Gateway to the Classics: Display Item
Charles Morris

The Murder of a King

History is full of stories of presentiments, of "visions of sudden death," made notable by their realization, of strange disasters predicted in advance. Doubtless there have been very many presentiments that failed to come true, enough, possibly, to make those that have been realized mere coincidences. However that be, these agreements of prediction and event are, to say the least, curious. The case of Cæsar is well known. We have now to relate that of Henry IV.

Sully has told the story. Henry had married, as a second wife, Mary de' Medici, daughter of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and a woman whose headstrong temper and cantankerous disposition were by no means calculated to make his life with her an agreeable one. In the end she strongly insisted on being crowned queen, a desire on her part which was very unpleasant to her royal husband, who seemed to feel that some disaster impended over the event.

"Hey! my friend," he said to Sully, his intimate, "I know not what is the meaning of it, but my heart tells me that some misfortune will happen to me."

He was seated on a low chair, his face disturbed by uneasy thought, his fingers drumming on his spectacle-case. Of a sudden he sprang up, and struck his hand sharply on his thigh.

"By God!" he said; "I shall die in this city, and shall never go out of it. They will kill me. I see quite well that they have no other remedy in their dangers but my death. Ah! accursed coronation; thou wilt be the cause of my death!"

"What fancy is this of yours?" asked Sully. "If it continue, I am of opinion that you should break off this anointment and coronation. If you please to give me orders, it shall be done."

"Yes, break off the coronation," said the king. "Let me hear no more about it. I shall have my mind at rest from divers fancies which certain warnings have put into it. To hide nothing from you, I have been told that I was to be killed at the first grand ceremony I should undertake, and that I should die in a carriage."

"You never told me that, sir," answered Sully. "I have often been astounded to hear you cry out when in a carriage, as if you had dreaded this petty peril, after having so many times seen you amidst cannon-balls, musketry, lance-thrusts, pike-thrusts, and sword-thrusts, without being a bit afraid. Since your mind is so exercised thereby, if I were you, I would go away to-morrow, let the coronation take place without you, or put it off to another time, and not enter Paris for a long time, or in a carriage. If you please, I will send word to Notre Dame and St. Denys to stop everything and to withdraw the workmen."

"I am very much inclined," said the king; "but what will my wife say? She has gotten this coronation marvellously into her head."

"She may say what she likes," rejoined Sully. "But I cannot think that, when she knows your opinion about it, she will persist any longer."

He did not know Mary de' Medici. She did persist strongly and offensively. For three days the matter was disputed, with high words on both sides. In the end, Henry, weary of the contention, and finding it impossible to convince or silence his obstinate wife, gave way, and the laborers were again set to work to prepare for the coronation.

Despite his presentiments Henry remained in Paris, and gave orders for the immediate performance of the ceremony, as if he were anxious to have done with it, and to pass the crisis in his life which he feared. The coronation was proclaimed on the 12th of May, 1610. It took place on the 13th, at St. Denys. The tragical event which he had dreaded did not take place. He breathed easier.

On the next day, the 14th, he took it in mind to go to the arsenal to see Sully, who was ill. Yet the same indecision and fear seemed to possess him. He stirred about in an unquiet and irresolute mood, saying several times to the queen, "My dear, shall I go or not?"

He went so far as to leave the room two or three times, but each time returned, in the same doubt.

"My dear, shall I really go?" he said to the queen; and then, making up his mind, he kissed her several times and bade her adieu.


Chamber of Mary de’ Medici.

"I shall only go there and back," he said; "I shall be here again almost directly."

On reaching his carriage, M. de Praslin, the captain of his guard, proposed to attend him, but he would not permit it, saying,—

"Get you gone; I want nobody; go about your business."

Yet that morning, in a conversation with Guise and Bassompierre, he had spoken as if he dreaded quickly coming death.

"You will live, please God, long years yet," said Bassompierre. "You are only in the flower of your age, in perfect bodily health and strength, full of honor more than any mortal man, in the most flourishing kingdom in the world, loved and adored by your subjects, with fine houses, fine women, fine children who are growing up."

Henry sighed, as if still oppressed by his presentiments, and sadly answered,—

"My friend, all that must be left."

Those were his last words of which any record remains, save the few he spoke in the carriage. A few hours afterwards all the earthly blessings of which Bassompierre spoke were naught to him. The king was dead.

To return to our subject; in the carriage with the king were several gentlemen of the court. Henry occupied the rear seat at the left, with M. d'Epernon seated at his right, and M. de Montbazon between him and the door, while several other gentlemen occupied the remaining seats. When the carriage reached the Croix du Tiroir, the coachman asked whither he should drive, and was bidden to go towards St. Innocent. On the way thither, while in the Rue de la Ferronnerie, a cart obstructed the way, so that the carriage had to turn towards the sidewalk and to proceed more slowly. Here were some ironmongers' shops, beside one of which lurked a man, his eyes keenly fixed on the approaching carriage, his hand nervously clutching some object in his pocket.

As the carriage moved slowly by, this man sprang from his covert and rushed towards it, a knife in his hand. In an instant he had dealt the king two blows, in rapid succession, in the left side. The first struck him below the armpit and went upward, merely grazing the flesh. The other proved more dangerous. It entered his side between the fifth and sixth ribs, and, taking a downward direction, cut a large blood-vessel. The king, by chance, had his left hand on the shoulder of M. de Montbazon, and was leaning towards M. d'Epernon, to whom he was speaking. He thus laid himself more fully open to the assassin's knife.

All had passed so quickly that no movement of defence was possible. Henry gave a low cry and made a few movements.

"What is the matter, sir?" asked M. de Montbazon, who had not seen the affair.

"It is nothing," answered the king. "It is nothing," he repeated, his voice now so low that they could barely hear him. Those were the last words he spoke.

The assassin had been seized. He was a fanatic, named François Ravaillac, who had been roused to his mad act by rumors that Henry intended to make war upon the pope, and other baseless fancies of the king's opponents. With him we are not further concerned, other than to say that he was made to suffer the most barbarous tortures for his deed.

The carriage was turned and driven back to the Louvre. On reaching the entrance steps some wine was given to the wounded monarch. An officer of the guard raised his head, his only sign of intelligence being some movements of the eyes. In a moment more they were closed, never to be opened again.

He was carried up-stairs and laid on the couch in his closet, and from there taken to the bed in his chamber. As he lay there some one gave him holy water, and M. de Vic, a councillor of state, put to his mouth the cross of his order, and directed his thoughts to God. All this was lost on the king. He lay motionless and insensible. All around him were in tears. The grief of the queen was unconsolable. All Paris was weeping. The monarch against whom the Parisians had so bitterly fought they now mourned as they would have done for their dearest friend.

The surgeons wanted to dress the king's wounds. Milon, the chief physician, who sat weeping at the bedside, waved them aside. A faint sigh died away on the king's lips. "It is all over," said Milon, sadly. "He is gone."

What followed may be told in a few words. The old adage, "The king is dead; long live the king!" was the thought of practical men of affairs. Sully, whom the news of the assassination had raised in haste from his sick-bed, put himself quickly at the head of some forty horse and rode towards the palace. Guise and Bassompierre had come to the door, to see what was passing outside, as he rode up.

"Gentlemen," he said to them, with tearful eyes, "if the service you vowed to the king be impressed upon your souls as deeply as it ought to be with all good Frenchmen, swear this moment to keep towards the king's son and heir the same allegiance that you showed him, and to spend your lives and your blood in avenging his death."

"Sir," answered Bassompierre, "it is for us to cause this oath to be taken by others; we have no need to be exhorted thereto."

Leaving them, Sully rode to the Bastille, which he took possession of, and sent out soldiers to seize and carry off all the bread that could be found in the market and at the shops of the bakers. He despatched a messenger also, in the greatest haste, to his son-in-law, M. de Rohan, then in command of a force of six thousand Swiss, bidding him to march with all speed upon Paris.

Henry IV. was dead. His son was his legitimate successor. But the murder of Henry III. had been followed by a contest for the throne. That of Henry IV. might be. Sully felt it necessary to take precautions, although the king was hardly cold in death. The king dies; the kingship survives; prudent men, on whom the peace of a people depend, prepare without delay; the Duke de Sully was such a man. His precautions, however, were not needed. No one thought of opposing the heirship of the king's son.