Monday, August 2, 2010

Elizabeth I's Erstwhile French Suitor Dies

On August 2, 1589 Henri III, last Valois King of France, died from wounds sustained the day previous during an attack by a crazed assassin (a Dominican friar!). As the Duke of Anjou, he had briefly been a suitor to Elizabeth I in 1570 (the date of this portrait).

His death cleared the way for Henri IV to come to the throne of France, establishing the Bourbon dynasty. Formerly Protestant he became Catholic ("Paris is well worth a Mass") and issued the Edict of Nantes. (Henri IV would also be assassinated, by Francois Ravaillac in 1610.)

Comparing and contrasting England and France during the Reformation era yields some fascinating distinctions. French Huguenots and the Crown fought a series of Wars of Religion, going back and forth on religious rights for the French Calvinists. As Duke of Anjou and as King of France, Henri was involved in the armed conflict, for instance at the seige of La Rochelle. When he issued the Edict of Beaulieu, granting concessions to the Huguenots, the Duke of Guise formed the Catholic League against Henri; then Henri had him assassinated.

England endured rebellions and recusancy but escaped outright civil war until the reign of the Charles I. England never held a meeting like the Colloquy of Poissy or issued any edicts allowing Catholics even limited freedom of worship. The crucial difference must be that the Catholic Church was not the established Church of France. The Valois kings--or their mother and regent, Catherine de Medici--may have fought the Huguenots, but they always had to deal with the factions of the Bourbons and the House of Guise. Therefore she and her sons were sometimes willing to grant freedoms to the Huguenots when they needed the aid of the Bourbons against the House of Guise. Then she would need to clamp down on the Huguenots and the Bourbons when she desired the support of the House of Guise!
In England, the Wars of the Roses and subsequent purging of the any noble rivals by the Tudors, especially Henry VII and VIII AND the position of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I as the Supreme Head and Governor of the established Church of England meant fewer opportunities or less necessity for negotiation. Commoners or nobles might rise against Henry and his daughter (the Pilgrimage of Grace; the Northern Rebellion), but the field of battle was different, and as I commented two days ago in my review of the book about the Northern Rebellion, English rebels were not so willing to shed English blood in the Tudor era--or at least, not to do so in the quantity necessary to prevail in their efforts.

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