHITE HORSE ("Cheval Blanc") of Henri IV?" And the answer is ...RED since the favorite wine of the king was - Cheval Blanc, the famous Saint Emilion region wine!
Another legend traces back the origin of the expression "cordon bleu" describing high class cooking to the fact that King Henri IV was always wearing "The Order of Saint Esprit" a decoration accorded to him by his predecessor King Henri III and consisting of a cross hanging from two blue ribbons! And lets finish with 2 pieces of trivia:
Number of mistresses attributed to Henri? 73! Including what we would call now "one night stands"!
Number of kilometers covered on horse by Henri in his lifetime: more then 300,000!