Saturday, September 29, 2012

Paris is well worth a Mass

Henry IV of France

Yesterday we studied that religious conflicts intermingled with political affairs very frequently during the 16th and 17th centuries. That happened in the German Empire, where many German princes supported Martin Luther´s ideas as a way of facing the power of the Emperor, Charles V. The same happened with the wars of religion in France, which took place in the second half of the 16th century.  The quote Paris is well worth a Mass, pronounced by Henry IV of France in 1593, can be another example of this. 

There were eight wars of religion in France between 1562 and 1598. This fact reflects the extension of religious intolerance in those changing times. The doctrine spread by John Calvin had found a certain support in France, where a community of Huguenots (the name Calvinists received in France) was created. The Huguenots were initially tolerated, but later persecuted. The big noble families of the French kingdom aligned in different sides (Huguenots and Catholics) and violent confrontments broke out. 

Henry III of Navarre was the king of Navarre, son of Antoine of Bourbon, a respected Huguenot and heir to France´s throne. In the religion wars he fought with the Protestants against the Catholics, especially after Saint Bartholomew´s Day Massacre: on the 24th August 1572 several thousands of Huguenots who had come to Paris to Henry III´s wedding, were killed by Catholics. The order was given  by Catherine of Medicis, King Charles IX´s mother. Henry III, who was in the line of succession to the French throne, escaped the massacre under the promise of converting to Catholicism. But some years later he abjured and rejoined the Huguenots, who continued to fight against the Catholics. In 1584, when the French king died without successors, Henry III became the legitimate heir to the throne. A new war started: the War of the Three Henries: Henry III of Navarre, Henry of Guise, a Catholic nobleman supported by Philip II and Henry III of France, supported by the Catholic League. Political interests mixed with religion again: the Catholic League rejected Philip II´s intervention in France and when their leader King Henry III died without children, they looked for an agreement and accepted Henry III of Navarre, the Huguenot, as the new king of France if he converted to Catholicism. And so did he in 1593. This is the origin of his statement Paris is well worth a Mass. The quote means that becoming the king of France was worth the sacrifice of changing religion. Henry III of Navarre was crowned king of France in 1594 and he reigned as Henry IV. He was the first king of the Bourbon dynasty in France. 

The experience of religious intolerance and so many religion wars made King Henry IV aware of the importance of respecting the others´ beliefs. In 1598 he enacted the Edict of Nantes, which meant religious tolerance in France and granted the Huguenots equality of rights with the Catholics. This was an important step in the path to secularization, because it established the principle of religious freedom in France and meant the end of religion wars in this country.

The quote Paris is well worth a Mass is commonly used to talk about sacrifices which are worth doing, because the expected compensation is worthwhile. 

There is a 1994 French film called La reine Margot (Queen Margot), which tells the story of the religion wars in France, focusing on Margot, Henry III of Navarre´s wife. Here you have the teaser. You will discover Miguel Bosé, the singer, who plays the role of Henry of Guise.

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