Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The Spare Prince - IV

Catherine de' Medici
Contemplating Divorce

The political benefits of Henri’s marriage to Catherine had been invalidated by the death of her uncle the pope; there was nothing to be gained from an alliance with the Medicis without the power of the papacy behind them. The Duchesse d’Étampes now put her weight behind a campaign calling for Catherine to be repudiated, hoping that a new bride for the Dauphin would destabilise Diane de Poitiers, a woman she considered her enemy. The Guise family promoted one of their own as a replacement Dauphine, Louise de Guise[i], sister of Henri’s friend François.

The Guise family under the tutelage of Duke Claude and his brother the cardinal, who were to reach the zenith of their power in the reigns of Henri’s children, were already flexing their muscles; François de Guise’s sister Mary[ii] was married to the King of Scotland. To further embroil Henri in their coils, above and beyond the call of mere friendship, would considerably add to their power base.

Marguerite de Navarre
In her plight Catherine had the support of the king’s sister Marguerite de Navarre as she tried to dance a line between her father-in-law’s favourite and her husband’s mistress whose rivalry increased as François began visibly ailing[iii]. Catherine threw herself on the kings’ mercy, sobbing at his feet. She agreed to the divorce, only begging that she be allowed to serve her successor.

François gave his daughter-in-law a reprieve she desperately needed to avoid being sent back in disgrace to Italy;

‘My child, it is God’s will that you should be my daughter and the wife of the Dauphin. So be it.’[iv]

And, reading between the lines, Catherine threw herself in a desperate attempt to become pregnant. She was given revolting poultices to wear and forced to drink mare’s urine. She finally became pregnant in the summer of 1543; the child, named after his grandfather, was born on 19th January 1544.

The Fall of Montmorency

In 1538 Montmorency was made Constable of France[v]. But after 1538 French foreign policy did an abrupt reversal; François was persuaded by Pope Paul III[vi] to ally himself with Charles V[vii]. Although both men initially refused to meet face to face they finally met at Aigues Mortes on 14th July 1538. Paul was eager to promote a crusade against the Turks. François’ hopes of Milan were dashed when Charles, in October 1540, invested his son Philip as duke.

It was this action which was to precipitate the fall of Montmorency who had supported the alliance between Charles and François, hoping that Charles V would hand over Milan.

‘C'est fait désormais de faveur. Adieu lui dit.’[viii][ix]

The Duchesse d’Étampes aided and abetted Montmorency’s enemies. Montmorency, who retired to his chateau at Écouen, was refused permission to return to court. He was not stripped of his titles and posts; he was just ignored and others were called upon to fill the roles Montmorency had undertaken in the past.

Maria of Spain
The murder of two French diplomats in Piedmont seemed to François to presage another break out of war between the two countries and he declared war on 12th July 1542, organising an invasion of Luxembourg, sending Prince Charles with one army to the north and the Dauphin south with an army to Perpignan. François failed to recall his most able general from exile. François and his ally Barbarossa[x] took Nice and the Turks set up shop in Toulon, at the invitation of the French much to the horror of Christian Europe[xi].

In 1544 both the imperial army and the English invaded France; the English walking off with Boulogne and Charles V besieging Saint-Dizier. The peace of Crépy found François agreeing to marry his son Charles to the emperor’s daughter Maria[xii] or his niece Anna[xiii][xiv].

The treaty also raised the distinct possibility of France being split between Henri and Charles, with Charles’ inheritance being swallowed up into the Holy Roman Empire. Henri did make a formal protest, but was ignored. Peace talks between the English and French foundered on Henry VIII’s refusal to give up Boulogne and demand that the French stopped supporting their allies in Scotland.

Inter Sibling Rivalry

Charles d'Orleans
The last decade of François’ reign was embittered by the rivalry between the Dauphin and his brother. Always François’ favourite, the rift between the two brothers was deepened after Montmorency’s fall; Henri stayed true to his friend, while Charles became a follower of the Duchesse d’Étampes. Parties formed around the two princes with Montmorency’s friends forming Henri’s followers, while the great man’s enemies supported Charles.

The rivalry deepened during the war of 1542 as Henri was forced to retreat from Perpignan while Charles conquered Luxembourg, winning military and popular acclaim. The peace of Crépy had been designed to advance Charles’ and the Holy Roman Emperor’s interests at the expense of those of Henri and France[xv]. The enmity between the two brothers was only stopped by death when Charles died of the plague, then rampant in Paris, in September 1545.

Always impetuous Charles rushed into a room, where someone had died of the plague, and cut up the bed linen and mattress, showering the room with feathers, claiming that his royal blood would not allow him to succumb;

‘Never yet has a son of France died of the plague.’[xvi]

He died a week later. Henri had tried to visit his brother but was barred from the sickroom. Henri and Charles had barely spoken since the peace of Crépy which was now made meaningless by Charles’ death.

Learning the Art of Ruling

Francois I
François’ dislike of his heir led to Henri being excluded from royal council meetings; he grew up in ignorance of how to rule the country he was to inherit. Charles’ death was to change that, along with François who became very melancholic. Now François started having Henri taught the art of statecraft.

One night when drunk and believing himself alone with his cronies it was reported that Henri commented;

‘That when he was King, he should name such and such persons marshalls or grand-masters….[adding] that he should recall the Constable.’[xvii]

He was overheard by the king’s fool who rushed off to inform his master who was most wrathful at Henri’s impudence; throwing furniture, cutlery and other objects around his rooms. Henri and his friend took off before François could catch them; Henri kept away from court for over a month while his father’s temper cooled.

The Dauphin was concerned by the influence the Duchesse d’Étampes had on affairs of state. She and her supporters could read the writing on the wall as well as anyone and were making desperate attempts to shore up their positions.

In the autumn of 1544 François banished Diane de Poitiers from court because his son had the temerity to replace one of the Duchesse d’Étampes favourites when Henri was campaigning in Picardy. She was forbidden to return until the following year. In the meantime Henri forbad his wife to talk to the duchess. François showed his daughter-in-law, pregnant with her second child, especial favour that Christmas. He showered her with gifts including a diamond worth 10,000 éçus[xviii]. The baby Elisabeth was born in April 1545.

On 7th June 1546 peace was agreed with England; at the Treaty of Ardres, the English would return Boulogne after eight years, for the sum of 2 million éçus[xix]. Following the signing of the treaty Henri and Catherine went on a royal progress inspecting the border defences of eastern France.


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 married the Duke of Aarschott in 1541
[ii] Mother of Mary, Queen of Scots
[iii] The duchesse made much play of the eight years difference between her and the older Diane. While Diane slept with no other man bar Henri and made much of her exclusiveness, Anne was renowned for sleeping around; François was aware of the situation but pretended otherwise
[iv] Catherine de Medici - Frieda
[v] The job came with a salary of 24,000 livres per annum. In 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £13,950,000.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £145,000,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £512,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £6,645,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[vi] A member of the Farnese family
[vii] François hoped thereby to finally gain Milan
[viii] Roughly translated as I have lost the [king’s] favour and I bid him farewell
[ix] Henri II - Williams
[x] Suleiman had been persuaded by French diplomacy to offer Barbarossa’s services, Suleiman hoped to attack Charles on his eastern borders while his attention was focussed on France
[xi] Even François was relieved when they left in May 1544
[xii] Who was to marry her cousin Maximilian, later Holy Roman Emperor
[xiii] Later to marry the Duke of Bavaria
[xiv] The treaty was to founder with Charles’ death in 1545
[xv] He was to receive the Low Countries if he married Maria or be made Duke of Milan if he married Anna along with a number of strategic duchies in France; Orléans, Châtelleraut, Bourbon and Angoulême
[xvi] Catherine de Medici - Frieda
[xvii] Ibid
[xviii] In 2015 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £4,858,000.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £54,720,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £160,900,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £1,979,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[xix] 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 £10,900,000,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £38,820,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £485,500,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com

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