O sleep, O gentle sleep, Nature's soft nurse, how have I frighted thee, That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down, And steep my senses in forgetfulness? Shakespeare (c.1596) Henry IV Part 2, Act III, Scene 1, ll.1709-1712.
This is Henry IV of England (1367-1413) with all the worries of how he will make good his grandfather’s claim to the throne of France. Shakespeare was writing these lines a couple of hundred years later, around 1596, when Elizabeth I was on the throne, still styling herself as the Queen of England and of France.
Meanwhile, across the Channel, for Henri IV of France (1553-1610), known as Good King Henry, Nature’s soft nurse is kinder:
Sleep hears his voice, and slow to Henry's bower, On lazy pinions moves the drowsy power. The zephyrs scarcely breathe as he goes by, Hope's children, airy Dreams, around him fly. Voltaire (1723) La Henriade.
But why is the French Henri IV considered to be good? Possibly because he tried to reconcile competing claims to power in his kingdom, most notably with the Edict of Nantes, written at the same time as Shakespeare penned his Henry IV, in 1598. The Edict gave civil rights to the Huguenots and made France a more tolerant state. The actual document was very likely signed on 30th April 1598, and, as readers of this will be excited to learn, the signing ceremony took place somewhere in Nantes. The Act, the original document itself, is mysteriously missing and no-one can agree on the place of signing, both of which make for a very interesting challenge. Some say it was at the Maison des Tourelles, 4 du quai de la Fosse, next to rue Maréchal-de-Lattre-de-Tassigny. It is a theory I like because it was then a quayside or dock where Henri-Quatre could have easily come ashore and then left again quickly and safely. The Horatio Hornblower novel shows how agile a boat can be for navigating the urban space of Nantes if you are unsure of your reception there.
Suggestions as to whereabouts of the original charter of the Edict of Nantes surface from time to time. It may never have moved from its original place of signature. Henri went to all that trouble to go to Nantes to sign it, so why move it? Another idea is that it is still uncatalogued in the British Library’s huge Harley Collection, which has over 14,500 charters, acts, rolls and legal papers and over 7,000 manuscripts, some beautifully illuminated. Robert and Edward Harley collected these in the 1600s, and I do know that the Christine de Pizan manuscript is among the Harley Collection. It is a Middle French manuscript from circa 1414 which began life in Paris a year before English Henry IV’s son, Henry V made his play for the French crown. We completed a project on what is known as Harley 4431, the Queen Ysabeau Manuscript and have put all the pages online at http://eserve.org.uk/pizan/
It is feasible that Robert Harley (1661-1724) would be interested in acquiring the original Edict of Nantes for his great collection, since he was a key political player in Britain at a time when Britain was facing the same decision of whether to turn towards northern Europe in the shape of William of Orange or look south again to the powerbase of Rome for leadership, and taxation.