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NEW SERIES... A page from the history of France Susan Cahill reveals the legacy of King Henri IV in Paris... If you know Paris, you will have walked over the Pont Neuf , the creation of King Henri IV (1553 - 1610), visionary, lover, pluralist, urban designer, and soldier, who inherited the throne (1594) as the bloody civil Wars of Religion between Catholics and the “heretic” Protestants were still raging. The fanatics hated him because he was Protestant. A pragmatist, and disenchanted to say the least with partisan religions, Henri became a Catholic to calm Catholic Paris. (There is no evidence that he ever said, “Paris is worth a Mass.” as some claim). He was crowned Rex Christianissimus in Chartres. Within a few years he had made Paris a city of tolerance saying "Those who genuinely follow their conscience are of my religion - as for me, I belong to the faith of everyone who is brave and true... We must be brought to agreement by reason and kindness, and not by strictness and cruelty... “ The same year he undertook the Pont Neuf (1598) he issued the Edict of Nantes, granting tolerance and freedom of worship to the Protestants. Paris was still a war zone of filthy ruins after decades of war. But Henri was determined to transform it, “to make this city beautiful, tranquil, to make it a whole world and a wonder of the world.” (He adored beautiful women, having had, according to myth and/or history, 53 mistresses and many bastards.) After opening the famous bridge over the Ile de la Cite, between the Left and Right Banks - some consider the view from the Pont Neuf the most beautiful prospect in Paris - he extended the Louvre, building its Grande Galerie; designed the Orangerie; the lovely Place Dauphine directly across from the bronze horse on the bridge with Henri in the saddle.
NEW SERIES... Far right: Pont Neuf; right the leafy Place des Vosges, legacies of Henry IV of France... His most superb creation was the Place des Vosges in the Marais. He envisioned a large open public space surrounded by handsome pavilions of red brick and golden stone, with vendors in the arcades, bordered by rows of lime trees, and framed by the pavilions’ salons where literature, sex, and music would entertain the rich and royal. Henri ordered his royal square coupleted in l8 months. The Place to this day is still a dreamworld in the early morning light; Sundays are festivals of families, Parisians, and tourists looking for brunch. In the l7th century, it was “the fun part of town.” But then a drop-out monk, another fanatic, stabbed him to death with a kitchen knife when Henri's carriage was stuck in traffic. All Paris changed... "everyone began to wail and cry, with women and girls tearing their hair out.” Though Henri was reputedly a garlicky man, not fond of the bath, he is remembered in Paris “as a charmer, his eyes full of sweetness... his whole mien animated with an uncommon vivacity.” He remains the most beloved king of France. The up-dated story of his political marriage to the much maligned Catholic Marguerite Valois - (described by male historians as a fat nymphomaniac) is fascinating. Her medieval hotel still stands in the quiet southern Marais, on the Seine. Her story is as complicated and shocking as her husband’s as well as the story of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre at the time of their wedding which - miraculously - did not kill them both. Margot hid Henri under her bed and inside her closet while Catholic royalty and their courtiers beheaded thousands of Protestant wedding guests and tossed their heads out the windows of the Louvre... Susan Cahill is the author of THE STREETS OF PARIS: A Guide to the City of Light Following in the Footsteps of Famous Parisians Throughout History (St Martin’s Press, June, 2017). A brilliant read which brings to life 22 dramatic stories of brilliant and passionate Parisian characters in their physical settings, along the streets that tell the stories of their inspiration, of how they became the icons that Paris - and history, and are still celebratde. Available from Amazon.
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