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This Week In History

Paris is well worth a mass. August 18, 1572.

Henry of Bourbon, King of Navarre under the name of Henry III from 1572 and 1610, lived for some time in Lower Navarre, a similar territory to the current Navarre, in Spain, although he spent most of his life in Bearne, later becoming king of France from 1589 to 1610. He was the first claimant from the House of Bourbon to reign in France, where he was known as Henry the Great (Henri le Grand) or The Good King (Le bon roi Henri). Nevertheless, history records him as a capricious nobleman, as well as  tremendously opportunistic.

He is often considered by the French as one of the best rulers they ever had, always trying to improve the lives of his subjects. His phrase “one chicken in the pot of all, every Sunday”, exemplifies his policies to make his people happy, not only by the means of conquers and power, but also with peace and prosperity.

He was the son of Anthony of Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme and Bourbon, and of the Queen of Navarre, Joan d´Albret (Joan III of Navarre), and was baptized Catholic, although he received from his mother a Calvinist education. His father died in 1562, and Henry succeeded him as Duke of Vendôme and Bourbon. He sided with the Huguenots (Protestants) during the Third French War of Religion. The war ended with the Peace of Saint-Germain in 1570, in which a reconciliation between Protestants and Catholics was intended. As a part of the plan, Henry had to be married to Margaret of Valois, sister of Charles IX of France. The wedding took place on August 18, 1572, against the will of the parties. That same year, his mother died while on voyage to her son´s wedding, and he became King of Navarre.

The wedding didn´t please the bride and groom nor Pope Gregory XIII, who did not authorise the marriage. The French weren´t happy either. There was an upheaval in Paris, and the governor had to run away and Gaspar de Coligny (leader of the Huguenots) was assassinated. A week after the wedding, these revolts reached their peak at the Saint Bartholomew´s Day Massacre, with the Catholic extremists killing thousands of Huguenots that had come to Paris to celebrate the Henry´s wedding. Henry wasn´t killed thanks to his wife´s help, and promised to convert to Catholicism a few weeks later.

Forced to live at the court of Paris, he managed to escape and abjured Catholicism in 1576, reactivating backing Protestants.
In 1584, upon the death of Francis of Anjou, brother and heir to the Catholic Henry III, who had succeeded Charles IX in 1574, Henry of Navarre became the next senior descendant of King Louis IX, and King Henry III had no choice but to recognise him as the legitimate successor. In the end,  the Catholic League facilitated his accession to the throne, although with the condition of his publicly abjuring Protestantism.

After unsuccessful efforts to achieve power in Paris without Catholic help, he finally converted to Catholicism on July 25, 1593, when he was credited for the famous phrase Paris vaut bien une messe” (Paris is well worth a mass).

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