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

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

King François I of France

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. To obtain his release, it was agreed that Henri and his older brother, François III, Duke of Brittany, be sent to Spain in his place. They remained in captivity for over four years.

On July 4, 1530 Henri’s father, King François I, married Archduchess Eleanor of Austria, the eldest child of Felipe I of Austria and Joanna of Castile, who would later become co-sovereigns of Castile. Her brother was Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

Diane de Poitiers was born on January 9, 1500, in Château de Saint-Vallier, Drôme, France. Her parents were Jean de Poitiers, Seigneur de Saint Vallier, and Jeanne de Batarnay. Unusually athletic, Diane kept a fit figure by riding and swimming regularly. She became a keen sportswoman, remaining in good physical condition for her time.

Diane de Poitiers

On March 29, 1515, at the age of 15, Diane was married to Louis de Brézé, seigneur d’Anet, who was 39 years her senior. He was a grandson of King Charles VII by his mistress Agnès Sorel and served as a courtier to King François I. They had two daughters, Françoise (1518–1574) and Louise (1521–1577).

Shortly after her marriage, Diane became lady-in-waiting to Queen Claude of France. After the Queen died, she served in the same capacity to Louise of Savoy, the King’s mother.

After the capture of François I by Charles V’s troops during the battle of Pavia (1525), and as previously mentioned, the princes François and Henri were retained as hostages in Spain in exchange for their father. Because the ransom wasn’t paid in time, the two boys (eight and seven at the time) had to spend nearly four years isolated in a bleak castle, facing an uncertain future.

The experience may account for the strong impression that Diane made on Henri as the very embodiment of the ideal gentlewomen: as his mother was already dead, Diane gave him the farewell kiss when he was sent to Spain. At the tournament held for the coronation of Francis’s new wife, Eleanor of Austria, in 1531, Henri and his older brother were dressed as chevaliers, in which Henri wore Diane’s colors. At one point in the tournament François, the Dauphin of France saluted the new Queen as expected, Henri, on the other hand addressed his salute to Diane.

In 1533 Henri married Catherine de’ Medici, daughter of Lorenzo de’ Medici, Duke of Urbino and Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne., The bride and groom were both and at the age of fourteen, and the marriage was arranged by Catherine’s uncle Pope Clement VII.

Catherine de’ Medici

At the time of the marriage Henri’s elder brother was alive and there was little prospect of Henry coming to the throne. The following year, Henri became romantically involved with the thirty-five-year-old widow, Diane de Poitiers. Henri and Diane had always been very close: again as previously mentioned the young lady had fondly embraced Henri 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.

Extremely confident, mature and intelligent, Diane left Catherine powerless to intervene. Dianebdid, however, insist that Henri sleep with Catherine in order to produce heirs to the throne.

When his elder brother François III, the Dauphin and Duke of Brittany, died in 1536 after a game of tennis, Henri became heir apparent to the throne. He succeeded his father when King François I died on Henri’s 28th birthday and was crowned King of France on July 25, 1547 at Reims Cathedral.

Henri II, King of France

Incidentally, also in this date, July 25, 1554 – Queen Mary I of England marries Felipe II of Spain at Winchester Cathedral

Henri 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.

After the abdication of Charles V in 1556, the Habsburg empire was split between Felipe II of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I. The focus of Henri’s conflict with the Habsburgs shifted to Flanders, where Felipe II, 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.

Mary I, Queen of Scots

Henri II raised the young Mary I, Queen of Scots, at his court, hoping to use her ultimately to establish a dynastic claim to Scotland. On April 24, 1558, Henri’s fourteen-year-old son, the Dauphin François, 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. Henri 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. (As it happened, Francis died without issue a year and half after his father, ending the French claim to Scotland.)

Henry II was an avid hunter and a participant in jousts and tournaments. On June 30, 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 Felipe II of Spain.

Elisabeth of Valois

King Felipe II of Spain

During a jousting match, King Henri II, wearing the colors of his mistress Diane de Poitiers, was wounded in the eye by a fragment of the splintered lance of Gabriel Montgomery, captain of the King’s Scottish Guard. Despite the efforts of royal surgeon Ambroise Paré, the king died of sepsis on July 10, 1559. 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.

As Henri II 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 on April 25, 1566.

Henri II Awas succeeded by his sickly fifteen-year-old son, François II. François was married to sixteen-year-old Mary I, Queen of Scots, who had been his childhood friend and fiancée since her arrival at the French court when she was five.

François II died 18 months later in 1560, and Mary returned to Scotland the following summer. François II was succeeded by his ten-year-old brother Charles IX. His mother, Catherine de Medici, acted as Regent.