Read CHAPTER IX - THE ASSASSINATION OF THE DUKE OF GUISE AND OF HENRY III. of Henry IV‚ Makers of History, free online book, by John S. C. Abbott, on


Imbecility of the king. ­Haughtiness of the Duke of Guise. ­The duke goes to Paris. ­Interview with the king. ­Two rival courts. ­The Swiss guard defeated. ­Tumult in the city. ­Dignity of Achille de Harlai. ­Measures adopted by the duke. ­Endeavors to obtain an assassin. ­The king at Blois. ­Assassination of the Duke of Guise. ­Interview between the king and Catharine. ­Indignation of the League. ­Anathemas against the king. ­The king seeks aid from the Protestants. ­Desolations of war. ­Compact with Henry of Navarre. ­Interview at Plessis les Tours. ­The manifesto. ­Renewed war. ­Duchess of Montpensier. ­The flag of truce. ­Assassination of Henry III. ­Arrival of Henry of Navarre. ­Dying scene. ­Henry IV. assumes the crown. ­Difficulties of the new reign. ­Danger of assassination. ­Religious principles of Henry IV. ­News of the death of Henry III. ­Abandoned by the Catholics. ­The retreat. ­The stand at Dieppe. ­Henry urged to fly to England. ­Anecdote. ­Arrival of the fleet from England. ­Bigotry of the Catholics. ­Desolation of France. ­Ignoble conduct of the League. ­Paris besieged. ­Assault of Etampes. ­Letter from Lorraine. ­Military reprisals. ­Activity of Henry. ­Dissension among the Leaguers. ­Triumphant progress of Henry. ­Wonderful escape.

The war, again resumed, was fiercely prosecuted.  Henry III. remained most of the time in the gilded saloons of the Louvre, irritable and wretched, and yet incapable of any continued efficient exertion.  Many of the zealous Leaguers, indignant at the pusillanimity he displayed, urged the Duke of Guise to dethrone Henry III. by violence, and openly to declare himself King of France.  They assured him that the nation would sustain him by their arms.  But the duke was not prepared to enter upon so bold a measure, as he hoped that the death of the king would soon present to him a far more favorable opportunity for the assumption of the throne.  Henry III. was in constant fear that the duke, whose popularity in France was almost boundless, might supplant him, and he therefore forbade him to approach the metropolis.

Notwithstanding this prohibition, the haughty duke, accompanied by a small party of his intrepid followers, as if to pay court to his sovereign, boldly entered the city.  The populace of the capital, ever ripe for excitement and insurrection, greeted him with boundless enthusiasm.  Thousands thronged the broad streets through which he passed with a small but brilliant retinue.  Ladies crowded the windows, waving scarfs, cheering him with smiles, and showering flowers at his feet.  The cry resounded along the streets, penetrating even the apartments of the Louvre, and falling appallingly upon the ear of the king: 

“Welcome ­welcome, great duke.  Now you are come, we are safe.”

Henry III. was amazed and terrified by this insolence of his defiant subject.  In bewilderment, he asked those about him what he should do.

“Give me the word,” said a colonel of his guard, “and I will plunge my sword through his body.”

“Smite the shepherd,” added one of the king’s spiritual counselors, “and the sheep will disperse.”

But Henry feared to exasperate the populace of Paris by the assassination of a noble so powerful and so popular.  In the midst of this consultation, the Duke of Guise, accompanied by the queen-mother Catharine, whom he had first called upon, entered the Louvre, and, passing through the numerous body-guard of the king, whom he saluted with much affability, presented himself before the feeble monarch.  The king looked sternly upon him, and, without any word of greeting, exclaimed angrily,

“Did I not forbid you to enter Paris?”

“Sire,” the duke replied, firmly, but with affected humility, “I came to demand justice, and to reply to the accusations of my enemies.”

The interview was short and unrelenting.  The king, exasperated almost beyond endurance, very evidently hesitated whether to give the signal for the immediate execution of his dreaded foe.  There were those at his side, with arms in their hands, who were eager instantly to obey his bidding.  The Duke of Guise perceived the imminence of his danger, and, feigning sudden indisposition, immediately retired.  In his own almost regal mansion he gathered around him his followers and his friends, and thus placed himself in a position where even the arm of the sovereign could not venture to touch him.

There were now in Paris, as it were, two rival courts, emulating each other in splendor and power.  The one was that of the king at the Louvre, the other was that of the duke in his palace.  It was rumored that the duke was organizing a conspiracy to arrest the king and hold him a captive.  Henry III., to strengthen his body-guard, called a strong force of Swiss mercenaries into the city.  The retainers of the duke, acting under the secret instigation of their chieftain, roused the populace of Paris to resist the Swiss.  Barricades were immediately constructed by filling barrels with stones and earth; chains were stretched across the streets from house to house; and organized bands, armed with pikes and muskets, threatened even the gates of the Louvre.

A conflict soon ensued, and the Swiss guard were defeated by the mob at every point.  The Duke of Guise, though he secretly guided all these movements, remained in his palace, affecting to have no share in the occurrences.  Night came.  Confusion and tumult rioted in the city.  The insurgent populace, intoxicated and maddened, swarmed around the walls of the palace, and the king was besieged.  The spiritless and terrified monarch, disguising himself in humble garb, crept to his stables, mounted a fleet horse, and fled from the city.  Riding at full speed, he sought refuge in Chartres, a walled town forty miles southeast of Paris.

The flight of the king before an insurgent populace was a great victory to the duke.  He was thus left in possession of the metropolis without any apparent act of rebellion on his own part, and it became manifestly his duty to do all in his power to preserve order in the capital thus surrendered to anarchy.  The duke had ever been the idol of the populace, but now nearly the whole population of Paris, and especially the influential citizens, looked to him as their only protector.

Some, however, with great heroism, still adhered to the cause of the king.  The Duke of Guise sent for Achille de Harlai, President of the Council, and endeavored to win him over to his cause, that he might thus sanction his usurpation by legal forms; but De Harlai, fixing his eyes steadfastly upon the duke, fearlessly said,

“’Tis indeed pitiable when the valet expels his master.  As for me, my soul belongs to my Maker, and my fidelity belongs to the king.  My body alone is in the hands of the wicked.  You talk of assembling the Parliament.  When the majesty of the prince is violated, the magistrate is without authority.”  The intrepid president was seized and imprisoned.

The followers of Henry III. soon gathered around him at Chartres, and he fortified himself strongly there.  The Duke of Guise, though still protesting great loyalty, immediately assumed at Paris the authority of a sovereign.  He assembled around him strong military forces, professedly to protect the capital from disturbance.  For a month or two negotiations were conducted between the two parties for a compromise, each fearing the other too much to appeal to the decisions of the sword.  At last Henry III. agreed to appoint the Duke of Guise lieutenant general of France and high constable of the kingdom.  He also, while pledging himself anew to wage a war of extermination against the Protestants, promised to bind the people of France, by an oath, to exclude from the succession to the throne all persons suspected even of Protestantism.  This would effectually cut off the hopes of Henry of Navarre, and secure the crown to the Duke of Guise upon the death of the king.

Both of the antagonists now pretended to a sincere reconciliation, and Henry, having received Guise at Chartres with open arms, returned to Paris, meditating how he might secure the death of his dreaded and powerful rival.  Imprisonment was not to be thought of, for no fortress in France could long hold one so idolized by the populace.  The king applied in person to one of his friends, a brave and honest soldier by the name of Crillon, to assassinate the duke.

“I am not an executioner,” the soldier proudly replied, “and the function does not become my rank.  But I will challenge the duke to open combat, and will cheerfully sacrifice my life that I may take his.”

This plan not meeting with the views of the king, he applied to one of the commanders of his guard named Lorgnac.  This man had no scruples, and with alacrity undertook to perform the deed.  Henry, having retired to the castle of Blois, about one hundred miles south of Paris, arranged all the details, while he was daily, with the most consummate hypocrisy, receiving his victim with courteous words and smiles.  The king summoned a council to attend him in his cabinet at Blois on the 23d of December.  It was appointed at an early hour, and the Duke of Guise attended without his usual retinue.  He had been repeatedly warned to guard against the treachery of Henry, but his reply was,

“I do not know that man on earth who, hand to hand with me, would not have his full share of fear.  Besides, I am always so well attended that it would not be easy to find me off my guard.”

The duke arrived at the door of the cabinet after passing through long files of the king’s body-guard.  Just as he was raising the tapestry which veiled the entrance, Lorgnac sprang upon him and plunged a dagger into his throat.  Others immediately joined in the assault, and the duke dropped, pierced with innumerable wounds, dead upon the floor.

Henry, hearing the noise and knowing well what it signified, very coolly stepped from his cabinet into the ante-chamber, and, looking calmly upon the bloody corpse, said,

“Do you think he is dead, Lorgnac?”

“Yes, sire,” Lorgnac replied, “he looks like it.”

“Good God, how tall he is!” said the king.  “He seems taller dead than when he was living.”  Then giving the gory body a kick, he exclaimed, “Venomous beast, thou shalt cast forth no more venom.”

In the same manner the duke had treated the remains of the noble Admiral Coligni, a solemn comment upon the declaration, “With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again.”

Cardinal Guise, the brother of the duke, was immediately arrested by order of the king, and sent to prison, where he was assassinated.  Henry III. soon after repaired to the bedside of Catharine his mother, who was lying sick in one of the chambers of the castle.  Nothing can show more clearly the character of the times and of the personages than the following laconic dialogue which ensued: 

“How do you do, mother, this morning?” inquired the king.

“I am better than I have been,” she replied.

“So am I,” Henry rejoined, gayly, “for I have made myself this morning King of France by putting to death the King of Paris.”

“Take care,” this hardened woman exclaimed, “that you do not soon find yourself king of nothing.  Diligence and resolution are now absolutely necessary for you.”

She then turned upon her pillow without the slightest apparent emotion.  In twelve days from this time, this wretched queen, deformed by every vice, without one single redeeming virtue, breathed her last, seventy years of age.  She was despised by the Catholics, and hated by the Protestants.

These acts of violence and crime roused the League to the most intense energy.  The murder of the Duke of Guise, and especially the murder of his brother, a cardinal in the Church, were acts of impiety which no atonement could expiate.  Though Henry was a Catholic, and all his agents in these atrocious murders were Catholics, the death of the Duke of Guise increased vastly the probability that Protestant influences might become dominant at court.  The Pope issued a bull of excommunication against all who should advocate the cause of Henry III.  The Sorbonne published a decree declaring that the king had forfeited all right to the obedience of his subjects, and justifying them in taking up arms against him.  The clergy, from the pulpit, refused communion, absolution, and burial in holy ground to every one who yielded obedience to “the perfidious apostate and tyrant; Henry of Valois.”

The League immediately chose the Duke of Mayenne, a surviving brother of the Duke of Guise, as its head.  The Pope issued his anathemas against Henry III., and Spain sent her armies to unite with the League.  Henry now found it necessary to court the assistance of the Protestants.  He dreaded to take this step, for he was superstitious in the extreme, and he could not endure the thought of any alliance with heretics.  He had still quite a formidable force which adhered to him, for many of the highest nobles were disgusted with the arrogance of the Guises, and were well aware that the enthronement of the house of Guise would secure their own banishment from court.

The triumph of the League would be total discomfiture to the Protestants.  No freedom of worship or of conscience whatever would be allowed them.  It was therefore for the interest of the Protestants to sustain the more moderate party hostile to the League.  It was estimated that about one sixth of the inhabitants of France were at that time Protestants.

Wretched, war-scathed France was now distracted by three parties.  First, there were the Protestants, contending only in self-defense against persecution, and yet earnestly praying that, upon the death of the king, Henry of Navarre, the legitimate successor, might ascend the throne.  Next came those Catholics who were friendly to the claims of Henry from their respect for the ancient law of succession.  Then came, combined in the League, the bigoted partisans of the Church, resolved to exterminate from Europe, with fire and sword, the detested heresy of Protestantism.

Henry III. was now at the castle of Blois.  Paris was hostile to him.  The Duke of Mayenne, younger brother of the Duke of Guise, at the head of five thousand soldiers of the League, marched to the metropolis, where he was received by the Parisians with unbounded joy.  He was urged by the populace and the Parliament in Paris to proclaim himself king.  But he was not yet prepared for so decisive a step.

No tongue can tell the misery which now pervaded ill-fated France.  Some cities were Protestant, some were Catholic; division, and war, and blood were every where.  Armed bands swept to and fro, and conflagration and slaughter deluged the kingdom.

The king immediately sent to Henry of Navarre, promising to confer many political privileges upon the Protestants, and to maintain Henry’s right to the throne, if he would aid him in the conflict against the League.  The terms of reconciliation were soon effected.  Henry of Navarre, then leaving his army to advance by rapid marches, rode forward with his retinue to meet his brother-in-law, Henry of Valois.  He found him at one of the ancient palaces of France, Plessis les Tours.  The two monarchs had been friends in childhood, but they had not met for many years.  The King of Navarre was urged by his friends not to trust himself in the power of Henry III.  “For,” said they, “the King of France desires nothing so much as to obtain reconciliation with the Pope, and no offering can be so acceptable to the Pope as the death of a heretic prince.”

Henry hesitated a moment when he arrived upon an eminence which commanded a distant view of the palace.  Then exclaiming, “God guides me, and He will go with me,” he plunged his spurs into his horse’s side, and galloped forward.

The two monarchs met, each surrounded with a gorgeous retinue, in one of the magnificent avenues which conducted to the castle.  Forgetting the animosities of years, and remembering only the friendships of childhood, they cast themselves cordially into each other’s arms.  The multitude around rent the air with their acclamations.

Henry of Navarre now addressed a manifesto to all the inhabitants of France in behalf of their woe-stricken country.  “I conjure you all,” said he, “Catholics as well as Protestants, to have pity on the state and on yourselves.  We have all done and suffered evil enough.  We have been four years intoxicate, insensate, and furious.  Is not this sufficient?  Has not God smitten us all enough to allay our fury, and to make us wise at last?”

But passion was too much aroused to allow such appeals to be heeded.  Battle after battle, with ever-varying success, ensued between the combined forces of the king and Henry of Navarre on one side, and of the League, aided by many of the princes of Catholic Europe, on the other.  The storms of winter swept over the freezing armies and the smouldering towns, and the wail of the victims of horrid war blended with the moanings of the gale.  Spring came, but it brought no joy to desolate, distracted, wretched France.  Summer came, and the bright sun looked down upon barren fields, and upon a bleeding, starving, fighting nation.  Henry of Navarre, in command of the royal forces, at the head of thirty thousand troops, was besieging Paris, which was held by the Duke of Mayenne, and boldly and skillfully was conducting his approaches to a successful termination.  The cause of the League began to wane.  Henry III. had taken possession of the castle of St. Cloud, and from its elevated windows looked out with joy upon the bold assaults and the advancing works.

The leaders of the League now resolved to resort again to the old weapon of assassination.  Henry III. was to be killed.  But no man could kill him unless he was also willing to sacrifice his own life.  The Duchess of Montpensier, sister of the Duke of Guise, for the accomplishment of this purpose, won the love, by caressings and endearments, of Jaques Clement, an ardent, enthusiastic monk of wild and romantic imaginings, and of the most intense fanaticism.  The beautiful duchess surrendered herself without any reserve whatever to the paramour she had enticed to her arms, that she might obtain the entire supremacy over his mind.  Clement concealed a dagger in his bosom, and then went out from the gates of the city accompanied by two soldiers and with a flag of truce, ostensibly to take a message to the king.  He refused to communicate his message to any one but the monarch himself.  Henry III., supposing it to be a communication of importance, perhaps a proposition to surrender, ordered him to be admitted immediately to his cabinet.  Two persons only were present with the king.  The monk entered, and, kneeling, drew a letter from the sleeve of his gown, presented it to the king, and instantly drawing a large knife from its concealment, plunged it into the entrails of his victim.  The king uttered a piercing cry, caught the knife from his body and struck at the head of his murderer, wounding him above the eye.  The two gentlemen who were present instantly thrust their swords through the body of the assassin, and he fell dead.

The king, groaning with anguish, was undressed and borne to his bed.  The tidings spread rapidly, and soon reached the ears of the King of Navarre, who was a few miles distant at Meudon.  He galloped to St. Cloud, and knelt with gushing tears at the couch of the dying monarch.  Henry III. embraced him with apparently the most tender affection.  In broken accents, interrupted with groans of anguish, he said,

“If my wound proves mortal, I leave my crown to you as my legitimate successor.  If my will can have any effect, the crown will remain as firmly upon your brow as it was upon that of Charlemagne.”

He then assembled his principal officers around him, and enjoined them to unite for the preservation of the monarchy, and to sustain the claims of the King of Navarre as the indisputable heir to the throne of France.

A day of great anxiety passed slowly away, and as the shades of evening settled down over the palace, it became manifest to all that the wound was mortal.  The wounded monarch writhed upon his bed in fearful agony.  At midnight, Henry of Navarre, who was busily engaged superintending some of the works of the siege, was sent for, as the King of France was dying.  Accompanied by a retinue of thirty gentlemen, he proceeded at full speed to the gates of the castle where the monarch was struggling in the grasp of the King of Terrors.

It is difficult to imagine the emotions which must have agitated the soul of Henry of Navarre during this dark and gloomy ride.  The day had not yet dawned when he arrived at the gates of the castle.  The first tidings he received were, The king is dead.  It was the 2d of August, 1589.

Henry of Navarre was now Henry IV., King of France.  But never did monarch ascend the throne under circumstances of greater perplexity and peril.  Never was a more distracted kingdom placed in the hands of a new monarch.  Henry was now thirty-four years of age.  The whole kingdom was convulsed by warring factions.  For years France had been desolated by all the most virulent elements of religious and political animosity.  All hearts were demoralized by familiarity with the dagger of the assassin and the carnage of the battle-field.  Almost universal depravity had banished all respect for morality and law.  The whole fabric of society was utterly disorganized.

Under these circumstances, Henry developed that energy and sagacity which have given him a high position among the most renowned of earthly monarchs.  He immediately assembled around him that portion of the royal army in whose fidelity he could confide.  Without the delay of an hour, he commenced dictating letters to all the monarchies of Europe, announcing his accession to the throne, and soliciting their aid to confirm him in his legitimate rights.

As the new sovereign entered the chamber of the deceased king, he found the corpse surrounded by many of the Catholic nobility of France.  They were ostentatiously solemnizing the obsequies of the departed monarch.  He heard many low mutterings from these zealous partisans of Rome, that they would rather die a thousand deaths than allow a Protestant king to ascend the throne.  Angry eyes glared upon him from the tumultuous and mutinous crowd, and, had not Henry retired to consult for his own safety, he also might have fallen the victim of assassination.  In the intense excitement of these hours, the leading Catholics held a meeting, and appointed a committee to wait upon Henry, and inform him that he must immediately abjure Protestantism and adopt the Catholic faith, or forfeit their support to the crown.

“Would you have me,” Henry replied, “profess conversion with the dagger at my throat?  And could you, in the day of battle, follow one with confidence who had thus proved that he was an apostate and without a God?  I can only promise carefully to examine the subject that I may be guided to the truth.”

Henry was a Protestant from the force of circumstances rather than from conviction.  He was not a theologian either in mind or heart, and he regarded the Catholics and Protestants merely as two political parties, the one or the other of which he would join, according as, in his view, it might promote his personal interests and the welfare of France.  In his childhood he was a Catholic.  In boyhood, under the tuition of his mother, Protestant influences were thrown around him, and he was nominally a Protestant.  He saved his life at St. Bartholomew by avowing the Catholic faith.  When he escaped from the Catholic court and returned to his mother’s Protestant court in Navarre, he espoused with new vigor the cause of his Protestant friends.  These changes were of course more or less mortifying, and they certainly indicated a total want of religious conviction.  He now promised carefully to look at the arguments on both sides of the question, and to choose deliberately that which should seem to him right.  This arrangement, however, did not suit the more zealous of the Catholics, and, in great numbers, they abandoned his camp and passed over to the League.

The news of the death of Henry III. was received with unbounded exultation in the besieged city.  The Duchess of Montpensier threw her arms around the neck of the messenger who brought her the welcome tidings, exclaiming,

“Ah! my friend, is it true?  Is the monster really dead?  What a gratification!  I am only grieved to think that he did not know that it was I who directed the blow.”

She rode out immediately, that she might have the pleasure herself of communicating the intelligence.  She drove through the streets, shouting from her carriage, “Good news! good news! the tyrant is dead.”  The joy of the priests rose to the highest pitch of fanatical fervor.  The assassin was even canonized.  The Pope himself condescended to pronounce a eulogium upon the “martyr,” and a statue was erected to his memory, with the inscription, “St. Jaques Clement, pray for us.”

The League now proclaimed as king the old Cardinal of Bourbon, under the title of Charles X., and nearly all of Catholic Europe rallied around this pretender to the crown.  No one denied the validity of the title, according to the principles of legitimacy, of Henry IV.  His rights, however, the Catholics deemed forfeited by his Protestant tendencies.  Though Henry immediately issued a decree promising every surety and support to the Catholic religion as the established religion of France, still, as he did not also promise to devote all his energies to the extirpation of the heresy of Protestantism, the great majority of the Catholics were dissatisfied.

Epernon, one of the most conspicuous of the Catholic leaders, at the head of many thousand Catholic soldiers, waited upon the king immediately after the death of Henry III., and informed him that they could not maintain a Protestant on the throne.  With flying banners and resounding bugles they then marched from the camp and joined the League.  So extensive was this disaffection, that in one day Henry found himself deserted by all his army except six thousand, most of whom were Protestants.  Nearly thirty thousand men had abandoned him, some to retire to their homes, and others to join the enemy.

The army of the League within the capital was now twenty thousand strong.  They prepared for a rush upon the scattered and broken ranks of Henry IV.  Firmly, fearlessly, and with well matured plans, he ordered a prompt retreat.  Catholic Europe aroused itself in behalf of the League.  Henry appealed to Protestant Europe to come to his aid.  Elizabeth of England responded promptly to his appeal, and promised to send a fleet and troops to the harbor of Dieppe, about one hundred miles northwest of Paris, upon the shores of the English Channel.  Firmly, and with concentrated ranks, the little army of Protestants crossed the Seine.  Twenty thousand Leaguers eagerly pursued them, watching in vain for a chance to strike a deadly blow.  Henry ate not, slept not, rested not.  Night and day, day and night, he was every where present, guiding, encouraging, protecting this valiant band.  Planting a rear guard upon the western banks of the Seine, the chafing foe was held in check until the Royalist army had retired beyond the Oise.  Upon the farther banks of this stream Henry again reared his defenses, thwarting every endeavor of his enemies, exasperated by such unexpected discomfiture.

As Henry slowly retreated toward the sea, all the Protestants of the region through which he passed, and many of the moderate Catholics who were in favor of the royal cause and hostile to the house of Guise, flocked to his standard.  He soon found himself, with seven thousand very determined men, strongly posted behind the ramparts of Dieppe.

But the Duke of Mayenne had also received large accessions.  The spears and banners of his proud host, now numbering thirty-five thousand, gleamed from all the hills and valleys which surrounded the fortified city.  For nearly a month there was almost an incessant conflict.  Every morning, with anxious eyes, the Royalists scanned the watery horizon, hoping to see the fleet of England coming to their aid.  Cheered by hope, they successfully beat back their assailants.  The toils of the king were immense.  With exalted military genius he guided every movement, at the same time sharing the toil of the humblest soldier.  “It is a marvel,” he wrote, “how I live with the labor I undergo.  God have pity upon me, and show me mercy.”

Some of Henry’s friends, appalled by the strength of the army pursuing them, urged him to embark and seek refuge in England.

“Here we are,” Henry replied, “in France, and here let us be buried.  If we fly now, all our hopes will vanish with the wind which bears us.”

In a skirmish, one day, one of the Catholic chieftains, the Count de Belin, was taken captive.  He was led to the head-quarters of the king.  Henry greeted him with perfect cordiality, and, noticing the astonishment of the count in seeing but a few scattered soldiers where he had expected to see a numerous army, he said, playfully, yet with a confident air,

“You do not perceive all that I have with me, M. de Belin, for you do not reckon God and the right on my side.”

The indomitable energy of Henry, accompanied by a countenance ever serene and cheerful under circumstances apparently so desperate, inspired the soldiers with the same intrepidity which glowed in the bosom of their chief.

But at last the valiant little band, so bravely repelling overwhelming numbers, saw, to their inexpressible joy, the distant ocean whitened with the sails of the approaching English fleet.  Shouts of exultation rolled along their exhausted lines, carrying dismay into the camp of the Leaguers.  A favorable wind pressed the fleet rapidly forward, and in a few hours, with streaming banners, and exultant music, and resounding salutes, echoed and re-echoed from English ships and French batteries, the fleet of Elizabeth, loaded to its utmost capacity with money, military supplies, and men, cast anchor in the little harbor of Dieppe.

Nearly six thousand men, Scotch and English, were speedily disembarked.  The Duke of Mayenne, though his army was still double that of Henry IV., did not dare to await the onset of his foes thus recruited.  Hastily breaking up his encampment, he retreated to Paris.  Henry IV., in gratitude to God for the succor which he had thus received from the Protestant Queen of England, directed that thanksgivings should be offered in his own quarters according to the religious rites of the Protestant Church.  This so exasperated the Catholics, even in his own camp, that a mutiny was excited, and several of the Protestant soldiers were wounded in the fray.  So extreme was the fanaticism at this time that, several Protestants, after a sanguinary fight, having been buried on the battle-field promiscuously in a pit with some Catholics who had fallen by their side, the priests, even of Henry’s army, ordered the Protestant bodies to be dug up and thrown out as food for dogs.

While these scenes were transpiring in the vicinity of Dieppe, almost every part of France was scathed and cursed by hateful war.  Every province, city, village, had its partisans for the League or for the king.  Beautiful France was as a volcano in the world of woe, in whose seething crater flames, and blood, and slaughter, the yell of conflict and the shriek of agony, blended in horrors which no imagination can compass.  There was an end to every earthly joy.  Cities were bombarded, fields of grain trampled in the mire, villages burned.  Famine rioted over its ghastly victims.  Hospitals were filled with miserable multitudes, mutilated and with festering wounds, longing for death.  Not a ray of light pierced the gloom of this dark, black night of crime and woe.  And yet, undeniably, the responsibility before God must rest with the League.  Henry IV. was the lawful king of France.  The Catholics had risen in arms to resist his rights, because they feared that he would grant liberty of faith and worship to the Protestants.

The League adopted the most dishonorable and criminal means to alienate from Henry the affections of the people.  They forged letters, in which the king atrociously expressed joy at the murder of Henry III., and declared his determination by dissimulation and fraud to root out Catholicism entirely from France.  No efforts of artifice were wanting to render the monarch odious to the Catholic populace.  Though the Duke of Mayenne occasionally referred to the old Cardinal of Bourbon as the king whom he acknowledged, he, with the characteristic haughtiness of the family of Guise, assumed himself the air and the language of a sovereign.  It was very evident that he intended to place himself upon the throne.

Henry IV., with the money furnished by Elizabeth, was now able to pay his soldiers their arrears.  His army steadily increased, and he soon marched with twenty-three thousand troops and fourteen pieces of artillery to lay siege to Paris.  His army had unbounded confidence in his military skill.  With enthusiastic acclamations they pursued the retreating insurgents.  Henry was now on the offensive, and his troops were posted for the siege of Paris, having driven the foe within its walls.  After one sanguinary assault, the king became convinced that he had not with him sufficient force to carry the city.  The Duke of Mayenne stood firmly behind the intrenchments of the capital, with an army much strengthened by re-enforcements of Spanish and Italian troops.  Henry accordingly raised the siege, and marched rapidly to Etampes, some forty miles south of Paris, where a large part of his foes had established themselves.  He suddenly attacked the town and carried it by assault.  The unhappy inhabitants of this city had, in the course of four months, experienced the horrors of three assaults.  The city, in that short period, had been taken and retaken three times.

While at Etampes, Henry received a letter from the beautiful but disconsolate Louisa of Lorraine, the widow of Henry III., imploring him to avenge the murder of her husband.  The letter was so affecting that, when it was read in the king’s council, it moved all the members to tears.

Many of the citizens of Paris, weary of the miseries of civil war, were now disposed to rally around their lawful monarch as the only mode of averting the horrible calamities which overwhelmed France.  The Duke of Mayenne rigorously arrested all who were suspected of such designs, and four of the most prominent of the citizens were condemned to death.  Henry immediately sent a message to the duke, that if the sentence were carried into effect, he would retaliate by putting to death some of the Catholic nobles whom he had in his power.  Mayenne defiantly executed two Royalists.  Henry immediately suspended upon a gibbet two unfortunate Leaguers who were his captives.  This decisive reprisal accomplished its purpose, and compelled Mayenne to be more merciful.

With great energy, Henry now advanced to Tours, about one hundred and twenty miles south of Paris, on the banks of the Loire, taking every town by the way, and sweeping all opposition before him.  He seldom slept more than three hours at a time, and seized his meals where he could.

“It takes Mayenne,” said Henry, proudly, “more time to put on his boots than it does me to win a battle.”

“Henry,” remarked Pope Sextus V., sadly, “will surely, in the end, gain the day, for he spends less hours in bed than Mayenne spends at the table.”

Though the armies of the League were still superior to the Royalist army, victory every where followed the banner of the king.  Every day there was more and more of union and harmony in his ranks, and more and more of discord in the armies of the League.  There were various aspirants for the throne in case Henry IV. could be driven from the kingdom, and all these aspirants had their partisans.  The more reasonable portion of the Catholic party soon saw that there could be no end to civil war unless the rights of Henry IV. were maintained.  Each day consequently witnessed accessions of powerful nobles to his side.  The great mass of the people also, notwithstanding their hatred of Protestantism and devotion to the Catholic Church, found it difficult to break away from their homage to the ancient law of succession.

It was now manifest to all, that if Henry would but proclaim himself a Catholic, the war would almost instantly terminate, and the people, with almost entire unanimity, would rally around him.  Henry IV. was a lawful monarch endeavoring to put down insurrection.  Mayenne was a rebel contending against his king.  The Pope was so unwilling to see a Protestant sovereign enthroned in France, that he issued a bull of excommunication against all who should advocate the cause of Henry IV.  Many of the Royalist Catholics, however, instead of yielding to these thunders of the Vatican, sent a humble apology to the Pope for their adherence to the king, and still sustained his cause.

Henry now moved on with the strides of a conqueror, and city after city fell into his hands.  Wherever he entered a city, the ever vacillating multitude welcomed him with acclamations.  Regardless of the storms of winter, Henry dragged his heavy artillery through the mire and over the frozen ruts, and before the close of the year 1589 his banner waved over fifteen fortified cities and over very many minor towns.  The forces of the League were entirely swept from three of the provinces of France.

Still Paris was in the hands of the Duke of Mayenne, and a large part of the kingdom was yet held in subjection by the forces of the League.

At one time, in the face of a fierce cannonade, Henry mounted the tower of a church at Meulun to ascertain the position of the enemy.  As he was ascending, cannon ball passed between his legs.  In returning, the stairs were found so shot away that he was compelled to let himself down by a rope.  All the winter long, the storm of battle raged in every part of France, and among all the millions of the ill-fated realm, there could not then, perhaps, have been found one single prosperous and happy home.