Front Matter France Long Ago The Gauls In France The Priests of the Gauls Sailor Stories Conquests of the Gauls Two Great Battles Caesar in Gaul Gaul under the Romans First Christian Martyrs Patron Saint of France Franks Come to Gaul The First Kings Conquests of Clovis Clotaire and His Relatives Two Rival Queens Good King Dagobert The Saracens Checked End of the Merovingians Charlemagne's Wars Charlemagne's Manners Charlemagne, Emperor Feudalism Troublesome Sons The Strassburg Oath Normans Besiege Paris Last of the Carolingians The Year One Thousand Robert's Two Wives Wealth of the Clergy The First Crusade A Love Story The Second Crusade More Crusades The Battle of Bouvines Blanche of Castile The Sixth Crusade The Reign of Louis IX Effect of the Crusades The Battle of the Spurs End of Knights Templar The Hundred Years' War The Siege of Calais The Battle of Poitiers Seven Years of Misery The Brave du Guesclin Achievements of Charles V Charles VI Misrule in France The Disgraceful Treaty Joan to the Rescue Orleans and Rheims Joan's Martyrdom Charles's Successes The Crafty King Louis XI Louis XI's Reign Achievements of Louis XI Charles VIII The Second Italian War Death of Louis XII Francis I Rivalry of Kings Achievements of Francis I End of Francis's Reign Reign of Henry II A Young King and Queen Catherine's Regency The Forced Wedding Massacre of the Huguenots Death of Charles IX An Effeminate King he Battle of Coutras The Murder of the Guises Winning a Crown Conversion of Henry IV Henry IV's Second Marriage Death of Henry IV The Minority of Louis XIII Rule of the Favorites Richelieu and Louis XIII End of Louis XIII's Reign Beginning of a Great Reign Wars of the Fronde Death of Mazarin Versailles The Iron Mask Louis XIV's Campaigns Madame de Maintenon Later Wars of Louis XIV The Spanish Succession The Age of Louis XIV

Story of Old France - Helene Guerber

An Effeminate King

As Catherine de' Medici was regent all through King Charles IX's minority and even after he had come of age, he can never be said to have really reigned. It is therefore not surprising that the queen mother continued to hold the reins of government in the name of her third son, Henry III, to whom a messenger had been dispatched in hot haste.

Henry of Anjou, King of Poland, and now King of France also, had greatly distinguished himself in his early youth by winning the battle of Jarnac; but he had not kept the promise which he then gave for bravery and energy. He was now a weak and worthless youth, devoted solely to pleasure, and thinking of nothing but the gratification of low tastes. He was so fond of dress that many of those who saw him declared he looked either like "an effeminate king or a masculine queen," and he devoted far more time to his garb and personal adornment than to any affairs of state.

Fearing lest the Poles might try to prevent him from leaving their country, or at least might detain him a long time in making suitable arrangements for their government during his absence, he escaped from this kingdom like a criminal, riding fast until he had passed the frontier, and excusing himself to the one official who tried to stop him, by stating that he was most anxious to see once more a lady whom he loved. This lover-like anxiety, however, did not prevent him from lingering several months at Vienna and Venice, to enjoy the festivities offered to him there, so it was three months after Charles IX's death before Henry again set foot in France.

Henry III's first declaration was that all his subjects must live as Roman Catholics or quit the realm. He made this announcement with great firmness, but he was of such a weak and vacillating nature that very soon after he changed his policy, and began, instead, to favor the Protestants. The fact was that he found the whole country in a dreadful state, and did not know which party to favor. There were now not only Catholic and Protestant factions, but also one of Moderates, led by the Duke of Alencon,—the king's last brother,—whose ambition was to establish liberty of conscience everywhere, and who tried to secure Queen Elizabeth's aid by becoming a suitor for her hand.

Instead of making serious attempts to bring order out of this chaotic condition, the new king devoted all his time and money, first to a grand coronation festival, and then to his wedding with a cousin of the Guises. The new queen was unfortunately not strong-minded enough to influence him for good, and her days were spent like his, in devising new costumes, in painting her face, and in giving elaborate entertainments to the king's favorites. These young men, who were popularly known as his "darlings", copied all the fashions set by the king and queen, and affected the utmost extravagance and languor, in connection with a fierce courage, which spurred them on to challenge anyone on the most trifling excuse, until dueling became the reigning passion at court.

Henry III and his pets


The king and queen were extravagantly fond of pets; so one and all of these "darlings" pretended great fondness for them also. One of them actually received a title as reward for inventing a large flat basket which could be suspended around the king's neck by a broad blue ribbon, and which would contain, at one time, several of the toy dogs from which this monarch could not bear to be parted.

We are also told that the huge neck-ruffs, which had been in fashion during the previous reigns, were discarded by Henry III mainly because he was afraid lest his younger brother, whose privilege it was to fasten this adornment, should use a poisoned pin, thus getting rid of him so as to assume his place on the throne. But this king's love of dress had one good result, for it made him introduce uniforms among his troops, so that soldiers thereafter went into battle all arrayed alike, and the army thus assumed a more seemly appearance.

Both Henry of Navarre and Conde were forced to renounce their faith after the massacre of St. Bartholomew; but Conde effected his escape after a while, rejoined the Huguenots, and sought help in Germany, where he managed to raise a large army. On invading France, the German Protestant forces were bravely met by the Duke of Guise, who, in that encounter, received the wound in his cheek to which he owes his historic nickname of "the Scarred". But Conde's army made its way to join the Huguenots in southern France; and Henry of Navarre fled from court and escaped thither also. Soon after, a new peace was signed, giving the Huguenots greater rights than before.

It was mainly because the king seemed so indifferent and the Protestants were so aggressive, that the Catholics, under the leadership of the Duke of Guise, formed what is known as the Holy League. Its open object was to uphold the Church, but it also secretly aimed to place Henry of Guise on the throne instead of the king, whose inefficiency had by this time thoroughly alienated the people's affections. It is true that Guise was not next of kin, but he boldly based his claim to the throne on a supposed descent from Charlemagne, and fancied he could gain his purpose by getting the good will of the Catholics, who after all composed nine tenths of the population. These ambitious designs of the Guise family upon the crown were at first kept secret, but Henry III saw what influence the duke was gaining by siding so openly with the Catholic party, and determined to figure as leader of the League himself. He therefore boldly declared himself its head, although the Duke of Guise continued to direct all the movements of this powerful party.