Henry IV
First King of France of the Bourbon dynasty

1553 - 1610

Henry IV was the first king of France of the Bourbon dynasty. He succeeded the last Valois king, Henry III, in 1589. Before becoming France's king, Henry IV was known as Henry of Navarre. He had been king of Navarre and a leader of the Huguenot (French Protestant) forces in a series of civil wars between the Huguenots and French Roman Catholics. The son of a Huguenot mother and a Catholic father, Henry switched religions for political reasons six times during his life. As king of France, he initially faced opposition from the country's Roman Catholic majority. But after his readmittance to the Catholic Church in 1593, he gradually won his subjects' allegiance. He went on to become one of France's most admired kings.

During the civil wars, Spain interfered in French affairs. It also plotted with Henry's French rivals to overthrow him. Supported by the English and Dutch, Henry was able to make peace with King Philip II of Spain in 1598.

Also in 1598, Henry issued the Edict of Nantes, the first long-lasting edict of religious toleration in modern Europe. The edict granted the Huguenots many privileges and marked the end of France's civil wars.

Henry was born in Pau, France, to Antoine de Bourbon and Jeanne d'Albret, queen of Navarre. In 1572, he married Marguerite de Valois, sister of Henry III. The couple had no children and divorced in 1599. In 1600, Henry married Marie de Medicis of the famous Medici family of Florence, Italy. One of the couple's sons succeeded Henry as King Louis XIII. Henry was assassinated by a religious fanatic.

Contributor: Donald A. Bailey, Ph.D., Prof. of History, Univ. of Winnipeg.


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