Louis XII of France was born on June 27, 1462, in Blois, France. The son of Charles, Duke of Orleans, Louis was related to the French Valois monarchy as a descendent of King Charles V. At his baptism, Louis’s second cousin, King Louis XI, became his godfather. However, the scheming king did this to keep an eye on his Valois-Orleans relatives. In 1465, Charles died, leaving his dukedom to his three-year-old son.
Despite being members of the royal family, Louis XI was suspicious of the Orleans branch. They had been on friendly terms with the Burgundian faction, relatives the king was at odds with. As Duke Louis got older, the king began to seek the end of the Orleans line. In 1476, the king forced Louis to marry his daughter, Joan, who was physically disabled. By doing this, King Louis believed that his cousin would be unable to produce heirs, therefore causing the Orleans line to go extinct. Unsurprisingly, the marriage would be very unhappy, and the couple remained childless throughout.
Charles VIII of France
On August 30, 1483, Louis XI died and was succeeded by his thirteen-year-old son, Charles VIII. Despite his ascension, the king was still too young to rule on his own. A regency, led by his elder sister Anne, was formed to rule on his behalf. Seeing an opportunity to gain influence, Louis sought to become his cousin’s regent. However, Anne prevented him from taking her position. Angry at being sidelined, the duke began plotting to abduct Charles after his coronation.
Unfortunately for Louis, Anne became aware of his plan and sent her brother to Montargis. As punishment, many of the duke’s supporters lost their government positions and Louis left the French court. However, the crafty duke wasn’t done yet. In 1485, Louis allied himself with several French nobles who were dissatisfied with the regency. His most prominent ally was Francis II, Duke of Brittany, who sought to keep his duchy independent from the monarchy. Louis and his allies gained further support from England, Austria, and Spain.
Over the next three years, the rebel nobles fought against the royal family in what became known as the Mad War. Despite their attempts to overwhelm the monarchy, Anne tactfully kept the rebels at bay. Throughout the skirmishes, Louis would be a prisoner, an escapee, and eventually a traitor. By August 1488, Francis II signed a peace treaty with Charles VIII, ending the conflict. Having failed again to become regent, Louis would be imprisoned in a fortress.
The Italian War
After three years of imprisonment, Charles VIII pardoned his cousin. In turn, Louis willingly assisted the king in his war against Brittany. After Duke Francis died in 1488, his young daughter, Anne, became a duchess. Sensing an opportunity to finally unite Brittany with France, Charles declared war on the duchy. By June 1491, French forces surrounded Brittany, forcing Anne to surrender. The king later married Anne on December 6, successfully uniting Brittany to France and ending its independence.
After subjugating Brittany, Charles VIII turned his attention to Italy. French kings had held an interest in Italy for decades. Charles VII and Louis XI had both been involved in Italian affairs during their reigns. However, they merely dabbled in them. Unlike his predecessors, Charles sought to be more actively involved in Italy. Interested in claiming Milan and Naples, the king launched an invasion of Italy in 1494, beginning the Italian War.
From 1494 – 1495, Louis fought in his cousin’s campaign as part of the royal army’s vanguard. At Asti, the duke commanded troops on Charles VIII’s behalf. After seizing Naples in February 1495, Charles VIII and Louis soon retreated after facing fierce anti-French resistance. By July, the remaining French troops in Naples surrendered to Spanish forces, making the Italian campaign a failure.
Death of the King
On April 7, 1498, Charles VIII hit his head on a beam after passing through a door. Although initially fine, the king soon fell into a coma. Several hours later, Charles died. Since the king’s sons had all predeceased him, the senior branch of the Valois dynasty ended. As a result, Louis became his cousin’s successor. Shortly after, the duke was crowned King Louis XII of France.
Continues In Louis XII of France: Part Two
Knecht, R. J. (2008). The Valois: Kings of France, 1328-1589. London: Hambledon and London.
Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Louis XII. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved May 10, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-XII