|Anne of Brittany|
Preparation for an Invasion
Before setting off on his Italian jaunt Charles secured his northern borders. In May 1493 Margaret of Austria was allowed to return to her father’s court, in return the Treaty of Senlis gave the Duchy of Burgundy to France. Artois and Franche-Comté were returned to Maximilian. The Governor of the Low Countries, Philip the Fair, paid homage to Charles for Flanders.
Anne had spent much of her first pregnancy resting, but when she became pregnant for the second time in late 1492/early 1493 Anne travelled around the country with Charles. She went into labour during a drive in the forest of Courcelles. Francis was born prematurely and stillborn; he was buried at Notre-Dame de Cléry in Cléry St André. Anne gave birth to a stillborn daughter in March 1494; during this, her third pregnancy, Anne avoided travel. Instead she resided at the chateau d’Amboise near the Dauphin.
With an eye to the future, Charles disbanded his army in Brittany; this was more to save money than anything else. The wars in Brittany had drained his resources and so when in October 1492 Henry VII landed at Calais and laid siege to Boulogne, Charles was reliant on the charity of the major towns to pay for the army to repel the invaders[i]. The Peace of Étaples was signed on 3rd November whereby France agreed to pay England 750,000 gold écus[ii] at the rate of 25,000 écus per annum.
In March 1494 Charles moved his court to Lyons, in part to prepare for the upcoming invasion of Italy. With him went Louis d’Orléans, one of his boon companions in pleasure and sport. Octavien St-Gelais[iii] commented;
‘Monseigneur d’Orléans always accompanied him [Charles] because when he was not about, the court was greatly diminished…..Monseigneur d’Orléans was the first to try everything.’[iv]
A Jaunt Abroad
Charles’ invasion of Italy in search of glory in the Kingdom of Naples aimed to dethrone Alfonso II son of Ferdinand I. Charles was a direct descendent of Charles of Anjou who conquered Sicily and Naples in the 13th century. Alfonso’s father was the bastard son of Alfonso V of Aragon who had seized the Neapolitan throne in June 1442. Pope Alexander VI had married his son Joffre to Ferdinand’s granddaughter Sancia of Aragon and the arrival of the French in Italy wanting to overturn Alexander’s complex manoeuvrings was not welcome.
Upon the arrival of the French in Italy Alexander’s bitter rival Cardinal Julius della Rovere immediately left Rome to join up with Charles who was accompanied by Louis d’Orléans. Della Rovere was not the only one who greeted the invaders; Ercole I d’Esté, Duke of Ferrara met with Charles and Duke Ludovico Sforza welcomed Charles to Milan.
|Piero d' Medici|
On 31st December 1494 Rome opened her gates to Charles, who had already removed Piero de’ Medici from his power base in Florence. On 15th January Charles and Alexander came to an agreement; Charles agreed to perform a public ceremony of obedience to the pope who promised to raise two French bishops to the rank of cardinal and he appointed his son Cesare as papal legate to the invaders.
‘Charles VIII spotted the pope and, while Alexander VI was still some twelve feet away, made two genuflections which the pope pretended not to see. Then, just as the king was about to genuflect for a third time, Alexander removed his biretta and motioned him to stop and then kissed him.’[v]
King of Naples
|Painting believed to be Cesare Borgia|
Within three months Charles was in Naples, accompanied by Cesare Borgia, a hostage for his father’s continuing support. Alfonso immediately abdicated and entered a monastery and his son Ferdinand fled. On May 12th 1495 Charles was crowned King of Naples.
The Italians were becoming uneasy, concerned about Charles’ vaulting ambitions. Ferdinand and Isabella, in conjunction with Maximilian, had their own designs for Naples. Ludovico Sforza, worried by Louis d’Orléans claims on Milan[vi], joined Alexander’s Holy League[vii].
Charles was incandescent but the reality of his situation meant he and his army were soon retreating up through Italy with the spoils of the campaign. The Neapolitans had been taken aback by the viciousness of Charles’ entourage. And his failure to fulfil the promises he made on his arrival, to reform the church, bring justice and liberty to the Italian people and lead a crusade against the Turks, turned Italians against him. Philippe de Commines the chronicler, said of the ultimately abortive expedition;
‘If we do but consider how often this army was inclined to disband since its first arrival at Vienne in Dauphiné….it must of necessity be acknowledged that God Almighty conducted the enterprise.’[viii]
|Battle of Fornovo|
On 5th July 1495 the French met with the combined armies of the League at the Battle of Fornovo. The League’s 30,000 men were commanded by Francesco II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua. Charles lost his baggage train but managed to march on to reach Asti that evening.
On 7th July Ferdinand was back in Naples with the city under his control. Two weeks later Charles was back in France, leaving a French presence in Italy under the command of Louis d’Orléans. By French law Charles was not able to undertake a rescue mission as Charles Orlando died and the king could not leave France until the succession was assured.
For the French people the mercenaries and soldiers fighting for the king brought home the unwanted gift of the pox or Italian disease[ix]. The disease had spread throughout France by the end of 1497; Rouen, Niort, Bordeaux and Poitiers were particularly hard hit.
Desperation At Home
While Charles was away in Italy Anne spent her time in Lyon or at Moulins with her sister-in-law Anne de Beaujeu. Anne acted as her husband’s regent, throughout the 15 months of Charles’ absence, although she was only eighteen. Anne was devoted to the cult of the Franciscan François de Paule[x], introducing an aura of mysticism to the court. She wrote to Charles every day. She also found time to order a tomb for her father from Michel Colombe, a Breton sculptor. Anne’s face was used as a model for Prudence on the tomb.
In February 1494 Anne accompanied the king to Lyon, where he was preparing to depart for Italy. After arriving on 15 March, she attended all of the ceremonies and the stress of the occasion caused her to go into premature labour and the child was stillborn. Anne had another stillborn child, a daughter, in March 1495 after getting pregnant again in late 1494.
On 6th December 1495, while his father and mother were in Lyons, Charles Orlando died of the measles epidemic sweeping Touraine. Anne was desolated; so much so that her sanity and her life were feared for. Charles Orlando was buried at the Cathedral of Saint-Martin, Tours. He was described by Commines as a;
‘Beautiful child and daring in word, not fearing the things that the other children are accustomed to fear.’[xi]
Charles spent the spring of 1496 trying to organise two expeditions; one to relieve Gilbert de Bourbon Montpensier who was besieged in Atella and the other to defend Asti from the attacks of Ludovico Sforza. He was hindered by a shortage of money; Charles had wasted all the money that his father had amassed over the years.
On 8th September 1496 Anne gave birth to Charles, Dauphin of France. Charles died on 2nd October 1496. His death prompted Anne to withdraw temporarily to Moulins in despair. He was buried at Tours Cathedral so that his mother would be able to visit to pray at his tomb which was to be ornamented by Jean Juste, a sculptor of Italian origin who moved to Tours.
Francis, Dauphin of France was born in July 1497 and died several hours after his birth. He was buried at with his siblings at Tours Cathedral. Anne of France was born on 20th March 1498 dying the same day; she too was buried at Tours Cathedral.
Louis XII – Frederic J Baumgartner, MacMillan Press Ltd 1996
Renaissance Europe – JR Hale, Wm Collins Sons and Co Ltd 1971
The Borgias – Mary Hollingsworth, Quercus Editions Ltd 2014
The Rise and Fall of Renaissance France – RJ Knecht, Fontana Press 1996
Absolute Monarchs – John Julius Norwich, Random House 2011
A History of France 1460-1560 – David Potter, MacMillan Press Ltd 1995
Anne of Brittany – Helen Josephine Sanborn, General Books 2012
The March of Folly – Barbara W Tuchman, Sphere Books Ltd 1984
Twice Crowned Queen – Constance de la Warr, Eveliegh Nash 1905 (Reprint 2015)
[iv] Louis XII - Baumgartner
[v] The Borgias - Hollingsworth
[vi] Through his grandmother Valentina Visconti
[vii] Cesare managed to slip away
[viii] Renaissance Europe - Hale
[x] As was her daughter Claude