« ForrigeFortsæt »
League masters of Paris. A negotiation ensued between the monarch and his subjects, which terminated in an accommodation ; Henry agreeing to overlook the past, to convene the States-general, in order to secure the succession of a Catholic prince to the throne, and to adopt measures for the extermination of the Protestants. The appearance of reconciliation, however, was hollow; the insults which he had suffered at the hands of the Guises and the League rankled in the heart of the king; and enraged beyond endurance by the haughty conduct of the Duke of Guise and his brother the cardinal at the States-general, which, in conformity with his promise, he had convened at Blois in the month of October, he caused them both to be assassinated, being unable, he said, to deal with such powerful criminals by the ordinary modes of justice. This event, which happened in the end of December 1588, produced a terrible sensation among the Catholics of France, who adored the Guises, and regarded them as the champions of the true faith. When the Duke of Parma heard of it, he said : ‘Guise made a show of doing too much, while in reality he did too little; he ought to have remembered, that whoever draws his sword against his prince, ought that instant to throw away the scabbard.' Even the Huguenots, who benefited by the event, were shocked by it, saying that it too much resembled a St Bartholomew. The king of Navarre expressed his admiration of the great talents of his deceased rivals, and his horror at the mode of their punishment; though at the same time he could not but confess that their deaths had removed a formidable obstacle from his path.
The assassination of the Guises might have proved a death-blow to the League, had the king been possessed of sufficient audacity to follow it up by a course of vengeance against his other enemies. But Henry was overwhelmed by the consequences of his own act, and occupied himself not in following it up, but in defending it. The difficulty of his position was increased by the death of his mother, Catharine de' Medici, which happened on the 5th of January 1589, not many days after the assassination of the Guises. Kad she survived, her spirit might have carried her son through the crisis ; but, left to his own resources, he was helpless as a child. The League, awestruck at first by the loss of their leaders, began now to display their fury in the most violent manner. The name of Henry III. was publicly execrated in the streets—his arms were pulled down from the faces of buildings, and broken in pieces, his statues shattered, his portraits spit upon and torn. Young women and children marched in processions through the streets, carrying lighted tapers, which they suddenly extinguished, to denote that the race of the Valois should in like manner become extinct. Confessors would not grant absolution, unless the penitent renounced Henry as their sovereign; and the duty of assassinating bad kings was inculcated from almost every pulpit. The Duke of Mayenne, brother of the
murdered Guises, was called to Paris, and formally invested with the dignity of 'Lieutenant-general of the state and crown of France'-a title the conferring of which on a subject was equivalent to declaring the throne vacant. It was left to be determined afterwards whether the Duke of Mayenne should assume the title of king. And, as if all these insults and misfortunes were not enough, the unhappy monarch learned that he had been excommunicated by Pope Sixtus V. for the murder of the Guises.
Rejected by the great majority of his subjects, without strength, without wisdom, without hope, Henry III. had no alternative but to throw himself into the arms of the king of Navarre, and implore his protection and assistance. A treaty was accordingly agreed to between the two princes, in which it was arranged that the Huguenots should act in concert with the king against the League, in return for which the king of Navarre was to be acknowledged the lawful heir to the crown. Shortly after the conclusion of this treaty, the king of Navarre set out for the town of Plessis-les-Tours, to have an interview with his royal ally. "Still assailed,' says Sully, ' by some remains of distrust, which he could not repress, he stopped near a mill about two leagues from the castle, and would know the opinion of each of the gentlemen that composed his train upon the step he was going to take. Turning to me, the king said :
What are your thoughts of the matter?". I answered, in few words, that it was true the step he was taking was not without danger, because the troops of the king of France were superior to his, but that I looked upon the present as one of those conjunctures in which something ought to be left to chance. “ Let us go on,” said the prince, after pausing a few moments : my resolution is fixed.”'
The alliance with the king against the League proved fortunate for our hero. After many interviews, during which the king of Navarre's frankness and confidence gained the affection of the French monarch, as much as his courage and wisdom elevated his hopes, it was resolved that the allied Huguenot and royalist armies should lay siege to Paris, and, by gaining possession of it, crush, as a historian expresses it, the principal head of the hydra. Operations had already commenced; the king of France was in quarters at St Cloud, the king of Navarre at Meudon, and the League was beginning to tremble for the result of so powerful a conjunction of forces, when an event occurred which completely altered the state of affairs. This was the death of Henry III. by the hand of James Clement, a fanatical Dominican monk, who had been stirred up, by means of pretended revelations from Heaven, to commit the crime. After communicating his design to the Duke of Mayenne, the Duke d'Aumale, the Duchess de Montpensier, and others of the Sixteen, he procured access to his victim at St Cloud, and stabbed him with a knife in the belly. The assassin was immediately cut down by the gentlemen present, and the king conveyed to bed, where he died on the following morning, the ad of August 1589, in the thirty-eighth year of his age. The king of Navarre had hurried to St Cloud on receiving the information of Clement's attempt; and the dying monarch had embraced him, declared him his successor, and urged him to become a Catholic, without which, he said, he would never be able to reign over the kingdom of France.
The present was a critical moment in the life of our hero, and much depended on how he should improve it. “It was not,' says Sully, “the event of a paltry negotiation, the success of a battle, or the possession of a small kingdom such as Navarre, that employed his thoughts, but the greatest monarchy in Europe. But how many obstacles had he to surmount, how many labours to endure, ere he could hope to obtain it? All that he had hitherto done, was nothing in comparison to what remained to do. How crush a party so powerful, and in such high credit, that it had given fears to a prince established on the throne, and almost obliged him to descend from it? The king of Navarre was convinced that this was one of those moments on the good or bad use of which his destiny depended. Without suffering himself to be dazzled with the view of a throne, or oppressed by difficulties and useless grief, he calmly began to give orders for keeping every one at his duty, and preventing mutinies. After adopting precautions, so as to secure the troops in his favour, he applied himself to gain all the foreign powers on whose assistance he thought he might depend, and wrote or sent deputies to Germany, England, Flanders, Switzerland, and the republic of Venice, to inform them of the new event, and the claim which it gave him to the crown of France.'
These efforts were so far successful. Of the support of the Huguenots, Henry was of course secure; he had long been the hope of their party, and the prospect of his being king was to them peculiarly gratifying. Being, however, a minority of the nation, they would have been too weak alone to plant him on the throne; it was therefore with particular pleasure that Henry learned that the late king's army, consisting almost entirely of Catholics, was willing to acknowledge him as their sovereign. There remained, however, the Catholic nobility and the mass of the French people. Of the former, there were a number in the camp, who, being determined enemies to the League, were willing to accept Henry as their king, if he would abandon his Protestant opinions, and become Catholic. They represented to him that if he were to take this step, it was absolutely certain that all the Catholics of France, except a few attached to the League by personal considerations, would declare themselves on his side; while the Huguenots, though they might complain, would be obliged to submit. In short, let him but proclaim himself a Catholic, and the crown of France would be his, with hardly a struggle to obtain it. Henry saw the force of this reasoning ; indeed, many of the Huguenots themselves were persuaded that it was impossible for any but a Catholic to be king of France under the existing circumstances, and contented themselves with the hope that, even under such a prince, supposing him not to be a bigot, Protestantism would be tolerated. It was contrary, however, to Henry's disposition to purchase an advantage by such a meanness as that which was proposed to him. All that he could promise was, that he would respect to the utmost the established rights of the Catholic faith in France, and that he would take the subject of his own change of creed into his earnest consideration. Some of the Catholic nobles, not satisfied with these concessions, withdrew; the majority, however, influenced probably by hatred to the League, and by the example of the Catholic soldiers, took the oath of allegiance to him on the 4th of August 1589. From that period he is known in history by the name of Henri Quatre—Henry the Fourth-of France.
We have thus traced the history of our hero from his birth, till, at the age of thirty-six years, he found himself, by an extraordinary series of events, called to a throne to which, according to the natural course of things, he could hardly have hoped to succeed. His life subsequently to this period divides itself into two parts. The first, extending from 1589 to 1598, is a period of struggle, during which all his energies were occupied in maintaining himself on the throne, and resisting and crushing those who sought to hurl him from it. The narrative of these eight or nine years consists of a series of battles and sieges undertaken against the League, interspersed with negotiations with foreign powers, and declarations of war against them. The second, extending from 1598 to Henry's death in 1610, is the period of his reign over France, properly so called—the period during which, all his enemies being conquered, and peace restored, he employed himself in the true work of government, and developed his great ideas for the glory of France, and the good of Europe in general.
OF THE SUCCESSION-HENRY ABJURES
PROTESTANTISM. The death of Henry III. had caused the most lively demonstrations of joy in Paris. It was proposed by some of the chiefs of the League to proclaim the Duke of Mayenne his successor ; but as public opinion seemed to be scarcely ripe for such a proposition, the old Cardinal de Bourbon, then a prisoner in the hands of the enemy, was declared king of France, under the designation of Charles X.—an appointment which, while it left all the real authority in the hands of the Duke of Mayenne, would not prevent him from assuming the royal title also, when the proper time for doing so arrived. The two parties, therefore, who were now contending for the mastery of France, were the League, consisting of all the most resolute Catholics of France, whether nobles or commons, with the Duke of Mayenne at their head; and a mixed party of Huguenots, and what may be termed moderate Catholics, with the king of Navarre, now Henry IV., at their head. There could not be a greater contrast between any two men than there was between the leaders of these two parties. Not to speak of the inherent powers of their minds, the appearance and personal habits of the two men were strikingly different. The Duke of Mayenne was a large, corpulent, and clumsy man, of dignified demeanour, but slow in all his movements, and requiring an immense quantity both of food and sleep. The king of Navarre, again, was all vivacity and activity : during a campaign, or when pressed by business, he allowed himself no more than a quarter of an hour at table, and two or three hours of sleep were sufficient to re-invigorate him after the greatest fatigues. It was a prognostication of the shrewd and candid Pope Sixtus V., that the Béarnese, as he called Henry, was sure to win, seeing that the time he lay in bed was not longer than that occupied by the Duke of Mayenne in taking his dinner.
As Paris was the stronghold of the League, Henry resolved to attack it; and after several months spent in preparations and military operations in other parts of the kingdom, especially in Normandy, he commenced his march to the capital. The Duke of Mayenne had gone out to oppose him; and after several preliminary engagements, the two armies met and fought a great battle on the plain of Ivry, on the 14th of March 1590. Writers have vied with each other in the description of this celebrated battle, and the bravery and generosity which our hero displayed in it; but no description equals that given by Lord Macaulay, in those spirit-stirring verses in which he supposes a Huguenot soldier to pour out his feelings :
The king is come to marshal us, all in his armour drest ;