Henry II of France

Henry II (French: Henri II; 31 March 1519 – 10 July 1559) was King of France from 31 March 1547 until his death in 1559. The second son of Francis I, he became Dauphin of France upon the death of his elder brother Francis III, Duke of Brittany, in 1536.

Henry II
Portrait by François Clouet
King of France
Reign31 March 1547 – 10 July 1559
Coronation25 July 1547
PredecessorFrancis I
SuccessorFrancis II
Born31 March 1519
Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Died10 July 1559 (aged 40)
Hôtel des Tournelles
Burial13 August 1559
among others...
FatherFrancis I, King of France
MotherClaude, Duchess of Brittany
ReligionRoman Catholicism

As a child, Henry and his elder brother spent over four years in captivity in Spain as hostages in exchange for their father. Henry pursued his father's policies in matters of art, war, and religion. He persevered in the Italian Wars against the House of Habsburg and tried to suppress the Protestant Reformation, even as the Huguenot numbers were increasing drastically in France during his reign.

The Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559), which put an end to the Italian Wars, had mixed results: France renounced its claims to territories in Italy, but gained certain other territories, including the Pale of Calais and the Three Bishoprics. In addition, even if the Habsburgs maintained a position of primacy, France managed to change the European balance of power by forcing Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor to abdicate during the Eighth Italian War and divide the Habsburg Empire between Spain and Austria.

Henry suffered an untimely death in a jousting tournament held to celebrate the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis. The king's surgeon, Ambroise Paré, was unable to cure the infected wound inflicted by Gabriel de Montgomery, the captain of his Scottish Guard. He was succeeded in turn by three of his sons, whose ineffective reigns helped to spark the French Wars of Religion between Protestants and Catholics.

Early years

Henry was born in the royal Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, the son of King Francis I and Claude, Duchess of Brittany (daughter of Louis XII of France and Anne, Duchess of Brittany, and a second cousin of her husband).

His father was captured at the Battle of Pavia in 1525 by the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and held prisoner in Spain.[1] To obtain his release, it was agreed that Henry and his older brother be sent to Spain in his place.[2] They remained in captivity for over four years.[3]

Henry married Catherine de' Medici, a member of the ruling family of Florence, on 28 October 1533, when they were both fourteen years old. At this time, his elder brother was alive and there was little prospect of Henry coming to the throne. The following year, he became romantically involved with a thirty-five-year-old widow, Diane de Poitiers. Henry and Diane had always been very close: the young lady had fondly embraced Henry on the day he, as a 7-year-old child, set off to captivity in Spain, and the bond had been renewed after his return to France.[4] In a tournament to honor his father's new bride, Eleanor, Henry and his older brother were dressed as chevaliers, in which Henry wore Diane's colors.[4]

Extremely confident, mature and intelligent, Diane left Catherine powerless to intervene.[5] She did, however, insist that Henry sleep with Catherine in order to produce heirs to the throne.[5]

When his elder brother Francis, the Dauphin and Duke of Brittany, died in 1536 after a game of tennis, Henry became heir apparent to the throne. He succeeded his father on his 28th birthday and was crowned King of France on 25 July 1547 at Reims Cathedral.[6]


Attitude towards Protestants

Henry's reign was marked by wars with Austria and the persecution of Protestants, mainly Calvinists known as Huguenots. Henry II severely punished them, particularly the ministers, for example by burning at the stake or cutting off their tongues for uttering heresies.

Henry II was made a Knight of the Garter, April 1515.[7]

The Edict of Châteaubriant (27 June 1551) called upon the civil and ecclesiastical courts to detect and punish all heretics and placed severe restrictions on Huguenots, including the loss of one-third of their property to informers, and confiscations. The Edict also strictly regulated publications by prohibiting the sale, importation or printing of any unapproved book. It was during the reign of Henry II that Huguenot attempts at establishing a colony in Brazil were made, with the short-lived formation of France Antarctique.[8]

Italian War of 1551–1559

The Eighth Italian War of 1551–1559, sometimes known as the Habsburg–Valois War, began when Henry declared war against Holy Roman Emperor Charles V with the intent of recapturing Italy and ensuring French, rather than Habsburg, domination of European affairs. Persecution of Protestants at home did not prevent Henry II from becoming allied with German Protestant princes at the Treaty of Chambord in 1552. Simultaneously, the continuation of his father's Franco-Ottoman alliance allowed Henry II to push for French conquests towards the Rhine while a Franco-Ottoman fleet defended southern France.[9] An early offensive into Lorraine was successful. Henry captured the three episcopal cities of Metz, Toul, and Verdun, and secured them by defeating the Habsburg army at the Battle of Renty in 1554.[10] However the attempted French invasion of Tuscany in 1553 was defeated at the Battle of Marciano.

After the abdication of Charles V in 1556, the Habsburg empire was split between Philip II of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I. The focus of Henry's conflict with the Habsburgs shifted to Flanders, where Phillip, in conjunction with Duke Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy, defeated the French at the Battle of St. Quentin (1557). England's entry into the war later that year led to the French capture of Calais, and French armies plundered Spanish possessions in the Low Countries. Henry was nonetheless forced to accept the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, in which he renounced any further claims to territories in Italy.[11]

The Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis was signed between Henry and Elizabeth I of England on 2 April[12] and between Henry and Philip II of Spain on 3 April 1559 at Le Cateau-Cambrésis. Under its terms, France restored Piedmont and Savoy to Duke Emmanuel Philibert, but retained Saluzzo, Calais, and the bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun. Spain retained Franche-Comté. Emmanuel Philibert married Henry's sister Margaret of France, Duchess of Berry, and Philip II of Spain married Henry's daughter Elizabeth of Valois.[13]

Henry raised the young Mary, Queen of Scots, at his court, hoping to use her ultimately to establish a dynastic claim to Scotland. On 24 April 1558, Henry's fourteen-year-old son, the Dauphin Francis, married Mary. Had there been a son of this union, he would have been King of France and King of Scotland, and also a claimant to the throne of England. Henry had Mary sign secret documents, illegal in Scottish law, that would ensure Valois rule in Scotland even if Mary died without leaving a child by Francis.[14] (As it happened, Francis died without issue a year and half after his father, ending the French claim to Scotland.) Mary's claim to the English throne quickly became an issue when Mary I of England died later in 1558, as she became heir presumptive to the new queen Elizabeth.

Patent innovation

Henry II introduced the concept of publishing the description of an invention in the form of a patent. The idea was to require an inventor to disclose his invention in exchange for monopoly rights to the patent. The description is called a patent "specification". The first patent specification was submitted by the inventor Abel Foullon for "Usaige & Description de l'holmetre" (a type of rangefinder). Publication was delayed until after the patent expired in 1561.[15]


Henry II was an avid hunter and a participant in jousts and tournaments. On 30 June 1559, a tournament was held near Place des Vosges to celebrate the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis with his longtime enemies, the Habsburgs of Austria, and to celebrate the marriage of his daughter Elisabeth of Valois to King Philip II of Spain. During a jousting match, King Henry, wearing the colors of his mistress Diane de Poitiers,[16] was wounded in the eye by a fragment of the splintered lance of Gabriel Montgomery, captain of the King's Scottish Guard.[17] Despite the efforts of royal surgeon Ambroise Paré, the king died of sepsis on 10 July 1559.[18] He was buried in a cadaver tomb in Saint Denis Basilica. Henry's death played a significant role in the decline of jousting as a sport, particularly in France.[19]

As Henry lay dying, Queen Catherine limited access to his bedside and denied his mistress Diane de Poitiers permission to see him, even though he repeatedly asked for her. Following his death, Catherine sent Diane into exile, where she lived in comfort on her own properties until her death.[16]

It was the practice to enclose the heart of the king in an urn. The Monument to the Heart of Henry II is in the collection of the Louvre, but was originally in the Chapel of Orleans beneath a pyramid. The original bronze urn holding the king's heart was destroyed during the French Revolution and a replica was made in the 19th century. The marble sculpture of the Three Graces holding the urn, executed from a single piece of marble by Germain Pilon, the sculptor to Catherine de' Medici, survives.[20]

Henry was succeeded by his sickly fifteen-year-old son, Francis II. Francis was married to sixteen-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots, who had been his childhood friend and fiancée since her arrival at the French court when she was five. Francis II died 18 months later in 1560, and Mary returned to Scotland the following summer. Francis II was succeeded by his ten-year-old brother Charles IX. His mother, Catherine de Medici, acted as Regent.


Catherine de' Medici bore 10 of Henry's children:[21] (See Children of Henry II of France and Catherine de' Medici)

Francis II, born 19 January 1544, who married Mary, Queen of Scots
Elizabeth of France, born 2 April 1545, who married Philip II, King of Spain
Claude, born 12 November 1547, who married Charles III, Duke of Lorraine
Louis, Duke of Orléans, born 3 February 1549, died 24 October 1550
Charles IX, born 27 June 1550
Henry III, born 19 September 1551, also briefly King of Poland
Margaret, born 14 May 1553, who married Henry III, King of Navarre
Hercules, born 18 March 1555, later known as Francis, Duke of Alençon and Anjou.
Victoria, born 24 June 1556, died 17 August 1556
Joan, stillborn 24 June 1556

Henry II also had three illegitimate children:

Diane, duchesse d'Angoulême (1538–1619). At the age of fourteen, the younger Diane married Orazio Farnese, Duke of Castro,[23] who died in battle in 1553. Her second marriage was to François, Duke of Montmorency.[24]
Henri d'Angoulême (1551 – June 1586).[26] He was legitimized and became governor of Provence.
Henri de Saint-Rémy (1557–1621).[27] He was given the title of Count of Saint-Rémy. One of his last descendants was Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, Countess de la Motte, famous for her role in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace at the court of Louis XVI.


Nostradamus (1503–1566), a French apothecary and astrological writer known for his prophecies, is said by most commentators to have become famous when one of his quatrains was construed as a prediction of the death of King Henry II:

CI, Q 35 The young lion shall overcome the older one,
on the field of combat in single battle,
He shall pierce his eyes in a golden cage,
Two forces one, then he shall die a cruel death.

But, in fact, the link was first proposed in print only in 1614,[28] fifty-five years after the event and forty-eight after Nostradamus' death; thus it qualifies as a postdiction, or vaticinium ex eventu. The Italian astrologer Luca Gaurico, a contemporary of Nostradamus, also later claimed to have foretold Henry II's death, though in fact he had predicted "a most happy and green old age" for the king.[29]


Henri or Henry has had three notable portrayals on the screen.

He was played by a young Roger Moore in the 1956 film Diane, opposite Lana Turner in the title role and Marisa Pavan as Catherine de Medici.[30]

In the 1998 film Ever After, the Prince Charming figure who is portrayed by Dougray Scott, shares his name with the historical monarch.[31]

In the 2013 CW series Reign he is played by Alan van Sprang.[32]



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Henry II of France
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty
Born: 31 March 1519 Died: 10 July 1559
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Francis I
King of France
31 March 1547 – 10 July 1559
Succeeded by
Francis II
French nobility
Title last held by
Louis II
Duke of Orléans
Succeeded by
Charles II
Preceded by
Francis III
Duke of Brittany
10 August 1536 – 31 March 1547
Merged in crown
French royalty
Preceded by
Dauphin of France
10 August 1536 – 31 March 1547
Succeeded by
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