On 30th June 1559, Henry II of France suffered a mortal head wound while jousting at the Place Royale at the Hôtel des Tournelles against Gabriel Montgomery, Captain of the King’s Scottish Guard. The joust was held to celebrate the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, a peace treaty which had been signed in April 1559 between Henry and Philip II of Spain and which ended the Italian Wars and, in fact, a 60+ year struggle between France and Spain for control of Italy.
Wearing his mistress Diane de Poitier’s colours, Henry II entered the lists even though he had been suffering from dizziness after exercise. He appeared to be doing well until he was nearly unhorsed by the Count of Montgomery. Henry insisted on jousting against Montgomery again and this is when Montgomery’s lance struck Henry on his helmet, splintering the lance and causing a splinter to pierce his eye and enter his brain. The King died 10th July and was succeeded by Francis II.
Jousting was a very dangerous sport. In England, Henry VIII’s friend William Compton was injured jousting in January 1510 and was described as “likely to dye”, although he appears to have made a full recovery, and in 1526 Sir Francis Bryan lost an eye at the Shrovetide joust. At the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520 a Frenchman was killed in a joust against his brother. Henry VIII was injured at least twice while jousting. On 10th March 1524, he was injured after he forgot to lower his visor in a joust against Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and on 24th January 1536 he was hurt at a joust at Greenwich Palace, falling heavily. People have also been killed re-enacting jousting – in 2007 a professional jousting re-enactor was killed after a splinter sheared off a seven foot wooden lance and went through his eye and brain while filming an episode of Time Team.
You can read more about Henry VIII’s jousting accidents in the following articles:
- 10 March 1524 – A jousting accident for Henry VIII
- 24 January 1536 – A Serious Jousting Accident for Henry VIII
You can read more about Henry II of France’s accident in History Today‘s article Henry II of France dies of tournament wounds.