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Letter from Henry III of France to Nicolas de Harlay

The MIR is lucky to have in its collections this exceptional letter signed by King Henry III of France (1551-1589), dated 22 April 1589. It was addressed to politician and diplomat Nicolas de Harlay (1546-1629), lord of Sancy. The document gives us a glimpse of the context of the eighth and last religious war in France in the 16th century. The King, anxious to curb the expansion of the Catholic League, is struggling to keep them under control, while the Catholics accuse him of being weak in the fight against the Protestants. The Duke of Guise, the League’s main leader, was executed on his orders, while other League leaders were arrested.

In this letter, King Henry ordered Sancy to raise troops against the League – including Swiss troops, famous for their military prowess. Indeed, he intends to “employ the people of war, both the Swiss and the others, who will be in the army against our enemies who oppose their passage (…)”.

In order to raise this army and support the King, Sancy will pawn his famous diamond, the “Sancy”. A few months later, on August 1, 1589, King Henry will be the victim of an attack; stabbed by a Catholic Leaguer member, he will die the next day. He was to be succeeded by Henri de Navarre, who will reign under the name of Henry IV.


Henri III of France (1551-1589), Coin signed to Nicolas de Harlay, sieur de Sancy, April 22, 1589. Manuscript on vellum. International Museum of the Reformation, Geneva.