ASSASSINATION OF KING HENRI IV
Like the horoscope which foretold the death of Henri III, another royal prophecy was cast in 1610 that reminds one of that which perhaps had not a little to do with the making away with the last of the Valois princes.
The Duc de Vendome, the son of Henri IV by Gabrielle d'Estrées, handed the king a documentary horoscope signed by an astrologer calling himself La Brosse, which warned the king that he would run a great danger on May 14 in case he went abroad.
"La Brosse is an ass," cried the king, and crumpled the paper beneath his feet.
On the day in question the king started out to visit his minister, Sully, at the Arsenal. It was then in turning from the Rue Saint Honoré into the Rue de la Ferronière that the royal coach, frequently blocked by crowds, offered the opportunity to the assassin Ravaillac, who, jumping upon the footboard, stabbed the king twice in the breast.
After having been wounded the king was brought dying to the Louvre. His royal coach drew up beneath the vault through which throngs all Paris to-day searching for a "short cut" from the river to Saint Honoré. It was but a short, brief journey to the royal apartments above in the Pavilion de l'Horloge, but it must have been an interminable calvary to the gallant Henri de Navarre. The body was received by[Pg 103] Marie de Médici in tears, and the Ducs de Guise and d'Epernon clattered out the courtyard on horseback to spread the false news that the king had suffered no harm. Fearing the results of too precipitate publishing of the disaster no other course was open.
A gruesome memory is that the Swiss Guard at the Louvre surreptitiously acquired a "quartier" of the dismembered body of the regicide and roasted it in a fire set alight beneath the balcony of Marie de Médici as an indication of their faithfulness and loyalty.
It was Sully, the king's minister, who ran first up the stairs to acquaint the queen of the tragedy—faithful ever to the interests of his royal master. In spite of this, one of the first acts of Marie de Médici as regent was to drive the Baron de Rosny and Duc de Sully away. Such is virtue's reward—sometimes.
"Lying on his bed, his face uncovered, clad in white satin and a bonnet of red velvet embroidered with gold, was all that remained of Henri IV of France and Navarre. Around the bed were nuns and monks from all the monasteries of Paris to keep vigil of his soul."
From Royal Palaces and Parks of France, by Milburg Francisco Mansfield, pp. 101-2. EBook #25842, released 19 June 2008 by Gutenberg.org.
The day is the 14th of May 1610. King Henri IV is riding in an open carriage in the streets of Paris. Suddenly two carts block the passage. Guards leave the carriage for a moment to make way for the King. This is the moment a drifter by the name of François Ravaillac seizes to strike. He approaches the carriage and stabs Henri twice, severing the aorta. Then a group of armed men appear out of nowhere to kill the assassin on the spot, but one of the King’s attendants, the Baron de Courtomer, has enough presence of mind to disperse the men by telling them Henri is safe.
Ravaillac can then be arrested and questioned. The man is clearly unbalanced. He sought to take orders, first with the Feuillants, then with the Jesuits, but had been rejected by both on account of his hallucinations, which he believed to be religious visions.
Was Ravaillac a lone assassin, even as he insisted under numerous tortures? Or was this a much more complex conspiracy? Was it court factions? - foreign powers? - the queen herself (she had been crowned only the day before)? Did the assassin know of the path the king would take? Had someone arranged for the carts to stop the cortege and distract the bodyguards?
Only thirteen days elapse between the crime and the execution of the assassin. Ravaillac’s prior connections and activities are left unexplored, though some of his activities were known.
On 27 May, he exclaimed: “I was deceived when they persuaded me that my deed would be well received by the people”, just before he was drawn and quartered. Who were those persons who had “persuaded” Ravaillac?
DUC D’ÉPERNON IS UNDER SUSPICION
There has always been a strong suspicion that behind Ravaillac’s hand was the work of the scheming Catholic duc d’Épernon, perhaps even with the complicity of Henri’s wife Marie de’ Medici, who had conveniently been crowned as queen the day before the murder** and promptly teamed up with Épernon to cement an alliance with a traditional French rival, the ultra-Catholic Habsburgs.
The famous French writer, Balzac, for one, had no doubt about it:
all of [her] actions were prejudicial to France … Marie de’ Medici wasted the wealth amassed by Henri IV; she never purged herself of the charge of having known of the king’s assassination; her ‘intimate’ was d’Épernon, who did not ward off Ravaillac’s blow, and who was proved to have known the murderer personally for a long time. … [T]he victory Richelieu at last won over her (on the Day of the Dupes) was due solely to the discovery the cardinal made, and imparted to Louis XIII, of secret documents relating to the death of Henri IV.
In all likelihood, the duc d’Épernon was involved in the assassination of Henry IV by Ravaillac, in some manner.
ANOTHER OPINION REGARDING THE DUC D’ÉPERNON
I have heard that it was from the excitement of insulted honour that Ravaillac was induced to murder Henri IV.; for that the King had seduced his sister, and had abandoned her during her pregnancy: the brother then swore he would be avenged on the King. Some persons even accuse the Duc d'Epernon, who was seated in the coach in such a manner that he might have warded off the blow, but he is said to have drawn back and given the assassin an opportunity to strike.
The Memoirs of the Louis XIV and The Regency, by
Elizabeth-Charlotte, Duchesse d'Orleans. EBook #3859, released 29 Sept 2006, by Gutenberg.org.
François Ravaillac claimed to have experienced a vision instructing him to convince King Henry IV to convert the Huguenots to Catholicism. Between Pentecost 1609 and May 1610, he had made three separate trips to Paris to tell his vision to the king. He had lodged with Charlotte du Tillet, mistress of Jean-Louis de Nogaret de La Valette, duc d'Épernon.
Unable to meet the king, Ravaillac interpreted Henry's decision to invade the Spanish Netherlands as the start of a war against the Pope. Determined to stop him, he decided to kill the king.
It was known that Charlotte gave Ravillac a sum of money the day before the murder; and Jean-Louis hid him for a full twenty four hours after the murder.
All these factors contributed to make the duc d'Épernon suspicious.
In January 1611, Mme Jacqueline d'Escoman, who had known Ravaillac, denounced the duc d'Épernon as the one responsible for the death of Henri IV. She was jailed for the rest of her life.
Philippe Erlanger, L'Étrange Mort de Henri IV (1957, rev. 1999), reveals Épernon's association with Ravaillac through his mistress. Erlanger concludes that Épernon, his mistress, Charlotte du Tillet, and the King's mistress, Henriette d'Entragues, planned the successful assassination.
The contrary view, that Ravaillac had no accomplices but his confessors, is expressed by Roland Mousnier, L'Assassinat d'Henri IV: 14 mai 1610 (Paris, 1964).
In sum, however, it has never been proven that the duc d'Épernon was responsible, or even partially responsible, directly or indirectly, for the death of King Henry IV.
Ravaillac himself insisted under torture that he had no accomplices, but when he is drawn and quartered on the 27th of May, he exclaims “I was deceived when they persuaded me that my deed would be well received by the people.” Who were the persons who so “persuaded” Ravaillac?
During interrogation, Ravaillac was frequently tortured to make him identify accomplices, but he denied that he had any and insisted that he acted alone. His knowing the king's route and the blockage of traffic that put the king within reach excited speculation. The king was on his way to visit Sully, who lay ill in the Arsenal; his purpose was to make final preparations for imminent military intervention in the disputed succession to Jülich-Cleves-Berg after the death of Duke John William. The intervention on behalf of a Calvinist candidate would have brought him in conflict with the Catholic Habsburg dynasty of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Ravaillac seems to have learned of the plans; in his tortured mind, "he had seen that the king wanted to make war on the pope, in order to transfer the Holy See to Paris."
[Click for a larger version.]
At the start of the interrogation, Ravaillac said:
I know very well he is dead; I saw the blood on my knife and the place where I hit him. But I have no regrets at all about dying, because I've done what I came to do.
Assassination of Henri IV and the arrest of Ravaillac,
14 May 1610, by Charles-Gustave Housez,
19th c. Musée national du Château de Pau
[Click for a larger version.]
On May 27, he was taken to the Place de Grève in Paris and was tortured one last time before being pulled apart by four horses, a method of execution reserved for regicides. Alistair Horne describes the torture Ravaillac suffered:
Before being drawn and quartered... he was scalded with burning sulphur, molten lead and boiling oil and resin, his flesh then being torn by pincers.
[Click for a larger version.]
Following his execution, Ravaillac's parents were forced into exile, and the rest of his family was ordered never to use the name "Ravaillac" again.
The Head of the King
17 December 2010
After nine months of tests, researchers have identified the head of France's King Henry IV, who was assassinated in 1610 aged 57.
The scientific tests helped identify the late monarch's embalmed head, which was shuffled between private collections ever since it disappeared during the French Revolution in 1793.
Henry IV was buried in the basilica of Saint Denis near Paris, but during the frenzy of the French revolt, the royal graves were dug up and revolutionaries chopped off Henry's head, which was then snatched.
In the scientists' examinations of the monarch's head, they found features often seen in the king's portraits, including a dark lesion above his right nostril.
They also found a healed bone fracture above his upper left jaw, which matched a stab wound the king suffered during an assassination attempt in 1594.
Radiocarbon testing confirmed the head dated from the 17th-century.
Article from Independent Television News Limited (ITN).
Galliawatch Blogspot article
The Head of King Henri IV
Blog by Catherine Delors: Assassination of King Henri IV.
Erlanger, Philippe. L'Étrange Mort de Henri IV (1957, rev. 1999).
Mousnier, Roland. L'Assassinat d'Henri IV: 14 mai 1610 (Paris, 1964).
Nichols, John. The Gentleman’s Magazine, Vol. 38, p. 558: on d’Épernon.
Voltaire, “A Dissertation on the Death of Henry IV.” The London chronicle, Vol. 1, p. 12.
Sandberg, Brian. Warrior Pursuits: Noble Culture and Civil Confict in Early Modern France.
Haggard, Andrew. Sidelights on the Court of France, p. 195.
Memoirs of Maximilian de Bethune: duke of Sully, prime minister to Henry..., p. 16.
The fate of Henry of Navarre: a true account of how he was slain, with a description of the Paris of the time and some of the leading personages. 16 references to Épernon.
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