Scandalous Facts About Henry II Of France, The Lecherous King

Rachel Seigel

32. He Tried To Steal Scotland


On the surface, Henry’s plan seemed simple. With Francis and Mary as husband and wife, their child would be the King of France and the King of Scotland. They’d even have a claim to the throne of England! Uniting all three kingdoms would be quite the feat, and it’s something Henry II wanted desperatelyso much so that he resorted to some despicable tactics.

33. His Methods Were Pretty Shady

Henry forced Mary to secretly sign documents that ensured Scotland would come under French rule even if she didn’t have a child with Francis. These papers were completely against Scottish Law and undoubtedly would have led to open warfare—but before Henry’s grand schemes could come to fruition, he met an utterly grisly end.

34. He Had Another Lovechild

Henry II didn’t just get a new daughter-in-law when Mary, Queen of Scots came to town. He got a brand new mistress too! One of Mary’s ladies was a woman named Janet Stewart. Henry took one look at her and knew he had to have her. Sorry Diane, but cheaters gonna cheat. Janet didn’t last long in France—once the Scots realized she’d taken the king to bed, they dragged her back to Scotland.

But not before she gave birth to a son, Henri, Bâtard de Valois, who went on to become the most famous of Henry’s three illegitimate kids. And to think, there was a time where this guy struggled to get anyone pregnant!

35. He Had A Chilling Dark Side

While Henry II wasn’t busy trying to claim Scotland or finding new mistresses, he loved to do one thing: Absolutely brutalize any and all Protestants. A fervent Catholic, Henry concocted pretty horrific punishments for anyone he caught preaching Calvinism. French Protestants, known as Huguenots, might end up burned at the stake, or with their tongues cut out.

And Henry was just getting started. France was quickly becoming a terrifying place for anyone who wasn’t Catholic. Protestants were entering a truly dark era—but before Henry could do any real damage, a gruesome accident changed everything.

36. He Ended Decades Of Fighting

While Henry II was busy sleeping his way through half the women in Paris, France was technically at war with the Holy Roman Empire. Clearly, it wasn’t that high on Henry’s list of priorities, and he finally put an end to the conflict in 1559. Now, you’d think ending a war would be a good thing—but little did Henry know, this peace agreement sealed his fate.

37. He Married Off His Daughter

The best way to seal a peace treaty is with a marriage, and that’s just what Henry did. He married his daughter Elisabeth to King Philip II of Spain. And of course, the best way to seal a marriage is with a huge tournament! For Henry II, this was two birds with one stone: He got to forge an alliance with Spain and show off his jousting skills? Win-win!

Unfortunately for him, his jousting skills would prove severely lacking.

38. He Was Getting Too Old For This…

What can we say, Henry II loved jousting. But he wasn’t exactly a spring chicken anymore. He started experiencing extreme giddiness after any physical exercise, and it started to concern the people around him. On the morning of the big tournament, Catherine begged him not to take part. But if we’ve learned anything by now, it’s that Henry didn’t exactly value his wife’s opinion.

He suited up anyway—wearing Diane de Poitiers’ colors, because of course. Let’s just say, he should have listened to Catherine…

39. He Got Knocked On His Butt

Henry II’s big day got off to a pretty good start. He personally defeated both the Dukes of Guise and Nemours in the joust. Now, were they taking it easy on him because he was the freaking King of France? Who’s to say? One thing is for sure, his next opponent, Gabriel de Montgomery, didn’t hold back. He managed to knock the king out of his saddle.

Now, most 40-year-old men would call it a day after taking a lance to the chest and landing on their backs. Not Henry—he just had to get up for one last chance at Montgomery. Three guesses as to what happened next…

40. He Was Fine…Until He Took A Lance To The Face

Allow me to remind you: Jousting is an insanely dangerous sport. Henry II saddled back up and rode against Montgomery once more—but this time, disaster struck. Montgomery’s lance struck Henry right in the face and shattered. The entire crowd could tell that something had gone terribly wrong, but still, it was even worse than any of them could have imagined.

41. He Was A Horrific Sight

Spectators could see the blood pouring out of Henry’s helmet, but once he got it off, the gruesome extent of the damage became clear. His wife, his mistress, and his son all took one look at him and passed out cold: He was a chilling sight. He had several large splinters sticking out of his eyes and head. Doctors rushed him inside, but it didn’t look good.

42. The Damage Was Gruesome

From a surgery table in the Château de Tournelles, doctors managed to extract five massive splinters from Henry’s head. One of the aforementioned splinters had gone straight through his eye and into his brain. That kind of damage would be nearly impossible to survive even with modern medicine—and Henry definitely did not have anything resembling modern medicine.

All his doctors could do was wrap him up and hope for the best—but it didn’t look good.

43. His Wife Stayed At His Side

Despite everything Henry had put her through, Catherine de Medici stayed right at his bedside for days. Somehow, she still clearly had some fondness for the father of her children. However, her place at his side only meant that Catherine had a front-row seat for Henry’s painful transformation.

44. He Withered Away

The damage should probably have slain Henry instantly, but remarkably, he clung to life. For a time, he was actually well enough to dictate some letters and listen to some music, but the writing was on the wall. Soon, he lost his sight. His mind went next, and his final days were spent rambling—but when the end finally came, his speech had devolved to a single, heartbreaking plea.

45. His Wife Denied His Final Request

In Henry’s final days, he repeatedly called out for the love of his life—and we all know I’m not talking about his wife. Henry begged to see Diane de Poitiers one last time, but Catherine vehemently banned her from Henry’s bedchamber. She’d spent nearly her entire life playing second fiddle to Diane, and now the power was finally in her hands.

Henry finally passed on July 10, 1559, never getting to say goodbye to his beloved Diane. And, to twist the knife, Catherine banned de Poitiers from his funeral as well. After decades of torment, Catherine finally had all the power—and she planned on using it.

46. His Wife’s Time Had Finally Come

From that day onward, Catherine de Medici began using a broken lance as her emblem, a grim reminder of Henry’s gruesome end. She also wore black for the rest of her days—but if anything, her life began on the day Henry died. He had never let Catherine hold a shred of power or influence. Now, with him gone, Catherine de Medici would prove she was one of the most ruthless women in all of France.

47. Catherine Took Control

Henry might not have had a high opinion of Catherine, but their kids adored her. As the imperious Queen Mother of France, Catherine controlled her sons just as Diane had controlled Henry for all those years. It only took decades of humiliation, but Catherine de Medici finally got the power she so craved. Meanwhile, she banished Diane de Poitiers from Paris.

De Poitiers lived out the rest of her days in total obscurity—but given what she’d put Catherine through, I’d say she got off easy.

48. He Showed Mercy—And It Came Back To Bite Him

There’s an ironic twist to Henry’s gruesome end. You would think that, accident or not, Gabriel de Montgomery would face some serious consequences for striking the blow that felled the King of France. Nope. Henry absolved Montgomery of all blame before his heart gave out—but that would prove to be a terrible mistake.

Montgomery would later go on to convert to Henry’s hated Protestantism and would even lead armies against Henry’s son in battle. Maybe shouldn’t have let that one get away…

49. He Did ONE Good Thing

Alright, Henry II of France wasn’t a great guy. He was a womanizer and a zealot who didn’t do very much for his people. BUT, we can say one decent thing about him: He invented the patent. Henry was the first guy to make sure that an inventor could patent an idea so no one else could take it. Hey, that’s more than most of us have accomplished, at least.

50. His Wedding Night Was So, So Awkward

I think it’s safe to say that Henry II and Catherine de Medici had one of the most disastrously awful marriages in history—but in their defense, it got off to one of the worst starts imaginable. On the night of their wedding, Henry’s dad, King Francis I, followed the couple back to their bedroom to make sure they made the marriage “official.” I would remind you that they were both 14 years old at the time, but I don’t think there’s any age that would make that not creepy.

I also have to tell you that Francis didn’t just watch his teenage son and daughter-in-law do the deed; he gave a review as well. He said that they both “showed valor in the joust.” Yikes…

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

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