A Female Henry IV

05 May 2022

A Female Henry IV

Choosing a PM.

By Robert Kilconner

All hail to M Macron for his victory in the presidential election but, as we are beginning to see, he has a difficult job in front of him. Stop the French rioting? No easy matter. Rioting is to the culture of France what cricket is to the culture of England. Suppose that Johnson or Starmer went into the next election declaring that he would ban cricket. It would be unlikely to attract votes. True, Henry VII banned foxhunting in Islington to prevent it interfering with archery practice but then the Tudors did not face elections and there were plenty of other places to hunt. But Macron’s problems are not exclusively to do with rioting. His first job is to find a suitable Prime Minister. If the press is to be believed he has two main requirements. The first is that it should be someone like Henry IV (their Henry IV that is, not ours). The second is that he would prefer it to be a woman.

At first sign you might think there was a contradiction here. Henry IV, or Henry of Navarre as he was known to his friends, is well up in the league tables of good French kings. He stood for religious tolerance. He fought heroically against the murderous Guise family, leaders of the Catholic League. He encouraged the luxury industries which still contribute to the wealth of France. He even wanted his subjects to have a chicken in their pot every Sunday.  A general good egg in other words (unless you happen to be a chicken) but not, as far as I’m aware, female, and, indeed, had he been so, salic law would have prevented him from taking the throne. Is Macron then looking for a trans Prime Minister who could be regarded as male for some purposes but not others?

This isn’t as silly as it sounds. Those of us who remember Henry IV will recall that memorable moment when, conscious that Catholicism was a necessary qualification for a King of France, he exclaimed “Paris is rather a mess” (some things haven’t changed much*) and switched his religion from Protestantism. Religion in those days went to the essence of the human being rather as sexual identity is now, so Henry’s declaration was the 16th Century equivalent to a modern declaration of gender. Perhaps, then, Mr Macron is looking for a Prime Minister who is biologically male but has elected to be treated as a female.

Maybe, but there is another possible answer to the riddle. M Macron may simply regard Henry’s sex as a minor matter in comparison with his other qualities. After all, that would be quite in keeping with the rather more casual approach to these matters common in the 16th century when Elizabeth I told her sailors at Tilbury that she had the heart and stomach of a king. That is generally not regarded as an assertion that she had undergone a transplant, something which would have required a great deal of courage at the time, but rather that she had kingly attributes. Right then. Macron is looking for a woman with the tolerance, charm, courage and wisdom of Henry IV. Without wanting to be in any way racist it may be difficult to find one in France.

But before we start crowing about Macron’s difficulties we need to look nearer to home. Suppose Boris does not survive partygate and that the Tories, in order to keep up with les Joneses across the Channel, decide to go for a successor who emulates a regal model. Which King or Queen of England should they choose as their blueprint? A military one? Richard Coeur de Lyon? Or maybe Edward III or Henry V by virtue of their victories at Crecy or Agincourt? I think not. They might be good role models for generals but Prime Ministers do not lead troops into battle. Anyway, didn’t Edward III have rather a reputation with the ladies? A bit too male perhaps. That would not do at all but if we go to the other extreme with Edward II we find that he was too indiscreet. A PM like him might end up watching porn in the House of Commons. What then about someone clever like Elizabeth I or Canute?  A great idea but do they really have people of that quality in the Party? Henry VIII would have been the master of that favourite form of government reshuffle, a night of the Long Knives, but then he probably wrote Greensleeves and a Prime Minister that talented could be better employed in the media.

No, we need to model our next Prime Minister on a monarch with truly modern qualities, with habits which would pass muster in Islington and Hackney. Ideally then he or she should be on a faddish diet. Step forward Alfred the Great. Nobody knows exactly what disease of the guts Alfred suffered from throughout his life. It didn’t stop him whopping the Danes or enlarging his kingdom but it did mean that when the lads were laying into roast venison and beer, the boss often had to be content with a few vegetables. So what the Tories need is a woman (it is time for a woman again) as like Alfred as possible. Baking skills of course are not a requirement.

*With acknowledgement for the joke to “1066 and All That”

Cover page image: portrait of Henri IV by Rubens/Janinet. (Wikimedia, Creative Commons).

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