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Portrait of Francois, Duke of Alencon

FRANÇOIS, DUKE OF ALENÇON AND ANJOU (1554-1584), was the youngest of the four sons of King Henri II of France and Catherine de' Medici. In childhood, he contracted smallpox, which left him disfigured (though little of it is shown in portraits). The smallpox also left him weak and caused his growth to be stunted, which exposed him to ridicule. He was under five feet tall.1 His lack of interest and proficiency in the manly arts of sports further opened him to derision in an era where these qualities, for a great part, were the measure of a man.2

From an early age, it was clear François had a dislike of his older brother Henri (Duke of Anjou, later King Henri III). The feeling seems to have been mutual, and the brothers remained bitter rivals throughout their lives. Their older brother Charles had acceded to the throne in 1560, and in 1566, Charles IX created François Duc D'Alençon.

In the early 1570s, the queen-mother, Catherine de' Medici, proposed a match for Alençon — Queen Elizabeth I of England. Elizabeth objected at first on the grounds of age and disparity of religion, but the proposal was not outright refused, and the negotiations carried on for years.

After the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572, Alençon took part in the siege of the Huguenot stronghold of La Rochelle (1573) under his brother Henri. Around this time, he proposed to visit Elizabeth in England, but was warned against it, indignation for the treatment of the protestant Huguenots still running strong in England.

King Charles IX was suffering with a long-term illness, which left him incapacitated. Alençon with his brother-in-law Henri of Navarre were caught scheming for the throne, and the two were imprisoned. After a protracted illness, King Charles IX succumbed in May, 1574. Henri was declared King Henri III, and Alençon, though freed, was kept under close watch. He managed to escape the court in September, 1575, to his own domains, from where he issued a manifesto against the corrupt goverment and promising protection to both Catholics and Protestants, if they shoud support his bid for the throne.

Alençon gathered a large force, and the King and queen-mother were forced to submit to Alençon's terms. The peace made on May 6, 1576, known as "the Peace of Monsieur" (or Edict of Bealieu), conferred upon Alençon his rightful revenues, as well as the duchies of Anjou, Touraine, and Berry, including "all ecclesiastical dignities and benefices in those provinces; all other rights of royalty, and a pension of 100,000 crowns."3

At the King's insistence, in 1576 Alençon signed the Holy League. When the religious wars were renewed in 1577, Alençon was sent in command of the King's armies against the Huguenots. Resistance was ruthlessly quelled, and the war was concluded with the peace of Bergerac.

The relationship between the brothers, however, was far from easy. Alençon made little effort to disguise his distaste for Henri, who in turn was suspicious of Alençon's designs both in Netherland and in regard to the French throne. Alençon was under constant watch once more, and when he tried to leave the court, Henri personally placed him under arrest. In 1578, Alençon was able to escape by being lowered out of his sister's bedroom window with a rope!4  Alençon entered Belgium in August and was declared protector of the liberty of Belgium. Alençon got little accomplished, and disbanded his army early in 1579.

Alençon and Elizabeth had been corresponding for years, as the marriage negotiations dragged. Early in 1579, Alençon dispatched his representative, Jean de Simier, to England, to woo Elizabeth and drive his suit. Simier (whom Elizabeth dubbed her "monkey", with a play on Simier-simian) paid masterful court to Elizabeth on behalf of his master, and all signs seemed favorable. Though no contract had been written up, on August 17th Alençon himself arrived in England.

The visit was unofficial, and the two had several "secret" meetings. No records exist of their first meeting, but the friendship which had budded over years of letters, seemed to have budded into an actual romance. They spent nearly every waking moment together, Elizabeth calling him her "frog" (grenouille). By the 25th, the Spanish ambassador Mendoza ruefully reported to his King that, "The Queen is delighted with Alençon, and he with her, as she has let out to some of her courtiers, saying that she was pleased to have known him, was much taken with his good parts, and admired him more than any man."5

After Alençon left on August 27th, he sent her letters "ardent enough to set fire to water."6 The letters are in the Hatfield collection, and include passionate protestations of eternal love, with florid lines like, "on the brink of this troublesome sea I kiss your feet."7 Simier also wrote, saying how his master could not sleep "for his great grief at leaving."

Elizabeth's court and kingdom, however, were not in favor of the match, feeling that the negatives outweighed the positives. The Council drafted an address to the Queen in October, and many heated conversations ensued, Elizabeth subjecting her councillors to much indignant abuse. When a lawyer named John Stubbs published a pamphlet entitled The Discovery of a Gaping Gulf Whereunto England is Like to Be Swallowed by Another French Marriage, he paid for his insolence by having his right hand chopped off. All of London seemed against the marriage, and even Sir Philip Sidney boldly wrote a letter to her majesty to advise against the match.

A preliminary marriage contract was signed in November, 1579. It provided that Alençon and his household could continue to practice their Catholic faith in private. But her subjects' uproar and the nitpicking over the contract began to take their toll, and the relationship began to cool in the following months. One of the most passionate objectors to the marriage was the Queen's earlier favorite, Leicester. In April 1580, Simier wrote on behalf of his master: "As for your frog, his flame is immortal, and his love towards you can never end either in this world or the next. By God, Madame, lose no more time!"8

The affair dragged on for nearly two more years, but in April 1581, it seemed the matter was near to being solved. An impressive embassy of the French, headed by the Dauphin, arrived in London to meet for negations with the English, and were royally entertained. Nothing was accomplished, however, terms not being mutually agreed upon. On June 2, Alençon himself came over secretly, without permission from his brother, the King. Elizabeth promised Alençon money and support with his campaign in Cambrai, and Alençon departed.

Next year, Alençon visited Elizabeth again and the scandalized Venetian ambassador reported back to Venice that the Queen visited Alençon's chambers every morning, bringing him a cup of broth for breakfast, and that the two spent the whole of every day together, improperly unchaperoned.9  The Spanish Ambassador mendoza reported to King Philip that "present indications prove that he has got an affirmative answer."10.  On 21 November 1581, when the French ambassador Castelnau pressed the Queen for an answer as to her intentions, she replied: "You may write this to the King: that the Duke of Alençon shall be my husband."11 She kissed him on the mouth and gave him a ring from her hand as a token.

All seemed set for the marriage, save that Elizabeth wanted Parliament to give their approval and King Henri to agree to the terms of a formal alliance with England. These objects were clearly not to be accomplished. Whether the happiness of her subjects and councillors was really important enough for her to forgo marrying the man she loved, or whether she had changed her mind about marrying Alençon and was using the Parliament and the French alliance as excuses, is not conclusively known. The effect remained the same. Eventually, Elizabeth called off the match, and Alençon was indignant: "No, no, madam, you are mine," Alençon protested12  He even threatened to take her for his wife by force. Alençon was sent away in February 1582 with the famous parting poem, "On Monsieur's Departure," by Elizabeth.

Alençon returned to the Netherlands, where he was named Duke of Brabant. In 1583, after several less than successful campaigns, the Duke withdrew to France. During his campaigns he had contracted an illness which slowly made him waste away, and he died of a fever on June 10th, 1584, barely 30 years of age. Everyone feared to tell Elizabeth the news. When she was finally told, she wore black for mourning and wept openly every day for three weeks13 and observed the anniversary of his death every year.14



Notes:

1. Erickson, 296.
2. Henry IV is recorded saying that he "is so awkwardly made,
has so little gracefulness in his deportment, and so little
skill in all kinds of exercises, that I cannot persuade myself
that he will ever do anything great" (Biog. Dic. 815).
3. Ibid. 816.
4. Ibid.
5. Quoted in Hume, 212.
6. French ambassador Castelnau, quoted in Hume. 213.
7. Hume, 214.
8. Ibid. 228.
9. Ibid. 265-6.
10. Ibid. 267.
11. Ibid. 269.
12. Spanish Calendar, Elizabethan, III, 243. Quoted in Erickson, 329.
13. Denkinger, 263.
14. Williams, 213.



Works Cited:

——, The Biographical Dictionary, &c.. Vol I, Part II.
        London: Longman, &c., 1842.
        [Available at Google Books]

Denkinger, Emma Marshall. Immortal Sidney.
        New York: Brentano's, 1931.

Erickson, Carolly. The First Elizabeth.
        New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1997.

Hume, Martin A. S. The Courtships of Queen Elizabeth.
        London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1898.
        [Available at Google Books]




Article Citation:

Jokinen, Anniina. "Biography of François, Duke of Alençon and Anjou."
                 Luminarium Encyclopedia.
                 18 June 2008. [Date you accessed the page].
                 <http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/alencon.htm>




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