Here Fell Le Bon Roi Henri

 “The place where a certain catastrophe occurs becomes a dreadful,
inescapable witness of it; and the absence of that silent character
would leave the greatest historical scenes incomplete”
~ Victor Hugo in “The essential Victor Hugo”

By all accounts Henri of Navarre – King Henri IV of France – was a good king. Revered by his subjects for his compassion, and his astute handling of the religious wars that had plagued the country.

Paris is worth a mass!” declared the Huguenot monarch, and proceeded to put his money where his mouth was by converting to Catholicism. Religious tolerance became the hall mark of his regime. His architectural achievements were many, including the Pont Nuef and the Place des Vosges as well as the expansion of the Louvre palace. Little surprise then that the statue of le bon roi Henri on Pont Neuf, melted down along with other royal effigies in the frenzy of the revolution, was the first to be re-installed (after the restoration in 1818), and the song Vive Henri IV (“Long Live Henry IV”) became an unofficial anthem of France at the time..

Despite his enduring popularity however, he faced three unsuccessful assassination attempts. His luck ran out at the fourth. Enroute to a meeting at the Arsenal with his chief minister Duc de Sully, on 14 May – 1610, fate in the guise of two small carts blocked the path of his entourage on the narrow rue de la Ferronnerie. With his guards preoccupied with clearing the medieval traffic jam, a protestant fanatic named Francis Ravaillac ran upto the open carriage and stabbed his catholic target to death.

Before an investigation could prove whether the regicide was an act of passion, or motivated by palace intrigue or political conspiracy, Ravaillac had been drawn and quartered in the Place de Grève (now the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville). He had insisted, under interrogation that he worked alone without the aid of accomplices. But the hasty execution and his dying words “I was deceived when they persuaded me that my deed would be well received by the people” fueled conspiracy theories that included Henri’s second wife Marie de’ Medici, coronated just the day before, and her close friend the scheming duc d’Épernon who had been in contact with the ‘unbalanced’ assassin at some point. His presence in the carriage and the fact that he did not attempt to ward off the blow added weight to the rumours. None were ever proved despite the massive public outcry.

Plaque marking the assassination of Henri IV on Rue de la Ferronnerie, Paris

Marking the spot on rue de la Ferronnerie, beneath the pounding of countless oblivious feet, lies a modest metal plaque with his crest and the words: Henry IV and XIV MAI. Further along is a Histoire de Paris board describng the events of that fateful day and another plaque on the wall*.

Few spare this embedded marker of the catastrophic event, that many believe changed the course of French or even world history, a passing glance.

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*I am not sure why there are two signs claiming to be the place where the regicide took place My guess is that the one on the floor is older and marks the exact spot.

Related:
My previous posts on Paris
Paula’s Thursday Special

 

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on instagram.com/theurgetowander

57 thoughts on “Here Fell Le Bon Roi Henri

  1. Sometimes I try to imagine what it would have been like to live back in the time when people were drawn and quartered. Or beheaded. Or hung. I can’t imagine it.

    1. Me neither. Not the most pleasant of ends! I don’t think they bathed too often those days either, so that would be the bigger ‘no, no’ for me 😀 Can you imagine life without plumbing????

    1. Lucky you!!! I want to go there too 🙂 I am a Francophile Melanie. I would love to have a considerable length of time to explore all of France. Someday….

    1. Me too! And the fact that the royal families of Europe are so interconnected! Makes for fascinating reading though. I waste a good bit of time on diversions when i research details for my posts 🙂

  2. It seems almost unthinkable that a small handful would plot the assassination of such a well-loved king, but there will always be misguided fanatics and jealous associates to deal with!

    I wonder if the duke and Henri’s second wife would be implicated had they not executed the killer so quickly. The very fact that Ravaillac knew the king’s route does suggest that he had some insider knowledge…

    1. Too many pointers to a conspiracy James. Some think Marie was possibly unaware, but she stood to gain the most with control over her young son.

  3. Ugh! Thanks for the historical tidbit and photo, Madhu. 🙂 I read the first chapter of Game of Thrones but gave it up because I could not handle the machinations, betrayal, and intrigue. However could I handle reading history which inspired the fictional story?

  4. A really fascinating although gruesome account of what happened at this fateful spot. I’m sure most people who walk over the plaque don’t even see it. Thanks for a really interesting post, Madhu. I think that Marie and the Duke knew more than they were letting on about this assassination. 😕

    1. I cannot imagine people watching and cheering a horrific scene like that!!! Thank you dear Valentine, for your ever generous sentiments 🙂

  5. I love the way you write history, and your empathy with the historical event. I find it difficult to write historical background smoothly. The quote at the beginning from Victor Hugo resonates particularly in Warsaw, where every step you take passes some incident of horror.

    The pleasure I get following your blog is yet another legacy from Christine.

    1. I am touched by your lovely compliment Meg. And grateful to Christine for the many friends I have gained through her. Thank you very much.

  6. Very informative- drawn and quartered sounds so gruesome.
    Thanks for the tour via your photos, Madhu.

  7. I missed this spot when we were in Paris last year. Thank you, Madhu, for writing about King Henry IV. It’s too bad the religious zealot was killed before all was known. How sad that the king might have been betrayed by those he knew and loved.

  8. How interesting it would be to trod on this path and by this plaque in the street thinking of this time in history. I’m not sure I would like staying at Place de l’Hôtel de Ville thinking of what happened there. Wonderful history you recount here, Madhu.

    1. Me neither Angeline. Hard to imagine standing in that square today, how much blood has stained its paving!

  9. Thank you for inviting us to stop and read the plaque with you, Madhu. 🙂 I remember reading a little of this in my Paris guide.

    1. Thank you Ramona. Henri’s youngest daughter went on to become Queen of England, Ireland and Scotland as you must know! 🙂

  10. Politics has not changed over the centuries. Perhaps we are too sophisticated for killing to get power, though that is a point to be debated, but character assassination is no different, and that’s the modern equivalent.

  11. I was not aware of King Henry IV’s reputation as a good king who upheld religious tolerance. While reading your story I couldn’t help to think how similar incidents keep happening all over the world more than a century later. It seems like history always repeats itself because of ignorance, to name some. Interesting read, Madhu!

    1. Thanks Bama. Like I mentioned in another comment above, the cause is never really religion. Misguided fools get lured into committing terrorist acts by more powerful players. And sadly few look beneath the surface before reacting.

  12. Extremely fascinating. These bloody religious fanatics do deserve that fate, or one even more drawn out and quartered. Which goes for all extremists who thus demean their faith.

    1. True Colonel. But I often think the persons that commit the actual act are misguided. or often imbalanced, fools who are manipulated by more powerful players for anything but religion! Even today, ninety percent of the time! Religion is a handy tool to fool gullible citizens.

      1. I have an impassioned post on the subject in the pipeline, actually. It is unlikely to add to my popularity among any truly traditional religionists – but then, I contend that they are allowing their own intellects to be submerged.

  13. So unlike other Henry IV we know so well ;). Madhu, I missed this spot and was unaware of the history behind it. Can’t thank you enough for this post. xx

    1. You are welcome Paula. Could you be referring to Henry VIII? Not aware of Henry IV of England being too ‘bad’ 🙂

      1. Yep, my mistake 😀 probably cause Henry IV did not have a good impression on me either (I had a two semester course on Shakespeare’s Henry IV 😉 )

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