Henri de Lorraine, Duke of Guise

Henri de Lorraine, Duke of Guise (* 31 December 1550; † 23 December 1588) is the principal character in Marlowe’s drama The Massacre at Paris.

The Guise family did not belong to the French high aristocracy. Claude de Lorraine distinguished himself in the campaigns of François I, who elevated him to Duke of Guise and Peer of France in 1528. This put him almost on the same level as the Bourbon and Condé families overnight. He also married into the first thanks to Antoinette de Bourbon. His children continued to climb the social ladder. Charles de Lorraine-Guise became one of the most important church leaders of his time, representing France at the Council of Trent. Marie de Guise married James V of Scotland in her second marriage and became the mother of a daughter who was later to be much talked about under the name Mary Stuart. The first-born François de Lorraine became Duke of Guise in 1550 and in 1558 witnessed the marriage of his niece Mary to François, the eldest son of Henri II and Caterina de' Medici. The following year, François II ascended the French throne. Mary’s uncles thus became the most powerful and influential men in the kingdom, but François II died on 5 December 1560. His mother took over the regency for the minor Charles IX and was anxious never again to grant so much power to a family. Nevertheless, the Duke of Guise remained a factor not to be underestimated, especially against the background of the incipient conflicts between Catholics and Huguenots. He was a key player in the massacre at Vassy, which marked the beginning of the French Wars of Religion. In February 1563, the Huguenot Jean de Poltrot shot the Duke of Guise. On 24 February the duke died, succumbing to the art of the doctors rather than his wounds. Gaspard de Coligny was suspected of ordering the assassination, but it could never be established whether this was right. Guise and Coligny had originally been bound by a close friendship, which over the years had become a deep dislike. Henri, the eldest son and successor of the late duke, held Coligny exclusively responsible for his father’s death. François de Lorraine had been married to Anna d’Este, a granddaughter of Lucrezia Borgia. Their son Henri may have inherited some of the qualities of his great-great-grandfather Pope Alexander VI.

Anonymous. Portrait d’Henri Ier de Lorraine, 3. duc de Guise. 1566-1568. Musée national du château Versailles. CC0

Guise fought successfully in the Wars of Religion and was an important figure at the French court until 1570, when his relationship with Marguerite, the king’s sister, became known. The Duke had really hoped for a marriage, which outraged Charles IX. Guise was temporarily removed from court and married to Catherine de Clèves. He was therefore opposed to the marriage between Marguerite and Henri de Navarre in several respects. To this day, Guise is considered the most likely person to have ordered the assassination of Coligny. Presumably, on the evening of 23 August, he attended a meeting in the Louvre at which Charles IX gave his consent to the killing of the leading Huguenots (about two to three dozen men). Guise was clearly responsible for Coligny’s murder. He even had the latter’s body thrown out of the window into the courtyard, just to make sure that it really was the admiral. When the situation in Paris got out of hand, Guise may not have been in the city at all, but was looking for more Huguenot military leaders. He was as surprised as everyone else by the dimensions that the massacre took on.1

Although Caterina de' Medici was always sceptical about Guise’s striving for power, it only came to a conflict with the Crown when Henri III ascended the throne. On the one hand, the duke felt set back in relation to the mignons. In 1587, after Joyeuse’s death, he firmly counted on the post of governor of Normandy. This was France’s most profitable province and Guise had debts despite Spanish support. In fact, the king transferred all of Joyeuse’s offices to Épernon.2
On the other hand, Guise, like many Catholics, rejected the partly Huguenot-friendly tendencies of Henri III. When Alençon died in 1584, making Navarre the next heir to the throne, the Catholic League was founded in the autumn and the Treaty of Joinville was signed at the end of the year.

Guise certainly had enormous hubris. He had already seen himself as Charles IX's brother-in-law in 1570. Six years later, a letter appeared in which Guise was granted claims to the French throne. The so-called David Mémorial circulated in Paris from September 1576. The lawyer Jean David had just returned from Rome when he died in Lyon. A document was found with his body claiming that the House of Guise was directly descended from Charlemagne and therefore took precedence in the line of succession over the Carpetingers, who were degenerate and cursed by God. After Henri III had been put into a monastery, the Pope was to make the Duke of Guise King of France. At least one copy reached Spain. Philip II gave it to the French ambassador, who immediately sent it to his sovereign. Only then did Henri III take note of the whole matter.3 The Catholic League’s proposals for a Catholic succession were all ill-conceived. Charles de Bourbon de Vendôme, the last living uncle of Henri de Navarre was a cardinal over 60 years old. Philip II had proposed his daughter Katharina Michaela, the Duchess of Savoy, as heir to the throne. Her mother, Elisabeth, was a deceased sister of Henri III, an arrangement that would have been entirely contrary to Salic law. The same applied to Guise, who was related to the Bourbons through his paternal grandmother. For a relationship with the Valois, one must go back even further. Guise’s great-great-grandmother Yolande d’Anjou was a great-great-granddaughter of Philip VI, the first king from the House of Valois. The House of Guise was thus cognitively related to both families through a female person, which in turn made the Salic law effective. After Guise’s death, the League compiled all the reasons for deposing Henri III,4 but in the end the French were unwilling to allow such massive interference in the succession to the throne.

In 1588 Guise was at the height of his power. Although Henri III had forbidden him to enter the capital, Guise came to Paris in May. The Spanish ambassador, Bernardino de Mendoza, was commissioned by Philip II to divert France’s attention from the planned departure of the Armada for England,5 for which Guise’s performance was well suited. When the king learned of the duke’s presence, he had his troops deployed. Immediately the rumour spread that the royal soldiers were to kill Guise and his followers. On 12 May 1588, the Parisians therefore went to the barricades. The city was firmly in Guise hands and Henri III retreated from his capital to Chartres. On 21 July 1588, he had to sign the Edict of Union in Rouen, which confirmed the Treaty of Nemours, recognised Charles de Bourbon as heir to the throne, transferred the leadership of the desired provinces as well as the military supreme command to Guise and provided for the dismissal of Épernon. The king, however, refused to return to Paris. As soon as the defeat of the Armada became known in the autumn and Spain’s attention was no longer on France, Henri III called the Estates-General. But Guise and the Catholic League dominated there too.

There were repeated rumours that Henri III and Guise were planning to have the other assassinated. In the palace garden of Blois, the two had a discussion in which they assured each other of their mutual goodwill. The Duke of Mayenne informed Henri III of an assassination attempt his brother was planning. By assassinating the Duke of Guise, the king not only wanted to pre-empt this assassination attempt, he also hoped that by eliminating Guise and his brother the cardinal, he would weaken the League in the long term, but exactly the opposite happened.6 Guise must have been completely unsuspecting, for when the king summoned him before a council meeting on 23 December 1588, he harboured no suspicion whatsoever. On the orders of Henri III, the Duke was stabbed to death in the royal chamber by five guardsmen of the royal guard.

The Massacre at Paris

Marlowe’s Guise is what the Elizabethans imagined: A ruthless man of power, supported by Spain and the Pope with the aim of completely eliminating Protestantism. At that time, people in England were convinced that the Vatican, with the help of the Catholic rulers, wanted to force the reinstatement of Catholicism as the sole faith at all costs. Today it is known that such a "Catholic world conspiracy" never existed, but for the Protestants of the late 16th century it was a portent on the wall.7 In England, Guise was the arch-enemy and the face of this conspiracy until the attack of the Armada in 1588.8 The support Guise received from the Pope and Philip II was common knowledge and is also referred to several times by Marlowe. Whether he had really planned to invade England to make Mary Stuart queen, as Francis Thockmorton confessed in 1583,9 is questionable, but seemed plausible to the English.

Already at his first appearance in [Scene 2] Guise delivers a long monologue in which he reveals his nature and plans. In it, he mentions a particular term that was already used programmatically in The Jew of Malta: "My policye hath framde religion."10 The word "policy" was first adopted in England from French in the 14th century. Even then – long before Machiavelli – it could mean "stratagem", "stopgap" or "trick". Politics was therefore said to have a dark, devious side in England from an early stage. "policy" in the form of "deception" may have been first used by Thomas Elyot inOf the Governour of 1531. In the Elizabethan era, it became a leitmotif in literature with the fascination, both positive and negative, that Machiavelli’s writings provoked.11 "Policy" was the art of gaining one’s own advantage through unscrupulous deception.12 In France, Catholics who supported Henri III and then Henri de Navarre were actually called "politiques" or Machiavellians by the League’s supporters.13

In the play, Guise is the diabolical plotter who will not stop at any crime. He sends Jeanne d’Albret poisoned gloves, organises the assassination of Coligny, persuades Charles IX to massacre the Huguenots, has the admiral killed, goes murdering through the streets of Paris and also ensures that the massacre spreads to the provinces. Guise probably ordered the assassination of Coligny and was certainly responsible for his murder; everything else corresponded to contemporary propaganda.
After the coronation of Henri III, it is the humiliation at the hands of the king and his mignons that sends Guise into a rage. In the conversation between the duke, Épernon and Henri III. in [Scene 19] however, the power-political aspects are brought forward by both sides. Marlowe mentions Guise’s ambitions as well as his claim to be related to the royal family, the financial and personal support of Spain and the Pope, or the support of the Parisian population.

Guise falls for two reasons. The first, the Marlovian, is the belief in his own fantasies of state power. The second, the Machiavellian one, is the failure to seize Fortuna’s opportunity.14 His assassination is shown from the point of view of the Catholic League and not the Huguenots. Marlowe only has the duke killed after he has been assured by the king that there is no danger. Even with the strangulation of the cardinal, it seems that sympathy is clearly directed towards the victim. In fact, the two murders are echoes of the previous murder of Coligny, whom the Guises lulled into safety before killing him. The assassination of Henri III, which – contrary to the facts – takes place shortly after Guise’s death, shows another parallel: "The change emphasizes both the Guises fatal pride and Henry’s bad faith, hot versus cold Machiavellism."15

In terms of theatre history, Guise’s assassination is of particular interest. Apart from Thomas Preston’s Cambyses where there are two allegorical characters, Cruelty and Murderer, who carry out King Cambyfe’s command, Marlowe has a group of murderers rather than just one murderer for the first time since the Mystery Plays.16

The Jew of Malta

Right at the beginning of the drama, Machiavelli’s ghost mentions the Duke of Guise, who seems to have harboured this ghost until his death.

"Albeit the world thinke Machevill is dead,
Yet was his soule but flowne beyond the Alpes,
And, now the Guize is dead, is come from France,
To view this Land, and frolicke with his friends."17

Barabas will later use the term "policy" in the same sense as Guise does in his great monologue in The Massacre at Paris. Even in their failure, the two characters are similar.

"We must note that the cause of the Guise’s downfall is similar to what destroy Barabas: his inability to cope with the ordinary human emotions, […] The Guise, master of policy, is destroyed when he allows the passion which the man of policy must control to defeat his own policy."18

Bell, David A. 1989. “Unmasking a King: The Political Uses of Popular Literature Under the French Catholic League, 1588-89.” Sixteenth Century Journal 20 (3): 371–86. https://doi.org/10.2307/2540785.
Blass, Jakob. 1913. “Die Entwickelung der Figur des gedungenen Mörders im älteren englischen Drama bis Shakespeare.” Dissertation, Gießen: Hessischen Ludwigs-Universität.
Dickens, A. G. 1974. “The Elizabethans and St. Bartholomew.” In The Massacre of St. Bartholomew, edited by Alfred Soman. The Hague: Nijhoff. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-010-1601-8_4.
Holt, Mack P. 1995. The French Wars of Religion, 1562 – 1629. New Approaches to European History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jensen, De Lamar. 1964. Diplomacy and Dogmatism: Bernardino de Mendoza and the French Catholic League. s. l.: Harvard University Press. https://doi.org/10.4159/harvard.9780674181281.
Jouanna, Arlette. 2007. La Saint-Barthélémy: Les Mystères d’un Crime d’etat ; 24 Août 1572. Paris: Gallimard.
Knecht, Robert Jean. 2000. The French Civil Wars: 1562 – 1598. Modern Wars in Perspective. Harlow: Longman.
Orsini, Napoleone. 1946. “Policy: Or the Language of Elizabethan Machiavellianism.” Journal of the Warburg & Courtauld Institutes 9: 122–34.
Smith, Lacey Baldwin. 1967. Zwielicht einer Zeitwende: Königin Elisabeth und ihre Epoche. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt.
Wilkinson, Alexander. 2004. “’Homicides Royaux’: The Assassination of the Duc and Cardinal de Guise and the Radicalization of French Public Opinion.” French History 18 (2): 129–53. https://doi.org/10.1093/fh/18.2.129.

  1. Jouanna (2007)↩︎
  2. Knecht (2000)↩︎
  3. Knecht (2000)↩︎
  4. Bell (1989)↩︎
  5. Jensen (1964)↩︎
  6. Wilkinson (2004)↩︎
  7. Smith (1967)↩︎
  8. Dickens (1974)↩︎
  9. Parker (2008)↩︎
  10. The Massacre at Paris. 2,65↩︎
  11. Orsini (1946)↩︎
  12. Scott (1984)↩︎
  13. Holt (1995)↩︎
  14. Hammill (2008)↩︎
  15. Briggs (1983), 265↩︎
  16. Blass (1913)↩︎
  17. The Jew of Malta. Prologue,1-4↩︎
  18. Ribner (1963), 106↩︎

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