French salute leader who had 'smell of success'
Published 15/05/2010 | 05:00
FRANCE has found itself a new political pin-up: a charismatic leader who reduced the country's deficit by a third and embodied the legend of the tireless French lover. The only problem is that he died 400 years ago.
Henri IV was stabbed to death in Paris, while travelling in his carriage, by a Catholic fanatic on May 14, 1610. Now, his legend is being feted with a series of books, exhibitions and articles.
Henri was a success for France, politically, economically -- and even romantically.
Not even his reputation for stinking of garlic and having smelly feet and armpits seems to have dented the aura surrounding 'good king Henry', who converted to Catholicism to end the war of religions, declaring: "Paris is worth a Mass."
His stench was so bad that Henriette d'Entragues, one of the king's many female conquests, would spray him with perfume to keep the 'smell of carrion' at bay. Despite this, he married twice and had dozens of mistresses and 13 children.
"Were he to live today, he would gallop to the top of opinion polls," wrote Sud Ouest, the daily newspaper that covers his native south-west Bearn region.
During his reign from 1589 to 1610, Henri converted from Calvinism -- while protecting the Huguenot minority -- and in 1598 he declared the Edict of Nantes, allowing Protestants freedom of worship. He improved the quality of life by building canals, draining marshland and commissioning Paris's Pont Neuf and Place des Vosges, as well as boosting industry and trade.
When Henri died, the public finances were in a fine state. All this has turned him into a national icon.
"One senses that today, in the midst of (Nicolas Sarkozy's) national identity debate, between its cathedrals and its mosques, France needs a Henri IV," Gonzague Saint-Bris, who wrote a biography of Henri, told daily newspaper La Voix du Nord.
The king's image is currently on display on billboards, magazines, and shop windows.
Tour guides in Paris offer Henri IV walking tours; museums are hosting exhibitions; and, in his native Pau region, residents are cooking poule au pot, and garfou -- his favourite sweet treat. (© Daily Telegraph, London)