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The Story of France by  Mary Macgregor

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RAVAILLAC STABS THE KING

[317] AS soon as Henry IV. had become a Catholic, city after city gladly acknowledged him as king. Indeed, before a year had passed, France had, for the most part, paid allegiance to him, and war had ceased.

In 1594 the king was crowned in the cathedral of Chartres, for Rheims, where the kings of France were usually crowned, was one of the few cities which still refused to acknowledge Henry IV. as king.

From Chartres Henry went to Paris, where the gates were flung wide to welcome him. As he walked through the streets, the people flocked ever more closely around him. "Let them come near," said Henry, "they hunger to see a king."

With true kingliness he made the day he entered his capital a day of gladness even to his enemies.

The Duchess of Montpensier, who had done her utmost to injure his cause. Henry forgave. He also allowed the Spanish troops to leave the city unharmed. As they passed out of one of the city gates Henry watched them from a window.

Catching sight of the monarch, the soldiers saluted with their swords. Henry returned the salute, saying, "Go, gentlemen, and commend me to your master, but return no more."

Philip II., however, still refused to acknowledge Henry as king, and he did all in his power to stir up discontent in France, pretending that the throne was still empty, and [318] urging the claims of the Infanta Elizabeth. France was too loyal to listen to Philip II., and at length in 1595, angry with his behaviour to their king, the country declared war against Spain.

The King of Spain behaved rather as a spoiled child when the declaration of war reached him. He petulantly insisted that he was not the enemy of France, but only of the Prince of Beam and the Huguenots. But so childish a protest could not save him from war, and Philip, seeing France take up arms against him, speedily sent Spanish troops into France to join the army of the League, which still existed, though its power was much less than it used to be.

Henry, with his usual recklessness, fell upon the enemy at Fontaine-Franyaise with only a handful of men, and won a brilliant victory. And this is how the victory was won.

Marshal Biron had been sent forward to find out the strength of the Spanish army. The king was only a short distance off, when the marshal saw on a little hill about sixty of the enemy's cavalry keeping guard. Biron attacked and overthrew them, and then, taking possession of the ground he had captured, he saw to his dismay that the whole Spanish army as well as the troops of the League were marching towards him. Before them they were driving a hundred or so of Henry's cavalry.

The marshal awaited the enemy, but their numbers forced him to retreat, and soon he was within sight of the king who, seeing what had happened, sent a few of his already small force to support Biron.

These also were driven slowly back upon the king, who now knew that he would be forced to fight the main body of the Spanish army.

It would be a battle fought not for glory, but for life itself.

With his few hundred horse Henry threw himself upon [319] the enemy, his men fighting as gallantly as did the king himself.

The Spanish soldiers, in confusion at the fierceness of the attack, tumbled backwards upon one another and retreated in disorder to the Duke of Mayenne's army.

At the same moment the duke saw a body of horsemen rush up to the king's assistance, and thinking the whole royal army was at hand, he at once gave the order to retreat. Thus with a mere handful of men Henry IV. had beaten the Spanish army, and forced Mayenne's troops to withdraw.

But after this victory the Spanish carried everything before them, and Henry's fortunes were at the lowest ebb when a heavy blow fell upon Philip.

The Pope, who until this time had refused to give the Prince of Beam absolution, now sanctioned all that had been done in the cathedral of St. Denis.

The Catholic nobles had thus no longer any reason to withhold their allegiance from Henry IV. The League was dissolved, even the Duke of Mayenne coming over to the king's side.

Henry, being sure of the nobles, now grew careless of his country, and gave himself up to an idle life. Banquets and fetes seemed for the time to satisfy the soldier king. And while the king laughed and danced the days away, the Spanish army still-stayed in France, besieging a town here, another there, and sometimes taking them too.

Then all at once, in March 1597, the king was roused from his idleness.

Amiens, an important city close to Paris, had been taken by the Spaniards.

The blow roused the fighting spirit of the king. With the Duke of Sully's help he speedily assembled an army and hastened toward Amiens. He was determined to regain the city.

It was March when it was taken by the Spaniards. [320] In September it surrendered, and was once again in the hands of the French.

This was the end of the struggle, and peace was made at Vervins, Spain giving back to France all that she had taken from her during the war, except one town. In the following year, 1598, Philip II. died.

Before the war ended Henry IV. found that all his money had been needed to pay his soldiers. You will hardly believe that a king could be so badly off as Henry was before peace was declared. He had actually no money, no clothes, no food. He wrote plainly enough to the Duke of Sully to tell him of his distress. Here are his own words:

"I wish to tell you the state to which I am reduced, which is such that I am very near the enemy and have not, as you may say, a horse to fight on, or a whole suit of harness to my back.

"My shirts are all torn, my doublets out at elbows, my cupboard is often bare, and for the last two days I have been dining and supping with one and another; my purveyors say that they have no more means of supplying my table, especially as for more than six months they have had no money. Judge if I deserve to be so treated and fail not to come. Adieu, my friend, whom well I love."

Never have you read of a king in sadder plight.

War being ended in 1598, the Huguenots thought that it was time the king should listen to their grievances. They had been more or less dissatisfied ever since Henry had become a Catholic, but of late their discontent had increased.

They wrote to Henry telling him that they often had to suffer unjustly, and that much evil was done to them by the Catholics: "Stem then, sir, with your goodwill and your authority, the tide of our troubles. Accustom your kingdom to at least endure us, if it will not love us."

To this appeal Henry's answer was to sign, in April 1598, the famous Edict of Nantes.

By this Edict the Huguenots were allowed to worship [321] in their own way everywhere, save in some few towns which had belonged specially to the League. They were permitted to hold positions of trust at court and in the government of the country in the same way as were Catholics. They were also free to garrison many of their towns, in which they had already built churches and schools.

Having satisfied the Huguenots, Henry, with Sully's aid, next tried to reduce the taxes, which during the wars had weighed heavily on his subjects. He also saw that marshes were drained and good roads and bridges made all over the country, while in many towns he built colleges and fortresses.

Mulberry trees too were planted, on the leaves of which silkworms feed. In this way the silk industry was encouraged, while factories were built for silk-looms, as also for linen, lace, gold cloth and the glass industries.

Thus under Henry IV. France became prosperous, her people contented. The king had often been used to say that he would like "every peasant to have his fowl in the pot on Sundays," and now his wish had come to pass. If his subjects had not actually each a fowl, at least they had good and wholesome food.

In 1610, for one reason and another. Henry IV. felt that he must again go to war, not only with Spain but with Austria. So he assembled three great armies, appointed his wife, Mary de Medici, whom he had lately married, regent in his absence, and prepared to set out. But his wife begged him to wait for her coronation, which was to take place at St. Denis in the month of May.

The king was strangely disturbed at being delayed in Paris. He confided his troubles to Sully. "My heart tells me that some misfortune will happen to me. I shall die in this city. Ah, wretched coronation, thou wilt be the cause of my death." Thus he talked to his minister, telling him too that it had been foretold that he would be [322] killed in his carriage at the first grand ceremony at which he was present.

However, in spite of misgivings, the king stayed in Paris and attended the coronation at St. Denis. On the following day he went in the royal coach to visit the Duke of Sully, who was ill.

In one of the narrow streets the carriage had to go slowly to allow a cart to pass.

Suddenly from one of the doorways a man named Ravaillac darted out, threw himself upon the king, and before any one could interfere stabbed Henry twice.

It was as the king had feared—nevermore would he leave his capital.

Slowly the carriage turned back toward the Louvre, but before the palace was reached Henry IV. closed his eyes, "without opening them again any more."

"I tell you nothing about the queen's tears; all that must be imagined. As for the people of Paris, I think they never wept so much as on this occasion. They ran hither and thither along the streets, distraught with grief, crying, 'The good King Henry is dead, the good King Henry is dead!' "


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