House of Guise
The House of Guise was founded as a cadet branch of the House of Lorraine by Claude of Lorraine, first Duke of Guise (1496–1550), who entered French service and was made a duke by King Francis I. The family's high rank was due not to possession of the Guise dukedom but to their membership in a sovereign dynasty, which procured for them the rank of prince étranger at the royal court of France. Claude's daughter, Mary of Guise (1515–1560), married King James V of Scotland and was mother of Mary, Queen of Scots. Claude's eldest son, Francis, became a military hero thanks to his capture of Calais from the English in 1558, while another son, Charles became Archbishop of Reims and a Cardinal in the Catholic Church.
In 1558, the Dauphin Francis married Mary, Queen of Scots. When the sickly young man became king after his father's death in 1559, the queen's uncles, the Duke of Guise and his brother the Cardinal of Lorraine, controlled French politics during his short reign. This prompted the Amboise conspiracy in which the Huguenots and the House of Bourbon plotted to usurp the power of the House of Guise. The Cardinal of Lorraine was also leader of the French representatives at the final sittings of the Council of Trent, and, ironically given his family's role in French politics, had fought for a greater willingness to compromise with Protestantism than the Italian and Spanish delegates.
Championing Catholicism against the Huguenots, in 1560, the Guise family brutally put down the Conspiracy of Amboise. After King Francis' death they opposed the more tolerant policy of the Regent, Catherine de' Medici, and their doings provoked the French Wars of Religion.
The Duke Francis helped to defeat the Huguenots at the Battle of Dreux, but he was assassinated shortly afterward, in 1563. His son, Henry of Guise, became the third Duke of Guise (1550–1588). He helped plan the infamous St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre and was responsible for the formation of the Catholic League. The death of the royal heir-presumptive, the Duc d'Anjou, in 1584, which made the Protestant King Henry of Navarre heir to the French throne, led to a new civil war, the War of the Three Henries, with King Henry III of France, King Henry IV of France (or Henry of Navarre), and Henry of Guise all fighting for control of France. Guise began the war by declaring the unacceptability of Navarre as King of France, and his control of the powerful Catholic League soon forced the French king to follow in his wake. Immensely ambitious, in 1588 Guise, with Spanish support, instigated a revolt against the king, taking control of the city of Paris and becoming the de facto ruler.
After an apparent conciliation between the French king and the duke, in December of 1588 King Henry III had both the Duke of Guise and his brother, Louis of Lorraine, Cardinal of Guise (1555–1588), murdered during a meeting in the Royal Chateau at Blois. Leadership of the Catholic League fell to their brother, Charles of Lorraine, Duke of Mayenne, who was commander of the armed forces of the Catholic League.
The Duke of Mayenne's nephew, the young Duke of Guise, Charles, was proposed by the Catholic League as a candidate for the throne, possibly through a marriage to Philip II of Spain's daughter Isabella, the granddaughter of Henry II of France. The Catholic League was eventually defeated, but for the sake of the country King Henry IV bought peace with Mayenne, and in January 1596 a treaty was signed that put an end to the League.
After this, the House of Guise receded from its prominent position in French politics, and the senior line of the Dukes of Guise became extinct in 1688. The vast estates and title were disputed and diverted by various relatives, although several junior branches of the family (Dukes of Mayenne, Dukes of Elbeuf, etc.) kept the male line extant until 1825. Thereafter, the only surviving male branch of the House of Lorraine was the seniormost branch, which had exchanged the sovereign duchy of Lorraine for that of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, holding sovereignty as the Habsburg-Lorraine Emperors of Austria-Hungary into the 20th century.
The title Duke of Guise was awarded to a branch of the House of Bourbon, whence it passed to that of the House of Orléans, whose head even took it as his title of pretence to the former crown of France.