The Tudor Society

30 June – A mortal head wound for a jousting King of France

On this day in Tudor history, 30th June 1559, keen sportsman, King Henry II of France, suffered a mortal head wound while jousting. He died on 10th July and was succeeded by his son, Francis II.

Jousting was a dangerous sport and Henry was fatally injured when splinters from his opponent's lance entered his right eye. Awful!

Find out more about Henry II's accident and death, and also his reign, in today's talk.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 30th June 1541, King Henry VIII and his fifth wife, Queen Catherine Howard, set off on their progress to the north of England. Find out about the motives behind this huge undertaking, what happened on the progress, and why Henry's life changed so dramatically when he got back in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1537 – Execution of Thomas Darcy, Baron Darcy of Darcy. He was beheaded on Tower Hill after being found guilty of treason for his part in the Pilgrimage of Grace and Bigod's Revolt.
  • 1567 – Death of Thomas Becon, clergyman, reformer and theologian. Becon acted as chaplain to Edward Seymour, Lord Protector, and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, and was appointed by Cranmer as one of the six preachers at Canterbury. Becon was imprisoned in the Tower of London from August 1553 to March 1554, during Mary I's reign, due to his religious beliefs, and on release went into exile in Strasbourg, Frankfurt and Marburg. He returned to England on Elizabeth I's accession. Becon wrote many theological works, which, in time, changed from Lutheran to Zwinglian in their theology. It is thought that he was buried somewhere in Canterbury.
  • 1590 – Death of Sir Roger Townshend, member of Parliament and courtier in Elizabeth I's reign, at Stoke Newington in Middlesex. He was buried at St Giles Cripplegate. Townshend began his career serving the Howard family and was knighted by Charles Howard, Baron Howard of Effingham and the Lord Admiral, at sea for his part in defeating the Spanish Armada in 1588.


On this day in Tudor history, 30th June 1559, King Henry II of France suffered a mortal head wound while jousting. He died on 10th July and was succeeded by his son, Francis II.

Henry was the second son of King Francis I and Queen Claude of France. In 1533, at the age of 14, he’d married Catherine de’Medici, and in 1536, he became heir to the French throne following the death of his older brother, Francis, Duke of Brittany, after a game of tennis. Henry’s father died in March 1547 and Henry became King Henry II.

During his 12-year reign, Henry persecuted the Huguenots, French Protestants, and warred with Austria. In 1558, following the marriage of his son, the Dauphin Francis to Mary, Queen of Scots, and the death of Queen Mary I of England, Henry proclaimed the couple the rightful King and Queen of England.

In 1559, the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis brought the Italian Wars to an end. The Italian Wars were a series of wars which had been rumbling on between the Houses of Valois and Habsburg since 1494 and which had been resurrected by Henry II in 1551 as he tried to lay claim once more to Italy. Unfortunately for Henry, France had been soundly beaten in the most recent battles, so it was time to make peace. The terms of the peace treaty included the agreement of a marriage between Philip and Elisabeth of Valois, King Henry II of France’s daughter. Emmanuel-Philibert of Savoy also married Margaret of France, Duchess of Berry, Henry II’s sister. To celebrate the treaty and the marriage of his daughter, Henry II arranged a tournament at the Place Royale at the Hôtel des Tournelles. Henry was a keen sportsman and loved jousting so he participated in the joust on 30th June 1559, wearing the colours of Diane de Poitiers. Sadly, he suffered a fatal injury while jousting against Gabriel Montgomery, Captain of the King’s Scottish Guard. Splinters from Montgomery’s lance entered his right eye. His physicians Ambroise Paré and Andreas Vesalius did their best to tray and save the king, but he died eleven days later on 10th July 1559.

In their article “The Death of Henry II, King of France (1519-1559). From Myth to Medical and Historical Fact”, Marc Zanello, Philippe Charlier, Robert Corns, Bertrand Devaux, Patrick Berche, and Johan Pallud, use contemporary accounts and modern medical knowledge to conclude that “Henry II was the victim of craniofacial trauma involving the right eye and that he died from periorbital cellulitis caused by a retained foreign body in the wound, complicated by a left interhemispheric empyema preceded by a traumatic interhemispheric haematoma”. They go on to say that “It would appear that the royal court doctors advocated a wait-and-see strategy, with little actual input from Ambroise Paré or Andreas Vesalius, with a clearly regrettable outcome.”
The French Reformed theologian and scholar, Theodore Beza, wrote of the king’s death:

“Tool of bad men, Henry, thy thirst for blood
Fit retribution found,
From thy pierced eyeball gushed a purple flood
Which crimsoned all the ground.”

Henry was buried in the royal mausoleum of the Basilica of St-Denis, just outside Paris.
Henry was succeeded by his fifteen-year-old son, Francis II, with Mary, Queen of Scots as his consort. Francis only reigned for just over a year, dying in December 1560 from complications from an ear infection.

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30 June – A mortal head wound for a jousting King of France