Henry II., tenth king of the Valois family, born in St. Germain-en-Laye, March 31, 1519, died in Paris, July 10, 1559. The only surviving son of Francis I. by his queen Claude of France, he succeeded his father, March 31, 1547, adhering to whose policy, he engaged abroad in the great struggle to destroy the ascendancy of the house of Austria, while he persecuted the Protestants at home. Being entirely under the control of his mistress, Diana of Poitiers, who acted in concert with the great constable Montmorency and the brothers Guise, he had many of the Protestants arrested, tried, and burned at the stake in Paris, Lyons, Angers, Blois, and Bordeaux. By his edicts of Chateaubriant (1552) and Ecouen (1553) the punishment of death was decreed for attendance at secret religious meetings. In 1557 ecclesiastics, under the title of inquisitors, were introduced into the parliaments to sit as judges in all cases against heretics. Finally, in 1559, two members of the parliament of Paris, Du Faur do Pibrac and Anne du Bourg, having been bold enough to advocate in his presence the liberty of conscience, were incarcerated, and Du Bourg was publicly hanged and burned. These bloody measures were the forerunners of religious wars. Henry's foreign policy was partially successful.

The English, who were then in alliance with the emperor Charles V., were desirous of securing the union of Scotland by the marriage of young Edward VI. with Mary Stuart; French troops were sent to Scotland, and Mary was brought to Franco and affianced to the dauphin Francis. Meanwhile Boulogne was besieged, and England gave it up in 1550, for one third of the sum which had been stipulated for its surrender. In Italy, Henry protected Ottavio Farnese, duke of Parma, against the imperial troops; and in 1552 he became the ally of Maurice of Saxony and the other Protestant princes who were struggling to throw off the yoke of Charles V., and soon after seized the episcopal cities of Metz, Tou], and Verdun. Charles, having concluded the treaty of Passau with his German opponents, tried to reconquer those cities, and in 1553 made a fruitless attack upon Metz, which was defended by Francois de Guise, and avenged his defeat by pillaging Picardy, but was once more defeated at Renty in 1554. The French at the same time were successful in Italy, where Bris-sac conquered Savoy and Piedmont. Charles having abdicated in favor of his son Philip II., a five years' truce was signed at Vauxcelles in February, 1550. Henry II., however, soon renewed the war, but unsuccessfully; the duke of Guise was foiled in his attempt against the kingdom of Naples by the superior ability of the duke of Alva, and the constable Montmorency was totally defeated near St. Quentin, in 1557, by Duke Philibert Emmanuel of Savoy. Had Philip II. improved the opportunity, Paris would have been taken; but his delay gave time to his rival to make preparations for defence; and Guise, being recalled from Italy, revenged the disgrace of Montmorency's defeat by the conquest of Calais in 1558, the only place that the English still possessed on French, soil.

But the Spanish troops under Egmont having won a new victory, Henry II., weary of war and yielding to the entreaties of his mistress, concluded, April 2, 1559, the disastrous peace of Cateau-Cambresis. He kept Calais, Metz, Toul, and Verdun, but consented to restore all his conquests in Italy and the Netherlands, including nearly 200 strong places. Henry's daughter Elizabeth was to be married to Philip, and his sister Margaret to the duke of Savoy. During the celebration of the peace and the double marriage, Henry II. was mortally wounded in a tilt with the count de Montgomery, the captain of his guards, and his sceptre passed to his eldest son, Francis II., the husband of Mary, queen of Scots.