John S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) Abbott.

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

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and instantly drawing a large knife from its con-
cealment, plunged it into the entrails of his vic-
tim. The king uttered a piercing cry, caught
the knife from his body and struck at the head
of his murderer, wounding him above the eye.
The two gentlemen who were present instantly
thrust their swords through the body of the as-
sassin, and he fell dead.

The king, groaning with anguish, was un-
dressed and borne to his bed. The tidings
spread rapidly, and soon reached the ears of
the King of Navarre, who was a few miles dis-
tant at Meudon. He galloped to St. Cloud,
and knelt with gushing tears at the couch of
the dying monarch. Henry III. embraced him
with apparently the most tender affection. In
broken accents, interrupted with groans of an-
guish, he said,

"If my wound proves mortal, I leave my
crown to you as my legitimate successor. If
my will can have any effect, the crown will re^
main as firmly upon your brow as it was upon
that of Charlemagne."

240 King Heney IV. [1589.

Dying scene. Henry IV. assumes the crown.

He then assembled his principal officers
around him, and enjoined them to unite for the
preservation of the monarchy, and to sustain the
claims of the King of Navarre as the indisputa-
ble heir to the throne of France.

A day of great anxiety passed slowly away,
and as the shades of evening settled down over
the palace, it became manifest to all that the
wound was mortal. The wounded monarch
writhed upon his bed in fearful agony. At
midnight, Henry of Navarre, who was busily
engaged superintending some of the works of
the siege, was sent for, as the King of France
was dying. Accompanied by a retinue of thir-
ty gentlemen, he proceeded at full speed to the
gates of the castle where the monarch was strug-
gling in the grasp of the King of Terrors.

It is difficult to imagine the emotions which
must have agitated the soul of Henry of Na-
varre during this dark and gloomy ride. The
day had not yet dawned when he arrived at
the gates of the castle. The first tidings he re-
ceived were, The Jang is dead. It was the 2d
of August, 1589.

Henry of Navarre was now Henry IV., King
of France. But never did monarch ascend the
throne under circumstances of greater perplexi-

1589.] The Assassination. 241

Difficulties of the new reign.

ty and peril. Never was a more distracted king-
dom placed in the hands of a new m,onarcli.
Henry was now thirty-four years of age. The
whole kingdom was convulsed by warring fac-
tions. For years France had been desolated
by all the most virulent elements of religious
and political animosity. All hearts were demor-
alized by familiarity with the dagger of the as-
sassin and the carnage of the battle-field. Al-
most universal depravity had banished all re-
spect for morality and law. The whole fabric
of society was utterly disorganized.

Under these circumstances, Henry developed
that energy and sagacity which have given him
a high position among the most renowned of
earthly monarchs. He immediately assembled
around him that portion of the royal army in
whose fidelity he could confide. Without the
delay of an hour, he commenced dictating let-
ters to all the monarchies of Europe, announc-
ing his accession to the throne, and soliciting
their aid to confirm him in his legitimate rights.

As the new ''sovereign entered the chamber
of the deceased king, he found the corpse sur-
rounded by many of the Catholic nobility of
France. They were ostentatiously solemniz-
ing the obsequies of the departed monarch. He


242 King Heney IV. [1589.

Danger of assassination.

heard many low mutterings from these zealous
partisans of Kome, that they would rather die
a thousand deaths than allow a Protestant king
to ascend the throne. Angry eyes glared upon
him from the tumultuous and mutinous crowd,
and, had not Henry retired to consult for his
own safety, he also might have fallen the vic-
tim of assassination. In the intense excite-
ment of these hours, the leading Catholics held
a meeting, and appointed a committee to wait
upon Henry, and inform him that he must im-
mediately abjure Protestantism and adopt the
Catholic faith, or forfeit their support to the

"Would you have me," Henry replied, " pro-
fess conversion with the dagger at my throat ?
And could you, in the day of battle, follow one
with confidence who had thus proved that he
was an apostate and without a God? I can
only promise carefully to examine the subject
that I may be guided to the truth."

Henry was a Protestant from the force of cir-
cumstances rather than from conviction. He
was not a theologian either in mind or heart,
and he regarded the Catholics and Protestants
merely as two political parties, the one or the
other of which he would join, according as, in

1589.] The Assassination. 243

Religious principles of Henry IV.

his view, it might promote his personal interests
and the welfare of France. In his childhood
he was a Catholic. In boyhood, under the tu-
ition of his mother, Protestant influences were
thrown around him, and he was nominally a
Protestant. He saved his life at St. Bartholo-
mew by avowing tlie Catholic faith. When he
escaped from the Catholic court and returned to
his mother's Protestant court in Navarre, he es-
poused with new vigor the cause of his Protest-
ant friends. These changes were of course more
or less mortifying, and they certainly indicated
a total want of religious conviction. He now
promised carefully to look at the arguments on
both sides of the question, and to choose delib-
erately that which should seem to him right.
This arrangement, however, did not suit the
more zealous of the Catholics, and, in great num-
bers, they abandoned his camp and passed over
to the League.

The news of the death of Henry III. was re-
ceived with unbounded exultation in tlie be-
sieged city. The Duchess of Montpensier threw
her arms around the neck of the messenger
who brought her the welcome tidings, exclaim-

" Ah ! my friend, is it true ? Is the monster

M4 King Heney IV. [1589.

News of the death of Henry III.

really dead ? What a gratification ! I am only
grieved to think that he did not know that it
was I who directed the blow."

She rode out immediately, that she might
have the pleasure herself of communicating the
intelligence. She drove through the streets,
shouting from her carriage, " Good news ! good
news ! the tyrant is dead." The joy of the
priests rose to the highest pitch of fanatical fer-
vor. The assassin was even canonized. The
Pope himself condescended to pronounce a eu-
logium upon the '''-martyr^'' and a statue was
erected to his memory, with the inscription," St.
Jaques Clement, pray for us."

The League now proclaimed as king the old
Cardinal of Bourbon, under the title of Charles
X., and nearly all of Catholic Europe rallied
around this pretender to the crown. No one
denied the validity of the title, according to the
principles of legitimacy, of Henry IV. His
rights, however, the Catholics deemed forfeited
by his Protestant tendencies. Though Henry
immediately issued a decree promising every
surety and support to the Catholic religion as
the established religion of France, still, as he
did not also promise to devote all his energies
to the extirpation of the heresy of Protestant-

1589.] The Assassination. 245

Abandoned by the Catholics.

ism, the great majority of the Catholics were

Epernon, one of the most conspicuous of the
Catholic leaders, at the head of many thousand
Catholic soldiers, waited upon the king imme-
diately after the death of Henry III., and in-
formed him that they could not maintain a Prot-
estant on the throne. With flying banners and
resounding bugles they then marched from the
camp and joined the League. So extensive
was this disaflection, that in one day Henry
found himself deserted by all his army except
six thousand, most of whom were Protestants.
Nearly thirty thousand men had abandoned
him, some to retire to their homes, and others
to join the enemy.

The army of the League within the capital
was now twenty thousand strong. They pre-
pared for a rush upon the scattered and broken
ranks of Henry IV. Firmly, fearlessly, and
with well matured plans, he ordered a prompt
retreat. Catholic Europe aroused itself in be-
half of the League. Henry appealed to Prot-
estant Europe to come to his aid. Elizabeth
of England responded promptly to his appeal,
and promised to send a fleet and troops to the
harbor of Dieppe, about one hundred miles

246 King Henry IV. [1589.

The retreat. The stand at Dieppe.

northwest of Paris, upon the shores of the En-
glish Channel. Firmly, and with concentrated
ranks, the little army of Protestants crossed the
Seine. Twenty thousand Leaguers eagerly
pursued them, watching in vain for a chance to
strike a deadly blow. Henry ate not, slept not,
rested not. Night and day, day and night, he
was every where present, guiding, encouraging,
protecting this valiant band. Planting a rear
guard upon the western banks of the Seine, the
chafing foe was held in check until the Eoyalist
army had retired beyond the Oise. Upon the
farther banks of this stream Henry again rear-
ed his defenses, thwarting every endeavor of
his enemies, exasperated by such unexpected

As Henry slowly retreated toward the sea,
all the Protestants of the region through which
he passed, and many of the moderate Catholics
who were in favor of the royal cause and hos-
tile to the house of Guise, flocked to his stand-
ard. He soon found himself, with seven thou-
sand very determined men, strongly posted be-
hind the ramparts of Dieppe.

But the Duke of Mayenne had also received
large accessions. The spears and banners of
his proud host, now numbering thirty-five thou-

1589.] The Assassination. 247

Henry urged to fly to England. Anecdote.

sand, gleamed from all the liills and valleys
which surrounded the fortified city. For near-
ly a month there was almost an incessant con-
flict. Every morning, with anxious eyes, the
Royalists scanned the watery horizon, hoping to
see the fleet of England coming to their aid.
Cheered by hope, they successfully beat back
their assailants. The toils of the king were
immense. With exalted military genius he
guided every movement, at the same time shar-
ing the toil of the humblest soldier. "It is a
marvel," he wrote, "how I live with the labor
I undergo. God have pity upon me, and show
me mercy."

Some of Henry's friends, apalled by the
strength of the army pursuing them, urged him
to embark and seek refuge in England.

"Here we are," Henry replied, "in France,
and here let us be buried. If we fly now, all
our hopes will vanish with the wind which
bears us."

In a skirmish, one day, one of the Catholic
chieftains, the Count de Belin, was taken cap-
tive. He was led to the head-quarters of the
king. Henry greeted him with perfect cordial-
ity, and, noticing the astonishment of the count
in seeing but a few scattered soldiers where he

248 KiNa Heney IV. [1589.

Arrival of the fleet from England.

had expected to see a numerous army, he said,
playfully, yet with a confident air,

"You do not perceive all that I have with
me, M. de Belin, for you do not reckon God and
the right on my side."

The indomitable energy of Henry, accompa-
nied by a countenance ever serene and cheerful
under circumstances apparently so desperate,
inspired the soldiers with the same intrepidity
which glowed in the bosom of their chief.

But at last the valiant little band, so bravely
repelling overwhelming numbers, saw, to their
inexpressible joy, the distant ocean whitened
with the sails of the approaching English fleet.
Shouts of exultation rolled along their exhaust-
ed lines, carrying dismay into the camp of the
Leaguers. A favorable wind pressed the fleet
rapidly forward, and in a few hours, with stream-
ing banners, and exultant music, and resound-
ing salutes, echoed and re-echoed from English
ships and French batteries, the fleet of Eliza-
beth, loaded to its utmost capacity with money,
military supplies, and men, cast anchor in the
little harbor of Dieppe.

Nearly six thousand men, Scotch and En-
glish, were speedily disembarked. The Duke
of May enne, though his army was still double

1589.] The Assassination. 249

Bigotry of the Catholics. Desolation of France.

that of Heniy IV., did not dare to await the on-
set of his foes thus recruited. Hastily break-
ing up his encampment, he retreated to Paris.
Henry IV., in gratitude to God for the succor
which he had thus received from the Protestant
Queen of England, directed that thanksgivings
should be offered in his own quarters according
to tlie religious rites of the Protestant Church.
This so exasperated the Catholics, even in his
own camp, that a mutiny was excited, and sev-
eral of the Protestant soldiers were wounded in
the fray. So extreme was the fanaticism at
this time that, several Protestants, after a san-
guinary fight, having been buried on the battle-
field promiscuously in a pit with some Catho-
lics who had fallen by their side, the priests,
even of Henry's army, ordered the Protestant
bodies to be dug up and thrown out as food for

While these scenes were transpiring in the
vicinity of Dieppe, almost every part of France
was scathed and cursed by hateful war. Every
province, city, village, had its partisans for the
League or for the king. Beautiful France was
as a volcano in the world of woe, in whose
seething crater flames, and blood, and slaughter,
the yell of conflict and the shriek of agony,

250 King Henry IY. [1589.

Ignoble conduct of the League.

blended in horrors whicli no imagination can
compass. There was an end to every earthly
joy. Cities were bombarded, fields of grain
trampled in the mire, villages burned. Famine
rioted over its ghastly victims. Hospitals were
filled with miserable multitudes, mutilated and
with festering wounds, longing for death. Not
a ray of light pierced the gloom of this dark,
black night of crime and woe. And yet, unde-
niably, the responsibility before God must rest
with the League. Henry IV. was the lawful
king of France. The Catholics had risen in
arms to resist his rights, because they feared
that he would grant liberty of faith and wor-
ship to the Protestants.

The League adopted the most dishonorable
and criminal means to alienate from Henry the
affections of the people. They forged letters,
in which the king atrociously expressed joy at
the murder of Henry III., and declared his de-
termination by dissimulation and fraud to root
out Catholicism entirely from France. No ef-
forts of artifice were wanting to render the mon-
arch odious to the Catholic populace. Though
the Duke of Mayenne occasionally referred to
the old Cardinal of Bourbon as the king whom
he acknowledged, he, with the characteristic

1589.] The Assassination. 251

Paris besieged. Assault of Etampes.

haughtiness of the family of Guise, assumed
himself the air and the language of a sovereign.
It was very evident that he intended to place
himself upon the throne.

Henry IV., with the money furnished by
Elizabeth, was now able to pay his soldiers
their arrears. His army steadily increased,
and he soon marched with twenty-three thou-
sand troops and fourteen pieces of artillery to
lay siege to Paris. His army had unbounded
confidence in his military skill. With enthu-
siastic acclamations they pursued the retreat-
ing insurgents. Henry was now on the offens-
ive, and his troops w^ere posted for the siege of
Paris, having driven the foe within its walls.
After one sanguinary assault, the king became
convinced that he had not with him sufficient
force to carry the city. The Duke of Mayenne
stood firmly behind the intrenchments of the
capital, with an army much strengthened by
re-enforcements of Spanish and Italian troops,
Henry accordingly raised the siege, and march-
ed rapidly to Etampes, some forty miles south
of Paris, where a large part of his foes had es-
tablished themselves. He suddenly attacked
the town and carried it by assault. The un-
happy inhabitants of this city had, in the course

252 King Henry IV. [1589.

Letter from Lorraine. Military reprisals.

of four months, experienced the horrors of three
assaults. The city, in that short period, had
been taken and retaken three times.

While at Etampes, Henry received a letter
from the beautiful but disconsolate Louisa of
Lorraine, the widow of Henry III., imploring
him to avenge the murder of her husband. The
letter was so affecting that, when it was read
in the king's council, it moved all the members
to tears.

Many of the citizens of Paris, weary of the
miseries of civil war, were now disposed to ral-
ly around their lawful monarch as the only
mode of averting the horrible calamities which
overwhelmed France. The Duke of Mayenne
rigorously arrested all who were suspected of
such designs, and four of the most prominent
of the citizens were condemned to death. Hen-
ry immediately sent a message to the duke, that
if the sentence were carried into effect, he would
retaliate by putting to death some of the Cath-
olic nobles whom he had in his power. May-
enne defiantly executed two Royalists. Henry
immediately suspended upon a gibbet two un-
fortunate Leaguers who were his captives. This
decisive reprisal accomplished its purpose, and
compelled Mayenne to be more merciful^

1589.] The Assassination. 253

Activity of Henry. Dissension among the Leaguei-p.

With great energy, Henry now advanced to
Tours, about one hundred and twenty miles
south of Paris, on the banks of the Loire, tak-
ing every town by the way, and sweeping all
opposition before him. He seldom slept more
than three hours at a time, and seized his meals
where he could.

"It takes Mayenne," said Henry, proudly,
" more time to put on his boots than it does me
to win a battle."

"Henry," remarked Pope Sextus V., sadly,
"will surely, in the end, gain the day, for he
spends less hours in bed than Mayenne spends
at the table."

Though the armies of the League were still
superior to the Royalist army, victory every
where followed the banner of the king. Every
day there was more and more of union and har-
mony in his ranks, and more and more of dis-
cord in the armies of the League. There were
various aspirants for the throne in case Henry
ly. could be driven from the kingdom, and all
these aspirants had their partisans. The more
reasonable portion of the Catholic party soon
saw that there could be no end to civil war un-
less the rights of Henry lY. were maintained.
Each day consequently witnessed accessions of

254 King Heney IV. [1589.

Triumphant progress of Henry.

powerful nobles to his side. The great mass
of the people also, notwithstanding their hatred
of Protestantism and devotion to the Catholic
Church, found it difficult to break away from
their homage to the ancient law of succession.

It was now manifest to all, that if Henry
would but proclaim himself a Catholic, the war
would almost instantly terminate, and the peo-
ple, with almost entire unanimity, would rally
around him. Henry IV. was a lawful monarch
endeavoring to put down insurrection. May-
enne was a rebel contending against his king.
The Pope was so unwilling to see a Protestant
sovereign enthroned in France, that he issued a
bull of excommunication against all who should
advocate the cause of Henry IV. Many of the
Koyalist Catholics, however, instead of yielding
to these thunders of the Vatican, sent a humble
apology to the Pope for their adherence to the
king, and still sustained his cause.

Henry now moved on with the strides of a
conqueror, and city after city fell into his hands.
Wherever he entered a city, the ever vacillating
multitude welcomed him with acclamations. Re-
gardless of the storms of winter, Henry drag-
ged his heavy artillery through the mire and
over the frozen ruts, and before the close of the

1589.] The Assassination. 255

Wonderful escape.

year 1589 his banner waved over fifteen forti-
fied cities and over very many minor towns.
Tlie forces of the League were entirely swept
from three of the provinces of France.

Still Paris was in the hands of the Duke of
Mayenne, and a large part of the kingdom was
yet held in subjection by the forces of the

At one time, in the face of a fierce cannon-
ade, Henry mounted the tower of a church at
Meulun to ascertain the position of the enemy.
As he was ascending, a cannon ball passed be-
tween his legs. In returning, the stairs were
found so shot away that he was compelled to
let himself down by a rope. All the winter
long, the storm of battle raged in every part of
France, and among all the millions of the ill-
fated realm, there could not then, perhaps, have
been found one single prosperous and happy

256 Kino Heney IV. [1590.

Ferocity ef the combatants.

Chapter X.
War and Woe.

CIVIL war seems peculiarly to arouse the
ferocity of man. Family quarrels are no-
toriously implacable. Throughout the whole
kingdom of France the war raged with intense
violence, brother against brother, and father
against child. Farm-houses, cities, villages,
were burned mercilessly. Old men, women,
and children were tortured and slain with in-
sults and derision. Maiden modesty was cru-
elly violated, and every species of inhumanity
was practiced by the infuriated antagonists.
The Catliolic priests were in general conspicu-
ous for their brutality. They resolved that
tlie Protestant heresy should be drowned in
blood and terror.

Henry IV. was peculiarly a humane man.
He cherished kind feelings for all his subjects,
and was perfectly willing tliat the Catholic re-
ligion should retain its unquestioned suprema-
cy. вЦ† His pride, however, revolted from yielding
to compulsory conversion, and he also refused

1590.] War and Woe. 257

Liberality of Henry. Prepai'ations for a battle.

to become the persecutor of Iiis former friends.
Indeed, it seems probable that he was strongly
inclined toward the Catholic faith as, on the
whole, the safest and the best. He consequent-
ly did every thing in his power to mitigate tlie
mercilessness of the strife, and to win his Cath-
olic subjects by the most signal clemency. But
no efforts of his could restrain his partisans in
different parts of the kingdom from severe re-

Through the long months of a cold and dreary
winter the awful carnage continued, with suc-
cess so equally balanced that there was no pros-
pect of any termination to this most awful of
national calamities. Early in March, 1590, the
armies of Henry IV. and of the Duke of May-
enne began to congregate in the vicinity of Ivry,
about fifty miles west of Paris, for a decisive
battle. The snows of winter had nearly disap-
peared, and the cold rains of spring deluged the
roads. The Sabbath of the eleventh of March
Avas wet and tempestuous. As night darkened
over the bleak and soaked plains of Ivry, innu-
merable battalions of armed men, with spears,
and banners, and heavy pieces of artillery, drag-
ged axle-deep through the mire, were dimly dis-
cerned taking positions for an approaching bat-

258 King Heney IV. [1590.

striking phenomenon. The omen.

tie. As the blackness of midnight enveloped
them, the storm increased to fearful furj. The
gale fiercely swept the plain, in its loud wail-
ings and its roar drowning every human sound.
The rain, all the night long, poured down in
torrents. But through the darkness and the
storm, and breasting the gale, the contending
hosts, without even a watch-fire to cheer the
gloom, waited anxiously for the morning.

In the blackest hour of the night, a phenom-
enon, quite unusual at that season of the year,
presented itself. The lightning gleamed in daz-
zling brilliance from cloud to cloud, and the
thunder rolled over their heads as if an aerial
army were meeting and charging in the sanguin-
ary fight. It was an age of superstition, and
the shivering, soldiers thought that they could
distinctly discern the banners of the battling
hosts. Eagerly and w4th awe they watched the
surgings of the strife as spirit squadrons swept
to and fro with streaming banners of fire, and
hurling upon each other the thunderbolts of the
skies. At length the storm of battle seemed to
lull, or, rather, to pass away in the distance.
There was the retreat of the vanquished, the
pursuit of the victors. The flash of the guns
became more faint, and the roar of the artillery

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Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Henry the Fourth, king of France and Navarre → online text (page 12 of 16)