Henry of Navarre Escapes from Paris
Henry, Duke of Anjou, brother of Charles ix., now became king.
A year before the death of his brother, Henry had been chosen King of Poland, and had gone to Cracow, the Polish capital, to be crowned.
Henry had no love for his adopted country, and when he heard that Charles was dead, he was eager to return to France.
His Polish subjects were strange, rough people, so at least thought the Duke of Anjou. They might not be willing to be left without a king. So without staying to give up his crown, Henry stole away one midnight from Cracow, followed only by a few servants.
At first he walked quietly and without haste, as though he were taking a stroll before going to bed, but soon he reached a place where horses awaited him and his attendants.
Mounting with eagerness he galloped away, riding all night and never drawing rein until he had left the capital far behind.
When it was known that the king had gone, there was a great uproar.
Noblemen and peasants, armed with staves and scythes, set out to chase the royal runaway. Henry, however, had had too good a start to be caught, and the Polish people never saw their king again.
It was the month of June when Henry ran away from Cracow; it was September before he reached Paris. The weeks between he had spent in Italy, amusing himself in ways that ill became a king.
France had looked forward with hope to seeing Henry reign, for he had been brave and manly on the battlefield. But before long it was plain that Henry III. was a different person to Henry, Duke of Anjou. The king had lost his manliness. 'He no longer rode on horseback; he did not show himself amongst his people as his predecessors had been wont to do. He was only to be seen shut up with a few favourites in a little painted boat, which went up and down the Saone; or he would spend whole days shut up in his palace, playing with lap-dogs, monkeys, parrots, and surrounded by favourites as foolish and idle as himself.'
The court, during the reign of Henry iii., was not only idle, it was wicked. Yet sometimes into the king's heart there would steal a little sorrow for his unkingly ways. Then he would dress himself in sackcloth, walking barefooted, with his companions, along the streets of Paris; and as they walked the little company would scourge one another with whips, as a penance for their sins.
Meanwhile, in this idle, wicked court the king's younger brother, now called the Duke of Anjou, was forced to spend his days. He had ever been kind to the Huguenots, and because of this Henry feared him and planned to have his brother slain.
But the duke, hearing of the plot against his life, escaped from the Louvre by a window, and hastened to join a large number of nobles and citizens who called themselves "Mal-contents." Among the Malcontents were both Catholics and Huguenots, who had banded themselves together to resist the king's folly and expose the treachery of the queen-mother.
The Queen of Navarre having died shortly before the marriage of her son, Henry was now King of Navarre. He, too, had been kept at court since the terrible massacre of St. Bartholomew, but the evil lives of the nobles had displeased him, and he determined to escape.
Having joined a hunting-party, Henry of Navarre, instead of returning to the palace, galloped away to find his followers, saying, "I return to Paris no more unless I am dragged there by force."
From this time, 1576, Henry of Navarre proved himself a strong and able leader of the Huguenot cause.
Meanwhile, the Catholics grew alarmed at the strength of the Huguenots. Henry of Navarre was their chief; Henry, Prince of Conde, was on their side, as well as Montmorency, son of the old constable, who had quarrelled with his own party. When the Duke of Anjou also joined the Huguenots, Catherine advised the king to make a treaty with them, which he did in 1576.
This treaty, which gave the Huguenots greater freedom than they had yet enjoyed, was called the "Peace of Monsieur," probably because the king's brother, who was often called "Monsieur," gained some benefits from it.
The Catholics throughout France were very displeased with the 'Peace of Monsieur,' and they formed a Holy League to protect the true or Catholic faith. At the head of the league was the Duke of Guise.
But the duke meant to do more than guard the Catholic faith. By the help of the league he hoped to depose Henry iii., and if he himself might not bear the title of King, he yet hoped, like the ancient Mayors of the Palace, to rule over the kingdom.
When in 1584, however, the Duke of Anjou died, leaving only Henry of Navarre, a Huguenot, as the heir to the throne, the Duke of Guise may have dreamed that the crown of France would soon rest upon his own head.
Meanwhile, the king and the queen-mother had little to do either with the Malcontents or with the members of the league. They stood aside and formed a small party of their own, until 1585, when the league had become so powerful that Henry thought it would be well to make terms with its head, the Duke of Guise.
So in July the king signed the Treaty of Nemours. You will be able to imagine how the Huguenots felt when they found that by the Treaty of Nemours, "the practice of the new religion was forbidden, and that there should henceforth be no other practice of religion throughout the realm of France, save that of the Roman Catholic faith."
The treaty was a challenge, and the Huguenots were not slow to answer it. They flew to arms, and the "War of the Three Henries" now began.
Henry of Valois, King of France, was one of these Henries, Henry of Bourbon, King of Navarre, was another, the third being Henry, Duke of Guise, who was soon after named the King of Paris.
Henry of Navarre left La Rochelle, the stronghold ,of the Huguenots, with a small army, hoping to join his allies, the Germans. But Henry, King of France, had sent a force under his favourite Joyeuse against the Huguenots.
Joyeuse succeeded in overtaking Henry of Navarre at the town of Coutras before he had joined his friends. The royal army was large, but the soldiers were for the most part raw lads who knew nothing of war, while Henry's men were old and tried veterans.
As might have been foretold, the valour and discipline of the Huguenot troops soon overcame the untrained recruits led by Joyeuse, who was himself slain, while his army was utterly destroyed.
Unfortunately after this great victory the King of Navarre did not hasten to join the Germans, and they were defeated by Henry, Duke of Guise, who finally drove the foreigners out of France.
The royal army, which had been so successful under the leadership of Guise, then went back to Paris, where it received a welcome worthy of its victories over the Germans. Henry iii., however, was treated with disdain. Had not his chosen captain Joyeuse been defeated, and was not the triumph of the royal army due to the Duke of Guise alone? The citizens sent for the duke to come to Paris.