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

1 comment:

  1. sometimes repealling a really unpopular tax is the act of a wise man, and it takes some strength of character to do so