Charles IX of France: often presented as a weak king, crushed by the personality of his mother.

Born at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye on June 27, 1550 and died at the Château de Vincennes on May 30, 1574. The third son of King Henry II of France and Catherine de’ Medici, he was a monarch of the House of Valois who ruled as King of France from May 15, 1561 until his death.

The sickly king was a mentally unstable sadist with mad rages. As he grew up, he became so violent that courtiers genuinely feared for their lives. Once, he savagely attacked his sister with his fists.

In order to please his domineering mother Charles gave the order to murder thousands of protestants in the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.  For the first few years of his reign, his mother, Catherine de’ Medici presided over the council, initiated and controlled state business, directed domestic and foreign policy, and made appointments to offices.

Charles’ reign was dominated by the French Wars of Religion (1562–98), a series of violent confrontations between French Catholics and French Protestants, known as Huguenots.

Charles had an interest in hunting he became excited by the sight of blood during a hunt. His frenetic dedication to hunting was obsessive, to the degree he was hunting for rabbits and deers inside his own Louvre palace apartments.

In 1560, King Charles IX visited the Drôme region where he was offered lilies of the valley. The following year, he gave lilies of the valley to all the ladies at Court as a good luck charm.  He didn’t anticipate the fact that most people who received these flowers would drink the water they were in. The water was poisoned by the flowers resulting in a few dozen deaths.  Everyone in Paris started to call Charles IX “the cursed king”.

On November 26, 1570 Charles married Elisabeth of Austria, with whom he fathered one daughter, Marie Elisabeth of Valois. In 1573, Charles fathered an illegitimate son, Charles, Duke of Angoulême, with his mistress, Marie Touchet a bourgeoise.  Marie provided the neurotic King with some peace and understanding. Charles described his time spent at his mistress’ home, away from the palace as “from Purgatory to Paradise”.

Burdened by his guilt, during his final days, his moods swung from boasting about the extremity of the massacre to exclamations that the screams of the murdered Huguenots kept ringing in his ears. Frantically, he blamed alternately himself – “What blood shed! What murders! he cried to his nurse. What evil council I have followed! O my God, forgive me… I am lost! I am lost!” – or his mother – “Who but you is the cause of all of this? God’s blood, you are the cause of it all!” Catherine responded by declaring she had a lunatic for a son.

Gradually, Charles IX became maddened by his infirmities both in body and mind.  Eventually, attacks of complete dementia would seize the King. By the end of 1573, his health was failing rapidly, his physical condition, tending towards tuberculosis, deteriorated to the point where, by spring of 1574, his hoarse coughing turned bloody and his hemorrhages grew more violent.  In his last days, he was in extreme pain and was afflicted with hematohidrosis a very rare condition in which a human sweats blood.  Charles IX died at the Château de Vincennes, aged twenty-three years.

Curious for more check out the blog Mad Monarchs: “This is a series of biographies on the personal lives of history’s mad royals. The absolute power they enjoyed often brought out the worst features of their character. Many Royals had egocentric, megalomaniac or paranoid tendencies and their mental states ranged from severe psychotic and psycho-organic disorders to personality disorders and light neuroses. Although not all Royals in this series were clinically mad, they certainly were peculiar.”

portrait painting by François Clouet (around 1572)

films set during this time period