1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Guise, House of

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GUISE, HOUSE OF, a cadet branch of the house of Lorraine (q.v.). René II., duke of Lorraine (d. 1508), united the two branches of the house of Lorraine. From his paternal grandmother, Marie d’Harcourt, René inherited the countships of Aumale, Mayenne, Elbeuf, Lillebonne, Brionne and other French fiefs, in addition to the honours of the elder branch, which included the countship of Guise, the dowry of Marie of Blois on her marriage in 1333 with Rudolph or Raoul of Lorraine. René’s eldest surviving son by his marriage with Philippa, daughter of Adolphus of Egmont, duke of Gelderland, was Anthony, who succeeded his father as duke of Lorraine (d. 1544), while the second, Claude, count and afterwards duke of Guise, received the French fiefs. The Guises, though naturalized in France, continued to interest themselves in the fortunes of Lorraine, and their enemies were always ready to designate them as foreigners. The partition between the brothers Anthony and Claude was ratified by a further agreement in 1530, reserving the lapsed honours of the kingdoms of Jerusalem, Sicily, Aragon, the duchy of Anjou and the countships of Provence and Maine to the duke of Lorraine. Of the other sons of René II., John (1498–1550) became the first cardinal of Lorraine, while Ferri, Louis and Francis fell fighting in the French armies at Marignano (1515), Naples (1528) and Pavia (1525) respectively.

Claude of Lorraine, count and afterwards 1st duke of Guise (1496–1550), was born on the 20th of October 1496. He was educated at the French court, and at seventeen allied himself to the royal house of France by a marriage with Antoinette de Bourbon (1493–1583) daughter of François, Count of Vendôme. Guise distinguished himself at Marignano (1515), and was long in recovering from the twenty-two wounds he received in the battle; in 1521 he fought at Fuenterrabia, when Louise of Savoy ascribed the capture of the place to his efforts; in 1522 he defended northern France, and forced the English to raise the siege of Hesdin; and in 1523 he obtained the government of Champagne and Burgundy, defeating at Neufchâteau the imperial troops who had invaded his province. In 1525 he destroyed the Anabaptist peasant army, which was overrunning Lorraine, at Lupstein, near Saverne (Zabern). On the return of Francis I. from captivity, Guise was erected into a duchy in the peerage of France, though up to this time only princes of the royal house had held the title of duke and peer of France. The Guises, as cadets of the sovereign house of Lorraine and descendants of the house of Anjou, claimed precedence of the Bourbon princes. Their pretensions and ambitions inspired distrust in Francis I., although he rewarded Guise’s services by substantial gifts in land and money. The duke distinguished himself in the Luxemburg campaign in 1542, but for some years before his death he effaced himself before the growing fortunes of his sons. He died on the 12th of April 1550.

He had been supported in all his undertakings and intrigues by his brother John, cardinal of Lorraine (1498–1550), who had been made coadjutor of Metz at the age of three. The cardinal was archbishop of Reims, Lyons and Narbonne, bishop of Metz, Toul, Verdun, Thérouanne, Luçon, Albi, Valence, Nantes and Agen, and before he died had squandered most of the wealth which he had derived from these and other benefices. Part of his ecclesiastical preferments he gave up in favour of his nephews. He became a member of the royal council in 1530, and in 1536 was entrusted with an embassy to Charles V. Although a complaisant helper in Francis I.’s pleasures, he was disgraced in 1542, and retired to Rome. He died at Nogent-sur-Yonne on the 18th of May 1550. He was extremely dissolute, but as an open-handed patron of art and learning, as the protector and friend of Erasmus, Marot and Rabelais he did something to counter-balance the general unpopularity of his calculating and avaricious brother.

Claude of Guise had twelve children, among them Francis, 2nd duke of Guise; Charles, 2nd cardinal of Lorraine (1524–1574), who became archbishop of Reims in 1538 and cardinal in 1547; Claude, marquis of Mayenne, duke of Aumale (1526–1573), governor of Burgundy, who married Louise de Brézé, daughter of Diane de Poitiers, thus securing a powerful ally for the family; Louis (1527–1578), bishop of Troyes, archbishop of Sens and cardinal of Guise; René, marquis of Elbeuf (1536–1566), from whom descended the families of Harcourt, Armagnac, Marsan and Lillebonne; Mary of Lorraine (q.v.), generally known as Mary of Guise, who after the death of her second husband, James V. of Scotland, acted as regent of Scotland for her daughter Mary, queen of Scots; and Francis (1534–1563), grand prior of the order of the Knights of Malta. The solidarity of this family, all the members of which through three generations cheerfully submitted to the authority of the head of the house, made it a formidable factor in French politics.

Francis of Lorraine, 2nd duke of Guise (1519–1563), “le grand Guise,” was born at Bar on the 17th of February 1519. As count of Aumale he served in the French army, and was nearly killed at the siege of Boulogne in 1545 by a wound which brought him the name of “Balafré.” Aumale was made (1547) a peerage-duchy in his favour, and on the accession of Henry II. the young duke, who had paid assiduous court to Diane de Poitiers, shared the chief honours of the kingdom with the constable Anne de Montmorency. Both cherished ambitions for their families, but the Guises were more unscrupulous in subordinating the interests of France to their own. Montmorency’s brutal manners, however, made enemies where Guise’s grace and courtesy won him friends. Guise was a suitor for the hand of Jeanne d’Albret, princess of Navarre, who refused, however, to become a sister-in-law of a daughter of Diane de Poitiers and remained one of the most dangerous and persistent enemies of the Guises. He married in December 1548 Anne of Este, daughter of Ercole II., duke of Ferrara, and through her mother Renée, a granddaughter of Louis XII. of France. In the same year he had put down a peasant rising in Saintonge with a humanity that compared very favourably with the cruelty shown by Montmorency to the town of Bordeaux. He made preparations in Lorraine for the king’s German campaign of 1551–52. He was already governor of Dauphiné, and now became grand chamberlain, prince of Joinville, and hereditary seneschal of Champagne, with large additions to his already considerable revenues. He was charged with the defence of Metz, which Henry II. had entered in 1551. He reached the city in August 1552, and rapidly gave proof of his great powers as a soldier and organizer by the skill with which the place, badly fortified and unprovided with artillery, was put in a state of defence. Metz was invested by the duke of Alva in October with an army of 60,000 men, and the emperor joined his forces in November. An army of brigands commanded by Albert of Brandenburg had also to be reckoned with. Charles was obliged to raise the siege on the 2nd of January 1553, having lost, it is said, 30,000 men before the walls. Guise used his victory with rare moderation and humanity, providing medical care for the sick and wounded left behind in the besiegers’ camp. The subsequent operations were paralysed by the king’s suspicion and carelessness, and the constable’s inactivity, and a year later Guise was removed from the command. He followed the constable’s army as a volunteer, and routed the army of Charles V. at the siege of Renty on the 12th of August 1554. Montmorency’s inaction rendered the victory fruitless, and a bitter controversy followed between Guise and the constable’s nephew Coligny, admiral of France, which widened a breach already existing.

The conclusion of a six years’ truce at Vaucelles (1556) disappointed Guise’s ambitions, and he was the main mover in the breach of the treaty in 1558, when he was sent at the head of a French army to Italy to the assistance of Pope Paul IV. against Spain. Guise, who perhaps had in view the restoration to his family of the Angevin dominion of Naples and Sicily, crossed the Alps early in 1557 and after a month’s delay in Rome, where he failed to receive the promised support, marched on the kingdom of Naples, then occupied by the Spanish troops under Alva. He seized and sacked Campli (April 17th), but was compelled to raise the siege of Civitella. Meanwhile the pope had veered round to a Spanish alliance, and Guise, seeing that no honour was to be gained in the campaign, wisely spared his troops, so that his army was almost intact when, in August, he was hastily summoned home to repel the Spanish army which had invaded France from the north, and had taken St Quentin. On reaching Paris in October Guise was made lieutenant-general of the kingdom, and proceeded to prepare for the siege of Calais. The town was taken, after six days’ fighting, on the 6th of January 1558, and this success was followed up by the capture of Guînes, Thionville and Arlon, when the war was ended by the treaty of Câteau Cambrésis (1559). Although his brother, the cardinal of Lorraine, was one of the negotiators, this peace was concluded against the wishes of Guise, and was regarded as a triumph of the constable’s party. The Guises were provided with a weapon against Montmorency by the bishop of Arras (afterwards Cardinal Granvella), who gave to the cardinal of Lorraine at an interview at Péronne in 1558 an intercepted letter proving the Huguenot leanings of the constable’s nephews.

On the accession in 1559 of Francis II., their nephew by marriage with Mary Stuart, the royal authority was practically delegated to Guise and the cardinal, who found themselves beyond rivalry for the time being. They had, however, to cope with a new and dangerous force in Catherine de’ Medici, who was now for the first time free to use her political ability. The incapacity, suspicion and cruelty of the cardinal, who controlled the internal administration, roused the smaller nobility against the Lorraine princes. A conspiracy to overturn their government was formed at Nantes, with a needy Périgord nobleman named La Renaudie as its nominal head, though the agitation had in the first instance been fostered by the agents of Louis I., prince of Condé. The Guises were warned of the conspiracy while the court was at Blois, and for greater security removed the king to Amboise. La Renaudie, nothing daunted, merely postponed his plans; and the conspirators assembled in small parties in the woods round Amboise. They had, however, been again betrayed and many of them were surrounded and taken before the coup could be delivered; one party, which had seized the château of Noizay, surrendered on a promise of amnesty given “on his faith as a prince” by James of Savoy, duke of Nemours, a promise which, in spite of the duke’s protest, was disregarded. On the 19th of March 1560, La Renaudie and the rest of the conspirators openly attacked the château of Amboise. They were repelled; their leader was killed; and a large number were taken prisoners. The merciless vengeance of the Guises was the measure of their previous fears. For a whole week the torturings, quarterings and hangings went on, the bodies being cast into the Loire, the young king and queen witnessing the bloody spectacle day by day from a balcony of the château.

The cruel repression of this “conspiracy of Amboise” inspired bitter hatred of the Guises, since they were avenging a rising rather against their own than the royal authority. They now entrenched themselves with the king at Orleans, and the Bourbon princes, Anthony, king of Navarre, and his brother Condé, were summoned to court. The Guises convened a special commission to try Condé, who was condemned to death; but the affair was postponed by the chancellor, and the death of Francis II. in December saved Condé. Guise then made common cause with his old rival Montmorency and with the Marshal de Saint André against Catherine, the Bourbons and Coligny. This alliance, constituted on the 6th of April 1561, and known as the triumvirate, aimed at the annulment of the concessions made by Catherine to the Huguenots. The cardinal of Lorraine fomented the discord which appeared between the clergy of the two religions when they met at the colloquy of Poissy in 1561, but in spite of the extreme Catholic views he there professed, he was at the time in communication with the Lutheran princes of Germany, and in February 1562 met the duke of Württemberg at Zabern to discuss the possibility of a religious compromise.

The signal for civil war was given by an attack of Guise’s escort on a Huguenot congregation at Vassy (1st of March 1562). Although Guise did not initiate the massacre, and although, when he learned what was going on, he even tried to restrain his soldiers, he did not disavow their action. When Catherine de’ Medici forbade his entry into Paris, he accepted the challenge, and on the 16th of March he entered the city, where he was a popular hero, at the head of 2000 armed nobles. The provost of the merchants offered to put 20,000 men and two million livres at his disposal. In September he joined Montmorency in besieging Rouen, which was sacked as if it had been a foreign city, in spite of Guise’s efforts to save it from the worst horrors. At the battle of Dreux (19th of December 1562) he commanded a reserve army, with which he saved Montmorency’s forces from destruction and inflicted a crushing defeat on the Huguenots. The prince of Condé was his prisoner, while the capture of Montmorency by the Huguenots and the assassination of the Marshal de Saint-André after the battle left Guise the undisputed head of the Catholic party. He was appointed lieutenant-general of the kingdom, and on the 5th of February 1563 he appeared with his army before Orleans. On the 19th, however, he was shot by the Huguenot Jean Poltrot de Méré as he was returning to his quarters, and died on the 24th of the effects of the wound. Guise’s splendid presence, his generosity and humanity and his almost unvarying success on the battlefield made him the idol of his soldiers. He attended personally to the minutest details, and Monluc complains that he even wrote out his own orders. The mistakes and cruelties associated with his name were partly due to the evil counsels of his brother Charles, the cardinal, whose cowardice and insincerity were the scorn of his contemporaries. The negotiations of the Guises with Spain dated from the interview with Granvella at Péronne, in 1558, and after the death of his brother the cardinal of Lorraine was constantly in communication with the Spanish court, offering, in the event of the failure of direct heirs to the Valois kings, to deliver up the frontier fortresses and to acknowledge Philip II. as king of France. His death in 1574 temporarily weakened the extreme Catholic party.

Of the children of Francis “le Balafré” five survived him: Henry, 3rd duke of Guise; Charles, duke of Mayenne (1554–1611) (q.v.), who consolidated the League; Catherine (1552–1596), who married Louis of Bourbon, duke of Montpensier, and encouraged the fanaticism of the Parisian leaguers; Louis, second cardinal of Guise, afterwards of Lorraine (1555–1588), who was assassinated with his brother Henry; and Francis (1558–1573).

Henry of Lorraine, 3rd duke of Guise (1550–1588), born on the 31st of December 1550, was thirteen years old at the time of his father’s death, and grew up under the domination of a passionate desire for revenge. Catherine de’ Medici refused to take steps against Coligny, who was formally accused by the duchess of Guise and her brothers-in-law of having incited the murder. In 1566 she insisted on a formal reconciliation at Moulins between the Guises and Coligny, at which, however, none of the sons of the murdered man was present. Henry and his brothers were, however, compelled in 1572 to sign an ambiguous assent to this agreement. Guise’s widow married James of Savoy, duke of Nemours, and the young duke at sixteen went to fight against the Turks in Hungary. On the fresh outbreak of civil war in 1567 he returned to France and served under his uncle Aumale. In the autumn of 1568 he received a considerable command, and speedily came into rivalry with Henry of Valois, duke of Anjou. He had not inherited his father’s generalship, and his rashness and headstrong valour more than once brought disaster on his troops, but the showy quality of his fighting brought him great popularity in the army. In the defence of Poitiers in 1569 with his brother, the duke of Mayenne, he showed more solid abilities as a soldier. On the conclusion of peace in 1570 he returned to court, where he made no secret of his attachment to Margaret of Valois. His pretensions were violently resented by her brothers, who threatened his life, and he saved himself by a precipitate marriage with Catherine of Cleves (daughter of Francis of Cleves, duke of Nevers, and Margaret of Bourbon), the widow of a Huguenot nobleman, Antoine de Crog, prince of Porcien. Presently he ended his disgrace by an apparent reconciliation with Henry of Valois and an alliance with Catherine de’ Medici. He was an accomplice in the first attack on Coligny’s life, and when permission for the massacre of Saint Bartholomew had been extorted from Charles IX. he roused Paris against the Huguenots, and satisfied his personal vengeance by superintending the murder of Coligny. He was now the acknowledged chief of the Catholic party, and the power of his family was further increased by the marriage (1575) of Henry III. with Louise of Vaudémont, who belonged to the elder branch of the house of Lorraine. In a fight at Dormans (10th of October 1575), the only Catholic victory in a disastrous campaign, Guise received a face wound which won for him his father’s name of Balafré and helped to secure the passionate attachment of the Parisians. He refused to acquiesce in the treaty of Beaulieu (5th of May 1576), and with the support of the Jesuits proceeded to form a “holy league” for the defence of the Roman Catholic Church. The terms of enrolment enjoined offensive action against all who refused to join. This association had been preceded by various provincial leagues among the Catholics, notably one at Péronne. Condé had been imposed on this town as governor by the terms of the peace, and the local nobility banded together to resist him. This, like the Holy League itself, was political as well as religious in its aims, and was partly inspired by revolt against the royal authority. In the direction of the League Guise was hampered by Philip of Spain, who subsidized the movement, while he also had to submit to the dictation of the Parisian democracy. Ulterior ambitions were freely ascribed to him. It was asserted that papers seized from his envoy to Rome, Jean David, revealed a definite design of substituting the Lorraines, who represented themselves as the successors of Charlemagne, for the Valois; but these papers were probably a Huguenot forgery. Henry III. eventually placed himself at the head of the League, and resumed the war against the Huguenots; but on the conclusion of peace (September 1577) he seized the opportunity of disbanding the Catholic associations. The king’s jealousy of Guise increased with the duke’s popularity, but he did not venture on an open attack, nor did he dare to avenge the murder by Guise’s partisans of one of his personal favourites, Saint-Mégrin, who had been set on by the court to compromise the reputation of the duchess of Guise.[1]

Meanwhile the duke had entered on an equivocal alliance with Don John of Austria. He was also in constant correspondence with Mary of Lorraine, and meditated a descent on Scotland in support of the Catholic cause. But the great riches of the Guises were being rapidly dissipated, and in 1578 the duke became a pensioner of Philip II. When in 1584 the death of the duke of Anjou made Henry of Navarre the next heir to the throne, the prospect of a Huguenot dynasty roused the Catholics to forget their differences, and led to the formation of a new league of the Catholic nobles. At the end of the same year Guise and his brother, the duke of Mayenne, with the assent of other Catholic nobles, signed a treaty at Joinville with Philip II., fixing the succession to the crown on Charles, cardinal of Bourbon, to the exclusion of the Protestant princes of his house. In March 1585 the chiefs of the League issued the Declaration of Péronne, exposing their grievances against the government and announcing their intention to restore the dignity of religion by force of arms. On the refusal of Henry III. to accept Spanish help against his Huguenot subjects, war broke out. The chief cities of France declared for the League, and Guise, who had recruited his forces in Germany and Switzerland, took up his headquarters at Châlons, while Mayenne occupied Dijon, and his relatives, the dukes of Elbeuf, Aumale and Mercœur,[2] roused Normandy and Brittany. Henry III. accepted, or feigned to accept, the terms imposed by the Guises at Nemours (7th of July 1585). The edicts in favour of the Huguenots were immediately revoked. Guise added to his reputation as the Catholic champion by defeating the German auxiliaries of the Huguenots at Vimory (October 1587) and Auneau (November 1587). The protestations of loyalty to Henry III. which had marked the earlier manifestoes of the League were modified. Obedience to the king was now stated to depend on his giving proof of Catholic zeal and showing no favour to heresy. In April 1588 Guise arrived in Paris, where he put himself at the head of the Parisian mob, and on the 12th of May, known as the Day of the Barricades, he actually had the crown within his grasp. He refused to treat with Catherine de’ Medici, who was prepared to make peace at any cost, but restrained the populace from revolution and permitted Henry to escape from Paris. Henry came to terms with the League in May, and made Guise lieutenant-general of the royal armies. The estates-general, which were assembled at Blois, were devoted to the Guise interest, and alarmed the king by giving voice to the political as well as the religious aspirations of the League. Guise remained at the court of Blois after receiving repeated warnings that Henry meditated treason. On the 25th of December he was summoned to the king’s chamber during a sitting of the royal council, and was murdered by assassins carefully posted by Henry III. himself. The cardinal of Lorraine was murdered in prison on the next day. The history of the Guises thenceforward centres in the duke of Mayenne (q.v.).

By his wife, Catherine of Cleves, the third duke had fourteen children: among them Charles, 4th duke of Guise (1571–1640); Claude, duke of Chevreuse (1578–1657), whose wife, Marie de Rohan, duchess of Chevreuse, became famous for her intrigues; Louis (1585–1621), 3rd cardinal of Guise, archbishop of Reims, remembered for his liaison with Charlotte des Essarts, mistress of Henry IV.

Charles, 4th duke of Guise (1571–1640), was imprisoned for three years after his father’s death. He married Henriette Catherine de Joyeuse, widow of the duke of Montpensier. His eldest son predeceased him, and he was succeeded by his second son Henry (1614–1664), who had been archbishop of Reims, but renounced the ecclesiastical estate and became 5th duke. He made an attempt (1647) on the crown of Naples, and was a prisoner in Spain from 1648 to 1652. A second expedition to Naples in 1654 was a fiasco. He was succeeded by his nephew, Louis Joseph (1650–1671), as 6th duke. With his son, Francis Joseph (1670–1675), the line failed; and the title and estates passed to his great-aunt, Marie of Lorraine, duchess of Guise (1615–1688), daughter of the 4th duke, and with her the title became extinct. The title is now vested in the family of the Bourbon-Orleans princes.

Authorities.—A number of contemporary documents relating to the Guises are included by L. Cimber and F. Danjou in their Archives curieuses de l’histoire de France (Paris, 1834, &c.). Vol. iii. contains a soldier’s diary of the siege of Metz, first published in Italian (Lyons, 1553), accounts of the sieges of Calais (Tours, 1558). of Thionville (Paris, 1558); vol. iv. an account of the tumult of Amboise from the Mémoires of Condé, and four accounts of the affair of Vassy; vol. v. four accounts of the battle of Dreux, one dictated by Guise, and accounts of the murder of Guise; vol. xi. accounts of the Parisian revolution of 1558; and vol. xii. numerous pamphlets and pieces dealing with the murder of Henry of Guise and his brother. An account of the murder of Guise and of the subsequent measures taken by Mayenne, which was supplied by the Venetian ambassador, G. Mocenigo, to his government, is printed by H. Brown in the Eng. Hist. Rev. (April 1895). For the foreign policy of the Guises, and especially their relations with Scotland, there is abundant material in the English Calendar of State Papers of Queen Elizabeth (Foreign Series) and in the correspondence of Cardinal Granvella. The memoirs of Francis, duke of Guise, covering the years 1547 to 1563, were published by Michel and Poujoulat in series 1, vol. iv. of their Coll. de mémoires. Among contemporary memoirs see especially those of the prince of Condé, of Blaise de Monluc and of Gaspard de Saulx-Tavannes. See also La Vie de F. de Lorraine, duc de Guise (Paris, 1681), by J. B. H. du Trousset de Valincourt; A. de Ruble, L’Assassinat de F. de Lorraine, duc de Guise (1897), where there is a list of the MS. sources available for a history of the house; R. de Bouillé, Hist. des ducs de Guise (4 vols., 1849); H. Forneron, Les Guise et leur époque (2 vols., 1887).


  1. This incident supplied Alexandre Dumas père with the subject of his Henri III et sa cour (1829).
  2. Philippe-Emmanuel of Lorraine, duke of Mercœur, a cadet of Lorraine and brother of Louise de Vaudémont, Henry III.’s queen. His wife, Mary of Luxemburg, descended from the dukes of Brittany, and he was made governor of the province in 1582. He aspired to separate sovereignty, and called his son prince and duke of Brittany.