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July 10, 1559 – Death of Henri II of France

Henri II's fateful (fatal) joust against Lorges, from an anonymous 16th century German print (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Henri II’s fateful (fatal) joust against Lorges, from an anonymous 16th century German print (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

While this may seem Tudor-adjacent, it really was an event with huge repercussions, occurring as it did less than a year into Elizabeth’s reign. Henri was succeeded by his son, Francis II – and his daughter-in-law, Mary Stuart. To Catholics, Elizabeth’s legitimacy was questionable – and while Henri had not made it an issue, Mary’s powerful relatives, the Guises, got a bit ahead of themselves. Since all the heraldry was being changed for the new French monarchs, they decided that the royal badges should quarter the English arms as well so that Francis and Mary would be termed King and Queen of France, Scotland, and England. Thus was born Elizabeth’s profound mistrust of her Stuart cousin. (If you want more info about the Guises and their shady dealings, I’ve got a post for you here).

But back to Henri. His untimely death (he was only 40) stemmed from a jousting tournament: he was wounded in the eye by a fragment of his opponent’s splintered lance. The shard entered Henri’s brain and he died of sepsis. Jousting lost a lot of its appeal after that – it had already become less of a “thing” in England after Henry VIII’s fall in 1536, but Henri II had four sons so had less fear.

Ironically, the joust was held to celebrate the Peace of Cateau-Cambresis – the end of the war between France and Spain and even England (which had supported then-queen Mary’s husband Philip and lost Calais). Henri’s death weakened France, and also paved the way for the serious wars of religion (his widow, Catherine de Medici, was the niece of Pope Clement VII – if you can’t fully guess what side she was on, I did write a post for her death).

More irony, the lance that killed him belonged to Gabriel de Lorges, Count of Montgomery and Captain of the King’s Scottish Guard, who retired in disgrace to his estates in Normandy (Henri had absolved him during a lucid moment, which got him released from the prison they had immediately thrown him in, but still…). There, he studied theology and converted to Protestantism, making him an enemy of the state. There is a lot more story there, but he escaped to England at one point, and Elizabeth refused France’s request to extradite him.

RIP Henri

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