"Let us melt into sadness": Ordering France's Emotions after the Assassination of Henry IV

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 2:30 PM
Iowa Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
John W. McCormack, University of Notre Dame
‘Let us melt into sadness’: Ordering France’s Emotions after the Assassination of Henry IV

Historians have long noted that, although his reign began in bitter conflict and was peppered with attempts on his life, King Henry IV of France quickly became a legendary figure after his assassination by François Ravaillac on May 14, 1610. Roland Mousnier famously quipped that France was teeming with potential Ravaillacs, and he argued that the assassination in fact hastened the development of Bourbon absolutism. While the French were undoubtedly grateful to their late king for brokering an end to civil war, and fear of another religious war muted lingering Protestant-Catholic tensions, this paper will suggest that Henry’s legend and the monarchy’s renewed prestige owed much to the crown’s attempt to cultivate other emotions in the immediate aftermath of the event. The unprecedented number of poems, pamphlets, and laudatory histories published to commemorate Henry’s death shared an emphasis on mourning and called on all French people to lament together as a community. To weep for Henry and to concentrate one’s hatred on his traitorous, even demonic assassin became national duties. Escalating earlier traditions of public grieving for royalty, the Bourbons regime in 1610 solidified its legitimacy and the stability of the kingdom by creating, in Barbara Rosenwein’s phrase, an emotional community.

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