Realising you’ve just killed the King of France. What’s next?
Today in 1559, Henri II of France was enjoying the stupidly dangerous sport of jousting. In a bout with one Gabriel de Montgomery, a lance splinter penetrated the royal eye and entered the brain resulting in death a few days later.
I wonder how Gabriel de Montgomery felt over the course of those few days. Henri declared Gabriel innocent and/or forgiven before he died (which was nice). However, the events of June 30th proved impossible to live down. Imagine being Gabriel de Montgomery. “I know you – you have estates in Normandy – you have an impressive military record. And wait – I know something else about you – I’ll remember it in a minute…” I’d say Gabriel had to give up jousting. At the very least.
It would be reasonable to assume that Gabriel de Montgomery retired to some rustic backwater and never troubled historians again, devoting the remainder of his bizarrely fortunate existence to “just staying out of trouble”. This is not the case, however. He started reading theology, converted to Protestantism and became a prominent figure in the hideous sectarian politics that marked the death throes of the House of Valois. He somehow managed to survive the Bartholomew’s Day Unpleasantness (much to the chagrin of Catherine de Medici) and fled to England to claim political asylum from Queen Elizabeth.
Now some people would cut their losses at this point. Most people would reflect on just how inexplicably lucky they were to still be alive and settle down in England somewhere. But not Gabriel. Perhaps he felt that he couldn’t die. Perhaps he thought of himself as the Keith Richards of his age, incapable of dying in the normal course of events. And with this sense of charmed life he sailed back to Normandy where he tried to lead a rebellion. He was defeated, captured and decapitated. And for once he didn’t walk away.
Apparently, a rather strained interpretation of a quatrain from Nostradamus was felt to allude to the events of 30th June 1559, with the result that this rather tedious prophet was given sudden (and it turns out lasting) prominence. Perhaps this is the single worst consequence of those few moments, 457 years ago today, as Gabriel de Montgomery thundered down the tilting track to meet his sovereign.