THE KING OF FRANCE   Henri II           

King from 1547 – 1559

But the power in the land rested with 2 parties see below



THE QUEEN OF FRANCE   1519-1589          Catherine de Medici
The wife of Henri II – mother of Francois II and the following 2 kings: Charles IX and Henri III.

More details about her are given below in the HISTORICAL NOTE- Links between Scotland and France

She was regent while Charles IX was too young to reign.

She was clever but unscrupulous and was responsible for instigating the mass slaughter of the French Protestants on St Bartholomew’s Day
 August 1572

The first party

Diane de Poitiers
Duchesse de Valentinois

She had been the King's favourite for 20 years.
She was hostile to the Cardinal de Lorraine who was a member of the Guise family (See below)


The second party

The Constable of France
The Duke of Montmorency 1492 - 1567

The King relied upon him for the government and administration of the country. (The Guise family aspired to his power)
His second son Henri d'Anville was in love Mary Stuart
Queen Catherine describes him as the real ruler of France and says he hates her (Page 19 Summary notes)




Henry's and Catherine’s eldest son He ascended the throne in 1559 as Francis II”.

During his brief reign, the uncles of his wife Mary Stuart (from the Guise family) ruled because he was too ill to assume power. 

Under their joint influence he persecuted the Protestants and  brutally suppressed a Huguenot conspiracy; la Conjuration d’Amboise. He died in 1560

Mary Stuart - Queen of Scotland 
1542-1587 (Title at court: La Reine Dauphine)

Aged 16-17 at the time of the novel.

(See the historical note below)



At the start of this book we are told that, Mary Stuart, although she was Dauphine, wife of the heir to the French throne, felt hated by the Queen and by the King’s favourite, his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. They seemed to block her in everything that she wanted to do.  Their resentment came about not because of Mary Stuart herself but because of Mary Stuart’s mother.  The following is the historical explanation.

It is a huge coincidence of history that, in the 1530s, Henry II of France found himself faced with the same predicament with which his neighbouring Monarch, Henry VIII of England, had been grappling since a  couple of decades earlier.  After a number of years of marriage, their wives had failed to give them a male heir, which would prevent the chaos of a contested succession after their death.  Henri II considered very seriously the same solution that Henry VIII had chosen – divorce of his present wife. 

Not only was the Queen, Catherine de Medici, not happy about this prospect but nor was his mistress, in case the second wife might displace her in the King’s affections.

The talented lady that Henri II had in mind was a young widow, Marie, who had been born a Guise.  In the end, however, Marie de Guise married instead King James V of Scotland and they had a baby girl, who at one week old became the Queen of Scots, on the death of her father. 

It was the spirited Marie de Guise, the Queen Mother, who ruled Scotland as regent, while she sent her daughter to the French Royal Court for her education and security from the Protestant Scots, who resisted her dream of joining Scotland to France. 

Although Catherine de Medici after nearly nine childless years produced ten children, three of whom were later kings of France, the now established Queen and the long established mistress retained some bitterness on the arrival of Marie de Guise’s daughter into the court of Henri II.



Marguerite of France
(Title at court: Madame, soeur du roi)

She was a friend of the Prince de Clèves

Elizabeth of France
(Title at court: Madame)

She was the daughter of Henri II and Catherine of Medici
She was first betrothed to Don Carlos, the eldest son of Philip II of Spain.  When the latter became free to marry after the death of his wife, Mary Tudor, king Philip II chose to marry her himself. (See Page 14 Summary notes)  She needed some persuasion to marry the old king instead.)
The proxy marriage ceremonies are described in this book.(Pages 25 and 28 Summary notes)



 Le maréchal de St André.  1505- 1562.

He was a favourite of the King.  He was killed in battle in 1562. The authoress tells us that he was regarded as not aligning himself with any court faction,  (Page 2-3 Summary notes)
but Catherine de Medici tells the Vidame that she resents the maréchal’s attitude towards her. (Page 19 Summary notes


Le Prince de Condé. 


He was deformed physically but possessed great charm.



The King of Navarre

(Antoine de Bourbon).


The noble family gaining the ascendancy


They were ambitious for power and finally gained it when their niece, Mary Stuart, became queen.  However at the start of this book we learn that, while she was still the Dauphine, Mary Stuart


Le duc de Guise -François de Lorraine.   (1519-1563). 

A successful general for Henri II.  He recaptured Calais from the English in 1558.  in the Wars of religion, he led the Catholic forces and was murdered by a Protestant in 1563

His brother- le cardinal de Lorraine – Charles de Guise (1524-1574)

The youngest brother- Le Chevalier de Guise, (1537- 1562) Francois de Lorraine.

Mme. de La Fayette ascribes to him a love for her fictitious character –la Princesse de Clèves

In history, he later became Grand Prior of Malta





The 3 characters in fatal love triangle


The aged Duc de Nevers. 

He was a friend of Diane de Poitiers, the King’s mistress



The second son of the Duc de Nevers was Le Prince de Clèves.-

He is a historical character to whom Mme. de La Fayette ascribes as wife the fictitious heroine of her book



The Vidame de Chartres.   

(The name « Vidame is a hereditary title given originally to a nobleman, who is a layman but who is responsible for defending church property.)
Mme. de La Fayette tells us that the Vidame had a secret liaison with the Queen Catherine de Medici but indiscreetly deceived her causing his own downfall and subsequent death.
History tells us that he was executed in 1560 for involvement in a Huguenot conspiracy, la Conjuration d’Amboise




Mme de  Chartres and her daughter, Mlle de Chartres, subsequently  la Princesse de Clèves.

These ladies are fictitious characters created by Mme. de La Fayette,  She makes her young heroine the niece of the Vidame de Chartres.




Le duc de Nemours

Mme. de La Fayette makes this charming, handsome nobleman, the object of her heroine’s illicit love.

History records how he had hopes for a time of marrying Elizabeth I of England.

The historians show him as an unscrupulous betrayer of women. He broke his pledged word to Francoise de Rohan, seduced her and abandoned her to her shame.