He could have made a very good ruler "if he had met a good century": This judgment of a high-ranking contemporary made the French King Henry III. (1551–1589) long attached. The last monarch of the Valois dynasty was charming, intelligent, well educated and a man of the court as well as a man on the battlefield. But in Catherine de Medici he had an overpowering mother against whom he lacked the elbows and the sense of power. Thus his reign became one of the darkest periods of royalty in France.
Because the country was deeply divided. To the same extent that the Huguenots of the Reformed variety of Protestantism gained more and more followers in the high nobility, a Catholic counter-movement formed, which included not only numerous feudal lords but also the population of Paris, who adhered to an almost fanatical Catholicism.
After the death of her husband Henry II in 1559, Katharina proved that a woman could also master the multiplication tables of this male society and maneuvered for her sons Charles IX. and Henry III. royal rule through the fronts. To this end, she made pacts with the Protestants, sometimes with the radical Catholics. The marriage of her daughter Margarete to the Huguenot leader Heinrich von Navarre in Paris in 1572 was intended to be a celebration of reconciliation.
But the Catholic party, led by the Duke of Lorraine, Henry of Guise, ignored the promise of safe conduct and staged a massacre on St. Bartholomew's Day, in which the Huguenot leaders died. Navarre escaped, but thousands of Protestants fell victim to the Parisian mob. To this day, there is debate as to whether or to what extent Katharina pulled the strings in order to escape the grip of one party.
As the powerless heir to the throne, Heinrich stood in the background. King of France was his older brother Charles IX. For her favorite son Henry (III), Catherine had chosen a different crown, that of Poland. In the spring of 1573, the 21-year-old was elected by the Polish nobility against the promise of far-reaching political concessions. Only reluctantly did Heinrich set out for his kingdom, from which he fled again after just 146 days. Because his brother Karl had died suddenly, and Heinrich did everything to succeed him. At 13th. In February 1575 he was crowned King of France in Reims Cathedral.
But now a character trait has increasingly become a problem that even well-meaning biographers find difficult to explain. An example: Catherine's planned marriage to an English princess did not take place because Henry behaved in ways that were completely out of date for a prince. Since he was madly in love with the gorgeous but not befitting Maria von Kleve, he refused the project. Nor did he attach any importance to a daughter of Emperor Maximilian II or the Polish princess who was brought to him in Poland.
When his beloved, whom reasons of state had forbidden to marry, died in childbirth, he fell into excessive mourning, which caused the court to doubt his masculinity. Having become king, he married Louise de Voudémont. She was loyal to him, but - probably because of an inflammation of the uterus - could not give him children, which was to have far-reaching political consequences.
Attempts have been made to explain Heinrich's tendency to exaggerate with a nervous attitude. "Whatever he did, he did it excessively because of his temper," said his biographer Pierre Chevallier. Other historians have been or are less understanding. For them, Heinrich's appearances with a mask, in women's clothes, his foolishness with small dogs and children's games, the entourage of the "Mignons" - flamboyant young nobles - were evidence of an unworldliness that was reinforced by regular stays in monasteries with excessive penitential rituals.
Until the 1580s, his mother Katharina was able to impose her will on the government, but this was not able to stop its decline in power. A total of eight so-called Huguenot wars ruined the country. The court lacked the means to assert itself against the conflicting parties. Because of Henry's childlessness, the biggest problem was whether Henry of Navarre would succeed him as his closest male relative.
In order to prevent the leader of the Huguenots from falling to the crown, Heinrich von Guise and his brother, Cardinal Ludwig von Reims, formed the League. Their power was shown in 1586 when the Parisians massacred the king's Swiss Guards, while Henry de Guise defied a ban from the king and entered the capital to cheers from the populace. It was only thanks to Katharina's tactical finesse that her son was able to escape to the Loire with his closest associates. She then formed an alliance with the Guise, the consequence of which was the dismissal of several royal advisors.
Both apparently brought about a change in Heinrich's behavior. He didn't forgive his mother for having had to shake hands with the Guise despite everything. Now it was a question of "emancipating oneself from the dominating mother, who was always pushing for power," writes the historian Ilja Mieck. As a first step, he fired the ministers she trusted.
Since the Catholic supremacy Spain after the sinking of his armada in front of England hardly seemed capable of acting, Heinrich III. targeted the leaders of radical Catholics. They had already boasted that they would send the king to a monastery, following the example of the last Merovingians, and openly seize power as a descendant of Charlemagne.
When in December 1588 the Guise came to a meeting of estates in Blois, Henry III. capture the Guise brothers on December 23 and 24 and murder them as rebels by his guard. The bodies of the duke and cardinal were dismembered and burned. Subsequently, the king sought an alliance with Navarre.
But the counterattack was not long in coming. On August 1, 1589, a Dominican attempted to assassinate the king, and the next day he died of his injuries. Thus Navarre was the victor in this "War of the Three Henrys". However, in order to become one of the great kings of France as Henry IV, he had to convert to the Catholic faith. "Paris is worth a fair" became a dictum.
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