Catholics did not take the Protestant break lightly. There was a
strong reaction, usually refered to as the Counter-Reformation. The
conflict between Protestants and Catholics convulsed Europe. The
shockwaves of the Reformation lasted through the entire period we are
studying.The battle between Protestants and Catholics was sometimes fought
on the battlefield and sometimes in the schoolroom. Germany, France and
later England suffered what amounted to civil wars over religious issues.
The fighting began almost immediately in Germany. But it spread quickly
enough to France. Henry IV of France, the first of the line Bouron kings,
struggled in such a civil war. Henry's story both provides the background
to help us understand issues about skepticism and religious toleration.
It also makes plain that Montaigne's interest in skepticism was not, as
one might say, purely academic.
Henry's parents had become Protestants and at the crucial age of 13 he
was raised in the strict principles of Calvinist Protestantism. His
military education started soon thereafter. He was prince of Navarre, and
in 1567 he served as the nomial head of punitive expidition against
rebellious Catholic gentry in lower Navare. He was present, though he did
not fight, at several battles where Protestant forces were defeated. At
the age of 16 his baptism of fire arrived when he led a charge of
In August 1570 peace was arranged, and Catherine de Médicis, the
wife of Henry III, sought to arrange a marriage between Prince Henry and
Marguerite de Valois, her daughter. The arrangements for the marriage
were made, and Henry's mother went to Paris. She died almost immediately
upon her arrival in Paris, making Henry, King of Navarre. On August 24,
1572 came the St. Bartholome's Day Massacre, in which thousands of French
Protestants were cut down by royal forces. Ordered by his brother in law,
Charles IX to abjure his Protestantism, Henry yielded. The sincerity of
his conversion was obviously dubious, and he was held for three and a half
years at the courts of Charles IX and then Henry III. He hid his
character and decieved his retainers, even the wily Catherine de
Médicis. It was with her seceret consent that he escaped from
court at the beginning of 1576. Henry was notable for his common sense
(except in love affairs), and when civil war broke out again and things
went badly for the Protestants, he persuaded them to accept the Treaty of
Bergerac in September 1672, despite the sacrifices it imposed on them.
Through the death of various members of the French royal family, Henry
became the heir persumptive of the throne of France.
He was opposed, however, by the
militant Catholics of the Holy League who were unwilling to accept a
Protestant king. The Pope excommunicated Henry and declared that he had
no right to inherit the crown. The increasing dependence of the Holy
League on Spain led Henry III to break with the League and reconcilled
himself to the King of Navarre. On August 30, 1589, Henry III was stabbed
at his headquarters at Saint Cloud. He died the next day, after
proclaiming Henry Bourbon, the first prince of the blood, the King of
France. Thus did Henry IV become King of France. But it would take him
some nine years to conquer his kingdom.
|Henri IV of
After becoming King, Henry defeated the forces of the Holy League and
captured Chartes after a long siege on April 10, 1591. Henry was then
crowned at Chartes (as Rheimes, the traditional site for the cornonation
of French kings was still held by his enemies).
Nonetheless the war dragged on and
Henry realized that it must be stopped at any cost. On July 23, 1593 in
Saint Dennis, the sepulchre of the French Kings, he abjured his Calvinism.
Though many remained unconvinced of his sincerity, his conversion was the
turning point. Town after town submitted, and Henry was finally able to
make his triumphal entry into Paris.
Triumphal Entry into Paris|
Because of the support of Spain for the Holy League, Henry was
eventually forced to fight a successful war with Spain from 1595 to 1598
which finally consolidated his power in France. Brittany had resisted
Henry with Spanish support. After the Spanish war Henry prepared to
remove the duc of Brittany. He did so bloodlessly by arranging a marriage
between the daughter of the Duc and the eldest son of his mistress
Gabrielle d'Estrées. The high point of his visit to Brittany was
the issuing on April 13, 1599 of the Edict of Nantes which proclaimed
freedom of conscience and granted many places of worship and nearly a
hundred places of refuge to Protestants.
After having united France, Henry spent the rest of his reign healing
France's wounds. More than a century of bitter religious conflict had
torn France asunder, and peace was not to be easily achieved. Political
and religious intrigue were entwined and there was more than one attempt
on Henry's life. In December 1594, Jean Chatel wounded Henry with a
dagger. This became a pretext to expel the Jesuits from the kingdom.
Henry also faced the risk of having his work quite undone if he did not
have a legitimate heir to the throne. Henry's marriage to Margaruite de
Valois was annuled by the Pope which then allowed Henry to mary the
princess of Tuscany, Marie de Médicis in October 1600. The new
queen gave birth the following year to the Dauphin, the future Louis
XIII. France flourished as her finances were reorganized and the economy
In 1610 Henry was preparing to launch a military expedition against the
Hapsburgs. On May 14 he got into his coach with the intention of visiting
an ailing minister. The coach had not gone far when traffic congestion in
a narrow street caused the coachman to slow down. Suddenly, Francois
Ravaillac, a religious fanatic, leaped into the King's coach and stabbed
him two times with a long knife. Henry died on the way back to the
palace, a victim of the fanaticism he wanted to eradicate. We might end
this story by siting one of Henry's most inspriring remarks about
religion: "Those who follow their conscience are of my religion, and I am
of the religion of those who are brave and good."