The Dauphin Francis was only fifteen years of age at his father's death. He was already, as you know, married to Mary, Queen of Scots.
By the wish of the queen-mother, Catherine de Medici, the young king, Francis ii. , chose his uncles, the Duke of Guise and Cardinal Guise, to rule his kingdom until he was able to govern himself.
The Constable de Montmorency and Diana of Poitiers. who had had so much influence with Henry ii. , were dismissed from the court, where the Guises, with the queenmother, were now all-powerful.
Those who were Roman Catholics were pleased that the young king had chosen the Guises to rule. They believed the brothers were "called of God" to preserve the Catholic religion in France.
But among the Huguenots, as the Reformers now began to be named from a German word meaning "partners in an oath or covenant," "there was nothing but fear and trembling" at the name of Guise. For well the Huguenots knew that the duke and his brother the cardinal were their bitter enemies.
The Reformers had increased in numbers during the reign of Henry ii. , and many nobles and great soldiers had embraced the new faith.
Among their leaders the Huguenots could even count a descendant of St. Louis, the King of Navarre. It is true that the King of Navarre was apt to waver between the two parties; but his wife, Jeaime d'Albret, was heart and soul with the Reformers; and her little son. Henry of Navarre, Prince of Béarn, was brought up in their faith.
The King of Navarre's brothers, too, Cardinal Bourbon and Louis, Prince of Condé, were also on the side of the Huguenots; while, above them all, for his courage, his steadfastness, his unfaltering faith, stood Admiral Coligny.
Until now the Huguenots had been denounced as heretics, but the Duke of Guise condemned them also as rebels against the king. They were forbidden to meet together for prayer, spies being sent all over the country to find out any who disobeyed.
In many villages and towns the Huguenots went as usual to their meeting-places to pray, to sing, to listen to their preachers, and it was easy for the spies to find them out and report them to the Guises.
A little later bands of soldiers would suddenly break into these quiet assemblies, and seize the worshippers. Their houses would be sacked, their children left to starve; while the men and women themselves were tortured, and then killed or banished from the land.
There was no doubt in the minds of the Huguenots that all their sufferings were due to the Guises, and they longed to avenge themselves. Their chiefs met together, some advising war; others, Coligny among them, believing that it would be well still to wait before taking up arms.
In February 1560 an assembly of nobles and burghers of France met together, and resolved that while they would not harm their young king, they would imprison the Guises, who were persecuting "those of the Religion,"as the Huguenots were often called, and also doing what they could to crush all other nobles save themselves.
At the head of the conspiracy was the Prince of Condé, he being chosen rather than his brother, the King of Navarre; for Condé was brave and determined, while the king "whatever his thought to-day would repent of it to-morrow."
The prince's share in the plot was to be kept secret until June, when the attack upon the Guises was to take place. Meanwhile Condé was known as the "Mute Captain."
But before the month of June the plot was discovered; and Guise, fearing lest the conspirators should try to seize the young king, removed him to a castle at Amboise, which was at once strongly guarded.
Catherine de Medici now sent for Coligny, he being a known leader of the Huguenots, to consult him as to what should be done.
The admiral obeyed the summons and went to Amboise, taking with him d'Andelot, his brother. Louis, Prince of Condé, whose secret had not been disclosed, also went to the castle to disarm suspicion. He was, however, received coldly, while the Duke of Guise, having no pretext for imprisoning the prince, appointed him captain over the guards at one of the castle gates. There Condé would at least be under his eye.
Left without their leaders, the other conspirators trooped into the woods around Amboise, and succeeded in sending a message to Francis ii. , telling him that it was the Guises who were the cause of all the trouble in the kingdom, and begging him to send them away.
The Duke of Guise was very angry when he found that his enemies had reached the king.
As for Francis, he was perplexed by the disturbances in his kingdom, and more than once he said pitifully to his uncles, "I don't know how it is, but I hear it said that people are against you only. I wish you could be away from here for a time, that we might see whether it is you or I that they are against."
But the Guises did not mean to go away. Instead, they cruelly duped the young king, telling him that neither he nor his brothers would live an hour if they left; for the Bourbons, that is, the King of Navarre and his two brothers, wished to kill them, that they might themselves ascend the throne. They made their niece, Mary Stuart, whisper the same things in her husband's ear.
Francis was young and weak. Whether he believed his uncles or no, he said no more; while they, sure of their power, used it yet most cruelly.
For a whole month the Huguenots were cruelly persecuted, the Guises forcing the king and his brothers to watch from the palace window while they were tortured, beheaded, hanged.
Cardinal Guise would even point out to the boy some poor prisoner who was suffering with unusual bravery, not to admire his courage, but to say, "See how bold and mad they are; the fear of death cannot abate their pride. What would they do if they had you in their clutches?"
Throughout the country the indignation against the Guises grew by leaps and bounds. Even their mother could bear the sight of her sons' cruelty no longer. She left the castle of Amboise, saying to Catherine de Medici as she left, "Ah, madame, what a whirlwind of hatred is gathering about the heads of my poor children."
But the duke was not satisfied with his vengeance on the crowd. He wished to wreak his anger on the chiefs of the Huguenots.
He therefore summoned the King of Navarre and the Prince of Condé to attend a meeting of the States-General, or, as we would say, parliament.
In vain the friends of the Bourbons begged them not to go where their enemies were numerous. Both the king and his brother resolved to attend the meeting.
They arrived at Orleans, where the States-General was to be held, and their reception was cold enough to warn them of danger.
"Not one of the crown princes came to receive them. The streets were deserted, silent, and occupied by a military guard.
The King of Navarre, as was usual, presented himself on horseback at the great gate of the royal abode. It remained closed. He had to pocket the insult and pass on foot through the wicket, between a double row of gentle men, who looked at him with an air of insolence. The kina awaited the princes in his chamber; behind him were ranged the Guises and the principal lords; not a word, not a salutation on their part."
Francis at once led the two Bourbons to the queen-mother, and in her presence sharply questioned the Prince of Condé about his share in the plot.
Condé, brave and cool in the face of danger, said that he was innocent of all of which his enemies accused him and reminded the king that he had given his word of honour that no harm should befall him at the assembly. But Francis interrupted the prince, making a sign to two captains of the guards, who at once stepped forward and took Condé's sword. He was then led to prison and shut up alone the King of Navarre being sharply refused when he asked to be allowed to guard his brother.
The prince's trial was begun at once, the Guises wishing to be rid of their dangerous enemy. He was condemned to death, but one, some say three, of his judges refused to sign the death-warrant. So the prince was kept in prison expecting every day to be led out to execution.
Thinking to get rid of the house of Bourbon altogether the Guises now determined that the King of Navarre should die
They arranged that he should have an interview with the king, who would accuse him of helping his brother to plot against the throne.
If the King of Navarre declared that he was innocent Francis himself was to strike him; or he was to give a sign, and men hidden behind a curtain for this very purpose were to put him to death.
But, "when Francis ii. looked into the eyes of the man he was to strike, his fierce resolve died away, and the King of Navarre retired, safe and sound, from the interview."
The Duke of Guise was furious that his enemy had escaped, and muttered wrathfully of Francis, " 'Tis the very most cowardly king that ever was."
Then, just when the Guises were most secure, an unforeseen blow struck the power from their hands.
Francis took suddenly ill. For three or four days the quarrel between the Guises and the Huguenots was pushed aside, for the king's life hung on a thread.
In December 1560, after having reigned eighteen months, Francis ii. died. The King of Navarre and the Prince of Condé were saved.