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History of Henry the Fourth, king of France and Navarre online

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itself, one of the favorites of the king, in a par-
oxysm of anger, stabbed his wife and her wait-
ing-maid while the unfortunate lady was dress-
ing. No notice whatever was taken of this
bloody deed. The murderer retained all his

Death of Chaeles IX. 195

Murder in the royal palace.

offices and honors, and it was the general senti-
ment of the people of France that the assassi-
nation was committed by the order of the sov-
ereign, because the lady refused to be entirely
subservient to the wishes of the dissolute king.

196 KiNa Heney IV.

Formation of the league.

Chaptek YIIL
The League.

ABOUT this time there was formed the
celebrated league which occupies so con-
spicuous a position in the history of the six-
teenth century. Henry III., though conscious
that his throne was trembling beneath him, and
courting now the Catholics and again the Prot-
estants, was still amusing himself, day after day,
with the most contemptible and trivial vices.
The extinction of the house of Valois was evi-
dently and speedily approaching. Henry of
Navarre, calm, sagacious, and energetic, was ral-
lying around him all the Protestant influences
of Europe, to sustain, in that event, his undeni-
able claim to the throne. The Duke of Guise,
impetuous and fearless, hoped, in successful
usurpation, to grasp the rich prize by rallying
around his banner all the fanatic energies of
Catholic Europe.

Henry III. was alike despised by Catholics
and Protestants. His brother Francis, though
far more impulsive, had but few traits of char-

The League. 197

Politics in the pulpit. The League.

acter to command respect. He could summon
but a feeble band for his support. Hemy of
Guise was the available candidate for the Cath-
olics. All the priestly influences of France were
earnestly combined to advance his claims. They
declared that Henry of Navarre had forfeited
every shadow of right to the succession by be-
ing a heretic. The genealogy of the illustrious
house of Guise was blazoned forth, and its de-
scent traced from Charlemagne. It was assert-
ed, and argued in the pulpit and in the camp,
that even the house of Valois had usurped the
crown which by right belonged to the house of

Under these circumstances, the most formida-
ble secret society was organized the world has
ever known. It assumed the name of The
League. Its object was to exterminate Prot-
estantism, and to place the Duke of Guise upon
the throne. The following are, in brief, its cov-
enant and oath :


In the name of the Holy Trinity, Father,
Son, and Holy Ghost, this League of Catholic
princes, lords, and gentlemen shaU be instituted
to maintain the holy Catholic, apostolical, and

198 Kino Heney IV.

Object of the League. The oath.

Roman Church, abjuring all errors to the con-
trary. Should opposition to this league arise
in any quarter, the associates shall employ all
their goods and means, and even their own per-
sons unto death, to punish and hunt down those
opposing. Should any of the Leaguers, their
associates or friends, be molested, the members
of the League shall be bound to employ their
bodies, goods, and means to inflict vengeance
upon those thus offending. Should any Leaguer,
after having taken the oath, withdraw from the
association under any pretext whatever, the re-
fractory member shall be injured, in body and
goods, in every manner which can be devised,
as enemies of God, rebels, and disturbers of the
public peace. The Leaguers shall swear im-
plicit obedience to their chief, and shall aid by
counsel and service in preserving the League,
and in the ruin of all w^ho oppose it. All Cath-
olic towns and villages shall be summoned se-
cretly, by their several governors, to enter into
this League, and to furnish arms and men for its

I swear by God the Creator, touching the
Evangelists, and upon the pain of eternal dam-

The LEAauE. 199

Influence of the League. Its extension.

nation, that I have entered into this holy Cath-
olic League loyally and sincerely, either to com-
mand, to obey, or to serve. I promise, upon
my life and honor, to remain in this League to
the last drop of my blood, without opposing or
retiring upon any pretext whatever.

Such was the character of secret societies in
the sixteenth century. A more atrocious con-
federacy than this the human mind could hard-
ly have conceived. It was, however, peculiarly
calculated to captivate the multitude in those
days of darkness and blood. Though at first
formed and extended secretly, it spread like
wildfire through all the cities and provinces of
France. Princes, lords, gentlemen, artisans,
and peasants rushed into its impious inclosures.
The benighted populace, enthralled by the su-
perstitions of the Church, were eager to mani-
fest their zeal for God by wreaking the most
awful vengeance upon heretics. He who, for
any cause, declined entering the League, found
himself exposed to every possible annoyance.
His house and his barns blazed in midnight
conflagrations ; his cattle were mutilated and
slain ; his wife and children were insulted and
stoned in the streets. By day and by night,

200 King Heney IV.

Vast power of the League. Alarm of the Protestants.

asleep and awake, at home and abroad, at all
times and every where, he was annoyed by ev-
ery conceivable form of injury and violence.

Soon the League became so powerful that no
farther secrecy was needful. It stalked abroad
in open day, insulting its foes and vaunting its
invincibility. The gigantic plan it unblushing-
ly avowed was to exterminate Protestantism by
fire and the sword from France ; then to drown
it in blood in Holland ; then to turn to England
and purify that kingdom from the taint of her-
esy ; then to march upon Germany ; and thus
to advance from kingdom to kingdom, in their
holy crusade, until Protestantism should be ev-
ery where ingulfed in blood and flame, and the
whole of Europe should be again brought back
to the despotism of Rome.

The Duke of Guise was the soul of this mam-
moth conspiracy, though Philip II., the bigoted
King of Spain, was its recorded commander-in-
chief. The Protestants were justly alarmed by
the enormous energy of the new power thus sud-
denly evoked against them. The Pope, though
at first hostile, soon, with his cardinals, espoused
the cause of the League, and consecrated to its
support all the weapons which could be wielded
by the Vatican. From France, the demoniac

The League. 201

Adroit measures of Henry III.

organization spread through all the kingdoms of
Europe. Hundreds of thousands were arrayed
beneath its crimson banner. Even Henry III.
in the Louvre, surrounded by his parasites and
his concubines, trembled as he saw the shadow
of this fearful apparition darkening his court.

He immediately perceived that he must mount
the car or be crushed by it. Adroitly he leap-
ed into the seat of the charioteer and seized the
reins. The demands of the League he adopted
as his own, and urged them with energy. He
issued a proclamation commending the League
to his subjects, and announcing that he, to set
them an example, had signed its covenant and
its oath. The Duke of Guise and his followers
were quite bewildered by this unexpected step.

The League had demanded the assembling
of the States-General, a body somewhat resem-
bling the Congress of tlie United States. The
king immediately summoned them to meet.
They declared war against the Protestants. The
king adopted the declaration as his own decree,
and called loudly for supplies to prosecute the
v/ar with vigor. He outleagued the most vio-
lent of the Leaguers in denunciations of the Prot-
estants, in declaring that but one religion should
be tolerated in France, and in clamoring for

202 King Heney IY.

Embarrassment of the Leaguers. Excommunication of Henry IV.

arms and munitions of war, that heresy might
be utterly extirpated. The Leaguers thus found,
to their great perplexity, the weapon which they
had forged wrested from their hands and wield-
ed against them. They had organized to drive
the imbecile Henry III. from the throne. He
had seized upon that organization, and was us-
ing it to establish himself more firmly there. '

The situation of Henry of Navarre was now
extremely critical. Pope Sextus V., besides
giving the League his Papal blessing, had ful-
minated against the King of Navarre the awful
thunders of excommunication.

The bull of excommunication was exceeding-
ly coarse and vulgar in its denunciatory terms,
calling the King of Navarre " this bastard and
detestahle progeny of Boxirhonsy

Henry replied to this assault in accents in-
trepid and resolute, which caused Catholic Eu-
rope to stand aghast.

"Henry," said this bold document, "by the
grace of God King of Navarre, sovereign prince
of Beam, first pe^er and prince of France, resists
tlie declaration and excommunication of Sextus
v., self-styled Pope of Eome, asserts it to be
false, and maintains that Mr. Sextus, the self-
styled Pope, has falsely and maliciously lied ;

1585.] The League. 203

Bold retort. Edict of Nemours.

that he himself is heretic^ which he will prove
in any full and free council lawfully assembled ;
to which if he do not consent and submit, as he
is bound by the canons, he, the King of Na-
varre, holds and pronounces him to be anti-
Christ and heretic, and in that quality declares
against him perpetual and irreconcilable war."

This energetic protest was placarded in most
of the towns of France, and by some fearless fol-
lowers of the prince was even attached to the
walls of the Vatican. The Pope, though at first
much irritated, had the magnanimity to express
his admiration of the spirit manifested by Henry.

*' There are but two princes in Europe," said
he, " to whom I could venture to communicate
the grand schemes revolving in my mind, Hen-
ry of Navarre and Elizabeth of England ; but,
unfortunately, they are both heretics."

Henry III., having no moral principles to
guide him in any thing, and having no generous
affections of any kind, in carrying out his plan
of wielding the energies of the League without
any scruples of conscience, issued the infamous
Edict of Nemours in 1585, which commanded
every Protestant minister to leave the kingdom
within one month, and every member of the Re-
formed faith either to abjure his religion and ac-

204 KiNa Henry IV.

Anguish of Henry of Navarre. Death of Francis.

cept the Catholic faith, or to depart from France
within six months. The penalty for disobedi-
ence in either of these cases was death and the
confiscation of property. This edict was exe-
cuted with great rigor, and many were burned
at the stake.

Henry of Navarre was amazed, and, for a
time, overwhelmed in receiving the news of this
atrocious decree. He clearly foresaw that it
must arouse France and all Europe to war, and
that a new Iliad of woes was to commence.
Leaning his chin upon his hand, he was for a
long time lost in profound reverie as he pon-
dered the awful theme. It is said that his an-
guish was so intense, that when he removed his
hand his beard and mustache on that side were
turned entirely gray.

But Henry rose with the emergence, and met
the crisis with a degree of energy and magna-
nimity which elicited, in those barbarous times,
the admiration even of his enemies. The Prot-
estants heroically grasped their arms and ral-
lied together for mutual protection. War, with
all its horrors, was immediately resumed.

Affairs were in this condition when Francis,
the Duke of Anjou, was taken sick and sudden-
ly died. This removed another obstruction from

The League. 205

Redoubled energies.

the field, and tended to hasten the crisis. Hen-
ry III. was feeble, exhausted, and childless.
Worn out by shameless dissipation, it was ev-
ident to all that he must soon sink into his,
grave. Who was to be his successor ? This
was the question, above all others, which agi-
tated France and Europe. Henry of Navarre
was, beyond all question, legitimately entitled
to the throne ; but he was, in the estimation of
France, a heretic. The League consequently,
in view of the impending peril of having a Prot-
estant king, redoubled its energies to exclude
him, and to enthrone their bigoted partisan,
Henry of Guise. It was a terrific struggle.
The Protestants saw suspended upon its issue
their property, their religious liberty, their lives,
their earthly all. The Catholics were stimu-
lated by all the energies of fanaticism in de-
fense of the Church. All Catholic Europe es-
poused the one side, all Protestant Europe the
other. One single word was enough to arrest
all these woes. That word was Toleration.
When Henry III. published his famous Edict
of ISTemours, commanding the conversion, the
expulsion, or the death of the Protestants, Hen-
ry of Navarre issued another edict replying to
the calumnies of the League, and explaining his

206 King Henry IV.

1 he challenge. Efforts to raise an army.

actions and his motives. Then adopting a step
characteristic of the chivalry of the times, he
dispatched a challenge to the Duke of Guise,
defying him to single combat, or, if he objected
to that, to a combat of two with two, ten with
ten, or a liundred with a hundred.

"In this challenge," said Henry, "I call
Heaven to witness that I am not influenced by
any spirit of bravado, but only by the desire of
deciding a quarrel which will otherwise cost the
lives of thousands."

To this appeal the duke made no reply. It
was by no means for his interest to meet on
equal terms those whom he could easily out-
number two or three to one.

Though the situation of Henry of Navarre
seemed now almost desperate, he maintained
his courage and his hope unshaken. His es-
tates were unhesitatingly sold to raise funds.
His friends parted with their jewels for gold to
obtain the means to carry on the war. But,
with his . utmost efforts, he could raise an army
of but four or five thousand men to resist two
armies of twenty thousand each, headed by the
Duke of Guise and by his brother, the Duke of
Mayenne. Fortunately for Henry, there was
but little military capacity in the League, and,

The League. 207

The Leaguers baffled. The hostile meeting.

notwithstanding tlieir vast superiority in num-
bers, tliej were continually circumvented in all
their plans by the energy and the valor of the

The King of France was secretly rejoiced at
the discomfiture of the Leaguers, yet, expressing
dissatisfaction with the Duke of Guise, he in-
trusted the command of the armies to one of his
petted favorites, Joyeuse, a rash and fearless
youth, who was as prompt to revel in the car-
nage of the battle-field as in the voluptuousness
of the palace. The king knew not v/hether to
choose victory or defeat for his favorite. Vic-
tory would increase the influence and the renown
of one strongly attached to him, and would thus
enable him more successfully to resist the en-
croachments of the Duke of Guise. Defeat
would weaken the overbearing power of the
Leaguers, and enable Henry III. more securely
to retain his position by the balance of the two
rival parties. Joyeuse, ardent and inexperi-
enced, and despising the feeble band he was to
encounter, was eager to display his prowess. He
pressed eagerly to assail the King of Navarre.
The two armies met upon a battle-field a few
leagues from Bordeaux. The army of Joyeuse
was chiefly of gay and effeminate courtiers and

208 King Henry IY. [1589.

Appearance of the hvo armies. The charge.

young nobles, wlio had too much pride to lack
courage, Ibut who possessed but little physical
vigor, and who were quite unused to the hard-
ships and to the vicissitudes of war.

On the morning of the 20th of October, 1589,
as the sun rose over the hills of Perigord, the
two armies were facing each other upon the plains
of Coutras. The Leaguers were decked with un-
usual splendor, and presented a glittering array,
with gorgeous banners and waving plumes, and
uniforms of satin and velvet embroidered by the
hands of the ladies of the court. They num-
bered twelve thousand men. Henry of Navarre,
with admirable military skill, had posted his six
thousand hardy peasants, dressed in tattered
skins, to meet the onset.

And now occurred one of the most extraor-
dinary scenes which history has recorded. It
was a source of constant grief to the devout
Protestant leaders that Henry of ISTavarre, not-
withstanding his many noble traits of character,
was not a man of pure morality. Just before
the battle, Du Plessis, a Christian and a hero,
approached the King of Navarre and said,

" Sire, it is known to all that you have sin-
ned against God, and injured a respectable citi-
zen of Rochelle by the seduction of his daugh-

The League. 209

Penitence of Henry of Navarre. Extraordinary scene.

ter. We can not hope that God will bless our
arms in this approaching battle while such a
sin remains unrepented of and unrepaired."

The king dismounted from his horse, and, un-
covering his head, avowed in the presence of the
whole army his sincere grief for what he had
done ; he called all to witness that he thus pub-
licly implored forgiveness of God, and of the
family he had injured, and he pledged his word
that he would do every thing in his power to re-
pair the wrong.

The troops were then called to prayers by the
ministers. Every man in the ranks fell upon
his knees, w^hile one of the clergy implored God
to forgive the sin of their chieftain, and to grant
them protection and victory.

The strange movement was seen from the
Catholic camp. "By death," exclaimed Joy-
euse, " the poltroons are frightened. Look !
they kneel, imploring our mercy."

"Do not deceive yourself," replied an old cap-
tain. "When the Huguenots get into that po-
sition, they are ready for hard fighting."

The brilliant battalions of the enemy now be-
gan to deploy. Some one spoke of the splendor
of their arms. Henry smiled and replied, " We
shall have the better aim when the fight begins."

210 KiNa Heney IV.

The battle of Coutras.

Another ventured to intimate that the ministers
had rebuked him with needless severity. He
replied, "We can not be too humble before God,
nor too brave before men." Then turning to
his followers, with tears in his eyes, he address-
ed to them a short and noble speech. He de-
plored the calamities of war, and solemnly de-
clared that he had drawn arms only in self-de-
fense. "Let them," said he, "perish who are
the authors of this war. May the blood shed
this day rest upon them alone."

To his two prominent generals, the Prince of
Conde and the Count de Soissons, he remarked,
with a smile, "To you I shall say nothing but
that you are of the house of Bourbon, and, please
God, I will show you this day that I am your

The battle almost immediately ensued. Like
all fierce fights, it was for a time but a delirious
scene of horror, confusion, and carnage. But
the Protestants, with sinewy arms, hewed down
their effeminate foes, and with infantry and cav-
alry swept to and fro resistlessly over the plain.
The white plume of Henry of Navarre was ever
seen waving in the tumultuous throng wherever
the battle was waged the fiercest.

There was a singular blending of the facetious;

The League. 211

The victory. Exultation of the troops.

with the horrible in this sanguinary scene. Be-
fore the battle, the Protestant preachers, in earn-
est sermons, had compared Henry with David
at the head of the Lord's chosen people. In the
midst of the bloody fray, when the field was cov-
ered with the dying and the dead, Henry grap-
pled one of the standard-bearers of the enemy.
At the moment, humorously reminded of the
flattering comparison of the preachers, he shout-
ed, with waggery which even the excitement of
the battle could not repress,

"Surrender, you uncircumcised Philistine."
In the course of one hour three thousand of
the Leaguers were weltering in blood upon the
plain, Joyeuse himself, their leader, being among
the dead. The defeat of the Catholics was so
entire that not more than one fourth of their
number escaped from the field of Coutras.

The victors were immediately assembled upon
the bloody field, and, after prayers and thanks-
giving, they sung, with exultant lips,

" The Lord appears my helper now,
Nor is my faith afraid
What all the sons of earth can do,
Since Heaven affords its aid."

Henry was very magnanimous in the hour
of victory. When some one asked what terms

212 King Heney IV.

Magnanimity of Henry of Navarre. Conduct of Marguerite.

he should now demand, after so great a discom-
fiture of his foes, he replied, '-'-The same as he-
fore the battle.''

In reading the records of these times, one is
surprised to see how mirth, festivity, and mag-
nificence are blended with blood, misery, and
despair. War was desolating France with woes
which to thousands of families must have made
existence a curse, and yet amid these scenes
we catch many glimpses of merriment and gay-
ety. At one time we see Henry III. weeping
and groaning upon his bed in utter wretched-
ness, and again he appears before us reveling
with his dissolute companions in the wildest ca-
rousals. While Henry of Navarre was strug-
gling with his foes upon the field of battle, Mar-
guerite, his wife, was dancing and flirting with
congenial paramours amid all the guilty pleas-
ures of the court. Henry wrote repeatedly for
her to come and join him, but she vastly pre-
ferred the voluptuousness of the capital to the
gloom and the hardships of the Protestant camp.
She never loved her husband, and while she
wished that he might triumph, and thus confer
upon her the illustrious rank of the Queen of
France, she still rejoiced in his absence, as it
allowed her that perfect freedom which she de-

The League. 213

Court of Henry of Navarre. Censure by the clergy.

sired. When she saw indications of approach-
ing peace, she was so apprehensive that she
might thus be placed under constraint by the
presence of her husband, that she did what she
could to perpetuate civil war.

It will be remembered that several of the for-
tified cities of France were in the hands of the
Protestants. Hemy of Navarre held his com-
paratively humble court in the town of Agen,
where he was very much beloved and respect-
ed by the inhabitants. Though far from irre-
proachable in his morals, the purity of his court
was infinitely superior to that of Henry III. and
his mother Catharine. Henry of Navarre was,
however, surrounded by a body of gay and light-
hearted young noblemen, whose mirth-loving
propensities and whose often indecorous festiv-
ities he could not control. One evening, at a
general ball, these young gentlemen extinguish-
ed the lights, and in the darkness a scene of
much scandal ensued. Henry was severely
censured by the Protestant clergy, and by many
others of his friends, for not holding the mem-
bers of his court in more perfect control. His
popularity suffered so severely from this occur-
rence, that it even became necessary for Henry
to withdraw his court from the town.

214 KiNa Heney IV.

The flying squadron. Intrigue and gallantry.

Catharine and Marguerite, accompanied by a
retinue of the most voluptuously-beautiful girls
of France, set out to visit the court of Henry
of JSTavarre, which had been transferred to Ne-
ruc. Henry, hearing of their approach, placed
himself at the head of five hundred gentlemen,
and hastened to meet his mother-in-law and his
wife, with their characteristic and congenial
train. These were the instrumentalities with
which Catharine and Marguerite hoped to bend
the will of Henry and his friends to suit their
purposes. Catharine had great confidence in
the potency of the influence which these pliant
maidens could wield, and they were all instruct-
ed in the part which they were to act. She
was accustomed to call these allies h^x fiymg

There then ensued a long series of negotia-
tions, intermingled with mirth, gallantry, and
intrigue, but the result of which was a treaty
highly conducive to the interests of the Protest-
ants. Yarious places were designated where
their religion should be freely tolerated, and in
which they were to be allowed to build conven-
ticles. They were also permitted to raise mon-
ey for the support of their ministers, and four-
teen cities were surrendered to their government.

The League. 215

Influences used by Catharine. La Reole.

Several incidents occurred during these negoti-

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Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Henry the Fourth, king of France and Navarre → online text (page 10 of 16)