Henry III of France  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Les Mignons (from mignon, French for "the darlings" or "the dainty ones") was a term used by polemicists in the toxic atmosphere of the French Wars of Religion and taken up by the people of Paris, to designate the favourites of Henry III of France, from his return from Poland to reign in France in 1574, to his assassination in 1589, a disastrous end to which the perception of effeminate weakness contributed.

The Duel of the Mignons

In April 1578, the rival court parties of Henry III and Duke of Guise decided to reenact the battle of the Horatii and the Curiatii. On 27 April, Jacques de Caylus, Louis de Maugiron and Jean d'Arcès (representing the party of the King) engaged in battle with Charles de Balzac, Ribérac, and Georges de Schomberg (representing the party of the Guises). Maugiron and Schomberg were killed, Ribérac died of wounds the following noon, d'Arcès was wounded in the head and convalesced in a hospital for six weeks, while Caylus sustained as many as 19 wounds and died after 33 hours of agony. Only Balzac got off with a mere scratch on his arm.

This meaningless loss of life impressed itself on the public imagination. Jean Passerat wrote an elegy, Plaintes de Cléophon, on the occasion. In the political treatise Le Theatre de France (1580) the duel was invoked as "the day of the pigs" who "killed each other in the precinct of Saint Paul, serving him in the Muscovite manner". Michel Montaigne decried the event as "une image de lacheté", and Pierre Brantôme connected it with the deplorable spread of the Italian and Gascon manners at Henry's court. The incident accelerated the estrangement between the two Henrys.

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