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King Henry IV

Henry IV (of France) (1553-1610), king of France (1589-1610), who restored stability after the religious wars of the 16th century. 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.

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