The name of a branch of the ducal house of Lorraine in France, it became prominent, if not menacing, during the 16th century. Claude de Lorraine was born in 1496 and created Duke in 1528 when he was thirty-two. By then he had already distinguished himself in a respectable number of (French) military conflicts, all of which he won. They included the Battle of Marignano in 1515.
Claude’s son Francis was his son and heir. He rose to be the most effective military commander under Henry II of France. Active throughout the 1550s, he took Calais from the English in 1558 while Mary I was on the throne. She is said never to have recovered from losing Calais. Indeed, when she died, the wags said that the word Calais was found etched on her heart.*
Francis’ brother Charles was born in 1524 and rapidly became a soldier. Later he became Cardinal of Lorraine in 1550 at the tender age of twenty-six, rather young to be a cardinal, but in the sixteenth century high orders in the Church could carry the same military significance as the army. For example, the famous Richelieu was a Cardinal and a Duke and a military strategist of considerable importance. It was Charles’ sister Mary (1515-60) who married James V of Scotland. She was the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots, and perfectly capable of commanding any military detachment, riding at its head. She was after all a Guise.
By 1559, on the accession of Francis II, the Guise family was the most powerful and influential in France, and greatly feared outside France. The Guise treatment of Huguenots (French Protestants q.v.) and uneasy relations with the Bourbons (q.v.) led straight into the French Wars of Religion. There were nineof these, taking place intermittently between 1562 and 1598. They revolved around great French noble families fighting for control of the expiring Valois dynasty, supported on the one side by French Protestants, and on the other by extremist Catholics like the Guises. The wars were complicated as usual by the intervention of Spain, Savoy and Rome (Catholic) and England, the Netherlands and some German princes (Protestant).
Francis (or François) was murdered in 1563, and his son Henry (3rdDuke of Lorraine), was involved in the third and fourth wars of religion, and directly implicated in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (q.v.) In 1576 this Guise led everybody else by the ears into The Holy League, but when Henry III king of France heard that Henry of Guise was being put forward as a possible heir to the throne he promptly had him assassinated. This act did not do him much good for he himself was assassinated.
Henry of Guise’s brother Charles (born 1554) kept the Guise interests and the extremist Catholic cause on the boil until five years before the end of that dismal century. Then he decided to bow to Henri Quatre (‘Paris is worth a Mass’) and became quite retiring and peaceful. The ducal line of the Guises died out in 1668. Henry of Navarre who became Henri Quatre was also assassinated. It was a disagreeable century.
* I think it is more likely that Mary had the names Lady Jane and Guildford Dudley (q.v.) etched on her heart, since she had them executed in their teens.