In the series of biographies written by speakers at the Palace of Versailles, here is a new opus concerning Henry IV. Nicolas milovanovic, chief curator at the National Castle Museum, presents the private life of young Navarre as well as all his achievements to unify France, in the political, financial, economic fields, once he accedes to the throne.
Henri IV, the Unity of France
This beautiful work begins with the story of his private life, embellished with a beautiful portrait of Henri as a child, a representation of his parents, his grandfather and the castle of his birth in Pau, in an unfavorable environment: a Catholic father, a Calvinist mother, with constant change of residence, until being in the care of Catherine de Medici.
Marked by the assassination of his uncle in Jarnac, disturbed by his imposed marriage with Margot, then by the death of his mother, he becomes king of Navarre, escapes Saint Barthélémy (for which we discover several paintings) and returns in the southwest to rally the people to their cause, becoming the leader of the Protestants and the opposition to the rising League. Faced with this rise in power, Henri III approached Navarre who was almost on the throne when the Duke of Guise died, but "the king is dead, long live King Henri IV".
He then inherited a France in the midst of religious and economic crisis after the harsh winters, but only joined one sixth of the French provinces. He therefore launched into a series of battles like Ivry in 1590, Arques in 1590, the siege of Paris, of which we can admire the beautiful representations visible elsewhere at the Palace of Versailles. But faced with the powerful League financed by Spain, the king felt that he could only really become King of France by renouncing Calvinism, which he did in July 1593, then defeating the Spaniards at Fontaine-Française in 1595.
Henri IV considered that he had succeeded: the Edict of Nantes was signed in 1598; Sully at his side, straightened the finances until obtaining surpluses in 1605; the marriage with Margot is annulled; Henri married Marie de Médicis in October 1600 and in September 1601 the Dauphin was born, a real royal family represented on a superb painting by Peter Paul Rubens. He is a happy man who takes care of his family and takes advantage of his children.
During these three years of peace, the king intends to rebuild the kingdom: to develop Paris with the Pont Neuf, the Place des Vosges, the Louvre where he installs artists' and craftsmen's workshops in order to create luxury products in France and no longer importing them, fitting out Fontainebleau as well as launching the construction of the Château Neuf de Saint Germain. He does not forget to strengthen the fortifications to preserve his kingdom and the surrounding countries, for which Sully proposes to create "a European republic" with a gathering of fifteen countries!
On the other hand, he must safeguard the peace and go on campaign to declare war on the Habsburgs to recover the territories of Cleves and Juliers. But first, he had to entrust the kingdom to Marie and crown her regent in May 1610. The next day, he was assassinated, after two unsuccessful attempts by Ravaillac, who was presented to us in multiple ways as well as his torture.
The people quickly forgets their many conversions and their many mistresses, the “good king Henri” goes into legend: brought up “the hard way”, the white plume as a rallying sign, nicknamed the “green gallant” (young, vigorous man, able to render good services to the ladies), the good father of a family master of the education of his children, instigator of the pot hen, one of the rare kings to have been respected at the beginning of the Revolution until 1792 being spared in the songs of the sans-culottes.
It’s always a pleasure to browse a living new biography in this series. The text is divided into small chapters, embellished with superb paintings by masters and / or anonymous, mostly visible in the Palace of Versailles, but also in the Louvre. This makes it easy to imagine the character and his family and political environment, and the chronology at the end of the book helps us memorize his entire life.
It is also the occasion of a reminder of the history of France, with the wars of religion, the election of Henri d'Anjou in Poland, his accession to the throne of France under the name of Henri III, as well as its end.
Henri IV: The Unity of France, by Nicolas Milovanovic. Ouest-France Editions, 2012.