Louise de Lorraine

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Entry by Jacqueline Boucher, 2003

Louise de Lorraine was the daughter of Nicolas de Lorraine, count of Vaudémont, an impoverished prince, and of Marguerite d'Egmont. Louise was brought up by her father's second and third wives -Jeanne de Savoie, who treated her well, and Catherine de Lorraine Aumale, who did not. Very fond of her many half-brothers and sisters, she received a simple, pious education until she reached the age of ten and was sent to the court in Nancy to live with the duchess Claude, wife of Charles III of Lorraine. Her relative poverty made her marriage problematic; but her remarkable beauty -she was tall, blonde, and had a profile worthy of a medal- caught the eye of the duchess's brother Henri when he visited Nancy in late 1573. In 1574 he became Henri III France, and his mother Catherine de' Medici urged him to marry; he only decided to do so, however, after the death of his great love Marie de Clèves. To everyone's surprise, he chose Louise as his bride. The marriage took place in Rheims on Feb. 15, 1575, two days after his coronation. The couple appeared very much in love, and they remained close despite the difficulties they encountered. They often stayed in the little castle of Ollainville (Essonne), which Henri purchased in 1576 as their private residence, giving it to Louise.

Louise was interested neither in politics nor in the pomp and ceremony of her new role, but after a brief period of strained relations with her new mother-in-law, she soon settled in at court. She loved dancing, one of Henri's great passions in life. In 1581, she organized and took part in La Chesnaye (Nicolas Filleul) and Beaujoyeux's famous Ballet comique de la royne, which could be considered an early form of opera. Louise suffered two great sadnesses -the frequent infidelities of her husband and her own infertility. She fell pregnant in the first weeks after her wedding but suffered a miscarriage in April or May 1575 after taking a purge prescribed by her doctors. She then contracted an illness which left her infertile. For years, she tried everything from thermal baths to pilgrimages and public and private prayers. She feared that Henri would repudiate her, particularly after Catherine de' Medici's youngest son died in 1585 without an heir, which led to a dispute over his succession. This in turn launched the final war of religion of the century, as the heir presumptive was the protestant Henri de Navarre. Louise was a staunch Catholic who was very unhappy to see her brothers and cousins joining the League against Henri III after he named his brother-in-law as his heir. The two kings joined forces in spring 1589 and Louise graciously welcomed Henri de Navarre when the two kings met. Although heartbroken after the assassination of Henri III in August 1589, she carried out his wishes, supporting Henri IV even before his conversion and offering her services in negotiating the submission of her brother, the Duke of Mercoeur, leader of the League in Brittany. However, the peace talks organized in Ancenis in late 1594 and early 1595 failed. Louise also failed in her attempts to convince the king and the pope to punish both the Duke of Mayenne, believed to have ordered the assassination of Henri III, and the Jacobin order to which the assassin belonged.

Louise retired to Chenonceaux, which Catherine de' Medici had bequeathed to her in January 1589. She suffered severe financial hardship, particularly as Gabrielle d'Estrées was determined to get her hands on the property by negotiating with the creditors of both Catherine and Louise. In the end, Louise handed Chenonceaux over to her niece, daughter of the Duke of Mercoeur, when the duke joined Henri IV's camp and negotiated the betrothal of his daughter to César de Vendôme, the son of Gabrielle and Henri IV. Louise died in Moulins in Jan. 1601. In her will, she reaffirmed her fidelity to her late husband and requested that Henri IV fulfill his promise to have Henri III buried in the Valois chapel in the basilica of Saint-Denis.

Louise de Lorraine's contemporaries praised her great qualities, often stating that Henri III could not have made a better choice among all the princesses of Europe. Yet during her own lifetime, she was overshadowed by women who were more involved in politics or who cared more about shining at court. She certainly did not mark history in the way many of her female contemporaries did. However, her important role as a faithful supporter of the monarchy at a time of great political upheaval is widely acknowledged today.

(translated by Susan Pickford)


- Correspondance : «Cinquante lettres inédites d'une reine de France, Louise de Lorraine, femme de Henri III», publiées par Michel François, Annuaire-Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de France, 1943, p.127-165.

Selected bibliography

- Baillon, Charles de. Histoire de Louise de Lorraine, reine de France, 1553-1601. Paris, L. Techener, 1884.
- Boucher, Jacqueline. Deux épouses et reines à la fin du XVIe siècle. Louise de Lorraine et Marguerite de France. Saint-Étienne, Publications de l'université de Saint-Étienne, 1995.

Selected bibliography of images

- Adhémar, Jean. De François Ier à Henri IV. Les Clouet et la cour des rois de France (cat. d'expo, Bibliothèque Nationale de France). Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, 1970.


- «On a vu en Louise un modèle d'amour conjugal, de piété et de charité.» (Antoine Malet, Vie, piété et sage oeconomie de Louyse de Lorraine, reine de France, Paris, E. Foucault, 1619).

Louise de Lorraine
Title(s) Queen of France
Spouses Henri III, King of France
Birth date 1553
Death 1601
Biographical entries in old dictionaries
Dictionnaire Hilarion de Coste
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