Henry IV of France was born  in 1553 and died in 1610. Henry IV is considered one of the greatest kings of France and was instrumental in ending the French Wars Of Religion. A Calvinist, he converted to Catholicism to satisfy the wishes of 90% or more of the population of France. Henry IV was the first of the Bourbon dynasty.

Henry was educated as a Calvinist and enjoyed the outdoor life. He had a reputation for being high spirited and good humoured. He had a great love of women and he had at least 56 mistresses. His nick-name was the “vert galant” – the gay spark.

During the wars he was to become the leading Huguenot after the deaths of Condé and Coligny. In 1572, he married Marguerite de Valois, the daughter of Catherine de Medici in an effort to reconcile all sides in France. It was this wedding that attracted the gathering of nobles to Paris and prompted the Massacre of St. Bartholomew`s which rather than reconcile both sides lead to an even deeper split and an enormous hatred between the Huguenots and the Catholics. Henry only saved his life by converting to Catholicism but when he escaped from Paris in 1576, he changed back to Calvinism and took over the lead of the Huguenots.

In 1589, the death of Henry III lead to the crowning of Henry as Henry IV. The signing of the Edict of Nantes in 1598 effectively ended the wars. His conversion to Catholicism in 1593 re-established a catholic king on the throne and the ending of the war with Spain in 1598 (the Treaty of Vervins) gave Henry the freedom to re-build France.

Domestic policy:

This again moved France towards absolutism. Henry did not have a set theory on how to do this but he had a number of advantages which allowed him to build on this belief.

1) He was the legitimate heir to the throne

2) He seemed to represent the best hope for those who wanted social stability and to those who feared a return to war.

3) He was not tainted like the Guises with a relationship with Spain.

Henry`s measures were very much ad hoc but his main desire was to centralise the power of the monarch i.e. move back to the traditional belief that Paris governed France which, of course, was one of the main grievances the nobility had both before and during the French Wars of Religion. Henry`s main way of winning over the nobles was to use bribery, persuasion and simply the threat of brute force.

Henry had an inner circle called the Conseil des Affaires which was a six man ring of ministers which Henry consulted on a day to day basis. Henry relied not just on oral instructions but also on written ones which could not be mis-understood. Intendants were once again used to bring royal authority to the provinces. Those who overstepped the mark paid the price – the Duke of Biron was accused of becoming too powerful and a threat to the monarchy…………and was executed. The Estates-General was not called mainly as Henry was sufficiently rich to not need to go cap in hand to them. Money was only asked for once; in 1597 he called a carefully selected Assembly of Notables which voted him money.

After the execution of Biron (for treason) Henry did not take on the nobility – he cultivated a relationship with them and used them as an agent of introducing central authority. Henry was successfully aided by his chief minister – Maximilien de Bethune, Duc de Sully.




Sully was a Huguenot who fought in the French Wars of Religion and was trained in military affairs. He was a skilled gunner and engineer who had fought with distinction at Arques (1589) and Ivry (1590). He was highly skilled at raising supplies and when Henry converted to Catholicism, Sully proved to be a very useful link with the Huguenots leaders. Over the years this highly skilled military man and politician acquired the following positions :

Conseil d`etat Conseil des finances (head of revenue) Surintendant des finances Grand voyer (head of communications)Grand maitre de artillerie Surintendant des batiments Governor of the Bastille Governor of Poitou Duc de Sully Marechal de France

Sully`s main achievement was in finance. He turned a national deficit into a surplus by increasing efficiency as opposed to far reaching reforms. The structure was already in place it merely required Sully`s input to improve it. Sully concentrated on building up a strong central secretariat and a provincial infrastructure so as to bring the whole organisation under closer central supervision. His main targets was to attack corruption and to reduce expenditure. Sully had to increase the tax load, spread it more equally and increase the amount of money that actually reached the Treasury. He reduced the interest on money borrowed by the crown and he started to buy back the royal land sold off to raise capital for the crown. Sully brought rationality to the finance system i.e. previous to Sully there were 1.7 million parishes in France which he reduced to 40,000 and was in fact eventually reduced to 22,600. This made tax collection much easier and helped to increase the revenue of the crown. In fact, Henry even had the money to buy expensive gifts for his many mistresses.

But there were problems:

1) The tax privileges of the nobility and clergy were upheld by the Parléments and therefore those who had the most money were essentially free from tax. Those who had to take on the burden of tax demands were the least capable of paying.

2) One of Sully`s reforms backfired. In 1604 he introduced the Paulette. This was an annual tax of 1/60th of the value of offices that were held on a hereditary basis. This angered those men involved and he made enemies by doing this.

In the short term it brought in some money and it attached the Civil Service to the state thus increasing absolutism. But there was no guarantee that with this system a post holder was not incompetent and that a son would not be likewise. Therefore the reforms of Sully at a financial level were obviously threatened by this.

To be finished!

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