1902 Encyclopedia > Henry II, King of France

Henry II, King of France
(1519-1559)




HENRY II. (1519-1559), king of France, the second son of Francis I. and Claude, succeeded to the throne in 1547. When only seven years old he was sent by his father, with his brother the dauphin Francis, as a hostage to Spain in 1526, whence they returned after the con-clusion of the peace of Cambray in 1529. Henry was too young to have carried away any abiding impressions, yet throughout his life his character, dress, and bearing were far more Spanish than French. In 1533 his father married him to Catherine de' Medici, from which match, as he said, Francis hoped to gain great advantage, even though it might be somewhat of a misalliance. He did not then think that the dauphin would die so soon, and Catherine thereby become queen of France. Italian manners and politics entered with her into France, and long affected the history and fortunes of the country. Henry gathered round him a court which contrasted strongly with that of his father. Francis, with all his grave faults and selfishness, had fostered learning, had treated his people kindly, and had rarely checked even the Reformers. But Henry, under the influence of Diana of Poitiers, headed the strict Catholic movement ; the escape of the learned from Paris to Geneva at his accession showed that not merely Huguenot doctrines but Renais-sance studies were in peril. His court underwent an immediate change : the old officers were dismissed, and men whom Francis had disliked or banished returned. Immorality did not take flight, for Diana of Poitiers and Catherine de' Medici were at court, but it ceased to be gay and bright ; men must be grave and severe, even in their vices. At first Diana of Poitiers and the grim old soldier Anne of Montmorency swayed the king ; later, the two brothers Francis, duke of Guise, and Charles, cardinal of Lorraine, rose to power, with the marshal St André ; everything was done and given through one or other of these men. Catherine de' Medici was as' yet completely in the background.

The final union of Brittany with France marks the opening year of the reign. In 1548 Henry won a great diplomatic triumph over the ministers of Edward VI. of England, by getting possession of Mary queen of Scots, then only six years old ; he had her educated in France, and eventually married to his son the dauphin Francis. In 1549 he appeared in Paris for the first time, and marked his presence by a great burning of Calvinists ; and soon after he claimed back Boulogne, which had been promised to Francis I. by Henry VIII. After a success-ful campaign, he made the English Government, then extremely weak, cede Boulogne, and Henry entered the place in May 1550.

Hitherto he had not come into collision with Charles V. ; the time was now approaching when he would enter into contest with him, and permanently advance the borders of his kingdom, while he inflicted a great blow on the emperor. Though early in his reign he had dealt with the German Protestants, and with the Otto-man power, he had taken no active steps ; now the league of German princes, headed by Maurice of Saxony, offered an opportunity not to be missed ; Henry made a com-pact with the Swiss and Turks, and concluded a secret treaty (September 3, 1550) with the German princes; in 1552, by the league of Chambord. he undertook to seize the three bishoprics,—Metz, Verdun, and Toul. And so while Maurice drove the emperor from Innsbruck, Henry sent Montmorency into Lorraine. The bishoprics were won almost without a blow, and Henry was acknow-ledged as " avenger of Germanic liberty " ; an attempt on Strasburg failed. After the siege of Metz by Charles V. in the winter of 1552-53, this district, French-speak-ing, though feudally under the empire, remained in French hands,—Metz till 1870, Toul and Verdun to this day.





In 1556 Henry, supporting the anti-Spanish policy of the " Theatine " pope, Paul IV., again made war with Spain. Francis of Guise was sent early in 1557 into Italy to oppose the duke of Alva. Anne of Montmorency went to the northern frontier ; Gaspard of Coligny, who com-manded in Picardy, was ordered to begin hostilities. These led to the disastrous battle of St Quentin, in which the French were utterly defeated (August 10, 1557) ; it was followed by the fall of the town, at that time the chief bulwark of France to the north. Francis of Guise, recalled in haste from Italy, redressed the balance at the expense of England by the capture of Calais (January 1558), and the triumph of the house of Guise seemed com-plete when Mary Stewart was married to the dauphin in the same year ; their niece, with her claims on the Scottish and English crowns, would now ascend the throne of France. The defeat of the French at Gravelines, the desire of Montmorency to escape from captivity, the wish of the High Catholics to have leisure to extirpate heresy, the sympathy of Philip with that aim, the accession of Elizabeth of England—all these things made peace neces-sary, and the treaty of Cateau Cambresis (April 1559) closed the war. As a sequel to the peace high feast was held at Paris to celebrate the marriage of Henry's two daughters ; in a tournament he received his death-wound from the captain of his Scottish guards, Montgomery. So ended Henry IL, in his forty-first year. Handsome, brave, and cold, he left little mark on his age ; he is all but forgotten in the stormy days which followed. By Catherine de' Medici he had ten children, three of whom succeeded to the throne,—Francis II., Charles IX., and Henry III. The legislation of his reign was slight ; he reduced the number of secretaries of state to four, and arranged their functions afresh ; he issued an edict in behalf of a better coinage, reserved to himself the exclusive sale of salt, and permitted the foundation of the university of Rheims. In 1555 we find the first French Reformed churches established at Paris ; these were quickly followed by others. The reign saw the close of the struggle between the crowns of Spain and France.

See Mémoires de Monthtc ; Mémoires de Tavannes ; Mémoires de Vieilleville ; Mémoires de Villars ; Art de vérifier les dates, série ii., tom vi. ; Brantôme, Vies des Hommes illustres, and Dames illustres Francoises ; Commentaires de François de Sabutin ; Thuanus (De Thou), Hist. sui temp. Libri CXXV. (G. W. K.)







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