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Henri IV - An unfinished reign

Institutions : the king

The institutional history of the 16th century is one of complex and shifting structures, and it is very difficult to create an exact diagram of it.

At the top of the pyramid was the king. At the moment of the king's death, his successor acceded to the throne, hence the expression, "The king is dead, long live the king!" In France, however, it was the coronation ceremony that truly "created" the king. Every monarch since Pépin le Bref in the 8th century was crowned in a religious ceremony, generally celebrated at Reims. During the ceremony, the archbishop would anoint the monarch with oil (chrism) from the Holy Ampoule. With this gesture, the king became God's representative on earth and thus enjoyed unparalleled prestige in Europe. In addition, the new monarch swore a coronation oath that listed the missions he would uphold as king of France. The first was to preserve "true peace" in the kingdom. He also promised to uphold the law and to defend the faith by expelling heretics from the realm. It is easy to understand why Henri IV converted to Catholicism before being crowned in 1594.

Even though the king of France was considered – since at least the time of Saint Louis – to be "an emperor in his kingdom", i.e. that he enjoyed total autonomy with respect to other earthly powers in Europe, his power was not unlimited.

The king had to submit to the fundamental laws of the kingdom. These were a set of eight major principles, including primogeniture, masculinity, non-disposability of the crown, continuity, royal majority at the age of 13, respect of the coronation oath, inalienability of the crown lands and, starting with Henri IIV, the catholicity of the king.

Related multimedia

Title: Anointing and coronation of Henri IV

Anointing and coronation of Henri IV, ink and wash on paper
© BnF
Caption:
Anointing and coronation of Henri IV, ink and wash on paper, by Desmaretz, late 16th c. BNF, Qb1 1594 BNF, Inv. Mss. Fr.

Title: Henri IV on his throne in coronation robes

Henri IV on his throne in coronation robes
© RMN / René Gabriel Ojéda
Caption:
Henri IV on his throne in coronation robes, engraving by Thomas de Leu, 16th c. Musée national du château de Pau, Inv. P. 933.

Title: Account of the transfer of the Holy Ampoule of Marmoutier

Transfer of the Holy Ampoule
Archives départementales d’Eure-et-Loir
Caption:
Account of the transfer of the Holy Ampoule of Marmoutier (register of Noël de Bunes and Gabriel Sortés, notaires in Chartres). 2 E 8-36.

Title: Closed crown of Henri IV

Closed crown of Henri IV, watercolour drawing
© BnF
Caption:
Closed crown of Henri IV (recueil Gaignières, F°. 5, watercolour drawing) Bibliothèque nationale de France, Inv. Mss. Fr. 20070

Title: Henri IV's sceptre and hand of justice

Henri IV's sceptre and hand of justice, watercolour drawing
© BnF
Caption:
Henri IV's sceptre and hand of justice (recueil Gaignières, F°. 6, watercolour drawing), Bibliothèque nationale de France, Inv. Mss. Fr. 20070

Title: Injustice struck down at the feet of the king

Injustice struck down at the feet of the king
© BnF
Caption:
"Injustice struck down at the feet of the king" Frontispiece, unnumbered, 1600, cat. no. 24, Bibliothèque nationale de France

Title: Henri IV touching scrofula

Henri IV touching scrofula
© Musée national du château de Pau / Jean-Yves Chermeux
Caption:
Henri IV touching scrofula, engraving by Pierre Firens, late 16th c. Musée national du château de Pau, Inv. P. 907.
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