Henry IV

(History of the World: The Renaissance)

Article abstract: Henry IV brought peace and national prestige to France within the structure of powerful monarchy after protracted strife, which had included eight civil wars. He settled the long-standing Catholic-Protestant conflict by embracing Catholicism while granting broad toleration to the French Reformed church. He is the most noteworthy of early modern rulers who made religious liberty the law of the state.

Early Life

Henry of Navarre, first of the Bourbon line, was born in the castle of Pau in the Pyrenees Mountains to Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme, and Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre. He was a direct descendant of Louis IX, one of France’s most illustrious rules. Although he was baptized a Catholic, Henry received instruction in the Calvinist (Reformed) faith at his mother’s direction, and he eventually joined the French Protestants, then known as Huguenots. In 1568, his mother placed Henry in the service of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, the leader of the Protestant cause. As a soldier in the Huguenot army, he fought bravely and acquired a reputation as a skillful military leader. When Jeanne d’Albret died in 1572, Henry succeeded her as monarch of Navarre. That same year, he married Margaret of Valois, sister of King Charles IX of France.

Life’s Work

By the time Henry joined Coligny in 1568, France had been wracked by civil war for more than eight years. The death of Henry II in 1559 initiated a power struggle in which political and religious considerations were intertwined. Francis II and Henry II had tried to crush the Protestants, but the Reformed faith had made impressive gains nevertheless, especially among the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy. Calvinism gained adherents who could exert far greater influence than their numbers would seem to indicate.

Because the sons of Henry II were feeble rulers, nobles asserted their authority and rival factions competed for power. Antoine de Bourbon and Louis I de Condé, both princes of the blood, allied with Coligny to promote the Protestant cause. The family of Guise, with Duke Francis at the head, led the Catholic faction. When Francis II succeeded to the throne as a minor in 1559, the Guises obtained control of the government. After they executed some of their opponents, Protestants responded with militant resistance. Francis II died after one year on the throne, and Charles IX became king with his mother, Catherine de Médicis, as regent. She then became the pivotal figure in French politics for the next quarter century. Catherine had no deep religious convictions, so she tried to manipulate both sides and to create a moderate party loyal to the Crown. In 1562, however, the Guises seized power and forced the regent to resume persecuting the Protestants. France became the scene of all-out civil war.

The marriage of Henry of Navarre to Margaret of Valois occurred in 1572, as Catherine de Médicis tried to placate the Huguenots by marrying her daughter to one of their most popular leaders. The nuptial festivities, however, became the occasion for the Saint Bartholomew’s Eve Massacre, in which Coligny and some other Protestants were murdered. Although the assassins may have intended to kill only a few Huguenot leaders, word of the slayings soon led to the slaughter of thousands of Protestants across France. The civil war resumed with renewed fury.

The sickly Henry III became king in 1574, and soon a militant Catholic faction, now led by Duke Henry of Guise, organized the Catholic League without royal approval. The civil strife then became the War of Three Henrys, as Henry III, Henry of Guise, and Henry of Navarre fought for control of the kingdom. The eventual assassination of the king and the duke left the Protestant Henry of Navarre the legal heir to the throne. He declared himself King of France in 1589. Civil war continued, however, until the last remnants of the Catholic League abandoned resistance in 1596. The concurrent war with Spain did not end until 1598.

Although Henry IV had become king legally, he knew that his throne would never be secure so long as he remained a Protestant. His Huguenot supporters, only 10 percent of the population, were unable to cement their leader’s authority. Moderate Catholics urged the king to convert, but Henry delayed because he wanted his enemies to recognize his kingship first. When he became convinced that that would not happen, he announced his decision to become a Catholic. An old but probably apocryphal account relates that he justified changing religions with the remark “Paris is well worth a Mass.” Henry’s embrace of Catholicism shows clearly that this king was a politique, that is, one without strong religious beliefs who follows the course of action he deems politically advantageous. He had done this before, when he had joined the Catholic Church to marry Margaret of Valois, only to return to the Reformed faith in 1576.

In order to obtain papal approval for his succession, Henry had to seek absolution for his Protestant heresies, something the Vatican was in no hurry to grant. Pope Sixtus V had tried to block his path to the French throne and had declared him deposed as King of Navarre. The reigning pontiff, Clement VIII, chose to defer action on the royal request, even though French prelates had hailed the king’s return to the Church.

Henry chose Jacques Davy Duperron as his emissary to Rome. Duperron, who had...

(The entire section is 2245 words.)

Henry IV

(History of the World: The Middle Ages)

Article abstract: Henry’s struggles with the German nobility and the Papacy had a decisive impact on the future constitutional and political development of Germany. Although his tenacious defense of the rights and prerogatives of the monarchy was largely unsuccessful, it still marked him as one of the greatest of the German kings.

Early Life

Henry IV was born on November 11, 1050, the son and heir of Henry III and his wife, Agnes of Poitou. Henry was well educated for the period: He could read and write, knew Latin, and had an interest in music and architecture. His childhood was very tumultuous and would have an inordinate influence on his personality and his later decisions.

In 1056 his father died. The German nobles accepted the five-year-old Henry as king only because his father had earlier forced them three times to swear allegiance to him. Control of the monarchy quickly fell to Henry’s mother, a weak, retiring woman thoroughly unsuited to the rough world of German politics. She did her best, but under her regency the interests of the monarchy were not advanced, royal lands were alienated to various princes, and the political situation in Germany began to unravel.

These problems became very clear when in April, 1062, Archbishop Anno of Cologne enticed the twelve-year-old Henry onto a gaily decorated boat on the Rhine River at Kaiserwerth and kidnapped him. Henry tried to escape by jumping over the side and he was rescued only with great difficulty. The conspirators’ motivation was simply to satisfy their own selfish desires while allowing Henry only a semblance of power. Probably relieved to be done with the responsibility of being regent, Agnes made no objection, nor did any other significant group in Germany, to the kidnapping; instead she fulfilled her long-held desire to enter a convent.

By 1066, when he was able to assume power for himself at the age of sixteen, Henry was a tall, attractive man, who despite frequent illnesses had an imposing physical presence. Lacking the piety of his father, Henry reacted against the restraints of his childhood by living a dissolute life. His experiences with the German princes during the regency had not only taught him trickery, deceit, and cunning, but had also filled him with an intense pride in the dignity of the monarchy and a burning desire to preserve and defend its rights. The protection of the monarchy would remain the constant goal of his reign; in 1066, Henry was ready to begin the arduous task of restoring the power and prestige of the Crown.

Life’s Work

Because of the erosion of royal authority during the regency, Henry’s first priority was to create a firm economic foundation for the monarchy, enabling it to act independently of the desires of the German nobility. That required the reinstitution of royal properties in Saxony, making it the center of royal power. Such a program was certain to be opposed by the Saxon nobles, who would see it as a threat to the gains they had made during the regency, and by the free Saxon peasants, who correctly perceived any increase in the monarchy’s power as leading to servitude. Led by Otto von Nordheim and Magnus Billung, these groups rebelled in 1070. Although the Saxons had some success against Henry, the issue was never in serious doubt and on June 9, 1075, the imperial army decisively defeated a Saxon army of nobles and peasants at Langensalza on the river Unstrutt. Broken and crushed, Saxony appeared completely subjugated and Henry was poised to govern it directly through royal officials, ministeriales, with Goslar as his capital. Had this success proved lasting, there is little doubt that Henry would have completed the political program of the Ottonian and Salian kings: the creation of a German “state” like that of Norman England. At the very moment of his greatest victory, however, Henry was suddenly faced with an even more perilous enemy in the person of Pope Gregory VII.

Gregory, formerly the Cluniac monk Hildebrand, was elected pope in 1073 while Henry was preoccupied with Saxony. At first, relations between the two were quite friendly. Gregory followed ancient custom by informing the German king of his election and requesting Henry’s confirmation, which was granted. Had Henry understood the true aims and beliefs of Gregory, however, this approval would not have been forthcoming.

Within this short, pale, and plebeian fifty-year-old pope burned a revolutionary vision of the Church and its place in society. Essentially, Gregory saw himself called by God to free the Church from the chains of secular authority. He envisioned a Church, under the absolute control of the Papacy, having ultimate primacy over all society. All authority, secular and clerical, would serve the will of the pope. Indeed, Gregory attacked the German king and the German church precisely because it was the most organized and disciplined in Europe. It had been reformed by Henry II and Henry III and therefore was attached to the Crown and not to the Papacy. Thus, if absolute papal control of the Church and society were to become a reality in Europe, first the secular control of the German church had to be destroyed. His contemporaries were very aware that Gregory’s program was revolutionary, breaking with ancient custom and tradition.

Gregory carefully planned his move against Henry, choosing to strike just as the Saxon revolt was coming to its climax. At the Lenten Synod of 1075, Gregory, as part of a sweeping reform program against simoniac German clergy, forbade Henry to perform any lay investitures or suffer severe penalties—a mortal challenge to the monarchy’s ability to rule. The German kings had long used prelates as the chief officials of the kingdom and to deny them the power to appoint and to invest the bishops and the abbots of the imperial abbeys was to shred the Crown’s capacity to govern.

Henry ignored the pope’s decree and once the Saxons were reduced, he turned his attention to Milan, where he appointed an archbishop in direct opposition to Gregory, who had supported another candidate. The pope retaliated with his famous letter of December 8, 1075, in which he called Henry to penance and threatened him with the loss of his...

(The entire section is 2575 words.)

Henry IV

(History of the World: The Middle Ages)

Article abstract: Henry IV usurped the throne of Richard II and placed his family, the Lancastrians, in power, initiating the dynastic struggle between the great aristocratic families of Lancaster and York known as the Wars of the Roses. The manner in which Parliament was allowed to depose Richard and accept Henry as the royal successor provided the opportunity for Parliament to gain more power than it had ever held before: The Lancastrian kings would rule by parliamentary title, and in the fifteenth century political theories would place great stress on the legal limitations of royal power.

Early Life

Henry of Lancaster—or Henry Bolingbroke, as he came to be known—was born in...

(The entire section is 2554 words.)