Henry IV, [often called in French Henri Le Grand, Henry the Great] King of France and of Navarre, and founder of the royal house of Bourbon, was born at Pau, December 14, 1553. His father was Antoine de Bourbon, Due de Vendflme, a lineal descendant of Louis IX, and his mother was Jeanne d'Albret, only child and heiress of Henri d'Albret, King of Navarre. She was a woman of superior merit, ardently devoted to the Protestant faith, in which she educated her son.
The Protestants having gained a victory at Arnay-le-Duc, a treacherous peace was offered by the court and accepted in 1570. To inspire the Huguenots with greater confidence, a marriage was negotiated between Henry and the king's sister Margaret. While the Queen of Navarre was making preparation at Paris for the marriage of her son, she died suddenly, in 1572, and he became King of Navarre. A few days after the marriage was celebrated occurred the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew. Henry's life was spared on condition that he would adopt the Roman Catholic religion; but he was confined and strictly watched for several years. In 1576 he escaped to Rochelle, and assumed the command of his friends, then menaced by the Catholic League. He displayed great skill and bravery in several campaigns, the operations of which were, however, for the most part on a small scale. In 1587 the Huguenots gained a decisive victory at Coutras.
The King of France died in 1589, and named for his successor the subject of this article, who, since the death of the king's brother, was presumptive heir of the crown. His claim was disputed by a large army under the Due de Mayenne, and by the fanatical populace of Paris, who kindled bonfires to show their joy at the death of Henry III, and whose resistance was stimulated by Spanish gold. Baffled in his attempt to obtain possession of his capital, he marched towards Dieppe, where his army was increased by 5000 English sent by his ally Elizabeth. In 1590 he gained a decisive victory at Ivry over the Duke of Mayenne, after electrifying his army with this brief harangue : "Fellow-soldiers, you are Frenchmen; behold the enemy! If you lose sight of your ensigns, rally around my plume : you will always find it on the high road to honor!" In 1592 he defeated a Spanish army under Farnese, the celebrated Prince of Parma.
His devotion to the interest of France (we may charitably suppose) now induced him to conciliate his enemies by a profession of the Roman Catholic religion in 1593, the Protestants at the same time being assured of the continuance of his favour and protection. In 1594 he entered Paris without resistance, and granted a general pardon. After numerous battles and sieges, a treaty of peace was made at Vervins with Philip II. of Spain in 1598, and Henry was acknowledged by the whole kingdom. The same year he gave liberty of conscience to his subjects by the edict of Nantes.
Directing his attention to the finances, agriculture, and industrial arts, in which he was seconded by his minister Sully, he proved himself a wise and able statesman, and rendered himself very popular by his sympathy with the lower classes and his generosity to all. His popularity was increased by the spirited and eloquent public addresses which he made on various occasions, and by the frank simplicity of his manners. In 1600 he married an Italian princess, Marie de' Medici, having obtained a divorce from his first wife. The last half of his reign was peaceful and prosperous. He founded a hospital, a college, and a public library in Paris, and encouraged learned men, among whom were Casaubon and Grotius. His memory is more cherished by the French than that of any other of their kings, and his character is regarded by them as the beau-idlal of a Frenchman, a warrior, a monarch, and a statesman. On the 14th of May, 1610, while riding in his carriage, he was assassinated by a fanatic named Ravaillac. He left the crown to his son, Louis XIII.
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