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Henry IV of France

First Bourbon king of France. Reared as a Protestant by his staunchly Calvinist mother Jeanne d’Albrêt, Henry inherited from her the throne of Navarre. He was related to the ruling Valois dynasty through both his father, Anthony of Bourbon, and his mother, a niece of King Francis I (d.1547). With the coming of the wars of religion in 1562, Henry’s family became leaders of the Huguenot forces. In 1572 a peace marriage was arranged between Henry and Margaret of Valois, sister of Charles IX (d.1574). Four days later, on 22 August, the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre occurred, Henry was captured, forced to convert to Catholicism, and held prisoner for three and one-half years. He finally escaped, returned to his Protestant faith, and assumed leadership of the Huguenot cause.

In 1589 his cousin, Henry III of France, died without issue, and Henry of Bourbon was heir apparent. Most Frenchmen refused, however, to accept him as king because of his Calvinism. Finally in 1593, with the country on the verge of total collapse, Henry once more embraced the Roman faith and marched triumphantly into Paris. Historians have debated the real motives for his reconversion: personal advancement or the survival of France. Whatever the case, he inaugurated an era of toleration for his former Huguenot compatriots with the Edict of Nantes* in 1598. Henry was assassinated by the Catholic fanatic Francis Ravaillac.