Saturday, December 3, 2016

The French King's Bastard, Harry Valois

by Linda Fetterly Root

spawned Angouleme Blazon,
Courtesy of Odejea, Creative Commons
Those who prefer at least a modicum of historical accuracy in historical fiction will wince at the mention of the glitzy fairytale fantasy called Reign, soon (ouch!) to begin its fourth season on syndicated television. Remember, if you dare, King Henri Valois's illegitimate son Bash, an entirely fictional character, a not especially surprising revelation since in Reign, so is the Queen of Scots. Unlike his father Francois I who sired many, Henri II is only known to have fathered three bastards. The firstborn was Diane of France, mistakenly believed to be the king's daughter by his mistress Diane de Poitier because Diane raised her at court perhaps to dispell rumors of Henry's impotence. Her mother was Filippa Duci, who seduced Henri in a one-night-stand when Diane’s back was turned.

Filippa Duci, Wikimedia
The talented but brutal Governor of Provence, Henri d' Angouleme, the 'Batard d'Valois, is often referred to as Henri’s favorite son. His mother was a Scot, Janet Stewart, Lady Fleming, illegitimate daughter of James IV, a paternal aunt and governess of Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots.

Henri d'Angoulême
 Pinterest- provenance unknown

Henri II had a penchant for older women. In his adolescence, he became infatuated with Diane de Poitiers, a woman more than eighteen years his senior. 

Diane de Poitiers Chenonceau in the Royal Chamber
She became his mistress after her husband Louis de Breze, died in 1531. But long before Louis’s death, she had become an important figure in Henri's life. When Henri was a child, he and his older brother were given to the Spanish in a prisoner's exchange that freed his father, King Francois, who had been captured by the Hapsburgs at the Battle of Pavia. Diane was asked by the king’s mother to escort the princes to the exchange. When they arrived, six-year-old Henri was overcome by fright. Diane took him in her arms and whispered words of comfort, and as they parted, she kissed him on the cheek. A romantic might call it a kiss that lasted thirty-four years, and ended with the king's last breath. He had asked for Diane while he lay in extremis following a jousting accident, but his consort Catherine d’ Medici and Diane's political enemies barred her from the room.

Due to his loyalty to Diane and his lack of attraction to his Italian bride, the first decade of the king's marriage to Catherine d' Medici was childless. When the situation threatened the dynasty, Diane encouraged Henri to perform his duty by occasionally sleeping with his wife. The frail Dauphin Francois was born the following year and was soon followed by the arrival of Princesses Elisabeth and Claud. Their births did not alter the king's relationship with Diane. The Queen was compelled to share supervision of the nursery at Saint-Germain et Laye with Diane. When competing in the jousts, Henri sported Diane’s black and white colors 

The King’s affection for Diane was enduring, but that did not mean he never took his pleasures elsewhere. In 1548, to escape the Rough Wooing instigated by the English King Henry VIII and prosecuted by his henchman Edward Seymour, the five-year-old Queen of Scots arrived in France with a governess in her entourage. The woman chosen to fill the role was the illegitimate Scottish princess Janet Stewart, Lady Fleming, the Queen of Scots’ paternal aunt. 

Lady Janet Stewart
Poets at the French Court called her La Belle Ecossaise--The beautiful Scot. She was fifteen years Henri’s senior and had given birth to eight children to her late husband Lord Malcolm Fleming, who had died in the battle of Pinkie in 1547. She spoke scant French when she arrived, but she was quick to learn. When Diane suffered a broken ankle in a riding accident and retired to her palace at Anet to heal, Henri and the governess discovered a way to communicate unhampered by a language barrier.
Diane de Poitiers, circa 1566
If Henri had expected Lady Fleming to exercise discretion, he did not understand the customs of the Scottish court, where royal mistresses were proud of their swollen bellies and not the least reluctant to announce who had planted the seed. Lady Janet had been but one of many illegitimate children of James IV who had so many mistresses that confusion exists concerning which of them was Janet Stewart’s mother. Her brother of the half, James V, had at least nine mistresses who gave him a daughter Jean and several sons. Only one of his surviving children was born on the right side of the sheets: Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots.

By the time the Queen of Scots was born, her mother’s family had become the power behind the French throne. The heart of their dynastic plan was to see the six-year-old Queen of Scots married to the five-year-old Dauphin, Francois, as soon as they were of legal age. However, the indiscretions of the governess could put an end to it. The Duke of Guise and his brother the Cardinal of Lorraine leaked news of Janet’s questionable morals to Diane, who shared it with Queen Catherine. What followed is a fascinating story of plots and counter-plots, but for purposes of this post, let it suffice that Henri’s mistress and his consort found common ground to form a truce. Because Janet’s behavior tarnished the reputation of the Queen of Scots, they sought support from Marie of Guise, who was in France visiting her royal daughter when Lady Fleming’s son was born. The most credible records place his birth in France at Aix-la-Chapelle, in1551.

The Dauphin Francois and Marie Queen of Scots

When the Dowager of Scotland, Marie d’ Guise, discovered how her sister-in-law had been spending her time while her royal charge was on holiday in Lorraine, she was livid. If Lady Fleming expected the king to intercede on her behalf, she had misjudged the strength of the temporary alliance between Diane de Poitiers and Queen Catherine. By the time Marie de Guise and the Queen of Scots returned to Saint Germain, the scorned Lady Fleming, and the infant she called ‘HarryValoys’ were long gone.

Marie de Guise
The story, however, did not end there. Marie de Guise’s return to Scotland was delayed by two tragedies, both involving her children. The adolescent Duke of Longville, son of her first marriage, fell ill and died in her arms on the day she was set to sail. His death and a thwarted attempt by a dissident Scottish soldier who sought to poison her daughter Queen Marie Stuart’s dessert left the Dowager too distraught to travel. She would have preferred to remain in France at the convent at Saint Pierre les Dames in Rheims where her sister Renee was abbess. However, her overbearing brothers insisted such a move would leave her daughter’s throne vulnerable to a competing claim by James Hamilton, Earl of Arran, the Scottish Regent, and next in line to the Scottish throne. Marie de Guise’s entire life had centered on a sense of duty instilled in her by her mother, Antoinette de Bourbon, the family matriarch. There was a plan afoot to make Marie de Guise the Scottish Regent as soon as her daughter was old enough to exercise a power of appointment, an event which occurred when the Queen of Scots turned eleven in December of 1553.

The Kirk at Biggar built by Malcolm, Lord Fleming.

The early history of Janet Stewart son to Henri II, Henri d’Angeloume, is sketchy at best and riddled with conflict. The source of the confusion stems from a childhood divided between the Fleming estate in Biggar and Henri’s castles on the Loire.

References describe an amicable relationship between Lady Janet and the King, and a bit of rather modern cooperative parenting. Henry’s father legitimatized him and presented him with property and titles in Provence. He is said to have been Henri’s favorite son, which infers considerable time spent at the French court. The welcome extended to young Henri did not include permission for his mother to travel in his entourage. Lady Janet sought permission to visit France during the winter of 1553, a proposal summarily vetoed by Marie de Guise, by arrangement with Catherine d’ Medici. Some historians assume Harry spent his youth in Scotland with his mother based on a 20th anachronistic premise that young children belong with their mothers. That was not the custom in the 16th century. Children of European sovereigns were often given their own establishments in infancy. Catherine d’ Medici’s reluctance to remove her children from the nursery at Saint Germain was the exception, not the rule.

While protocols establishing rank within the nursery existed in both the Scottish and French courts, it was common to find royal bastards being educated alongside their sisters and brothers ‘of the blood.’ The king’s son Henri d’Angeloume did not acquire his fluency in French, Latin, and Italian or his penchant for lyric verse at his mother’s home at Cumbernauld near Biggar. It is disingenuous to believe the French king would have developed a special fondness for a son he’d never seen, based on a lack of surviving travel documents at a time when French flagships frequented Scottish ports and citizens of France and Scotland enjoyed dual citizenship.

Sources insisting Lady Fleming’s right to travel was withheld until after the Dowager's death ignore evidence of a reconciliation of the sisters-in-law before the summer of 1560 but after Henri II's death in 1559. When the deposed and disheartened Regent died, Lady Fleming sat beside her coffin while Marie de Guise lay in state at Edinburgh Castle and was the chief mourner at her funeral. It is more reasonable to believe the restrictions were lifted by Marie de Guise before she died, and with the consent of Catherine d’ Medici. Harry had been in Scotland at Biggar, and with Henri dead, there was no further reason to enforcement them.

Lady Fleming lady made her last voyage to France in August 1560, a year after her royal lover’s death. She was well received at the French Court where her niece Marie Stuart was Consort and Catherine’s frail son was King Francois II. France was ruled by the senior members of the House of Guise, Duc Francois and his brother Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine, who welcomed Harry into their inner circle. protégé of the Guises. When Marie Stuart assumed the personal rule of Scotland after her husband Francois II died, Harry Valois and his mother were living in Provence. Lady Fleming did not live much longer. Some historians place her death at Richmond in 1562, presumably on her way to Scotland. Other sources day she died in France, not far from Paris. In my novels, I let her die at Saint Pierre les Dames where Marie de Guise was interred. I find no credible record of her grave.

Although Harry’s father legitimatized him and gave him land and titles, contrary to popular sources, his acquisition of the title Le Compte d’Angeloume did not occur until 15 years after his father’s death. Henri and Catherine’s son Henri of Anjou, who acquired the title at birth in 1551, passed it to his half-brother when Anjou became Henry III. Harry fought beside the Guises in the Wars of Religion, notably as a soldier at the siege of La Rochelle, later as a notorious butcher at the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre.

Catherine de Medici, The King's Mother, who with the Guises
orchestrated the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre
When the Queen of Scots was detained in England, and the Marian remnant in Scotland was besieged in Edinburgh Castle, Harry was tapped by the Guises to lead a French invasion into Scotland to break the siege, a plan the imprisoned Queen of Scots may have vetoed. He was known for his athletic dancing and his lyric verse. Five examples survive, but copies are precious.

When he was 35, Harry d’Angeloume was killed in a duel in which both parties suffered fatal wounds. There is no record of surviving issue. The Queen of Scots, who was his first cousin once removed, corresponded with him during her imprisonment in England and sent him books. She encouraged his poetry and openly mourned his death. The Queen was executed at Fotheringhay the following year.


Angouleme Blazon:  Odejea [CC BY-SA 3.0, GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Filippa Duci: By unknown in source [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Diana in Royal Chamber: By AlMare (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Diane de Poitiers: By Unknown - Transferred from en.wikipedia, Public Domain

Lady Janet Stewart: By George Jamesone (ca. 1587-1644) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Dauphin Francois and Marie Queen of Scots: By Unknown - From Catherine de' Medici's Book of Hours, Public Domain

Marie de Guise: Attributed to Corneille de Lyon - Mary of Guise, 1515 - 1560. Queen of James V - Google Art Project.jpg|Attributed to Corneille de Lyon - Mary of Guise, 1515 - 1560. Queen of James V - Google Art Project.

The Kirk at Biggar: Biggar and the House of Fleming- an account of the Biggar district, archaeological, historical, and biographical (1867) (14804174683).jpg|thumb|Biggar and the House of Fleming- an account of the Biggar district, archaeological, historical, and biographical (1867) (14804174683)

Catherine de Medici and St. Bartholemew's Day Massacre: By Édouard Debat-Ponsan - Mairie de Clermont-Ferrandhttp, Public Domain


Linda Root is the author of The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, and four books in The Legacy of the Queen of Scots series, with a fifth coming in 2017. She lives in the hi-desert community of Yucca Valley, Ca, where she was a Supervising Prosecutor.


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