1578, the gory Duel of the Minions on the place des Vosges

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Caylus - ©Austrian National Library (ÖNB) • Henri III - ©The British Library / Public domain Caylus - ©Austrian National Library (ÖNB) • Henri III - ©The British Library / Public domain
Place des Vosges Street District Henri III

King Henri III didn’t look very well, this morning of May 1578, while he was crossing the icy nave of Saint-Louis church in Le Marais district. He had hollow cheeks, glazed eyes. He wept all night... he sniffled. Hey, he had a busy day!

He had to lay down the Pont-Neuf’s first stone, that very afternoon... Well, do yo know why did Henri look so sad? Because two of his favourite minions died in a duel: Jacques de Caylus and François Maugiron, died on April 27th 1578... and he just buried them in Saint-Louis church.

Minions, tiff!

Hey, it was the famous Duel des Mignons ("Minions duel")! Minions, king Henri III’s favourites. Men with make-up on their face, jewels, a big lacy ruff around their neck. They were Henri’s bodyguards!

Hey, wait: minions were dressed like women, OK, but they were real tough guys. Who always drew their swords if necessary. Well, what really happened on the current place des Vosges (at that time a horse market), on April 27th 1578, at 5AM?

A duel involving several king’s minions: Jacques de Caylus, Louis de Maugiron, Guy d’Arces, François Ribérac, Georges de Schomberg and Charles de Balzac. A pretty violent and gory battle: Maugiron and Schomberg, 18 years old, died instantly. Caylus, 24, 19 times wounded, suffered 33 days before his death. Arces stayed confine to bed for 2 months, severely wounded.

Whoa, a big brawl!

Well, now, let’s see the facts. The story began with a tiff between Caylus and Balzac in the Louvre courtyard. About a lady. Well, it was in fact a duel between the king’s partisans and duke of Guise’s ones (Guise wanted to be king, you know).

Well, anyway, Caylus challenged Balzac and they met the next morning on the horse market square. They had seconds: Caylus picked up Maugiron and d’Arces. Balzac chose Schomberg and Ribérac. But the duel degenerated into a big brawl: seconds joined in!

They get bored, doing nothing! "I’m not here to waste my times with trifles", said Maugiron (yes, genuine!) But they had no armour at all, so the duel looked like a real slaughter. Blows were precise, violent. Fatal. Made with a sword but also with a dagger, hand to hand.

The king's arms and broths

So, we had 6 minions at the beginning... but 5 kicked the bucket. Caylus, for his part, died after 33 days of horrible pains, in the king’s arms. La Taille said in his book Discours notable des duels (1609):

"Henri III loved Caylus more than anyone else. When he was confined to bed, he brought him broths and promised the surgeons 100 000 francs if they cured him, and promised his handsome minion 100 000 crowns, to give him courage. And yet he died, saying: Ah, my king, ah my king, always talking about God and his mother."

Henri saw the naked corpses of Caylus and Maugiron. He kissed them and made them shave. And he kept their blond hairs, said L’Estoile in his Journal... With a tender gesture, he took off Caylus’ hearings. Oh, Henri gave him them as a present, long time ago... He ordered gorgeous graves, in Saint-Louis church. My word, it was totally unheard of!

Giant graves made of black marble topped by their life-size statues. The "Minions seraglio", like L’Estoile said! But these graves didn’t last long. People from Paris, when they heard about duke of Guise’s death in Blois castle in December 1588 (a murder ordered by Henri III), rushed into the church to damage the graves.

Anyway, this duel was just a big stupid carnage! But we have to wait a little to see the end of duels fashion in France...


And also!