Born with the birth name “Hercule”, Francis was the youngest son of Henry II of France and the notorious Catherine de Medici. He was an attractive child, but contracted smallpox at the age of eight, which left him with a scarred face and a deformed spine. As an adult, he would never reach five feet tall and didn’t have the ability or interest in the “manly art” of sports. These qualities alone left him open to derision from his peers. At his confirmation, he changed his name from the ironic “Hercule” to “Francois” to honor his recently deceased brother.
He was proposed as a suitor for Elizabeth I as early as 1570, but she demurred on grounds of age and difference of religion. However, as with most of Elizabeth’s proposals, it was never outright refused and negotiations dragged on through the decade. In the meantime, the Duke was embroiled in both the wars of religion and intrigues for the crown.
After the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, Anjou was involved with the siege of the Protestant fortress of La Rochelle. This did not endear him to the English, whose queen he was trying to woo. He proposed a visit to England in that year, but was put off on concerns of safety. Instead he fled to Belgium after being put under house arrest by his brother the king and was declared “protector of liberty”. His army disbanded the next year after accomplishing little.
All the while, negotiations continued with England for Elizabeth’s hand. Anjou’s servant Jean Simier, who Elizabeth dubbed her “monkey”, courted her on behalf of his master with practiced ease. Despite the lack of a marriage contract, Anjou made his long awaited visit to England in August 1579. The two took to each other at once, and the friendship that started with letters seemed to blossom into romance. The more cynical among court felt that the forty-six year old queen was smitten not with the twenty-four year old Anjou, but more with her last chance at marriage and children. At any rate, she gave him the nickname of “frog” (Anjou had supposedly given her a frog shaped earring) and contracts began to move forward.
The subjects of England were not pleased by this turn of events. They wanted their queen wedded and bedded, but not to a Papist and a French one at that. Members of court warned of the specter of religious riots like the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. A lawyer named John Stubbs published a pamphlet The Discovery of a Gaping Gulf Whereunto England is Like to Be Swallowed by Another French Marriage, and had his right hand chopped off. Negotiations stalled again and in 1582 Elizabeth had to bid her Frog adieu. Her sadness in the parting is reflected in her poem, “On Monsieur’s Departure”.
After this final rejection, Anjou went to the Netherlands to seek lands and glory there. He would eventually find his death from the “tertian ague” or malaria. Courtiers of Elizabeth were afraid to tell her the news, and when they finally got up the courage to do so she reacted with much grief. She wept every day for three weeks and wore black mourning. The anniversary of her lost Frog was marked every year with solemnity.