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. (April 2016)
Les Mignons (from mignon, French for "the darlings" or "the dainty ones") was a term used by polemicists in the toxic atmosphere of the French Wars of Religion and taken up by the people of Paris, to designate the favourites of Henry III of France, from his return from Poland to reign in France in 1574, to his assassination in 1589, a disastrous end to which the perception of effeminate weakness contributed. The mignons were frivolous and fashionable young men, to whom public malignity attributed heterodox sexuality, rumors that some historians have found to be a factor in the disintegration of the late Valois monarchy.
According to the contemporary chronicler Pierre de l'Estoile, they made themselves "exceedingly odious, as much by their foolish and haughty demeanour, as by their effeminate and immodest dress, but above all by the immense gifts the king made to them." The Joyeuse wedding in 1581 occasioned one of the most extravagant displays of the reign.
The faction of the Malcontents, headed by François, duc d'Alençon, created duc d'Anjou in 1576— the presumed heir as long as Henry remained childless— appear to have stirred up the ill will of the Parisians against them. From 1576 the mignons were attacked by popular opinion, and some historians have credited without proof the scandalous stories of the time. Some fourteen favourites were singled out, including François d'Espinay, seigneur de Saint-Luc, who had accompanied Henry to his "exile" in Poland and was rewarded now with the château de Rozoy-en-Brie and the governorship of Brouage; but the best known of the mignons, the archimignons in L'Estoile's Registre-Journal, who monopolised access to the king after the death of Henri's brother and heir the duc d'Alençon were Anne de Joyeuse, baron d'Arques, created duc de Joyeuse (died 1587) and Jean Louis de Nogaret de La Valette, created duc d'Épernon.
Contemporary portrait drawing of Louis de Maugiron
The appearance of the mignons on Henry's visits in July 1576 to the parishes of Paris to raise money to pay for the provisions of the Edict of Beaulieu (1576), occasioned a report by L'Éstoile:
- "The name Mignons began, at this time, to travel by word of mouth through the people, to whom they were very odious, as much for their ways which were jesting and haughty as for their paint [make-up] and effeminate and unchaste apparel...Their occupations are gambling, blaspheming... fornicating and following the King everywhere...seeking to please him in everything they do and say, caring little for God or virtue, contenting themselves to be in the good graces of their master, whom they fear and honor more than God."
L'Éstoile added "they wear their hair long, curled and recurled by artifice, with little bonnets of velvet on top of it like whores in the brothels, and the ruffles on their linen shirts are of starched finery and one half foot long so that their heads look like St. John's on a platter."
The figure of Ganymede was employed in scurrilous sonnetry, but the subtext of criticism within the court was most often that the mignons were not drawn from the cream of noble families, as had been the court favourites of his late brother Francis II or their father Henry II, but from the secondary nobility, raised up to such a degree that the social fabric appeared to be unnaturally strained.