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February 27, 1594 – Henri IV Crowned King of France

Drawing by French historian Dom Felibien of the special crown made for Henri IV
Drawing by French historian Dom Felibien of the special crown made for Henri IV

On the one hand, Henri IV’s coronation is somewhat Tudor-adjacent, but I’m going to focus on England’s perspective. It’s a great story for a lot of reasons.

Let’s start with who Henri of Navarre was…the easiest way to explain is to go back in time to Francis I – whose sister, Marguerite d’Alencon, was living at his court when Anne Boleyn was there serving Queen Claude. Marguerite was a patron of the arts and an author herself – she encouraged Anne’s interest in poetry and literature…and since Marguerite also leaned towards humanist thinking and religious reform, it is not difficult to see her influence there either. (Fun fact: Marguerite gave Anne an original manuscript of Miroir de l’âme pécheresse, which Elizabeth later translated into English as a present to Katherine Parr. I wrote more about this in a blog post celebrating her birth).

Anyway. Marguerite was married off to Henri, King of Navarre; they had one daughter, Jeanne d’Albret, who inherited the throne of Navarre. Jeanne married Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Vendôme – and their son, Henri, became King of Navarre and then Henri IV of France. But before we get to his coronation, there’s more background to give.…

Marguerite favored reform, and her daughter Jeanne took it a lot further: she became a Calvinist, and enraged Catherine de Medici when she refused to attend Mass while on a visit to the French court. Jeanne also brought up her son as a Huguenot, and the two of them narrowly escaped assassination during the terrible St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572 (they were in Paris for Henri to marry his second cousin, Margaret of Valois, daughter of Henri II and Catherine de Medici).

The Massacre set off years of religious wars in France – with the deeply Catholic royal family (Catherine de Medici was the niece of Pope Clement VII, of course she was Catholic) doing their best to suppress the Protestantism that would not go away. And then, irony of ironies: all four of Catherine’s sons ended up dying young and childless: so when Henri III was assassinated in 1589, France had to go back Louis IX to find the next heir….Henri of Navarre.

The Catholic League refused to allow him to take the throne, fighting him for four years and proclaiming Henry’s Catholic uncle Charles, Cardinal de Bourbon, king instead. Over in England, Elizabeth of course supported Henri, even sending him military and financial support, but finally Henri just gave in: he converted (he is famously reported to have explained “Paris is well worth a Mass”) and removed the teeth from his opposition.

And yet, the Catholic League still controlled Reims, the traditional coronation place of French kings which also housed Charlemagne’s crown…and they were too stubborn to permit the ceremony to proceed. So Henri IV was crowned  at the Cathedral of Chartres and a magnificent new crown was made for him…though since it was melted down during the revolution all we have left is this wonderful drawing.

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