Charles IX of France

Dafato Team | Jun 22, 2024

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Charles IX, born on June 27, 1550 in the royal castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and died on May 30, 1574 in the castle of Vincennes, was king of France from 1560 to 1574.

He was the fourth king of the Valois-Angouleme family. Son of Henri II and Catherine de Medici, he succeeded his brother François II at the age of 10 and died without legitimate male children at the age of 24.

During his reign, the Kingdom was torn by the Wars of Religion, despite all the efforts of his mother Catherine to prevent them. After several attempts at reconciliation, his reign led to the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre.

Born Charles-Maximilien de France, he was the fifth of ten children and the third son of Henri II and Catherine de Medici. Initially titled Duke of Angouleme, he was titled Duke of Orleans (1550 to 1560), after the death of his brother Louis. He was baptized in the Catholic religion and received as godparents King Henri II of Navarre and Maximilian II, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and as godmother the Duchess of Ferrara, Renée de France (daughter of King Louis XII of France and Anne of Brittany), his great-aunt.

Accession to the throne and religious unrest

He acceded to the throne of France after the premature death of his brother François II. He was then 10 years old. The regency was entrusted to his mother until his majority. Charles was crowned king of France in the cathedral of Reims on May 5, 1561. From December 13, 1560 to January 31, 1561, he presided over the Estates General gathered in Orleans. The first prince of the blood, Antoine de Bourbon, was appointed lieutenant general of the kingdom.

When he came to the throne, Charles inherited a kingdom that was being divided between Catholics and Protestants. During the Poissy colloquy, organized on September 9, 1561, the queen mother hoped to find a way to reach an agreement between the Catholic party represented by the cardinal of Lorraine and the Protestant party represented by Theodore de Bèze, but no agreement was accepted. Incidents multiplied in France, between iconoclastic acts and physical violence. On November 16, 1561, the massacre of Cahors, in which nearly thirty Protestants died, confirmed this failure. On January 17, 1562, the edict of Saint-Germain-en-Laye allowed Protestants to worship in the countryside and urban suburbs.

Nevertheless, after the massacre of Wassy on March 1, 1562, the Protestants took up arms, led by the Prince of Condé. Many towns temporarily fell into their hands. They were defeated at Dreux by the Duke of Guise on December 19, 1562. While Louis de Condé was taken prisoner, the leader of the Catholic army, Montmorency, was captured by the Protestants. On February 4, 1563, François de Guise laid siege to Orleans, and died there on February 24 from three pistol shots in the back. On March 19, with the treaty of Amboise, a first fragile peace was established. On August 17 of the same year, Charles IX was declared of age, but the queen mother continued to exercise power in his name.

The peace of Amboise

The Edict of Pacification of Amboise did not satisfy anyone, and was difficult to apply: it forbade the Reformed worship in the cities, while the Protestants were in the majority in many important places, and were masters of several provinces.

In March 1564, a great tour of France began, organized by the queen mother, to show the king to his subjects and to make his kingdom known to the king. It also allowed to pacify the Kingdom. The itinerary passed through the most agitated cities of the Kingdom: Sens, Troyes in Champagne.

The procession left France on April 30, 1564, to go to Bar-le-Duc, capital of the duchy of Bar, where it stayed from May 1 to 9. There, Charles III, Duke of Lorraine, and his wife Claude, sister of the King of France, had their six-month-old son Henri baptized. Charles IX and Philip II, King of Spain, both maternal uncles of the child, were the godparents of the young prince. The King of Spain, who also reigned over the Spanish Netherlands, was represented by the Count of Mansfeld, Lord of Ligny and Governor of the neighboring Duchy of Luxembourg. Catherine de Médicis, although comforted to have reunited her son Charles with her favorite daughter Claude, misses her appointment with her eldest daughter, the queen of Spain Elisabeth.

Then, the royal procession went to the county of Ligny en Barrois on the borders of Lorraine, then to Dijon on May 19, Mâcon, a strategic city on the Saône, and the Rhone Valley: Roussillon, Valence, Montélimar, Avignon in the Papal States.

It was in the Renaissance castle of Roussillon that Charles IX signed the Edict of Roussillon, an article of which established January 1st as the first day of the year throughout the kingdom of France.

After a three-week stopover, the "Tour de France" continued to Salon-de-Provence - where the queen mother met her astrologer Nostradamus - and then to Aix-en-Provence, seat of the Parliament of Provence. The royal retinue arrived in Hyères for All Saints' Day 1564, then passed through Toulon and Marseilles, where the people welcomed her with festivities, and left the pacified Provence.

In Languedoc, the young king passed through Montpellier, Narbonne, Toulouse. In the Protestant cities of Gascony, he was respectfully welcomed, but not much more. In Montauban, where he entered on March 20, 1565, it was necessary to negotiate the disarmament of the city, which had resisted three sieges by Monluc. Toulouse and Bordeaux were more peaceful, being in Catholic hands.

The grand tour made an excursion to Bayonne (the queen mother was there for two reasons: to see the queen of Spain, her daughter Elizabeth, wife of King Philip II, and to negotiate a treaty with Spain, a negotiation that failed.

In July, Gascony was crossed again, and in August and September, the Charente valley. In these regions with a large Protestant minority, peace was extremely fragile, and the Protestants applied the Edict of Amboise with some reluctance. However, everywhere, the greatest loyalty was shown to the king. The only hiccups were at La Rochelle (the last entry of a French king before 1627), where the Protestants were unhappy, and at Orleans, where the convoy was greeted by a riot.

In 1566, the king finally stopped in Moulins, where several reforms were decided. On the proposal of the chancellor Michel de L'Hospital, the edict of Moulins regulates the successions and declares the royal domain inalienable.

The resumption of hostilities, then the peace of Saint-Germain

In June 1566 in Pamiers, despite the royal pacification, hostilities resumed and the Protestants attacked the Catholic churches. The Catholic repression was fierce: 700 Calvinists were massacred in Foix.

In August 1567, the Protestants devised a plan to kidnap the king and his mother. The latter took refuge in Meaux on September 24, which earned the conspiracy the name "surprise of Meaux".

In Nîmes and then throughout the Languedoc region, September 29, 1567, Saint Michael's Day, was marked by the Michelade: Catholic notables were brutally murdered. At the head of the Protestant troops, the Prince of Condé and Gaspard II de Coligny arrived at the gates of Paris.

The Protestants were defeated at Saint-Denis by the Constable de Montmorency on November 10, 1567, at Jarnac and at Moncontour by the Duke of Anjou. Peace was finally signed between Condé and Catherine de Medici at Longjumeau on March 23, 1568, and confirmed by the peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1570.

On September 25, 1568, at Saint-Maur, Charles IX promulgated an edict that excluded members of the reformed religion from the University and the offices of the judiciary.


Charles IX approached England and the Holy Germanic Empire diplomatically. Some people would like to see the king of France wear the imperial crown one day. On November 27, 1570, Charles IX married Elisabeth of Austria in Mézières, daughter of Maximilian II (1527-1576), Germanic Roman Emperor, and Mary of Austria (1528-1603), Infanta of Spain. In March 1571, the queen and the king entered Paris. The greatest French artists contributed to the elaboration of the decor and the program of the procession.

From this union came a daughter who died young, Marie-Elisabeth de France (1572-1578). In addition, the king maintained for eight years his favorite, tolerated by Catherine de Medici, the famous Marie Touchet (1549-1638), lady of Belleville, who gave him an illegitimate son, Charles de Valois-Angouleme (1573-1650) who will be titled Count of Auvergne in 1589, then Duke of Angouleme in 1619.

Thus, Charles IX is the only one among the five sons of Henri II and Catherine de Medici to have produced a descendant.

While the king spent his time hunting, the queen mother pursued reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants. In the fall of 1571, Admiral Gaspard de Coligny met with the king for a few days.

Weakening of France in the Mediterranean

On October 7, 1571, the battle of Lepanto took place in which France did not take part, except by sending a few volunteers to the ships of Malta or Nice. The French armies being occupied by their own internal conflicts, they protected only with difficulty the national interests at the international level.

Worse still, the French Mediterranean coastline was regularly subjected to the slave raids of the Bey of Algiers, Uluç Ali Paça, without the royal troops being able to intervene effectively.

The victory of the Christian arms at Lepanto with this weak participation of France will have for consequence the eviction of the French fleet from the Mediterranean and a loss of confidence of the Austrians, Florentines, Lombards, Maltese or Spaniards towards the crown of France.

The Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre

The marriage of the king's sister, Marguerite, to a young Protestant prince, the king of Navarre, the future Henry IV, seemed to be the pledge of a lasting reconciliation; but on August 22, 1572, a few days after the wedding, an attempt was made on the life of the leader of the Huguenot party, Gaspard II de Coligny. Fearing an uprising, Charles IX decided, probably under the influence of his mother Catherine de Medici and her advisors, to eliminate the Protestant leaders, with the exception of a few, including the princes of the blood, Henri de Navarre and the Prince de Condé.

This decision triggered the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre (August 24), which left thousands dead, probably 30,000, in Paris and in several large French cities. Determined to maintain order, the king ordered a halt to the massacres on the morning of August 24, but his repeated appeals for calm were often violated. A murderous madness took hold of the whole kingdom.

This massacre marked a turning point in the reign of Charles IX. The abandonment of the Edict of Saint-Germain and the exactions committed by the royal entourage made him definitively lose the confidence of the Protestants. After these events, the monarchy intended to put an end to Protestantism. The war resumed and led to the siege of La Rochelle.

The St. Bartholomew's Day massacre has always been the subject of debate because of its unexpected and confusing nature. Historians have always tried to determine the responsibility of the king. For a long time, it was believed that the massacre had been prepared and provoked by himself, but a collective responsibility of the king, his advisors, his mother and his brother Henry, Duke of Anjou, seems more likely.

Illness and death of the king

The physical health of the king was always poor. He engaged the services of doctors, including François Pidoux. After these dramatic events, the king declined little by little.

At the beginning of 1574, on two occasions, a plot (the Conjuration des Malcontents) fomented against him and his mother to have his younger brother François, Duke of Alencon, take the throne was foiled by Catherine de Médicis; these tumults weakened the king who took refuge in the Château de Vincennes, where he went to bed.

He died on Sunday, May 30, 1574, the day of Pentecost, around 3 p.m., one month before his 24th birthday after 13 years of reign. The next day, following rumors of poisoning, Ambroise Paré performed an autopsy and confirmed that the king had died of pleurisy following a tubercular pneumonia.

On hearing of his death, his brother, the Duke of Anjou, left for Krakow in the fall of 1573 following his election as King of Poland and returned to France where he became Henry III.

Charles IX is buried in Saint-Denis. Six years earlier, Catherine de Medici had started the construction of a mausoleum for the Valois.

In 1793, during the desecration of the tombs of the Saint-Denis basilica, the king's body was thrown into a mass grave.

Widowed at the age of 20, the young queen, Elisabeth of Austria, refusing to remarry, returned to Austria in 1576 and retired near a convent of Poor Clares that she had founded. Their daughter, Marie-Elisabeth of France, died in 1578, four years after the death of Charles IX.

This prince, who had received lessons from Jacques Amyot, was educated and cultivated letters: we have from him beautiful verses and a treatise on the Royal Hunt, first published in 1625, reprinted by Henri Chevreul in 1858.

Guillaume-Gabriel Le Breton had his tragedy Adonis performed before him in 1569.

In 1561, Charles IX decided to offer a sprig of lily of the valley as a good luck charm to the ladies of the court on May 1st, and asked that this be repeated in the following years. This custom, whose origins go back to the Celtic and Roman symbolism of the return of spring, linked to this flower, is however initially limited to the aristocracy and is popularized only at the end of the 19th century.


As soon as Charles came to power, Catherine de Medici had most of the paintings in her apartments in Fontainebleau redone, in particular the ceiling of the king's chamber, a coffered ceiling painted by Primaticcio.

In 1596, a madman or impostor named François de La Ramée was sentenced to death for claiming to be the son of Charles IX.

In 1566, the principality of Mantoue in the Perche (composed of Brezolles and Senonches) was created by Charles IX to put an end to a dispute between the Duke of Nevers and the lords of Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais. This principality will become the marquisate of Senonches, property of the Broglie family.


  1. Charles IX of France
  2. Charles IX (roi de France)
  3. Voulons et ordonnons qu'en tous actes, registres, instrumens, contracts, ordonnances, édicts, tant patentes que missives, et toute escripture privée, l'année commance doresénavant et soit comptée du premier jour de ce moys de janvier. Donné à Roussillon, le neufiesme jour d'aoust, l'an de grâce mil cinq cens soixante quatre. Et de notre règne le quatrième. Ainsi signé par le Roy en son Conseil. Charles IX de France (article 39 de l'édit de Roussillon).
  4. Valérie Coulet, Guide secret de la Champagne-Ardenne, Rennes, Éditions Ouest-France, 2013, 143 p. (ISBN 978-2-7373-5866-1), p. 32-33.
  5. ^ Anselme 1726, p. 134.
  6. ^ a b Chisholm 1911, p. 921.
  7. ^ a b Simonin, 1995, pp. 15-16.
  8. ^ Fraser, 1996, p. 103.
  9. a b Hahner Péter: Szent Bertalan éjszakája. In: Rubicon, 2000/1-2, p. 25

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