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Henri IV - An unfinished reign

Chronicle of a recantation foretold

Militarily, the years 1592–92 were not decisive. On the other hand, Henri IV was squeezed between Huguenots who were worried about his declaration of 4 August 1589 and Catholics who were pushing for him to convert. To appease the former – who found themselves deprived of an official status since the Treaty of Nemours (1585) and the Edict of Union (1588) – in 1591 Henri promulgated the Edict of Mantes, which reiterated the provisions of Edict of Poitiers (1577).

Catholics had reason to feel hopeful starting in 1592. On 4 April of that year, Henri IV signed a declaration, the so-called "Expedient", in which he announced once again his "desire to unite and join the Catholic Church in return for the aforementioned instruction provided as it befits his dignity". Was this new promise offered in a bid to gain time? This is unlikely, as Henri was well-placed to take the measure of the Leaguers' determination and resistance. In Paris in January 1593, the League organised a States-General, during which they promised to elect a new king who was more in line with their political and religious beliefs. In violation of every provision of the Salic Law, they even proposed Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain, the niece of the late Henri III.

Henri IV decided to act. In April 1593, he proposed a conference at Suresnes to discuss political and religious matters. Although the meeting gave rise to hopes for a lasting peace, there was a dramatic turn of events. On 16 May 1593, via the intermediary of the archbishop of Bourges , Henri announced that he would convert to Catholicism. He had come to the realisation that conversion was essential if he wanted to become fully king of France. Or, as he is reported to have remarked, "Paris vaut bien une messe" ("Paris is well worth a mass").

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Title: Edict of Union (1588)

Edict of Union (1588)
© Archives nationales
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Edict of Union (1588)
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