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

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

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respective beauty of their mistresses.

The weary siege continued many weeks, va-
ried with fierce sallies and bloody skirmishes.
Henry labored in the trenches like a common
soldier, and shared every peril. He was not
wise in so doing, for his life was of far too much
value to France to be thus needlessly periled.

The influential Leaguers in Paris now formed
the plan to found a new dynasty in France by
uniting in marriage the young Duke of Guise —
son of Henry of Guise who had been assassin-
ated — with Isabella, the daughter of Philip II.,
King of Spain. This secured for their cause
all the energies of the Spanish monarchy. This
plan immediately introduced serious discord be-
tween Mayenne and his Spanish allies, as May-
enne hoped for the crown for himself. About
the same time Pope Gregory XIY. died, still
more depressing the prospects of Mayenne ; but,
with indomitable vigor of intrigue and of battle,
he still continued to guide the movements of
the League, and to watch for opportunities to
secure for himself the crown of France.

1591.] Wak and Woe. 279

Trouble in the camp of Henry.

The politics of the nation were now in an in-
extricable labyrinth of confusion. lienrj IV.
.was still sustained by the Protestants, though
they were ever complaining that he favored too
much the Catholics. He was also sustained
by a portion of the moderate Catholics. They
were, however, quite lukewarm in their zeal, and
were importunately demanding that he should
renounce the Protestant faith and avow himself
a Catholic, or they would entirely abandon him.
The Swiss and Germans in his ranks were fill-
ing the camp with murmurs, demanding their
arrears of pay. The English troops furnished
him by Elizabeth refused to march from the
coast to penetrate the interior.

The League was split into innumerable fac-
tions, some in favor of Mayenne, others sup-
porting the young Cardinal of Bourbon, and oth-
ers still advocating the claims of the young
Duke of Guise and the Infanta of Spain. They
were all, however, united by a common detesta-
tion of Protestantism and an undying devotion
to the Church of Rome.

In the mean time, though the siege of Rouen
was pressed with great vigor, all efforts to take
the place were unavailing. Henry was repeat-
edly baffled and discomfited, and it became dai-

280 KiNa Heney IV. [1591.

Motives for abjuring Protestantism.

ij more evident that, as a Protestant, lie nev-
er could occupy a peaceful throne in Catholic
France. Even many of the Protestant leaders,
who were politicians rather than theologians,
urged Henry to become a Catholic, as the only
possible means of putting an end to this cruel
civil war. They urged that while his adoption
of the Catholic faith would reconcile the Cath-
olics, the Protestants, confiding in the freedom
of faith and worship which his just judgment
would secure to them, would prefer him for their
sovereign to any other whom they could hope
to obtain. Thus peace would be restored to
distracted France. Henry listened with a will-
ing mind to these suggestions. To give assur-
ance to the Catholics of his sincerity, he sent
embassadors to Eome to treat with the Pope in
regard to his reconciliation with the Church.

Conversion of the King. 281

Advice of the Duke of Sully.

Chapter XL
The Conversion of the King.

THIS bloody war of the succession had now
desolated France for four years. The Duke
of Sully, one of the most conspicuous of the po-
litical Calvinists, was at last induced to give
his influence to lead the king to accept the Cath-
olic faith. Sully had been Henry's companion
from childhood. Though not a man of deep re-
ligious convictions, he was one of the most il-
lustrious of men in ability, courage, and integ-
rity. Conversing with Henry upon the dis-
tracted affairs of state, he said, one day,

"■ That you should wait for me, being a Prot-
estant, to counsel you to go to mass, is a thing
you should not do, although I will boldly de-
clare to you that it is the prompt and easy way
of destroying all malign projects. You will
thus meet no more enemies, sorrows, nor diffi-
culties in this world. As to the other world,^^
he continued, smiling, "I can not answer for

The king continued in great perplexity. He
felt that it was degrading to change his religion

282 King Heney IV.

I'crplexity of Henry. Theological argument of Sully.

upon apparent compulsion, or for the accomplish-
ment of any selfish purpose. He knew that he
must expose himself to the charge of apostasy
and of hypocrisy in affirming a change of belief,
even to accomplish so meritorious a purpose as
to rescue a whole nation from misery. These
embarrassments to a vacillating mind "were ter-

Early one morning, before rising, he sent for
Sully. The duke found the king sitting up in
his bed, " scratching his head in great perplexi-
ty." The political considerations in favor of
the change urged by the duke could not satisfy
fully the mind of the king. He had still some
conscientious scruples, imbibed from the teach-
ings of a pious and sainted mother. The illus-
trious warrior, financier, and diplomatist now
essayed the availability of theological consider-
ations, and urged the following argument of Jes-
uitical shrewdness :

"I hold it certain," argaed the duke, *'that
whatever be the exterior form of the religion
which men profess, if they live in the observa-
tion of the Decalogue, believe in the Creed of the
apostles, love God with all their heart, have
charity toward their neighbor, hope in the mer-
cy of God, and to obtain salvation by the death,

Conversion of the King. 283

Philip of Mornay, Lord of Plessis.

merits, and justice of Jesus Clirist, they can not
fail to be saved."

Heniy caught eagerly at this plausible argu-
ment. The Catholics say that no Protestant
can be saved, but the Protestants admit that
a Catholic may be, if in heart honest, just, and
true. The sophistry of the plea in behalf of an
insincere renunciation of faith is too palpable to
influence any mind but one eager to be con-
vinced. The king was counseled to obey the
Decalogue, which forbids false witness, while
at the same time he was to be guilty of an act
of fraud and hypocrisy.

But Henry had another counselor. Philip
of Mornay, Lord of Plessis, had imbibed from
his mother's lips a knowledge of the religion of
Jesus Christ. His soul was endowed by na-
ture with the most noble lineaments, and he
was, if man can judge, a devoted and exalted
Christian. There was no one, in those stormy
times, more illustrious as a warrior, statesman,
theologian, and orator. " We can not," says a
French writer, "indicate a species of merit in
which he did not excel, except that he did not
advance his own fortune." When but twelve
years of age, a priest exhorted him to beware of
the opinions of the Protestants.

284 King Heney IV.

Inflexible integrity of Mornay.

" I am resolved," Philip replied, firmly, " to
remain steadfast in what I have learned of the
service of God. When I doubt any point, I
will diligently examine the Gospels and the
Acts of the Apostles."

His uncle, the Archbishop of Rheims, advised
him to read the fathers of the Church, and
promised him the revenues of a rich abbey and
the prospect of still higher advancement if he
would adhere to the Catholic religion. Philip
read the fathers and declined the bribe, saying,

*' I must trust to God for what I need."

Almost by a miracle he had escaped the Mas-
sacre of St. Bartholomew and fled to England.
The Duke of Anjou, who had become King of
Poland, wishing to conciliate the Protestants,
wrote to Mornay in his poverty and exile, pro-
posing to him a place in his ministry. The
noble man replied,

" I Avill never enter the service of those who
have shed the blood of my brethren."

He soon joined the feeble court of the King
of Navarre, and adhered conscientiously, through
all vicissitudes, to the Protestant cause. Hen-
ry IV. was abundantly capable of appreciating
such a character, and he revered and loved Mor-
nay. His services were invaluable to Henry,

Conversion op the King. 285

Mornay's reply to Henry III.

for he seemed to be equally skillful in nearly all
departments of knowledge and of business. He
could with equal facility guide an army, con-
struct a fortress, and write a theological treat-
ise. Many of the most important state papers
of Henry IV. he hurriedly wrote upon the field
of battle or beneath his wind-shaken tent. Hen-
ry III., on one occasion, had said to him,

" How can a man of your intelligence and
ability be a Protestant ? Have you never read
the Catholic doctors ?"

" Not only have I read the Catholic doctors,"
Mornay replied, "but I have read them with
eagerness ; for I am flesh and blood like other
men, and I was not born without ambition. I
should have been very glad to find something
to flatter my conscience that I might participate
in the favors and honors you distribute, and
from which my religion excludes me ; but, above
all, I find something which fortifies my faith,
and the world must yield to conscience."

The firm Christian principles of Philip of
Mornay were now almost the only barrier which
stood in the way of the conversion of Henry.
The Catholic lords offered Mornay twenty thou-
sand crowns of gold if he would no more awak-
en the scruples of the king. Nobly he replied,

286 King Henry IV.

Attempt to bribe Momay. His address to the courtiers.

" The conscience of my master is not for sale,
neither is mine.*'

Great efforts were then made to alienate Hen-
ry from his faithful minister. Momay by chance
one day entered the cabinet of the king, where
his enemies were busy in their cabals. In the
boldness of an integrity which never gave him
cause to blush, he thus addressed them in the
presence of the sovereign :

"It is hard, gentlemen, to prevent the king
my master from speaking to his faithful servant.
The proposals which I offer the king are such
that I can pronounce them distinctly before you
all. I propose to him to serve God with a good
conscience ; to keep Him in view in every ac-
tion ; to quiet the schism which is in liis state
by a holy reformation of the Church, and to be
an example for all Christendom during all time
to come. Are these things to be spoken in a
corner ? Do you wish me to counsel him to go
to mass ? With what conscience shall I advise
if I do not first go myself? And what is re-
ligion, if it can be laid aside like a shirt ?"

The Catholic nobles felt the power of this
moral courage and integrity, and one of them,
Marshal d'Aumont, yielding to a generous im-
pulse, exclaimed,

Conversion of the KiNa. 287

Indecision of Henrv. Process of conversion.

"You are better than we are, Monsieur Mor-
nay ; and if I said, two days ago, that it was
necessary to give you a pistol-shot in the head,
I say to-day entirely the contrary, and that you
should have a statue.*'

Henry, however, was a politician, not a Chris-
tian; and nothing is more amazing than the
deaf ear which even apparently good men can
turn to the pleadings of conscience when they
are involved in the mazes of political ambition.
The process of conversion was, for decency's
sake, protracted and ostentatious. As Henry
probably had no fixed religious principles, lie
could with perhaps as much truth say that he
was a Catholic as that he was a Protestant.

On the 23d of July the king listened to a
public argument, five hours in length, from the
Archbishop of Bourges, upon the points of es-
sential difference between the two antagonistic
creeds. Henry found the reasoning of the arch-
bishop most comfortably persuasive, and, hav-
ing separated himself for a time from Mornay,
he professed to be solemnly convinced that the
E-oman Catholic faith was the true religion.
Those who knew Henry the best declare that
he was sincere in the change, and his subse-
quent life seems certainly to indicate that he

288 King Henry IV.

Testimony of Sully. Gabrielle d'Estrees.

was so. The Duke of Sully, who refused to
follow Henry into the Catholic Church, records,

"As uprightness and sincerity formed the
depth of his heart, as they did of his words, I
am persuaded that nothing would have been ca-
pable of making him embrace a religion which
he internally despised, or of which he even

In view of this long interview with the Arch-
bishop of Bourges, Henry wrote to the frail but
beautiful Gabrielle d'Estrees,

"I began this morning to speak to the bish-
ops- On Sunday I shall take the perilous leap."
The king's connection with Gabrielle presented
another strong motive to influence his conver-
sion. Henry, when a mere boy, had been con-
strained by political considerations to marry
the worthless and hateful sister of Charles IX.
For the wife thus coldly received he never felt
an emotion of affection. She was an unblush-
ing profligate. The king, in one of his cam-
paigns, met the beautiful maiden Gabrielle in
the chateau of her father. They both immedi-
ately loved each other, and a relation prohibited
by the divine law soon existed between them.
Never, perhaps, was there a better excuse for
unlawful love. But guilt ever brings woe. Nei-

Conversion of the King. 289

Influence of Gabrielle. Abjuration of Protestantism.

tlier party were happj. Gabrielle felt condemn-
ed and degraded, and urged the king to obtain a
divorce from the notoriously profligate Margue-
rite of Valois, that their union might be sanc-
tioned by the rites of religion. Henry loved
Gabrielle tenderly. Her society was his chief-
est joy, and it is said that he ever remained faith-
ful to her. He was anxious for a divorce from
Marguerite, and for marriage with Gabrielle.
But this divorce could only be obtained through
the Pope. Hence Gabrielle exerted all her in-
fluence to lead the king into the Church, that
this most desired end might be attained.

The king now openly proclaimed his readi-
ness to renounce Protestantism and to accept
the Papal Creed. The Catholic bishops pre-
pared an act of abjuration, rejecting, very deci-
sively, one after another, every distinguishing
article of the Protestant faith. The king glanced
his eye over it, and instinctively recoiled from
an act which he seemed to deem humiliating.
He would only consent to sign a very brief dec-
laration, in six lines, of his return to the Church
of Eome. The paper, however, which he had
rejected, containing the emphatic recantation of
every article of the Protestant faith, was sent to
the Pope with the forged signature of the king.

290 King Heney IV. [1593.

Public adoption of the Catholic faith.

The final act of renunciation was pulblic, and
was attended with much dramatic pomp, in the
great church of St. Denis. It was Sunday, the
twenty-fifth of July, 1593. The immense ca-
thedral was richly decorated. Flowers were
scattered upon the pavements, and garlands and
banners festooned the streets and the dwell-

At eight o'clock in the morning Henry pre-
sented himself before the massive portals of the
Cathedral. He was dressed in white satin, with
a black mantle and chapeau. The white plume,
which both pen and pencil have rendered illus-
trious, waved from his hat. He was surround-
ed by a gorgeous retinue of nobles and officers
of the crown. Several regiments of soldiers, in
the richest uniform, preceded and followed him
as he advanced toward the church. Though a
decree had been issued strictly prohibiting the
populace froni being present at the ceremony,
an immense concourse thronged the streets,
greeting the monarch with enthusiastic cries of
" Vive le roi r

The Archbishop of Bourges was seated at
the entrance of the church in a chair draped
with white damask. The Cardinal of Bourbon,
and several bishops glittering in pontifical robes,

Conversion of the King. 293

Ceremony in the Church of St. Denis.

composed liis brilliant retinue. The monks of
St. Denis were also in attendance, clad in their
sombre attire, bearing the cross, the Gospels,
and the holy water. Thus the train of the ex-
alted dignitary of the Church even eclipsed in
splendor the suite of the king.

As Henry approached the door of the church,
the archbishop, as if to repel intrusion, imperi-
ously inquired,
. "Who are you?"

" I am the king," Henry modestly replied.

" What do you desire?" demanded the arch-

" I ^sk," answered the king, " to be received
into the bosom of the Catholic, Apostolic, and
Koman religion."

'* Do you desire this sincerely .^" rejoined the

" I do," the king replied. Then kneeling at
the feet of the prelate, he pronounced the fol-
lowing oath :

" I protest and swear, in the presence of Al-
mighty God, to live and die in the Catholic,
Apostolic, and Eoman religion ; to protect and
defend it against all its enemies at the hazard
of my blood and life, renouncing all heresies
contrary to it."

294 King Heney IY.

Alleged sincerity of the king.

The king then placed a copy of this oath in
writing in the hands of the archbishop, and kiss-
ed the consecrated ring upon his holy iinger.
Then entering the Cathedral, he received the ab-
solution of his sins and the benediction of the
Church. A Te Deiim was then sung, high
mass was solemnized, and thus the imposing
ceremony was terminated.

It is easy to treat this whole affair as a farce.
The elements of ridicule are abundant. But it
was by no means a farce in the vast influences
which it evolved. Catholic historians have al-
most invariably assumed that the king acted in
perfect good faith, being fully convinced by the
arguments of the Church. Even Henry's Prot-
estant friend, the Duke of Sully, remarks,

" I should betray the cause of truth if I suf-
fered it even to be suspected that policy, the
threats of the Catholics, the fatigue of labor,
the desire of rest, and of freeing himself from
the tyranny of foreigners, or even the good of
the people, had entirely influenced the king's res-
olution. As far as I am able to judge of the
heart of this prince, which I believe I know bet-
ter than any other person, it was, indeed, these
considerations which first hinted to him the ne-
cessity of his conversion ; but, in the end, lie


Other motives assigned.

became convinced in liis own mind that the
Catholic religion was tlie safest."

Others have affirmed that it was a shameful
act of apostasy, in which the king, stimulated
by ambition and unlawful love, stooped to iiy-
pocrisy, and feigned a conversion which in heart
he despised. He is represented as saying, with

"Paris is well worth a mass."

Others still assert that Henry was humanely
anxious to arrest the horrors of civil war; to
introduce peace to distracted France, and to se-
cure the Protestants from oppression. His ac-
ceptance of the Catholic faith was the only ap-
parent way of accomplisliing these results. Be-
ing a humane man, but not a man of establish-
ed Christian principle, he deemed it his duty to
pursue the course which would accomplish such
results. The facts, so far as known, are before
the reader, and each one can form his own judg-

The announcement throughout the kingdom
that Henry had become a Catholic almost im-
mediately put an end to the civil war. Incited
by the royal example, many of the leading Prot-
estants, nobles and gentlemen, also renounced
Protestantism, and conformed to the religion of

296 King Heney IY.

Political effects of Henry's conversion.

the state. The chiefs of the League, many of
whom were ambitious political partisans rather
than zealous theologians, and who were clamor-
ous for Catholicism only as the means of ob-
taining power, at once relinquished all hope of
victory. For a time, however, they still as-
sumed a hostile attitude, and heaped unmeas-
ured ridicule upon what they styled the feigned
conversion of the king. They wished to com-
pel the monarch to purchase their adhesion at
as dear a price as possible.

Many important cities surrendered to the roy-
al cause under the stipulation that the preach-
ing of the Protestants should be utterly prohib-
ited in their precincts and suburbs. Even the
Pope, Clement YIII., a weak and bigoted man,
for a time refused to ratify the act of the Arch-
bishop of Bourges in absolving Henry from the
pains and penalties of excommunication. He
forbade the envoy of Henry to approach the
Vatican. The Duke of Nevers, who was the
appointed envoy, notwithstanding this prohibi-
tion, persisted in his endeavors to obtain an au-
dience ; but the Pope was anxious to have the
crown of France in the possession of one whose
Catholic zeal could not be questioned. He
would much have preferred to see the fanatic

Conversion of the King. 297

Satisfaction of the people. Ferocity of the Pope.

Duke of Mayenne upon the throne, or to have
promoted the Spanish succession. He therefore
treated the Duke of Nevers with great indignity,
and finally gave him an abrupt dismission.

But the mass of the French people, longing
for repose, gladly accepted the conversion of the
king. One after another the leaders of the
League gave in their adhesion to the royal
cause. The Duke of Mayenne, however, held
out, Paris being still in his possession, and sev-
eral other important cities and fortresses being
garrisoned by his troops. The Pope, at length,
having vainly done every thing in his power to
rouse France and Catholic Europe to resist
Henry, condescended to negotiate. His spirit
may be seen in the atrocious conditions which
he proposed. As the price of his absolution, he
required that Henry should abrogate every edict
of toleration, that he should exclude Protestants
from all public offices, and that he should ex-
terminate them from the kingdom as soon as

To these demands Henry promptly replied,
"I should be justly accused of shamelessness
and ingratitude if, after having received such
signal services from the Protestants, I should
thus persecute them."

298 KiNa Heney IV. [1594

Coronation of the king. Paris secretly surrendered.

Hemy was fully aware of the influence of
forms upon the imaginations of the people. He
accordingly made preparations for his corona-
tion. The event was celebrated with great
pomp, in the city of Chartres, on the 27th of
February, 1594. The Leaguers were now quite
disheartened. Every day their ranks were di-
minishing. The Duke of Mayenne, apprehen-
sive that his own partisans might surrender Par-
is to the king, and that thus he might be taken
prisoner, on the 6th of March, with his wife and
children, left the city, under the pretense of be-
ing called away by important business.

Three hours after midnight of the 21st of the
month the gates were secretly thrown open, and
a body of the king's troops entered the metrop-
olis. They marched rapidly along the silent
streets, hardly encountering the slightest oppo-
sition. Before the morning dawned they had
taken possession of the bridges, the squares, and
the ramparts, and their cannon were planted so
as to sweep all the important streets and ave-

The citizens, aroused by the tramp of infant-
ry and of cavalry, and by the rumbling of the
heavy artillery over the pavements, rose from
their beds, and crowded the windows, and throng-


TJie entry to Paris. Noble conduct.

ecI the streets. In the early dawn, the king, ac-
companied by the officers of his staff, entered
the capital. He was dressed in the garb of a
civilian, and w^as entirely unarmed. x\ll were
ready to receive him. Shouts of "Peace I
peace! Long live the king!" reverberated in
tones of almost delirious joy through the thor-
oughfares of the metropolis. Henry thus ad-
vanced through the ranks of the rejoicing peo-
ple to the great cathedral of Notre Dame, where
mass was performed. He then proceeded to
the royal palace of the Louvre, which his offi-
cers had already prepared for his reception. All
the bells of the city rung their merriest chimes,
bands of music pealed forth their most exultant
strains, and the air was rent with acclamations
as the king, after all these long and bloody wars, '
thus peacefully took possession of the capital of
his kingdom.

In this hour of triumph Henry manifested
the most noble clemency. He issued a decree
declaring that no citizen who had been in rebel-
lion against him should be molested. Even the
Spanish troops who were in the city to fight
against him were permitted to depart with their
arms in their hands. As they defiled through

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Online LibraryJohn S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) AbbottHistory of Henry the Fourth, king of France and Navarre → online text (page 14 of 16)