King empire

King Henry II of France and his gruesome death by jousting

King Henry II was known for cutting out the tongues of Protestants, but he faced a bloody death when he was stabbed in the eye during a jousting tournament in 1559.

King Henry II of France was known for his brutality against Protestants. He burned heretics alive and cut out the tongue of anyone who dared to utter a word of dissent against the Catholic Church. But the monarch faced a gruesome death when he was stabbed through the eye by a spear during a jousting tournament in 1559.

The not-so-noble ruler was also famous for his many affairs. His longtime mistress Diane de Poitiers became one of the most influential women in France during Henri’s reign.

Wikimedia CommonsKing Henry II of France, by François Clouet. 1559.

But Henry was also an effective leader. He successfully negotiated a treaty to end Italy’s wars against the Habsburgs and married his eldest son and heir, Francis II, to Mary, Queen of Scots in an attempt to establish a French claim to Scotland. .

Henry II of France was born into privilege and given power on top, and he may have thought he was untouchable. But he eventually learned the lesson of knowing when to admit defeat, and he learned it the hard way.

The youth and early marriage of Henry II of France

King Henry II was born in the sumptuous castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye about 18 km west of Paris. His parents, King Francis I and Claude, Duchess of Brittany, showered him with luxury – but perhaps not so much affection. Francis literally traded Henry and his brother to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in exchange for his own release when he was captured in the Battle of Pavia in 1525.

Charles V held seven-year-old Henry captive in Spain for four years. According Explore Francethere was only one thing that got young Henry through this tough time – a kiss.

Before Henry was shipped off to Spain, his grandmother’s lady-in-waiting, Diane de Poitiers, gave him a goodbye kiss. She was two decades older than Henry, but the boy has not forgotten her kindness.

In 1533, 14-year-old Henry was back in France and preparing to marry Catherine de’ Medici. Pope Clement VII had orchestrated a politically inspired coupling between Henry and his teenage niece. Catherine was not of royal lineage, but she was extremely wealthy.

Catherine de Medici

Wikimedia CommonsCatherine de Medici, by Germain Le Mannier. 1550s.

Catherine has historically been portrayed as having little to do with it, but money talks, and it was enough for King Francis to approve the match for his son. They married on October 28, 1533, but Henry still held a flame for his beloved courtesan Diane de Poitiers.

The newly married prince wasted no time picking up lovers, and Diane was one of the first. She was 35 years old; Henry was 15 years old.

From the young dolphin to the king of France

Henry spent a lot of time in his teens and twenties having fun with his favorite pastimes: hunting, jousting and women. Although he was not his wife’s biggest fan, he continued to sleep with her too, mainly because Diane insisted that he had to produce legitimate heirs.

However, Henry didn’t feel the need to rush into fatherhood. He wasn’t even heir to the throne. This distinction belonged to his older brother, Francis. That is, until Francis died suddenly after a particularly lively game of tennis, according to Factinate.

Meanwhile, Diane de Poitiers was helping run Henry’s future empire, signing letters with the bizarre signature “HenriDiane.” Henry even gave Diane the crown jewels of France, as well as the keys to the Chateau de Chenonceau, a royal estate Catherine had her eye on.

With Henry now in the front line for the throne of France, he began to feel pressure to produce an heir. After 10 years of marriage, he and Catherine still had no children. Henry and his compatriots blamed Catherine’s “infertility” for their lack of offspring, but in reality Henry had a penile deformity that made impregnating anyone difficult.

According to a study published in The Canadian Journal of Urologythe monarch likely suffered from hypospadias, a condition in which the urethra is located on the underside of the penis, and chordee, which causes the penis to curve downward considerably.

Catherine hired a sex doctor to give them advice, and after she and Henry learned new positions, she quickly became pregnant. After 10 years of marriage, they welcomed their son and heir, Francis, who would later marry Mary, Queen of Scots. Then they had nine more children.

Henry’s father, King Francis I, died in 1547 and Henry ascended the throne of France on his 28th birthday. Very quickly, he decided that his main adviser would be Diane de Poitiers.

Diana of Poitiers

Mazanto/Flickr
Portrait of Diana of Poitiers.

The Bloody Death of King Henry II

Henry’s reign was marked by his brutality against Protestants and the Italian Wars against the Habsburgs, which had been fought on and off since 1494. Henry eventually negotiated a peace treaty ending the war for bon in 1559, and he married his daughter Elisabeth to the king. Philip II of Spain for good measure.

To celebrate the treaty and the marriage of his daughter, Henry decided to organize a jousting tournament. Dressed in the colors of his mistress Diane, he proudly defeated Gabriel de Lorges, the Earl of Montgomery and the captain of Henry’s own bodyguard unit. The Earl knocked him down, but Henry didn’t give up – although it should be noted that everyone told him so.

Back in the saddle, Henry watched as the Earl charged, his spear drawn. Somehow, upon impact with Henry’s helmet, the spear shattered, sending the sharp rod through the king’s eye and straight into his brain. Spear shards were embedded in his head.

Blood was dripping from his helmet. The whole scene was so macabre that Catherine and Diane fainted.

Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, the British Ambassador to France, was present, and according to The story todayhe wrote of the incident: “I noticed that he was very weak, and that he had the sense of all his limbs almost numb, for being carried away, while lying all along, he did not move either hand or foot, but lay as if amazed”.

Henry II of France at the jousting tournament

Wikimedia Commons
Representation of the jousting tournament between Henri II and Gabriel de Lorges.

Doctors rushed Henry inside and removed five of the major shrapnel. They bandaged him up, hoping that a lost eye would be the king’s worst wound.

Catherine remained at her husband’s bedside, even though he was screaming with anguish to see Diane. The queen refused and took the opportunity to forbid Henri’s mistress from entering their royal residence.

Unexpectedly, Henry lived for ten days with broken spear pieces in his head and brain. However, he succumbed to sepsis on July 10, 1559, aged 40.

Catherine banishes Diane from the funeral and makes her give up the coveted Château de Chenonceau. The forsaken queen finally had the power, and she was going to use it – even if she had to do it over the corpse of Henry II of France.


Next, read all about Henry II of France’s daughter-in-law, Mary, Queen of Scots. Then discover the life of his wife, Catherine de Medici.