Every one was an Henry
There have been eight rulers of England named Henry and four rulers of France who bore that name. That may sound odd in light of the fact that the name is common in both countries. But there’s a reason why the name seems to have been considered unlucky in France. Whereas of the English Henrys only one died violently, at least three of the French kings of that name died by violent means. And perhaps even the other French Henry met an end that authorities today would consider untimely.
Of the English rulers, Henry I was a son of William the Conqueror. He may well have condoned the assassination of his older brother William Rufus. That William was probably gay, and an odd thing happened after Henry came to power. In the course of his long rule he fathered more illegitimate children than any other English ruler, but he was given the thanks of the great council for “cleaning up the court.”
Henry II was the son of the first Henry’s daughter — one of his few legitimate children. He ruled what on paper was a vast territory in France as well as England.
Henry III was the son of King John and was a grandson of the second Henry.
Henry IV was the son of John of Gaunt and came to power by supplanting Richard II. He may also have seen to it that Richard was murdered.
Henry V was son of the previous Henry and had a very strenuous if relatively short career, dying at a relatively early age.
Henry VI, son of Henry V, ruled during what has come to be called the War of the Roses and died in battle.
Henry VII, first of the Tudor rulers, came to power after defeating and killing Richard III in battle.
Henry VIII, son of the previous Henry, is remembered for seeking several wives, in the course of which he took England out of the church of Rome.
Years later, after the Stewarts had been ejected from the throne of England, a younger brother of Bonny Prince Charlie Stewart was named Henry and became a cardinal in Rome. He never made it to England, but until he died about 1806 his few followers referred to him as Henry IX, although that title never came to fruition in England.
Of the French rulers of that name, Henry I was a contemporary of William the Conqueror and even helped William quell a rebellion in Normandy before William invaded England. There was some belief, though not confirmed in all the annals, that this Henry died after falling from his horse.
We go five centuries before another Henry comes to the French throne. Henry II was engaged in a tournament in 1559, much against the advice of his family. Their fears became justified. The lance of the king’s opponent shattered, and a splinter penetrated the king’s visor and penetrated his brain.
That king was succeeded in turn by three of his sons, the third of which took the name Henry III. France was in the midst of a bitter conflict between Catholics and Protestants, and this Henry was assassinated by a fanatic.
He was succeeded by a cousin who became Henry IV. Born a Protestant, this king became a Catholic, making the comment: “Paris is worth a Mass.” He governed for about two decades, encouraging Champlain to explore Canada, while enacting religious tolerance in France. But he, too, was assassinated, and that seems to have given the French ruling families the idea that the name “Henry” was unlucky, for no other French king bore that name. About 1870 there was a pretender who bore that name, but he never came to the throne and died childless.
In Germany one of the best known Henrys was the founder of the so-called Saxon line. His nickname was “Henry the Fowler” because supposedly when authorities came to tell him that he had been named emperor he was out hunting birds. But it was in England that the name remained the most popular.
Kendall Wild is a retired editor of the Herald.