Marie de Cleves

King Henri III of France

In Poland, the Duke of Anjou and future King Henri III’s passion verges on insanity.  When he writes to Marie de Cleves, he stabs a needle into his finger and dips his pen in his blood.  He is incoherent, has visions, and one day addresses these words to his friend Beauvais-Nangis:

“I love her so much, you know…  But I will say nothing more about it, for loves are intoxicating…”

Henri puzzles the Poles by the way that he acts.  Interrupting his Council to scribble a love letter that a messenger is ordered to carry immediately to Paris, contemplating with love the portrait of Marie while a minister is talking to him, composing verses on the backs of letters from ambassadors, he is soon considered by everyone to be a strange sovereign.

On 15 June 1574, a letter informs Henri that his brother Charles IX has just died and that he is King of France.  Four days later, he disguises himself and, in the company of five sure friends, flees the palace.

All night, he gallops towards the frontier, chased by the Poles who quickly discover his disappearance.  The mad race ends at Dawn when, about to be caught by his ministers, Henri III – as he now is – penetrates Austria, exhausted…  Immediately, he sends a letter to Marie de Cleves to announce his imminent arrival.

But on the way home, news arrives:  Marie has suddenly died.

Catherine de Medicis used philtres, poisons and spells.

He faints.  Catherine de Medicis has him transported to his chamber where he remains for several days, prostrated.  He refuses to eat and only leaves his mutism to burst into sobs.  The Queen Mother panics.  For a long time, the Florentine has been convinced that her son is the victim of a spell and that the undershirt of Marie de Cleves had contained a charm.  Now, she thinks that he is going to die, too.  She asks if he is wearing anything on him which had belonged to the Princess.  The Chamberlain answers that he had seen him with a cross and earrings which had been given to him by Marie.  Catherine orders that these objects be taken from him.  It is done;  but Henri remains plunged in mourning, with morbid tastes…  For example, he has little skulls embroidered on his shoe ribbons.

He will remain – in spite of an unconsummated marriage to Louise de Vaudemont – completely attached to Marie de Cleves.


It was said at the time that Henri III became homosexual because of this spell.

His “conversion” dates exactly from the death of Marie de Cleves.  Before that, he adored women.  All the historians of the time affirm that he was very virile…

The young prince was beautiful, seductive, charming.  All the women at Court were in love with him and he was attractive to the ladies of the Flying Squadron – the group of pretty girls that Catherine de Medicis had formed to use politically.  These young women loved to decorate him.  They put rings, necklaces, earrings, lipstick on him.  They powdered him, perfumed him and even dressed him like a woman.  It was a game.  It gave him a taste for jewellery, perfumes and fancy trimmings, without, however, – and we must insist on this point – removing his taste for the ladies.  He actively slept around at this time, and usually made his choice among the ladies of the Flying Squadron, who knew all about his virility since one of them, Louise de La Beraudiere, had taken his virginity when he was fifteen…  For the Flying Squadron was also used for this purpose…  The Duke of Anjou was therefore, at this moment, heterosexual, and even, according to Catherine de Medicis, who knew her son well, a “good stallion”.  So good and so enthusiastic that the ladies of the Court led him every night to exhausting pleasures and the worried Florentine feared that it would affect his health.  That’s when, to get him away from these mad Bacchantes, she had him meet the beautiful Renee de Rieux whose lover he immediately became, and who was with him the night of the famous ball…  At this time, he was madly in love with the young lady.

Renee de Rieux


His contemporaries saw in his sudden love for Marie de Cleves, the mark of sorcery, which was rife at this epoch…

Catherine de Medicis was accused, of course.  It was known that she was passionate about magic and very capable of using spells.  It was also noticed that the person who suggested to Marie de Cleves to change her undershirt was a member of the Queen Mother’s Flying Squadron…  Most historians think that Catherine had nothing to do with bewitching her son.


Some authors accuse Marie de Cleves, herself, of having put a powder, a sort of love philtre, in her undershirt capable of bewitching the Duke of Anjou and making him fall in love with her…

It is possible that Marie de Cleves’ undershirt had been dipped in an aphrodisiac perfume or an erotogenous drug.  The Florentines who surrounded Catherine de Medicis were very gifted in the art of poisons.  And some authors think that a venimous substance capable of affecting the Duke of Anjou’s mind, of exciting his senses to a paroxysm and provoking a “fixation” on Marie de Cleves, could have been used.  Some of these drugs are still in use in Japan, black Africa and Oceania.  For example, here is a recipe whose extraordinary effect was noted by a French doctor.  It comes from the Solomon Islands:

“To make a woman love you, take a few leaves of rarakot and sprinkle them with sisiwa (magic substance made from pulverised lava).  Mix it all and put it in tobacco which you will give to the woman that you desire.  Take some more sisiwa, heat it at the fire:  as it heats and the woman smokes the tobacco, she will start to be interested in you and, the next day, will come to you.  She will be burning with desire for you and attached for life.”


The Duke of Anjou could have been troubled by the odor di femina which impregnated Marie’s undershirt, but it would not explain his repulsion for women after the young princess’ death…


Henri III’s comportment is exactly the same as that observed in men made amorous to the point of madness by “magical drinks” supplied by the sorcerers of Oceania or black Africa.