Henry IV and peace

Henry IV and peace

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Title: Henri IV relying on Religion to give Peace to France

Author : ANONYMOUS (-)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 33 cm - Width 25.5 cm

Technique and other indications: oil on wood

Storage location: National Museum and Castle Estate of Pau (Pau) website

Contact copyright: © RMN - Grand Palais (Pau castle) / René-Gabriel Ojéda

Picture reference: 96-020573 / P.80-10-1

Henri IV relying on Religion to give Peace to France

© RMN - Grand Palais (Pau castle) / René-Gabriel Ojéda

Publication date: April 2015

University professor in History and Civilizations (history of modern worlds, history of the contemporary world, art, music)

Historical context

Since 1562, France has been plunged into Wars of Religion. In 1584, the death of François, Duke of Anjou, the last brother of Henry III, himself childless, opens the prospect of the advent of a heretical and excommunicated king, Henri de Navarre (1553-1610). It weakened the authority of King Henry III, who had the Duke of Guise and his brother, Cardinal de Guise, executed in 1588. This act, deemed tyrannical, led to the assassination of the sovereign by a religious, Jacques Clément, in 1589. .

The civil war opposes not only Catholics and Protestants, but also, within Catholics, those who recognize King Henry IV, Protestant converted to Catholicism, and those who refuse it. The so-called Béarnais took nine years to conquer and pacify his domain.

This small anonymous painting presents a young Henry of Navarre with the same features as those that François Bunel the Younger, a portrait painter who entered the service of the King of Navarre in 1583, had immortalized in a portrait of the sovereign established in La Rochelle in 1587 and who had largely circulated in the form of engravings.

Image Analysis

Dressed in Roman-style armor and a fleurdelysé mantle which signals that he has become the legitimate king, Henry IV is disarmed, since the putti (cherubs) wear helmet, leggings, shield and sword. This is turned towards the sky, suggesting that if it is for God that he is fighting, then the fight must now be above all spiritual.

Here below, the king holds out an olive branch, symbol of peace, but also of the tree of Athena-Minerva, whose bust appears on the shield. This goddess of war and victory is also that of reason, wisdom and prudence. The olive branch is held out to an allegory of France. By force and reason, the king therefore proposed to pacify a France divided by religious passions.

But this peace cannot be made without or against religion, since the branch held by the king is also an allegory of it. But which one is it?


All the ambiguity of this painting stems from the absence of dating and the alterations made to it.

What religion is helping to pacify France? Critics agree in thinking that she is represented in the guise of the Catholic Gabrielle d'Estrées, mistress of the king from 1590 until her death in 1599. Religion holds the Bible on its knees, which one does not would know how to attach to one confession more than to another. This indecision is reminiscent of the king's religious hesitations.

Evidenced by the discussions of some Reformed, such Jean de Serres, historiographer of the king from 1596 until his death in 1598, and Jean Hotman de Villiers, in favor of the search for a religious harmony based on what brings together more than on what Split. In September 1592, the latter thus wrote in Geneva that the king wanted "to see his subjects united in the State and united in religion and that the Gallican Church regain its first integrity", while Jean de Serres affirmed in 1594 that " so much can religion to unite hearts in the State ”. This search for a common credo was tested at the Poissy colloquium in 1561 and remains the horizon of expectation that the Edict of Nantes envisages for the future.

But, for the time being, the pacification of the kingdom was not achieved by religious concord, but by civil tolerance based on the recognition of two religions: the religion of the kingdom and of the king, converted to Catholicism since 1593, and religion reformed, tolerated by a regime of derogatory privileges granted by the Edict of Nantes in 1598.

It was after the king's conversion or after the Edict of Nantes that the Religion was touched up and Catholicized with a crucifix and a chalice surmounted by a host, symbol of the real presence. These are all objects that Protestants had heard eradicated through iconoclasm and desecrating violence.

  • allegory
  • religious war
  • religion
  • pacifism
  • peace
  • Catholicism
  • Protestantism
  • absolute monarchy
  • Henry IV
  • civil war
  • religious conflict
  • Reform


CHRISTIN Olivier, Peace of religion: the empowerment of political reason in the 16th century, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "Liber", 1997.CROUZET Denis, The Warriors of God: Violence in the Age of Religious Troubles (c. 1525 - c. 1610), Seyssel, Champ Vallon, coll. "Epochs", 1990. GARRISSON Janine, The Edict of Nantes and its revocation: history of intolerance, Paris, Le Seuil, coll. "Points: history" (no 94), 1987.VIVANTI Corrado, Civil war and religious peace in the France of Henri IV, Paris, Desjonquères, coll. "The Measure of Things", 2006.WANEGFFELEN Thierry, Neither Rome nor Geneva: the faithful between two chairs in France in the 16th century, Paris, Honoré Champion, coll. “Renaissance Literary Library: Series 3” (no 36), 1997.

To cite this article

Jean-Marie LE GALL, "Henri IV and peace"

Video: The Hollow Crown: Shakespeares Henry IV, Part II. Great Performances. PBS