Who's Who

Henri IV

Henri IV (Henri de Navarre, Henri de Bourbon), 1553-1610, first Bourbon king of France, was the son of Antoine de Bourbon and Jeanne d'Albret. On her death he succeeded to the kingdom of Navarre (1572). He took leadership of the Huguenot (Protestant) party in 1569. His marriage in 1572 with Marguerite de Valois was the occasion for the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day. Henri saved his life by abjuring Protestantism, but in 1576 he escaped from his virtual imprisonment at court and returned to Protestantism. When in 1584 Henri III named him heir presumptive, the Catholic League, headed by Henri 3rd Duc de Guise refused to recognize him and persuaded Henri III to send an army to force his conversion. In the resulting "War of the Three Henries," Henry de Navarre defeated Henri III at Coutras (1587) but came to the king's support in the troubles of 1588, and after Henri III's death (1589) defeated the League forces at Arques (1589) and Ivrey (1590); he was unable to enter Paris until 1594, after he had abjured Protestantism -- allegedly with the remark, "Paris is well worth a Mass." His war with Spain, the ally of the League, ended in 1598 with the Treaty of Vervins. In 1598 he also established religious toleration through the Edict of Nantes. With his minister Sully he spent the rest of his reign restoring order, industry, and trade. His slogan, "A chicken in every peasant's pot every Sunday," has remained famous. In 1600 he married Marie de' Medici, having had his earlier marriage annulled. His gallantry and wit, his concern for the common people, and his exploits with the ladies have become legendary. --Columbia-Viking desk encyclopedia, 1953

Henri III

Henri III, 1551-89, was elected king of Poland in 1573 but returned to France in 1574 to succeed his brother Charles IX. His reign was almost continually disturbed by the Wars of Religion. The death in 1584 of his brother François made him the last male member of the House of Valois. His recognition of Henri de Navarre (later Henri IV) as heir presumptive was opposed by Henri, 3rd Duc de Guise, head of the Catholic League (the "War of the Three Henrys" resulted). Having procured the murder of Guise (1588), the king was faced with a revolt of the League and was expelled from Paris. Henri de Navarre came to his aid, but Henri III was assassinated in the siege by Jacques Clément, a fanatic monk. --Columbia-Viking desk encyclopedia, 1953

Henri III is something of an historical enigma. The beautiful sketches of the royal family by Clouet show a young man with compellingly soulful eyes; later there is a certain haunted quality to them. He was the military hero of Jarnac and Montcontour (notable royal victories over the Huguenots), a keen blade and afficionado of the fence, who occasionally dressed in women's clothing and whose taste for luxury was considered the height of decadence. He kept a retinue of "mignons" -- his fanatically loyal courtiers, pretty boys with sharp swords who picked duels with the retainers of his enemies. He was sincerely, if intermittently, religious, establishing congregations of Penitents in Paris and walking barefoot in their processions, flagellating himself (there is a certain masochistic quality to his outbreaks of piety). In 1577 he gave the Protestants all the rights they would later have in the Edict of Nantes in 1598, although these were annulled over the years under pressure from the Catholic wing. In the end he valued blood ties over religion, and named Henri de Navarre his heir on his deathbed. History remembers him as an indolent "Prince of Sodom", but he was the most intelligent and capable of Catherine's brood. Destined to be the last of the Valois, he nevertheless kept his throne for 15 years in the face of chaos. --c. t. iannuzzo

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House of Guise 

French ducal family, founded as cadet branch of house of Lorraine by Claude de Lorraine, first duc de Guise, 1496-1563, whom François I made duke and peer. His daughter Mary of Guise married James V of Scotland and was mother of Mary Queen of Scots. His sons François de Lorraine, 2nd duc de Guise, 1519-1563, and Charles de Guise, Cardinal de Lorraine, 1525-1574, controlled French politics in the reign of François II, first husband of Mary Queen of Scots. Championing the Catholic cause against the Huguenots, they cruelly suppressed the conspiracy of Amboise (1560). After François' death they opposed the tolerant policy of Catherine de'Medici [queen mother] and provoked the outbreak of the Wars of Religion (1562). François defeated the Huguenots at Dreux, but was assassinated shortly afterward. Charles negotiated for Spanish help and held power at court 1567-1570. Henri de Lorraine (pictured), 3rd duc de Guise , 1550-88, son of François, helped to plan the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day and after 1576 formed the Catholic League. Immensely ambitious and popular [called "the people's king"], he instigated the revolt of Paris against King Henri III (1588) and took control of the city. After an ostensible conciliation, the king had him murdered. His brother, Louis de Lorraine, Cardinal de Guise 1555-58, was killed at the same time. Leadership of the League devolved upon their brother, Charles, duc de Mayenne, who fought against Henri IV until 1596. -Columbia-Viking desk encyclopedia, 1953

Catherine de' Medici

Catherine de'Medici, 1519-1589. The wife of King Henri II, daughter of the Florentine ducal family, and niece of Pope Leo X, three of Catherine's four sons came successively to the throne of France after the premature death of their father in a tournament accident (François II, Charles IX, Henri III). Her eldest daughter, Elizabeth, married Phillip II of Spain, her daughter Claude married the Duke of Lorraine (it was at the celebration of this marriage that the fateful accident occurred), and her youngest daughter Marguerite married Henri de Navarre (Henri IV). Catherine has been largely reviled by history. As a foreign women wielding the power behind the throne of France during one of the worst times in its history, it probably could not be otherwise. She has been largely blamed as the mastermind of Admiral Coligny's murder and the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (surely Jehan du Lac believes it), but her role is hard to know for absolutely certain. She did bring many aspects of Italian culture to France, including the Commedia dell'Arte, ballet, fine cooking and table manners, and Italian bankers. Her political maneuvering, while not winning her any great popularity, kept the throne of France intact for 30 years, long enough for the Bourbons to inherit it. Her life-long rival, Henri IV, paid her this tribute after his victory was complete and his throne secure: "What could the poor woman do with five little children on her arms, after the death of her husband, and two families in France, ours and the Guises, attempting to encroach on the Crown? Was she not forced to play strange parts to deceive the one and the other and yet, as she did, to protect her children, who reigned in succession by the wisdom of a woman so able? I wonder that she did not do worse!" --c. t. iannuzzo

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Gabrielle d'Estrees

Gabrielle d'Estrees, 1573-1599. King Henri IV's current mistress. Henri met her in November 1590, in Picardie. He became quite infatuated with her. Although he was never a one-woman man, she held the ascendency until her death in 1599. She came from a family that had provided manipulative mistresses to the royalty of France for a hundred years. Gabrielle gave Henri three children, two of them sons.  The eldest, César, was named Duc de Vendôme, one of Henri's ancestral properties.  Henri and his wife, Queen Margot, have lived apart for many years now and there have never been any legitimate heirs. This poses a potential problem for the future stability of France, and Henri has already approached Margot about having their marriage annulled (which she refuses to grant as long as Gabrielle is in the picture). Rumors are beginning to fly that Henri would like to marry Gabrielle and legitimize her children, thereby providing instant heirs. Most of the nobility probably don't think this is a good idea. --c. t. iannuzzo

This picture of Two Women Bathing is reputed to be Gabrielle (on the right) and one of her sisters.

Philip II

Philip II (b. May 21, 1527, d. Sept. 13, 1598), is king of Spain and rules a vast domain that includes Spain, its possessions in America and Italy, the Low Countries, and Portugal. Philip rules his vast lands from Madrid (and the great monastery-palace that he has constructed at the Escorial) with hard work, attention to detail and a suspicious eye. At almost 70 years old, he is still a formidable figure.

Revolt broke out in the Low Countries in 1566, and Philip--who is a devout Roman Catholic --became embroiled in a struggle that lasted until 1648. English and French efforts on behalf of the Dutch rebels led Philip to attempt an invasion of England in 1588. The disastrous results were the now infamous Rout of the Spanish Armada by Drake. Since then he has engaged in a series of costly and inconclusive adventures in France. The expense of these efforts and of the struggle with the Turks was more than even the enormous resources of his empire could bear, precipitating the economic decline that left Spain prostrate in the next century. Although his forces defeated the Turks at Lepanto in 1571 and recently have been regaining the southern part of the Netherlands, Philip's life has been one of near-constant war.

Philip's private life was a difficult as his public one. Maria of Portugal, his first wife, died in1545 after only 2 years of marriage. Her son was Don Carlos, who was so dangerous and violent that Phillip was forced to imprison him. From 1554-1558 he was married to Mary I of England, in an unhappy marriage that produce no children. In 1568, when Don Carlos and Philip's third wife, Elizabeth of Valois (sister of Henri III, with whom he had two daughters, the eldest of which he proposed as heir to the crown of France after the death of Henri III), died within a few months of each other, Philip was accused of murdering both of them. Philip married Anne of Austria in 1570; they have had four sons, three of whom died in childhood.

Phillip is a staunch supporter of the Catholic church, and has put down two internal rebellions in the past twenty years (the Moriscos in1570 and the Aragonese in 1591). He is generally seen as a stern but just ruler by the Spanish. --a. newman

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Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I, 1533-1603, queen of England 1558-1603. Daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, she was declared illegitimate after her mother's execution. Parliament reestablished her in succession in 1544. Imprisoned as rallying point for discontented Protestants, she regained freedom by outward conformity to Catholicism. On her succession England's low fortunes included religious strife, a huge government debt, and failure in wars with France. Her reign took England through one of its greatest periods. It produced such men as Shakespeare, Spenser, Francis Bacon, and Walter Raleigh. It saw the country united to become a first-rate European power with a great navy. It saw commerce and industry propser and colonization begin. Her Tudor concept of strong rule and need for popular support helped her select excellent counsellors. She reestablished Anglicanism and measures against Catholics grew harsher. Important measures enacted included stablization of labor conditions, currency reforms, poor laws, and acts to encourage agriculture, commerce, and manufacturing. Elizabeth began a policy of peace and her series of diplomatic maneuvers eventually defeated Spain and stalemated France. Treaty of Edinburgh (1560) started policy of supporting Protestant lords against Catholics. After abdication of Mary Queen of Scots from Scottish throne, Elizabeth gave her refuge, kept her prisoner, and executed her only after plots to seat Mary on English throne [there are other points of view on this subject.] By marriage negotiations with Francis, duke of Alençon and Anjou, she secured (1572) defence alliance against Spain and, later, French aid for the Dutch against Spain, who now emerged as England's main enemy. Philip II of Spain, whose offer of marriage Elizabeth had refused in 1559, planned Spanish Armada expedition as reprisal against English raids on Spanish shipping. Defeat of Armada broke power of Sain. Vain, fickle in bestowing favors, prejudiced, vacillating, and parsimonious, she was also highly aware of responsibility of rule and immensely courageous. --Columbia-Viking desk encyclopedia, 1953

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