Henri III introduced a strict etiquette at court, which he which he insisted on observing. Exceptions were only made for the mignons. While the word "mignon" already had a somewhat disreputable connotation in England, it had no negative connotation in France.1 It meant something like "favourite" and had been in use since the reign of Charles VIII (1470-1498).

It was nothing special for rulers to gather sons of leading noble families around them and bestow special favours on them. In modern times, this sometimes exalted enthusiasm may seem strange, but at that time it was not considered unusual. The first group of mignons consisted of men whom the later Henri III had met at the siege of La Rochelle in 1573. Without exception, they were all good fighters and possessed a courage that bordered on contempt for death. Her appearance, on the other hand, was dandyish and her manner arrogant. For unlike the favourites of previous rulers, these did not come from the higher nobility, but from completely unimportant families. Therefore, they were completely dependent on the king, who showered them with titles, offices and riches, but could also take them away again very quickly. The royal household as well as the daily routine were adapted to the mignons, while the members of long-established houses were excluded.2

Since the "Duel of the Mignons", the king’s favourites also met with disapproval among the people. The event was triggered by a battle of words between the mignons Charles de Balzac, Baron d’Entragues and Jacques de Lévis, Count de Caylus over the chastity of a certain lady. Balzac then challenged Caylus. The duel took place in the morning hours of 27 April 1578 at the horse market near the Bastille. Caylus came accompanied by Louis de Maugiron and Jean d’Arcès, Baron de Livarot. Balzac’s seconds were François d’Aydie, Vicomte de Ribérac and Georges de Schomberg. Contrary to the rules, the seconds also intervened in the especially brutal fight. Maugiron and Schomberg died during the duel, Ribérac succumbed to his injuries the next day, Caylus died thirty-three days later. Livarot recovered, but remained severely disfigured. Only Balzac escaped with a slight injury. Henri III, who had visited Caylus every day and in whose arms he had died, had a magnificent tomb built for his favourite in the church of Saint Paul. (After the assassination of the Duke of Guise, it was destroyed by the enraged Parisians). The brutality and senselessness of this confrontation shocked the country. The king’s mourning, considered by many to be excessively pompous, contributed definitively to casting the mignons in a skewed light.

Berger, Bibiana Maria. 1990. “Der Hof Heinrich III. (1551-1589): Studien zur französischen Hof- und Festkultur im 16. Jahrhundert.” PhD thesis, Wien: Universität Wien.

  1. Potter (1996)↩︎
  2. Berger (1990)↩︎

Aktualisiert am 23.05.2024

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