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Henri III (19 September 1551 – 2 August 1589; Alexandre Édouard de Valois of France) was King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1573 to 1575 and King of France from 1574 until his death in 1589. He was the last French monarch of the House of Valois.


Henry was born at the royal Château de Fontainebleau, the fourth son of King Henry II and Catherine de’ Medici and grandson of Francis I of France and Claude of France. His older brothers were Francis II of France, Charles IX of France, and Louis of Valois. He was made Duke of Angoulême and Duke of Orléans in 1560, then Duke of Anjou in 1566.

As the fourth son of King Henri II of France, he was not expected to inherit the French throne and thus was a good candidate for the vacant throne of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, where he was elected King/Grand Duke in 1573. During his brief rule, he signed the Henrician Articles into law, recognizing the Polish nobility’s right to freely elect their monarch. Aged 22, Henri abandoned Poland-Lithuania upon inheriting the French throne when his brother, Charles IX, died without issue.

France was at the time plagued by the Wars of Religion, and Henry’s authority was undermined by violent political parties funded by foreign powers: the Catholic League (supported by Spain), the Protestant Huguenots (supported by England and the Dutch) and the Malcontents, led by Henry’s own brother, the Duke of Alençon, which was a party of Catholic and Protestant aristocrats who jointly opposed the absolutist ambitions of the king. Henri III was himself a politique, arguing that a strong and religiously tolerant monarchy would save France from collapse.


Henri III was crowned at Reims on February 13, 1575 and the very next day he married Louise of Lorraine and I will have more to say on that tomorrow.

After the death of Henri’s younger brother Francis, Duke of Anjou, and when it became apparent that Henri would not produce an heir, the Wars of Religion developed into a succession crisis, the War of the Three Henrys. Henri III’s legitimate heir was his distant cousin Henri de Bourbon, King of Navarre, a Protestant. The Catholic League, led by Henri I, Duke of Guise, sought to exclude Protestants from the succession and championed the Catholic Charles, Cardinal of Bourbon, as Henri III’s heir.

In 1589, Jacques Clément, a Catholic fanatic, murdered Henri III. He was succeeded by the King of Navarre who, as Henri IV, assumed the throne of France after converting to Catholicism, as the first French king of the House of Bourbon.