Henry IV of France (or Henri IV), also sometimes known by his epithet ‘Good King Henry’, was a pivotal political figure in late 16th century France. Being the first French monarch from the House of Bourbon, Henry IV was also known for his Protestant inclinations (he considered himself a Huguenot in the initial years), which brought him at loggerheads with the Catholic royal army. In fact, this clash later translated into a full-fledged military conflict known as the Wars of Religion, which in spite of its name, was not just determined by religious affiliations but also political motivations.
Given such a chaotic scope strewn with military, religious, and political upheavals in 16th century France, it does come as a surprise that Henry IV of France is also known as ‘Good King Henry’ (le bon roi Henri). The moniker possibly comes from his perceived geniality and thought of welfare for his subjects, in spite of their initial religious differences. Impressed by such ideals of enlightenment in the late medieval period, researchers headed by the famed facial reconstruction specialist Philippe Froesch (who is also known for his reconstruction of Maximilien de Robespierre) have successfully recreated the face of the French monarch with state-of-the-art visual techniques.
The War of the Three Henries –
One of the phases of the Wars of Religion, the War of the Three Henries brought forth Henry IV of France (then known as Henry of Navarre, who succeeded his mother Queen Joan III of Navarre), the Catholic Henry III and one Henry I, Duke of Guise, who was known to be a radical anti-Huguenot Catholic. After a series of campaigns (and counter-campaigns), Henry of Navarre and his Huguenot Protestant forces won the Battle of Coutras, thus scoring a major victory over the royalist army. And by the end of 1588 AD, Henry III had Henry I of Guise assassinated, thus ridding him of his main Catholic rival, which in turn led to an incredible political situation.
To that end, instead of Henry III’s expectation of a free path to Catholic monarchy, the French rose in revolt in many of the major cities, probably horrified by his crimes. So in an odd turn of events, Henry III had to rely on the support of his Protestant opponent. But by the time the two leaders were beginning to cement their relation, Henry III was murdered by a fanatic monk in 1589. This left Henry of Navarre as the nominal ruler of France, though he continued to receive stubborn opposition from entrenched royalist forces in Paris (who were aided by foreign Catholic Spanish elements). Consequently, he made his case as a pragmatic politician (politique), and renounced Protestantism in favor of Roman Catholicism by declaring – Paris vaut bien une messe (“Paris is well worth a mass”). As a result, he was crowned as Henry IV of France – the first French monarch of the House of Bourbon.
A chicken in every pot –
Interestingly enough, the oft used (and often wrongly attributed to Herbert Hoover) phrase ‘a chicken in every pot’ probably comes from a remark of Henry IV. Alluding to the relative prosperity and more importantly peace which Henry brought to France after years of religious war and persecutions, the king made his statement – Si Dieu me prête vie, je ferai qu’il n’y aura point de laboureur en mon royaume qui n’ait les moyens d’avoir le dimanche une poule dans son pot!, which translates to “If God keeps me, I will make sure that no peasant in my realm will lack the means to have a chicken in the pot on Sunday!”.
The final assassination –
The unique religious scenario in late medieval France epitomized by the personal beliefs of Henry IV of France, often landed the king in trouble with his subjects. During the time of his coronation, many Catholics were still suspicious of his intentions, while some of the Huguenots considered him as a traitor to their cause. Considering such a precarious footing, Henry IV of France might have survived around 12 assassination attempts throughout his lifetime, while barely escaping death at the bloody event of St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. However in 1610, a Catholic fanatic named François Ravaillac was finally able to fatally stab the king, rather aided by a traffic congestion that stopped the monarch’s carriage on its way to a coronation ceremony for the queen.
Video Source: The CGBros (YouTube)