Front Matter France Long Ago The Gauls In France The Priests of the Gauls Sailor Stories Conquests of the Gauls Two Great Battles Caesar in Gaul Gaul under the Romans First Christian Martyrs Patron Saint of France Franks Come to Gaul The First Kings Conquests of Clovis Clotaire and His Relatives Two Rival Queens Good King Dagobert The Saracens Checked End of the Merovingians Charlemagne's Wars Charlemagne's Manners Charlemagne, Emperor Feudalism Troublesome Sons The Strassburg Oath Normans Besiege Paris Last of the Carolingians The Year One Thousand Robert's Two Wives Wealth of the Clergy The First Crusade A Love Story The Second Crusade More Crusades The Battle of Bouvines Blanche of Castile The Sixth Crusade The Reign of Louis IX Effect of the Crusades The Battle of the Spurs End of Knights Templar The Hundred Years' War The Siege of Calais The Battle of Poitiers Seven Years of Misery The Brave du Guesclin Achievements of Charles V Charles VI Misrule in France The Disgraceful Treaty Joan to the Rescue Orleans and Rheims Joan's Martyrdom Charles's Successes The Crafty King Louis XI Louis XI's Reign Achievements of Louis XI Charles VIII The Second Italian War Death of Louis XII Francis I Rivalry of Kings Achievements of Francis I End of Francis's Reign Reign of Henry II A Young King and Queen Catherine's Regency The Forced Wedding Massacre of the Huguenots Death of Charles IX An Effeminate King he Battle of Coutras The Murder of the Guises Winning a Crown Conversion of Henry IV Henry IV's Second Marriage Death of Henry IV The Minority of Louis XIII Rule of the Favorites Richelieu and Louis XIII End of Louis XIII's Reign Beginning of a Great Reign Wars of the Fronde Death of Mazarin Versailles The Iron Mask Louis XIV's Campaigns Madame de Maintenon Later Wars of Louis XIV The Spanish Succession The Age of Louis XIV

Story of Old France - Helene Guerber

Conversion of Henry IV.

Having failed to take Paris, Henry ranged around, here and there, and finally laid siege to Rouen (1591-1592), being assisted in this work by his English and German Protestant allies. But once again the Spanish came to the rescue just in time.

Although Henry had won two brilliant victories, and had proved his courage and patriotism, most of the French Catholics still opposed him. Neither side could conquer the other, even with the help of foreigners. Perceiving at last the truth of Henry III's prediction that only a Catholic could win the crown of France, Henry IV consented at last to change his religion.

We are told that his conversion occurred after the following odd conversation: "Do you," said the king to a great Protestant divine, "believe a man can be saved by the Catholic religion?"

"Undoubtedly," replied the clergyman, "if his life and heart be holy."

"Then," said the king, "prudence dictates that I embrace the Catholic religion, and not yours, for in that case, according to both Catholics and Protestants, I may be saved; but if I embrace your religion, I shall not be saved according to the Catholics."

After receiving some purely nominal instruction, Henry made all his arrangements to abjure the Protestant religion and become a Roman Catholic. He is said to have written playfully to one of his friends: "Paris is well worth a mass! On Sunday I shall take the perilous leap!" When all was ready, the king knocked at the door of the Abbey of St. Denis, which the bishop opened, inquiring, "Who are you?"

"The king," answered Henry.

"What do you seek?"

"To be received into the fold of the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church." Then, kneeling, Henry impressively went on: "I protest and swear, in the presence of God Almighty, to live and die in the Catholic faith, and to protect and defend it against all, at the peril of my life and blood!" After this public declaration of faith, the bishop granted him absolution, and led him into the church, where mass was celebrated, and a Te Deum was sung in honor of a royal concession to the wishes of about nine tenths of the people.

While Henry's change of religion was urged by his wisest counselors, some of his friends, Protestants by conviction, flatly refused to follow his example. His greatest adviser. Sully, for instance, wrote him: "Should I ever change my religion, it would be from an internal conviction only; neither avarice, vanity, nor ambition would ever lead me to do so. Were I to do otherwise, I should give your Majesty good reason for suspecting the sincerity of a heart I could not guard faithfully for God."

Henry's next move was to be solemnly crowned in the cathedral at Chartres. Most of the Catholics were now willing to obey him, but it was eight months after his conversion before the gates of Paris opened to him at last, and he could enter his capital without striking a blow. Many of the Parisians were so happy to see their king that they crowded about him, shouting; and when his guards would fain have driven them away, Henry good-naturedly exclaimed: "No, let them alone; let them all press around me. They hunger to see a king once more!"

Meantime, the Spanish troops, as you know, had entered Paris under pretense of helping Mayenne and the Leaguers, but in reality so as to obtain the crown for their own little princess, a granddaughter of Catherine de' Medici. They were now obliged to leave, and as Henry watched them file out, he called out to them gaily: "Good-by, gentlemen. My compliments to your master, but don't ever come here again!"

Henry IV


Within the next two years, Henry became master of all France, for he was shrewd enough to buy many of the places which he did not conquer. When Sully, his friend and prime minister, was instructed to bribe the governor of Rouen, and grumbled at the price, the bluff king replied: "My friend, you are a fool. Give the man his price. We will afterwards pay everything with the very booty which they surrender to us!"

The Holy League, which had been all-powerful for many years, had lost much of its influence in France when the Spaniards joined it to gain the crown for their princess. Such power as it still boasted was undermined forever by a satire (Satire Menippee) which made such unmerciful fun of the Leaguers that their association was almost killed by sheer ridicule.

Finding nearly all Catholics ready to obey their recently converted king, Mayenne finally made his submission, too, and was received by Henry IV in a garden, where the king made this stout nobleman tramp around at such a lively pace that the poor man almost expired from fatigue. Henry, who was still spare and active, laughed heartily when he saw the pitiful plight of his former foe, and jocosely remarked in an aside to Sully, "One more turn, and I shall have punished this fat fellow for all the trouble he has given us!" Then, pausing and turning to Mayenne, the merry king added aloud, "Confess, cousin, that I have been going a little too fast for you!"

"Faith, Sire, it is true. If your Majesty had gone on, I think you would have killed me!" gasped Mayenne.

"Shake hands, cousin," Henry now went on, "for, by God's truth, this is all the ill you need ever fear from me!"

It was this generous spirit, this readiness to forget all past injuries, which soon turned most of his former foes into truly loyal subjects.

Having gained possession of his kingdom, Henry called an assembly of notables, whom he addressed in the following remarkable way: "I have not called you together to impose my own will, as my predecessors were wont to do, but to receive your counsels and to follow them, a notion which does not often come into the head of a king, and a gray-bearded conqueror like me. But the vehement love I bear to my subjects makes everything easy to me." It was this love also which made him anxious to ascertain the purchasing power of even the smallest coin, to learn the scale of wages for all kinds of work, and the mode of living of his peasant subjects, for he fully realized that it was only after such data had been obtained that he would be able to tax the nation justly.

To maintain his place as King of France, Henry was obliged to wage a three years' war against Spain (1595-1598), which still asserted claims to the crown. Early in the course of this war, Henry won a marked victory (Forntaine Franaise), where, we are told, he bravely exposed his own life to save that of his friend Biron. Later, when a strong Spanish army seized the city of Amiens, he set out to besiege it, joyfully exclaiming: "My friends, I have long enough played the King of France. Now it is high time for me to play the King of Navarre!" He said this because it was while still styled King of Navarre that he had won his greatest laurels as general. He now added to them by quickly retaking Amiens, and forcing an end to the war on terms favorable to himself and France.

In the same year, 1598, the king promulgated the Edict of Nantes, which gave Protestants the right to practice their religion wherever they pleased, allowed them the same civil privileges as the Catholics, and thus put an end to the civil and religious warfare which had desolated France for thirty-six years. This Edict of Nantes gave France the peace she so sorely needed.