Henry was born in the Royal Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, the son of Francis I and Claude de France and the grandson of Louis XII of France and Anne, Duchess of Brittany. With his brother, he spent three years in Spain as a hostage to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, as surety for his father, who had been captured at the Battle of Pavia. Henry married Catherine de' Medici (13 April 1519–5 January 1589) on 28 October 1533, when both were fourteen years old.
The following year he became involved with the thirty-five-year-old, recently widowed, Diane de Poitiers, who became his most trusted confidante and for the next twenty-five years wielded considerable influence behind the scenes, even signing royal documents. Extremely confident, mature and intelligent, she left Catherine powerless to intervene.
When his older brother Francis died in 1536 after a game of tennis, Henry became heir to the throne; he succeeded his father on his 28th birthday, March 31, 1547 and was crowned King of France on 25 July 1547 at Reims.
Henry's reign was marked by wars with Austria, and the persecution of the Protestant Huguenots. Henry II severely punished them, particularly the ministers: burning them at the stake or cutting off their tongues for speaking their heresies. Even those suspected of being Huguenots could be imprisoned. The Edict of Chateaubriand (27 June 1551) called upon the civil and ecclesiastical courts to detect and punish all heretics and placed severe restrictions on Huguenots, including loss of one-third of property to informers, and confiscations. It also strictly regulated the press by prohibiting the sale, importation or printing of any unapproved book.
The Italian War of 1551–1559, sometimes known as the Habsburg–Valois War, began when Henry declared war against Charles V with the intent of recapturing Italy and ensuring French, rather than Habsburg, domination of European affairs. An early offensive into Lorraine was successful, with Henry capturing the three episcopal cities of Metz, Toul, and Verdun, but the attempted French invasion of Tuscany in 1553 was defeated at the Battle of Marciano.
After Charles's abdication in 1556 split the Habsburg empire between Philip II of Spain and Ferdinand I, the focus of the war shifted to Flanders, where Phillip, in conjunction with Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy, defeated the French at St. Quentin. England's entry into the war later that year led to the French capture of Calais, and French armies plundered Spanish possessions in the Low Countries; but Henry was nonetheless forced to accept the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, in which he renounced any further claims to Italy.
The Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis was signed between Elizabeth I of England and Henry on 2 April and between Henry and Philip II of Spain on 3 April 1559, at Le Cateau-Cambrésis, around twenty kilometers south-east of Cambrai. Under its terms, France restored Piedmont and Savoy to the Duke of Savoy, but retained Saluzzo, Calais and the bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun. Spain retained Franche-Comté. Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy, married Margaret of France, Duchess of Berry, the sister of Henry II, and Philip II of Spain married Henry's daughter Elisabeth.
Henry raised the young Queen Mary I of Scotland at his court, hoping to use her as a tool of Valois imperialism. On April 24, 1558, Henry's fourteen-year-old son Francis was married to Mary in a union intended to give the future king of France not only the throne of Scotland but a claim to the throne of England. Henry had Mary sign secret documents, illegal in Scottish law, that would ensure Valois rule in Scotland even if she died without heir (Guy 2004:91). Mary's claim to the English throne quickly became current when Mary I of England died later in 1558, Henry and his Catholic advisors regarding Elizabeth Tudor as illegitimate.
Henry was succeeded by his son, Francis II, who died the following year and was succeeded by his two brothers. Their mother acted as Regent. For the forty years following Henry II's death, France was filled with turbulence as Protestants and Catholics fought the bitter Wars of Religion.
Henry II also had four illegitimate children:
CI, Q 35
The young lion shall overcome the older one,
on the field of combat in single battle,
He shall pierce his eyes in a golden cage,
Two forces one, then he shall die a cruel death.
But in fact the link was first proposed in print only in 1614, 55 years after the event and 48 after Nostradamus's death. The quatrain also speaks of pierced eyes, but Henry died of an injury to his temple. The Italian astrologer Luca Gaurico, a contemporary of Nostradamus, is also said to have predicted the king's death.