September 19, 1551 – Henri III, King of France
Catherine D’ Medici (1519 – 1589) was the daughter of Lorenzo II de’ Medici and Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne. She was a Florentine noblewoman who was the Queen of France, by her arranged marriage to King Henri II (1519 – 1559) in 1533, when she was just 14 years old. Henri II was son of King Francis I and Queen Claude of France. Throughout his reign, Henri II excluded Catherine from participating in state affairs and instead showered favors on his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who wielded much influence over him. After Henri II’s death, as the mother of three Kings: Francis II, Charles IX and Henry III, Catherine had considerable influence in the political life of France.
Francis II (1544 – 1560) was only King of France from 1559 to 1560. He was also King consort of Scotland as a result of his marriage, at 14, to Mary, Queen of Scots (who was 16 years old) from 1558 until his death in 1560. He became King of France at 15 years old after the death of his father, Henri II, who was killed in a jousting mishap in 1559. His short reign was dominated by the start of the French Wars of Religion.
In 1560, after only 17 months on the throne, the always sickly Francis II died of some mysterious ailment. Charles IX (1550 – 1574) then became King of France. From 1560 to 1563, Catherine ruled France as regent for Charles IX, when he became King of France.
War broke out between French Protestants and Catholics in 1562. In 1572, Charles ordered the marriage of his sister Margot of Valois to Henri of Navarre (a future King Henri IV of France), a Protestant who was in the line of succession to the French throne. Charles allowed the massacre of Protestant leaders who gathered in Paris for the royal wedding at the instigation of Catherine. This event is known as the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Charles IX was King until his death in 1574 from tuberculosis.
And that is how we get to Henri III, who was all sorts of debonair. His mother, Catherine, called him ”Chers Yeux”, which is deeply disturbing and yet strangely erotic.
Catherine’s three sons reigned in an age of almost constant civil/religious war in France. The problems facing the monarchy were complex and daunting, but Catherine kept the monarchy and the state institutions functioning. She played a major role in the reign of Henry III. He stopped taking her advice only in the last months of her life. He would outlive his mother by seven months.
Henri III was born Alexandre-Édouard de Valois-Angoulèm, but on Grindr he used the screen-name Henryk Walezy. He grew-up in the lovely Château de Fontainebleau, built by his grandfather, King Francis I of France. He was just 23 years old and had only served two years as King Of Poland when he received the big news: his brother Charles had died, giving Henri a much better gig. Who wants to be King of Poland when you can be King of France?
The day after his coronation as King, Henri entered into an arranged marriage to Louise of Lorraine, and it was expected that he would provide an heir. That didn’t happen. Henri was omni-sexual, and he liked to host S/M orgies while dressed in drag. He was obsessed with outrageous jewelry and nutty hats. He had dozens of twink boyfriends, known as ”mignons de cœur” (darling of the hearts) that scandalized the French public. The mignons followed Henri’s forward fashions: carrying small muffs, wearing giant earrings and keeping pet parrots and monkeys. When Henri changed the style of his beard or moustache, the mignons would change theirs. Even the king’s fondness for lapdogs, especially his small spaniels, was copied by his mignons. A real fashionista, Henri changed his outfits, jewelry and perfumes several times a day and so did the twinks, and they went everywhere with him.
Unlike his father and brothers, he wasn’t big on wars or hunting, but he liked parlor games and parties. He adored the intrigues of court life and etiquette; he introduced the use of a fork to the tables of France. But, best of all, he just loved those silly hats.
Louise fell deeply in love with Henri, but the feeling was not reciprocated. Henri treated his wife as a doll, dressing her up, applying her makeup and teaching her how to flirt with men.
Reports of Henri’s dizzying queer activity and effeminate mannerisms were so numerous and blatant that many dismissed them as politically motivated exaggerations. However, seldom in history had the gay activity of a monarch been so public and so shameless. His harem of young male mignons was not confined to the royal palaces; when Henri attended public fairs and carnivals, his fawning favorites accompanied him in full force. Not only did Henri dress in female clothing, he did it in public.
Throughout his life, Henri was controlled by his power-driven mother. She was responsible for setting him up on the throne of Poland. She had been the one to embroil her children in the hideous crimes of the St. Bartholomew Massacre. Catherine was content to watch her son Henri occupy himself with frivolous fashion, which allowed her to control many affairs of state, marked by the religious animosity between Catholics and Protestants. Her son’s inability to produce an heir resulted in a succession crisis.
Poor King Henri III; it all came to an early and embarrassing end. Just before his 38th birthday, he was assassinated by Jacques Clément, a young fanatical Dominican monk who was carrying false papers. Clément was granted access to deliver important documents to the King. He gave Henri a bundle of papers and stated that he had a secret message to deliver. The King signaled for the minions to step back for privacy, and Clément whispered in his ear while plunging a knife into his abdomen. Clément was killed on the spot by the guards, but Henri did not die until the following day. In Paris, he news of Henri III’s death made the crowds delirious; hailed by many as an act of God.
And so, Henri of Navarre (1553 – 1610), a Protestant who had barely escaped being murdered in the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, became the legitimate heir to the French throne because Henri III remained childless. As Henri IV, this Henri is considerd one of the great kings of France, reigning from 1589 to 1610. He was the first monarch of France from the House of Bourbon. Henri IV was assassinated while riding in a carriage through the streets of Paris in 1610 by François Ravaillac, a fanatical Catholic, and was succeeded by his son Louis XIII who was just nine years old when he ascended the throne.
Henry III is buried at the Saint Denis Basilica in the city of Saint-Denis, now a northern suburb of Paris. Completed in 1144, it is one of the first examples of Gothic architecture, and the burial place of the French Kings from the 10th to the 18th centuries. You can visit Henri III there. Be sure to wear a fancy hat.
In the film La Reine Margot (1994) based on the Alexandre Dumas novel, Henri II is played by Pascal Greggory. In Elizabeth (1998), he is portrayed by Frenchman Vincent Cassel. In Dangerous Beauty (1998), Henri III is played by British actor Jake Weber.