There are many illustrious French kings in the country’s long history, and although I have a soft spot for the Sun King Louis XIV and his great palace at Versailles, my hands-down favorite is Henri IV, aka Le Vert Galant.
His history as a Huguenot prince of Navarre during the Wars of Religion who married the Catholic daughter of Henri II and Catherine de Medici (which was the setting for the gruesome St-Bartholomew Day Massacre) was serialized into a page-turning novel by Alexandre Dumas, Reine Margot (also made into a pretty decent French film starring Daniel Auteuil as Henri, Isabelle Adjani as Princess Margaret and the handsome Vincent Perez as her Protestant lover).
When all four of Margaret’s brothers died off (taking the Valois dynasty with them) and the warring with the Catholic league was ended with Henri’s conversion to Catholicism, he finally claimed the French throne and became one of the best-loved kings of France. He signed the Edict of Nantes (which Louis XIV actually annulled, tsk tsk) and promised the French peasants “a chicken in every pot on Sunday” (a famous American president later borrowed this voter-pleasing phrase).
Henri was also quite the ladies’ man. Unfortunately it didn’t come in too handy when the Jesuit fanatic Ravaillac jumped out of the shadows on the Rue de la Ferronnerie as the king’s coach passed by on May 14, 1610, stabbing him to death.
There are many events throughout Paris to commemorate King Henri IV, including 11am mass at St-Denis Basilica (in the suburb of St-Denis, north end of Line 13 metro), open to the public, and the inauguration of the light installation by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac on the statue of Henri IV (Pont Neuf) at 10pm. Download the entire cultural program on the website of the Société Henri IV here.
Also, did you know that the royal national anthem up until the French Revolution (with a brief renewal during the Restoration) is called La Marche d’Henri IV. It’s not played too often unless you’re at a royalist rally, but every French person recognizes the tune, sometimes called Vive Henri IV. There are many versions on YouTube, some with the lyrics, and some in the more “formal” classic version. This is my fave because it sounds like something that the Three Musketeers would sing in a tavern.