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Henry III of France (19 September 1551 ‚Äď 2 August 1589, born Alexandre-√Čdouard de Valois-Angoul√™me, , ;), was King of France from 1574 to 1589, and as Henry of Valois, first elected Monarch of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with the dual titles of King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1573 to 1575.


Early years

Henry was born at the Royal Ch√Ęteau de Fontainebleaumarker, Seine-et-Marnemarker, third son of King Henry II and Catherine de' Medici, grandson of Francis I of France and Claude of France, and brother of Francis II of France and Charles IX of France. He was made Duke of Angoul√™me and Duke of Orleans in 1560, and Duke of Anjou in 1566.

In 1564, his name became Henri. He was his mother's favourite; she called him chers yeux ("Precious Eyes") and lavished fondness and affection upon him for most of his life. His elder brother, Charles, grew to detest him, resenting Henry's greater health and activity.


In his youth, he was considered the best of the sons of Catherine de' Medici and Henry II. Unlike his father and elder brothers, he had little interest in the traditional Valois pastimes of hunting and physical exercise. Although he was both fond of fencing and skilled in it, he preferred to indulge his tastes for the arts and reading. These predilections were attributed to his Italian mother.

At one point in his youth he showed a tendency towards Protestantism as a means of rebelling. At the age of nine, calling himself un petit Huguenot, he refused to attend Mass, sang Protestant psalms to his sister Margot (exhorting her all the while to change her religion and cast her Book of Hours into the fire), and even bit the nose off a statue of Saint Paul. His mother firmly cautioned her children against such behaviour, and he would never again show any Protestant tendencies‚ÄĒinstead becoming nominally Roman Catholic.

Prior to ascending the throne, he was a leader of the royal army in the French Wars of Religion against the Huguenots, and took part in the victories over them at Battle of Jarnac and Battle of Moncontour. While still Duke, he was involved in the plot for the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (but did not participate), in which thousands of Huguenots were killed; his reign as King, like the ones of his elder brothers Francis II and Charles IX, would see France in constant turmoil over religion.


For a long time after his death, Henry was assumed to have been homosexual or at least bisexual. Although there are many credible references which document Henry's homosexuality, it is still disputed. For example, some modern historians, such as P. Erlanger Philippe Erlanger, ||Henri III||, Gallimard, 1935, J.F. Solnon, Nicolas Le Roux Nicolas Le Roux, ||Un régicide au nom de Dieu, l'assassinat d'Henri III||, Gallimard, 2006 and J. Boucher Jacqueline Boucher, ||La cour de Henri III||, Ouest-France, 1986 , found evidence to support the idea that, not only was Henry not homosexual (though still perhaps bisexual), but he had many famous mistresses. They found that there were no men named with whom he could have had sex, and that he was well-known at the time for his taste in beautiful women. They concluded that the idea of his supposed homosexuality was based on his dislike of war and hunting being interpreted as effeminate, an image cultivated by political opponents (both Protestants and ultra-Catholics) to turn the opinion of the French people against him.


In 1570, discussions commenced to arrange for Henry to court Elizabeth I of England. Elizabeth, almost 37, was in need of a husband in order to produce an heir. However, nothing came of these discussions. Elizabeth is viewed by historians as having intended only to arouse the concern of Spain, rather than to have seriously contemplated marriage. The chance of marriage was further blighted by their differing religious views‚ÄĒHenry was at least formally a Catholic while Elizabeth was a Protestant‚ÄĒand his opinion of Elizabeth. Henry tactlessly referred to Elizabeth as a putain publique (a "public whore") and made stinging remarks about their difference in age. Upon hearing (inaccurately) that she limped because of a varicose vein, he called her an "old creature with a sore leg."


In 1573, Henry was elected King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. As conditions for his free election, he was compelled to sign the pacta conventa and the Henrician Articles, pledging religious tolerance in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Henry chafed at the restrictions on monarchic power under the Polish-Lithuanian political system of "Golden Liberty". The Polish-Lithuanian parliament had been urged by Anna Jagiellon, the sister of the recently deceased king Sigismund II Augustus, to elect him based on the understanding that Henry would wed Anna afterward.

His brother, Charles IX of France, died three months after Henry's coronation as king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Henry secretly departed and returned to France. He was crowned king of France on 13 February 1575, at Rheimsmarker Cathedralmarker.


Although when he married Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont (14 February 1575) he was expected to produce an heir, they were unable to conceive a child.

Coin of Henry III, 1577
In 1576, Henry signed the Edict of Beaulieu, granting many concessions to the Huguenots. His action resulted in the Catholic activist, Henry I, Duke of Guise, forming the Catholic League. After much posturing and negotiations, Henry was forced to rescind most of the concessions that had been made to the Protestants in the Edict of Beaulieu.

In 1584, the King's youngest brother and heir presumptive, François, duc d'Anjou, died. Under Salic Law, the next heir to the throne was Protestant Henry III of Navarre, a descendant of St. Louis IX. Under pressure from the Duke of Guise, Henry III issued an edict suppressing Protestantism and annulling Henry III of Navarre's right to the throne.

Henry began a great friendship with the Feuillant reformer Jean de la Barrière and built a monastery for him and his followers to commemorate their friendship in 1587.

On 12 May 1588, when the duc de Guise entered Paris, Henry III fled the city.

On 23 December 1588, at the Ch√Ęteau de Bloismarker, the duc de Guise arrived in the council chamber where his brother Louis II, Cardinal of Guise, waited. The Duke was told that the King wished to see him in the private room adjoining the royal bedroom. There guardsmen murdered the Duke, then the Cardinal. To make sure that no contender for the French throne was free to act against him, the King had the Duke's son imprisoned.

The Duke of Guise had been highly popular in France, and the citizenry turned against King Henry for the murders. The Parlement instituted criminal charges against the King, and he joined forces with his heir, the protestant Henry of Navarre, setting up the Parliament of Tours.


Jacques Clément assassinating Henry III

On 1 August 1589, Henry III lodged with his army at Saint-Cloud, Hauts-de-Seinemarker, prepared to attack Paris, when a young fanatical Dominican friar, Jacques Clément, carrying false papers, was granted access to deliver important documents to the King. The monk gave the King a bundle of papers and stated that he had a secret message to deliver. The King signaled for his attendants to step back for privacy, and Clément whispered in his ear while plunging a knife into his abdomen. Clément was killed on the spot by the guards.

At first the King's wound did not appear fatal, but he enjoined all the officers around him, in the event that he did not survive, to be loyal to Henry of Navarre as their new king. The following morning‚ÄĒthe day that he was to have launched his assault to retake Paris‚ÄĒHenry III died.

Chaos swept the attacking army, most of it quickly melting away; the proposed attack on Paris was postponed. Inside the city, joy at the news of Henry III's death was near delirium; some hailed the assassination as an act of God.


Henry III was interred at the Saint Denis Basilicamarker. Childless, he was the last of the Valois kings. Henry III of Navarre succeeded him as Henry IV, the first of the Bourbon kings.

Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

Henry III in Polish hat, portrait 1580s

On 16 May 1573 Polish nobles elected Henry, as the first elected monarch of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. However, the Lithuanian nobles, boycotted this election, and it was the Lithuanian ducal council who confirmed his election. In Paris, on 10 September, a Polish delegation met with Henry and he took an oath, at Notre Dame Cathedral, to "respect traditional Polish liberties and the law on religious freedom that had been passed during the interregnum". It was at a ceremony before the Paris parlement on 13 September that the Polish delegation handed over the "certificate of election to the throne of Poland-Lithuania". Henry also gave up any claims to succession and he "recognized the principle of free election" under the Henrician Articles and the pacta conventa.

It was not until January of 1574 that Henry was to reach the borders of Poland. On 21 February, Henry's coronation was held. It was in mid June of 1574 that Henry would take leave of Poland and head back to France, upon hearing of his brother, Charles IX's death. Henry's absence 'provoked a constitutional crisis' which Parliament attempted to resolve by notifiying Henry that his throne would be lost if he did not return from France by 12 May 1575. His failure to return caused Parliament to declare his throne vacant.

The short reign of Henry at Wawel Castlemarker in Poland was marked by a clash of cultures between the Polish and the French. The young king and his followers were astonished by several Polish practices and disappointed by the rural poverty and harsh climate of the country. The Polish, on the other hand, wondered if all Frenchmen were as concerned with their appearance as their new King appeared to be.

In many aspects, Polish culture had a positive influence on France. At Wawelmarker, the French were introduced to new methods of septic facilities, in which litter (excrement) was taken outside the castle walls. On returning to France, Henry ordered the construction of such facilities at the Louvre and other palaces. Other inventions introduced to the French by the Polish included a bath with regulated hot and cold water and the fork.


  1. Frieda, Leonie, Catherine de Medici, pp.179-180
  2. Henri III
  3. Henri III était homosexuel -
  4. Durant, Will, The Age of Reason Begins, vol. VII, (Simon and Schuster, 1961), p. 361.

See also



  • Durant, Will, The Age of Reason Begins, vol. VII, Simon and Schuster, 1961.
  • Frieda, Leonie, Catherine de Medici, HarperCollins Publishers, 2003.
  • PaweŇā, Jasienica Rzeczpospolita Obojga Narod√≥w (The Commonwealth of the Both Nations), Warsaw, 1982.
  • StanisŇāaw, Grzybowski, Henryk Walezy, Warsaw, 1985.
  • Stone, Daniel, The Polish-Lithuanian state, 1386-1795; A History of East Central Europe, Volume IV., Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001.
  • Zbigniew, SataŇāa, Poczet polskich kr√≥lowych, ksińôŇľnych i metres, Warsaw, 1990.

External links


References in popular culture

  • The Alexandre Dumas, p√®re's novels: La Reine Margot(1845), La Dame de Monsoreau (1846) and Les quarante-cinq (1847).
  • The Alexandre Dumas, p√®re's play, Henry III and His Court (1829)
  • The French movies La Reine Margot (1954) and La Reine Margot (1994), both based on Alexandre Dumas, p√®re's novel of the same title, are fictional depictions of the lives of Henry III's family, his sister Margot, and her Protestant husband Henry around the time of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. In the 1994 film Henry is played by the actor Pascal Greggory. In Dumas' novel, Henri was not portrayed as homosexual, whereas, in the 1954 film, he was shown as an effeminate, comical queen. In the 1994 film, he was portrayed as a more sinister character, bisexual and showing sexual interest for his sister. His brother dies by being accidentally poisoned by his mother, who had intended to kill Henry of Navarre instead.
  • The film Elizabeth, released in 1998, depicts a fictional courtship between Elizabeth I of England and Henry III whilst still Duke of Anjou. In reality, the two never met and the Queen of England was actually courted by his younger brother Fran√ßois, Duke of Anjou. The film borrows some of the aspects of Henry III's life and features Anjou as a comical foolish transvestite. The role is portrayed by French actor Vincent Cassel.
  • In the film Dangerous Beauty he has a short affair with the main character, venetian courtesan Veronica Franco. He appears masculine, although he declared to Veronica that the "rumors" about him were true. He is played by British actor Jake Weber.
  • In an episode of Animaniacs, entitled "The Three Muska-Warners", an Elmer Fudd-like Henri III is protected by Yakko, Wakko and Dot. In this version, Henri is portrayed by Jeff Bennett as nervous and jumpy, and for no apparent reason speaks with an English accent.
  • Chabrier's op√©ra-comique Le roi malgr√© lui (1887) deals with the unhappy Polish episode, with Henri as the reluctant King of Poland. In Krak√≥w he conspires with Polish nobles to depose himself. His friend Nangis changes places with him but in the end the plot fails and the curtain falls on Henri being crowned.
  • One episode of the science fiction novel "Vive le Roi!" by Vivian Davis takes place in a forest clearing near St. Cloud at an early morning hour of 1 August 1589, with a group of time travelers preparing to prevent the King's assassination as part of a complicated series of interventions in French history aimed at preventing the French Revolution and keeping France a monarchy into the 21st Century. The appearance of Time Police agents foils the plot, and Henry III's assassination goes ahead - a protagonist remarking "A pity, but history should not be tampered with".

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