Henry III of France

gigatos | June 4, 2022


Henry the Valois (French: Henri de Valois), actually Edward Alexander (born September 19, 1551, Fontainebleau; died August 2, 1589, Saint-Cloud), first elected king of Poland from 1573 to 1574, and last king of France of the Valois dynasty as Henry III from 1574; previously, until 1574, as a member of the French house: duke of Angoulême (from 1551), duke of Orléans (from 1573), and duke of Andegavia (from 1566).

As the fourth son of Henry II Valesius and Catherine de” Medici he had little chance of succeeding to the French throne, so he was considered a good candidate for the throne of the Republic of Poland after the heirless death of Sigismund II Augustus, the last king of the Jagiellonian dynasty. Despite the entanglement of the Valois family in St. Bartholomew”s night and fears of transferring religious feuds to the Republic, during the election of the new monarch the nobility supported his candidacy. Losing candidates included the son of Holy Roman Emperor Ernest Habsburg, Moscow Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible, and Swedish King John III Vasa.

The reign of Henry III in Poland and Lithuania was short, but it had a great influence on the future shape of the political system of the Republic. The Henrician Articles, drafted by the Sejm during the interregnum, formally changed the state into an electoral monarchy, with the king elected after the death of his predecessor by free election. Meanwhile in France the dynastic situation became drastically complicated: Louis de Valais died while still a child, Henry”s eldest brother, Francis II, in 1560, Charles IX de Valais, third in line to the throne, died at the age of only 23 in May 1574, leaving no legitimate heir to the throne. Thus Henry, a little over a year younger than Charles, became, according to the laws of the kingdom, which require no further confirmation of this fact, king of France. A few days after receiving news of his brother”s death Henry secretly fled Cracow and went to France, where he was crowned king of France in February 1575. Eventually, the nobility of the Republic of Poland regarded the king”s escape as an abdication and chose Anna Jagiellon as his successor.

In France, Henry”s reign came at the height of the religious wars that had been going on since the 1660s. He saw the salvation of France in religious toleration and the strengthening of the central government, a faction of the so-called Politiques becoming his support. His intentions and plans, however, were severely limited by the constant feuds between political movements supported by neighboring powers: the Catholic League supported by Spain, the Huguenots supported by England and the Netherlands, and the party of the Malcontents, a movement uniting Catholic and Protestant aristocrats opposed to the king”s absolutist inclinations. The latter party was led by the monarch”s youngest brother, the duc d”Anjou. He died in 1584, the penultimate of Henry II”s male descendants. As Henry III had not yet produced any children, his cousin, the Protestant King Henry III of Navarre, stood a good chance of inheriting the throne. His candidacy reignited the religious wars that grew into the dynastic dispute known as the War of the Three Henrys (Guerre des trois Henri). At its height, Henry was assassinated by Jacques Clément, a Dominican and Catholic fanatic. Contrary to the intentions of his Catholic League principals, Henry III was succeeded by the King of Navarre, who converted to Catholicism, took the name Henry IV, and became the first French ruler of the Bourbon dynasty.

Early years

Henry was born on 19 September 1551 as the sixth child and fourth son of Henry II and Catherine de” Medici. Older than him were the headache-stricken Francis (1543), the frail and nervous Elizabeth (1545), Claudia (1547), Louis (who died after a year and a half), and the rage-ridden Charles Maximilian (1550). Only Henry and his younger brothers Margaret (1553) and Hercules, later called Francis (1555), were healthy, normal children. At his baptism, the future Henry was named Alexander Edward. The name Alexander, which he was to use for confirmation, was popular in his mother”s family. He was named Edward after his godfather King Edward VI of England.

Alexander”s childhood passed between the castles of Fontainebleau, Blois and Amboise, far from his father who traveled extensively in the company of his favorite, Diana of Poitiers. Her mother, deprived of her husband”s love and importance, cared for the children and saw in them an opportunity to satisfy her wounded ambitions. Catherine”s court was composed of the most beautiful women of France, Italy, Scotland, and Flanders. It was known as a squadron of underlings, and Catherine taught her charges how to rule men. The young Valois grew up among them, pampered, watching romances play out before their eyes from an early age. Separation from their father and the rule of their strict mother only exacerbated the effeminacy that characterized the final generation of the Valesians.

Due to poor health as a child, Alexander went very long in light dresses. He was a favorite of his mother, who called him my eyes and little eagle. She admired his health and beauty. She always found time for him to be tender and caressed. Alexander, like his mother, manifested a love of learning. He studied well. His preceptor was the great French humanist Jacques Amyot. Little Alexander read Plutarch and the romance of Perceforest.

External and civil wars

Dreams of great military deeds of the young prince collided with the harsh reality. The French army in another round of war with Spain suffered defeats at Saint-Quentin (1557) and Gravelines (1558) and France was forced in the peace treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559) to give up its ambition to rule Italy. In 1558 Alexander”s eldest brother Francis was married to Mary Stuart. A year later, Claudia was married to the Duke of Lorraine and Elizabeth to Philip II, King of Spain. The young Alexander became Duke of Angoulême and was to be given his own court. However, on June 30, 1559, the king held a grand tournament to celebrate his daughter”s wedding. Hit in a duel with a kick through the eye to the brain by fellow competitor Gabriel Montgomery, he died after ten days. Alexander”s 16-year-old brother Francis II became king of France.

The king”s guardianship was assumed by François Guiseus and his brother Charles Cardinal of Lorraine, his wife”s uncles. Opposition to the Whigs was formed by Louis Condeus and Anthony Bourbon, who gathered around them, demobilized after the peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, multitudes of nobles and soldiers, who, dissatisfied, joined the ranks of the French Protestants, since about this time called Huguenots. The oppositionists attempted to kidnap the king, but were broken up and hanged on the balconies of Amboise Castle. Alexander and his brothers witnessed the execution. On December 6, 1560, Francis II died.

The beginning of the reign of the queen-mother

The 10-year-old Charles was proclaimed king. Alexander hugged his brother during the coronation ceremony, and the king exclaimed that he wanted to share everything with him. The queen-mother proclaimed herself regent, though the right was vested in Antony de Bourbon. In view of the weakness of the Protestant forces, he readily accepted this solution, to which the Whigs, who did not have sufficient rights to the throne, also agreed. The latter prepared an attempt to kidnap Alexander in the following weeks. In October 1561, Jacques de Savoie, Duke of Nemours, tried to persuade the ten-year-old to flee to the castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, at the Lorraine court of his sister Claudia. However, the conversation was overheard by Catherine”s courtiers. The queen-mother thwarted these efforts. Alexander was questioned before the Royal Council. The humiliated boy exerted all his anger against Catholicism. Aided by his royal brother, he ran around the castle dressed as a cardinal, mocked the rituals, laughed at the statues of saints, and burned his sister”s devotion books.

Catherine issued an edict of toleration in January 1562 that allowed private Protestant worship. Francis the Whig responded by executing Protestants in Wassy who were holding a public service against the law. Condeus spoke out against the Whigs. The queen of Fontainebleau called upon him in vain to give her support. The first to appear were the Whigs, who forced her to capitulate. On October 19, at Dreux, the Protestant forces, led by Duke Condeus, suffered defeat, and he himself was taken prisoner. Anthony Bourbon was killed during the siege of Le Havre, and Francis Guise was killed by a stealthy assassin. Freed from the influence of the great lords, Catherine issued an edict ending the First War of Religion in March 1563. The queen became estranged from her Protestant friends, who abandoned her at a critical moment. The Catholics proved stronger and it was impossible to rule without them. Charles and Alexander had to give up playing cardinals, glowing with piety and listening to numerous masses.

After Charles” coronation, Amyot became Grand Almsman, and the further education of Catherine”s sons was supervised by François Carnavelet, manager of the royal riding school. Alexander made rapid progress in fencing and in the game of ball, a prototype of tennis. He read the chivalric romances of Amadis and Perceforest, the stories of Aretin, and the poetry of Ronsard. He memorized Villon”s Testament, read Machiavelli, a chapter of which he was later to read every day before going to bed. Always inclined to disguise, Alexander excelled during these years as an actor in the court theater and a dancer in ballets.

The search for the throne for Alexander

Looking for a good parantha for her son, Catherine entered into discussions about Alexander”s marriage to Doña Juana, sister of Philip II, known as the Queen of Portugal, hoping for the Duchy of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples for her son. To discuss the project in person, the queen set out in early 1564 on a journey toward the Spanish border. At the court of Lorraine, where they stopped, Alexander became godfather to his sister Claudia”s son. In Marseilles, Catherine”s sons, dressed as Turks, watched the galleys. At Montpellier, where they spent Christmas, they saw snow for the first time and beat each other with snowballs. In January the court reached Toulouse, where they were to spend several months. On March 18, 1565, the confirmation of the royal brothers took place. Alexander took the name Henry after his father, and Hercules took the name Francis after his grandfather and brother.

Catherine negotiated with the Spanish court while corresponding on the marriage of Charles to Queen Elizabeth and Henry to Mary Stuart of Scotland. In May the royal court descended on Bayonne. Henry at the head of thirty horsemen rode out to meet his sister, the Queen of Spain, but etiquette did not allow the siblings to greet each other. The talks were ultimately unsuccessful. On their way back to Tours, the court met Ronsard. After the failure of the Spanish plans, Catherine began looking for another country for her favorite son. John Baptist Puccini, secretary, Sigismund Augustus, suggested the possibility of claiming the Polish throne after the death of the childless Polish king. At the same time, there was a proposal of marriage to the daughter of the wealthy Elector Augustus of Saxony.

Governor of the kingdom

Early in 1567, the States General convened at Moulins. There Charles bestowed upon Henry the title of Duke of Andégin, together with extensive estates (the duchies of Bourbonnais and Auvergne, the counties of Beaufort, Forez, Montferrand, and minor baronies) and emoluments, and on Francis the title of Duc d”Alençon. Henry and Francis hated each other intensely, and Henry”s relations with his royal brother also deteriorated over the years. This led to numerous conflicts. Henry now had his own court. It was managed by René Villequier who, knowing his master”s ambitions, surrounded him with a retinue of athletic peers, headed by the several years older assassin Louis Beranger, Monsieur Du Gast. From this group a formation of mignons was to be formed in the future.

In 1566, a confederation formed in the Netherlands against Spanish rule. In order to pacify the sentiment, a massive Spanish army set out north along the French borders. The Huguenot leader, Prince Condeus, alarmed by this development, made a statement to the Royal Council that he would raise an army of 4000 men within a few days, which was a clear encroachment on the powers of the king or his governor. Henri then stood up for the king as his governor, although he was not yet formally his governor. Condeus left Paris at the end of September and tried to attack the castle of Montceaux and take the queen and her sons captive. Forewarned of the attack, Catherine, escorted by Swiss mercenaries, retreated to Paris. The second religious war began. On November 10, 1567 at Saint-Denis the royal army led by Marshal Anne de Montmorency won a victory over the Huguenots. The commander of the royal army was killed on the battlefield. The royalists, however, were divided, with the pro-Montmorency and pro-Spanish Whigs aspiring to the supreme command. Charles appointed his brother, Henry, as commander and governor of the kingdom. Over the next few months, the young commander led an uphill battle against the forces of Condeus and Coligny. In the spring, Condeus ran out of money and the Peace of Longjumeau was signed on March 23, 1568.

The king was not particularly interested in the kingdom. He spent his days hunting. Henry, meanwhile, sat in the King”s Council from early morning, doing administrative work he liked very much. He tried to safely demobilize the enlisted troops and deploy the royal army. He was learning to manage the affairs of the kingdom, which was ruled by his mother.

Jarnac and Moncontour

Catherine, who feared Condeus, ordered Marshal Tavannes to capture the prince. The venture failed and the Protestant leaders began another, third, civil war. Henry set about concentrating the troops, preparing war plans, and supplying the army. In October he set out with his army for the Loire River. The beginning of the war, however, came down to unsuccessful negotiations. At the beginning of March 1569 Henry”s army was between Angoulême and La Rochelle, heading towards Bordeaux threatened by the Huguenots, separated from the enemy by the Charente river. On the night of 12-13 Tavannes misled Coligny”s vigilance and drove the army across a hastily constructed wooden bridge. The battle occurred near the village of Jarnac. At the decisive moment of the battle, when Condeus”s cavalry struck at the Catholic raiders, Henry and his cavalry made a wide arc and flanked Condeus”s troops, smashing them to the ground. The battle turned into a slaughter. Condeus was killed in the battle. Coligny managed to retreat with the rest of his army.

Immediately after the battle, Henry initiated peace negotiations. However, the king and the Whigs, jealous of his brother”s fame, stood in the way of peace. On October 3 another battle took place at Moncontour, north of Poitiers. The Huguenot cavalry, shattered by the Italian cavalry, began to retreat when Coligny pushed Prince Louis of Nassau”s troops into battle. Henry himself led a charge that broke through the enemy”s resistance and, under heavy fire, shattered the main force”s defensive line. The survivors fled the battlefield carrying the wounded commander. Quick action could have led to the defeat of the survivors. However, the king ordered the pursuit to be abandoned and the fortresses to be besieged. The king”s army did not have the means to do so. The months-long siege were inconclusive. During this time Coligny rebuilt his army. Peace negotiations began, which on August 8, 1570 led to the peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Three days later the parliament issued an edict that granted the Huguenots a very significant degree of freedom, sealing their de facto victory in the war.

Romance and politics

Upon Henry”s return to Paris, his mother suggested to him a mistress, Mme Louis de la Béreaudière du Rouet. However, Henry soon realised her role as an informer and dismissed her. His next mistress was the exceptionally beautiful Renata de Rieux, mistress of Châteauneuf. Soon the amorous Henry met Marie de Clèves, a Huguenot, for whom he had a special affection. For both of them he had his court poet write fiery verses, but this did not stop him from hunting ladies, mainly prostitutes, at night. During these escapades there were quarrels between the prince and his men and the king”s men.

In 1571 the queen, wanting to keep all her main opponents under control, managed to draw Coligny and Joan of Navarre, the widow of Anthony de Bourbon and Henry”s mother, to Paris. Coligny succeeded in imposing his authority on the king, jealous of Henry and anxious to free himself from his mother”s domination. Surrounded by young Huguenots, he staged street brawls. He also began to lean toward Coligny”s plans to attack Spain in order to channel internal unrest into external conflict. Coligny”s plans were supported by English diplomacy and the Medici.

In May 1572 Protestant troops captured Mons and Vincennes in the Netherlands, which belonged to Spain. Henry, after the Spanish victory at Lepanto, was against war with Spain and urged rather to join the Anti-Turkish League. He even presented a memorandum to the Royal Council on France”s chances in a war with Spain. In June, the Spaniards recaptured captured cities, and in July, at Quiévrain, they defeated Jean de Hangest, Count of Genlis, with whom they found letters compromising the French king in support of Protestant offensive actions in the Netherlands. The king, pressed on the one hand by the Spanish ambassador and on the other by Coligny, could not make a decision. In this situation the queen-mother regained her influence on the rule over the country. She appeased the Spanish ambassador and Coligny, and used the rest of the money in the treasury to marry Henry de Bourbon to her daughter Margaret.

St. Bartholomew”s Day

News of the death of Sigismund Augustus reached France. Henry, in love with the Duchess de Clèves, did not want to claim the Polish throne. He gave in only under pressure from his brother, and the Bishop Jan de Monluc left France for Poland to seek the Polish crown for the Prince of Anjou. At the beginning of August, the young Duke Condeus married, to Henry”s despair, his beloved Duchess de Clèves. Meanwhile, Henry de Bourbon arrived in Paris at the head of eight hundred Huguenot nobles. On August 18, the ceremonial wedding of Henry and Margaret de Valais took place. The next day Coligny, threatening civil war, was shot by an assassin, Charles de Maurevert. The investigation undertaken at the king”s behest discredited his mother. The city was in an uproar. The Protestants gathered at the wounded admiral”s bedside threatened the Catholics. There was a rumor that François de Montmorency, at the head of a Protestant army of thirty thousand, was marching on Paris.

In this situation, a proposal was made at court to exterminate the Protestant leaders. In view of the number of Protestant forces in the capital the queen called for help of the townsmen and the Whigs. The leader of the bourgeoisie Claudius Marcel and Henry the Whistleblower made preparations, independently of the agreement with the queen, to murder not only the Protestant leaders but all the Protestants in the capital. The wavering king put up unexpected resistance to his mother and opposed the plan, but finally gave way and shut himself up in his chamber. In the morning Henry, so far supporting his mother, convinced her to call off the whole action and pushed a courier with the order to the Whigs. However, it was too late.

On August 24, at three o”clock in the morning the bells of Paris gave the signal to strike against the Protestants. The attackers first attacked the home of Admiral Coligny and the Huguenot nobility gathered around him in the taverns, then set about looting the homes of the bourgeoisie. This allowed a large portion of the nobility to flee Paris. Crowds of armed Parisians also surrounded the Louvre. The queen was forced to expel the Protestants hiding within the walls of the castle, only to be saved by her son-in-law and Duke Condeus, at the price of their conversion to Catholicism. Henry tried to maintain order at the head of eight hundred cavalrymen and a thousand infantry. The soldiers, however, joined in the plunder. He managed to save only Marshal de Cossé. In the morning he returned to the palace and sat down to write letters to the governors and general governors of the provinces, ordering them not to change anything in the existing edict of toleration. Four days later the king changed his orders by ordering a slaughter in the province. The slaughter killed at least three thousand Huguenots in Paris and several dozen in the provinces.

Siege of La Rochelle

After the night of Saint Bartholomew the queen regained full power. Charles IX ceased to rebel, the Whigs became her supporters. With the help of her Italian associates, the queen prepared a new religious edict abolishing the freedom of public worship and restricting it to the houses of the nobility, imposing fines and confiscations on Protestants, and ordering the submission of Huguenot towns to the royal governors. La Rochelle closed its gates. Languedoc towns followed its example. The king”s hatred for Henry reached its peak. To separate the feuding brothers, the queen sent Henry against La Rochelle. In November 1572 the ring around the Huguenot capital closed. Henry organized supplies and new enlistments along the Loire. In February, he arrived at the Roshel fortress and the siege began.

The siege work slowly progressed, although the besiegers inflicted heavy losses on the royal army. The royal fleet managed to blockade the fortress from the sea and disperse the English relief force. As the siege progressed Henry began to push harder for peace. At the walls of La Rochelle he received the news that he had been elected king of Poland, which the royal artillery celebrated with a salute. On June 12 a final assault took place, calculated to tire the besiegers. On June 18 the peace was signed. The king resigned the introduction of garrisons into Protestant towns, but ordered that Catholic worship be allowed in them; Protestant worship could be practiced privately. La Rochelle agreed to accept the royal garrison. The Fourth War of Religion had ended.

The way to the Polish throne

France became interested in the Polish crown for the younger brother of the reigning king as early as 1572. Jean de Balagny went with an envoy to the dying Sigismund Augustus asking for permission to marry Henry to Sigismund”s sister, Anne. Balagny, however, was not allowed at the king”s deathbed and returned to France with nothing. Soon after Sigismund”s death, another French emissary appeared in the Republic, Jean de Monluc, bishop of Valence, de Balagny”s father and a supporter of the Huguenots. He was immediately confronted with the reaction of the Poles to the news of St. Bartholomew”s Night, which reached the Vistula more or less simultaneously with Monluc. The massacre of the Huguenots had such an impact on Polish public opinion that the Bishop”s secretary, Jean Choisnin, reported to Paris: it was almost undignified to mention the names of the King, the Queen and the Duke of Anjou.

Monluc and his supporters therefore launched a propaganda campaign to whitewash Henry”s character. They wrote that the Prince of Anjou wanted to prevent the massacre at all costs, and when it happened he opposed the fury and cruelty of the crowds and even hid the Huguenots. However, he did not convince the Poles, and already after the election the Crown Treasurer, Hieronim Bużeński, told the bishop not to try to convince him that Henry had not taken part in the massacre and that he was not a cruel tyrant, for when ruling in Poland he would have to be afraid of his subjects rather than of them.

The election of a new Polish ruler after the period of interregnum took place in April and May 1573 on the right bank of the Vistula, opposite Warsaw, near the village of Kamien (now Kamionek, part of the Praga-Południe district). The most serious candidates for the crown, besides the French king”s brother, were: the son of Emperor Maximilian II, Archduke Ernest Habsburg, Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible, and John III Vasa, King of Sweden, the husband of Catherine Jagiellon, sister of Zygmunt August. About 50 thousand people came to Warsaw to vote. First there was a presentation of the candidates, which was made by foreign deputies. Then the “articles for the king” began to be written, but already in a narrower group of those elected to the commission. These were to be the powers and obligations of the ruler. After their approval, on April 5, 1573, a vote was held on the contenders for the throne. The French candidate proved to be the winner. A few days after the election, the future monarch”s deputies swore in his name the general provisions adopted before the election – the so-called Henrician articles. The elect”s personal obligations, known as the Pacta conventa, were also accepted. An envoy was also chosen to go to Paris to officially inform the French prince about his election as king of Poland and to take an oath from him confirming the acceptance of the election resolutions (articles and pacts), and to bring him as soon as possible to the Republic.

The envoy sent was grand and dignified. The negotiations with Henry and King Charles IX of France, lasted quite a long time. Resistance was aroused especially by the articles concerning religious freedom and the possibility of disobeying the king. Eventually both rulers recognized and swore to the old and new laws on August 22, 1573. After this, a deputation delivered the document of election to Henry. Henry Walezy was proclaimed king of Poland.

He reached Poland after a two-month journey at the end of January 1574. The royal retinue, consisting of 1200 horses, carts with luggage and carriages with court ladies and women of light manners, drove through Heidelberg, Fulda, Torgau, Frankfurt (on the Oder). In Lusatia he was expected by the Piast Duke Jerzy II Brzeski, who accompanied the king up to the Polish border and the border was crossed in Międzyrzecz, where the monarch was solemnly welcomed by a delegation of the Senate with the Bishop of Kujawy (Wloclawek), voivodes and castellans. Later on, through Poznań and Częstochowa, the monarch was driven towards Kraków, where he was officially welcomed.

All the senators gathered from Poland, Lithuania and all the lands of the Commonwealth brought out of the city their huge flags, which, spread wide and far apart, presented the sight of a great and beautiful army. These flags were costly clad, and distinguished by the beauty of their armament and horses. The posts of the senators consisted not only of their flags, for they were joined by an infinite power of the nobles and officials of the kingdom.

Henry was greeted by senators, bishops, ministers, courtiers and students. On February 21, 1574 in Wawel Cathedral the then archbishop of Gniezno and the primate of Poland, Jakub Uchański, crowned Henry the Valois as the king of Poland. The ceremony was disturbed by a speech of the Grand Marshal of the Crown, Jan Firlej, who demanded that the king swear acts guaranteeing rights to Protestants.

Additional conditions

While arranging the election of Valois, his marriage with Anna Jagiellonka, sister of Sigismund II Augustus, was planned. However, she was almost 30 years older than Henry, so the young king did not hurry with the marriage and arrived in the new kingdom in January 1574. At that time he was having an affair with Marie de Clèves and he did not like the bed of the old Jagiellonian woman. He rode slowly, stopping many times. In Lorraine he began an affair with Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont, who would later become his wife.

His first meeting with Anna was not very encouraging. Henry said a few perfunctory words and left her chambers at once. After three days he was crowned, although there was some wrangling over the oath. Balls and tournaments began, but the king was more and more reluctant to marry his Jagiellonian bride. He pretended to be ill or simply locked himself in his own chambers and did not let anyone in. He also wrote letters to France incessantly – those sent to Marie de Cond he even drew in his own blood. The gossip grew more and more. Not only did he bring French debauchees to his garden near Zwierzyniec, but he also did not give in to Italian vice,” wrote the chronicler.

Anna kept waiting, and Henry continued to delay. In June they finally held a grand ball, which was treated as an official engagement. The next day, however, the king learned of his brother”s death, which caused him to claim the French crown, neglecting his duties as monarch to an extreme degree.

A rough start for the government

From the very beginning, Henry”s rule was accompanied by disputes over the extent of his authority. Henry failed to swear in the cathedral to the articles obliging him (except for the peace of religion). As a result, the coronation assembly dissented without passing a resolution, warning the monarch that he might be removed from the throne. Henry did not believe these threats and began the courts. However, his judgments were considered biased and too lenient. He distributed vacant offices and gave royal property to many dignitaries, but those who disliked him claimed that he had missed an opportunity to replenish the crown treasury.

Reign characteristics

Henry Walezy, upon taking power in Poland, was 23 years old and had little political experience. His rule in Poland was characterized by ignorance of relations, unfavorable choice of advisors (Zborowskis) and little interest in Polish affairs. He was well-educated, courageous and ambitious. He liked splendid clothes decorated with expensive stones, he wore jewelry and used perfumes. He had his ears pierced and wore double pearl earrings with pendants. In Poland, these tastes were widely regarded as a sign of effeminacy. There were many men at Henry”s court who painted their faces and dressed themselves in jewels and perfume. Apparently some of them acted as royal lovers. Henry knew no Polish, so participating in public life bored him immensely. He spent his evenings and nights on amusements, during the day he liked to sleep. He played cards and lost enormous sums, collected from the treasury. The king”s banquets were attended by naked girls. He also did not take his royal duties seriously – for example, he could spend two weeks in bed, feigning illness, to avoid receiving visitors.

Escape to France

Shortly afterwards, in June 1574, Henry received the news of the death (on 30 May) of his brother, King Charles IX. A few days later, on the night of June 18-19, 1574, he secretly left Wawel in disguise, without consulting the Senate, and made haste towards the border. The king was accompanied by his butler Jan du Halde, courtier Gilles de Souvré, physician Marek Miron and captain of the guard Nicolas de Larchant. However, the king”s departure was noticed and immediately followed by a chase led by the castellan of Wojnicz, Jan Tęczyński.

When Henry”s retinue was approaching the border, the starost of Oświęcim noticed it. He threw off his clothes, jumped into the river and, swimming towards the king, shouted: Your Majesty, why are you running away? Just over the border (according to tradition: at the outskirts of Pszczyna) Henry was caught by a pursuit sent from Cracow. Henry refused requests to return to the country and to establish a substitute government before his official departure. He promised to return in a few months. He did not. Bishop Karnkowski sent a delegation headed by Jan Dymitr Solikowski to France, which unsuccessfully persuaded Henry to return in Chambery.

Consequences of the king”s escape

Ministers and senators from Lesser Poland, who were staying in Cracow, informed Greater Poland and Lithuania about the king”s departure. The Primate called a Sejm for the end of August. Almost all senators were initially against the declaration of an interregnum and a new election, while the majority of MPs believed that Henry”s clandestine departure freed the subjects from their obligations towards the monarch and allowed for the election of a new one. As a result of long discussions, on September 15 an envoy (Tomasz Drohojewski) was sent with a letter to the king, setting May 12, 1575 as the deadline for his return to the country. At the same time it was announced that if he failed to meet this deadline Henry would lose his throne. Henry promised the Sejm deputies a speedy return.

Confederations of nobles and hoods were to be active in the country by this time, as during the previous interregnum. Henry the Vale did not fulfill his promise to return, so the throne was declared empty and a new election was announced.

Henry never relinquished his power in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and after his dethronement he considered himself to be its rightful monarch till the end of his life. He used, among others, coats of arms with the Polish Eagle and the Lithuanian Pahonia.

Clash of cultures

The short reign of Henry of Valois at Wawel Castle was a real clash of civilizations between Polish and French realities. The young king and his French entourage were surprised by the drunkenness of his Polish subjects, disappointed by the poverty of the Polish countryside and the harsh climate of the country. The Poles, on the other hand, regarded the French as effeminate, and the rulers resented their foreign clothes and love of jewelry.

On the other hand, Walezy was enchanted by Wawel Castle, a comfortable and spacious castle, three times larger than the Louvre at the time. It was here that he first encountered the conveniences of outhouses and sewage systems. At that time France did not know such solutions – the aristocracy living in French palaces and castles settled their physiological needs wherever they could (often in fireplaces and corridors). According to legend or anecdote, Henry Valey, escaping from Cracow to Paris, also took with him a set of forks, which he supposedly saw for the first time in Poland and which were supposed to be unknown in France. Consequently, some sources attribute the dissemination of the custom of eating with cutlery in France to Valois, although others point out that this custom had already been popularized at the French court by Henry”s mother, Catherine de” Medici.

Henry returned to France during the course of another religious war (1574-1576). On February 13, 1575, Henry was crowned king of France at Reims. Two days later he married Louise of Lorraine, daughter of Nicholas of Lorraine, Duke de Mercœur, and Marguerite, daughter of John III, Count d”Egmont.With no money to continue the war, he had to make extensive concessions to the Huguenots. He condemned the events that had taken place during St. Bartholomew”s Night two years earlier and concluded a peace treaty in 1576 in which the Huguenots were allowed freedom of faith and to participate in provincial parliaments. In fact, many Huguenot towns were then granted independence from royal authority. Outraged by these concessions, the Catholics formed an armed Catholic League with the intention of overthrowing Henry III and continuing the struggle against the Huguenots.

The aforementioned Catholic League was headed by the two Guise brothers, Duke Henry I de Guise and Cardinal Louis de Guise. In 1577, the sixth religious civil war broke out, which lasted three years. The Protestants put up an armed resistance, and their troops were led by Henry Bourbon, King of Navarre, who survived the slaughter during St. Bartholomew”s Night. It ended with the Treaty of Fleix.

Henry”s younger brother Francis Hercules d”Anjou died childless in 1584. Henry III himself was also childless, and he also exhibited feminine traits and liked to dress up as a woman occasionally at balls.

His behavior, but also his clothes, hairstyles, and jewelry (Valois believed that a ruler should emphasize his place in the hierarchy) shocked his contemporaries and to this day the idea of his homosexuality, then called sodomy, has survived. However, this view is only confirmed by publications paid for by the reluctant Whigs during Valois” reign or by messages from diplomats hostile to France. His alleged homosexuality is difficult to defend in view of the known facts of his affairs (love for Marie de Clèves) and the repeated information at court about venereal disease in his youth. Scholars do not rule out Henry”s inclination to both sexes (in other words, bisexuality) and, in mentioning his mother (Catherine de Medici), speak of a Freudian castrating mother.

After the death of the Duke of Anjou, the throne of France, according to Salic law, should go to the closest male relative of Henry III. This was Henry of Navarre, the Huguenot leader, although very distant (21st degree of consanguinity).

The prospect of a Protestant ascending the French throne galvanized the Catholic League, with financial and military support from King Philip II of Spain and moral support from Pope Sixtus V. In 1585 another religious war began, popularly known as the “War of the Three Henrys” (Henry III, Henry of Navarre, and Henry de Guise). Henry of Navarre was very successful militarily and was supported by Queen Elizabeth of England and the Protestant princes of Germany. King Henry III tried to bring about peace.

On May 12, 1588, the always ultra-Catholic Paris rebelled against its king. Henry III fled the city, which was entered by the enthusiastically welcomed Duke de Guise. Henry III moved to Blois, where he convened the States General. The duc de Guise also attended. On December 23, the duke was assassinated as he was going to a meeting of the royal council. On December 24, his brother, Cardinal Louis, was beheaded. This step caused the Catholic part of France to turn away from Henry, who in this situation made a great political volition and entered into an alliance with Henry of Navarre (April 1589). Upon hearing of this, Pope Sixtus V placed a curse on Henry.

Aided by the King of Navarre, Henry III began a siege of unruly Paris. On Wednesday, August 1, 1589, the Dominican Jacques Clément requested an audience with the king. The king was staying at Saint-Cloud at the time, from where he was directing the siege. The monk claimed to have important information, so he was led to Henri, who was just sitting down. The monk knelt before the king and handed him a letter, and when Henry began to read, he stabbed him in the lower abdomen. The king managed to cut the assassin in the forehead, who was stabbed with swords and his body thrown out the window.

The medics called in put the entrails back into the body and gave Henry an enema. It was soon expelled through the wound, which was considered a good sign. Henry”s mood improved, but a few hours later he developed a severe fever and realized that death was imminent. In the presence of witnesses, he appointed Henry of Navarre as his successor. During the night he asked for the last sacraments. The confessor asked him if he forgave his enemies, including those who had sent a murderer against him. I forgive them as well and ask God to forgive them as I would like him to forgive me. He crossed himself twice and died at three o”clock in the morning.

Henry”s embalmed body was temporarily buried at Compiègne in the Abbey of Saint-Cornille, while the urn containing his heart was walled up in front of the main altar of the church at Saint-Cloud. When peace came, Henry was still buried at Compiègne – the new King Henry IV Bourbon did not move him to the Basilica of Saint Denis, as it was predicted that he would be laid to rest in the same basilica a week after Henry III. The transfer of the body of the last Valois on the French throne did not occur until 1610. A few weeks later, Henry IV died at the hands of an assassin who was a religious fanatic.

As king of France, he was Grand Master of the Order of Saint Michael from the day of his coronation on February 20, 1575, but because of the decline in its importance, he created the Order of the Holy Spirit on December 31, 1578, the highest decoration of the kingdom of France, so named to commemorate his election as king of Poland and his assumption of the throne of France, both of which occurred on the days when Pentecost was celebrated.

He was also awarded the English Order of the Garter on February 28, 1585.

Henry is one of the characters in Alexandre Dumas” (his father”s) novel Queen Margot. In the 1994 film adaptation of the book, directed by Patrice Chéreau, the character of Henry is played by Pascal Greggory.

The year 2019 saw the premiere of Jedrzej Napieck”s fiction novel The King Who Fled. The book in a humorous form presents the backstage of the election of Henry of Valois as king of the Republic of Poland. It was published by Krytyka Polityczna publishing house.

Henry”s way to France, after his escape from Poland, led through Italy, as evidenced by a plaque discovered by Henryk Lubomirski in 1832-1833 on the wall of a Venetian patrician”s house, located on the Brenta river, between Padua and Mestre, which reads as follows (in Latin):


  1. Henryk III Walezy
  2. Henry III of France
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