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December 5, 1560 – Death of Francis II of France

Francis II of France, by Francois Clouet. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

(A quick warning for those of you who clicked through after only a quick glance at the title: Francis II was the *grandson* of Francis I, that great contemporary of Henry VIII…Think Reign!)

Francis II was born in 1544. He acceded to the throne in 1559, aged only 14, after the accidental death of his father Henri II from a jousting accident. Francis was the first in a series of three French princes, children of Henri and Catherine de Medici, all of whom died young.

His main claim to fame (sounds strange to say that about a king of France  but…) was his wife. At his accession, Francis had been married to Mary, Queen of Scots, for about a year. Mary had a claim to the throne of England through her great grandfather Henry VII (Henry VIII tried to void the claim by ruling that his crown would bypass her line in the absence of heirs to Edward, Mary or Elizabeth – but her son did end up succeeding Elizabeth I). The couple had no children, whether because of their youth (he was 13 when they married, she was 15) or because of his undescended testicles (yes, the court knew and talked about these…).

His health was fragile and he left much of the responsibility for government to his wife’s uncles, from the powerful Guise family. This enraged some of the country, especially two princes of the blood who thought that they should be regents. The Guises were unpopular, and their militant Catholicism caused a worsening of the country’s religious crisis when they intensified the repression of Protestants begun by Henri II.

After Francis died from an ear abscess, his younger brother Charles inherited the throne. Charles was then only ten, and Catherine de Medici stepped in to become regent. Grand-niece of Pope Leo X, she proved to be as Catholic as the Guises – the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre of French Protestants happened on her watch (though her son was the one who actually said “Then kill them all! Kill them all!” when asked to confirm the orders). Charles IX ruled for only 14 years before dying of tuberculosis. He was succeeded by his younger brother Henri III. Then twenty-two, Henri was already king of Poland (a wonderful consolation prize for a younger son) – though he abandoned that post to take the crown of France. He was killed in 1589 by a Catholic fanatic. No sons being left to Catherine de Medici, the crown went to the Protestant King of Navarre, who took the throne as Henri IV. Henry did have to convert to get the crown, an easy decision for him (he famously said “Paris is well worth a mass”). As King, he formalized a policy of religious tolerance that finally ended France’s long religious wars…

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Published inOn This Day

2 Comments

  1. Well done and essentially accurate. I do not think the entire country hated the Guises. The Huguenot leadership did, and obviously Catherine d’Medici’s son Henry III didn’t like them much since he had the two oldest Guise brothers butchered. It was the third Guise son Charles, Duke of Mayenne who brokered the peace and supported the ascent of Henry of Navarre when many Parisians urged him to seize the throne himself. Henry of Navarre with his policies of appeasement was the better choice. He knew if he did not recant his Protestant faith he would face constant challenges when France needed stability. Kudos to Janet for introducing her readership to an unhealthy, pathetic and immature Francois II who was far different than the hunk in Reign.

  2. Henri III was a major character and worthy of a post. He was a trendsetter like his mother and they say was deeply loved by her. He also was very fond of cross dressing. When he arrived in Poland they looked at him and his handsome male retinue and asked “Have we elected a King or Queen? He and ran away from Poland in the night with the army in pursuit of their King. He said the only thing he liked about Poland was their beer. As King he joined the flagellants and married a woman who liked him a lot. They were probably best friends and shopping buddies. Of course in the end after his mother died, of which he said that at last he would really be King, he was assassinated. He had already arranged to end the war of the three Henris between the Protestants, extreme Catholics and himself. Henri of Navarre the Protestant took over as he had no children. His mother had already poisoned the Catholic Henri. Moral of story? Religion can be useful but also fatal. The three Henri’s all took their positions out of political expedience and we all know what Henri of Navarre said.

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