At first glance, rue de la Ferronnerie looks like any other street in the bustling Les Halles district of central Paris. But hidden among the cafés and shops that line the street is the site of an infamous event in French history. Take a closer look at the arches in the building separating rue Ferronnerie from the neighboring rue des Innocents and you’ll see something unusual. The building displays a plaque with an image of one of France’s most famous kings that reads: “En ce lieu le roi Henry IV fut assassiné par Ravaillac le 14 mai 1610” (“In this place, King Henry IV was assassinated by Ravaillac on May 14, 1610”).
On the day of his assassination, Henry left his royal residence at the Louvre around 4 p.m. to visit his Minister of Finances who was sick in bed. While Henry’s coach was stopped in a traffic jam on the narrow rue Ferronnerie, François Ravaillac, a fanatical Catholic, stabbed the king three times. He died soon after. Thirteen days after the king’s assassination, Ravaillac was tortured and executed.
During his reign as king, Henry was no stranger to assassination attempts. He was detested by some Catholics, who considered him a usurper and some Protestants, who saw him as a traitor. Henry, who had been baptized as a Catholic, was raised as a Protestant by his mother before renouncing his Calvinist faith for political reasons. He was said to have declared that Paris vaut bien une messe (“Paris is well worth a mass”).
Henry’s popularity increased in the years following his death. He became known as “Good King Henry (Le bon roy) because he had shown an unusual religious religious tolerance for his time and a great compassion for the poor during his reign. Today, it’s hard to imagine the busy rue de la Ferronnerie as the scene of the assassination that changed French history. But the fateful traffic jam that cost Henry his life could have been avoided: His father-in-law, Henry II had asked in vain for the narrow street to be enlarged in 1554. It wouldn’t be until 1669 that the size of the street was increased from 4 meters to 11 meters wide.
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