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Henri IV - An unfinished reign

The territory of France

Section 1/2

At 450,000 sq. km, the kingdom of Henri IV covered some four-fifths of modern-day France. Despite everything, given the era and taking into account the heterogeneousness of the lands that made it up, the territory administered by the king was enormous.

One must remember that the horse was the most common means of transport. A person on horseback could cover some 40 to 50 kilometres a day, on roads that were often in poor condition and dotted with toll collectors. Charles Estienne, the author of Le guide des chemins de France (Guide to the Roads of France – 1552), estimated that an ordinary rider would need 19 days to travel from the north of the kingdom to the south, and 22 days to go from east to west. From Paris, a journey on horseback to Bordeaux required seven days. Eight to ten days were needed to reach Lyon, and sixteen to twenty days to get as far as Marseille. In many respects, therefore, France in the 16th century was much larger than the entire European continent appears to a French person today. One can better understand how difficult it was to govern this territory – which also had a wide variety of languages and cultures – and why Henri IV and his entourage wanted to streamline its administration.

Even though France's present-day hexagonal shape was visible even then, the kingdom's borders were different than those we know today. Some regions that are now part of France were not yet part of the kingdom, and several foreign enclaves were scattered across French soil. Calais was purchased from the English in 1564 by Catherine de Médicis, but was then re-occupied – this time by the Spanish – between 1596 and 1598. Comtat Venaissin remained a papal enclave until 1791, and the Principality of Orange passed in 1544 to William the Silent from the House of Nassau, leader of the United Provinces (the modern-day Netherlands).

Related multimedia

Title: The kingdom of France under Henri IV

Map of the kingdom of France under Henri IV with main cities
Comment:
The kingdom under Henri IV was different from present-day France (whose borders are shown in light green). To the east, Alsace and Lorraine were part of the Holy Roman Empire, with the exception of the French enclave of the Three Bishoprics (Metz, Toul and Verdun). Franche-Comté belonged to the Habsburgs. It was only in 1601 that Henri IV made Bresse, Bugey and the land of Gex part of France, and Savoie and Nice were not included until 1860. To the south, Corsica and Roussillon belonged to Genoa and Spain, respectively.
Caption:
The kingdom of France in 1610 and France today

Title: Map of the kingdom of France at the end of the 16th century

Map of the kingdom of France at the end of the 16th century
© Archives nationales
Caption:
Map of the kingdom of France at the end of the 16th century, Nova Totius Galliae Descriptio

Title: Map of the kingdom of France in 1590

Map of the kingdom of France in 1590
© Archives nationales
Caption:
Map of the kingdom of France in 1590. Gallia

Title: The village and château of Montmélian

The village and château of Montmélian
© BnF
Comment:
Montmélian was in Savoie, a territory that Henri IV won from the duc de Savoie in 1600.
Caption:
The village and château of Montmélian, in Topographie françoise, ou Représentations de plusieurs villes, bourgs, plans, chasteaux, maisons de plaisance, ruines et vestiges d'antiquitez du royaume de France / dessignez par defunct Claude Chastillon et autres, et mis en lumière par Jean Boisseau,... – Paris, Boisseau, 1648. Département des imprimés de la Bibliothèque nationale de France, RES L 15-7

Title: Henri IV on horseback

Henri IV on horseback
© Musée national du château de Pau / Jean-Yves Chermeux
Comment:
Henri was a first-class horseman and was constantly on the move. He " went riding to relieve boredom ", as he wrote in September 1590. His resistance astonished his contemporaries: after the Battle of Arques, for example, he spent 15 hours in the saddle without eating!
Caption:
Henri IV on horseback, engraving by Thomas de Leu, 1596. Musée du château de Pau, P. 937 © Musée du château de Pau

Section 2/2

Within its borders, an inextricable tangle of territories with different statuses made centralising the country's administration extremely difficult. First, there were the crown lands. These were lands that belonged directly to the king, and which were supposed to provide revenues to support him. Crown lands could not in theory be sold, but sometimes a king in need of money would sell a part of them.

Parts of France consisted of appanages – properties detached from the crown lands and given by the king to his younger children. The benefits derived from these allowed them to maintain their lifestyle and support their clients. Upon the death of François, the brother of Charles IX and Henri III in 1584, Henri de Navarre was given the duchy of Alençon.

Finally, there were fiefdoms that belonged to the great families. These lineages sometimes took offence at the might of the king, when strategic marriage alliances united these lands to form powerful territorial ensembles.

Thus, when Henri de Navarre acceded to the throne, he was the ruler of an impressive number of properties that he had inherited from his ancestors. By uniting the legacies of the House of Foix-Albrets and the House of Bourbons-Vendôme, and by being the ruler of the State of Navarre, Henri became what English historians call an "overmighty subject". Such concentrated power could be seen as a threat by the king of France, but the lack of a male heir to the last of the Valois – which resulted in the king of Navarre being offered the throne – eliminated this danger.

Related multimedia

Title: The holdings of Henri IV before his accession to the throne

The holdings of Henri IV before his accession to the throne
Comment:
It was not until 1607 that Henri's personal possessions were placed under the crown of France. For Navarre and Béarn, this took until 1620.
Caption:
The holdings of Henri IV before his accession to the throne. Source: Henri IV. Le règne de la tolérance, by Jean-Paul Desprat and Jacques Thibau. Paris, Gallimard (Découverte Histoire). The map legend is : Navarre annexed by Spain in 1512 ; Legacy of the House of Albret; France in 1612

Title: Kingdom of Navarre

Map of the Kingdom of Navarre
© Archives nationales
Caption:
Kingdom of Navarre

Title: New Description of the Kingdom of Navarre

Map of the Kingdom of Navarre
© Archives nationales
Caption:
New Description of the Kingdom of Navarre

Title: Map of the Kingdom of Navarre

Map of the Kingdom of Navarre
© Archives nationales
Caption:
Map of the Kingdom of Navarre

Title: Map of the Kingdom of Navarre (Spain and France)

Map of the Kingdom of Navarre
© Archives départementales des Pyrénées-Atlantiques
Caption:
Map of Navarre (Spain and France), Sanson d’Abbeville; J. Samer, engraver, 1652 (colour engraving). AD des Pyrénées-Atlantiques, 1 F i. 4/1.

Title: Principatus Benearnia / The principality of Béarn

Map of Béarn
© Archives départementales des Pyrénées-Atlantiques
Caption:
Principatus Benearnia / The principality of Béarn, colour engraving by Evert Symons and Hamers, engravers, ca. 1630, AD des Pyrénées Atlantiques, 1 F I ½

Title: Edict of union of the former domain of the king with the crown

Edict of union of the former domain of the king with the crown
© Archives nationales
Caption:
Edict of union of the former domain of the king with the crown. Copy in the registry of the Domain of Navarre united with the crown, 1609, handwritten register, parchment cover

Title: France in mourning (frontispiece)

France in mourning (frontispiece)
Caption:
France in mourning (frontispiece), P. de Lostal, Navarre in mourning, Rouen, 1611, cat. no. 68, AD des Pyrénées-Atlantiques, U. 3005/2R

Title: The coats of arms of France and Navarre

The coats of arms of France and Navarre, sculpture
© RMN / Gérard Blot
Caption:
The coats of arms of France and Navarre. Atelier de Mathieu Jacquet. Sculpture in white marble, 17th century. Musée national du château de Fontainebleau

Title: Abrégé de l’histoire du Royaume de Navarre

Miniature of  l'"Abrégé de l’histoire du Royaume de Navarre"
© Musée national du château de Pau / Jean-Yves Chermeux
Caption:
Abrégé de l’histoire du Royaume de Navarre, full leather-bound manuscript decorated with coloured coats of arms, circa 1605. Title page. Musée national du château de Pau, BP. 6104
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