Charles IX of France

King of France

Charles IX (Charles Maximilien; 27 June 1550 – 30 May 1574) was King of France from 1560 until his death in 1574. He ascended the French throne upon the death of his brother Francis II in 1560, and as such was the penultimate monarch of the House of Valois.

Portrait, c. 1572



Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men

Reported in: S. A. Bent, ed. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men (1887)
  • La blessure est pour vous, la douleur est pour moi.
  • The wound is yours: the pain is mine.
    • Visiting Admiral de Coligny, who had been wounded in the hand by Tosinghi, a Florentine partisan of the Guises, two days before the massacre of 24 August. The king disliked the house of Guise, of whose avarice his brother, Francis II, had said, that “they would strip the kings of France of their last shirt.” Charles was, therefore, probably sincere in his regret at the outrage committed upon the venerable Huguenot. Had Coligny been killed by the Florentine, as was intended, the massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day would not have occurred. The narrative of the Venetian ambassador of that time fixes the responsibility for both acts upon the queen-mother, with the single participation of the Duc d’Anjou, afterwards Henry III; the Guises gave a silent acquiescence to the plan, which was withheld from the king until the last moment.—La Diplomatie vénitienne, I. 552, 553.
      When, on the fatal night of the 24th, the assassins entered his chamber, the wounded admiral said to their leader, “Young man, thou shouldst respect my gray hairs: nevertheless, thou canst abridge my life but little” (aussi bien ne feras-tu ma vie plus brève). The Duc de Guise called out from below, when told that the admiral was dead, “Fling him out that we may see him!” and then kicked the dead body, saying, “Lie there, venomous serpent: you will shed your poison no more!” (bête vénéneuse, tu ne répandras done plus ton venin!)
      According to hitherto undisputed history, Charles IX, on the morning of the 25th, seized a long fowling-piece, and fired from a window of the Louvre upon the flying Huguenots. Even his cry of “Kill, kill! let none be left to reproach me!” has been brought in to heighten the effect. When, two days afterwards, a Huguenot was killed near him, he exclaimed, in anticipation of the remorse which was soon to devour him, “Would to God it were the last!”
      Fournier devotes many pages of his sixth edition to prove, what he had been attacked for attempting in his first, that Charles IX did not fire upon the Huguenots. The main authorities for the tradition have been Brantôme, who was not in Paris at the time; and d’Aubigné, who had left Paris three days before the massacre, and whose strong partisan feelings unfit him for an historian. Sully, also a Huguenot, who nearly lost his life in the massacre, does not mention the king’s participation in it; and a Huguenot pamphlet called The Tocsin against the Massacres and other Confusions in France, published in 1579, only seven years after St. Bartholomew’s Day, speaks as follows: “Although one would have thought that so great a slaughter would sate the cruelty of the young king, a woman, and many important persons of their suite, nevertheless, they seemed to grow the more infuriated the greater the outrage became; for the king, on his side, spared nothing towards it, not that he put a hand to it” (non pas qu’il y mist les mains), but because, being at the Louvre while the massacre was going on in the city, he commanded that the names of the killed or prisoners should be brought to him, in order that due deliberation might be made concerning those whom it was necessary to guard or put out of the way.” This is considered strong proof by implication that Charles was innocent of the cruelty charged upon him. Fournier, in a note to p. 203 of L’Esprit, mentions two other Protestant writings where the story of the fowling-piece is given as a mere on dit. The building, a window of which is pointed out to travellers as that from which Charles IX fired upon the Huguenots, was not built until long after 1572. In a letter of the king’s discovered in 1842, which he wrote the day after the massacre to the Duc de Longueville, governor of Picardy, he says that he was not able to oppose the massacre, nor apply any remedy to it; “having enough to do to employ my guards and other forces, to hold myself as securely as possible within this château of the Louvre, in order to appease the sedition throughout the whole city, and prevent other massacres, which I should marvellously regret” (ayant en assez à faire à employer mes gardes et autres forces, pour me tenir le plus fort en ce chasteau du Louvre, pour après faire donner par toute la ville de l’appaisement de la sédition, et pour prévenir d’autres massacres, dont j’aurois un merveilleux regret).
      A mot which Brantôme attributes to Charles IX, that in the case of rebels “it is cruelty to be humane, and humane to be cruel,” is from a sermon of Muis, Bishop of Bitonte, which Catherine de Medici was in the habit of quoting to her son.—Histoire Universelle d’Aubigné, II. i. 2. The letter in which the Vicomte d’Orthez refused to massacre the Huguenots of Bayonne, as commanded by the king, is considered by Fournier an invention of d’Aubigné. In it he said, “Sire, I have communicated the command of your majesty to his faithful subjects and soldiers of the garrison: I have found here only good citizens and brave soldiers, but not a headsman” (je n’y ai trouvé que bons citoyens et braves soldats, mais pas un bourreau). No historian follows d’Aubigné here; nor is it well applied to this particular officer, whose cruelty to the Huguenots of Bayonne and Navarre was so inhuman that it called forth a rebuke from Charles IX himself, which was confirmed by a letter of Catherine de Medici. Finally, M. de Larroque discovered in the imperial library a letter of Orthez, dated August 1572, the month of the massacre of St. Bartholomew’s, in which he promised the king to cause those with whose custody he is charged “to live in such a manner” (de fere vivre en tel poinct), “that no trouble should be feared from them;” that is, that Catholics and Protestants should be restrained from mutual attacks and massacres.—FOURNIER: 212, note.
      Later investigations destroy the authenticity of another horrible mot of the religious wars,—that of the Pope’s legate, Arnaud, abbot of Citeaux, who, when besieging Bèziers, a stronghold of the Albigenses, in 1209, with Simon de Montfort, gave the order, “Kill all: God will recognize his own!” (Tuez-les tous, Dieu connaîtra bien ceux qui sont à lui!) Sixty thousand persons, including old men, women, and children, were said to have been massacred in accordance with this command.


  • Lart de faire des vers, deust on s’en indigner,
    Doit etre a plus haut prix que celui de regner.
    Tous deux egalement nous portons des couronnes;
    Mais, roi, je la reçus; et poete, tu les donnes.
  • The art of verse-making (should one be complaining)
    Is higher at least than the talent of reigning:
    We each boast a crown, both the monarch and poet,
    Yet kings but receive it, while authors bestow it.
    • Pierre de Ronsard, Vers du roy à Ronsard, in Oeuvres complètes, ed. Prosper Blanchemain (Paris, 1858), vol. 3, p. 261.
    • Beginning of a dozen justly-admired Alexandrines, supposed to have been addressed by Charles IX to Ronsard, but generally considered supposititious. Edouard Fournier, L'Esprit dans l'histoire, 5th ed. (1883), pp. 185–191 and Notes) ascribes the lines to Jean Le Royer, Sieur de Prades, on account of their first appearance in his Sommaire de l'histoire de France (Paris, 1651), p. 548.
    • Reported in Classical and Foreign Quotations, 3rd ed. (1904), no. 1284.
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