Becque, Henry François

Becque, Henry François

Becque, Henry François, 1837-99, French dramatist. His plays, which portrayed Parisian life in realistic detail, influenced French naturalistic drama. Among them are Les Corbeaux (1882) and La Parisienne (1885), translated in the volume The Vultures, The Woman of Paris, The Merry-go-round (1913).

Hercule François, Duke of Anjou and Alençon, often simply referred to as "the Duke of Alençon", (March 18, 1555June 19, 1584) was the youngest son of Henry II of France and Catherine de' Medici.

An attractive child, he was unfortunately scarred by smallpox at age eight, and his pitted face and slightly deformed spine did not suit his august birth name of "Hercules". He changed his name to François in honour of his late brother François II of France when he was confirmed.

In 1574, following the death of his brother Charles IX of France and the accession of his other brother Henry III of France, he became heir to the throne. In 1576, he was made Duke of Anjou, Touraine, and Berry.

In 1576, he negotiated the Edict of Beaulieu during the French Wars of Religion. In 1579, he was invited by William the Silent to become hereditary sovereign to the United Provinces. On September 29, 1580, the Dutch States-General (with the exception of Zeeland and Holland) signed the Treaty of Plessis-les-Tours with the Duke, who would assume the title "Protector of the Liberty of the Netherlands" and become the sovereign.

Courting Elizabeth I

At the same time, in 1579, arrangements began to be made for his marriage to Elizabeth I of England. Alençon, now duc d'Anjou, was in fact the only one of Elizabeth's many suitors to court her in person. He was 24 and Elizabeth was 46. Despite the age gap, the two soon became very close, Elizabeth dubbing him her "frog" on account of a frog-shaped earring he had given her. Whether or not Elizabeth truly planned on marrying Anjou is a hotly debated topic. It is obvious that she was quite fond of him, knowing that he was probably going to be her last suitor. She brought him beef tea every morning and gave him a jewel-encrusted toque to wear until she could give him a crown of his own. The English people, however, were very much against the match. They complained loudly and vigorously over Anjou's religion (Catholic), his nationality (French) and his mother (Catherine de' Medici). English Protestants warned the Queen that the "hearts [of the English people] will be galled when they shall see you take to husband a Frenchman, and a Papist...the very common people well know this: that he is the son of the Jezebel of our age". Many Privy Councillors also opposed the marriage, despite support from notable courtiers such as William Cecil, Lord Burghley. Indeed, at her age, Elizabeth feared the hazards of childbirth, and pragmatically speaking did not think the union was a wise one. She continued, however, to play the engagement game for three months, if only to warn Phillip II of Spain what she might do, if it became necessary. Finally, the game played itself out, and Elizabeth bade her "frog" farewell in 1581. On his departure she penned a poem, "On Monsieur’s Departure," which, taken at face value, has lent credence to the notion that she may really have been prepared to go through with the match.

Anjou in the Netherlands

Anjou continued on to the Netherlands. He did not arrive until February 10, 1582, when he was officially welcomed by William in Flushing. In spite of the Joyous Entries he was accorded in Bruges and Ghent and his ceremonious installation as duke of Brabant and count of Flanders, Anjou was not popular with the Dutch and Flemish, who continued to see the Catholic French as enemies; the provinces of Zeeland and Holland refused to recognise him as their sovereign, and William, the central figure of the "Politiques" who worked to defuse religious hostilities, was widely criticised for his "French politics". He is now thought to have been the patron behind the "Valois tapestries" presented to Catherine, which presented major figures in Catherine's court against scenes of festivity. When Anjou's French troops arrived in late 1582, William's plan seemed to pay off, as even the Duke of Parma feared that the Dutch would now gain the upper hand.

However, Anjou himself was dissatisfied with his limited power, and decided to take the Flemish cities of Antwerp, Bruges, Dunkirk, and Ostend by force.

The "French Fury"

He decided to head personally the attack on Antwerp on January 18, 1583. In an attempt to fool the citizens of Antwerp, Anjou asked to be permitted to make a 'Joyous Entry" to the city in order to honor them with a parade. No one was fooled. As soon as the troops entered the city, the gates of Antwerp were slammed shut behind them. The French troops were trapped in the city and were bombarded from windows and rooftops with stones, rocks, logs and even heavy chains. Then, the city's garrison opened deadly, point-blank fire on the troops. Only a few Frenchmen, including Anjou, escaped. Over 1500 troops perished, eventually hacked to death by the enraged citizens of Antwerp.


The debacle at Antwerp marked the end of his military career. His mother, Catherine de' Medici is said to have written to him that "would you had died young. You would then not have been the cause of the death of so many brave gentlemen". Another insult followed when Elizabeth I formally ended her engagement to him after the massacre. The position of Anjou after this attack became impossible to hold, and he eventually left the country in June. His departure also discredited William, who nevertheless maintained his support for Anjou.

Soon Anjou fell seriously ill with "tertian ague", or malaria. Catherine de' Medici brought him back to Paris, where he was reconciled to his brother, King Henri III of France in February 1584. Henri even embraced his brother, whom he had famously called "le petit magot" ("little monkey"). By June, Alençon was dead.

Anjou's premature death meant that the Huguenot Henry of Navarre became heir-presumptive, thus leading to an escalation in the French Wars of Religion.



François's ancestors in three generations
François, Duke of Anjou Father:
Henry II of France
Paternal Grandfather:
Francis I of France
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Charles, Count of Angoulême
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Louise of Savoy
Paternal Grandmother:
Claude of France
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Louis XII of France
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Anne of Brittany
Catherine de' Medici
Maternal Grandfather:
Lorenzo II de' Medici, Duke of Urbino
Maternal Great-grandfather:
Piero di Lorenzo de' Medici
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Alfonsina Orsini
Maternal Grandmother:
Madeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne
Maternal Great-grandfather:
John III, Count of Auvergne
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Jeanne de Bourbon-Vendome


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