Catherine of Cleves

Catherine de Clèves (or de Nevers), Countess of Eu (1548 – 11 May 1633) was the wife of Henry, Duke of Guise, and matriarch of the numerous and influential House of Guise. By marriage she was Duchess of Guise from 1570 to 1588, and Dowager Duchess of Guise thereafter. She was Countess of Eu in her own right from 1564.

Duchess consort of Guise
suo jure Countess of Eu
Died11 May 1633 (aged 84–85)
Château d'Eu, France
SpouseHenri de Lorraine, Duke of Guise
Charles, Duke of Guise
Louis III, Cardinal of Guise
Claude, Duke of Chevreuse
François Alexandre, Knight of the Order of Malta
Renée, Abbess of St. Pierre
Jeanne, Abbess of Jouarre
Louise Marguerite, Princess of Conti
HouseLa Marck
FatherFrancis I, Duke of Nevers
MotherMarguerite de Bourbon


Catherine was the second daughter of François de Clèves, Duke of Nevers, and Marguerite de Bourbon, elder sister of Antoine de Bourbon.[1] She was the first cousin of Henry of Navarre, sister-in-law of Henri de Bourbon, Prince of Condé, and great aunt of Ludwika Maria Gonzaga, Queen of Poland.

At the age of twelve, Catherine married Antoine de Croÿ, Prince de Porcien (or Porcean), who died seven years later.[1] After the conventional three years of mourning, on 4 October 1570, she married Henri de Lorraine, Duke of Guise, who was two years her junior.[1] They had fourteen children, including Charles, Duke of Guise and Louis III, Cardinal of Guise. She had a widely publicised affair with a young nobleman, Saint-Mégrin, who was killed by her husband. The event is dramatised in the Alexandre Dumas play Henri III et sa cour (1829).

Henry of Guise was the leader of the fervently Catholic faction in the French Wars of Religion. From 1584, the conflict among factions led by Henry of Guise, Henry of Navarre, and Henry III of France was known as the War of the Three Henrys. In 1588, Henry of Guise was assassinated on the orders of King Henry III.

Catherine never forgave Henry III of France (who kept taunting her as "la maîtresse de Saint Megrin") for his part in the assassination of her husband. She took a keen interest in the intrigues of the Catholic League and encouraged Henry's assassination in 1589. At the conclusion of the War of the Three Henrys she was mindful of the interests of her large family and supported her son Charles as a candidate for the French throne.

Catherine's reconciliation with her cousin, Henry IV, was not effected until his conversion to Catholicism. She immediately moved to Paris and obtained a very honorable position in the retinue of his wife, Marie de' Medici. In 1613, Catherine interceded for her son, François Alexandre, who had killed the Baron of Luz in a duel, asking for his banishment instead of execution for murder.[2]

The Guises continued to support the Queen throughout the regency, and Catherine followed Marie into exile in Blois after Louis XIII assumed the reins of government in 1619. After returning to the Louvre, the Dowager Duchess - anxious to promote the interests of the House of Guise - resumed plotting against Cardinal Richelieu.

The death of her youngest daughter, the princesse de Conti (who had been implicated in the Day of the Dupes conspiracy), proved a blow to her spirits. She retired to her château d'Eu, where she died aged 85. She was buried at the château next to her husband's ornate tomb.


She married on October 4, 1570 in Paris to Henri de Lorraine, Duke of Guise, by whom she had fourteen children:

  1. Charles, Duke of Guise (1571–1640),
  2. Henri (June 30, 1572, Paris – August 13, 1574)
  3. Catherine (November 3, 1573) (died at birth)
  4. Louis III, Cardinal of Guise (1575–1621), Archbishop of Reims[3]
  5. Charles (January 1, 1576, Paris) (died at birth)
  6. Marie (June 1, 1577–1582)
  7. Claude, Duke of Chevreuse (1578–1657) married Marie de Rohan, daughter of Hercule de Rohan, duc de Montbazon
  8. Catherine (b. May 29, 1579), d. young
  9. Christine (January 21, 1580) (died at birth)
  10. François (May 14, 1581 – September 29, 1582)
  11. Renée (1585 – June 13, 1626, Reims), Abbess of St. Pierre
  12. Jeanne (July 31, 1586 – October 8, 1638, Jouarre), Abbess of Jouarre
  13. Louise Marguerite, (1588 – April 30, 1631, Château d'Eu), married at the Château de Meudon on July 24, 1605 François, Prince of Conti
  14. François Alexandre (February 7, 1589 – June 1, 1614, Château des Baux),[2] a Knight of the Order of Malta



  1. ^ a b c Boltanski 2006, p. 501.
  2. ^ a b McIlvenna 2016, p. 180.
  3. ^ Bergin 1996, p. 661-662.


  • Bergin, Joseph (1996). The Making of the French Episcopate, 1589-1661. Yale University Press.
  • Boltanski, Ariane (2006). Les ducs de Nevers et l'État royal: genèse d'un compromis (ca 1550 - ca 1600) (in French). Librairie Droz.
  • McIlvenna, Una (2016). Scandal and Reputation at the Court of Catherine de Medici. Routledge.