Louis XII (France) (Born 1462–1515; Ruled 1498–1515)

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LOUIS XII (FRANCE) (born 14621515; ruled 14981515)

LOUIS XII (FRANCE) (born 14621515; ruled 14981515), king of France. The only son of Charles of Orléans and Mary of Cleves, Louis was the great-grandson of Charles VI (ruled 13801422). As a youth, Louis did not expect to gain the throne since he was several degrees of blood distant from the ruling family. Louis XI (ruled 14611483) coerced him into marrying his deformed daughter Jeanne, who was probably incapable of bearing children. He spent his early adulthood seeking an annulment for the marriage. When Louis XI's son became Charles VIII in 1483, Louis competed with Charles's older sister Anne of Beaujeu to become regent for the underage king. His purpose was largely to gain a position of authority from which to secure an annulment. When the Estates-General of 1484 refused him the office, he led the "Fools' War" against the monarchy. Defeated at the Battle of St-Aubin in Brittany in 1488, he was imprisoned for three years. He was released in time to join Charles in the first French invasion of Italy (1494), to make good the French claim to the kingdom of Naples.

Because Charles's only child died at age three, Louis gained the throne when Charles died in April 1498. Those who had opposed him in the Fools' War were fearful that he would exact revenge on them now that he was king, but Louis soothed them with his famous remark: "It is not honorable for the king of France to avenge the quarrels of a duke of Orléans." After loading Pope Alexander VI's (reigned 14921503) son Cesare Borgia with French titles and gold, he received an annulment from Jeanne of France and married Charles's widow, Anne of Brittany, in January 1499. With her he had two daughters, Claude and Renée. Theologians of the University of Paris bitterly criticized the annulment, and when it led to unrest among the students, Louis cracked down on the university in 1499 and severely reduced its autonomy.

Louis had a claim to the duchy of Milan through his grandmother Valentina Visconti, and he sought to make good his Italian rights in the second French invasion of Italy (1499). Concentrating on winning Milan, which he achieved in 1500, he agreed to divide Naples with Ferdinand of Aragon (ruled 14681516), but Ferdinand expelled the French from the entire realm in 1503. For the next several years France was largely at peace. Louis dramatically reduced taxes, which, along with the era's broad prosperity, prompted the Estates-General to name him "Father of the People" in 1506. Louis's most prominent advisor was Cardinal Georges d'Amboise, whose influence and place in government were so vast that the saying "Let George do it!" is said to have referred to d'Amboise.

Although his tastes still were largely those of the Middle Ages, Louis took an interest in Renaissance culture, which he saw on several trips to Italy. He patronized the Italian humanists Lescaris and Aleandro, who taught Greek in France, and supported the classics advocate and humanist Guillaume Budé at the beginning of his career. In 1499 Louis brought Italian architects and artists to France to rebuild the château of Blois, although the principal architect was probably the French mason Colin de Briart. The rebuilt château introduced the concept that a king need not live in a gloomy, fortified stronghold but in a beautiful place with open spaces and pleasant gardens for gracious living.

Louis allowed Pope Julius II (reigned 15031513) to persuade him to join an anti-Venetian league, bringing him back into the thick of Italian politics. After defeating the Venetians at Agnadello in May 1509, he found that Julius had organized a league to drive him out of Italy. Louis attempted to counter Julius by convoking the schismatic Council of Pisa in 1511, but it drew only four cardinals and a few French bishops. After Louis's nephew Gaston de Foix defeated the papal-Spanish army at Ravenna in March 1512, the cardinals at Pisa declared Julius deposed and convoked the college of cardinals to elect a successor. De Foix's death prevented the French army from marching on Rome to effect Julius's deposition. The pope excommunicated Louis and promised parts of France to the Swiss, Aragón, England, and the Holy Roman Empire, which had joined his alliance. Ferdinand of Aragón seized southern Navarre, and Henry VIII invaded northern France. The French army retreated back to France, leaving Milan to the Swiss. The death of Julius in 1513 allowed Louis to make peace with the new pope, the Medici Leo X (reigned 15131521). When Anne died in January 1514, he secured peace with Henry VIII by marrying his sister Mary. The excitement of the wedding and his young bride probably hastened his death on 1 January 1515. His first cousin, Francis of Angoulême, who had married his daughter Claude in 1514, succeeded him as Francis I.

See also Cambrai, League of (1508) ; Charles VIII (France) ; France ; Julius II (pope) .


Baumgartner, Frederic J. Louis XII. New York, 1994. A recent scholarly biography.

Bridge, John. A History of France from the Death of Louis XI. 5 vols. Oxford, 19211936. A detailed history of France for the era of Louis's reign, it is especially strong on the French wars in Italy.

Quilliet, Bernard. Louis XII: pere du peuple. Paris, 1986. Especially good on the cultural developments of Louis's reign.

Frederic J. Baumgartner

Louis XII

views updated May 29 2018

Louis XII

Louis XII (1462-1515) was king of France from 1498 to 1515. An ambitious and conspiratorial prince, he was later regarded as "good king Louis" and the "father of his people." His reign was remembered as a golden age of peace and repose.

The son of Charles, Duc d'Orléans, and Mary of Cleves, Louis XII was born on June 27, 1462. In 1465, when only 3 years old, Louis succeeded his father as Duc d' Orléans. Royal interference was to make the youth and early manhood of Louis d'Orléans a singularly unhappy one. In 1465 Louis XI appointed the chief councilors and servitors of the young duke and thereafter continued to keep a watch on the administration of the appanage. The king later married his daughter, Jeanne of France (a physically handicapped woman who was not expected to produce any heirs), to Louis.

Early Career

By the time Louis was old enough to think about revenge, there were too few allies left him, so successful had Louis XI been in pacifying the aristocracy and repossessing the great appanages. So it was not until the accession of Charles VIII in 1483 that the duke had an opportunity to press his claims for a place in the government of the kingdom. The new king was young and inexperienced, and the dominant persons in his government were his older sister Anne and her husband, Pierre de Beaujeu. Louis tried to rally support from within the nobility and the royal administration itself for a rebellion against the guardians of the King. When support for this enterprise failed to materialize, he initiated intrigues with two old enemies of the monarchy, the Duke of Brittany and the son-in-law and political heir of the last Duke of Burgundy. The armed rising that he helped engineer against the Crown, the guerre folle of 1487-1488, ended disastrously with his capture. Louis spent 2 years in captivity, saved only by the fact that he was heir apparent to the throne. Then, in 1491, when Charles began to free himself from the domination of his sister and her husband, he arranged a reconciliation with the duke, and soon Louis began to enjoy the King's favor, as evidenced by the prominent part allotted him during Charles VIII's Italian invasion of 1494-1495.

Italian Wars

The unexpected death of Charles VIII without male heirs in 1498 brought his cousin Louis d'Orléans to the throne as Louis XII. Louis secured a papal annulment of his marriage to Jeanne of France in December 1498. A month later he married Anne of Brittany, the widow of Charles VIII. This marriage helped prepare the way for a new invasion of Italy since it ensured that Brittany could not become a focus for intrigues against the monarchy. Like Charles VIII, Louis XII reorganized and reformed the royal administration, particularly that of justice, just before he descended upon Italy (1499) in search of conquest and glory.

In addition to the tenuous claim of Charles VIII to Naples, which Louis XII inherited, Louis himself had a family claim upon the duchy of Milan. Louis prepared the conquest of Milan by dissolving the League of Venice, the coalition that had expelled Charles VIII from Italy in 1495. This left Duke Lodovico Sforza of Milan isolated, and the French invasion of his duchy in 1499 was a complete success.

Louis then signed the secret Treaty of Granada (1500) with Ferdinand of Aragon, by which the two monarchs agreed to cooperate in the conquest of the kingdom of Naples and to divide it afterward. That conquest, too, was successful, but barely had the two allies installed themselves in their respective halves of the kingdom in 1502 when they began to quarrel. By 1503 disease and superior Spanish generalship had driven the French from Naples. Nine years later, in 1512, Louis XII was also driven from Milan. As in 1495, the expulsion of the French was achieved through a coalition, the Holy League of 1511, composed of Italian powers, led by the papacy, together with the Holy Roman emperor and Ferdinand of Aragon.

In 1513 the ambitious young ruler of England, Henry VIII, launched an invasion of France from Calais, while the Swiss, still smarting from earlier ill treatment at the hands of Louis XII, entered the service of the German emperor and launched another invasion of France from the east, gravely threatening Dijon and the whole province of Burgundy. Only because his enemies had no wish to push their aggression further was Louis XII able to negotiate settlements and escape without territorial sacrifices in France itself.

His Character

Of all the kings who ruled France in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Louis XII is the most difficult to assess. This is largely owing to the lack of reliable contemporary documentation. Soon after his death, Louis XII was elevated by 16th-century historians and moralizing political theorists into an exemplar, a model of the "good king." But this idealized portrait is highly untrustworthy. At times he collected more annual revenue from his subjects than did the hated Louis XI (although it is likely that the realm was now wealthier), and in order to finance the Italian wars, Louis XII resorted to the sale of royal offices, an expedient that his successors were to enlarge upon and that had grave consequences for the future of the monarchy and for French society as a whole. His reputation as a good king was probably due more to the excesses of his immediate predecessors and successors, in comparison with whom he seemed especially beneficent, than to any unique attributes of his own.

It is not possible to determine how far Louis's policies were shaped by others and how far they were his own. Very soon after his accession he receded into the background of even his own government. As far as contemporaries could tell, foreign affairs, which were the most important matter for the King, were supervised by Georges d'Amboise, Archbishop of Rouen. Other domestic matters, especially the distribution of offices, pensions, and rewards, seem to have been very much influenced by the Queen, Anne of Brittany.

Assuring the royal succession was probably the most serious political problem for Louis XII. He and Anne had only one child, their daughter, Claudia. In 1514 Louis arranged the marriage of Claudia to Francis of Angoulême, a prince of the younger branch of the house of Orléans and heir apparent to the throne.

After Queen Anne died (1514), Louis XII remarried, partly in accord with the needs of his foreign policy and partly in the hope that he might yet have a son. The new queen was the sister of Henry VIII, Mary of England, a youthful beauty whose fast-paced life, contemporaries observed, wore down her aging and weakened husband. Louis XII died on the night of Jan. 1, 1515, less than 3 months after his remarriage. It is to his credit that he arranged the marriage of Francis of Angoulême to his daughter and that he associated his son-in-law with him in the government, for this assured the peaceful and undisturbed succession of Francis.

Further Reading

A detailed narrative of the reign of Louis, with an extensive bibliography, is J. S. C. Bridge, A History of France from the Death of Louis XI, 1483-1515, vols.3 and 4 (1929). Other prominent personalities of the reign have not received adequate biographical treatment. See also Marjory Bowen, Sundry Great Gentlemen: Some Essays in Historical Biography (1928), and M. R. Bolton, The Golden Porcupine (1947), a historical novel about Louis XII and his times.

Additional Sources

Baumgartner, Frederic J., Louis XII, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994. □

Louis XII

views updated May 21 2018

Louis XII (1462–1515) King of France (1498–1515). On becoming king, Louis had his first marriage annulled in order to wed Anne of Britanny, resulting in the incorporation of Britanny into France. He succeeded his cousin, Charles VIII, and was involved throughout his reign in the dynastic wars arising from Charles's invasion of Italy in 1494. Louis continued this policy, invading Italy in 1499. In spite of some military successes, the Holy League defeated him and forced him to surrender all his Italian acquisitions (1513).

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