Louise de Lorraine, wife of Henri III

Louise de Lorraine, wife of Henri III

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Louise of Lorraine-Vaudémont is the last queen of France from 1575 to 1589, at the time of the Valois, without posterity. Sweet, beautiful, unpretentious, without fortune, ally of Catherine de Medici, she was an ideal queen with the behavior of a sovereign. She is the only queen to actually rest in the tomb that bears her name in Saint Denis!

A bride for the king

On the death of Marie de Cleves the love of Henri's youth, the young king is prostrate, has a macabre behavior (his clothes bear the emblems of skulls), is affected by mystical crises and follows processions of penitents. Catherine de Medici had to marry him urgently and offered him several suitors: Dona Juana, the sister of Philippe II, Marie Stuart, widow of François II, his sister-in-law Elisabeth, widow of Charles IX, the queen of England of whom Henri had a sacred reputation. opinion "he is an old creature, with a sick leg". To cut short the other proposals (a Swedish or Danish princess), the king declares that his choice is made: it will be Louise de Vaudémont!

A discreet young lady

Born in April 1553, to Nicolas de Mercœur, Count of Vaudémont, belonging to the younger branch of the House of Lorraine, Louise cousin of the Guises, was the eldest of fourteen children, and was only one year old when her mother died. Marguerite d'Egmont. The second wife of Nicolas de Mercœur: Jeanne de Savoie-Nemours is affectionate and introduced her to the court of Nancy, Louise is ten years old. Catherine of Aumale, her father's third wife, is rude and jealous, but Louise can count on the friendship of Claude, second daughter of Catherine de Medici and of Henri II.

Tall, blonde, of delicate beauty, discreet, Henri met her in Lorraine when he was leaving for Krakow. She was able to move him by her modesty and gentleness. It is perhaps a young girl without rank, without fortune, without pretensions, but "he wanted to take a wife of his nation who was beautiful and agreeable, saying that he wanted one in order to love her well and have children, without going to look for others in the distance, as his predecessors had done ”. Catherine de Medici loves her son so much that she approves of it! She is conquered by "the gentle and devout spirit of this princess whom she judged more fitted and adept at praying to God than meddling in business."

As for Louise, she gives up two suitors (François de Luxembourg and the Comte de Salm) and the king offers one of the two his current mistress, the young lady of Châteauneuf!

A non-political marriage ...

Louise's father gave his consent very quickly, and in a month, "everything was completed": the king arrived on February 11 in Reims, was crowned on the 13th, and the wedding took place on February 15, 1575! Louise is radiant with joy, the king's heart melts with tenderness. They return to the capital, she is queen of France!

From that day on, Louise never changes her attitude and remains dazzled and amazed. Her love for her husband will withstand time, trials, infidelities and death! Taking up little space, it blends into the king's entourage, always with him, in all the ceremonies, all the feasts, all the feasts. It is associated with the creation of the order of the Holy Spirit (the badges bear their initials). The label wants the king to pay him a daily visit, he does more: they go for a walk in Paris, visit monasteries, discover the sea in Normandy, the port of Dieppe, stay on the land of Ollainville (castle that the king offers him and that he has rearranged). All these attentions last well beyond the honeymoon: in 1581, she is seen installed on the king's knees; in 1587, he "spends most of the day with her and tries with affectionate words to urge her to be courageous" when she is seized with a third fever; like Francis I, the king does not officially introduce a royal mistress, because Louise means a lot to him.

All is not "rosy", however. The king has a mistress, a lady advises Louise to take a lover: she is cast out! A conspiracy is led by one of the king's cuties who breaks into the queen's room, the cutie becomes Henri's pet peeve, the case turns into a state affair! But this strengthens the bonds between the king and the queen, because Louise has the qualities of a queen of the time: piety, discretion, obedience, love of the monarch ...

Brantôme said, “We can and should praise this princess very much; for, in her marriage, she behaved with the king her husband as wisely, chastely and loyally, that the knot of which she was tied in conjunction with him has always remained so firm and indissoluble, that it has never been found deffait ny deslié, although the king her husband loved and sometimes allasted at the change ”; "She did nothing but serve God, go to devotions, continually visit hospitals, heal the sick, bury the dead."

... but no children

She participates in a procession in penitent's costume, hoping for a child! Because from the start of their union, she wanted to offer a dolphin to the king. Unfortunately, the couple is and remains sterile, many think of the king's sterility (because of his inclinations). They were examined, called on potion "makers", went to thermal cures, the king launched into prayers and devotional gestures, he made pilgrimages from 1580 to 1586, she did not join the sessions. mystics of her husband, she tries to understand him, to help him, but does not approve of him. The couple remains united and united, but they are resigned, they will not have children: God wills it so.

Valuable support

An irreproachable Catholic, she devotes herself to the poor, orphans and prisoners. She sponsors a House of Charity in the Mouffetard district. We also owe him the light at the crossroads, thanks to the statues of Madonna lit by a lamp. Her popularity increased when she allocated a pension in 1586 to two students "so that they could preach the Sundays and annual feasts in the prisons of the Conciergerie, of the great and small Chastelet of Paris".

During the League troubles, she supports her husband, against his family in Lorraine: it is an act of honor. She even goes so far as to blame him for rebelling! When the king decides to arrest the Duke of Guise, she approves; during the days of the barricades, cloistered in Paris, she faced the Duke of Guise alone; she supports her husband when he decides on the death of his enemy; she is still by his side for the Plessis les Tours interview.

But on August 4, 1589, she received one last letter: the king had just been the victim of an attack, and wanted to reassure her "Maamie, I hope I will be very well; pray to God for me and do not move from there ”.

She mourns but does not forgive!

Louise mourns in white, settles in Chenonceau in a room facing the river and organizes her life: walks, embroidery, reading of the Lives of the Saints, Sunday service in the small church of Francueil. In her room, there are souvenirs of her husband everywhere: a portrait on the mantelpiece with the motto “saevi monumenta doloris”, flaming torches, widow's cords, all against a background of black velvet.

She does not forgive those who killed her husband and "only desires life to see the punishment given to those who make her so miserable". Half satisfied only when the prior of the convent to which Jacques Clément belonged was condemned to death, and because the Guises were responsible, she appealed to Henri IV: he evaded the question and in 1596 absolved the Duke of Mayenne and the Lorraine princesses!

She will never forgive! She begs the Pope so that the Church will make amends for all that has been done against the King and many years later, finally, the Pope cancels the excommunication and proclaims Henry III dead in peace with the Church.

Louise in Saint Denis

But Louise is tired and worn out by this fight. She receives a last hard blow: she must leave Chenonceau! With Catherine de Medici's will showing more liabilities than assets, Louise would have to pay her share of her stepmother's debts if she wanted to keep the castle, which was impossible!

The estate was auctioned off in December 1593; the half brother of Louise a Mercœur, bought Chenonceau, left him to Louise, but the charge to donate it to the young future spouses: the only daughter of Mercœur and the little Caesar (who had just been born) son of Henri IV and by Gabrielle d'Estrées. She has usufruct, but prefers to leave these places of grief and settle in the Duchy of Bourbonnais, in Moulins. She died at the end of January 1601, after having caught a cold in a church, during a sermon the previous December.

She is the only queen to actually rest in the tomb that bears her name in Saint Denis: she is first installed in the Capucines convent in the Saint Honoré suburb, then in the new Capucines church near Place Vendôme, was transported to Père Lachaise during the Revolution and reached Saint Denis in 1817. While all the kings' graves had been violated and the remains thrown into the mass grave!


- Simone Bertière - The bloody years - the queens of France in the time of the Valois.

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