Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-684899dbb8-67wsf Total loading time: 6.735 Render date: 2022-05-21T09:18:44.270Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true }

The Assassination of François Duc de Guise, February 1563

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009

N. M. Sutherland
Bedford College, London


François due de Guise, commander of the French catholic forces, was assaulted by Poltrot de Mérey (or Méré) before Orléans on 18 February 1563. He succumbed six days later, on 24 February, to the attentions of his surgeons, whose lethal ministrations are horribly retailed by the Spanish ambassador, Chantonnay. On that fatal day, Guise had gone to inspect his camp in the suburb called Portereau from which his forces were sapping and mining the stronghold of Orléans, occupied for the past year by the protestant confederates of the prince de Condé. The capture of this city, then considered imminent, would have been the fourth military episode of the first French civil war. But, instead of the expected collapse of Orléans and the continuation of war, France was rocked by the unexpected death of Guise which effectively interrupted hostilities.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1981

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Danjou, Cimber et, Archives curieuses de I’hisloire de France depuis Louis Xl jusqu’a Louis XVIII (27 vols., Paris, 1834–48), série I, v, Relation de la blessure et de la mort du due de Guise,167ff.Google Scholar

2 Louis Ier prince de Condé, Mémoires (6 vols., London, 1743 edn), II, 135, 23 Feb. 1563.Google Scholar

3 The others were the siege of Bourges, Sept. 1562; the siege of Rouen, Oct. 1562 and the battle of Dreux, 19 Dec. 1562.

4 Calendar of state papers foreign, 1563, pp. 163–5, 26 Feb. 1563, occurrences in France.

5 Ruble, Alphonse de, L’assassinat de François due de Guise (Paris, 1897) is the only work on this subject.Google Scholar

6 On the tumult of Amboise see Sutherland, N. M., ‘Calvinism and the conspiracy of Amboise’, History, XLVII (1962), 111–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

7 Forbes, P., A full view of the public transactions in the reign of Queen Elizabeth (2 vols., London, 1740–1), 1, 464,, 22 May 1560, Throckmorton to Elizabeth; Jules Delaborde, Gaspard de Coligny amiral de France (3 vols., Paris, 1879–82), 1, 450.Google Scholar

8 Pierre de Brantome, Oeuvres complétes, ed. Ludovic, Lalanne (II vols., Paris, 1864–82), IV, 253, 290.Google Scholar

9 Condé, Mémoires, 1, 347–52, 31 Mar. 1559/60, lettre du roi sur la conjuration d’Amboise; CSPF, 1559–60, p. 488, 29 Mar. 1560, Throckmorton to Elizabeth; G. Baum and E. Cunitz, eds., Histoire ecclésiastique des Ėglises réformées du royaume de France (3 vols., Paris, 1883–9), 1, 309.Google Scholar

10 Brantome, , Oeuvres, IV, 187, 244, 319Google Scholar; Tommaseo, N., Relations des ambassadeurs Vénetiens sur les affaires de France au XVIe siécle (2 vols., Paris, 1836), 1, 440.Google Scholar

11 Forneron, H., Les dues de Guise et leur époque (2 vols., Paris, 1877), 1, 78.Google Scholar

12 Cimbcr et Danjou, série I, V, Relation, 177–8, 190–7.

13 Brantome, , Oeuvres, IV, 228.Google Scholar

14 Eugenio, Albéri, Relazioni degli ambasciatori veneti (15 vols., Florence, 1839–63), série I, IV, 143.Google Scholar

15 Archivo documental Espafñlol, Negociaciones con Francia, 1559–1566 (9 vols., Madrid, Real Academia de la Historia, 1950–4), 1, 493–6, 3 Feb. 1560, Chantonnay to Philip II.

16 de La Ferrière, H., ed., Catherine de Médicis, Lettres, vols. 1 IV (Paris, 1880–95), 1, 586, 3 Mar. 1561, Catherine to Limoges; 177, 27 Mar. 1561, Catherine to Limoges, ‘j’ay sur ce…point insisté infiniment’Google Scholar; Sutherland, N. M., The French secretaries of slate in the age of Catherine de Medici (London, 1962), pp. 113–18.Google Scholar

17 La Ferrière, Lettres, 1, 517, 25 Feb. 1563, Catherine to the duchess of Savoy.

18 Tommaseo, , Relations, 1, 436–9.Google Scholar

19 The Calvinists had obtained a measure of supervised toleration by the edict of January 1562.

20 Paris, Bibliothéque Nationale, MSS Italien, 1722, fo. 689, 27 Feb. 1563; 1724, F0. 105, 2 Mar. 1563; Condé, Mémoires, 11, 137, 2 Feb. 1563; CSPF, 1563, p. 164, 26 Feb. 1563, occurrences in France; Sutherland, The French secretaries, pp. 134–5

21 Cimber et Danjou, série I, V, Relation, 167 97.

22 A reward was immediately offered for the assassin’s arrest. Cimber et Danjou, série I, V, Relation, 168–70, gives 1,000 crowns for the ‘author’ of the crime; CSPF, 1563, p. 163, 26 Feb. 1563, occurrences in France, gives 2,000 for his identification, 10,000 for his life and 30,000 for his arrest; MSS Italien, 1722, fo. 687, 24 Feb. 1563.

23 CSPF, 1563, p. 163, 26 Feb. 1563, occurrences in France; Cimber et Danjou, série I, V, Relation, 168; Delaborde, Coligny, 11, 225; de Ruble, L’assassinat, pp. 56ff.

24 This was possibly Cormeilles in the Eure.

25 It is interesting to note that Coligny also used this expression ‘before Paris’ in his reply to Poltrot’s deposition. Du Bouchet, Preuves de I’hisloire de I’illustre maison de Coligny (Paris. 1662), p. 527.Google Scholar

26 La Ferriere, Lettres, 1, 281–5, dates them between 16 and 26 Mar. This is an error, since two of them were clearly written between 27 and 31 Mar; ibid. 290–3, 10 Apr. 1562. Catherine to Châtillon. This is not the admiral but his brother. Cardinal Châtillon.

27 La Ferrière, Lettres, 1, 282, n. 1.Google Scholar

28 La Ferrière, Leltres, 1, 290–3, 10 Apr. 1562, Catherine to Châtillon; 293–6, 11 Apr. 1562, Catherine to Limoges. According to Santa Croce, this damaging claim was made in a packet containing Condé’s first declaration of 8 Apr. 1562, received by the parlement of Paris on 17 Apr. The declaration itself made no such claim. Condé, Mémoires, III, 222–32, 8 Apr. 1562, Déclaration faicte par Monsieur le Prince de Condé; Cimber et Danjou, série I, VI, Lettres de Prosper de Sainte-Croix à cardinal Borromée, 89, 17 Apr. 1562. This remains a controversial matter, and the documentation relating to the outbreak of the first civil war has never been analysed.

29 The Venetian ambassador reported that the huguenots expected other, similar events (allri effeti simili). This may have been either camp gossip or his version of Poltrot’s own statement. Layard, A. H., Despatches of Michele Suriano and Marc’ Antonio Barbaro, Venetian ambassadors at the Court of France, 1560–1563 (Lymington, The Huguenot Society of London, 1891), p. cv.Google Scholar

30 The deposition says fifty conspirators.

31 CSPF, 1563, p. 163, 21 Feb. 1563, occurrences in France. The duke’s brother, the cardinal of Guise, and the nuncio, Santa Croce, would have qualified in this category, as well as the Spanish ambassador, Chantonnay.

32 This was a reference to the terms of the so-called ‘treaty’ of the Triumvirate. Sutherland, N. M., The massacre of St Bartholomew and the European conflict 1559–1572 (London, 1973), pp. 347–50Google Scholar; CSPF, 1562, p. 534, 2 Dec. 1562, articles [of peace] sent by the prince; ibid.1563, p. 142, 17 Feb. 1562, Smith to the privy council; 163–4, 26 Feb. 1563, occurrences in France; Forbes, 11, 263, 5 Jan. 1563, d’Andelot to Elizabeth; Delaborde, Coligny, 11, 199ff.

33 MSS Italien, 1725, fos. 106V–107, 2 Mar. 1563; 1724, fo. 4, 8 Mar. 1563.

34 Delaborde, Coligny, 11, 2276ff.

35 La Valette was the father of the better-known due d’Épernon, favourite of Henry III.

36 Condé, Mémoires, IV, 285–303; Du Bouchet, Preuves, p. 522. It was feared that Coligny might march on Paris.

37 Du Bouchet, Preuves, pp. 523–35, gives the date in error as 22 Mar. 1562/3. It should be 12 Mar., the date of Coligny’s covering letter to Catherine de Medici. Condé, Mémoires, IV, 303. Coligny’s reply was also signed by La Rochefoucault and Théodore de Bèze.

38 Du Bouchet, Preuves, pp. 521–2, 527, 590; Delaborde, Coligny, 11, 229, 232–3; Brantôme, Oeuvres, IV, 253, 290. In a letter of 29 Dec. 1559, Killigrew and Jones reported to Cecil rather vague rumours of a plot to murder Guise and Lorraine (Forbes, 1, 292). In his letter to Catherine of 27 Mar. 1562, Coligny claimed to have heard that Guise threatened him: ‘me menace fort’, but there may have been other letters. Bibliothèque Nationale, MSS français, 20461, fos. 217–217V, original.

39 Catherine was at Montceaux from 7 to 15 Mar. 1562.

40 Du Bouchet, Preuves, p. 527 [12] Mar. 1562/3.

41 Du Bouchet, Preuves, pp. 521–2; Condé, Mémoires, IV, 303.

42 De Ruble, L’assassinat, pp. 69–72, 76–7, 89; Delaborde, Coligny, 11, 234–5.

43 CSPF, 1563, p. 163, 21 Feb. 1563, occurrences in France. One of the current allegations was that Coligny had hired Poltrot for 300 crowns to murder the duke.

44 Delaborde, Cotigny, 11, 231–2.

45 Bouchard’s sister, Antoinette, married Soubise on 3 May 1553. Bulletin de la Société historique et archéologique du Périgord, XIV (1887), 420–5; Haag, E., La France Protestante (10 vols., Paris, 1846–59), second edn, incomplete (6 vols., Paris, 1877–88), François Bouchard, 2nd edn, and Poltrot, 1st edn.Google Scholar

46 Henri Naef, La conjuration d’Amboise (Mémoires et documents de la Société d;histoire et archéologie de Genève, XXXII, Geneva, 1922), pp. 354ff.

47 N. M. Sutherland, ‘Calvinism and the conspiracy of Amboise’, p. 116 n. 14.

48 Jules, Bonnet, ed., Mémoires de la vie de Jean de Parthenay-Larchevêque, sieur de Soubise (Paris, 1879), pp. 36ff., 71–3. See also Henri Naef, ‘Justice pour La Renaudie’, Bulletin de la Sociétéde l’ Histoire du Protestantisme François, avril-juin (1971), p. 302.Google Scholar

49 De Ruble, L’assassinat, pp. 77–8; Layard, Despatches, pp. cxi-xcii, 23 Mar. 1563.

50 Condé, , Mémoires, IV, 309–10, 18 Mar. 1563, arrêt du parlement.Google Scholar

51 CSPF, 1563, p. 163, 26 Feb. 1563, occurrences in France. Damville was a son of the constable Montmorency.

52 Sainte-Croix, Lettres, p. 124, 23 Feb. 1563; Layard, Despatches, pp. civ-cv, 2 Mar. 1563.

53 Condé, Mémoires, 11, 137, 27 Feb. 1563; Layard, Despatches, pp. civ-cv, 2 Mar. 1563.

54 I am grateful to Dr Joan M. Davies for having investigated Feuquières in Paris.

55 De Ruble concluded that Condé intended in some way to profit from the murder to escape that night, but the mechanics of this are not apparent. De Ruble, L’assassinat, p. 88.

56 Space precludes a full account of the reasons.

57 ’…d’effacer entièrement le nom de la famille et race des Bourbons’, printed in Sutherland, The massacre of St Bartholomew, p. 349.

58 The ‘treaty’ appears among Condé’s papers, and he is alleged to have published it in Apr. 1562. Condé, Mémoires, 111, 209–13.

59 Sutcliffe, F. E., ed., La Noue, discours politiques el militaries (Geneva, 1967), p. 607.Google Scholar

60 CSPF, 7565, p. 142, 17 Feb. 1563, Smith to the privy council.

61 Louis de, Maimbourg, Histoire de la Ligue (Paris, 1684), p. 14; Sutherland, The massacre of St Bartholomew, p. 347.Google Scholar

62 Condé was murdered as a prisoner of war after the battle of Jarnac in Mar. 1569. Coligny perished in the massacre of St Bartholomew in Aug. 1572.

63 MSS Italien, 1724, fo. 4, 8 Mar. 1563.

Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

The Assassination of François Duc de Guise, February 1563
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

The Assassination of François Duc de Guise, February 1563
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

The Assassination of François Duc de Guise, February 1563
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *