The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Henry III of France

 King Henry III
King Henry III

Henry III (French: Henri III; Polish: Henryk III Walezy; September 19 1551August 2, 1589) was King of Poland (1573-1574) and subsequently King of France (1574-1589).

Henri was born Edouard-Alexandre at the Royal Château of Fontainebleau, Seine-et-Marne, the fourth son of King Henri II and Catherine de Medici. He was elected king of Poland in 1573 but shortly after, at the death of his brother Charles IX, he fled Poland and returned to France. He was crowned King of France in 1575 in the Cathedral at Reims.

Prior to ascending to the throne, he was a leader of the royal army in the French Wars of Religion against the Hugenots and took part in the victories over them in Jarnac and Moncontour . While still Duke, he aided his mother in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in which thousands of Huguenots were killed; his reign as king would see France in constant turmoil over religion.

In 1576, King Henri III signed the Edict of Beaulieu granting minor concessions to the Huguenots. His action resulted in the Catholic extremist Henry I, Duke of Guise forming the Catholic League. After much posturing and negotiations King Henri III was forced to rescind most of the concessions made to the Protestants in the Edict of Beaulieu.

In 1584 the King's youngest brother and heir presumptive, François, Duke of Anjou, died. Under the Salic Law, the next heir to the throne was Protestant Henri of Navarre, a descendant of St. Louis IX. Under pressure from the Duke of Guise, Henri III issued an edict suppressing Protestantism and annulling Henri of Navarre's right to the throne.

On May 12 1588 Henry III fled Paris after the Duke of Guise entered the city.

On December 23 1588, in the Château de Blois, the Duke of Guise arrived in the council chamber where his brother the Cardinal waited. He was told that the King wished to see him in the private room adjoining the King's bedroom. There, guardsmen murdered him, and then the Cardinal. In order to make sure that no contender for the French throne was free to act against him, the King had the Duke's son imprisoned. Though deceitful and cruel, the Duke of Guise was highly popular in France and the citizenry turned against the king for the murders. The French Parliament instituted criminal charges against the King, and he fled Paris to join forces with Henry of Navarre.

 Henry III in a painting by
Henry III in a painting by Jan Matejko

On August 1, 1589, Henri III, lodged with his army in Saint-Cloud, Hauts-de-Seine, prepared to attack Paris when a young fanatical Dominican friar named Jacques Clément, carrying false papers, was granted access to deliver important documents to the King. The monk gave the king a bundle of papers and stated he had a secret message to deliver. The King signaled for his attendants to step back for privacy and Clément whispered in his ear while plunging a knife in his stomach. At first the wound did not appear fatal but the King commanded all his officers around him that in the event he did not survive, they were to be loyal to Henri of Navarre as their new King. The following morning, King Henri III of France died, the day he was to have launched the assault to retake Paris.

Although he had been married on February 13 1575 to Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont , and expected to produce an heir, the transvestite King Henri III was not highly respected by the citizens or the nobility as he paraded around dressed in women's clothes, accompanied by a number of youthful male attendants referred to as his mignons (darlings).

Henri III was interred in the Saint Denis Basilica. Childless, he was the last of the Valois kings.

Henri of Navarre succeeded him as Henri IV, the first of the Bourbon kings.

Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04