Early in 1552 Maurice of Saxony struck his great blow at his master in the Tyrol, destroying in an instant all the Emperor's plans for the suppression of Lutheran opinions, and the reunion of Germany in a Catholic empire; and while Charles V. fled for his life, Henri II. with a splendid army crossed the frontiers of Lorraine. Anne de Montmorency, whose opposition to the war had been overborne by the Guises, who warmly desired to see a French predominance in Lorraine, was sent forward to reduce Metz, and quickly got that important city into his hands; Toul and Verdun soon opened their gates, and were secured in reality, if not in name, to France. Eager to undertake a protectorate of the Rhine, Henri II. tried also to lay hands on Strasburg; the citizens, however, resisted, and he had to withdraw; the same fate befell his troops in an attempt on Spires. Still, Metz and the line of the Vosges mountains formed a splendid acquisition for France. The French army, leaving strong garrisons in Lorraine, withdrew through Luxemburg and the northern frontier; its remaining exploits were few and mean, for the one gleam of good fortune enjoyed by Anne de Montmorency, who was unwise and arrogant, and a most inefficient commander, soon deserted him. Charles V., as soon as he could gather forces, laid siege to Metz, but, after nearly three months of late autumnal operations, was fain to break up and withdraw, baffled and with loss of half his army, across the Rhine. Though some success attended his arms on the northern frontier, it was of no permanent value; the loss of Metz, and the failure in the attempt to take it, proved to the worn-out Emperor that the day of his power and opportunity was past. The conclusions of the Diet of Augsburg in 1555 settled for half a century the struggle between Lutheran and Catholic, but settled it in a way not at all to his mind; for it was the safeguard of princely interests against his plans for an imperial unity. Weary of the losing strife, yearning for ease, ordered by his physicians to withdraw from active life, Charles in the course of 1555 and 1556 resigned all his great lordships and titles, leaving Philip his son to succeed him in Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain, and his brother Ferdinand of Austria to wear in his stead the imperial diadem. These great changes sundered awhile the interests of Austria from those of Spain.
Henri endeavoured to take advantage of the check in the fortunes of his antagonists; he sent Anne de Montmorency to support Gaspard de Coligny, the Admiral of France, in Picardy, and in harmony with Paul IV., instructed Francois, Duc de Guise, to enter Italy to oppose the Duke of Alva. As of old, the French arms at first carried all before them, and Guise, deeming himself heir to the crown of Naples (for he was the eldest great-grandson of Rene II., titular King of Naples), pushed eagerly forward as far as the Abruzzi. There he was met and outgeneraled by Alva, who drove him back to Rome, whence he was now recalled by urgent summons to France; for the great disaster of St. Quentin had laid Paris itself open to the assault of an enterprising enemy. With the departure of Guise from Italy the age of the Italian expeditions comes to an end. On the northern side of the realm things had gone just as badly. Philibert of Savoy, commanding for Philip with Spanish and English troops, marched into France as far as to the Somme, and laid siege to St. Quentin, which was bravely defended by Amiral de Coligny. Anne de Montmorency, coming up to relieve the place, managed his movements so clumsily that he was caught by Count Egmont and the Flemish horse, and, with incredibly small loss to the conquerors, was utterly routed (1557). Montmorency himself and a crowd of nobles and soldiers were taken; the slaughter was great. Coligny made a gallant and tenacious stand in the town itself, but at last was overwhelmed, and the place fell. Terrible as these mishaps were to France, Philip II. was not of a temper to push an advantage vigorously; and while his army lingered, Francois de Guise came swiftly back from Italy; and instead of wasting strength in a doubtful attack on the allies in Picardy, by a sudden stroke of genius he assaulted and took Calais (January, 1558), and swept the English finally off the soil of France. This unexpected and brilliant blow cheered and solaced the afflicted country, while it finally secured the ascendency of the House of Guise. The Duke's brother, the Cardinal de Lorraine, carried all before him in the King's councils; the Dauphin, betrothed long before, was now married to Mary of Scots; a secret treaty bound the young Queen to bring her kingdom over with her; it was thought that France with Scotland would be at least a match for England joined with Spain. In the same year, 1558, the French advance along the coast, after they had taken Dunkirk and Nieuport, was finally checked by the brilliant genius of Count Egmont, who defeated them at Gravelinea. All now began to wish for peace, especially Montmorency, weary of being a prisoner, and anxious to get back to Court, that he might check the fortunes of the Guises; Philip desired it that he might have free hand against heresy. And so, at Cateau-Cambresis, a peace was made in April, 1559, by which France retained the three bishoprics and Calais, surrendering Thionville, Montmedy, and one or two other frontier towns, while she recovered Ham and St. Quentin; the House of Savoy was reinstated by Philip, as a reward to Philibert for his services, and formed a solid barrier for a time between France and Italy; cross-marriages between Spain, France, and Savoy were arranged;—and finally, the treaty contained secret articles by which the Guises for France and Granvella for the Netherlands agreed to crush heresy with a strong hand. As a sequel to this peace, Henri II. held a great tournament at Paris, at which he was accidentally slain by a Scottish knight in the lists.
The Guises now shot up into abounded power. On the Guise side the Cardinal de Lorraine was the cleverest man, the true head, while Francois, the Duke, was the arm; he showed leanings towards the Lutherans. On the other side, the head was the dull and obstinate Anne de Montmorency, the Constable, an unwavering Catholic, supported by the three Coligny brothers, who all were or became Huguenots. The Queen-mother Catherine fluctuated uneasily between the parties, and though Catholic herself, or rather not a Protestant, did not hesitate to befriend the Huguenots, if the political arena seemed to need their gallant swords. Their noblest leader was Coligny, the admiral; their recognised head was Antoine, King of Navarre, a man as foolish as fearless. He was heir presumptive to the throne after the Valois boys, and claimed to have charge of the young King. Though the Guises had the lead at first, the Huguenots seemed, from their strong aristocratic connections, to have the fairer prospects before them.
Thirty years of desolate civil strife are before us, and we must set it all down briefly and drily. The prelude to the troubles was played by the Huguenots, who in 1560, guided by La Renaudie, a Perigord gentleman, formed a plot to carry off the young King; for Francois II. had already treated them with considerable severity, and had dismissed from his councils both the princes of the blood royal and the Constable de Montmorency. The plot failed miserably and La Renaudie lost his life; it only secured more firmly the authority of the Guises. As a counterpoise to their influence, the Queen-mother now conferred the vacant chancellorship on one of the wisest men France has ever seen, her Lord Bacon, Michel de L'Hopital, a man of the utmost prudence and moderation, who, had the times been better, might have won constitutional liberties for his country, and appeased her civil strife. As it was, he saved her from the Inquisition; his hand drew the edicts which aimed at enforcing toleration on France; he guided the assembly of notables which gathered at Fontainebleau, and induced them to attempt a compromise which moderate Catholics and Calvinists might accept, and which might lessen the power of the Guises. This assembly was followed by a meeting of the States General at Orleans, at which the Prince de Conde and the King of Navarre were seized by the Guises on a charge of having had to do with La Renaudie's plot. It would have gone hard with them had not the sickly King at this very time fallen ill and died (1560).
This was a grievous blow to the Guises. Now, as in a moment, all was shattered; Catherine de Medici rose at once to the command of affairs; the new King, Charles IX., was only, ten years old, and her position as Regent was assured. The Guises would gladly have ruled with her, but she had no fancy for that; she and Chancellor de L'Hopital were not likely to ally themselves with all that was severe and repressive. It must not be forgotten that the best part of her policy was inspired by the Chancellor de L'Hopital.
Now it was that Mary Stuart, the Queen-dowager, was compelled to leave France for Scotland; her departure clearly marks the fall of the Guises; and it also showed Philip of Spain that it was no longer necessary for him to refuse aid and counsel to the Guises; their claims were no longer formidable to him on the larger sphere of European politics; no longer could Mary Stuart dream of wearing the triple crown of Scotland, France, and England.
The tolerant language of L'Hopital at the States General of Orleans in 1561 satisfied neither side. The Huguenots were restless; the Bourbon Princes tried to crush the Guises, in return for their own imprisonment the year before; the Constable was offended by the encouragement shown to the Huguenots; it was plain that new changes impended. Montmorency began them by going over to the Guises; and the fatal triumvirate of Francois, Duc de Guise, Montmorency, and St. Andre the marshal, was formed. We find the King of Spain forthwith entering the field of French intrigues and politics, as the support and stay of this triumvirate. Parties take a simpler format once, one party of Catholics and another of Huguenots, with the Queen-mother and the moderates left powerless between them. These last, guided still by L'Hopital, once more convoked the States General at Pontoise: the nobles and the Third Estate seemed to side completely with the Queen and the moderates; a controversy between Huguenots and Jesuits at Poissy only added to the discontent of the Catholics, who were now joined by foolish Antoine, King of Navarre. The edict of January, 1562, is the most remarkable of the attempts made by the Queen-mother to satisfy the Huguenots; but party-passion was already too strong for it to succeed; civil war had become inevitable.
The period may be divided into four parts: (1) the wars before the establishment of the League (1562-1570); (2) the period of the St. Bartholomew (1570-1573); (3) the struggle of the new Politique party against the Leaguers (1573-1559); (4) the efforts of Henri IV. to crush the League and reduce the country to peace (1589-1595). The period can also be divided by that series of agreements, or peaces, which break it up into eight wars:
1. The war of 1562, on the skirts of which Philip of Spain interfered on one side, and Queen Elizabeth with the Calvinistic German Princes on the other, showed at once that the Huguenots were by far the weaker party. The English troops at Havre enabled them at first to command the lower Seine up to Rouen; but the other party, after a long siege which cost poor Antoine of Navarre his life, took that place, and relieved Paris of anxiety. The Huguenots had also spread far and wide over the south and west, occupying Orleans; the bridge of Orleans was their point of junction between Poitou and Germany. While the strength of the Catholics lay to the east, in Picardy, and at Paris, the Huguenot power was mostly concentrated in the south and west of France. Conde, who commanded at Orleans, supported by German allies, made an attempt on Paris, but finding the capital too strong for him, turned to the west, intending to join the English troops from Havre. Montmorency, however, caught him at Dreux; and in the battle that ensued, the Marshal of France, Saint-Andre, perished; Conde was captured by the Catholics, Montmorency by the Huguenots. Coligny, the admiral, drew off his defeated troops with great skill, and fell back to beyond the Loire; the Duc de Guise remained as sole head of the Catholics. Pushing on his advantage, the Duke immediately laid siege to Orleans, and there he fell by the hand of a Huguenot assassin. Both parties had suffered so much that the Queen-mother thought she might interpose with terms of peace; the Edict of Amboise (March, 1563) closed the war, allowing the Calvinists freedom of worship in the towns they held, and some other scanty privileges. A three years' quiet followed, though all men suspected their neighbours, and the high Catholic party tried hard to make Catherine sacrifice L'Hopital and take sharp measures with the Huguenots. They on their side were restless and suspicious, and it was felt that another war could not be far off. Intrigues were incessant, all men thinking to make their profit out of the weakness of France. The struggle between Calvinists and Catholics in the Netherlands roused much feeling, though Catherine refused to favour either party. She collected an army of her own; it was rumoured that she intended to take the Huguenots by surprise and annihilate them. In autumn, 1567, their patience gave way, and they raised the standard of revolt, in harmony with the heroic Netherlanders. Conde and the Chatillons beleaguered Paris from the north, and fought the battle of St. Denis, in which the old Constable, Anne de Montmorency, was killed. The Huguenots, however, were defeated and forced to withdraw, Conde marching eastward to join the German troops now coming up to his aid. No more serious fighting followed; the Peace of Longjumeau (March, 1568), closed the second war, leaving matters much as they were. The aristocratic resistance against the Catholic sovereigns, against what is often called the "Catholic Reaction," had proved itself hollow; in Germany and the Netherlands, as well as in France, the Protestant cause seemed to fail; it was not until the religious question became mixed up with questions as to political rights and freedom, as in the Low Countries, that a new spirit of hope began to spring up.
The Peace of Longjumeau gave no security to the Huguenot nobles; they felt that the assassin might catch them any day. An attempt to seize Condo and Coligny failed, and served only to irritate their party; Cardinal Chatillon escaped to England; Jeanne of Navarre and her young son Henri took refuge at La Rochelle; L'Hopital was dismissed the Court. The Queen-mother seemed to have thrown off her cloak of moderation, and to be ready to relieve herself of the Huguenots by any means, fair or foul. War accordingly could not fail to break out again before the end of the year. Conde had never been so strong; with his friends in England and the Low Countries, and the enthusiastic support of a great party of nobles and religious adherents at home, his hopes rose; he even talked of deposing the Valois and reigning in their stead. He lost his life, however, early in 1569, at the battle of Jarnac. Coligny once more with difficulty, as at Dreux, saved the broken remnants of the defeated Huguenots. Conde's death, regarded at the time by the Huguenots as an irreparable calamity, proved in the end to be no serious loss; for it made room for the true head of the party, Henri of Navarre. No sooner had Jeanne of Navarre heard of the mishap of Jarnac than she came into the Huguenot camp and presented to the soldiers her young son Henri and the young Prince de Conde, a mere child. Her gallant bearing and the true soldier-spirit of Coligny, who shone most brightly in adversity, restored their temper; they even won some small advantages. Before long, however, the Duc d'Anjou, the King's youngest brother, caught and punished them severely at Moncontour. Both parties thenceforward wore themselves out with desultory warfare. In August, 1570, the Peace of St. Germain-en-Laye closed the third war and ended the first period.
2. It was the most favourable Peace the Huguenots had won as yet; it secured them, besides previous rights, four strongholds. The Catholics were dissatisfied; they could not sympathise with the Queen-mother in her alarm at the growing strength of Philip II., head of the Catholics in Europe; they dreaded the existence and growing influence of a party now beginning to receive a definite name, and honourable nickname, the Politiques. These were that large body of French gentlemen who loved the honour of their country rather than their religious party, and who, though Catholics, were yet moderate and tolerant. A pair of marriages now proposed by the Court amazed them still more. It was suggested that the Duc d'Anjou should marry Queen Elizabeth of England, and Henri of Navarre, Marguerite de Valois, the King's sister. Charles II. hoped thus to be rid of his brother, whom he disliked, and to win powerful support against Spain, by the one match, and by the other to bring the civil wars to a close. The sketch of a far-reaching resistance to Philip II. was drawn out; so convinced of his good faith was the prudent and sagacious William of Orange, that, on the strength of these plans, he refused good terms now offered him by Spain. The Duc d'Alencon, the remaining son of Catherine, the brother who did not come to the throne, was deeply interested in the plans for a war in the Netherlands; Anjou, who had withdrawn from the scheme of marriage with Queen Elizabeth, was at this moment a candidate for the throne of Poland; while negotiations respecting it were going on, Marguerite de Valois was married to Henri of Navarre, the worst of wives [?? D.W.] to a husband none too good. Coligny, who had strongly opposed the candidature of Anjou for the throne of Poland, was set on by an assassin, employed by the Queen-mother and her favourite son, and badly wounded; the Huguenots were in utmost alarm, filling the air with cries and menaces. Charles showed great concern for his friend's recovery, and threatened vengeance on the assassins. What was his astonishment to learn that those assassins were his mother and brother! Catherine worked on his fears, and the plot for the great massacre was combined in an instant. The very next day after the King's consent was wrung from him, 24th August, 1572, the massacre of St. Bartholomew's day took place. The murder of Coligny was completed; his son-in-law Teligny perished; all the chief Huguenots were slain; the slaughter spread to country towns; the Church and the civil power were at one, and the victims, taken at unawares, could make no resistance. The two Bourbons, Henri and the Prince de Conde, were spared; they bought their lives by a sudden conversion to Catholicism. The chief guilt of this great crime lies with Catherine de' Medici; for, though it is certain that she did not plan it long before, assassination was a recognised part of her way of dealing with Huguenots.
A short war followed, a revolt of the southern cities rather than a war. They made tenacious and heroic resistance; a large part of the royal forces sympathised rather with them than with the League; and in July, 1573, the Edict of Boulogne granted them even more than they, had been promised by the Peace of St. Germain.
3. We have reached the period of the "Wan of the League," as the four later civil wars are often called. The last of the four is alone of any real importance.
Just as the Peace of La Rochelle was concluded, the Duc d'Anjou, having been elected King of Poland, left France; it was not long before troubles began again. The Duc d'Alencon was vexed by his mother's neglect; as heir presumptive to the crown he thought he deserved better treatment, and sought to give himself consideration by drawing towards the middle party; Catherine seemed to be intriguing for the ruin of that party—nothing was safe while she was moving. The King had never held up his head since the St. Bartholomew; it was seen that he now was dying, and the Queen-mother took the opportunity of laying hands on the middle party. She arrested Alencon, Montmorency, and Henri of Navarre, together with some lesser chiefs; in the midst of it all Charles IX. died (1574), in misery, leaving the ill-omened crown to Henri of Anjou, King of Poland, his next brother, his mother's favourite, the worst of a bad breed. At the same time the fifth civil war broke out, interesting chiefly because it was during its continuance that the famous League was actually formed.
Henri III., when he heard of his brother's death, was only too eager to slip away like a culprit from Poland, though he showed no alacrity in returning to France, and dallied with the pleasures of Italy for months. An attempt to draw him over to the side of the Politiques failed completely; he attached himself on the contrary to the Guises, and plunged into the grossest dissipation, while he posed himself before men as a good and zealous Catholic. The Politiques and Huguenots therefore made a compact in 1575, at Milhaud on the Tarn, and chose the Prince de Conde as their head; Henri of Navarre escaped from Paris, threw off his forced Catholicism, and joined them. Against them the strict Catholics seemed powerless; the Queen-mother closed this war with the Peace of Chastenoy (May, 1576), with terms unusually favourable for both Politiques and Huguenots: for the latter, free worship throughout France, except at Paris; for the chiefs of the former, great governments, for Alencon a large central district, for Conde, Picardy, for Henri of Navarre, Guienne.
To resist all this the high Catholic party framed the League they had long been meditating; it is said that the Cardinal de Lorraine had sketched it years before, at the time of the later sittings of the Council of Trent. Lesser compacts had already been made from time to time; now it was proposed to form one great League, towards which all should gravitate. The head of the League was Henri, Duc de Guise the second, "Balafre," who had won that title in fighting against the German reiters the year before, when they entered France under Condo. He certainly hoped at this time to succeed to the throne of France, either by deposing the corrupt and feeble Henri III., "as Pippin dealt with Hilderik," or by seizing the throne, when the King's debaucheries should have brought him to the grave. The Catholics of the more advanced type, and specially the Jesuits, now in the first flush of credit and success, supported him warmly. The headquarters of the movement were in Picardy; its first object, opposition to the establishment of Conde as governor of that province. The League was also very popular with the common folk, especially in the towns of the north. It soon found that Paris was its natural centre; thence it spread swiftly across the whole natural France; it was warmly supported by Philip of Spain. The States General, convoked at Blois in 1576, could bring no rest to France; opinion was just as much divided there as in the country; and the year 1577 saw another petty war, counted as the sixth, which was closed by the Peace of Bergerac, another ineffectual truce which settled nothing. It was a peace made with the Politiques and Huguenots by the Court; it is significant of the new state of affairs that the League openly refused to be bound by it, and continued a harassing, objectless warfare. The Duc d'Anjou (he had taken that title on his brother Henri's accession to the throne) in 1578 deserted the Court party, towards which his mother had drawn him, and made friends with the Calvinists in the Netherlands. The southern provinces named him "Defender of their liberties;" they had hopes he might wed Elizabeth of England; they quite mistook their man. In 1579 "the Gallants' War" broke out; the Leaguers had it all their own way; but Henri III., not too friendly to them, and urged by his brother Anjou, to whom had been offered sovereignty over the seven united provinces in 1580, offered the insurgents easy terms, and the Treaty of Fleix closed the seventh war. Anjou in the Netherlands could but show his weakness; nothing went well with him; and at last, having utterly wearied out his friends, he fled, after the failure of his attempt to secure Antwerp, into France. There he fell ill of consumption and died in 1584.
This changed at once the complexion of the succession question. Hitherto, though no children seemed likely to be born to him, Henri III. was young and might live long, and his brother was there as his heir. Now, Henri III. was the last Prince of the Valois, and Henri of Navarre in hereditary succession was heir presumptive to the throne, unless the Salic law were to be set aside. The fourth son of Saint Louis, Robert, Comte de Clermont, who married Beatrix, heiress of Bourbon, was the founder of the House of Bourbon. Of this family the two elder branches had died out: John, who had been a central figure in the War of the Public Weal, in 1488; Peter, husband of Anne of France, in 1503; neither of them leaving heirs male. Of the younger branch Francois died in 1525, and the famous Constable de Bourbon in 1527. This left as the only representatives of the family, the Comtes de La Marche; of these the elder had died out in 1438, and the junior alone survived in the Comtes de Vendome. The head of this branch, Charles, was made Duc de Vendome by Francois I. in 1515; he was father of Antoine, Duc de Vendome, who, by marrying the heroic Jeanne d'Albret, became King of Navarre, and of Louis, who founded the House of Conde; lastly, Antoine was the father of Henri IV. He was, therefore, a very distant cousin to Henri III; the Houses of Capet, of Alencon, of Orleans, of Angouleme, of Maine, and of Burgundy, as well as the elder Bourbons, had to fall extinct before Henri of Navarre could become heir to the crown. All this, however, had now happened; and the Huguenots greatly rejoiced in the prospect of a Calvinist King. The Politique party showed no ill-will towards him; both they and the Court party declared that if he would become once more a Catholic they would rally to him; the Guises and the League were naturally all the more firmly set against him; and Henri of Navarre saw that he could not as yet safely endanger his influence with the Huguenots, while his conversion would not disarm the hostility of the League. They had before, this put forward as heir to the throne Henri's uncle, the wretched old Cardinal de Bourbon, who had all the faults and none of the good qualities of his brother Antoine. Under cover of his name the Duc de Guise hoped to secure the succession for himself; he also sold himself and his party to Philip of Spain, who was now in fullest expectation of a final triumph over his foes. He had assassinated William the Silent; any day Elizabeth or Henri of Navarre might be found murdered; the domination of Spain over Europe seemed almost secured. The pact of Joinville, signed between Philip, Guise, and Mayenne, gives us the measure of the aims of the high Catholic party. Paris warmly sided with them; the new development of the League, the "Sixteen of Paris," one representative for each of the districts of the capital, formed a vigorous organisation and called for the King's deposition; they invited Henri, Duc de Guise, to Paris. Soon after this Henri III. humbled himself, and signed the Treaty of Nemours (1585) with the Leaguers. He hereby became nominal head of the League and its real slave.
The eighth war, the "War of the Three Henries," that is, of Henri III. and Henri de Guise against Henri of Navarre, now broke out. The Pope made his voice heard; Sixtus excommunicated the Bourbons, Henri and Conde, and blessed the Leaguers.
For the first time there was some real life in one of these civil ware, for Henri of Navarre rose nobly to the level of his troubles. At first the balance of successes was somewhat in favour of the Leaguers; the political atmosphere grew even more threatening, and terrible things, like lightning flashes, gleamed out now and again. Such, for example, was the execution of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, in 1586. It was known that Philip II. was preparing to crush England. Elizabeth did what she could to support Henri of Navarre; he had the good fortune to win the battle of Contras, in which the Duc de Joyeuse, one of the favourites of Henri III., was defeated and killed. The Duc de Guise, on the other hand, was too strong for the Germans, who had marched into France to join the Huguenots, and defeated them at Vimroy and Auneau, after which he marched in triumph to Paris, in spite of the orders and opposition of. the King, who, finding himself powerless, withdrew to Chartres. Once more Henri III. was obliged to accept such terms as the Leaguers chose to impose; and with rage in his heart he signed the "Edict of Union" (1588), in which he named the Duc de Guise lieutenant-general of the kingdom, and declared that no heretic could succeed to the throne. Unable to endure the humiliation, Henri III. that same winter, assassinated the Duc and the Cardinal de Guise, and seized many leaders of the League, though he missed the Duc de Mayenne. This scandalous murder of the "King of Paris," as the capital fondly called the Duke, brought the wretched King no solace or power. His mother did not live to see the end of her son; she died in this the darkest period of his career, and must have been aware that her cunning and her immoral life had brought nothing but misery to herself and all her race. The power of the League party seemed as great as ever; the Duc de Mayenne entered Paris, and declared open war on Henri III., who, after some hesitation, threw himself into the hands of his cousin Henri of Navarre in the spring of 1589. The old Politique party now rallied to the King; the Huguenots were stanch for their old leader; things looked less dark for them since the destruction of the Spanish Armada in the previous summer. The Swiss, aroused by the threats of the Duke of Savoy at Geneva, joined the Germans, who once more entered northeastern France; the leaguers were unable to make head either against them or against the armies of the two Kings; they fell back on Paris, and the allies hemmed them in. The defence of the capital was but languid; the populace missed their idol, the Duc de Guise, and the moderate party, never extinguished, recovered strength. All looked as if the royalists would soon reduce the last stronghold of the League, when Henri III. was suddenly slain by the dagger of a fanatical half-wined priest.
The King had only time to commend Henri of Navarre to his courtiers as his heir, and to exhort him to become a Catholic, before he closed his eyes, and ended the long roll of his vices and crimes. And thus in crime and shame the House of Valois went down. For a few years, the throne remained practically vacant: the heroism of Henri of Navarre, the loss of strength in the Catholic powers, the want of a vigorous head to the League,—these things all sustained the Bourbon in his arduous struggle; the middle party grew in strength daily, and when once Henri had allowed himself to be converted, he became the national sovereign, the national favourite, and the high Catholics fell to the fatal position of an unpatriotic faction depending on the arm of the foreigner.
4. The civil wars were not over, for the heat of party raged as yet unslaked; the Politiques could not all at once adopt a Huguenot King, the League party had pledged itself to resist the heretic, and Henri at first had little more than the Huguenots at his back. There were also formidable claimants for the throne. Charles II. Duc de Lorraine, who had married Claude, younger daughter of Henri IL, and who was therefore brother-in-law to Henri III., set up a vague claim; the King of Spain, Philip II., thought that the Salic law had prevailed long enough in France, and that his own wife, the elder daughter of Henri III. had the best claim to the throne; the Guises, though their head was gone, still hoping for the crown, proclaimed their sham-king, the Cardinal de Bourbon, as Charles X., and intrigued behind the shadow of his name. The Duc de Mayenne, their present chief, was the most formidable of Henri's opponents; his party called for a convocation of States General, which should choose a King to succeed, or to replace, their feeble Charles X. During this struggle the high Catholic party, inspired by Jesuit advice, stood forward as the admirers of constitutional principles; they called on the nation to decide the question as to the succession; their Jesuit friends wrote books on the sovereignty of the people. They summoned up troops from every side; the Duc de Lorraine sent his son to resist Henri and support his own claim; the King of Spain sent a body of men; the League princes brought what force they could. Henri of Navarre at the same moment found himself weakened by the silent withdrawal from his camp of the army of Henri III.; the Politique nobles did not care at first to throw in their lot with the Huguenot chieftain; they offered to confer on Henri the post of commander-in-chief, and to reserve the question as to the succession; they let him know that they recognised his hereditary rights, and were hindered only by his heretical opinions; if he would but be converted they were his. Henri temporised; his true strength, for the time, lay in his Huguenot followers, rugged and faithful fighting men, whose belief was the motive power of their allegiance and of their courage. If he joined the Politiques at their price, the price of declaring himself Catholic, the Huguenots would be offended if not alienated. So he neither absolutely refused nor said yes; and the chief Catholic nobles in the main stood aloof, watching the struggle between Huguenot and Leaguer, as it worked out its course.
Henri, thus weakened, abandoned the siege of Paris, and fell back; with the bulk of his forces he marched into Normandy, so as to be within reach of English succour; a considerable army went into Champagne, to be ready to join any Swiss or German help that might come. These were the great days in the life of Henri of Navarre. Henri showed himself a hero, who strove for a great cause—the cause of European freedom—as well as for his own crown.
The Duc de Mayenne followed the Huguenots down into the west, and found Henri awaiting him in a strong position at Arques, near Dieppe; here at bay, the "Bearnais" inflicted a heavy blow on his assailants; Mayenne fell back into Picardy; the Prince of Lorraine drew off altogether; and Henri marched triumphantly back to Paris, ravaged the suburbs and then withdrew to Tours, where he was recognised as King by the Parliament. His campaign of 1589 had been most successful; he had defeated the League in a great battle, thanks to his skilful use of his position at Arques, and the gallantry of his troops, which more than counterbalanced the great disparity in numbers. He had seen dissension break out among his enemies; even the Pope, Sixtus, had shown him some favour, and the Politique nobles were certainly not going against him. Early in 1590 Henri had secured Anjou, Maine, and Normandy, and in March defeated Mayenne, in a great pitched battle at Ivry, not far from Dreux. The Leaguers fell back in consternation to Paris. Henri reduced all the country round the capital, and sat down before it for a stubborn siege. The Duke of Parma had at that time his hands full in the Low Countries; young Prince Maurice was beginning to show his great abilities as a soldier, and had got possession of Breda; all, however, had to be suspended by the Spaniards on that side, rather than let Henri of Navarre take Paris. Parma with great skill relieved the capital without striking a blow, and the campaign of 1590 ended in a failure for Henri. The success of Parma, however, made Frenchmen feel that Henri's was the national cause, and that the League flourished only by interference of the foreigner. Were the King of Navarre but a Catholic, he should be a King of France of whom they might all be proud. This feeling was strengthened by the death of the old Cardinal de Bourbon, which reopened at once the succession question, and compelled Philip of Spain to show his hand. He now claimed the throne for his daughter Elisabeth, as eldest daughter of the eldest daughter of Henri II. All the neighbours of France claimed something; Frenchmen felt that it was either Henri IV. or dismemberment. The "Bearnais" grew in men's minds to be the champion of the Salic law, of the hereditary principle of royalty against feudal weakness, of unity against dismemberment, of the nation against the foreigner.
The middle party, the Politiques of Europe,—the English, that is, and the Germans,—sent help to Henri, by means of which he was able to hold his own in the northwest and southwest throughout 1591. Late in the year the violence of the Sixteen of Paris drew on them severe punishment from the Duc de Mayenne; and consequently the Duke ceased to be the recognised head of the League, which now looked entirely to Philip II. and Parma, while Paris ceased to be its headquarters; and more moderate counsels having taken the place of its fierce fanaticism, the capital came under the authority of the lawyers and citizens, instead of the priesthood and the bloodthirsty mob. Henri, meanwhile, who was closely beleaguering Rouen, was again outgeneralled by Parma, and had to raise the siege. Parma, following him westward, was wounded at Caudebec; and though he carried his army triumphantly back to the Netherlands, his career was ended by this trifling wound. He did no more, and died in 1592.
In 1593, Mayenne, having sold his own claims to Philip of Spain, the opposition to Henri looked more solid and dangerous than ever; he therefore thought the time was come for the great step which should rally to him all the moderate Catholics. After a decent period of negotiation and conferences, he declared himself convinced, and heard mass at St. Denis. The conversion had immediate effect; it took the heart out of the opposition; city after city came in; the longing for peace was strong in every breast, and the conversion seemed to remove the last obstacle. The Huguenots, little as they liked it, could not oppose the step, and hoped to profit by their champion's improved position. Their ablest man, Sully, had even advised Henri to make the plunge. In 1594, Paris opened her gates to Henri, who had been solemnly crowned, just before, at Chartres. He was welcomed with immense enthusiasm, and from that day onwards has ever been the favourite hero of the capital. By 1595 only one foe remained,—the Spanish Court. The League was now completely broken up; the Parliament of Paris gladly aided the King to expel the Jesuits from France. In November, 1595, Henri declared war against Spain, for anything was better than the existing state of things, in which Philip's hand secretly supported all opposition: The war in 1596 was far from being successful for Henri; he was comforted, however, by receiving at last the papal absolution, which swept away the last scruples of France.
By rewards and kindliness,—for Henri was always willing to give and had a pleasant word for all, most of the reluctant nobles, headed by the Duc de Mayenne himself, came in in the course of 1596. Still the war pressed very heavily, and early in 1597 the capture of Amiens by the Spaniards alarmed Paris, and roused the King to fresh energies. With help of Sully (who had not yet received the title by which he is known in history) Henri recovered Amiens, and checked the Spanish advance. It was noticed that while the old Leaguers came very heartily to the King's help, the Huguenots hung back in a discontented and suspicious spirit. After the fall of Amiens the war languished; the Pope offered to mediate, and Henri had time to breathe. He felt that his old comrades, the offended Huguenots, had good cause for complaint; and in April, 1598, he issued the famous Edict of Nantes, which secured their position for nearly a century. They got toleration for their opinions; might worship openly in all places, with the exception of a few towns in which the League had been strong; were qualified to hold office in financial posts and in the law; had a Protestant chamber in the Parliaments.
Immediately after the publication of the Edict of Nantes, the Treaty of Vervins was signed. Though Henri by it broke faith with Queen Elizabeth, he secured an honourable peace for his country, an undisputed kingship for himself. It was the last act of Philip II., the confession that his great schemes were unfulfilled, his policy a failure.
THE ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Adversity is solitary, while prosperity dwells in a crowd Comeliness of his person, which at all times pleads powerfully Envy and malice are self-deceivers Everything in the world bore a double aspect From faith to action the bridge is short Hearsay liable to be influenced by ignorance or malice Honours and success are followed by envy Hopes they (enemies) should hereafter become our friends I should praise you more had you praised me less It is the usual frailty of our sex to be fond of flattery Lovers are not criminal in the estimation of one another Mistrust is the sure forerunner of hatred Much is forgiven to a king Necessity is said to be the mother of invention Never approached any other man near enough to know a difference Not to repose too much confidence in our friends Parliament aided the King to expel the Jesuits from France Prefer truth to embellishment Rather out of contempt, and because it was good policy Situated as I was betwixt fear and hope The pretended reformed religion The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day The record of the war is as the smoke of a furnace There is too much of it for earnest, and not enough for jest Those who have given offence to hate the offended party To embellish my story I have neither leisure nor ability Troubles might not be lasting Young girls seldom take much notice of children