Rare Letter of French King Henry IV to the City of Lyon, Sending His Treasury Minister to Ensure the Fair Treatment of the Poor

He works to help France recover from years of war and institute an equitable system of taxation, strengthening the French central government

After decades of religious war, Henry IV ascended the French throne with an eye toward healing and peace, ceasing costly wars against rival nobles and attempting to mend the rifts between Catholics and Huguenots. He was nicknamed by his subjects “Henry the Great” because he aimed also to appease the financial burden...

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Rare Letter of French King Henry IV to the City of Lyon, Sending His Treasury Minister to Ensure the Fair Treatment of the Poor

He works to help France recover from years of war and institute an equitable system of taxation, strengthening the French central government

After decades of religious war, Henry IV ascended the French throne with an eye toward healing and peace, ceasing costly wars against rival nobles and attempting to mend the rifts between Catholics and Huguenots. He was nicknamed by his subjects “Henry the Great” because he aimed also to appease the financial burden of the third estate – the people of France – the only one of France’s social classes required to pay the taille, or tax. Nobles and clergy were exempted. He is said to have proclaimed “God willing, every working man in my kingdom will have a chicken in the pot every Sunday, at the least!” Never before had a French ruler considered the burden of taxation on his subjects, nor would one again until the French Revolution. After generations of domination by the extravagant Valois dynasty, Henri brought a new attitude to the throne.

Henri IV and his capable minister, Sully, a Huguenot, worked to help the country recover from the long period of conflict. Sully became the first in a series of exceptional royal ministers who strengthened the royal government over the course of the 17th century. He promoted road repairs and other measures to restore the economy. To raise money for the government, he overhauled the tax system. His most important fiscal reform was to systematize the selling of government offices, a system known as venality of office.

Letter signed, Paris, July 18, 1607, to the Treasurer General of the town of Lyon. “Our loved and loyal citizens, Since last year we have let it be known the various considerations which prevent us from diminishing the taxes, because of the affection we have for the good of our subjects, and because these same reasons continue to constrain in the present year as they have the last. For these reasons, we are sending you and attach herewith instructions, so that you may leave them at each of the elections of your locations…; and after having ensured the compliance of the appropriate department in which you will tax each of the towns where the elected have their offices, so that even they will not hold them discharged to the prejudice of the most poor, we will send from our council our very dear and beloved cousin, Mr. Duc de Sully, superintendent of finances, so that he may examine and expedite all our commissions and necessary letters, which is our great pleasure.”

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