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The Assassination of François Duc de Guise, February 1563

  • N. M. Sutherland (a1)
Extract

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.

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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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

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

13 Brantome, , Oeuvres, IV, 228.

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

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’; Sutherland, N. M., The French secretaries of slate in the age of Catherine de Medici (London, 1962), pp. 113–18.

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

18 Tommaseo, , Relations, 1, 436–9.

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.

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.

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.

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. 347–50; 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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