Henry II of France


Henri II (born March 31, 1519 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye and died July 10, 1559 in Paris) was king of France from 1547 until his death. Second son of François I and Claude de France, he became the heir to the throne upon the death of his older brother in 1536. He then received the titles of dauphin and duke of Brittany.

Crowned king of France on July 26, 1547 in Reims, he took the crescent moon as his emblem. His mottos are Plena est œmula solis (“The emule of the sun is full”) and Donec totum impleat orbem (“Until it fills the whole world”).

King perfectly representative of the French Renaissance, Henri II continued the political and artistic work of his father. He continued the Italian wars, focusing on the empire of Charles V, which he succeeded in defeating. Henry II maintained the power of France but his reign ended with unfavorable events such as the defeat of Saint-Quentin (1557) and the treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis which put an end to the Italian dream.

His reign also marked the rise of Protestantism, which he repressed with greater rigor than his father. Faced with the importance of the adhesions to the Reformation, Henry II did not manage to settle the religious question, which led after his death to the Wars of Religion.

He died accidentally at the age of forty: on June 30, 1559, during a tournament held on rue Saint-Antoine in Paris (in front of the old Hotel des Tournelles), he was wounded by a spear in the eye by Gabriel de Montgommery, captain of his Scottish guard. He died ten days later.

Tumultuous childhood

As the second son of the king of France, Henri received the title of Duke of Orleans at birth. He was given the name of his godfather Henry VIII of England.

In application of the Treaty of Madrid between Francis I and Charles V, Henry remained a hostage in Spain from March 17, 1526 to July 1, 1530, along with his older brother Francis, Dauphin and Duke of Brittany. This harsh captivity had serious consequences on his childhood and he kept psychological after-effects, becoming in particular hypochondriac. This character will make difficult his relations with his father François Ier, who gives his preference to his young brother Charles.

Considered the last knightly king, legend has it that he was trained in chivalry by reading Amadis de Gaul during his captivity, but this novel of chivalry was only translated into French in 1540.

Jean Capello, ambassador of Venice to the French court, describes him as follows: “…the high and well taken height, the beautiful and pleasant figure, the complexion a little brown…” For his part, Joachim du Bellay states, in his Tumbeau du roy Henry II, that “his face is painful, measured with gravity.” Unlike his father, Francis I, Henry II is of a rather taciturn nature. According to the Venetian Dandolo, he rarely laughed, “so much so that many of those at court assure that they never saw him laugh once.”

Marriage with Catherine de Medici

On October 28, 1533, he married Catherine de Medici, daughter of Laurent II de Medici, the sole heir to his estate and niece of Leo X, but his heart remained devoted to his confidante and tutor since the age of 15, Diane de Poitiers (with whom he seems to have had an adultery only after 1538).

Heir to the throne of France

He succeeded his brother François, who died in 1536, as dauphin and duke of Brittany, without governing the duchy, of which his father kept the usufruct. After taking up arms in Picardy, Henri joined the French armies in Piedmont to command the vanguard, and took part in the capture of Moncalieri (October 23, 1537), where he met Filippa Duci for a brief affair from which was born his first child, Diane de France. This birth reassures the dauphin on his capacity to ensure his descent in spite of the absence of heir 4 years after his marriage. His temporary infertility was in fact due to a penile malformation caused by hypospadias, as diagnosed by his doctor Jean Fernel who successfully recommended him to practice coitus more ferarum in order to be able to procreate.

On February 9, 1540, Henri was invested with the enjoyment of his duchy, “for his maintenance”, the king retaining the upper hand on the affairs of the Dauphiné and the duchy. In reality, Henry had no political room for maneuver; his authority was limited to appointing his courtiers and friends to offices and lands. Thus he gave his mistress Diane de Poitiers the former ducal lands of Rhuys and Fougères.

The rupture between the king and the dauphin broke out with the disgrace of the Constable of Montmorency in 1541 to whom the dauphin was very attached. The court was then divided into two parties:

In August 1542, he commanded the army of Roussillon in the fourth campaign of his father and his German and Turkish allies against Charles V and participated in the siege of Perpignan.

In the fall of 1544, he pushed the English back into Calais, lifted the siege of Montreuil, and narrowly failed to retake Boulogne-sur-Mer, which he finally bought back in 1550.

During the last years of the reign of Francis I, two factions competed at the French court: the first led by the king”s advisors, Admiral of France d”Annebault and Cardinal de Tournon, the second composed of the supporters of the Dauphin Henry, around Diane de Poitiers and the Constable Anne de Montmorency.

In this context, however, he had a ball given at Fontainebleau on the occasion of the baptism of his daughter, Elisabeth de Valois, in July 1546. He appeared there in the evocative costume of Captain holding the baton of command, drawn by Le Primatice, (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm).

A new administration

The year 1547, with the demise of Francis I and the advent of Henry II, saw a complete renewal of the Court”s personnel and the sovereign”s advisors. The old ruling faction was ruthlessly driven out and some high ranking politicians were imprisoned and prosecuted by the royal justice. The places in the royal council and the honorary offices of the court are redistributed to the relatives of the new king: next to Anne de Montmorency, we find Jacques d”Albon de Saint-André made marshal and first gentleman of the Chamber, and the Lorraine princes, the brothers François, future Duke of Guise, and Charles, Cardinal of Guise, future Cardinal of Lorraine.

The new king, at the age of 28, wished to mark a break with the lifestyle of his predecessor and a current of austerity blew temporarily on the royal court. The number of ladies-in-waiting was reduced and access to the royal person was tightened. Henri II surrounds himself with new advisers.

Continuing the administrative policy of his father, Henry II reformed certain institutions that contributed to making France a powerful state with centralized power. In 1557, Henry II ordered that a single type of weights and measures be applied to the whole of the suburbs of Paris, and then later to the whole of the Paris Parliament, with a standard deposited at the town hall.

From the beginning of his reign, he set up a real ministerial system, generalizing the government of his father. In 1547, the administration was supervised by four secretaries of state, chosen from the company of notaries-secretaries of the king. They were in charge of the king”s commands and more particularly of the expedition of financial affairs. Originally responsible for a topographical sector of the kingdom, in 1557 they took the title of Secretary of State and Finance of the king. The records of the royal treasury were entrusted to a comptroller general. Henry II also continued the unification of the judicial system with the creation (by ordinance of January 1551) of the presidiaux, intermediate courts between the parliaments and the lower courts. These presidials were composed of 9 judges each and were located at the seat of the bailliages and seneschaussées).

In 1553, a royal decree stipulated that the maîtres des requêtes would visit the provinces each year.

The year 1555 saw the institution of the Grand Parti de Lyon, a giant loan raised from the merchant-bankers of the city of Lyon (the main financial center of the kingdom of France) which refinanced all existing royal debts in the long term. The innovative nature of this loan did not prevent military and political circumstances from causing it to end in bankruptcy, which led the king to convene the Estates General in Paris in January 1558 to obtain a vote on a contribution.

Like his predecessor, Henri II had to face important financial needs and followed the example of François I by increasing existing taxes (attempts to standardize the gabelle, creation of the taillon and application of new size increases, development of taxes on imports). As the same causes produced similar effects, Henri II had to face, as François I did in La Rochelle in 1542, a peasant revolt, the Jacquerie des Pitauds, which spread to the cities, including Bordeaux. Henri II entrusted the repression to the Constable Anne de Montmorency. Montmorency”s reaction was brutal: the city lost its privileges, was disarmed, had to pay a fine of 200,000 pounds, and saw its parliament suspended. 140 people were sentenced to death. The repression then spread to the surrounding countryside where the leaders were hanged. In 1549, Henri II granted amnesty to the city.

Following in his father”s footsteps, he also took care to improve tax collection, and ordered (edict of January 1551) that the four treasurers of France and the four general treasurers of finance be combined into a single body of general treasurers, whose number was increased to 17.

After the administrative and fiscal reforms undertaken successively by François I and Henri II, the bulk of the State”s resources now came from grants.

Foreign relations

In 1548, Henry II experienced his first conflict as King of France. He clashed with the King of England, Edward VI, who took offense at the reception at the French court of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, who was to marry the Dauphin Francis. The young queen of Scotland was forced to take refuge in France to escape the English troops who intended to marry Mary to Edward VI. The Scots, defeated at Pinkie Cleugh, made use of the old alliance with France, the Auld Alliance, and Henry II agreed to welcome the young queen to the French court. Moreover, Mary Stuart, daughter of Mary of Guise, was the niece of the Lorrains, whose influence on Henry II helped arrange this marriage. In 1549 and 1550, the armies of Henry II, under the command of François de Guise and Leone Strozzi, besieged Boulogne-sur-Mer, which the English had occupied since 1544. On March 24, 1550, the treaty of Outreau restored the city to France, and imposed the domination of Henry II in Scotland. Later, in 1558, the Duke of Guise”s troops took back the city of Calais, the last English possession on French territory.

Henry II”s relations with the Habsburgs were a continuation of those of his predecessor.

As early as 1551, Henry II listened to the Reformed princes of Germany, whom he had known well when he was dauphin. In January 1552, he received Margrave Albert of Brandenburg at Chambord, who suggested that he occupy Cambrai, Verdun, Toul and Metz (the last three cities constituting the Three Bishoprics), French-speaking cities of the Empire that traditionally enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy. Henri II would take the title of “vicar of the Empire”. The Treaty of Chambord was signed on January 15, 1552, sealing Henry II”s alliance with the Reformed princes against Charles V.

The “voyage to Germany” began at Joinville, where the French army was assembled in March 1552, under the command of the Constable de Montmorency and the Duke of Guise. Cambrai, Verdun and Toul opened their gates without any resistance; on April 18, 1552, Henri II entered Metz. In October 1552, on the orders of Charles V, Ferdinand Alvare de Toledo, Duke of Alba, laid siege to Metz, where a weak garrison under the command of François de Guise remained. The siege lasted four months and was doomed to failure, despite the deployment of large imperial forces: 35,000 infantry, 8,000 cavalry and 150 cannons.

In Italy, as in other areas, Henry II tried to follow in his father”s footsteps. Beyond the Italian motivations of his predecessors, it should be remembered that Catherine de Medici maintained a very Italianized court and that the Guise were allied with the Este family: Francis had married Anne d”Este, daughter of the Duke of Ferrara.

In 1545, Pope Paul III gave the duchy of Parma and Piacenza to his son Peter Louis Farnese. After the assassination of the latter, the duchy passed to Octave Farnese but remained coveted by Ferrand Gonzague, viceroy of Milan. Henry II agreed to intervene in support of the Farneses, especially since Julius III, the newly elected pope, was clearly leaning towards the Empire. The royal troops, commanded by the marshals of Brissac and Thermes, confronted the imperial army increased by pontifical contingents.

In April 1552, a first truce was negotiated by Cardinal François de Tournon. Cardinal Tournon, Henry II”s ambassador to Italy from 1551 to 1556, was more inclined to diplomacy than to war and worked to defeat a planned expedition against Naples. He succeeded in placing the city of Siena, which had evacuated its Spanish garrison, under the protection of the kingdom of France.

On October 8 and 9, 1553, an expedition of the marshal of Thermes, who had the support of a Turkish fleet, took Corsica from the Genoese.

In 1554, Siena tried to fight with Florence. The royal army, commanded by Peter Strozzi, was defeated on August 3 at Marciano della Chiana by the army of Florence; Siena was besieged. Defended by Monluc, the city fell on April 17, 1555 and passed under Florentine control.

On January 16, 1556, Charles V abdicated in favor of his son Philip II, but retained the imperial crown, which he passed on to his brother Ferdinand I of the Holy Roman Empire and then retired to the monastery of Yuste. On his side, the king of France loses gradually his supports: the reformed German princes signed the Peace of Augsburg giving them the freedom of religion and the Turks prove to be less active in the Western Mediterranean. The new king of Spain and France signed a truce at the abbey of Vaucelles. The truce was intended to last 5 years and recognized France”s territorial conquests in Piedmont and the Three Bishoprics. This agreement nevertheless suffers from a major defect: just like the peace of Augsburg, it did not receive the approval of the pope.

Paul IV, elected pope in 1555, is animated of a fierce hatred towards the Emperor: “For one thousand years, it is not born a man as wicked as him”. He multiplied the provocations towards Philip II and sent his nephew the cardinal Carlo Carafa as legate to the court of France in 1556. This last returns from there with a promise of intervention of Henri II.

In November 1556, the Duke of Guise, crowned with his Messinian glory, joined Marshal de Brissac in Piedmont, with the avowed objective of taking Naples from the Spaniards. The maneuvers of Philip II and his English and Savoyard allies in the north of France quickly put this plan into question and François de Guise was forced to return to France in a hurry after the French defeat at Saint-Quentin. This last failed attempt marked the end of French ambitions in Italy, formalized by the treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis by which Henry II returned all French possessions in the country, including Corsica.

Philip II married Mary Tudor in 1554, an alliance that allowed him to benefit from the maritime power of England. He also has in the Netherlands an army of 60 000 men under the orders of the duke Emmanuel-Philibert of Savoy. The allies took advantage of the departure of the Duke of Guise”s army for Italy to launch the offensive towards Paris, through the Artois region. The French army, commanded by the Constable Anne de Montmorency, suffered a terrible defeat at Saint-Quentin on August 10, 1557, with more than 3,000 dead and several thousand prisoners, including the Constable himself, Admiral de Coligny and the Marshal de Saint-André.

Henri II entrusted the Duke of Nevers François de Clèves with the formation of a new army and recalled the Duke of Guise from Italy to entrust him with military operations in the north of the country as lieutenant general of the kingdom. Guise chose to march on Calais, which he captured on January 6, 1558, then returned to Thionville, which he reached on June 22 and captured in July.

The army commanded by Marshal de Thermes was beaten at Gravelines by the Spaniards. The road to Paris was open. Henri II gathered an army of 50,000 men and went to meet his opponents. But the Spaniards had to lay off their army because of a lack of money.

With the English chased from French soil and the Imperials pushed back beyond the Moselle, the balance was more or less restored. The two kingdoms did not really have the means to continue the war, especially since Philip II, widower of Mary Tudor since November 17, 1558, could no longer count on England”s resources. The two countries thus agree on a treaty of peace signed on April 3, 1559 with Cateau-Cambrésis. Henry II gave back to Philip II all his possessions, including Piedmont, Savoy, and Bresse, which had been occupied for 30 years, as well as Corsica, but kept the three bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun, as well as five strongholds in Piedmont for three years. The peace was sanctioned by two marriages:

For her part, the new queen of England, Elizabeth I, had to secure her throne after a delicate succession and was not in a position to dispute the city of Calais with the king of France. By the first treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis, signed on March 12 and April 2, 1559, she allowed the French to keep the city in exchange for an indemnity of 500 000 ecus.

Religious Affairs

During the reign of Henry II, the Protestant reformation continued to develop. Under the influence of Diane de Poitiers, the king, a fervent Catholic, decided to take severe measures against the new religion.

As early as October 8, 1547, a fiery chamber was set up at the Parliament of Paris, charged with hearing heresy trials, headed by the inquisitor Matthieu Ory. In three years, it issued more than 500 rulings against the Protestants, and was the source of a violent repression against them between 1547 and 1549.

On November 19, 1549, the Edict of Paris gave back some of their power to ecclesiastical judges.

On June 27, 1551, the Edict of Chateaubriant handed over to secular judges the cases of “heretics” who had caused unrest and coordinated the repression. Only Catholics were allowed to open schools.

It was completed on July 24, 1557 with the Edict of Compiègne, which increased repression, including against Catholics who helped or sheltered Protestants.

In 1551, in the context of the war and the management of Italian affairs, a violent conflict opposed Henry II to Pope Julius III. On July 27, 1551, the pope launched an anathema against the king. In reaction, Henry II broke off all relations with the papacy and the idea of a schism, although quickly dismissed, was raised. Henry II preferred to take retaliatory measures. He forbade the transfer of benefits to Rome, he opposed the participation of French prelates in the Council of Trent and on August 13, he declared war on the Pope. Worried about the rupture engaged, the pope tries to be reconciled as of October.

The king had the support of the Parliament of Paris, which was always hostile to the interference of Rome in French affairs. Thus, in 1557, he opposed the re-establishment of the Inquisition in the kingdom.

The king”s attachment to the Catholic religion did not prevent him from supporting the reformed princes of Germany and maintaining the alliance with the Turks that Francis I had initiated, in a sixteenth-century dynamic of asserting the interests of the state, even against other Catholic monarchs.

In spite of all the repressive edicts, Protestantism experienced an exponential growth at the end of the 1550s that it had never before experienced. Adhesions multiplied among the nobility. Two princes of the blood, Antoine de Navarre and his brother, the Prince of Condé, contributed to the spread of the new ideas by having ministers accompany them on their travels. The two brothers also took part in the Pré-aux-Clercs celebrations organized in Paris by the Protestants in May 1558 and attended by several hundred people. The first Reformed churches were established and in May 1559, the first national synod of churches took place in the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, which published the Confession of Faith of the French churches in 40 articles.

A movement of sympathy was born within the court, in the entourage of the queen, the king”s sister Marguerite and the king himself with the nephews of Anne de Montmorency – François d”Andelot, the cardinal of Châtillon and Admiral Gaspard de Coligny. Like them, many gentlemen were reluctant to show their convictions out of loyalty to the king.

In September 1557, a riot broke out in Paris on rue Saint-Jacques, where Reformed people had gathered. In September 1557, Henri II was the victim of an assassination attempt by a man named Caboche, who was quickly overpowered by the king”s guard and executed within hours of his arrest, without trial or interrogation. This promptness in executing the regicide led to the conviction that it was an attack ordered by the Protestant party, although no proof could be provided.

Henry II responded to religious tensions with the Edict of Écouen on June 2, 1559, which stipulated that any Protestant who rebelled or fled would be killed, and also appointed commissioners to prosecute the Reformed. Many members of parliament were sympathetic to the ideas of the Reformation and, on the occasion of the mercurial meeting of June 10, the king imprisoned those who openly criticized his policy of repression. Most of them recanted, with the exception of Anne du Bourg, who was burned in the Place de Grève a few months after the king”s death.

Death and Succession

On the occasion of the double wedding of Elisabeth of France to Philip II of Spain and of Marguerite of France, sister of the king, to the duke of Savoy, a tournament was organized on June 30, 1559 on the rue Saint-Antoine, the widest street in Paris at the time, since it already had the dimensions we know today.

During a joust in front of the Hôtel de Sully (at the level of the current number 62), Henri II was seriously wounded by Gabriel de Lorges, Count of Montgommery, captain of his Scottish guard. The latter”s spear was broken by the impact against the king”s armor, and he received a splinter through his helmet that pierced his eye. He was transported to the Hotel des Tournelles, a nearby royal residence located on the site of the current Place des Vosges. Despite the care of the doctors (including François Pidoux) and the royal surgeons (including Ambroise Paré), as well as André Vésale, private surgeon of Philippe II of Spain, who was urgently called from Brussels to the bedside of the wounded man, the king died in excruciating pain on July 10.

The entrails and the heart of the monarch were carried to the church of Célestins, while the body was embalmed. On July 29, the king”s effigy was exposed on a platform four steps high, topped by a canopy. Adorned with the royal ornaments (the closed crown, the purple satin tunic with fleur-de-lis, the ermine-filled mantle), while the scepter and the hand of justice were placed on either side, the mannequin testified to the permanent brilliance of royal dignity. For six days, meals were served as if it were a living being. On August 5, the effigy was removed. The coffin containing the perishable body of the monarch was now displayed alone, on simple trestles. On August 11, the effigy and the body were solemnly carried to Notre-Dame Cathedral, where requiem masses were celebrated for two days, and finally on August 13, the funeral procession went to Saint-Denis.

Several astrologers would have advised the king to avoid any single combat. The quatrain I-35, by which Nostradamus would have anticipated the death of Henri II, is one of his most famous, but neither Nostradamus nor his contemporaries linked the quatrain to the event:

“The young lion the old one will overcomeIn field bellique by singular duel,In cage of gold the eyes will burst him,Two classes one then die cruel death.”

During the French Revolution, his tomb in the Saint-Denis basilica was desecrated. On Friday, October 18, 1793, his coffin was removed from the Valois vault and his body thrown into a mass grave. His recumbent statue, representing him next to Catherine de Medici, made by Germain Pilon in 1565 is still visible in the basilica.

A funerary monument called the Three Graces, containing the king”s heart, and preserved in the Louvre Museum, remained erected until the Revolution in the Orleans chapel of the Célestins convent church in Paris. During the Restoration, the copper vase containing the relic was replaced by a wooden copy.

François II, the eldest son of Henri II, succeeded him at the age of 15.

Ronsard celebrated Henri II in Les Hymnes of 1555. The poet had already written a Avant-entrée du Roi très chrestien à Paris for the solemn entry on June 16, 1549.

The arts

Henry II also followed in his father”s footsteps in his support of artistic and intellectual development, although in a less flamboyant way. The novelty of the reign is characterized especially in the staging of royal power, by the multiplication of royal entries and festivities. The monarchy made poets, architects, sculptors and painters work together to magnify the royal power on the occasion of ephemeral festivals. For the royal entrances, works were published to recall the memory of the splendidly decorated doors, such as triumphal arches, sometimes accompanied by poems and music played at the passage of the king. The king also called upon renowned goldsmiths to dress him in luxurious parade armor. This policy of artistic staging will be skillfully resumed at his death by his wife Catherine de Medici.

Henri II modified the plans for the Louvre Palace as conceived a few years before the death of François I and confirmed the architect Pierre Lescot as the head of the works. Nevertheless, Henry II”s favorite architect remained Philibert Delorme, the first to be called the king”s architect, who directed many construction projects or the renovation of castles (Saint-Maur, Anet, Meudon…), and invented the French order. Still on an architectural level, the reign of Henri II saw the arrival of the colossal order in France, introduced by Jean Bullant in the reconstruction of the Château d”Écouen or in the construction of the Petit Château in Chantilly and the Château Neuf in Saint-Germain.

The sculptures in the Lescot wing of the Louvre are the work of Jean Goujon, sculptor to King Henry II. Germain Pilon, another emblematic sculptor of the 16th century, specialized in funerary sculptures, creating tombs and recumbents for the kings of France.

French literature was also enriched by the work of great writers, such as Michel de Montaigne and Étienne de La Boétie, and a new poetic movement, the Pléiade, with Pierre de Ronsard, Joachim du Bellay…

The New World

In 1555, half a century after the discovery of Brazil by Cabral, Henri II charged the vice-admiral of Brittany Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon with the installation of a French colony in the bay of Guanabara (in Brazil), recognized five years before by the navigator and cartographer Guillaume Le Testu. A few years earlier, some people from Le Havre had set up a trading post near the present-day Cabo Frio, in order to supply the cloth industry of Rouen in Brazil (pau brasil in Portuguese), from which a red dye was obtained.

Accompanied by 600 colonists, Villegagnon founded France Antarctica and built a town, Henryville, and Fort Coligny to defend its access. Villegagnon launched his expedition with major recruitment difficulties and had to face defections due to his moral rigor, opposed to the carnal relations between colonists and Tupinambas Indians. He sent Le Testu back to France to ask for reinforcements. Admiral Gaspard de Coligny accepts this request which joins his objective to create a Protestant colony in this region of the world. Three ships left Honfleur on November 19, 1556 with a group of Reformed people on board, including the pastor Jean de Léry.

The latter evokes, in his account, the continuous dissensions within the colony, in particular his confrontations with André Thevet, Franciscan monk and chaplain of the initial expedition of Villegagnon. The religious divisions in the community benefited the Portuguese who, in 1560, took and destroyed Fort Coligny and marked the end of the first French adventure in South America. The first samples of petun (tobacco or Angoumoisine herb) would have been brought back to France by Thevet on the occasion of these voyages, although the diffusion of the use of this plant is attributed to Jean Nicot, who brought it back from Lisbon and praised its curative properties to Catherine de Médicis.

Fiefs united to the Crown

The territorial extension achieved under Francis I, the brevity of Henry II”s reign and the relative success of his military campaigns explain the weak evolution of the territory of the Crown at the death of the king. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning the union of Brittany with France, which was effective due to the coronation of Henry, already Duke of Brittany, although it is logically credited to Francis I.

The Italian and Savoyard territories, as well as Corsica, were lost following the defeats of Saint-Quentin and Gravelines. The only successes in this area were the annexation of the Three Bishoprics in 1555 and that of the counties of Calais and Oye in 1558.

Although long considered sterile, Catherine de Medici gave Henry II ten children, three of whom died in infancy:

He also has illegitimate children:

Like many Renaissance princes, Henry II used a rich and varied emblematic. His main personal motto comes from his youth. It is the crescent or more often the triple crescent interlaced, associated with the Latin phrase donec totum impleat orbem (until it fills the whole world). Does the crescent come from the Valois-Angouleme break of the arms of France with a silver label charged with three crescents gules? As is often the case, this body of the motto was a play on words with the sentence: originally, it emphasized the fact that the young prince was only the dauphin and therefore did not enjoy the fullness of his power. The crescent was certainly a hollowed-out, unfinished circle, but it should also be taken in its literal sense. The glory of the three crescents was thus destined to grow until it extended to the whole world, orbem meaning both circle and world. This motto was part of the imperial and providentialist tradition of the dynasty. But the crescent is also the emblem of Diana the Huntress, of course used by Diana of Poitiers, including in its interlaced form…

The monogram is another important element of the Henrician emblem. It is composed of an H and two C”s. The two C”s are interlaced back to back with the H. The problem is that the branches of the Cs do not extend beyond the legs of the H, so that it is easier to read D than C. This is a nice ambiguity that seems to have been intended but that Catherine was not fooled by. After the death of Henry II, she had the figure redrawn with the ends of the Cs clearly exceeding the legs of the H, so that no further confusion is possible.

Honoré de Balzac, in Sur Catherine de Médicis (1841-1843) refuses to believe that one could have wanted to put the initial of Diane :

“It is here the place to destroy one of these erroneous popular opinions that some people repeat, according to Sauval besides. It has been claimed that Henri II pushed the forgetfulness of propriety to the point of putting the figure of his mistress on the monuments that Catherine advised him to continue or to start with such magnificence. But the double figure that can be seen in the Louvre belies every day those who are so short-sighted as to give substance to this nonsense that gratuitously dishonors our kings and queens. The H of Henri II and the two C”s of Catherine, also appear to form two D”s for Diana. This coincidence must have pleased Henry II, but it is no less true that the royal cipher officially contained the letter of the king and the queen. And this is so true, that this figure still exists on the column of the Halle au Blé, built by Catherine alone. The same cipher can also be seen in the vaults of Saint-Denis on the tomb that Catherine had built for herself during her lifetime next to that of Henry II, and where she is represented after life by the sculptor for whom she posed.”

Crescents and monograms are the most frequently used elements. They are frequently found on coins. Royal orders are full of them, whether it is the bindings of the royal library, the sculpted decorations of the Louvre by Pierre Lescot or the bronzes of the castle of Fontainebleau.

The relationship with Diana forms another important pole of the mythology developed by Henry II and the emblematic that follows. Using his passion for hunting as a pretext, Henry II had many decorations made in relation to the ancient goddess of the hunt, Diana. Bows and arrows, stags and dogs, characteristic of the divinity, are very frequent in the Henrician emblematic. They can be found in the stained glass windows that the king donated to the Sainte-Chapelle in Vincennes or on the ceiling of the Henri II staircase in the Louvre.


“Remain to have a good heart and not to be astonished of anything”, writes after the battle of Saint-Quentin won by the duke Emmanuel-Philibert of Savoy.


  1. Henri II (roi de France)
  2. Henry II of France
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