|Henry as a child|
Henry learned from an early age that being a prince was serious business, that this was a high stakes game and that you always had to be on guard for any threat and reaching for any opportunity. He also learned that it was important to always have a backup in case things did not work out. He never wanted to be a prisoner again. Later on, in case he needed any further coaching in political intrigue, he was married to Catherine de’ Medici on October 28, 1533 at the age of fourteen. This was, of course, an arranged marriage on the part of King Francis I and Pope Clement VII, the pontiff being from the Medici family, the Italian clan which ruled the city-state of Florence, Tuscany. Catherine’s own parents had been brought together in a similar alliance by King Francis I of France and the Medici Pope Leo X in opposition to Emperor Maximilian I. Previously, King James V of Scotland had hoped to marry Catherine but ties to France were seen as more valuable than the more remote land of Scotland and so her hand went to Henry, Duke of Orleans.
|Henry and Catherine, brought together by Clement|
Catherine would go on to no small amount of notoriety herself but she and Henry lived mostly separate lives with the Duke of Orleans taking as his mistress Diane de Poitiers, with whom he had a very long and very close relationship to the point that she seemed to be his wife in all but name. Diane, not Catherine, would be the dominant woman in France, at least as long as Henry lived but, as she was mistress and not wife, she was enough of a French patriot to insist that Henry still do his marital duty and maintain conjugal relations with his wife in order to secure the succession. That was certainly important as, in 1536, the Dauphin suddenly died and Henry, Duke of Orleans moved up in the ranks to be heir to the French throne. Just over ten years later King Francis I died and on July 25, 1547 the Duke of Orleans was crowned King Henry II of France according to ancient and sacred French royal tradition, at the Cathedral in Reims. He was 28-years old, his father passing away on his birthday.
|King Henri II|
The major goals of King Henry II were too secure his power and defend the Church at home and supplant Emperor Charles V as the dominant monarch of western Europe. Swift suppression of dissent and dissident opinion at home took care of the first while the second required a number of plans. King Henry II planned to make use of the rivalries in Italy to thwart the Emperor there, remove the German/Spanish domination of Italy and replace it with French dominance while going for a more direct offensive on his own. At the same time, he also had more long-term plans to gain a pro-French Great Britain through dynastic alliance and perhaps a little subterfuge. For a man who began his reign with a recently defeated country, literally surrounded on all sides by hostile powers, this was certainly an ambitious program indeed but, King Henry II could never be accused of lacking in audacity.
|King Henri II curing by his touch|
For King Henry II, the first pot that came to boil on his political stove was the renewal of the Italian Wars. After the defeat of the Pope and the imperial subjugation of Italy, the Medici family in Florence had allied with the Habsburgs and were to be rewarded with a monarchical title to all of Tuscany. However, there remained one city-state in Tuscany that was outside their control which was the Republic of Siena. When Florence moved to conquer Siena, the city-state called on France for help and King Henry II answered, sending a small French force to back up a largely Italian one commanded by Pietro Strozzi, an accomplished soldier whose family, the Strozzi, were long-standing rivals of the Medici. King Henry II also launched a direct offensive against the Germans and their allies west of the Rhine. To do this, King Henry II allied with some minor Protestant powers and also maintained the existing alliance with the Ottoman Turks whose naval forces cooperated in attacking imperial ports on the Mediterranean.
This requires a bit of explanation as modern readers tend to raise an eyebrow at a staunch Catholic like King Henry II of France being allies with Protestants and Muslims against a Catholic emperor. Of course, it would be nice if such conflicts never happened, however, it was all too common and King Henry II was certainly not unusual in this regard. The Anglican King Henry VIII of England hired Catholic Italian mercenaries to subdue a Catholic uprising in Cornwall. Emperor Charles V, certainly a staunch Catholic, made concessions to win Protestant support for his wars. Even when he made war on the Pope, the German army he sent in to Italy consisted in large part of Protestants. Likewise, at the end of their long reign, the last Habsburg monarch, Blessed Emperor Charles I of Austria-Hungary, would fight his last war as an ally of the Ottoman Turks, sending troops to help maintain the Islamic empire in the Middle East. Even the Pope himself, when France later became the dominant power in Europe, made common cause with Protestant powers against the Catholic King of France. For purists, this is irritating but, again, it was certainly not unusual nor unique to Henry II.
|Henry II decorates a hero at Renty|
King Henry II carried on the fight, hoping to secure a victory that would enable him to negate the loss in Italy, however, King Philip II of Spain allied with Duke Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy, an accomplished soldier, who led the Spanish army to a great victory over the French at the Battle of Saint Quentin on August 10, 1557. England then decided to join in the fun, King Philip II of Spain being married to Queen Mary I of England, however the French still had some fight left in them and aside from some minor victories in Belgium, struck an extremely painful blow against the English by taking Calais, the last English foothold on French soil. However, King Henry II realized that the war had not been the great success he hoped and he had no choice but to agree to a compromise peace. He would keep Calais, Metz, Toul, Verdun and Saluzzo but would give Piedmont back to the Savoy, give some French princesses to be married to the Habsburg and Savoy families and give up on trying to dominate Italy.
|King Henri II|
One could occupy a great deal of time trying to imagine how different the course of history would have been if the intrigues of King Henry II of France had come to fruition. As we know, they did not. While at a joust celebrating the peace with Spain, as King Henry II loved jousting, the French monarch was struck in the head by the lance of a member of the King’s Scottish Guard. A splinter pierced his brain and King Henry II of France died the following month on July 30, 1559. He was succeeded by his ill young son, King Francis II, husband of Mary of Scots, but he was not destined to live long either. A still younger son, King Charles IX, would take the throne but Queen Catherine de’ Medici would be the one in charge and the Wars of Religion soon followed, a horrible period in French history. It was certainly not the future that King Henry II had envisioned for his country.
|King Henri II|