Mignon as an adjective, and referring to boys, it is translated as cute, pretty or adorable and it obviously seems to refer to characteristics associated with youth. In the 15th century and in the court, the nominalization of the term applies to the so-called “favorites” of the king.
These Mignons, in addition to being the confidants of the king, enjoyed certain privileges and special honors such as being able to dress like the monarch or even sleeping in his same room or even more, in his own bed, being this the highest honor and the greatest demonstration of confidence to which a courtier could aspire at certain times.
In the 16th century and specifically under the reign of Henry III, the customs of the court evolved. The access to the royal bedchambers was not as frequent as before and those privileged who got access earned the envy of others. In this court, and after the tastes of the monarch, the nobility began to doll up, so that jewelry, earrings, curly hair, laces and ruffles became fashionable. The bourgeoisie and the common people, accustomed to a monarchy that until then had promoted a strong manhood and that considered refinement as a symbol of weakness, began to mock the courtly customs. And at the center of this mockery, of course, were the envied Mignons, the king’s favorites.
It must be said, despite the appearances and without entering into the sexual behavior of anyone, that these favorites were far from the stereotype of the beautiful ephebe, of the effeminate and courtly lover that we could think a priori. Not only could they be fierce warriors, but they used to be faithful counselors and fulfilled important missions of representation of the king before some princes and nobles that moved away from the monarch and, mainly, his religious policy.
However, it was precisely religion that was the ultimate responsible for promoting the image of the Mignon favorites as effeminate lovers and sodomites. First, it was the Calvinists, who saw the very image of decadence and sin, associated with Catholics, in the customs of the French court. They were the first to associate the figure of the Mignon with homosexuality. And after them and in the same fashion, came the so-called Catholic League. They reproached/criticized the king and his counselors for their lack of commitment in the defense of Catholicism against the Protestant heresy. They carried out a huge campaign of discrediting and defamation against the King and his court that continued even after his death. They were also responsible for linking in history and up to now, the figure of the Mignon to homosexuality, more specifically to the homosexual lover, and of course, to king Henry III.
Variations: Mignonisme (homosexuality or greek pederasty), Mignonnement (effeminately), Mignard.
Related: Mignon de couchete (lover), Mignon du pape (jesuits).