Francis, the Duke of Anjou and Alençon, son of France’s King Henry II and Catherine de Medici was born under the name ‘Hercule’ in 1555. As a child he suffered from various ailments, spinal issues, and the loss of his older brother, Francis II. Hercule then adopted ‘Francis’ as his own Christian name.
In 1570, another of his brothers, King Henry III of France, sought peace-keeping measures amidst Europe’s increasing religious tension. Catherine de Medici, who openly opposed the protestant practices, is credited with ordering the Huguenot massacre in Paris. The violence spread to surrounding cities like: Orléans, Bordeaux, Troyes, and countless more. The Huguenot population subsequently plummeted from death and conversion out of fear. Francis allegedly incited massacres outside of Paris on his own accord, without the king’s blessing. This widespread ambush on the Huguenots catalyzed a fourth religious war in France, only ending with Henry IV’s coronation in 1598.
After Henry III signed the “Edict of Beaulieu,” in 1576, Francis became the Duke of various French lands; most significantly, Anjou. Soon after, England’s Queen Elizabeth showed interest in potentially marrying Francis, now a Duke. This union was only given serious thought in the late 1570s, when both France and England sought to retain control over Europe’s unstable religious and political atmosphere. The two were known to be mutually flirtatious despite their age difference of roughly twenty-two years. She is stated to have playfully dubbed him as her ‘frog’, a not-so-positive term ascribed to French people. Francis was among few of the many foreign suitors to actually meet with Elizabeth in person. Via documented love-letters and poems, a mutual love affair seems to be at the least staged. Her last letter to him titled, “On Monsieur’s Departure,” is predominantly viewed as her reflection of what could have been, but some theories point to underlying allusions to other love affairs she was possibly engaged in. The plan is believed to have been superficial with no real intentions on either side.
Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s secretary, served as liaison for the marriage. France wanted the marriage before an armistice whereas England sought a treaty preceding the marriage, therefore Walsingham had little success. The Treaty of Plessis-les-Tours in 1580 between the Dutch States General–with the exceptions of Zeeland and Holland–and Anjou, saw Francis assume nominal sovereignty over the Dutch Republic and become the “Protector of the Liberty of the Netherlands.” He was unable to make his initial appearance in his new territories until 1582. The Dutch did not uniformly receive their new “protector” well. Francis used the custom of the Joyous Entry, where a monarch peacefully visits a newly acquired land, as a ruse to bring resistant cities under his control by force. As he approached the city of Antwerp, the people were not fooled and anticipated an attack.
The Duke of Anjou then grew famous for the French Fury, where he was thoroughly defeated in his effort to lay siege on Antwerp. This insulting defeat was soon followed by scolds from his family members along with the official redaction of Queen Elizabeth’s engagement; A popular decision among her councilmen and country-folk. In 1584 malaria infected the young Francis, he died in Paris at twenty-nine years old. His death sparked further religious violence in Europe as the new heir to the French throne became Henry the Great of Navarre, a Protestant. He became Henry IV, ruling over France with unprecedented religious tolerance, only to be assassinated in 1610 by a radical Catholic.