Charles IX (Charles Maximilien; June 27, 1550 – May 30, 1574) was King of France from 1560 until his death in 1574 from tuberculosis. He ascended the throne of France upon the death of his brother Francis II in 1560.
Born Prince Charles Maximilian de Valois, third son of King Henri II of France and Catherine de’ Medici, in the royal chateau of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and styled Duke of Angoulêm from birth, he was created Duke of Orléans after the death of his older brother Louis, his parents’ second son, who had died in infancy on October 24, 1560.
King Henri II died on July 10, 1559, and was succeeded by his eldest son, King François II (who married Mary I, Queen of Scots on April 6, 1558). After François II’s short rule, (François II died December 5, 1560) the ten-year-old Charles Maximilian was immediately proclaimed King Charles IX of France.
When François II died, the Privy Council appointed his mother, Catherine de’ Medici, as governor of France (gouvernante de France), with sweeping powers, at first acting as regent for her young son. On May 15, 1561, Charles IX was consecrated in the cathedral at Reims. Prince Antoine of Bourbon, himself in line to the French throne and husband to Queen Joan III of Navarre, was appointed Lieutenant-General of France.
On November 26, 1570 Charles IX married Archduchess Elisabeth of Austria, the daughter of Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, and Maria of Spain (daughter of Carl V, Holy Roman Emperor and King Carlos I of Spain, and Isabella of Portugal).
With her flawless white skin, long blond hair and perfect physique, Archduchess Elisabeth of Austria was considered one of the great beauties of the era. She was also regarded as demure, pious, and warmhearted but naive and intensely innocent because of her sheltered upbringing
After decades of tension, war broke out between Protestants and Catholics after the massacre of Vassy in 1562. In 1572, after several unsuccessful peace attempts, Charles ordered the marriage of his sister Margaret of Valois to Henri of Navarre (the future King Henri IV of France), a major Protestant nobleman in the line of succession to the French throne, in a last desperate bid to reconcile his people.
Facing popular hostility against this policy of appeasement, Charles allowed the massacre of all Huguenot leaders who gathered in Paris for the royal wedding at the instigation of his mother Catherine de’ Medici. This event, the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, was a significant blow to the Huguenot movement, though religious civil warfare soon began anew. Charles sought to take advantage of the disarray of the Huguenots by ordering the siege of La Rochelle, but was unable to take the Protestant stronghold.
All his decisions were influenced by his mother, a fervent Roman Catholic who initially sought peace between Catholics and Protestants but after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre supported the persecution of Huguenots.
Charles died of tuberculosis in 1574, without legitimate male issue, and was succeeded by his brother as King Henri III.