The young king.
From the hands of a monarch in the prime of life, the sceptre had passed
into those of a stripling of sixteen, who was unfortunately endowed
neither with his grandfather's intellect nor with his father's vigor of
body; but who inherited the enfeebled mental and physical constitution
which was, perhaps, the result of the excesses of both. Although married
to the beautiful Queen of Scots, some time before his father's reign
came to its tragic conclusion, Francis the Second exhibited few of the
instincts of a man and of a king, and showed himself to be even more of
a minor in intelligence than in years. Content to leave the cares of
government to his favorites, he sought only for repose and pleasure. Yet
in this, as has been the case in more than one other instance, the most
turbulent lot fell to him who would gladly have chosen quiet and sloth.
Fall of the constable's power.
With Henry's last breath, the supremacy of Constable Montmorency in the
councils of state came to an end. In view of the minority of the
successor to the throne, two measures were dictated by the customs of
the realm--the appointment of the nearest prince of royal blood as
regent, and the immediate convocation of the States General to confirm
the selection, and to assign to the regent a competent council of
state.2 Unfortunately for the interests of France during the
succeeding half-century, there were powerful personages interested in
opposing this most natural and just arrangement, and there were specious
excuses behind which their ambitious designs might shelter themselves.
The Cardinal of Lorraine and the Duke of Guise, with the queen mother,
maintained that Francis was in all respects competent to rule; that he
had already passed the age at which previous kings had assumed the reins
of government; that the laws had prescribed the time from which the
majority of subjects, not of the monarch,
1 "O que si ce bon roy eusse vescu," says Montluc, "ou si
ceste paix ne se fust faite, qu'il eust bien rembarré les Luthériens en
Allemagne." Mémoires, Petitot ed., ii. 483.
2 Davila, Civil Wars of France, p. 6. Hist. du tumulte
d'Amboise, Recueil des choses mémorables, in initio; Mém. de Condé, i. 320.
should be reckoned;1 that, if too young himself to bear the entire burden
of the administration, he could delegate his authority to those of his own kin
in whom he reposed implicit confidence. There was, therefore, no
necessity for establishing a regency, still less for assembling the
States General--an impolitic step even in the most quiet times, but
fraught with special peril when grave dissensions threaten the kingdom.
Catharine de' Medici assumes an important part.
With the advent of her eldest son to the throne, Catharine de' Medici
first assumed a prominent position, although not an all-controlling
influence at court. During the reign of Francis the First she had
enjoyed little consideration. Her marriage with Henry, in 1533, had
given, as we have seen, little satisfaction to the people, who believed
that her kinsman, Pope Clement the Seventh, had deceived the king; and
Francis himself, disappointed in his ambitious designs by the pontiff's
speedy death, looked upon her with little favor. For several years she
had borne no children, and Henry was urged to put her away on the ground
of barrenness. Nor was she more happy when her prayers had been
answered, and a family of four sons and three daughters blessed her
marriage. Her husband's infatuation respecting Diana of Poitiers
embittered her life when dauphiness, and compelled her as queen to
tolerate the presence of the king's mistress, and pay her an insincere
respect. Excluded from all participation in the control of affairs, she
fawned upon power where her ambitious nature would have sought to rule.
Concealing her chagrin beneath an exterior of contentment, she exhibited, if we
may believe the Venetian Soranzo, such benignity of disposition, especially to
her own countrymen, that it would be impossible to convey an idea of the love
entertained for her both by the court and by the entire kingdom.2
1 Yet Catharine herself, in a letter written in 1563 to her
son Charles IX., just after he had declared himself to be of age, admits
the full truth of her opponents' assertion, that Francis II. was a
minor!--"que l'on cognoisse les désordres qui out esté jusques icy par
la minorité du Roy vostre frère, qui empeschoit que l'on ne pouvoit
faire ce que l'on désiroit." Avis donnez par Catherine de Médicis à
Charles IX., pour la police de sa cour, etc., printed in Cimber et
Danjou, Archives curieuses, v. 245-254.
2 "Di natura benignissima, e cerca di gratificare ciascuno, e massime gl' Italiani quanto
più gli è possibile, ed è tanto amato, non solamente da tutta la corte, ma da tutto il regno
che è cosa incredibile." Rel. del clar^mo Giovanni Soranzo, 1558, Relaz. Ven., ii. 429, 430.
Her timidity and dissimulation. She dismisses Diana of Poitiers.
Hypocrisy is the vice of timid natures. Such, we have the authority of a
contemporary, and one who knew her well, for stating the nature of
Catharine was.1 In her, however, dissimulation was a well-known
family trait, which she possessed in common with her kinsman, Pope Leo
the Tenth, and all her house.2 And it must be admitted that the
idiosyncrasy had had a fair chance to develop during the five-and-twenty
years she had spent in France, threatened with repudiation, contemned as
an Italian upstart, suffering the gravest insult at the hands of her
husband, but forced to dissemble, and to hide the pain his neglect gave
her from the eyes of the curious world. Nor was her position altogether
an easy one even now. It is true that her womanly revenge was gratified
by the instant dismissal of the Duchess of Valentinois, who, if she
retained the greater part of her ill-gotten wealth, owed it to the joint
influence of Lorraine and Guise, whose younger brother, the Duke of
Aumale, had married Diana's daughter.3 But her ambitious plan, while
securing the authority of her children, to rule herself, was likely to
be frustrated by the pretensions of the two families of Montmoreney and
Guise, raised by the late monarch to inordinate power in the state, and
by the claim to the regency which Antoine of Bourbon-Vendôme, King of
Navarre, might justly assert. To establish herself in opposition to all
these, her sagacity taught her was impossible. To prevail by allying
herself to the most powerful and those from whom she could extort the
best terms seemed to be the most politic course. Her choice was quickly
made. It was unfortunate for France that her prudence partook more of
the character of low
1 "La Royne mère, ambitieuse et craintive." Mém. De Tavannes, ii. 256.
2 Relaz. di Giovanni Michiel (1561), Tommaseo, i. 426.
3 La Planche, 204, 205: "The Duchesse of Valentinoys and
Duches of Buillon are commaunded, that neither they nor any of theirs
shall resort to the courte.... The yong Frenche Quene hath sent to the
Duches of Valentinoys, to make accompt of the French King's cabenet and
of all his jewels." Throkmorton to Queen, July 13, 1559, Forbes, State
Papers, i. 158, 159.
cunning than of true wisdom, and that, in seeking a temporary
ascendancy, she neglected the true interests of her own children
and of the kingdom they inherited.
Her alliance with the Guises.
In order to prevent the convocation of the States and the appointment of
the King of Navarre as regent, but one course appeared to be open to
Catharine: she must throw herself into the arms of the Guises. Only thus
could she become free from the odious dictation of the constable, under
which she had groaned during her husband's reign. The Guises had had a
narrow escape, it was said; for Henry the Second, having tardily
discovered the insatiable ambition of the Lorraine family, had
definitely made up his mind to banish them from court.1 Now availing
themselves of the great influence of their niece, Mary Stuart, over her
royal husband, the duke and the cardinal prepared, by a bold stroke, to
become masters of the administration, and made to Catharine such liberal
offers of power that she readily acquiesced in their plans.
Of their formidable rivals, the King of Navarre was at a distance, in
the south. The constable alone was dangerously near. But an immemorial
custom furnished a convenient excuse for setting him aside. The body of
the deceased monarch must lie in state for the forty days previous to
its interment, under protection of a guard of honor selected from among
his most trusty servants. Upon Montmorency, as grand master of the
palace, devolved the chief care of his late Majesty's
1 Regnier de la Planche, p. 203: "Lequel (Henry) ... avoit
entièrement résolu, après avoir achevé ces mariages, et renvoyé les
estrangers, de les déchasser arrière de soy, comme une peste de son
royaume." So Hist. ecclés., liv. iii. I can scarcely agree with De Thou
(ii., 681, liv. xxiii.) in supposing Catharine deceived in the character
of the Guises: "Comme elle ne connoissoit pas encore le caractère de ces
Princes, elle crut qu'ils se soumettroient en tout à ses volontés," etc.
This statement does injustice to the perspicacity of Catharine, who for
so many years had been quietly, but none the less carefully, studying
these courtiers and all others that figured on the stage of French
politics. La Planche, with his usual acumen, makes much of the advantage
which this circumstance conferred upon her (ubi supra): "La royne
mère, italienne, florentine, et de la race des Medicis, et qui plus est,
ayant depuis vingt-deux ans [rather, for twenty-five years] eu tout
loisir de considérer les humeurs et façons de toutes ces gens, regardoit
ce jeu, et sceut si bien empoigner l'occasion, qu'elle gaigna finalement
remains.1 Delighted to have their principal rival so well occupied, the
cardinal and the duke hastened from the Tournelles to secure the person
of the living monarch.
The Guises make themselves masters of the king.
When the delegates of the parliaments of France came, a few days later,
to congratulate Francis on his accession, and inquired to whom they
should henceforth address themselves, the programme was already fully
arranged. The king had been well drilled in his little speech. He had,
he said, committed the direction of the state to the hands of his two
uncles, and desired the same obedience to be shown to them as to
The court fool's sensible remark.
The Cardinal of Lorraine was intrusted with the civil administration and
the finances. His brother became head of the department of war, without
the title, but with the full powers, of constable.3 Of royalty
little was left Francis but the empty name.4 There was sober truth
lurking beneath the saucy remark of Brisquet, the court fool, who told
Francis that in the time of his Majesty's father he used to put up at
the "Crescent," but at present he lodged at the "Three Kings!"5
1 For a full and not uninteresting account of the obsequies, see the pamphlet already referred to:
"Le Trespas et l'Ordre des obseques," etc. Paris, 1559. Reprinted in Cimber et Danjou, iii. 307, etc.
2 Regnier de la Planche, Hist. de l'estat de France sous François II., 206. "The French King," wrote Throkmorton to his royal mistress, "alredy hathe geven him (the constable) to understande, that the Cardinal of Lorrain and the Duke of Guise shal manage his hole
affairs." Throkmorton to the Queen, July 18, 1559, Forbes, State Papers, i. 166.
3 "Ut re vera sit conestabilis." Beza to Bullinger, Sept. 12, 1559, apud Baum, ii. App. 1. The
title of constable was for life. Of the tenure of the office, the memoirs of Vieilleville make
Henry II. say: "Vous sçavez que les estats de connestable, mareschaux et chancelliers de France
sont totalement collez et cousus à la teste de ceulx qui en sont honnorez, que l'on ne peut arracher l'un sans l'autre." Mém., i. 207.
4 Huguenot and papist agreed in this, if they could agree in nothing else. "Guisiani fratres,"
said Beza, "ita inter se regnum sunt partiti ut regi nihil præter inane nomen sit relictum."
Beza, ubi supra. Cardinal Santa Croce used almost the same expression: "Eo devenerat ut regi
solum nomen reliquisse, alia omnia sibi sumsisse videretur." Commentarii, v. 1440.
5 The poor fellow's wit was recompensed with a public
flogging. The incident is told in the recently published Journal d'un
curé ligueur (Jehan de la Fosse), 37. It need scarcely be said that the
Crescent referred to Diana of Poitiers.
Montmorency retires to his own estates,
Montmorency did, indeed, attempt resistance to the assumption of
absolute authority which the Guises thus appropriated rather than
received from the young monarch. But he was equally unsuccessful in
influencing Francis and the queen mother. The former, when the constable
waited upon him in the Louvre, according to one story, scarcely deigned
to look at him;1 but, according to a more trustworthy account,
received him with a show of cordiality, and assured him that he would
maintain his sons and his nephews, the Châtillons, in the dignities they
had attained under previous kings; at the same time, however, adding
that, in compassion for the constable's age and long services, he had
determined to relieve him of his onerous charges, and to give him full
liberty to retire to his estates and obtain needful rest and diversion!
Montmorency was too much of a courtier to be taken unawares, and
promptly replied that he had come expressly to beg as a favor what the
king so graciously offered him.2 Catharine, to whom he next paid his
respects, was less friendly, and, indeed, told him bluntly that, if she
were to do her duty, he would lose his head for his insolence to her and
her children.3 Meantime Montmorency had fared no better in his
negotiations with Antoine of Bourbon-Vendôme. The latter had not
forgotten the little account made in the treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis of
his wife's claim upon Spanish Navarre, and was indisposed to form a
close alliance with the chief negotiator. He preferred, he said, to
stand aloof from a movement intended only to ruin "his cousins of
1 "Nam cum ... regem de more salutatum venisset ... Lotharingii suasu ne respicere
hominem voluit." Santa Croce, Comment., v. 1439.
2 La Planche, 206.
3 In a remark which he was accused of once making to Henry
II., "that he was surprised that the king had no child resembling him,
save his illegitimate, but acknowledged daughter, Diana, married to the
constable's son!" La Planche, 204, 207; De Thou, ii. 685.
4 Blaise de Montluc, a trusty agent, kept Guise well posted
respecting the King of Navarre's words and disposition. "Encores que M.
le Connestable luy ayt escript plusieurs lettres, néantmoins il m'a
toujours dict qu'il ne se fieroit jamais de luy, ayant bien cogneu que
ce semblant d'amitié qu'il luy portoit n'estoit que pour l'attirer de
son costé, affin de ruiner ses cousins," etc. Instruction donnée par le
seign. de Montluc à M. de la Tour, 22 juillet, 1559, Mém. de Condé, i.
307; Mém. de Guise, 450.
where he maintains almost regal magnificence.
The prudent old warrior, long since accustomed to the most startling
vicissitudes, determined to bid adieu for a time to the royal court, and
to retire to Chantilly, one of his paternal estates, where, in close
proximity to the capital, he was accustomed to maintain an almost regal
magnificence.1 So powerful a nobleman, the representative of a
family which, from its antiquity and neighboring greatness, was held in
special esteem by the Parisians, among the wealthiest of whom it boasted
of having two thousand persons its tenants,2 could not safely be
attacked. Accordingly, Montmorency, after having faithfully performed
his duty as grand master, and deposited the remains of Henry in the
abbey church of St. Denis, returned home with so numerous and powerful a
retinue, that the king's appeared but small in comparison.3
Decided measures of the new favorites.
The power thus boldly seized by the cardinal and duke was energetically
wielded. The partisans of the constable were at once removed from all
offices of trust, and devoted adherents of the house of Lorraine were
substituted. It was not difficult, if we may believe the historian of
this reign, to bring the parliaments into similar subjection. The system
of venality introduced by Cardinal Duprat had so corrupted the highest
courts of justice that they had lost all traces of their former noble
independence. The sons of usurers sat in places which had been occupied
by the most distinguished jurisconsults of the kingdom, and so debased
1 The wealth and power of the Montmorency family were
proverbial; their palaces were among the most magnificent in France. Of
one of them the English ambassadors wrote, four years earlier, a long
description for the benefit of Queen Mary, beginning: "We saw another
house which the said constable had but lately built, called Écouen,
which was praised for the fairest house in France." The Journey of the
Queen's Ambassadors to Rome, Anno 1555 (Hardwick, State Papers, i. 63).
2 See the Livre des marchands, Paris, 1565, ascribed to
Louis Regnier de la Planche, the reputed author of the most authentic
history of this reign (Ed. Panthéon litt., 429, 453, et passim).
3 De la Planche, 207.
of law that, in the eye of a contemporary, parliament had become a den of
robbers.1 Marshal de St. André made proposals, which were accepted, to form an offensive and defensive alliance with the Guises, promising to give his only
daughter in marriage to a member of that family, and to settle upon her the
immense property which he had accumulated during the last reign by extortion
and confiscations, retaining for himself only the life interest.2 In
order to rid the court of the princes of the blood, Condé was sent on a
mission to Flanders, to confirm the peace, and the Prince of
La-Roche-sur-Yon and the Cardinal of Bourbon were deputed to accompany
Princess Elizabeth, Philip's bride, to the Spanish frontier.3
Antoine of Bourbon, King of Navarre. His remissness and pusillanimity.
His desire to be indemnified for Navarre.
Meanwhile the eyes not only of the reformers, who had no more inveterate
enemies than the Guises, but also of the friends of order, whatever
their creed might be, were anxiously directed to Antoine, King of
Navarre. His younger brother, Condé, his cousin, La Roche-sur-Yon, and
other great nobles came to meet him at Vendôme, and set forth the
disastrous consequences not only to them, but to their children and to
the entire kingdom, that would certainly follow the base surrender of
the government into the hands of foreigners.4 Earnestly was he
reminded of his undeniable claim to the regency, and entreated to
dispossess the usurpers. Nor did the weak prince openly disregard the
prayers of the ministers and people, who begged him to view his
deliverance from so many perils as intended not merely to advance his
own personal interests, but to secure the welfare of those whose tenets
he had at heart espoused. But, where vigorous and instantaneous action
was requisite, he exhibited only supineness and delay. His manly body
contained a womanish soul.5 His intimate counsellors
1 De la Planche, p. 208.
2 Ibid., p. 205, 206; De Thou, ii. 683, whose account, as
in so many other instances during this reign, is almost exclusively
based upon the invaluable history of Regnier de la Planche.
3 La Planche, p. 208; Tumulte d'Amboise, ubi supra;
Languet, Epist. secretæ, ii. p. 2.
4 La Planche, p. 212; La Place, 26; De Thou, ii. 684.
5 "Rex Navarrorum animum in corpore virili gerit
muliebrem." J. C. Portanus, Oct. 30, 1559, Languet, Epist. secretæ, ii. 4.
were already in the secret pay of the Guises, and, in return for the large rewards
promised,1 disclosed every movement and plan of their master, while
they gave him such advice as was calculated to render all his
undertakings abortive.2 When, after long hesitation, he at length
left for St. Germain, he advanced slowly and by short stages,
intimidated by the example of the treason of the Constable of Bourbon,
in the reign of Francis the First, of the consequences of which the
agents of his enemies did not fail frequently to remind him, and
apprehensive of the intentions of Philip upon his small principality of
Béarn.3 It is true that at Poitiers, where he was waited upon by a
large deputation of ministers from Paris, Orleans, Tours, and other
principal cities, and urged, by renouncing the mass and openly espousing
the cause of God, to fulfil the expectations of the persecuted faithful,
he returned a favorable reply, and declared that, if he still conformed
to an idolatry which he abhorred, it was in order not to lose the only
means of being serviceable to them. The sturdy men, who admitted no
compromises in matters of conscience, and had for years been exposing
their bodies to the peril of the flames or gibbet, manfully replied
that, if he would find God propitious, he must not endeavor to make his
own terms with Him; and that his own experience of divine protection
ought to prevent him from temporizing.4 To Henry Killigrew, who came
to meet him at Vendôme with a friendly message from Queen Elizabeth, he
spoke with more definiteness and volunteered the expression of the most
pious intentions. He declared "that he thought that God had hitherto preserved
her Majesty from so many dangers for the setting forth of His word; and,
1 The Bishop of Mende was to become a member of the privy
council; D'Escars to be made a knight of the order of St. Michael, and
to command fifty men-at-arms. La Planche, 213.
2 The Guises did not fail, however, to take precautions
against a surprise. If Throkmorton was well informed, the duke had
"caused two thousand corselets to be laid up in the house of Burbone
(Bourbon), nere to the court, to serve in case of innovacion; if that
any such matter shuld happen upon the arrivall of the King of Navarre."
Desp. of Aug. 8, 1559, Forbes, State Papers, i. 194.
3 La Planche, ubi supra.
4 Idem, 213, 214.
he trusted, had done the like by him, in having preserved him
from many perils; and how desirous he was to set forth religion as
much as was in him; which he wished might be for the quiet, and setting
forth of God's glory through Christendom (which he minded for his part)
and to the discouragement of such as should stand in contrary."1 But the hopes
which Antoine thus held forth were delusive. The trusty agent of the Guises had
already notified them that, so far as he could learn, Navarre's principal desire
was to be cordially received by the king and his council, in order that the Spanish
visitors at Paris might carry home to their master so favorable a report that Philip,
convinced that Antoine was no insignificant personage in France,2 might
condescend to indemnify him for the wrong he had done him!3