The story of Louise of Lorraine hits all the check marks of a great fairy tale: a palace, a beautiful but simple girl, an evil stepmother, and a handsome Prince destined to be King. Unfortunately real life rarely comes with a built-in “happily ever after.” In fact, this early Renaissance tale really takes off where Cinderella comes to its happy end. Spoiler alert: things don’t turn out so well for our naive Princess. Here are 50 heartbreaking facts about Louise of Lorraine, the White Queen.
1. She Was A Survivor
In 1553, Louise of Lorraine was the fourth child born to Nicholas of Lorraine and Countess Marguerite d’Egmont in Nomeny, France. Even though she was the youngest, she grew up more or less as an only child. Why? Because all her siblings—two sisters and a brother—did not survive infancy. And if this wasn’t heartbreaking enough, there was much more just around the corner.
2. She Suffered A Loss
Just before Louise turned one year old, she faced a horrific disaster. Her mother suddenly died. Counting her lost siblings, this left Louise with a family greatly reduced in number—from six to a sad two. But Louise’s father didn’t wait long to replace his wife. Louise’s new mom would be Princess Joanna of Savoy-Nemours. But would Louise end up in an evil stepmother situation?
3. She Got Educated
Luckily, Princess Joanna took a liking to young Louisa. The Princess saw to it that Louise got a classical education. Another benefit was Louise’s new mom’s position in society. She was a Princess in the Savoy-Nemours dynasty so, as her stepdaughter, Louise entered the court at Nancy at the early age of 10. Louise shouldn’t have gotten too comfortable though—there was more turmoil to come.
4. She Lost Another
In 1568, thirteen years after the second marriage of Louise’s father, another tragedy struck the family. Princess Joanna suddenly passed. Once again, poor Louise was left alone with her father. And also once again, her father didn’t waste any time finding a new bride. This time it was Princess Catherine of Lorraine-Aumale.
At this point, Louise was a teenager and her new mom—who was just 19—was just three years older. Sounds like a recipe for disaster.
5. She Lived Like A Hermit
Lorraine got off easy with Princess Joanna, but this time around, her new mom, Catherine, rivaled the evil stepmother in Cinderella. She didn’t want Louise in the family at all. In fact, she put her in a distant part of the palace, and Louise lived there basically on her own. When Catherine started to bear her own children, Louise received even worse treatment.
Catherine gave her new children all the luxuries and privileges that were meant for Louise. You’d think this would make Louise into a bitter young woman—well, think again.
6. She Turned Out Well
Louise didn’t know her real mother, her second mother doted on her, and her third ignored her. Quite a rollercoaster ride. But what did this disparity in mothering mean for Louise’s temperament? People described her as “quiet, dutiful and pious.” As far as her appearance went, they considered her beautiful, pale, and both delicate and tall. With these glowing descriptions, it wouldn’t surprise me if wedding bells were in her immediate future…
7. She Stood Out
Louise first got a peek at a potential spouse in 1573. Henry, Duke of Anjou, was passing through Nomeny while en route to Krakow. The people of Poland-Lithuania had just named him their new King, and he was on his way to the capital to receive the throne. There was a celebration for him in France, and Louise was in the crowd. Something about her made Henry take note, and he immediately asked for an introduction.
8. She Charmed Him
It seemed that nothing could keep Henry from Louise’s side. They shared a few dances and talked a bit—probably a bit of flirting. Henry was definitely charmed by Louise. She was not like other women he’d met: she was humble and had gentle manners. It appeared to be a fairy tale romance come true…or was it?
9. She Was A Look-A-Like
There was a darker reason for Henry’s interest in Louise. Henry couldn’t help but notice that Louise looked a lot like someone he already knew: his arch enemy’s wife Maria. Henry’s plan had always been to somehow marry Maria, even though she was already taken. The two ended up having a platonic friendship, but that wasn’t enough for Henry.
He wanted Maria for himself, and if he couldn’t have her, maybe this look-a-like Louise would do the trick. The day after the party, Henry left for Krakow—but he didn’t forget Louise.
10. He Switched Roles
Henry’s position as King of Poland-Lithuania didn’t actually last very long. He was still up for another role that he really wanted: the King of France. To Henry’s surprise, King Charles IX died, putting Henry next in line. So, Henry had a big decision: Stay and enjoy himself as the King of Poland, or take up the more prestigious position of King of France. Well, I guess it wasn’t actually that difficult of a decision.
11. She Had A Hope
Henry chose France, and was soon sneaking out of Poland under the cloak of darkness. In the meantime, news of Henry’s new upcoming role as France’s king had reached Louise and her family. Louise still hadn’t really gotten to know Henry, but she was soon planning on making the trip to witness his coronation. She also must have been hanging on to a smidgen of hope: that her flirtation with the future King would still be in his memory.
12. She Was Back In The Race
Now that Henry was going to be the King of France, he thought he might be able to take his beloved Maria away from his enemy. When Henry decided to do just that, he got the worst news possible: Maria had died from a lung infection. Bad for Maria, but potentially good for Louise. This put look-a-like Louise in the running to be Henry’s Queen.
13. Her Parents Acted Weird
One January morning in 1575, Louise had slept in. She woke up to find her stepmother and her father in her room. Her father bowed to her and her stepmother—who usually totally ignored her—curtsied three times. This must have been a “Huh?!” moment for young Louise.
14. She’d Had Visitors
Louise didn’t know it yet, but there was a shocking reason for her parents’ strange behavior. The previous night, they’d received visitors sent to them by Henry. The two men brought a ring to exchange, and letters to Louise’s parents. Long story short: Henry wanted Louise as his wife—even though she was minor royalty and had a small dowry.
I don’t think that Louise’s parents even took a moment to consider the request. Who wouldn’t want their daughter to be the next Queen of France?
15. She Was Interrupted
Louise and her parents soon started out on their journey to Reims for the coronation of Henry…and her wedding. On the way to Reims, they met up with one of Henry’s men. He had three things for Louise: a letter (which we can assume was full of mushy stuff), a picture of Henry (in case she’d forgotten what he looked like), and a casket of jewels (for obvious reasons). Louise must have been over the moon—or so you’d think.
16. She Was A Little Meh
Maybe it was all that time spent alone in the far regions of the palace, but Louise’s emotions were a little stunted. Her reaction to all this attention appeared—on the surface anyway—to be indifference. When she finally made it to Reims, Louise’s blah reaction confused Henry. She was a country girl from minor royalty—shouldn’t she be on cloud nine?
17. She Was Marrying A Groomzilla
King Henry decided to ignore Louise’s blasé attitude and went about arranging for the wedding. To Louise’s surprise, Henry turned out to be a bit of a “groomzilla.” He wanted to be a part of all the decisions, especially when it came to the clothes. Surprisingly, Henry personally designed Louise’s wedding gown and other outfits for the wedding. Well, at least he cared—can’t say the same for many other grooms!
18. She Moved Up
On February 15, 1575, they held the wedding of Louise and Henry at the Cathedral of Reims. The event took place just three days after his coronation. Louise had left her house as a simple country girl—well…a royal one—and suddenly she was the Queen of France. But what did she know about this man? She was still young, and probably hoping for true love.
19. She Fell Hard
Louise had only met Henry that one time before agreeing to be his wife. But after the ceremony—and travelling to Paris as husband and wife—something unexpected happened. The girl that showed so little emotion suddenly fell madly in love. Louise was a simple young woman, and her needs were straightforward. Her husband, on the other hand, had a few quirks.
20. They Played Dress Up
As we know, Henry designed Louise’s wedding dress—but it didn’t stop there. He treated Louise like a little doll that he could try different frocks on. It became a bit of a game for the young couple, and Louise was just happy to get the attention of her busy husband. This shared interest in fashion seemed harmless enough…unless you were an enemy of the King.
21. He Got Named
The word got out about Louise and Henry’s little dress-up games. As we know, the opposition can use anything odd as a sign of weakness. Well, those who disliked King Henry—and there were more than a few—concocted a new epithet for the pampering King: they called him “Hair-Dresser To His Wife.” This was not a good thing for Henry’s reputation.
22. She Got Help
It seemed that Henry wanted to get rid of his new nickname. To do this, he appointed two ladies-in-waiting to take over the care of Louise: one for court protocol and one for fashion and appearance. Even though Louise was a simple gal from the countryside, both helpers reported that she was an excellent student and a fast learner. One problem though—Louise had brought her own ladies-in-waiting from the countryside.
23. She Lost Her Support
Once Henry had appointed his choice of ladies-in-waiting, he had to deal with the ones Louise had brought with her. Remember these ladies were close to Louise, and one of her only connections to her simple life back home. Unfortunately, Henry didn’t understand this—so he made a heartbreaking decision. To Louise’s great horror, Henry promptly fired them all.
If you’re thinking Louise must’ve felt all alone, her loneliness was about to get even worse.
24. She Rarely Saw Him
Henry’s mother, the notorious Catherine de Medici, had not been thrilled with Henry’s choice of a wife right from the beginning. So, once they were a couple, she made it her business to keep them apart as much as possible. She thought that this simple girl would not have a positive effect on Henry. So, while Louise once again led a solitary life, her husband was doing the opposite.
25. He Thought She Was Dull
Henry apparently found Louise’s company boring. He preferred to hang out with the ladies-in-waiting—perhaps they were a little more sophisticated than his country bride. It was customary at the time for the King to have a maîtresse-en-titre—an official mistress to the King. Strangely, Henry never named one, but he did have his guy friends.
26. Her Husband Had An Entourage
Louise’s husband liked to have his favorites around him all the time—and a lot of those favorites were men. A group of fashionable guys became a sort of entourage for Henry, and they became known as the Mignons: ”the dainty ones.” Henry’s subjects were not too thrilled with this collection of fashionistas—who were actually from secondary nobility—and their constant appearance at Henry’s side.
It turns out the Mignons weren’t just a boy’s club—they were much more scandalous than that.
27. She Had Competition
Many scholars believe that Louise’s husband—the King of France—was actually hiding a dirty little secret. They think that he was getting it on with various male members of the Mignons. Poor Louise was left to turn a blind eye to her husband’s wanderings. But what can you say, the girl was head over heels in love with Henry and would do anything for him—and let him do anything he wanted.
This competition just made Louise try harder to please her man.
28. She Did Her Best
In 1581, Louise’s half-sister was celebrating her wedding day, and it was Louise’s job to throw the bash. Louise did her best, hiring a group of musicians and poets and creating an entire ballet just for the wedding. It was hard work and she really needed to prove herself. Her mother-in-law barely noticed her success, and instead, she insisted that Louise give her husband a rather weird gift.
29. She Awarded Her Husband
At the end of Louise’s half-sister’s wedding, Louise’s mother-in-law had a strange request. She wanted Louise to give her husband a medal that had the image of a dolphin swimming in the sea on it. The medal seemed a bit strange as Henry’s behavior had hardly warranted anything close to a trophy—not in the least. But the gift turned out to have a very important meaning.
30. She Had A Wifely Duty
Apparently the dolphin in the sea was code for: “You need to have a baby now.” We can only assume that Louise and Henry were trying to conceive—although there’s no proof of that. Unfortunately, Louise seemed unable to get pregnant. There were rumors that she’d miscarried shortly after the wedding. So, something was out of whack: either on her part or his. You can probably guess who got the blame.
31. She Was Racked With Guilt
It seems that Louise took it upon herself to take the responsibility for their lack of children. The whole country was waiting for an heir to the throne, and this put unbelievable pressure on Louise. She was soon suffering from bouts of depression and weight loss. There seemed to be no solution to this tragedy—but they still didn’t give up.
32. She Tried Everything
From 1579 and 1586 Louise and Henry continued to try to get pregnant. They made pilgrimages where they made offerings to the gods for fertility. They even went to special spas for treatments that could help them produce a child. Nothing seemed to work, and Louise was getting more and more distraught. But what would be so bad if they never produced an heir?
33. She Was Under Pressure
There was a reason for all the pressure on Louise to produce an heir: because of who might become King if they didn’t. There was the possibility that the next King of France would be Henry of Navarre. Most French were adamantly against him for a very good reason: he wasn’t a Catholic. The majority of the population did not want a Protestant King. There was, however, someone who could save this dire situation.
34. She Had A Way Out
Louise’s husband had a younger brother, Francis, who was actually next in line for the throne. If, in the end, Louise could not bear a male heir, and if Francis lived long enough, he would be King and the Protestant Henry of Navarre would be out of luck. But it seemed that anything even close to luck wasn’t on Louise’s side.
35. Her Hopes Were Dashed
In 1584, as luck would have it, Louise experienced the shock of a lifetime. Henry’s brother—and the savior for Catholics in France—died. This left France with two choices for King: the Protestant Henry of Navarre or Louise and Henry’s non-existent son. There couldn’t have been more weight on Louise’s shoulders, which probably did nothing for her and Henry’s dogged pursuit of parenthood. Then, out of the blue, a sneaky solution presented itself.
36. She Wouldn’t Cross A Line
One of Louise’s ladies-in-waiting had a plan. What if Louise were to get pregnant not with her husband, but with another man? Of course, this meant the lady-in-waiting was assuming that the problem lay in Henry and not Louise. Maybe deep down, Louise thought the problem was with her. Or maybe she just had very high morals.
Regardless, Louise would have nothing to do with such an outrageous idea.
37. All Eyes Were On Her
So, all of France’s eyes looked to Louise—where was the heir to the throne that would keep France Catholic? Henry was also coming up with ideas to stop Henry of Navarre. He knew that the chances of Louise conceiving were becoming scarcer and scarcer. Henry needed a plan B in order to keep the Protestant King out. He gave it his best shot: He issued an edict that would prevent Henry of Navarre from ever becoming King.
38. They Weren’t Tough Enough
Conservative Catholics saw Henry and Louise as not being hard enough on the Protestants. In spite of his edict against Henry of Navarre, they wanted someone who would keep the Protestants out for good. The man they saw as stronger than Henry arrived in Paris on May 12, 1588. His name was the Duke of Guise, and he was going to quash the hopes of the Protestants in France forever. But what did that mean for Louise and Henry?
39. He Forgot Her
With the arrival of the Duke of Guise, Henry saw the tide turning against him—and his reaction was chilling. He knew it didn’t look good, so he did what any terrified monarch would do: he fled. The King did, however, forget one little thing: his wife. While Henry ran to his safety, Louise remained in Paris to face the music.
With no Henry to punish for abandoning them, what would the people do with Louise?
40. She Kept Her Popularity
In spite of her husband, Louise had remained fairly popular with the citizens of France. They appreciated her beauty and the fact that she showed great charity to those below her. Furthermore, because she stayed in Paris—instead of running like her husband—the people loved her even more. Henry, on the other hand, continued to go out of his way to displease his subjects.
41. He Fought Back
While Louise was enjoying her popularity in Paris, her husband was trying to get back to his throne. His answer to the problem was to get rid of The Duke of Guise. In an elaborate ploy, he hired hitmen to take care of the Duke and his brother, and then jailed the Duke’s son—his only heir. Problem solved, right? Unfortunately, this despicable act drove his subjects into hysterics.
42. She Was In A Bind
Louise was in a difficult position. She was popular with the people of France, while her husband, for his part, was doing everything in his power to make them angry. Of course, she still loved her husband, but she was also enjoying her immense popularity. While trying to figure out what to do, something happened that’s so disturbing, it’s unforgettable.
43. He Got The Message
Louise’s husband Henry and his army were just about to attack Paris when a messenger appeared. The messenger requested a private meeting with Henry and took him aside for their discussion. But it was a trap. The moment they were alone, the messenger pulled out a sword and plunged it into Henry’s stomach. By the next day, Henry had died.
And what of Louise? How would she take the news of her husband’s demise?
44. She Was Depressed
Henry was gone. And what was the reaction of the people of Paris? They threw a party to celebrate—that’s how far he’d fallen out of favor. But poor Louise had to mourn with the sounds of revelry in the background. She soon fell into a depression that she never got out of. As was the custom for mourning French Queens, she wore only white. It was, for this reason, she received the name the White Queen.
45. She Had Only One Request
Louise of Lorraine desperately wanted her husband’s name to be clear of any wrongdoing. She begged on her hands and knees for King Henry IV to rehabilitate Henry III—her Henry—so he could rest in peace. The King heard her plea and did just that in a ceremony in Nantes, on January 20, 1594. Louise was still only 41 years old.
She still had a whole life ahead of her, didn’t she? Well…not in 16th century France.
46. She Went Dark
Louise had inherited the Chateau de Chenonceau from her mother-in-law, and it was here that she wanted to spend her few remaining years. But if you’re imagining days of bucolic walks and nights of music, friends, and laughter—think again. She chose one single room for herself, draped the walls in black fabric, and waited for the end.
But if that wasn’t dismal enough, she also chose some macabre decorations to go with it.
47. She Did DIY
Louise took life as a grieving widow seriously. Maybe too seriously. To decorate her room, Louise chose crosses and shovels. The shovels were meant to remind her of the ones used to dig her husband’s grave. She continued the motif by printing the same images in silver and black on the curtains. There was even an image of a cornucopia with tears flowing from it. Despite their struggles, Louise only wanted to remember her husband—it seemed to be her only wish.
48. She Opened Her Home
While Louise’s life at the Chateau de Chenonceau sounds a little sad, she did give accommodation to nuns who needed it. It’s hard to imagine the nuns cheering up Louise much. The group of sisters she helped were Capuchin nuns, known for their deep contemplation. In other words: they probably weren’t a barrel of laughs.
49. She Paid It Forward
Louise lived like this until her death of heart failure on January 29, 1601—at the ripe age of 47. She had amassed debts, and relatives sold all her property to pay them. She had put some money aside, however. In the end, she remembered the nuns. Her will said to build a place for them in Bourges. Well, they sort of carried out her wish—they built it in Paris instead.
Once built, it became the first nunnery specifically for Capuchin nuns in France.
50. She Continued To Travel
The remains of Louise seemed to have some trouble finding a final home. They first made it to the nunnery that her estate had paid for in Paris. In the early 1800s, when they demolished the nunnery, workers came across her remains, and they moved them to Père Lachaise Cemetery, also in Paris. Only a few years later, on January 16, 1817, they moved her to the Basilica of Saint-Denis—the resting place of all French royal family members.