Brief History of Henri IV – King of France
Henry IV was born in 1553 at Chateau de Pau (capital of the Bearn province) and died in 1610 in Paris (assassinated by Francois Ravaillac, a fanatical catholic - although many other attempts were made on his life). He was widely known as ‘Good King Henry’ or ‘Henry the Great’ and was one of the most popular french kings during and after his reign as he showed great care for the welfare of his subjects. He became King of the Navarre on the death of his mother, Jeanne d’Albret in 1572 (Albret family was from the Landes (Labrit); a very rich and powerful feudal family in the Middle Ages). His father was Antoine de Bourbon, King of Navarre. His genealogy traces back to Hercules’ son Hispalaus through the House of Navarre. He was baptised catholic but was raised as a protestant by his mother. He was a descendant of King Louis IX and ascended to the throne upon the death of his childless cousin Henry III in 1589. After his coronation there was a four year war against the catholic league (War of Religions) to establish his legitimacy. Elizabeth I of England gave her support by sending money and troops. He effectively ended this war by passing a law (Edict of Nantes, 1598) guaranteeing religious liberties to protestants.
He was married twice – first was an unhappy childless marriage to Margaret of Valois (daughter of Henry II and Catherine de Medici) which was annulled in 1599. He then married Marie de Medici in 1600 and sired 6 children including Louis XIII, Elizabeth (Queen of Spain), Henrietta Maria (Mary Queen of Scots born 1609 married to Charles I).
His achievements were many including regularising state finances, promoting agriculture, draining swamps other public works including arts and crafts (Paris) and education. He built tree-lined routes, canals,bridges and palaces and protected forestland. It is said that he had great vision and courage and could empathise with peasants and workers stating that ‘everyone would have a chicken in every pot’ (no one would go hungry).
Chateau de Pau
The chateau has existed in this location from the 11th century (then a very primitive wooden structure). It overlooks the river, Gave de Pau and its tributary, the Hedas. Still standing from this period is the southern Mazère tower (over 70ft high with walls 5ft thick – no wonder it survived the centuries!!). In the 13th century the northern Montauser tower (square stone keep) was added.
In the 14th century more fortifications were added by Gaston Febus. He erected in brick a 100ft high tower – Febus tower and later the Monnaie tower. The chateau’s architecture was based on the Royal Palace of Majorca in Perpignan.
In the 16th century Henry d’Albret (grandfather to Henry IV) modernised the chateau bringing it into the Renaissance period and making it more of a royal palace. Kitchens, an elaborate carved staircase, courtyards, gardens and balconies were added or improved.
In the 18th century the chateau survived the Revolution and Louis Philippe had it restored in the memory of Henry IV. The eastern Louis Philippe tower was added and a beautiful chapel was built. Sadly he never visited the chateau and was banished to England. Thus the exterior work remained incomplete.
Napoleon III and his architect Ancelet then restored all the facades in the Renaissance style and constructed Napoleon III tower - a 4 storey tower. It was used as his holiday home with the gardens tended by Marie Antoinette. Some holiday home!!
The chateau has been a historical monument since 1840 and in 1929 became a museum centred around Henry IV.
The famous turtle-shell cradle can be seen in the King’s Bedchamber adorned with flags. There are some fabulous surviving tapestries on display in many of the rooms. The opulent furniture, carved ceilings, splendid works of art and antiquities can be admired as you pass through the various rooms. One can only imagine what life must have been like in those days of old!!
Another claim to fame for Pau is Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte who was born in 1763 in a humble little 18th century Bearnaise-style dwelling in Tran Street. He astonishingly became King of Sweden and Norway in 1818 until his death in 1844. He was married to Bernadine Désrée Clary who was previously engaged to Napoleon. They had one son – Oscar.
Bernadotte was a military man and quickly rose up through the ranks from being a private in 1780 to a brigadier and general in 1794. In 1804 he became Marshal of the Empire (french) and in 1805 was First Sovereign Prince of Ponte Corvo but was subsequently stripped of his command by Napoleon in 1809.
In 1810 he was elected heir presumptive to King Charles XIII of Sweden who was old and childless. A swedish courtier Karl Otto Morner offered the crownship to him without the backing of the government and for this was subsequently arrested. Bernadotte gained favour and was elected as crown prince; a title which he accepted. They favoured a soldier and he was popular in Sweden for showing kindness to the swedish prisoners during the war with Denmark and the current crown prince had suddenly died of a stroke in 1810. Napoleon did neither support nor oppose him but thought the whole thing absurd!
In 1814 Norway entered a treaty with Sweden after losing the war and he became crown prince of Norway also! He survived abdication and reigned until his death in 1844 at age 81. Though he never spoke a word of swedish or norwegan, but lucky for him the aristocracy spoke french!
Talk about being in the right place at the right time!!
Interestingly, Louise Mountbatten (1889-1965) married King Gustav VI Adolf in 1923. He was the great great grandfather of Bernadotte.
Musée des Beaux Arts
A smallish art gallery on rue Matthieu Lalanne which is one of the most important galleries in Aquitaine. It houses a good collection of works from the dutch, flemish, spanish, italian and french schools ranging from 15th to 20th centuries including Rubens, Degas and other famous names and more modernist works of Jeannette Leroy.
Well worth a visit!!