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]
|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)
[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
[v] Charles was married to Princess Claude in January 1559
[vi] Henri II - Williams
[viii] The Rise and Fall of Renaissance France - Knecht
[x] Montmorency had eased Henri’s way into Lady Fleming’s bed
[xi] Henri II - Williams
[xii] Catherine de Medici - Frieda
[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