Henry IV (of France) (1553-1610), king of
France (1589-1610), who restored stability
after the religious wars of the 16th
He was the first of the Bourbon kings of
France and also, as Henry III, king of Navarre
(1572-1610). Henry was born at Paul in Navarre.
His father, Antoine de Bourbon, duc de Vend˘me,
was descended in the ninth generation
from the 13th-century king of France, Louis IX.
His mother, Jeanne d'Albret, was queen of
Navarre and niece of King Francis I of France.
Although baptized a Roman Catholic, Henry
was brought up as a Calvinist by his strong-minded
mother, a leader of the French Protestant
(Huguenot) movement, which during the 1560s
became involved in a series of civil wars
with the Catholics. Henry's wedding in 1572
to Margaret of Valois, sister of the reigning
monarch, Charles IX, was followed by the
massacre of thousands of Huguenots. This
became known as the Saint Bartholomew's Day,
Massacre. Henry saved his own life by converting
to Roman Catholicism, but he remained a prisoner
at court until 1576. In 1595 the pope, who
wanted to avoid a schism in the church, agreed
to grant Henry absolution under certain conditions:
the church kept all its properties and assets
within France and Henry agreed to raise his
heir, Louis XIII, as a Roman Catholic.
Henry IV's genial informality, bravery,
gallantry, perseverance in adversity, and
readiness to bend religious principle to
political advantage have earned him a special
place in French history. Not only did he
restore order and prosperity to his ruined
kingdom, but he also ensured that the monarchy
would be Catholic and absolutist.