Continued From Louis XII of France: Part One
Louis XII of France sought a divorce from his long-suffering wife, Joan, after becoming king. Seeking to gain favor with Louis, Pope Alexander VI readily declared his marriage annulled despite Joan’s protests. To retain control of Brittany, the king married his cousin’s widow, Anne, in 1499. Like Charles VIII, Louis was interested in claiming Naples and Milan. To this end, the king raised another French army and renewed the Italian War.
In August 1499, Louis XII focused on taking Milan from Ludovico Sforza. Initially a French ally during Charles VIII’s campaign, Sforza soon joined the anti-French resistance. Having not forgotten Ludovico’s betrayal, Louis focused his wrath on him. Although Sforza offered to make Louis his successor in exchange for peace, the king flatly denied him. Through the use of terror tactics, the French caused Sforza to flee from his duchy.
On October 6, 1499, Louis XII triumphantly entered Milan. To increase his popularity amongst his new subjects, the king ended unpopular hunting laws while restoring Sforza’s enemies to power. Louis also enforced discipline amongst his troops by punishing soldiers who committed crimes. Believing his hold over Milan was secure, Louis returned to France. Unfortunately, discipline amongst the remaining French garrison quickly broke down. When Ludovico Sforza returned to Milan in January 1500, its citizens welcomed him back and expelled the French.
Turning his attention towards Naples, Louis XII made an agreement with Ferdinand II of Aragon to carve up the duchy. However, the kings quickly came into conflict over control of Naples. After three years of fighting, the Spanish emerged victorious and expelled the French entirely in March 1504. With the help of Queen Anne, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I recognized Louis as Duke of Milan in the Treaty of Blois. Although the terms were steep, the French king had finally gained what he desired.
The Holy League
In June 1507, Louis XII met with Ferdinand at Savona to ally against Venice. Joined by Emperor Maximilian I and Pope Julius II, the newly formed League of Cambrai would be short-lived. By 1510, the pope left the league and opposed France. The following year, Maximilian made peace with Venice. As a result, the pope and emperor formed an anti-French alliance; the Holy League. Joined by Spain, England, and Venice, Louis quickly became overwhelmed.
Although victorious at Ravenna in April 1512, France’s success proved pointless as the king lost control of Milan. During the spring of 1513, Louis XII successfully re-allied himself with Spain and Venice. Despite this arrangement, the king failed to regain Milan and suffered invasions from England and the Swiss in France. In August 1514, Louis concluded a peace treaty with King Henry VIII of England. As part of the treaty, the widowed French king would marry Henry’s younger sister, Mary.
Since the winter of 1513, Louis XII’s health had steadily declined. Due to only having a legitimate daughter, Claude, as his heir, Louis was desperate to have a son with Mary. It is alleged that the king wore himself out trying to produce a male successor and that his health worsened as a result. Before his death, Louis arranged for Claude to marry Francis, his future successor from the Angouleme branch of the Valois. With the succession secured, the king died on January 1, 1515.
Louis XII of France left behind a mixed legacy. Although his military campaigns had failed, the king proved popular with his subjects. Louis reformed the justice system, enacted laws to protect his subjects, maintained peace in his kingdom, and didn’t overly tax the French. Through these efforts, the king earned the title “Father of the People.” Upon his death, the Orleans branch of the Valois dynasty ended. Still, his line would continue with the Angouleme-Valois kings.
Knecht, R. J. (2008). The Valois: Kings of France 1328-1589. Hambledon and London.
Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Louis XII. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved September 23, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-XII