Go to content

Henri IV - An unfinished reign

The House of Bourbon

"Be fruitful!" the Grand Duke of Tuscany had enjoined his niece, and Marie de Médicis proved that she was up to the task. The Dauphin Louis (the future Louis XIII) was born at Fontainebleau on 27 September 1601, in the presence of princes of the blood as if to mark the importance of the event. Over the next nine years, the queen gave France no less than five more children. In addition to Louis, there was Elisabeth (22 November 1602), Chrétienne (or Christine, 10 February 1606), Nicolas, duc d’Orléans (16 April 1607), Gaston-Jean-Baptiste, duc d’Anjou (25 April 1608) and Henriette (26 November 1609), the future wife of Charles I, the king of England.

With six legitimate children by the queen of France, Henri IV appeared to have solidly set the Bourbon dynasty on the throne of France. In addition, his multiple liaisons made him one of the most prolific monarchs in the history of France. Jean-Claude Cuignet has counted six illegitimate children, and seven others who were made legitimate. They include César (7 June 1594), Catherine-Henriette (11 November 1596) and Alexandre de Bourbon (15 April 1598) with Gabrielle d’Estrées; Gabrielle-Angélique (21 January 1603) and Gaston-Henri de Bourbon (3 November 1601) with Henriette d’Entragues; Antoine de Bourbon (9 May 1607) with Jacqueline de Bueil and Jeanne-Baptiste de Bourbon (22 February 1608) with Charlotte des Essarts.

A quick glance at these dates shows that Henri kept busy with wife and mistresses simultaneously. The most flagrant example of this was his relationship with Henriette d’Entragues, at a time when he had just married Marie de Médicis. The two women gave birth almost at the same time (Louis and Gaston-Henri de Verneuil were born on 27 September and 27 October 1601; and Princess Elisabeth and Gabrielle-Angélique, were delivered on 22 November 1602 and 21 January 1603), which was accompanied by quarrels between Henri and Marie, who refused to put up with his "double life".

Henri tolerated these outbursts, because he was satisfied as a man, a husband, a king and a father. To Marie's great despair, he insisted that all his children be raised together, legitimate and illegitimate alike. The château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye became a veritable nursery, under the firm hand of governess Madame de Montglat. He would often pay surprise visits to his offspring, especially the Dauphin, with whom he played and swam in the Seine. He also knew how to punish, recommending in 1607 that Madame de Montglat "flog [the Dauphin] whenever he is stubborn or does something wrong, as I know well that there is nothing in the world that would do him so much good as that […]". Posterity has preferred to retain the image the ageing king playing with all of his children.

Related multimedia

Title: Henri IV and his family

enri IV, Marie de Médicis and their children
© RMN / Perony
Caption:
Henri IV and his family, engraving by Jean Le Clerc, 1602. Musée national du château de Pau, P57-39-2

Title: Henri IV and his family

Dish: Henri IV and his family
© RMN / Stéphane Maréchalle
Caption:
Dish: Henri IV and his family. Ceramic. School of Bernard Palissy. Musée national de la Renaissance d'Écouen

Title: The birth of Louis XIII at Fontainebleau

The birth of Louis XIII
© RMN / Thierry Le Mage
Caption:
The birth of Louis XIII at Fontainebleau, 27 September 1601, painting by Pierre Paul Rubens, Musée du Louvre, INV1776

Title: Letter from the king for the birth of the Dauphin

Letter from the king for the birth of the Dauphin
Archives municipales d'Angers / Cliché B. Amiot
Caption:
Letter from the king for the birth of the Dauphin, 27 September 1601. Archives municipales d'Angers, AA 5, f° 78. Cliché B. Amiot

Title: Medallion of Henri IV

Medallion of Henri IV: birth of the Dauphin
© BnF
Caption:
Medallion of Henri IV: birth of the Dauphin on 27 September 1601 at Fontainebleau. A crowned dolphin encircles three other intertwined dolphins. Département des monnaies, médailles et antiques de la Bibliothèque nationale de France

Title: Henri IV and Marie de Médicis

Medallion: Henri IV and Marie de Médicis
© BnF
Caption:
Medallion: Henri IV and Marie de Médicis. Département des monnaies, médailles et antiques de la Bibliothèque nationale de France

Title: Putative portrait of César, duc de Vendôme

Putative portrait of César, son of Henri IV
© RMN / Thierry Le Mage
Caption:
Putative portrait of César, duc de Vendôme, drawing by Daniel Dumontier, 16th-17th c. Musée du Louvre, INV26365

Title: César, duc de Vendôme as a child

César, son of Henri IV, as a child
© Musée national du château de Pau / Jean-Yves Chermeux
Caption:
César, duc de Vendôme as a child, engraving by Thomas de Leu, 16th-17th c. Musée national du château de Pau, P. 69.32.39

Title: Louis-Nicolas de France

Portrait of Louis-Nicolas de France, son of Henri IV
© RMN / René-Gabriel Ojéda
Caption:
Louis-Nicolas de France, duc d’Orléans, son of Henri IV and Marie de Médicis, drawing by Daniel Dumonstier. Musée Condé de Chantilly, PD406

Title: Louis-Nicolas de France

Portrait of Louis-Nicolas de France, son of Henri IV
© Musée du château royal de Blois / François Lauginie 2008
Caption:
Louis-Nicolas de France, duc d’Orléans, fourth child of the king, French School, dated h.d. 1610, oil on canvas. Musée national du château de Blois, Inv. 872.3.55.
Welcome to our web site devoted to Henri IV
/1/ If you would like to see the Flash version of the site, you must download and install Adobe Flash Player and make sure that JavaScript is enable in your browser.

/2/ If you do not have Flash Player installed, you may still access the HTML version of the site..

/3/ A mobile version is available.
Version accessible