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House of Guise

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House of Guise

The House of Guise was a French ducal family, partly responsible for the French Wars of Religion.

Origin

The House of Guise was founded as a cadet branch of the House of Lorraine by Claude of Lorraine, first Duke of Guise (1496–1550), who entered French service and was made a duke by King Francis I. The family's high rank was due not to possession of the Guise dukedom but to their membership in a sovereign dynasty, which procured for them the rank of prince étranger at the royal court of France. Claude's daughter, Mary of Guise (1515–1560), married King James V of Scotland and was mother of Mary, Queen of Scots. Claude's eldest son, Francis, became a military hero thanks to his heroic defense of Metz in 1552, and the capture of Calais from the English in 1558, while another son, Charles became Archbishop of Reims and a Cardinal in the Catholic Church.

Plots to the Crown

In 1558, the Dauphin Francis married Mary, Queen of Scots. When the sickly young man became king after his father's death in 1559, the queen's uncles, the Duke of Guise and his brother the Cardinal of Lorraine, controlled French politics during his short reign.

The House of Guise claimed descent from Charlemagne, and harbored pretensions to the French crown. In the reign of Francis II they attained supreme power, and sought to convert it to true kingship by eradicating the House of Bourbon, the legal successors to the throne of France. The leading Bourbon princes, Antoine, King of Navarre and Louis, Prince of Conde, were Protestants. To oppose the Bourbons, the Guises made themselves champions of the Catholic faith and allied themselves with the Philip II of Spain. The persecution of Protestants increased in vigor.

This prompted the Amboise conspiracy, in which the Huguenots and the Bourbons plotted to overthrow the power of the House of Guise. The Guise family brutally put down the conspiracy. Near the end of the year both the King of Navarre and the Prince of Condé were in their hands—one destined for assassination and the other for execution—when the death of the king, Francis II, prevented the fulfillment of their plans. After King Francis' death they opposed the more tolerant policy of the Regent, Catherine de' Medici, and their actions provoked the French Wars of Religion.

The Duke Francis helped to defeat the Huguenots at the Battle of Dreux, but he was assassinated shortly afterward, in 1563. His son, Henry of Guise, became the third Duke of Guise (1550–1588). He helped plan the infamous St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre and was responsible for the formation of the Catholic League. The death of the royal heir-presumptive, the Francis, Duke of Anjou, in 1584, which made the Protestant King Henry of Navarre heir to the French throne, led to a new civil war, the War of the Three Henries, with King Henry III of France, Henry of Navarre, and Henry of Guise all fighting for control of France. Guise began the war by declaring the unacceptability of Navarre as King of France, and his control of the powerful Catholic League soon forced the French king to follow in his wake. Immensely ambitious, in 1588 Guise, with Spanish support, instigated a revolt against the king, taking control of the city of Paris and becoming the de facto ruler.

After an apparent reconciliation between the French king and the duke, in December of 1588 King Henry III had both the Duke of Guise and his brother, Louis of Lorraine, Cardinal of Guise (1555–1588), murdered during a meeting in the Royal Chateau at Blois. Leadership of the Catholic League fell to their brother, Charles of Lorraine, Duke of Mayenne, who was commander of the armed forces of the Catholic League.

The Duke of Mayenne's nephew, the young Duke of Guise, Charles, was proposed by the Catholic League as a candidate for the throne, possibly through a marriage to Philip II of Spain's daughter Isabella, the granddaughter of Henry II of France. The Catholic League was eventually defeated, but for the sake of the country King Henry IV bought peace with Mayenne, and in January 1596 a treaty was signed that put an end to the League.

After this, the House of Guise receded from its prominent position in French politics, and the senior line, that of the Dukes of Guise became extinct in 1688. The vast estates and title were disputed and diverted by various relatives, although several junior branches of the family (Dukes of Mayenne, Dukes of Elbeuf, etc.) perpetuated the male line until 1825. Thereafter, the only surviving male branch of the House of Lorraine was the seniormost branch, which had exchanged the sovereign duchy of Lorraine for that of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, holding sovereignty as the Habsburg-Lorraine Emperors of Austria-Hungary into the 20th century.

Their principal title, Duke de Guise in 1688 was awarded to a branch of the House of Bourbon and afterwards to the House of Orléans. The title, with one exception, was not used by pretenders to throne of France (that is, French throne but-for-the-French Revolution of 1848). One of its heads, Prince Jean, Duke of Guise (1874 – 1940) nonetheless took it as his title of pretence to the former crown of France, supported by some of the 19th century Orleanist activists. These formed for at the time the junior set of Legitimists - claimants to be senior, rightful descendants of the pre-1848 French Royal Family and supported by restorative movements before, during and after the Second French Empire of Emperor Napoleon III, the last undoubted monarch of France. By the end of the 1880s, a series of republican Presidents during the relatively young French Third Republic ended any hope of a monarchy.

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Dukes of Guise

See Duke of Guise for a list. See Duchess of Guise for a list of their wives.

Other members of the House of Guise

See also

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