Front Matter France Long Ago The Gauls In France The Priests of the Gauls Sailor Stories Conquests of the Gauls Two Great Battles Caesar in Gaul Gaul under the Romans First Christian Martyrs Patron Saint of France Franks Come to Gaul The First Kings Conquests of Clovis Clotaire and His Relatives Two Rival Queens Good King Dagobert The Saracens Checked End of the Merovingians Charlemagne's Wars Charlemagne's Manners Charlemagne, Emperor Feudalism Troublesome Sons The Strassburg Oath Normans Besiege Paris Last of the Carolingians The Year One Thousand Robert's Two Wives Wealth of the Clergy The First Crusade A Love Story The Second Crusade More Crusades The Battle of Bouvines Blanche of Castile The Sixth Crusade The Reign of Louis IX Effect of the Crusades The Battle of the Spurs End of Knights Templar The Hundred Years' War The Siege of Calais The Battle of Poitiers Seven Years of Misery The Brave du Guesclin Achievements of Charles V Charles VI Misrule in France The Disgraceful Treaty Joan to the Rescue Orleans and Rheims Joan's Martyrdom Charles's Successes The Crafty King Louis XI Louis XI's Reign Achievements of Louis XI Charles VIII The Second Italian War Death of Louis XII Francis I Rivalry of Kings Achievements of Francis I End of Francis's Reign Reign of Henry II A Young King and Queen Catherine's Regency The Forced Wedding Massacre of the Huguenots Death of Charles IX An Effeminate King he Battle of Coutras The Murder of the Guises Winning a Crown Conversion of Henry IV Henry IV's Second Marriage Death of Henry IV The Minority of Louis XIII Rule of the Favorites Richelieu and Louis XIII End of Louis XIII's Reign Beginning of a Great Reign Wars of the Fronde Death of Mazarin Versailles The Iron Mask Louis XIV's Campaigns Madame de Maintenon Later Wars of Louis XIV The Spanish Succession The Age of Louis XIV

Story of Old France - Helene Guerber

The Murder of the Guises

While the Duke of Guise and the queen mother were holding a meeting on the Day of the Barricades, to see if they could not make peace. King Henry III escaped from his palace and left the city to go in quest of an army wherewith to drive away the insolent subject who had refused to obey his orders. When the duke discovered that Catherine had tricked him, merely to enable her son to effect his escape, he became bitterly angry, and promptly made himself master of Paris. But when the Duke of Guise bade the mayor of the city take certain measures to maintain order, the mayor boldly refused to obey any commands save those issued by his king, declaring openly: "It is a great pity when the servant drives away the master; but my soul is God's and my heart is the king's, although my body is with the wicked!" All sixteen magistrates, however, were in favor of the duke, and carried out his orders.

Paris soon assumed the aspect of a besieged city, and it looked as if the breach between the king and his subject might prove final. Then Henry III—who was always changing his mind—suddenly declared he would pardon his rebellious subject, promised to exterminate the Huguenots, and named Guise general of the army!

Next, hoping to satisfy an angry people, Henry III bade the States-General assemble at Blois; but all the members belonged to the League, and insisted on giving the Duke of Guise still more power. His sister wore a pair of golden scissors dangling from her belt, declaring they were intended to shear off the locks of Henry III when he should be locked up in a monastery, as had been done to some of the "do-nothing kings." This made the king hate the Guises more than ever.

Now the haughty Duke of Guise was so brave that he once said, "Even if I were to see death enter by the window, I would not go out by the door to escape her." He therefore paid no heed whatever to secret warnings that his life was in danger. In fact, his sole comment was a contemptuous shrug of his handsome shoulders, and the scornful remark, "He wouldn't dare!" But this haughty nobleman was to find out his mistake before long.

The death of Guise


One morning, very early, the king summoned the Duke of Guise and the duke's brother, the cardinal, to his council room in the castle of Blois. He had previously arranged that forty of his guards should be posted in his bedroom so as to attack and slay an inconvenient subject. Then he had his chaplain say mass, and was impious enough to have the following prayer openly read: "That God may give the king grace to be able to carry out an enterprise which he hopes will come to an issue within an hour, and on which the safety of France depends!"

After a brief term of waiting in the king's antechamber, the Duke of Guise was summoned to the royal bedroom, where, instead of being received by the monarch as he expected, he was pounced upon by the murderers. He bravely tried to defend himself, but was felled by repeated blows. His brother, the Cardinal of Guise, hearing a struggle in the adjoining apartment, vainly tried to rush to his rescue, but guards had previously been detailed to seize him also, and he was locked up in a cell, where he was put to death the next day.

The king, who had been waiting anxiously in an adjoining room, learning that Guise was dead, marched into his bedchamber, where he stood a long time looking down at the body. Finally he touched it with his foot, just as Guise had touched Coligny sixteen years before, exclaiming as he did so: "Gracious, how tall he is! He looks taller dead than alive!" Should you ever visit the castle of Blois, you will see a dark stain on the floor, which is said to have been made by the blood of Guise, when he was thus basely murdered by a French king's orders.

But Henry III, evidently considered that he had done a most praiseworthy deed in ridding himself of the Duke of Guise and of his clever brother; for he proudly announced to his court: "At last I have killed the reptile, and to kill the reptile is to destroy the venom!" Then, going to visit his mother, Catherine, who lay on her deathbed, he triumphantly declared: "Madam, I am once more King of France. I have killed the King of Paris!"

Catherine faintly replied: "What, you have killed the duke! God grant, my son, you have not made yourself king of nothing. It is one thing to cut your cloth, and another to make it up!"

Evidently shrewd Queen Catherine plainly saw that her son was not the man to retrieve his past mistakes. The few days which still remained to her were spent, it is said, in bitter regret that she would not be able to resume the reins of government and carry out her many ambitious schemes. Meantime, the Leaguers, justly indignant at the murder of their idol, the Duke of Guise, declared Henry III no longer worthy to reign. Mayenne, a brother of the dead Guises, was made leader of their party, and took possession of Paris, where he ruled as king just as his brother had done. Even children marched through the streets loudly singing the praises of the Guise family and cursing the king, who had been formally excommunicated from the Church because of the murder of the cardinal.

As the gates of his capital were thus closed to him, Henry III soon changed his policy again, making friends this time with Henry of Navarre, his next of kin and heir. The two Henrys, uniting forces, proceeded immediately to St. Cloud, near Paris, whence they intended to make a determined assault upon the rebellious capital.

But the very day before this assault was to take place, a fanatical monk cleverly made his way into the royal camp, declaring that he had dispatches and a secret message to deliver to the king. The guard therefore led him into Henry III's presence and withdrew to a little distance. Then the monk—who believed that he would earn heavenly bliss if he slew the enemy of his Church and of his country—suddenly drew a dagger out of his sleeve, and stabbed the king in the abdomen. Jerking out the weapon, Henry III struck his assassin, and gasped, "This wicked monk has killed me!" before he fell to the ground.

The king was right. His wound was mortal, but he lived long enough to make various arrangements, and he solemnly warned his cousin, Henry of Navarre, "Be very sure of one thing, you will never become King of France unless you first become a Catholic!" Then, still jealous of the Guises, and fearing lest that family might, after all, secure the power which he could no longer hold, Henry III made the noblemen around his deathbed swear allegiance to Henry of Navarre, who, as soon as the last of the Valois died, became Henry IV of France, the first of the famous Bourbon branch (1589).

The Valois race had ruled over the country for two hundred and sixty years, and had given thirteen kings to France. All through that period there had been a succession of wars: first, the Hundred Years' War with England; then several wars in Italy, and for the Balance of Power; and finally the destructive religious or civil wars, which had not yet reached their end. Thus the Valois, by their inefficiency and love of pleasure, did great harm to France; but they also did much good, in that they encouraged letters and fine arts, thus leaving many beautiful buildings and countless art treasures, which are now the proud boast of the country.