king of France and Navarre, son of Antoine de Bourbon and Jeanne d'Albret, was born at Pau, in Bearn, Dec.15, 1553. He was carefully educated in Protestant principles by his excellent mother, who recalled him to her home at Pau from the French court in 1566. In 1569 he joined the Huguenot army at La Rochelle, and was acknowledged as their leader, the actual command, however, being left with Coligni (q.v.). The peace of St. Germain (1570) allowed him to return to court, and in 1572 he married Margaret, sister of Charles IX. The massacre of St. Bartholomew followed soon after, and Henry's life was only spared on that awful night on his promise to become a Roman Catholic. During the next three years he was watched as a prisoner, though not in confinement. In 1576 he again took the field as the head of the Huguenots; and, after years of alternate victory and defeat, he made peace with Henry III, whose death in 1589 made him, in right of the Salic law, king of France. A large part of the nation, however, was too strongly Roman Catholic to allow his accession to the throne in peace. The "League" made the duke of Maine lieutenant general of the kingdom; but in 1590 the battle of Ivry, between the duke and Henry, ended in a grand victory for the latter. In 1593 Henry agreed to become a Roman Catholic, and publicly recanted at St. Denis. By the year 1598 all France was peaceably subject to him. "Henry was censured for his change of religion, and by none more earnestly than by his faithful friend and counselor, Duplessis Mornay. On the other hand, many of the Roman Catholics never believed his conversion to be sincere. But the truth probably was, that Henry, accustomed from his infancy to the life of camps and the hurry of dissipation, was not capable of serious religious meditation, and that he knew as little of the religion which he forsook as of that which he embraced. In his long conference at Chartres in September, 1593, with Duplessis Mornay, which took place after his abjuration, he told his friend that the step he had taken was one not only of prudence, but of absolute necessity; that his affections remained the same towards his friends and subjects of the Reformed communion; and he expressed a hope that he should one day be able to bring about a union between the two religions, which, he observed, differed less in essentials than was supposed. To this Duplessis replied that no such union could ever be effected in France unless the pope's power was first entirely abolished (Mem. et Correspondence de Duplessis Miornay depuis l'an 1571 jusqu'en 1623, Paris, 1824-34) (English Cyclopaedia, s.v.).
His reign was a very successful one, but we are concerned here only with its relations to the Church. On the 15th of April 1598, Henry signed the Edict of Nantes (q.v.) to secure justice to his Protestant subjects, and liberty of conscience. During Henry's life no public persecution of Protestants was possible, but the ignorant intolerance of the rural functionaries and priests often frustrated his good wishes and commands. On the 14th of May 1610, he was assassinated in his carriage by one Ravaillac, supposed to have been a tool of the Jesuits.