Henry II of France

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Henry II (31 March 1519 – 10 July 1559) was King of France from 31 March 1547, until his death in 1559.[1]

Contents

Early years

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

His father was captured at the Battle of Pavia in 1525 by his sworn enemy, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and held prisoner in Spain.[2] To obtain his release it was eventually agreed that Henry and his older brother be sent to Spain in his place. They remained in captivity for three years.

Henry married Catherine de' Medici (13 April 1519 – 5 January 1589) on 28 October 1533, when they were both fourteen years old. The following year, he became romantically involved with a thirty-five-year-old widow, Diane de Poitiers. They had always been very close: she had publicly embraced him on the day he set off to Spain, and during a jousting tournament, he insisted his lance carry her ribbon instead of his wife's. Diane became Henry's most trusted confidante and, for the next twenty-five years, wielded considerable influence behind the scenes, even signing royal documents. Extremely confident, mature and intelligent, she left Catherine powerless to intervene.[3] She did, however, insist that Henry sleep with Catherine in order to produce heirs to the throne.[4]

When his elder brother, Francis, died in 1536 after a game of tennis, Henry became heir to the throne. He succeeded his father on his 28th birthday and was crowned King of France on 25 July 1547 at Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Reims.

Reign

Henry's reign was marked by wars with Austria, and the persecution of the Protestant Huguenots. Henry II severely punished them, particularly the ministers: burning them at the stake or cutting off their tongues for uttering heresies. Even those only suspected of being Huguenots could be imprisoned. 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, Huguenot attempts at establishing a colony in Brazil were made, with the short-lived formation of France Antarctique.[5]

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