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The French Wars of Religion

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Aside from the French wars of religion, the assassination of King Henry IV was one of the major events which had left a significant impact onto the French. It was surprising for the mass when the king was murdered because he had already done so much for the country – not only because of his role as a king, but also for the people and the country which he was concerned. But was it really appalling? The Catholics and the Huguenots did not have a good relationship with each other (Wikipedia, French Wars of Religion, 2004).

The Edict of Nantes was implemented to give religious rights to the Huguenots (Wikipedia, Edict of Nantes, 2004); what kind of effect would this place onto the Catholics? It should not be alarming that the Edict of Nantes raised the anger of the Catholics – I have made the assumption that maybe it was one of the reasons why Francois Ravaillac, a fanatical Catholic, killed Henry IV. The question here is, is it really because of the Edict of Nantes which caused Ravaillac to murder Henry IV? Or were there other unknown reasons? This essay will analyze on why Henry IV was assassinated by Ravaillac and how his death have made changes in France.

Since the sixteenth century, the French Protestants who were known as the Huguenots and the Catholics were in a religious conflict which had lead to them into a civil war (Wikipedia, French Wars of Religion, 2004). The war between these two religious groups has already begun between the royal families, the Guises and Bourbons who were struggling to obtain the power of the throne (Hooker, 1996). The on-going religious war between both groups finally marked a horrifying event known as the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572. This incident happened during Henry of Navarre’s wedding where thousand of Huguenots were killed by the Catholics (Wikipedia, St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, 2004). This unfortunate event had brought a complete dissatisfaction to the Huguenots and thus, the Protestant movements began to transform into military movements. They began to view the Catholics as the devil themselves and they were not fighting for a reformed church anymore; instead they were fighting for survival against the Catholics.

When Henry of Navarre became King Henry IV, he planned to solve the years of war between the two religious groups because he believed that the peace and security of his country was more important than his religious. He also believed that the only way to obtain peace in France was to become a Catholic king. Thus, he converted himself to a Catholic in 1953 and implemented the Edict of Nantes in 1598 which have given religious rights to the Huguenots (Hooker, 1996). At the same time of the year, Henry IV signed the Treaty of Vervins with Spain causing the Spanish troops to withdraw from France (Sommerville, 2004). The Edict of Nantes had been said to have brought an end to the French wars of religion but for how long? The Edict of Nantes only managed to solve the religious issue temporarily (Brown, 2004). The fight between the two religious groups still went on and both still did not agree with each other (Kishlansky, Geary & O’Brien, 2002). The king might have given important contributions for his country but there was still several attempts where he was almost assassinated (Sommerville, 2004).

From this, it has been clearly shown that although the Edict of Nantes might have “officially” ended the war, there were still hatred going on between these two groups. Which groups could have planned to murder the king? And why? If the king was admired as one of the great rulers of the monarchy and the masses viewed him as “Henry the Great” (Weber & de Rocher, 2004), then why were there still people who attempted to assassinate the king? In my opinion (which may be biased), I think the Edict of Nantes was the one which caused a disturbance for the Catholics – who cannot accept the fact that the Protestants have the equal religious rights as they do. They were angered by Henry IV’s action because it was possible that they may have felt their religious position weakening by “sharing” the rights with the Huguenots.

This could have caused the several attempts to murder Henry IV. In addition to that, Henry IV was originally a Huguenot, not a Catholic (Wikipedia, Henry IV of France, 2004). In my opinion, again, when he converted to a Catholic king in order to obtain peace in France (Hooker, 1996), this probably may have given an impression to the Catholics that he was pretentious king. It was as if he is converting himself to receive support from the Catholics, but at the same time, he is trying to help the Huguenots. Thus, in my perspective, he was probably viewed as a hypocritical king by the Catholics. This could have added more anger or hatred towards Henry IV and therefore, the result was the many attempts to kill the king.

On May 14, 1610, a fanatical Catholic by the name of Francois Ravaillac stabbed the king to his death. History has noted that the officials were mainly interested in finding out the names of his accomplices because they believed that a lowly ranked person like him did not have the “aid and inspiration” to carry out an act of regicide (Dickerman, 1995). Ravaillac did tell that there was no one who told him to do it as it was an act which he decided himself (Weber & de Rocher, 2004). However, the main question here is, why did Ravaillac killed the king? Several historians have said that: 1) Ravaillac was summoned by God to kill the king (Wikipedia, King Henry IV, 2004). 2)

He heard that the king wanted to make war on the pope (Dickerman, 1995). 3) He was believed to have been encouraged by extreme Jesuits to kill the king (Sommerville, 2004). All these three facts do not have supportive evidence as to what was the real motive behind Ravaillac’s action. In addition to that, my assumption that the Edict of Nantes may be one of the reasons why he killed the king was also not proven. This was a problem encountered while writing my article. Until today, there is still no solid proof which could apply to Ravaillac’s action against the king.

King Henry IV’s death brought a tremendous loss to France and probably for other European countries as well. He planned to join forces with Elizabeth the England and twenty other European states to weaken the Spanish power by launching a war on Austria (Wylie, 1996). Unfortunately, he was stabbed to death by Ravaillac. Henry IV’s death marked the beginning of the reign of his son, King Louis XIII. However, he was only nine years old, therefore, his mother, Marie de Médicis became as the Regent and received help from Cardinal Richelieu until Louis XIII was sixteen (Wikipedia, Louis XIII of France, 2004). This was the period of time when Henry IV’s Edict of Nantes had been reversed by Cardinal Richelieu where he diminished the political and religious rights of the Protestants (Infoplease, Religions, Wars of, 2004).

If Henry IV could have lived through to see his son becoming the next king, he would have advised him in becoming a good ruler without letting anyone manipulating the monarch. I also think that the position or the religious rights of the Huguenots would not have been removed if Henry IV was still alive. It seems that after the murder of Henry IV, France turned back to its previous conditions where the Protestants did not have their rights in the country. This had brought an unfortunate situation, again to the French citizens. Furthermore in 1685, Henry IV’s grandson, Louis XIV completely diminished the Protestants’ religious rights in the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (Infoplease, Religion, Wars of, 2004). In the end, Henry IV’s efforts were forgotten and the Protestants’ fates were transformed into the previous times again.

King Henry IV was greatly admired by his people for his courage and willingness to save his country from internal conflicts and also threats from the outside. His contributions have brought important changes into the country and he has managed to please the majority of his people. The Edict of Nantes was the one which left a significant impact onto the French even though as years went by, it became somewhat “useless”. The murder of Henry IV restrained the future plans of his from happening which caused a diminution in the development of France. It is unfortunate to know that I could not explain the causes of his death in detailed but to me, it was mainly the conflicts between the two religions which have brought such a sad ending to Henry IV. King Henry IV was gratefully remembered as a true ruler and he became a salient figure in the French history.

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