Monday, 29 May 2017

The Spare Prince VI

Henri II
Fighting the Imperials

With the salt tax revolt under control Henri could finally turn his attention to Charles V. Early in 1550 the German Protestants, led by Maurice of Saxony, began talks which two years later resulted in the Treaty of Chambord, a union between German Protestants and French Catholics against the imperium. As his reward for subsidising the Protestant princes[i] Henri was to occupy Metz, Cambrai, Toul and Verdun as Imperial Vicar.

Encouraged by Diane and the Guise family[ii], Henri saw this as the beginning of another French bid for the imperial crown for himself. Within months many of the princes came to terms with their emperor and switched sides. Action seemed necessary when imperial troops occupied a strategic position near Metz[iii]; Montmorency organised the army of 50,000 that gathered in Champagne, with reserve forces held in Picardy.
Christina of Denmark
Henri declared war on 15th February 1552 and the French army swept into imperial territories after Henri reviewed the troops at Joinville[iv] at the end of March. Montmorency and François de Guise took Gorze after a short siege and Montmorency walked into Metz on 10th April without a fight. Sometime in April 1552 Henri raised the status of Joinville into a principality in France, changing the status of the Guise family into French nobility rather than noble foreigners.

On the 14th the French army violated the neutrality of Lorraine and marched on Nancy where Cardinal Lorraine had prepared the way. Christina of Denmark was removed as regent. Henri was made Protector of the young Duke Charles[v] and the Lorraine nobility swore their allegiance to the new Protector. French soldiers were garrisoned in the main towns of the duchy. In May 1552 Henri wrote to Diane;

‘I find myself marching to pass the river Sarre….I beg you to believe that my army is splendid, and animated by an excellent spirit; and I am confident that, if it is intended to dispute the passage, Our Lord will aid me by His grace, as he did at first.’[vi]

The Counter-Attack

Duke of Alva
The emperor, despite his infirmities[vii], was determined to avenge this defeat and regain control of this stretch of land that allowed communication between his northern and southern parts of his empire. He gathered his allies for a counter attack. The imperial general the Duke of Alva arrived to take control of the army; although it was late in the season Charles was determined to press on. 80,000 imperial troops marched into Lorraine in October. The weather was bad and the army did not arrive before Metz until 14th.

François de Guise had only 6,000 men with which to defend the city against a siege, but had used the time available to him to strengthen its defences. Metz was well supplied and the troops had followed a scorched earth policy in the surrounding countryside. François kept the citizens onside with personal appearances day and night and on occasion using a spade himself to help prepare the fortifications, which involved destroying the suburbs to give clear lines of fire.

The scions of France’s greatest nobility came rushing to Metz to help defend the city; the Prince de Condé, the younger brothers of the King of Navarre, Charles de Bourbon-Montpensier, Montmorency’s sons and François de Guise’ younger brothers all took positions defending the city walls.

Plan of Metz
By 18th December François calculated that the imperial army had let off 11,800 cannonballs against the city. The cannonade failed to make much impression on a city that was well-stocked to withstand the siege. It was the besiegers who were suffering and eventually Charles raised the siege on New Year’s Day and departed for Brussels, his tail between his legs.

He left behind the corpses of over 12,000 men who had died from hunger, typhus and scurvy. Also left behind were the sick and wounded; these men were given succour by the French. To celebrate the victory François, good fanatical Catholic that he was, had all the Lutheran books in the city burnt in a bonfire of books. The Mantuan ambassador wrote;

‘There was no one among those who were at Metz who does not praise the courtesy and good government of Monsieur de Guise so that he is adored today by the whole kingdom.’[viii]

On 20th February 1553 Henri publicly praised François in a full session of the Paris Parlement, the result of which was to make Montmorency jealous. This jealousy was to burgeon into a hatred that was to poison the relationship between the houses of Guise and Montmorency for the next decade.

The King’s Children

Lady Janet Fleming
In February 1549 the queen gave birth to Louis de Valois. And little over sixteen months later Charles de Valois was born on 27th June 1550. Louis died on 24th October 1550. Diane de Poitiers was getting old and, allegedly, had never been that interested in the sexual side of the relationship, unlike Henri who had several other mistresses, three of whom bore children from the unions.

Reports were sent to Diane that Montmorency was bedding the future Dauphine’s governess, one Lady Janet Fleming[ix]. In an attempt to overset the Constable’s influence with the king Diane instructed François de Guise and his brother to interrupt the couple en flagrante. To their consternation the de Guise brothers found that Lady Fleming’s lover was none other than Henri.

Diane was furious and confronted Henri who was chastened by the encounter; henceforth Diane was to ally herself with the Guise family against the Montmorency faction at court[x]. Lorenzo Contarini, the Venetian ambassador wrote home;

‘There was a moment when the court asked itself which of the two the King loved the most – the Constable or Madame de Valentinois – but now it is known, by many signs, that Madame is the best beloved.’[xi]

Nevertheless the liaison with Lady Fleming continued unabated until the lady became pregnant, an event she announced to the court with great sangfroid.

‘God be thanked. I am with child by the King, and I feel very honoured and very happy about it.’[xii]

Prince Louis and the Princesses Jeanne and Victoire from Catherine de Medici's book of hours
The result was that Catherine and Diane united against the bold-faced intruder and Henri’s life was made miserable until he sent Lady Fleming away from court. Lady Fleming gave birth to Henri d’Angoulême[xiii] in Aix la Chapelle in 1551[xiv].

Diane steered her lover back into his wife’s bed and the results were prodigious. On 19th September 1551 Catherine gave birth to Henri de Valois. There was then a break of nearly twenty months before Marguerite de Valois was born on 14th May 1553. Hercule de Valois was born on 18th March 1555. The couple’s final children, Jeanne and Victoire were born on 24th June 1556. Jeanne died the same day and Victoire only lived until 17th August.

Catherine must have been physically exhausted with the effort of producing ten children in twelve years. That she lived was a testament to her own strength; indeed she was to outlive all but two of her children[xv].


Martyrs and Murderers – Stuart Carroll, Oxford University Press 2009

Catherine de Medici – Leonie Frieda, a Phoenix Paperback 2003

Charles V – Harald Kleinschmidt, Sutton Publishing 2004

French Renaissance Monarchy – RJ Knecht, Longman Group 1996

The Rise and Fall of Renaissance France – RJ Knecht, Fontana Press 1996

Catherine de’ Medici – RJ Knecht, Pearson Education Ltd 1998

A History of France – David Potter, The MacMillan Press 1995

Emperor Charles V – James D Tracey, Cambridge University Press 2010

Henri II – H Noel Williams, Methuen and Co 1910 (reprint 2016)


[i] A lump sum of 240,000 éçus; in 2015 the relative: labour cost of that project is £997,700,000.00 economic cost of that project is £39,300,000,000.00, This was to be followed by monthly payments of 60,000 éçus for upkeep of the Protestant armies;
[ii] The Guise family were a cadet branch of the Lorraine family whose duchy had fallen under the imperial sphere of influence
[iii] Which controlled the lands between the Spanish Netherlands and Germany
[iv] A Guise estate; the original castle was torn down during the revolution but the Chateau du Grand Jardin built by Cardinal Lorraine still stands
[v] Charles was married to Princess Claude in January 1559
[vi] Henri II - Williams
[vii] An old man at the age of 52; he suffered from epilepsy, gout (which became progressively worse as he aged) and stomach complaints that resulted from his deformed jaw (itself a result of Hapsburg inbreeding) which caused him problems eating, something he usually did in private
[viii] The Rise and Fall of Renaissance France - Knecht
[ix] Illegitimate daughter of James IV of Scotland and mother of one of the four Marys sent as companions to the Dauphine
[x] Montmorency had eased Henri’s way into Lady Fleming’s bed
[xi] Henri II - Williams
[xii] Catherine de Medici - Frieda
[xiii] Henri made his son Count of Angoulême and he later became Abbot of la Chaise-Dieu
[xiv] In 1557 Henri had a child by Nicole de Savigny a married woman; the boy was named Henri de St-Rémy and was made Count of St-Rémy although he was not legitimated
[xv] One of whom, Henri, was to die seven months after his mother. The other, Marguerite the only one of her children who inherited Catherine’s good health, died in March 1615

Monday, 22 May 2017

The Spare Prince V

Henri II
Le Roi est Mort; Vive le Roi!

At the end of January 1547 news arrived that Henry VIII had died. The king was pensive at the news. Cardinal du Bellay wrote;

‘This death occasioned the king much sorrow…..because they were almost of an age, and of the same constitution; and he feared that he must soon follow him. Those, moreover, who were about his person perceived that from that time he became more pensive than before.’[i]

François’ health had not been good over Christmas and New Year and celebrations at the French court had been muted. In February François, who had been staying at the chateau de la Roche-Guyon, set out for Paris for a memorial service for his erstwhile enemy and rival.

François fell ill of what is believed to be a urinary tract infection at Rambouillet. An abscess in his stomach, which he had had for many years, also reopened[ii]. Henri was recalled from the Chateau d’Anet[iii] where he was staying with Diane, to meet with his father who knew he was dying.
Rheims Cathedral
Francois died on Henri’s 28th birthday, 31st March and on that day Henri ordered a triple funeral for his father and two brothers
[iv]. The funeral took place on 21st May at the
Abbey of Saint-Denis[v]; Henri commissioned a tomb for his father from the architect Philibert de l’Orme.

Henri entered Paris on the 16th June and the city went wild. The celebrations were marred by a burning of heretics at which Henri was present. His sleep was troubled for weeks after the event. Henri was crowned king on 28th July 1547 at Rheims Cathedral[vi]. Henri’s accession was followed by a widely expected palace revolution. The Duchesse d’Étampes had known for a while that her time at the top was limited; Henri had never forgiven her for the Peace of Crépy which could have been so damaging to his interests save for the death of his brother.

Change of Favourites

Anne de Montmorency
Although not as intelligent nor as intellectual as his father[vii], Henri had plenty of common sense. He was interested in architecture and was to use the arts to project his authority. One of his first acts as king was the recall of Montmorency as President of the King’s Council. François had advised Henri not to recall Montmorency when father and son met on 20th March 1547. He also allegedly advised his son not to give power to the Guise family;

‘Whose aim was to strip him and his children to their doublets and his people to their shirts.’[viii]

The warning came far too late; François de Guise had long been influential with Henri as one of his friends and supporters throughout his years as the despised spare prince and then the unloved Dauphin. François also advised Henri not to allow himself to be ruled by a woman as his father had been; another warning that Henri ignored to the detriment of his reign.

Chateau de Chenonceaux
The Duchesse d’Étampes was wildly unpopular with the people of France and feared to appear in public. She was forced to disgorge the jewels given to her by François which Henri promptly gave to Diane whom he had recalled to court along with Montmorency, Perhaps because his father had asked him to protect the Duchesse d’Étampes, Henri did not imprison his father’s former favourite for colluding with Charles V in 1544, but allowed her to retain what was left of her lands after a number of her properties were returned to the crown.

Diane was made Duchesse de Valentinois with a grant of lands and given the Chateau de Chenonceaux[ix].  She was now the dispenser of favours, taking over from where d’Étampes left off; Henri discussed matters of state with her every afternoon. At forty eight Diane dominated the twenty seven year old king.

Every bit as unscrupulous with favours as the old favourite, Diane had her son-in-law Robert de la Marck, Duke of Bouillon[x] made a Marshall of France and a royal councillor. Three of her nephews were made bishops within two years of Henri’s accession. Her hitherto scrupulously held reputation for purity waned as Diane’s reputation for avarice grew.

The New Régime

Cardinal de Lorraine
Among the newcomers to the royal council were the heir to the Guise family dukedom, François and his brother Charles who was Archbishop of Rheims[xi]. Backed by Diane, within months of their appointment as royal counsellors François was made a duke and Charles was made a cardinal[xii]. Many of the heads of the administrative branch of government were changed, one allegedly for disparaging Diane de Poitiers’ looks.

In 1547, as the English threatened France’s ally Scotland, it was agreed that the infant queen Mary[xiii] would marry the Dauphin François, In August 1548 the infant princess was sent by her mother Marie de Guise to France to keep her safe from the English invaders. She was collected by a French fleet that returned to France the long way round via Ireland. She landed in Brittany and Henri greeted her with jubilation;

‘France and Scotland are now one country’[xiv]

he declared as French troops helped man Scottish fortresses against the invaders from the south. Mary charmed the French court including the king who frequently wrote to Marie de Guise with news of Mary’s new life. On 12th November 1547 Queen Catherine was brought to bed of another girl child, Claude.

Henri was unable to forget or forgive the English hold on Boulogne and in 1549 took steps to return the city to his kingdom. In August Henri declared war on England[xv], taking advantages of revolts in England; he led his army in person to attack Boulogne. When the Earl of Warwick became protector of the realm, for the boy king Edward, he agreed to hand Boulogne back to the French crown in return for a payment of 400,000 crowns, a much lesser sum than that agreed between François and Henry VIII.

A Question of Salt

Having dealt with the English Henri then wished to turn his attention to the Holy Roman Emperor; he had never forgiven Charles for his treatment when a hostage in Spain. Instead he was faced with a tax rebellion in western France. François I had decided on changes it the gabelle (salt tax) but had not put the changes in place; that was left for Henri to do and the peasants rose up against the hated tax collectors.

4,000 rebels defeated the government troops in the Angoumois region, whose governor appealed for aid to Henri d’Albret Governor of Guyenne. At Cognac the receiver of the tax was cruelly murdered and thrown into the river. The rebels captured Saintes and then Cognac itself as the rebellion spread like wildfire.

The revolt reached Bordeaux, whose citizens were exempt from the gabelle but were dissatisfied at an infantry tax imposed upon them. On 21st August d’Albret’s lieutenant was lynched as he tried to negotiate with the local dignitaries. Henri decided that punishment was the order of the day. He appointed François de Guise and Montmorency to deal with the rebels.

Montmorency arrived in Bordeaux on 20th October with 10,000 troops who disarmed the citizens and confiscated the city’s artillery and stock of gunpowder. The local parlement was dissolved and on 6th November Bordeaux was deprived of its privileges, rights and exemptions forever. The costs of the expedition were to be paid by the city along with a fine of 20,000 livres[xvi].

About 150 people were executed for their alleged involvement in the rebellion. Montmorency then took the fight out into the surrounding countryside where the leaders were rounded up and put to death, some with extreme cruelty. In September 1549 Henri restored the previous tax system, realising that the gabelle was ‘odious to the people’.


Martyrs and Murderers – Stuart Carroll, Oxford University Press 2009

Catherine de Medici – Leonie Frieda, a Phoenix Paperback 2003

Charles V – Harald Kleinschmidt, Sutton Publishing 2004

French Renaissance Monarchy – RJ Knecht, Longman Group 1996

The Rise and Fall of Renaissance France – RJ Knecht, Fontana Press 1996

Catherine de’ Medici – RJ Knecht, Pearson Education Ltd 1998

A History of France – David Potter, The MacMillan Press 1995

Prince of the Renaissance – Desmond Seward, MacMillan Publishing 1973

Emperor Charles V – James D Tracey, Cambridge University Press 2010

Henri II – H Noel Williams, Methuen and Co 1910 (reprint 2016)

[i] Henri II - Williams
[ii] Treated with Chinese Wood – a variety of Euphorbia, (the sap of which contains alkaloids poisonous to humans) and, on the advice of Barbarossa, Quicksilver pills (believed to be efficacious in the treatment of syphilis) which François was not suffering from
[iii] Inherited by Diane from her husband Louis de Brézé
[iv] The younger François’s body had remained at Tournon since his death and Charles’ body had been kept at Beauvais
[v] Traditional burial place of the kings of France; for details of the ceremonies after the king’s death see Knecht, The Rise and Fall of Renaissance France pp234-5
[vi] Where kings of France were coronated
[vii] François set up Lecteurs Royaux, which later became the Collège de France and his art collection became the nucleus of the Louvre museum
[viii] Catherine de Medici - Frieda
[ix] In 1555 Diane was to use de l’Orme to design a bridge from the chateau to the far bank of the Cher (in the Loire valley). The chateau was taken from her by Catherine de’ Medici, as regent for her son François, when Henri died
[x] Son of Robert III de la Marck, one of François’ favourites
[xi] He was later succeeded as one of the most senior members of the Gallic church by his nephew Louis
[xii] The strength of the Guise family relied on cohesion among family members and deference to the senior member of the family; it was to take them almost to the pinnacle of power in France
[xiii] Whose father had fallen at the battle of Solway Mosse in 1542
[xiv] The Rise and Fall of Renaissance France - Knecht
[xv] In October the protector the Duke of Somerset was overthrown and replaced by the
[xvi] In 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £10,510.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £106,500.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £365,700.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £4,443,000.00