Favorites, cute and super cute of the king in the 16th century

In general memory, favorites, cute, super cute are names evocative of scandal and used in a mocking and degrading way, especially during the reign of Henry III! And yet, kings, queens, high-ranking figures very often surrounded themselves with a favorite, the person of confidence, the intimate friend, showered with favors, whose political influence was more or less important. Let’s put things in their place a bit… because there were already favorites during Antiquity and then in the Middle Ages, but the most abundant period goes from the 15th century to the 17th century.

Under Francis I

The favorite under Francis I is an intimate, public figure on whom the king can rely to wisely administer certain affairs of the kingdom. Elected among the courtiers, François Ist favored him according to his merits, as was the case for Anne de Montmorency, the first favorite in France. Born in 1493, he proved his military values ​​and became captain of a hundred lances at twenty-three, first gentleman of the chamber at twenty-seven, marshal of France at twenty-nine, grand master of France and governor of Languedoc in 1526, then finally constable of France twelve years later. Stayed alongside the king, he had the honor of sleeping in the royal chamber and presiding over council meetings: a favorite considered a true head of government.

In the time of Henry II

When François I died, Henri II kept Anne de Montmorency and considered him to be his father. He was his advisor, his confidant, his friend and the intermediary figure between the king and the courtiers. But on his death, mentalities change, the two great families (Guise and Montmorency) fight to gain power during the handover to François II, because it is customary that at the death of the king, the successor gets rid of old favorites to install his people around him.

The changes of the Duke of Anjou

The Duke of Anjou is an open, generous, approachable, courteous and easy-going prince who can be spoken to. He has childhood friends around him who are the sons of great figures in the court of the Queen Mother. From the siege of La Rochelle, the Duke of Anjou became a real party leader and formed a united block around him. The departure for Poland is an opportunity for these young people to launch out in life, it is the first official dignity which presents itself to them. On the other hand, the king knew he could rely on the elders and it was thanks to them and their know-how that he returned to France in 1574.

The transformations of Henry III

Henri III and Catherine de Médicis "/> On her accession to the throne, the queen mother installed a first group of favorites around the king, made up of Villequier, Bellegarde and Le Guast who served as intermediaries between the king and the nobility, holding the monopoly of access to the king and representing the authority. The young Lignerolles of recent family, having no financial means, completes this group. Henri reformed life at court and surrounded himself with his friends, all young people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four. He wants to create for himself a place of intimacy, a space of friendship, of trust, of freedom, by deciding that his rising should take place in private, that courtiers are prohibited from 'entrances, by wanting to promote noble manners around him, with more refinement, forbidding the neglected under penalty of prohibition to approach him. Desiring to be master of the court and the center of the organization, he favors the lower nobility of second order, thus disturbing the big houses or the heirs Powerful lineage ers no longer accessing positions and favors. This is how he builds a new group around him.

From the second group of favorites ...

This second group, founded on friendship during the campaigns against the Huguenots and especially the trip to Poland, was made up from 1574 of Entraguet, Caylus, Saint Mégrin, Maugiron, Livarot, Saint Sulpice, Souvré, Gramont, Saint Luc and d ' O. These young people of lower nobility, had arrived in Paris to study there, to learn the handling of the sword as well as the rudiments of horse riding, had already known the king and are thus admitted to his entourage. Gramont, Ribérac and the Schomberg brothers joined the group a little later.

To keep them near him, the king will transfer the responsibilities of the elders to them, but in return Bellegarde becomes Marshal of France and is the only one to be authorized to enter the king's house without restriction, Le Guast obtains the post of camp master of the guards. becoming an important part of a military network.

... to the King's Mignons

These young friends and courtiers take part in parties and copy the king in every way, especially in terms of clothes, their ways of behaving, of having fun and are immediately denigrated by the Protestants who accuse them of giving bad habits to youth, to live in artifice during cavalcades in the streets ... let us remember that Francis I had done the same thing in 1517 with his friends.

From this moment, they are nicknamed "the cute king". This term appeared in the French language at the end of the Middle Ages; at the beginning of the 16th century, he qualified a courtier with official dignity at the court, brought up in the entourage of a Great who in return expected fidelity and devotion; then in the middle of the century, the term meant for the people: social disorder, associated with delicacy, tenderness, beauty, with familiarities and sexual excesses, from which appeared the term "cute bunk".

The people are amused at first, but do not understand that the king calls himself "his Majesty" and react badly. From 1576, the term took on a sexual and degrading connotation. An affair of morals and murder, under cover of the king, does not favor their integration and the king himself is poorly regarded.

The famous chronicler Pierre de l'Estoile described them thus in his diary of the reign of Henri III. “This cute name, began at that time to trot through the mouths of the people, to whom they were very odious, so much for their manners. to do, who were playful and haughty, only for their effeminate and shameless make-ups and accoutrements, but above all for the immense gifts and liberalities made to them by the king, that the people believed to be the cause of their ruin. These handsome cuties wore their hair long, curled and curled by artifice, going up over their little velvet caps, like the whores of bordeaux, and their strawberries of starched cloth shirts and half a foot long. , so that seeing their heads above their strawberries, it seemed that it was the chef of Saint John in a dish. The rest of their clothing does the same; their exercises were to play, to blaspheme, to jump, to dance, to fly, to quarrel and to bawl, and to follow the king everywhere and in all companies, doing nothing, saying nothing except to please him; careless, in fact, of God and of virtue, contenting themselves with being in good grace with their master whom they feared and honored more than God ".

"My Troop"

At the end of two years of reign, the cute are about twenty to gravitate around the king. These young people whom the king readily calls "my Troupe" are sons of gentlemen playing a leading role in the provinces, employed in such a way as to strengthen royal authority in France. The cuties are a group of brotherhood, friendship and equality, serving to adorn "his majesty." The king demands loyalty to himself, exclusivity and a diligent presence.

Their mission

The cuties begin by obtaining loads of ordinary gentlemen of the chamber, then climb the ranks and receive for some military commands as captains, camp masters, commander of an ordinance company or infantry regiment or light horse for others, in order to refidelize the provincial nobility. However, in these regions, they cannot impose themselves, badly accepted, even rejected by the old ones in place who do not want to give up their post.

But their main mission is to face the other parties competing with the state, in particular by diverting the nobility passing to Monsieur (the king's brother) or to the Guise.

Depending on the degree of confidence, certain favorites are admitted to the Council of State (management of the daily politics of the monarchy) or to the Business Council called the Secret Council where the real political decisions are taken. They then receive special missions such as important negotiations, an embassy role to the Guises, the intermediary between the king and the queen mother, the writing of letters and dispatches. The first to participate are Saint Luc, Joyeuse, Villequier also participating in the Council of Finances, with O responsible for the royal finances, Epernon takes the title of Councilor of State and Affairs in 1582.

The favors granted

Of course, they receive the income from their basic charges, but the favor system is not based on social status, nor on official charges, but on emotional ties and loyalty. Gifts and gratuities for services rendered prove favor with the king. Thus, young people obtain land and parents large charges in the provinces, in order to consolidate power and control opponents of the regime in the regions of France.

To increase alliances in the provinces, and especially according to the merit of the cute (which proves their rapid rise), the king offers them considerable marriages as was the case for Caylus, Saint Sulpice and Saint Mégrin. This is a distinction from other gentlemen and Monsieur often tries to frustrate these marriages thinking they lose their provincial nobility, resulting in duels between cute.

And yet, the bulk of the cuties are crippled with debt. Saint Luke and François d'O are the only ones of this generation to get by financially thanks to their posts of governors and the income of abbeys… in return, they also had to make important loans to the state, of O and the future provost Richelieu were ruined there without ever being reimbursed. The cute ones to "appear" have a lot of lavish expenses, creating houses with lackeys and stewards, leading a lifestyle above the norm, but they do not have sufficient income having no significant expenses to pay. their name in the provinces. The king sometimes offers them gratuities, which they will not be able to take advantage of… they die too young!

The rivalries between cute of the two parties until the famous duel

As we saw above, there is a recurring rivalry between Henri III and his brother and on the other hand, a constant rivalry between the cute of the two parties and incessant fights, leading to the disappearance of the cute from 1575 until ' in the famous collective duel of 1578. Cohabitation at court is difficult to live with in winter, on return from war, violence is expressed by the desire to fight. The cuties also compete to retain the king's favor and it becomes an everyday struggle. The duel is a kind of personal dedication, but in this case, this collective death is more serious, the cuties are animated by a community of spirit, they sacrifice themselves and die like martyrs, but the honor is washed!

The month of January 1578 was spent in harassment between Bussy, Monsieur's "champion" and Gramont, one of the king's cuties. The mignons then formed a group made up of Gramont, Saint Luc, Caylus, Saint Mégrin, Mauléon, Livarot, Maugiron, to which were added at the beginning of February, the brothers Schomberg and Joyeuse. After a few attacks, Bussy demands justice, Caylus is officially condemned, but everything escalates after the marriage of Saint Luc where Monsieur does not show up since he leaves the court. Following a new quarrel between Caylus and Entraguet, a group of six mignons belonging to the king and to Monsieur, clashed on April 26, 1578, a day called "swine day" at the Horse Market near the Saint Antoine gate.

Caylus, Maugiron and Saint Mégrin are buried with great honors. Ronsard sings their praises, sonnets are carved on the tombs, the praises are expressed in terms of beauty, valor, courtesy, honor, virtue. The king intends to assimilate the deceased to the dignitaries of the kingdom, even to the royal children, and had marble mausoleums installed in the Church of Saint Paul, which would be destroyed by the people in January 1589, at the instigation of preachers; these honors rendered accentuate the degradation of the king's popularity.

The king is downcast, has changed a lot, and will restrict the number of people around him. He wants to have only two interlocutors to whom he entrusts political missions.

It was the end of the youth group and the last favorites Souvré, Châteauvieux, Guiche and Beauvais-Nangis who were at the siege of La Rochelle, who followed the king to Poland, who only obtained the duties of gentleman of the room constitute the "opposite cabal" to thwart the power of a new group called "archi-mignons".

The arch-cute

From 1581, date of the disgrace of the elders, it is a period of peace in the kingdom and the king, who since 1577 has attached a small group of three people Anne de Joyeuse d'Arques and her brothers from Bouchage , Jean Louis de Nogaret de La Valette and his brothers, as well as François d'O, feels good, is serene, balanced, in good health, is once again accessible to the nobility. Companions in the private life of the king, they follow him everywhere, serve him at table, accompany him in receptions and public ceremonies and allow the maintenance of a balance between private and public life of Henry III. Still, they act as a bulwark against beggars and everyone has to go through them to get even an interview with the king.

Their missions

Serving as intermediaries between the king and the nobility, they combine the offices of the court, with official administrative responsibilities and identical military commands to avoid dissension, unlike the first mignons. Both appointed first gentleman of the chamber in 1582, in the constant service of the king, they have access to private apartments even in the absence of the king. Having a role of broker of power and agent of execution of the king, they must provide for the needs of their houses, their companies in time of campaign, lend to the state, acquire a clientele and offer their protection to poets , scholars, people of the Church important for sermons and preaching, to redeem the charges against opponents (especially the leaguers) and them to redistribute honors.

Their establishment in the provinces is almost impossible. Just like the mignons, Joyeuse and Epernon will have a hard time facing the Montmorency and Navarre, because to get there, it would be necessary to stay permanently in the regions, but their position depends on their loyalty and their permanent presence with the king.

Among the recruitments made, Epernon formed the "Forty-Five" troop in December 1584, originally from the South-West. Indeed, from 1584, the king felt insecure; in 1586 placards were stuck in Paris threatening the king with death. The Forty-Five are permanently attached to the king with the mission of monitoring the members of his household, but must compensate at the expense of their company.


Placed above their original nobility, the lands of the archi-mignons were raised in duchies-peerages, to attract the nobility in the face of the rise in power of the Protestants, the party of Monsieur and the threat from Lorraine.

It is also the occasion of great marriages granted for the arch-mignons: Joyeuse makes an alliance in the north against Montmorency and the League, by becoming the king's brother-in-law; Epernon in the south to maintain the side protesting against the Guise; each other's brothers will also have the right to choice covenants, with an obligation for them to serve the king. The two archi-mignons will also be related, Epernon’s brother having married Joyeuse’s aunt.

The end of the archi-mignons

As soon as Joyeuse is sent on campaign, Epernon takes the opportunity to get closer to the king. He received missions of confidence to Navarre from 1584, then to the Guise. Rivalries arise and Joyeuse makes the mistake of approaching the League in 1587, losing her credit with Henry III. Joyeuse has only one solution: to fight victoriously the Huguenots at Coutras in September 1587. If he wins, he returns to favor and can drive out Epernon… but he loses on September 20: in three hours, the army royal is defeated, Joyeuse dies.

Joyeuse was brought back to Paris in March 1588, his effigy was exhibited in a parade hall, dressed in a penitent’s habit, for three days; a funeral meal is organized where the effigy is seated. On the last day Epernon and the king pay him funeral honors, the effigy being placed in a fiery chapel with requiem and prayer the next day. Joyeuse is a "knight who died for the faith, considered an arch-martyr".

From that moment on, Epernon was the sole courtier and all the hopes placed on Joyeuse went to him. He no longer has any limits and succeeds in alienating all the king's advisers who ask for his removal from May 1588, to such an extent that the Greats are "ready to die for the king" on condition that Epernon is disgraced. He took refuge in Navarre before being arrested.

The end of the golden age of favorites

The king reshuffled his government, got rid of all the elders placed by his mother and, curiously, surrounded himself with people pushed by Epernon, including Roger II de Bellegarde, the last favorite. Bellegarde takes care of the king's domestic life, as he needs a confidant who is available by his side. At the end of 1588, the king took over the distribution of charges, especially those of Epernon, reconnected with the gentlemen of the provinces, tried to secure the Duke of Nevers (the only capable soldier), whom he encouraged to enter the ranks of the Catholics. Nevers refuses, resulting in the assassination of the Duke of Guise. Nevers died in 1595 at the age of 56 with all the honors due to an excellent soldier.

Gone are the cute and super cute. Yet brothers and cousins ​​of the mignons of Henri III are at the base of the aristocracy of the beginning of the 17th century, the king's favor having attracted old lineages to the capital, serving in the army and forming the true nobility of the court around of Louis XIII. With the advent of the Sun King in 1661, it was definitely the end of the golden age of favorites in France.

For further

"The favor of the king, Mignons and courtiers at the time of the last Valois (circa 1547-circa 1589)" - Nicolas Le Roux

"Fortune de France" - Robert Merle

"The War of the Three Henri" - Jean D’Aillon

"The Lady of Monsoreau" and the "Forty-five" - ​​Alexandre Dumas

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