Henry II (French: Henri II; 31 March 1519 – 10 July 1559) was a monarch of the House of Valois who ruled as King of France from 31 March 1547 until his death in 1559. The second son of Francis I, he became Dauphin of France upon the death of his elder brother Francis III, Duke of Brittany, in 1536.

As a child, Henry and his elder brother spent over four years in captivity in Spain as hostages in exchange for their father. Henry pursued his father's policies in matter of arts, wars 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. France failed to change the balance of power in Europe, as Spain remained the sole dominant power, but it did benefit from the division of the holdings of its ruler, Charles V, and from the weakening of the Holy Roman Empire, which Charles also ruled.

Henry suffered an untimely death in a jousting tournament held to celebrate the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis at the conclusion of the Eighth Italian War. The king's surgeon, Ambroise Paré, was unable to cure the infected wound inflicted by Gabriel de Montgomery, the captain of his Scottish Guard. He was succeeded in turn by three of his sons, whose ineffective reigns helped to spark the French Wars of Religion between Protestants and Catholics.

Early years

Henry as a child

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

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.[1] To obtain his release, it was agreed that Henry and his older brother be sent to Spain in his place.[2] They remained in captivity for over four years.[3]

Henry married Catherine de' Medici, a member of the ruling family of Florence, on 28 October 1533, when they were both fourteen years old. At this time, his elder brother was alive and there was little prospect of Henry coming to the throne. The following year, he became romantically involved with a thirty-five-year-old widow, Diane de Poitiers. Henry and Diane had always been very close: the young lady had fondly embraced Henry on the day he, as a 6-year-old child, set off to captivity in Spain, and the bond had been renewed after his return to France. The bond should perhaps be understood as one of care and nurturing on her part, and trust and belonging on his; a dynamic which may have been absent in the royal household. The relationship was also perhaps platonic, and Diane's influence over Henry may have been the greater and more steady due to this.

Whatever the reality of the physical aspects of their relationship, Henry's regard for Diane was advertised when, during a jousting tournament, he insisted that his lance carry her ribbon instead of his wife's. Diane became Henry's most trusted confidante and perhaps his mistress, and for the next twenty-five years, she wielded considerable influence behind the scenes, even signing royal documents. Extremely confident, mature and intelligent, she left Catherine powerless to intervene.[4] She did, however, insist that Henry sleep with Catherine in order to produce heirs to the throne.[4]

When his elder brother Francis, the Dauphin and Duke of Brittany, died in 1536 after a game of tennis, Henry became heir apparent to the throne. He succeeded his father on his 28th birthday and was crowned King of France on 25 July 1547 at Reims Cathedral.[5]


Attitude towards Protestants

Henry's reign was marked by wars with Austria and the persecution of Protestants, mainly Calvinists known as Huguenots. Henry II severely punished them, particularly the ministers, for example by burning at the stake or cutting off their tongues for uttering heresies. Even those only suspected of being Huguenots could be imprisoned.[citation needed]

The Edict of Châteaubriant (27 June 1551) called upon the civil and ecclesiastical courts to detect and punish all heretics and placed severe restrictions on Huguenots, including the loss of one-third of their property to informers, and confiscations. It also strictly regulated publications by prohibiting the sale, importation or printing of any unapproved book. It was during the reign of Henry II that Huguenot attempts at establishing a colony in Brazil were made, with the short-lived formation of France Antarctique.[6]

Italian War of 1551–59

Entrance of Henri II in Metz in 1552, after the signature of the Treaty of Chambord

The Eighth Italian War of 1551–1559, sometimes known as the Habsburg–Valois War, began when Henry declared war against Holy Roman Emperor Charles V with the intent of recapturing Italy and ensuring French, rather than Habsburg, domination of European affairs. Persecution of Protestants at home did not prevent Henry II from becoming allied with German Protestant princes at the Treaty of Chambord in 1552. Simultaneously, the continuation of his father's Franco-Ottoman alliance allowed Henry II to push for French conquests towards the Rhine while a Franco-Ottoman fleet defended southern France.[7] An early offensive into Lorraine was successful. Henry captured the three episcopal cities of Metz, Toul, and Verdun, and secured them by defeating the Habsburg army at the Battle of Renty in 1554.[8] However the attempted French invasion of Tuscany in 1553 was defeated at the Battle of Marciano.

Engraving of Henry II

After the abdication of Charles V in 1556, the Habsburg empire was split between Philip II of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I. The focus of Henry's conflict with the Habsburgs shifted to Flanders, where Phillip, in conjunction with 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.[9]

The Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis was signed between Henry and Elizabeth I of England on 2 April[10] and between Henry and Philip II of Spain on 3 April 1559 at Le Cateau-Cambrésis. Under its terms, France restored Piedmont and Savoy to the Duke of Savoy, but retained Saluzzo, Calais, and the bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun. Spain retained Franche-Comté. Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy, married Margaret of France, Duchess of Berry, the sister of Henry II, and Philip II of Spain married Henry's daughter Elizabeth of Valois.[11]

Henry raised the young Mary, Queen of Scots, at his court, hoping to use her ultimately to establish a dynastic claim to Scotland. On 24 April 1558, Henry's fourteen-year-old son Francis was married to Mary in a union intended to give the future king of France not only the throne of Scotland, but also a claim to the throne of England. Henry had Mary sign secret documents, illegal in Scottish law, that would ensure Valois rule in Scotland even if she died without an heir.[12] Mary's claim to the English throne quickly became an issue when Mary I of England died later in 1558.

Patent innovation

Henry II

Henry II introduced the concept of publishing the description of an invention in the form of a patent. The idea was to require an inventor to disclose his invention in exchange for monopoly rights to the patent. The description is called a patent “specification”. The first patent specification was submitted by the inventor Abel Foullon for "Usaige & Description de l'holmetre" (a type of rangefinder). Publication was delayed until after the patent expired in 1561.[13]


The fatal tournament between Henry II and Montgomery (Lord of "Lorges")

Henry II was an avid hunter and a participant in jousts and tournaments. On 30 June 1559, at the Place des Vosges at the Hôtel des Tournelles, during a match 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 Philip II of Spain, King Henry was wounded in the eye by a fragment of the splintered lance of Gabriel Montgomery, captain of the King's Scottish Guard.[14] Despite the efforts of royal surgeon Ambroise Paré, the king died of septicemia on 10 July 1559.[15] He was buried in a cadaver tomb in Saint Denis Basilica.

Tombs of Henry II of France and his wife Catherine de' Medici in Basilica of St Denis, Paris

As Henry 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.[16]

It was the practice to enclose the heart of the king in an urn. The Monument to the Heart of Henry II is in the collection of the Louvre, but was originally in the Chapel of Orleans beneath a pyramid. The original bronze urn holding the king's heart was destroyed during the French Revolution and a replica was made in the 19th century. The marble sculpture of the Three Graces holding the urn, executed from a single piece of marble by Germain Pilon, the sculptor to Catherine de' Medici, survives.[17]

Henry was succeeded by his sickly fifteen-year-old son, Francis II. He was married to sixteen-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots, who had been his childhood friend and fiancée since her arrival at the French court when she was five. Francis II died 18 months later in 1560, and Mary returned to Scotland the following summer. Francis II was succeeded by his ten-year-old brother Charles IX. His mother, Catherine de Medici, acted as Regent.

Ancestors and descendants

Catherine de' Medici bore 10 of Henry's children: (See Children of Henry II of France and Catherine de' Medici)

Francis II, King of France, born 19 January 1544, married Mary Stuart Queen of Scots
Elizabeth of France, born 2 April 1545, married Philip II, King of Spain.
Claude of France, born 12 November 1547, married Charles III, Duke of Lorraine.
Louis, Duke of Orléans, born 3 February 1549, died 24 October 1549.
Charles IX, King of France, born 27 June 1550.
Henry III, King of France, born 19 September 1551, also briefly King of Poland.
Margaret of France, born 14 May 1553, married Henry IV, King of France.
Hercules, Duke of Anjou, born 18 March 1555, later known as Francis, Duke of Alençon and Anjou.
Victoria of France, born 24 June 1556, died 17 August 1556.
Joan of France, stillborn 24 June 1556.

Henry II also had three illegitimate children:

Diane, duchesse d'Angoulême (1538–1619). At the age of fourteen, the younger Diane married Orazio Farnese, Duke of Castro,[19] who died in battle in 1553. Her second marriage was to François, Duke of Montmorency.[20]
Henri d'Angoulême (1551 – June 1586). He was legitimized and became governor of Provence.
Henri de Saint-Rémy (1557–1621). He was given the title of Count of Saint-Rémy. One of his last descendants was Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, Countess de la Motte, famous for her role in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace at the court of Louis XVI.


Royal styles of
King Henry II
France moderne.svg
Reference style His Most Christian Majesty
Spoken style Your Most Christian Majesty
Alternative style Monsieur le Roi

Nostradamus (1503–1566), a French apothecary and astrological writer known for his prophecies, is said by most commentators to have become famous when one of his quatrains was construed as a prediction of the death of King Henry II:

CI, Q 35 The young lion shall overcome the older one,
on the field of combat in single battle,
He shall pierce his eyes in a golden cage,
Two forces one, then he shall die a cruel death.

But, in fact, the link was first proposed in print only in 1614,[22] fifty-five years after the event and forty-eight after Nostradamus' death; thus it qualifies as a postdiction, or vaticinium ex eventu. The Italian astrologer Luca Gaurico, a contemporary of Nostradamus, also later claimed to have foretold Henry II's death, though in fact he had predicted "a most happy and green old age" for the king.[23]


Henri or Henry has had three notable portrayals on the screen. He was played by a young Roger Moore in the 1956 film Diane, opposite Lana Turner in the title role and Marisa Pavan as Catherine de Medici. In the 1998 film Ever After, he was portrayed by Dougray Scott. In the 2013 CW series Reign he is played by Alan Van Sprang.



  1. ^ Tazón 2003, p. 16.
  2. ^ Knecht 1984, p. 189.
  3. ^ Watkins 2009, p. 79-80.
  4. ^ a b Wellman 2013, p. 200.
  5. ^ Thevet 2010, p. 24-25.
  6. ^ Felix & Juall 2016, p. 2.
  7. ^ Inalcik 1995, p. 328.
  8. ^ Thevet 2010, p. 92.
  9. ^ Konnert 2006, p. 97.
  10. ^ Nolan 2006, p. 127.
  11. ^ Knecht 2000, p. 1.
  12. ^ Guy 2012, p. 91.
  13. ^ Frumkin 1945, p. 143.
  14. ^ Baumgartner 1988, p. 250.
  15. ^ Baumgartner 1988, p. 252.
  16. ^ Wellman 2013, p. 213.
  17. ^ Goldberg 1966, p. 206-218.
  18. ^ Merrill 1935, p. 133.
  19. ^ Baumgartner 1988, p. 70.
  20. ^ Lanza 2007, p. 29.
  21. ^ Sealy 1981, p. 206.
  22. ^ Nostradamus 1614.
  23. ^ Thorndike, Lynn (1941). History of Magic and Experimental Science. Volume 6. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 101. Retrieved 23 October 2017. 


  • Baumgartner, Frederic J (1988). Henry II, King of France, 1547-1559. Duke University Press. 
  • Inalcik, Halil (1995). "The Heyday and Decline of the Ottoman Empire". In Holt, P.M.; Lambton, Ann Katherine Swynford; Lewis, Bernard. The Cambridge History of Islam. Vol. 1A. Cambridge University Press. 
  • Frumkin, M. (1945). "The Origin of Patent". Journal of the Patent Office Society. XXVII (No. 3 March). 
  • Knecht, R.J. (1984). Francis I. Cambridge University Press. 
  • Knecht, R.J. (2000). The French Civil Wars, 1562–1598. Pearson Education Ltd. 
  • Konnert, Mark (2006). Early Modern Europe: The Age of Religious War, 1559–1715. University of Toronto Press. 
  • Goldberg, Victoria L. (1966). "Graces, Muses, and Arts: The Urns of Henry II and Francis I". Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. 29. 
  • Guy, John (2012). My Heart is my Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots. Penguin Books Ltd. 
  • Lanza, Janine M (2007). From Wives to Widows in Early Modern Paris: Gender, Economy, and Law. Ashgate Publishing. 
  • Merrill, Robert V. (1935). "Considerations on "Les Amours de I. du Bellay"". Modern Philology. 33 (No. 2 Nov.). 
  • Nolan, Cathal J., ed. (2006). "Cateau-Cambresis". The Age of Wars of Religion, 1000–1650: An Encyclopedia of Global Warfare and Civilization. Vol. 1. Greenwood Press. 
  • Nostradamus, César (1614). Histoire et Chronique de Provence. Simon Rigaud. 
  • Sealy, Robert J. (1981). The Palace Academy of Henry III. Droz. 
  • Tazón, Juan E. (2003). The life and times of Thomas Stukeley (c.1525–78). Ashgate Publishing Ltd. 
  • Thevet, André (2010). Portraits from the French Renaissance and the Wars of Religion. Translated by Benson, Edward. Truman State University Press. 
  • Watkins, John (2009). "Marriage a la Mode, 1559:Elisabeth de Valois, Elizabeth I, and the Changing Practice of Dynastic Marriage". In Levin, Carole; Bucholz, R. O. Queens and Power in Medieval and Early Modern England. University of Nebraska Press. 
  • Wellman, Kathleen (2013). Queens and Mistresses of Renaissance France. Yale University Press. 
  • Felix, Regina R.; Juall, Scott D., eds. (2016). Cultural Exchanges Between Brazil and France. Purdue University Press. 

External links

Henry II of France
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty
Born: 31 March 1519 Died: 10 July 1559
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Francis I
King of France
31 March 1547 – 10 July 1559
Succeeded by
Francis II
French nobility
Title last held by
Louis II
Duke of Orléans
Succeeded by
Charles II
Preceded by
Francis III
Duke of Brittany
10 August 1536 – 31 March 1547
Merged in crown
French royalty
Preceded by
Dauphin of France
10 August 1536 – 31 March 1547
Succeeded by