Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Blogs at Lunchtime: Histoire du Roy Henry le Grand

Histoire du Roy Henry le Grand, Hardouin de Péréfixe de Beaumont, 1661

Henry IV of France (1589-1610) is regarded by many historians as rational, sensible, tolerant, human, witty and wise. A twentieth century biographer has claimed he contained more Liberte, Equalite and Fraternite than many Republicans. Contemporaries admired him for his intellect, inspiring leadership and understanding of the needs of his people. He lived and fought in one of the most bitter and bloody periods of French history – the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598). During his reign, however, he survived 12 assassination attempts before the 13th by a Francois Ravaillac ended his life. 

He had been brought up in a Protestant household and educated by Huguenot tutors. His succession as King of Navarre (1572) also made him the unofficial leader of the Protestant Reformed Religion in France, a position held by his father. The King of France Charles IX and his mother Catherine of Medici orchestrated his capture in the same year. Charles made him an offer of ‘Death, the Bastille or the Mass’ – he dutifully converted to Catholicism. Henry defeated his Catholic enemies and brought the ferocious civil war to an end with the Edict of Nantes (1598) which provided full liberty of conscience for Protestants in France.  

Henry’s reputation grew with the publication of his first biography in 1661 written by Hardouin de Péréfixe de Beaumont. Péréfixe was the Catholic Bishop of Rhodez, Archbishop of Paris, a close friend of Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, and Preceptor and Confessor to Louis XIV. His purpose behind the work was to educate the young king Louis XIV in the reign of his grandfather. 

The famous Dutch publishing house of Elzevier produced his pocket-sized reference book. An English version was produced two years later for another of Henry IV’s grandsons – King Charles II of England. As his popularity rose Henry became known as ‘Bon Roi Henri’ – ‘Good King Henry’ even having a plant named after him using this nickname.

What Péréfixe’s true intentions were with his book will not be known but Louis XIV, although in many ways a great monarch, did not share his grandfather’s tolerant religious beliefs. He revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685 which began a period of intense persecution of Protestants forcing 400,000 to flee the country to Britain, Switzerland, Holland, South Africa and North America.

The Leeds Library’s edition of Histoire de Roy Henry le Grand  has embossed on its spine “Relié par Simier” – bound by Simier. The Simier book-binding family operated in France between first half of the 19th century. They were one of the premier book binders of the day. The book has been rebound by the Simier's and cut down in size - the margins being ploughed to possibly remove worn edges or to add the book to a uniformly sized series for a individual customer.