Famous Men of Modern Times - John Haaren

Henry of Navarre


In the year 1569 the Catholics of France and the Huguenots, or French Protestants, were engaged in a bitter and bloody war. Although religion played a great part in the war it was really more of a political than a religious struggle.

In the early summer of that year the Catholics won a great victory near the town of Jarnac (zhar' nack). Among those who fell in the battle was the great Protestant leader, Louis, Prince of Condé.

The remnant of the Protestant army lay in camp near the castle of Cognac (Con' yak). They were sad and dispirited. Suddenly trumpets and drums were heard in the distance; and a sentry announced that a band of soldiers was approaching. It was soon learned that they were Huguenots, and the defeated Protestants were very glad to see them.

They proved to be the escort of Jeanne d'Albert, Queen of Bearn, a little kingdom in the extreme southwest of France. The people over whom she ruled were Protestants; and as soon as she heard of the death of Condé she hastened to the Protestant camp.

The army was drawn up to receive her. Stepping forward, and holding her son by the hand, she said, "My friends, our cause has not died with the Prince of Condé. We have still left us brave captains. I offer to you as leader, Condé's nephew, my son, the Prince of Navarre."

With loud shouts of "Long live Henry, the Prince of Navarre," the soldiers at once elected him as their commander-in-chief.

Prince Henry was the son of Anthony of Bourbon and Queen Jeanne. He was born in 1553, and therefore was but sixteen years old when called to fill this high position.

He was too young to lead the troops in battle; but he was ready to learn how to do so. The brave Admiral Coligni (ko leen ye) agreed to instruct him, and to command the Protestant forces until he was able to do so.

Henry was a sturdy and well-grown lad. His life had been a simple one. His principal food had been the brown bread, the chestnuts, and such other plain fare as was eaten by the peasant boys who lived among the mountains of his mother's kingdom. He would have been glad to go out to battle at once; but the wise Coligni would not permit him.

Henry was very fond of reading. His favorite books were those containing the stories of the great conquerors of former times. He also read, many times over, the story of the good knight Bayard—the knight without fear and without reproach—who had lived not very long before.

When not yet twenty years old, Henry was married to Margaret of Valois (val' wa), sister of the king of France. It was hoped that this marriage would bring peace to the country. It failed to do so, and the war went on for thirty years.

Only a few days after the wedding bells had rung so joyously at Henry's marriage, a very sad event took place which filled Europe with horror.

At about four o'clock, one August morning, in the year 1572, the great bell on the Palace of Justice awakened the people of Paris; and the soldiers of the Catholic party began to attack the Huguenots. When news of this massacre reached other French cities similar attacks were made and a great many Protestants were slain. The number has been variously estimated, some authorities stating that about a thousand in all were killed, others that the number reached a hundred thousand.

This was called the massacre of St. Bartholomew, because it happened on St. Bartholomew's Day.

The young Prince Henry was kept a prisoner in the king's palace for nearly four years. Then he escaped and again became the leader of the Huguenots.

He was so anxious for the restoration of peace that he sent to the Duke of Guise, who commanded the Catholic army, this challenge: "I offer to end the quarrel. Either I will fight with you alone, or two on our side will fight with two on yours, or ten with ten, or whatever number you please; so as to stop the shedding of blood and the misery of the poor." But the duke would not accept the challenge, and the war went on.

Henry III, King of France, was a very weak and foolish man. So the Duke of Guise determined to dethrone him and make himself king.

As soon as King Henry learned of this, he sent an assassin to murder the duke. When he heard that Guise was dead, the king said to his mother, who was very ill: "How do you feel?" "Better," she answered. "So do I," said the king. "This morning I have become king of France again. The king of Paris is dead."

The friends of the murdered duke at once took up arms against King Henry; and the Sorbonne—the great religious authority in Paris—declared that the people were no longer bound to obey him.

Then Henry III turned for help to his cousin, Henry of Navarre. They agreed to fight side by side against those who had revolted; and many of the Catholics joined with the Huguenots in order to bring about peace.

The rebels attacked King Henry near the city of Tours; but the Prince of Navarre marched to his aid, and the rebel leader left the field in great haste.

As the rebels had failed to conquer the French king in battle, they determined to have him murdered. They found a man to carry out their plot. One morning, he gained admission to the king's presence by saying that he desired to see him on important business. As soon as they were left alone, the murderer handed Henry a letter; and while the king was reading it, he drew a knife from his sleeve and plunged it into his body.

A messenger was sent in haste to tell Henry of Navarre. As he entered the king's room the tears gushed from his eyes, and he kissed the dying man with great tenderness.

Many of the nobility of France had, by this time, come in to see their dying ruler; King Henry begged them to acknowledge Henry of Navarre as his lawful successor; and all present agreed to do so. So the Prince of Navarre became king of France, with the title of Henry IV.

The rebels were not satisfied with this arrangement, since the law of the kingdom declared that no man could be king unless he were a Catholic. They demanded that Cardinal de Bourbon, Henry's uncle, should be made king with the title of Charles I.

Preparations were made for a great battle near the town of Arques (ark). During the night the forces of the new king had dug trenches and thrown up earthworks so as to give them a greater advantage over the enemy.

Next morning a rebel sentry, who had been captured during the night, was brought before him. As they talked together the man said, "We are about to attack you with thirty thousand foot and ten thousand horse. Where are your forces?"

"Oh," said the king, " you do not see them all. You do not count the good God and the good right; but they are ever with me."

A bloody battle followed, in which the king gained a wonderful victory. Soon after this he was joined by a body of English and Scotch soldiers sent him by Queen Elizabeth of England; and his army was thus increased to over ten thousand men.

One day a carrier pigeon flew into the camp. It brought a strip of paper inclosed in a quill. On the paper were written the words, "Come, Come, Come."

The king at once understood that he was needed at Paris; for that city was now in the hands of the rebels. He therefore hastened to its relief.

The king was not yet prepared to capture Paris. But he attacked many other cities; and about twenty of them opened their gates and received him as their sovereign.

Henry IV of France


Then followed the famous battle of Ivry, in which the cannon, the colors, and nearly all the supplies of the rebels fell into the king's hands. On the rebel side the loss in killed, wounded and captured was over eleven thousand, while the king lost but five hundred men.

Very soon after the battle of Ivry, Cardinal de Bourbon died; and at about the same time the king laid siege to Paris which was still in the hands of the enemy.

Before closing up all the avenues of approach to Paris he wrote a letter to the governor of the city, in which he said: "I am anxious for peace. I love my city of Paris. She is my eldest daughter, and I wish to do her more favors than she asks." But it was all in vain, and the siege went on.

King Henry's army prevented the carrying of food into the city, and the people soon began to suffer. Bread gave out and the people were glad to eat rats, cats, dogs, horses, or anything else they could find to prevent starvation.

King Henry allowed the women and children to leave the city. He even permitted supplies to pass through his lines to relieve the besieged, saying, as he did so, "I do not wish to be king of the dead."

But just as Paris was on the point of surrendering, the Duke of Parma, one of the ablest generals in the service of Philip II of Spain, arrived before Paris with a large Spanish army and compelled Henry to raise the siege.

The king now felt that the only way in which he could give peace to his people was by uniting himself with the Catholic Church; and this he determined to do.

At eight o'clock on the morning of July 23, 1593, robed in white satin, he marched with a bodyguard of soldiers to the church of St. Denis, near Paris. At the door of the church he was met by a cardinal, an archbishop, nine bishops and large numbers of clergy and monks.

"Who are you?" asked the archbishop.

"The king," replied Henry.

"What do you wish?" was the archbishop's next inquiry.

To this the king replied, "To be received into the Catholic Church." Then the king knelt and declared, his belief, after which the archbishop forgave and then formally received him.

After this ceremony Henry was anointed at Chartres (shart'r), and thus declared sovereign of the whole kingdom.

Henry's great desire now was to make his people prosperous. He once said "I wish every peasant in France to have a fowl in the pot every Sunday."

Henry IV of France


To avoid, as far as possible, all further wars about religion, he signed and published the famous Edict of Nantes, in 1595.

This royal decree gave the Protestants equal rights with the Catholics. The government agreed to pay the salaries of their clergy as well as those of the Catholics. The Protestant children were allowed to enter the universities and colleges; their sick were received into the hospitals; and the two great religious parties of the nation were placed upon a common footing.

The last years of King Henry IV were years of peace and prosperity. The farmers and trades-people were happy. The heavy debt which had lain for so many years upon France was entirely removed; and the taxes were reduced to a rate lower than ever before.

In the midst of this growing sense of security and comfort all France was suddenly shocked and distressed beyond measure. A madman, by the name of Ravaillac (ra vi rack'), stabbed the king to the heart; and the career of the noble and generous Henry of Navarre was at an end.