Intrigue…betrayal…murder…mayhem…scorned wives and pampered mistresses — French history is better than a soap opera! Take Henry IV. Today, John and I visited a couple of key places during Henry’s reign. First, the Place des Vosges…
Henry of Navarre (a descendant of St. Louis) was king at the dawn of the 17th century. He became king in 1589 by having married (in 1572) the daughter, Marguerite of Valois or Margot, of King Henry II. Henry II (married to the infamous Catherine de Medicis) despised all three of his sons — Including the one who would be King Henry III, a pedophile and transvestite — and actually approached Henry of Navarre about marrying Margot so that the monarchy would go to Henry of Navarre.
By 1599, Henry IV had been king for a decade and he and Margot were still childless. Henry was a very pragmatic monarch. He needed an heir and money so he amicably divorced Margot and gave her the Hotel de Sens. We’ll get to that story in a moment. He married Marie de Medicis for her money and for an heir. He got both.
In the early 1600s, Henry IV sought to establish silk production in Paris as the French were spending an exorbitant amount of money on Italian silk. His plan was to encourage entrepreneurs to invest in the enterprise and build a cool place for Italian silk workers and merchants to live. Voila! Place des Vosges — a magnificent public works project.
Henry — in a master stroke of urban planning — sought to convert a former horse market into a silk mecca. Thus, a beautiful set of buildings were constructed in a square with shops on the bottom floor and housing atop. Unfortunately, Henry was assassinated before it’s completion and the workers he saw living in the beautiful structures never did as the aristocracy took control and moved in.
Meanwhile over at the Hotel de Sens, Margot was entertaining poets, philosophers and a string of lovers. One young count became so incensed that Margot was dallying with a young craftsman that the count murdered his assumed rival. Mistake! Margot had the young count beheaded in the beautiful courtyard at the Hotel de Sens — apparently enjoying his demise as she watched, screaming for his head, from a window.
The courtyard is still there and John and I strolled through it — our heads intact! — on our way to another satisfying traditional French lunch.