The Anatomist, the Barber-Surgeon, and the King: How the Accidental Death of Henry II of France Changed the World

The Anatomist, the Barber-Surgeon, and the King: How the Accidental Death of Henry II of France Changed the World

by Seymour I. Schwartz

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This unique study examines a critical juncture in the history of the Renaissance brought about by a freak accident. Combining both a history of sixteenth-century medicine and European politics, the author describes the far-reaching effects of the death of King Henry II of France (1519-1559). Grievously wounded by an accidental blow to the head suffered during a

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This unique study examines a critical juncture in the history of the Renaissance brought about by a freak accident. Combining both a history of sixteenth-century medicine and European politics, the author describes the far-reaching effects of the death of King Henry II of France (1519-1559). Grievously wounded by an accidental blow to the head suffered during a mock jousting competition, the king lingered for weeks before expiring. Even the ministrations of Europe’s two most renowned physicians—Andreas Vesalius and Ambroise Paré—could not prevent his demise. As the author shows, the death of Henry II created a power vacuum, and the subsequent chain of events had significant effects on the balance of power in Europe. 

A noted surgeon, the author also provides many insights into the state of medicine in this era—a time when the practice of surgery and knowledge of human anatomy were being transformed. Readers learn how Vesalius’s ingenious studies of anatomy advanced the understanding of human body functions. And Paré’s experience with battlefield wounds led to more humane and effective treatments of the injured. 

This colorful, lively narrative combines engrossing details about politics, history, and medicine during an important period at the end of the Renaissance.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Seymour I. Schwartz offers an intelligent, engaging, and incisive account of the innovative efforts of noted physicians Andreas Vesalius and Ambrose Paré to attend the mortally wounded King Henry II of France after a jousting match in 1559. Following the death of the king, Schwartz carefully maps the broader political, religious, and medical terrain of the late Renaissance and the early Reformation that shaped an entire continent. The result is a book that intersects Schwartz’s keen sensibilities and perspectives as a physician, surgeon, and historian of medicine.”
—Stephanie Brown Clark, MD, PhD, Director, Division of Medical Humanities & Bioethics, University of Rochester School of Medicine


"Schwartz, known to every medical student as a result of his brilliant book Principles of Surgery, has now turned the focus inward in his book Gifted Hands.... There is no question that this is a book about heroes. They are compassionate intellectuals who forever changed the course of our medical history. Make no mistake; Seymour Schwartz is one of them." 

Dr SANJAY GUPTA, Faculty Neurosurgeon, Emory Clinic; Chief Medical Correspondent, CNN

"Schwartz's superb research takes us back to the early sixteenth century with a riveting tale of the history of America's first map - a must read for map lovers and historians."

DAVID A. COBB, Curator, Harvard Map Collection (reviewing Putting "America" on the Map

"Schwartz provides a richly textured and illustrated biography of one of the most important maps in history.... I recommend it to the casual reader as well as the serious student of history." 

RALPH E. EHRENBERG, Former Chief, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (reviewing Putting "America" on the Map)

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The Anatomist, the Barber-Surgeon, and the King

How the Accidental Death of Henry II of France Changed the World

By Seymour I. Schwartz

Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2015 Seymour I. Schwartz
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-63388-035-1



In the first half of the sixteenth century two major contestants vied for dominance and control of Europe. In an era in which royalty ruled, these contestants were the two most encompassing royal houses in Europe. On one side, the Habsburgs were the overseers of Spain, the Low Countries (consisting of modern-day Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg), and the Holy Roman Empire constituted one side. The House of Valois of France led the opposing side. Power changes were brought about by victories on the battlefield and advantageous political alliances, which were often short-lived and frequently reversed.

The fifteenth century had come to a dramatic end for the European powers. The surrender of Granada by the Moors' leader Muhammad XII, or Boabdil as he was called, allowed for the amalgamation of the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile on the Iberian peninsula, ruled by Ferdinand II of Aragon and his wife, Queen Isabella of Castile. Almost immediately after the stability of a unified Spain had been established, it followed the example of its neighbor Portugal to the west by sponsoring voyages of discovery. While Portugal focused on exploration of the coasts of Africa and the Indian Ocean, Spain sought to expand its global influence in a westerly direction. Under the sponsorship of the Spanish monarchs, in 1492, Christopher Columbus brought to Europe's attention a "New World," and established the first Spanish colony in the Western Hemisphere on the island of Hispaniola. In 1494, these two European countries that were engaged in expansion outside their own continent, following a decree by Pope Alexander VI, signed the Treaty of Tordesillas, which defined their territorial claims outside of Europe.

After initially focusing on discoveries of Caribbean islands and adjacent land on the northern shore of South America, Spain directed its attention to continental land in the New World. In 1519, Hernán Cortés led an expedition to Mexico, and conquered the Aztecs. In 1532, Francisco Pizarro's conquest of the Incas added Peru to Spain's growing empire. The wealth extracted from the mines in these acquisitions provided riches to the parent country and funded its military activities in Europe.

Although Portugal could claim primacy and was a significant participant in extra-European expansion, at the end of the fifteenth century and early in the sixteenth, France joined Spain as one of the two major powers on the European continent. The population of Europe in 1500 was approximately seventy million, sixteen million of whom lived in France. Paris was the most populous city in Europe with an estimated 200,000 inhabitants, whereas Lyon, Rouen, Orléans and Toulous had between 40,000 and 70,000 inhabitants. The geographic boundaries of France at that time were significantly different from those that exist today. Navarre, in the western Pyrenees, was a separate kingdom; the provinces of Cerdagne and Roussillon were under the control of Aragon; and Savoy, which included the region from Geneva to Nice, was independent. West of Geneva, Franche-Comté had its control passed from the French House of Bourbon to the Habsburgs, who also controlled Flanders and Artois; while the regions of Alsace and Lorraine were part of the Holy Roman Empire, which was a political entity in name only. It was neither, holy, Roman, nor an empire, and had been established by King Otto I of Germany and Italy in 962 as an amalgamation of diverse, widely spread central European countries.

Frederic Baumgartner in his work France in the Sixteenth Century suggests that a time beginning with the first Estates General meeting of all French social classes in 1484 and ending with the 1614 meeting of the same body better defines a distinctive period of French history. He designates this extended period as "the long sixteenth century," the era of the Renaissance and Reformation.

During that time, the French king was all-powerful, claiming absolute authority from God. As such, he not only ruled the citizenry but was also the functional head of the French Church. The "Estates General," a term that was used for the first time in 1484, was convened by the king to establish or change the policies of taxation and also to hear grievances. But, the initial Estates General, which was convened at Tours in 1484 had as its specific purpose the selection of a regent for thirteen-year-old Charles VIII, who had ascended to the throne after the death of his father, Louis XI, the previous year.

The same year that the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed (1494), Ferdinand I of Naples died, and his death prompted Ludovica Sforza, the ruler of the Duchy of Milan, to encourage Charles VIII of France to invade the Kingdom of Naples in order to gain an ally against the adjacent and antagonistic Republic of Venice. The justification for the action was Charles VIII's claim to the title of king of Naples that had been passed down initially to his father from René of Anjou.

After the French army moved through several Italian city-states and eventually sacked Naples, the League of Venice (the Holy League) was formed by Pope Alexander VI in 1495 to organize an opposition to the French. The league consisted of the pope; Ferdinand of Aragon, who was also king of Sicily; the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I; the Republic of Venice; and Ludovico Sforza, who changed sides and joined the league when he realized that Charles VIII also had made a claim to Milan. Charles VIII's army met the league's forces at the battle of Fornovo on July 6, 1495, and the French were forced to withdraw, abandoning their booty in Naples. Thus began the Italian Wars, which continued intermittently until 1559.

In 1498, the reigning king of France, Charles VIII, hit his head on an arch on his way to watch a tennis match and died of his injuries. The next year, Charles's successor to the French throne, Louis XII, seized the Kingdom of Milan. In 1500, an agreement was reached between the French king and King Ferdinand I of Spain to divide the Kingdom of Naples. A combined army of the two powers gained control of the land encompassed by that kingdom. But once control was established, disagreement arose over how it was to be partitioned. The alliance was disrupted, and war between France and Spain ensued. The Spaniards defeated the French in major battles in southern Italy, near the town of Cerignola in April 1503, and near the Garigliano River in December 1503. As a result, Spain added control of the Kingdom of Naples to its existing control of the Kingdom of Sicily. Spain would maintain control of Italy until the early eighteenth century.

In 1508, the bellicose Pope Julius II formed the League of Cambrai, consisting of an incongruous combination of the papacy, Spain, France, and the Holy Roman Empire, in order to restrain the expansionist tendencies of the Republic of Venice. The next year, the forces of the league, led by Louis XII, overwhelmed the Venetian army at the battle of Agnadello. But, rather than retaining control of the territories of the vanquished republic, Louis returned with most of his army to France. As evidence of the ephemeral nature of treaties made in the sixteenth century, a year later, the pope had a change of heart, and came to regard France as a greater threat. He, therefore, reversed his political preference and formed an alliance, which included Spain and England, against the French. The Holy League that was created in 1511 essentially isolated France diplomatically and erased French control of Geneva and the Duchy of Milan.

French troops defeated the Spanish army at the battle of Ravenna in 1512, but were forced to withdraw from Italy when the Duchy of Milan was invaded by the Swiss. Also in 1512, Ferdinand I of Spain sent an army into Navarre and annexed that region to Castile. Although the Holy League emerged victorious on fields of battle, it was disrupted by an argument over the division of the conquered lands. The Republic of Venice and France became allies, and divided Lombardy. The remaining members of the Holy League defeated the French and Venetian armies at several ensuing battles, but the death of Pope Julius II created a vacuum of leadership, and the Holy League collapsed. As a result, France and the Republic of Venice assumed control of all of northern Italy.

Twenty-year-old Francis I became king of France in 1515, succeeding his cousin and father-in-law, Louis XII, who had no male offspring. Francis, the son of Charles d' Angoulême and Louise of Savoy, had borne the title of Duke of Valois, and effectively continued the royal dynasty of Valois. The House of Valois-Orléans had been represented by Louis XII, and Francis I brought to the throne the House of Valois-Burgundy, which maintained its presence until 1589.

As part of the monarchy, Francis I inherited titular claims to the Duchy of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples. In order to gain control of those political states, shortly after becoming king, Francis led troops across the Alps. In 1515, he defeated a mainly Swiss army at the battle of Marignano that has the distinction of being the bloodiest encounter of the Italian Wars. Having capitulated Milan, Francis was installed formally as Duke of Milan.

Because of the need to obtain Swiss mercenaries to maintain the troop level of the French army, Francis entered into a series of negotiations with the Swiss cantons, which gave France the first right to recruit mercenaries from their territories and prohibited the Swiss from serving in enemy armies. In 1516, the Concordat of Bologna, which Francis entered into with Pope Leo X, resulted in a restructuring of the French Church by changing some of the minor elements in regard to the extent of royal governance, but confirmed the king's control over high ecclesiastical appointments throughout France.

During the whole of Francis's reign, he remained the sworn enemy of Charles V, who had been born at Ghent in 1500. Charles's father, Philip the Fair, Duke of Burgundy, died in 1506, and because Charles's mother, Juana, was insane, Charles inherited the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Artois, and Franche-Comté. When Charles's grandfather, Ferdinand II, died in 1516, Charles became king of Spain and added Aragon, Castile, Navarre, Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, and Spanish America to the already significant empire, which he had previously inherited from his father. The French Francis I's enmity toward the Spaniard Charles V was enhanced when the latter was selected to succeed his grandfather Maximilian I as the Holy Roman Emperor in 1519, a position that Francis had sought vigorously.

Francis I had previously signed an Anglo-French treaty with Henry VIII, who in 1518 was considered a lesser power. Francis I and Henry VIII were on display together in a spectacular pageant that took place near Calais, France, in 1520. Known as the "Field of the Cloth of Gold," its aim was to emphasize the monarchs' camaraderie and parity. Each king tried to outshine the other with clothes and tents that contained cloth of gold, accounting for the naming of the event. Highly decorated temporary palaces and chapels were constructed by both sides. Feasts, musical performances, and grand tournaments were included. The elegance was not matched by the political consequences, which left the political balance of power in Europe essentially unchanged.

In 1520, in the aftermath of Francis I's failure to cement a political alliance with England, Charles V signed the Treaty of Gravelines with King Henry VIII, thereby aligning England against France; and, the following year, an army directed by an emboldened Charles V invaded French-controlled land in northern Italy.

In 1521, the double marriages between Louis, king of Hungary, and Charles V's sister, Mary, and between Charles's brother, Ferdinand, and Louis's sister augmented the Habsburg influence. In 1522, Charles V assigned the Austrian Habsburg lands to Ferdinand.

The polarization between the French House of Valois and the Habsburgs, led by Charles V, continued to dominate European politics during the first half of the sixteenth century and stimulated Francis I to escalate military activity. During the French invasion of Lombardy, Francis had his horse shot from under him, and he was captured at the battle of Pavia in 1525. In order to gain his own release, Francis negotiated for his young sons, Francis and Henry, to replace him as hostages. The two brothers spent four and a half years under arrest in Spain before returning home. France's humiliating defeat at Pavia was sealed by the Treaty of Madrid in 1526 in which France renounced its claims within Italy and ceded Burgundy to Charles V.

The treaty was rapidly repudiated by Francis I upon his release from captivity, and he then formed the League of Cognac, an alliance with the pope, the Duchy of Milan, the Republic of Venice, and the Republic of Florence. This stimulated Charles V to dispatch an army from Germany into Italy, and, during that successful incursion, Rome was sacked in 1527.

The Treaty of Cambria, also known as the Peace of the Ladies because Louise of Savoy and Margaret of Austria served as negotiators between Charles V and Francis I, and the Peace of Barcelona, between Charles V and Pope Clement VII, both took place in 1529. The two treaties allowed France to retain Burgundy, but formalized Charles V's rights of possession in northern Italy and led to his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor in Bologna in 1530.

Charles, who was absent from the battlefield during the successes of his early reign, assumed a personal leadership role in his campaign against the Ottoman Turks. Beginning with the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottomans advanced westward over the years. This activity culminated in a shattering victory over Hungarian troops in 1526. In 1532, when the Turks threatened Vienna, Charles V took command of the Christian army, and caused the forces led by Sultan Suleiman to retreat. Charles would continue his efforts against the Turks through 1541. During that period, Tunis and Algiers, which had fallen to Barbarossa, a corsair aligned with the sultan, were recaptured by Charles V's forces.

Francis I's second son, Henry, was born in April 1519. In keeping with the practice of royalty at a time in which betrothal and marriage were political tactics, when Henry was four years old it was suggested that he become betrothed to the daughter of Queen Eleanor of Portugal. Subsequently, Princess Mary of England, who would become Queen Mary, was considered to be eminently suitable as a bride for Henry, but that marriage also never materialized.

During a peaceful interval, Henry married Catherine de' Medici in Marseille. She was two weeks younger than her fourteen-year-old husband to be at the time of their marriage on October 27, 1533. She was the daughter of Lorenzo de' Medici, Duke of Urbino, the grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent and Madeleine de La Tour d'Auvergne, a member of a prominent French noble family.

The marriage was arranged specifically for political purposes because of Catherine's relationship with Pope Clement VII, a cousin twice-removed but referred to as her uncle. The marriage contract included secret clauses guarantying the pope's support of the French conquest of Milan, Pisa, Parma, and Montferrat. Henry and his consort were ultimately to be given those lands to rule. Slightly more than ten months after the ceremony, Pope Clement VII died, and the new Pope Paul III refused to recognize the previous obligation.

In 1536, Francis I's oldest son, also named Francis, died four days after he had taken ill at a tennis match. Henry became dauphin and first in line for the French throne. That same year, a temporary peace between the House of Valois and the Habsburgs ended when Charles V's son, Philip, inherited Milan after the Duke of Milan died. This prompted Francis I to embark on a new military campaign. He allied himself with the Ottoman sultan, Suleiman I, and dispatched troops to capture Milan. The attempt failed. The Truce of Nice ended what is known as the Italian War of 1536–38, leaving France in possession of Turin, but there was no significant change in the control the major geographic segments of Italy.

Troops that had been dispatched by Charles V entered Artois, crossed the Alps, and captured several forts in the Duchy of Milan. In 1537, the French army under the leadership of Anne (a male name pronounced Annay) de Montmorency conducted a scorched-earth policy in eastern Provence to counter Charles's invasion. This action reversed the previous gains of Charles's army, and prevented the enemy from crossing the Rhine River.

The next segment of the Italian Wars began in 1542. The conflict was ignited by the murder of two French diplomats near Milan, and lasted through 1546. The French army initially attacked Luxembourg and Perpignan, which at the time were parts of Spain, but these efforts failed. The French did win a major victory near Turin at the battle of Ceresole in 1543, but could not sustain the advantage. The next year, Charles V and Henry VIII of England, who had declared war on France, carried out a two-pronged attacked on France. Charles's troops advanced within a hundred miles of Paris. Once again, no permanent changes were sustained, and the resulting Peace (or Treaty) of Crepy (Crespy) included an obligation for France to aid Charles V against the Turks and also against the Lutherans, who were a growing presence in Habsburg lands. After Francis I died in 1547, the twenty-eight-year-old Henry II succeeded his father to the throne of France. In order to prevent a marriage between Edward VI, who had succeeded Henry VIII to the throne of England, and Mary Stuart, the young queen of Scotland, Henry II had her brought to France in 1548 to be raised at the French court, and she was betrothed to Henry's oldest son, Francis.

Because England continued to control the northern French area of Boulogne and Henry had personally commanded the army that had been defeated by the English in 1544, he attempted to redeem himself by sending a force against Boulogne in 1549, but the winter weather prevented any battle from taking place.


Excerpted from The Anatomist, the Barber-Surgeon, and the King by Seymour I. Schwartz. Copyright © 2015 Seymour I. Schwartz. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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