Monday, 1 May 2017

The Spare Prince II

Clement VII

In 1529, in part thanks to his mother’s foreign policy while he was imprisoned François was able to forge a new anti-Hapsburg alliance with those who felt that Charles V was becoming too powerful; joining the alliance was the pope Clement VII[i], the Republic of Venice, the Duke of Ferrara and de’ Medici ruler[ii] of Florence. Last but not least was the newly reinstated Duke of Milan, Francesco II Sforza[iii] who was wary of Charles’ ambitions in Italy[iv]. Henry VIII was also becoming wary of Charles and was not best pleased that the emperor had turned down the offer of his daughter Mary in marriage[v].

While the king of France and the Holy Roman Emperor were locked in increasing intransigence Louise of Savoy and Charles aunt’ Margaret of Austria[vi] were able to negotiate the Treaty of Cambrai, signed in August 1529. The treaty gave Charles two million écus[vii] in exchange for the return for the two French princes.

Louise of Savoy
Louise of Savoy sent her usher to visit François and Henri to inform them they were coming home. Monsieur Bodin arrived at Pedraza in September 1529 and was horrified to find the two boys in a small dark cell, with one small window high up in the walls and two straw mattresses for furnishings. According to the guards the only pleasure the boys had was two small dogs[viii]. The guards also informed Bodin;

‘You see how the sons of the king your master are treated, with no company but that of the soldiers….and neither exercise nor education[ix].’[x]

Short of money François had to raise his sons’ ransom from his richer subjects. He charged Anne de Montmorency, Grand Master of France, with the task of handing over the gold and bringing his sons back to France.

Back Home

Mont de Marsan
François’ new queen accompanied his sons return to their homeland. Henri’s treatment in Spain led to him to hate both his father and more particularly Charles V, the controller of his and François’ deteriorating imprisonment in Spain. Father and sons met on 6th July 1530[xi] at Mont de Marsan.

Their imprisonment had changed the two boys; François returned more Spanish than French, wearing only sombre colours, speaking very little and drinking only water. Henri returned, changed from a bright intelligent child to an awkward, taciturn, morose and unsociable boy rarely heard laughing. This change was to last the rest of his life, François was displeased in the change in his sons and was unable to hide his displeasure. Never one to put himself out he commented that;

‘He did not care for dreamy, sullen, sleepy children’[xii]

Anne de Pisseleu
And henceforth bestowed his affection solely on his youngest son Charles. Henri vented his frustration in a frenzy of hunting, tilting, wrestling and other wild exercise. He threw himself into becoming an excellent Real Tennis player. He gathered round him a tight-knit band of friends including Jacques d’Albon[xiii] and François de Guise[xiv]. Henri was to idolise the older Jacques for the rest of his life.

Henri also found much to admire in the prince’s new head of household Anne de Montmorency. The estrangement with his father led to Henri becoming devoted to Montmorency who carried with him the aura of a successful soldier as well as being a chivalrous and learned man.

The Dauphin and Henri were reunited with their siblings at Amboise and in March 1531 Henri was involved in the coronation of his stepmother at St Denis. François had no interest in his wife and failed to hide his feelings for his latest mistress Anne de Pisseleu, Duchesse d’Étampes[xv]. He publically indulged in sexual behaviour with Anne, embarrassing Eleanor. During the summer the court went on a progress around the country to thank the French for their efforts in obtaining the return from durance vile of the two older princes.

An Arranged Marriage

Henry Fitzroy
François came of age in 1532 and was now old enough to come into his inheritance, from his mother, as Duke of Brittany. His father had administered the duchy since the death of Queen Claude. At the same time King Henry VIII was attempting to browbeat the pope into granting him a divorce from his queen to marry his new love Anne Boleyn. Unfortunately for Henry his wife’s nephew was Charles V.

In late 1532 Henry VIII met with François in Calais and the two men agreed that François would try and persuade Clement VII to grant Henry his divorce. In the meantime Henry sent his bastard son Henry Fitzroy to François’ court[xvi], along with Henry Howard, the son and heir of the Duke of Norfolk, to gain some French polish. The two boys got on well with the French princes, being as sports mad as Henri and Charles.

As a Son of France Henri was never going to be able to choose his own wife and so it was that the pope had a niece to dispose of; Catherine de’ Medici[xvii]. Clement offered Catherine as a bride for Henri to cement the alliance between the papacy and France[xviii]. The young couple had something in common as Catherine had also been a prisoner of the Hapsburgs.

Catherine and Henri's wedding
In January 1533 Clement agreed to meet with François to discuss the matter of a marriage between the two young people and confirmed Thomas Cranmer[xix] as Archbishop of Canterbury. By the time the two men met to discuss Henri’s marriage to Catherine, Henry VIII had lost patience and had Cranmer declare him divorced and married Anne. Clement tried, unsuccessfully, to force Henry to give up his new wife and return to the staid and aging former queen. Despite pressure from Henry François refused to bully the pope, afraid that if he did so Clement would turn to Charles V for support and weaken the League against the emperor.

Catherine sailed from la Spezia with the papal fleet on 1st September and the fleet collected Clement from Villefranche, arriving in Marseille on 11th October. François prostrated himself before Clement the following day and Catherine and Henri were wed on 28th. Catherine’s dowry[xx] was 130,000 gold eçus[xxi]; she also had jewellery to the value of 27,900 gold eçus. From her new father-in-law Catherine was to receive an annual income of 10,000 livres[xxii]. As a memento the pope apparently gave François a unicorn’s horn[xxiii]

‘Pope Clement VII gave him [François] a gift of a unicorn’s horn, which expels poisons, to make him understand that he should keep his kingdom safe from heresy.’[xxiv]

On 12th November François and his court departed for Avignon and Clement returned to Rome.


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] Who had been taken prisoner by the emperor during the sack of Rome in 1527; he escaped to Orvieto in December 1528
[ii] Cousin of the pope
[iii] Upon payment of 900,000 ducats; in 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £500,300,000.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £6,033,000,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £16,790,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £238,700,000,000.00
[iv] Known as the League of Cognac
[v] Charles was to marry his cousin Isabella of Portugal; the close and continual intermarriages of the Hapsburg family were to end with the unhappy Carlos II, while Mary was to marry Charles’ son Philip
[vi] Governor of the Spanish Netherlands on her nephew’s behalf
[vii] In 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £1,112,000,000.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £13,410,000,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £37,310,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £530,400,000,000.00
[viii] The dwarf seems to have been sent away (or died) by this time
[ix] This is not the only time that Charles V has been accused of ill-treatment of prisoners by neglect; he treated his mother similarly see
[x] Catherine de Medici - Frieda
[xi] Much of the intervening time had been spent raising the ransom and then raising the deficit after some of the treasury officials charged with gathering the monies, clipped the coins which were found to be under value
[xii] Henri II - Williams
[xiii] Son of his governor
[xiv] Son and heir of Claude, Duc de Guise
[xv] The king’s sister informed the Duke of Norfolk that François could not bear to share Eleanor’s bed
[xvi] See Henry Howard III
[xviii] François saw the marriage as a route back into winning back Milan
[xix] Architect of the royal divorce
[xx] 30,000 eçus of which was in exchange for her rights to the Medici patrimony
[xxi] In 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £71,240,000.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £790,800,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £2,391,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £32,640,000,000.00
[xxii] In 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £5,480,000.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £60,830,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £183,900,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £2,511,000,000.00
[xxiv] Catherine de’ Medici - Knecht


  1. Francois I of France could be a limited sod at times, you'd think he'd want to make up to his sons for their ill-treatment. Sounds like it was more than incarceration in a cell to change them so utterly.

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