Henry IV – July 25, 2012

Henry IV
Credit political ambition, but Henry IVs literal change of faith on July 25, 1593 altered a kingdom. By publicly declaring his allegiance to Catholicism, Henri of Navarre was able to secure his Parisian throne against his religious foes, particularly the Catholic League. Despite being the legitimate heir to the throne by French laws of succession, Henry’s Protestant rule was restricted to the Navarre region. With the support of Elizabeth I of England, Henry fought his way to Paris, winning victories and laying siege to the city. Citing that “Paris is well worth a mass,” Henry reconciled with the Catholic Church as a means to achieve his goal.
Besides a change of religious heart, Henry’s ascension brought extensive change to French culture and thinking. By issuing the Edict of Nantes, the new king restored civil rights and freedom to his former Protestant allies, promoting nationwide tolerance. Most importantly, the Edict ended a half century of religious war in France.
Henry did not stop there. He was considered among the most popular of the French monarchs for progressive policies that improved the well being of his subjects. The Grande Gallerie, for instance, was Henry’s contribution to the Louvre. This 400 meter long addition was periodically home to local artists and craftsman who contributed to an architectural style known as “Henry IV style.” He also improved infrastructure with numerous construction, agricultural and educational projects. The best known among these are the College Royal Henri-le-GrandPlace Royale, and most famously, Point Neuf, connecting the left and right banks of La Seine.

Favoring diplomacy over military options, Henri was largely successful in his foreign policy, financing expeditions to the Far East and North America, while building embassies and averting conflict closer to home. His statue still stands at Pont Neuf.

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