From Deficit to Deluge: The Origins of the French Revolution

By Thomas E. Kaiser; Dale K. Van Kley | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The Religious Origins of the
French Revolution, 1560–1791

Dale K. Van Kley

Henry IV never said “Paris is worth a Mass,” although he may have acted as if it were. This saying attributed to him emanates from contemporary Catholic critics unconvinced by the authenticity of the new king’s conversion from Calvinism to Catholicism, a conversion now regarded as sincere.1 Sincere or not, it remains unlikely that Henry of Navarre could have ever entered a fervently Catholic Paris and made good his claim to the throne of France had he not adopted the confession of the overwhelming majority of his subjects. Only after his formal abjuration of Protestantism and the lifting of the sentence of papal excommunication in 1593 was he able to enter the capital of the kingdom the following year and be welcomed as its king. Although as king Henry IV soon issued the Edict of Nantes granting religious toleration and a separate estate to his former co-religionists, he also upheld the right of public worship to the French Catholic Church everywhere and even took a few initial steps toward the recatholicization of his realm, which pointed distantly in the direction of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by his grandson Louis XIV in 1685. Taken for granted until then, the principle that the monarchy could never be other than Catholic became the law of the land by virtue of Henry’s confirmation of it in 1593. By the time Henry IV fell to an ultra-Catholic

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