“The Queen is dead, Long live the King!”
The words snapped sharply inside Henry Bourbon’s mind, crackled apart and bled into its recesses. He stared unseeingly at the man in front of him as his mind struggled against the suffocating blackness that was seeping through it.
His mother was dead. Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre, one of the leading voices of the resistance was gone. Henry’s jaw clenched as he realized that the mantle he now wore extended beyond the protection of the tiny state of Navarre to encompass the championing and protection of the Huguenot cause in France as well.
Long live the king.
Not just any King but the son of Jeanne d’Albret and the grandson of Margaret de Navarre, two of the most formidable women of the Huguenot cause.
How can I ever step into their shoes? His mind screamed almost hysterically.
And then there was the wedding to consider. His mother had already signed the marriage contract. They had had two months to prepare. Now he was on his own.
Henry sank to the floor and buried his head in his hands for a long moment. What should I do? He moaned internally. But the question was unnecessary. He already knew what he must do. He lifted his head and rose to his feet. He would claim his throne and he would pledge allegiance to the Huguenot cause.
Regardless of the cost.
Margaret de Valois stood in stubborn silence across from her groom refusing to answer the Bishop’s question. It was simple enough to understand. Was she willing to take Henry Bourbon as her lawful husband? It was equally simple to answer. No, she was not. But saying no was not an option and so she resorted to silence.
She could feel Henry’s eyes on her face but she stubbornly kept her own eyes averted. And then she heard the exasperated snort of her brother just behind her. The King of France, Charles IX came to stand next to her. “Answer the man Margaret” he exploded.
She was choosing this moment to throw down a final gauntlet.
Charles reached over and roughly slapped his hand against the back of her head, forcing it forward and downward in a single forceful movement. “She agrees” Charles barked “proceed”. Margaret was fuming as the Bishop continued the ceremony but silence was the most appropriate response for a Princess of the Realm.
Henry wearily eyed his Bride. If he had not been on the receiving end of Margaret’s little tirade he was sure he would have laughed out loud but as things stood he was contemplating running shoes.
He sighed as the Bishop droned through the remainder of the ceremony. What else had he been expecting? Margaret was staunchly Catholic. The very idea of marrying someone as decidedly Protestant as he was was probably enough to send her running for the hills.
Think of all the good that will come out of this union he reminded himself. Being married to Margaret gave him a good shot at the French throne. Think of all the good you could do for the Protestant cause as the King of France! His internal monologue paused, lingering over the words.
King of France. His stomach clenched in greedy anticipation at the thought.
He couldn’t quite tell if the anticipation was for the spread of the Reformation or for the power of the Crown.
“Surely Henry, Paris is worth a mass”
Henry eyed Sully with a sardonic smile playing around his lips. Was it? Was Paris worth a mass? His mind went back to the conversation he had had with Phillip Mornay earlier in the day.
Phillip would be horrified at the thought.
Sully was right about a few things though. France was in crisis, primarily because he was the first Huguenot King to take the throne. Two Kings had already been assassinated in quick succession to get him there and he had no desire to be the third.
But he was strangely remorseless about it all. He had wanted the throne for a long time. But things were spinning out of control fast. The Catholics would never let him take France without a fight.
A bloody, gruesome, expensive, tedious fight.
Philip’s voice bounced around in his mind. “Henry” he had said “did our brothers die in vain? Does their sacrifice mean so little to you that you would even think of becoming a Catholic? Think of 1572!”
He did. Much too often. St Bartholomew’s day. The smell of blood and corpses rotting in the hot summer sun still haunted him. Admiral Coligny had died. As had Henry de Teligny. Brothers in arms who had sacrificed their lives for the truth.
Henry shut out the images. He had already made his choice.
“It is the King” the diminutive cleric stood trembling before the Bishop as he slipped his signet ring onto his finger. “I don’t care who it is” the Bishop snapped angrily “He has no business here” The Bishop turned and flounced angrily out of the little vestibule to meet his retinue of subordinates. Together they formed a long procession that wound its way down the nave and up to the heavily bolted doors of the Cathedral of St. Denis.
It was Sunday, July 25th, 1593.
The Bishop struggled against the heavy deadbolts and finally managed to swing the enormous doors open. The party surged out onto the front steps only to come to an abrupt halt at the sight before them. It was the King accompanied by an entire retinue of men-at-arms. The Bishop gulped silently as he took in their swords, glinting in the hot summer sun.
“Your Majesty” he finally managed to force out along with a haphazard bow “What business does the King have here?”
Henry’s lips parted in a slow smile. “A request,” he said “to be admitted into the Church of Rome”
Charles Emmanuel II, Duke of Savoy, sat in the shadow of the great portrait that hung on the wall above him writing out orders for his Army. The year was 1655 and the orders were simple. Every single Waldense within the Duchy of Savoy was to be hunted and massacred. The Waldenses were a thorn in his side; repeatedly refusing to attend mass and repeatedly refusing the acknowledge the Church of Rome. He would see to it that they felt the full force of his wrath.
He had heard that they were huddled together in the upper valleys. His men would make short work of them all. He was instructing them to murder without distinction. Men, women, and children were all to be treated the same. He set down his pen and sank back into his chair wearily.
He thought of the man in the portrait above him. His grandfather, Henry Bourbon who was also known as Henry IV of France. He had been a Huguenot with similar views to the Waldenses before he had had the good sense to embrace the church of Rome.
“Choices” Charles muttered to himself standing up and grabbing the sheaf of papers from his desk. “Choices are vitally important.”