Louis XII

Louis XII

Louis XII, 1462-1515, king of France (1498-1515), son of Charles, duc d'Orléans. He succeeded his father as duke. While still duke, he rebelled against the regency of Anne de Beaujeu and was imprisoned (1488), but was released (1491) by his cousin King Charles VIII, whom he succeeded (1498) on the throne. Immediately after his accession he ensured the continuance of the personal union of Brittany and France by having his first marriage annulled and marrying his predecessor's widow, Anne of Brittany. Thereafter the king and his minister, Georges d'Amboise, attempted to assert French claims in Italy (see Italian Wars). Louis conquered Milan and Genoa, but he failed to secure Naples, which he had conquered in alliance with King Ferdinand II of Aragón. By the treaties of Blois (1504), Louis attempted a compromise with Spain and with Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, who had so far remained an inactive opponent; the treaties subsequently collapsed, and the king's daughter Claude, whose marriage to Maximilian's grandson Charles of Austria (later Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) was to have been the keystone of the new entente, was betrothed to her cousin, Francis of Angoulěme, later King Francis I. In 1507, Louis suppressed the revolt of Genoa (1506-7), and in 1508 he joined the League of Cambrai (see Cambrai, League of) against Venice, defeating the Venetians at Agnadello (1509). When his Italian territories were attacked (1511) by Pope Julius II's Holy League, he committed their defense to Gaston de Foix, but after Gaston's death (1512) his troops were forced by the Swiss (then the pope's main allies) to evacuate Milan. In 1513 the Swiss routed his army at Novara while another army was defeated at Guinegate by Maximilian and King Henry VIII of England, also the pope's allies. In 1514 he made a truce with all his enemies save Maximilian. Louis endeavored to rule France with justice and moderation, and was known as the Father of the People.

See J. S. C. Bridge, A History of France from the Death of Louis XI, Vol. III-IV (1929).

Louis XII (June 27, 1462January 1, 1515), called "the Father of the People" (Le Père du Peuple) was the thirty-fifth king of France and the sole monarch from the Valois-Orléans branch of the House of Valois. He reigned from 1498 to 1515 and pursued a very active foreign policy.


Early life

Louis was born on June 27 1462, in the Château de Blois, Blois, Touraine (in the contemporary Loir-et-Cher département). The son of Charles, duc d'Orléans and Marie of Cleves, he succeeded his father as Duke of Orléans in the year 1465.

In the 1480s Louis was involved in the so-called Mad War against royal authority. Allied with Francis II, Duke of Brittany he confronted the royal army at the Battle of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier, but was comprehensively defeated and captured. Pardoned three years later, Louis joined his cousin King Charles VIII, in campaigns in Italy. He succeeded to the throne on the king's death.

Domestic and foreign policies

Although he came late (and unexpectedly) to power, Louis acted with vigour, reforming the French legal system, reducing taxes and improving government, much like his contemporary Henry VII did in England. He was also skilled in managing his nobility, including the powerful Bourbon faction, which greatly contributed to the stability of French government. In the Ordinance of Blois of 1499 and the Ordinance of Lyon of 1510, he extended the powers of royal judges and made efforts to curb corruption in the law. Highly complex French customary law was to be codified and ratified by royal proclamation.

In an attempt to take control of the Duchy of Milan, to which he had a claim in right of his grandmother Valentina Visconti, Louis embarked on several campaigns in Italy. He successfully secured Milan itself in the year 1499 from his enemy, Ludovico Sforza, and it remained a French stronghold for twelve years. His greatest success came in his war with Venice, with the victory at the Battle of Agnadello in 1509. Things became much more difficult for him from 1510 onwards, especially after Julius II, the great warrior Pope, took control of the Vatican and formed the "Holy League" to oppose the ambitions of the French in Italy. The French were eventually driven from Milan by the Swiss in the year 1513.

Louis also pursued the claim of his immediate predecessor to the Kingdom of Naples with Ferdinand II, the King of Aragon from the House of Trastámara. They agreed to partition the Neapolitan realm in the Treaty of Granada (1500), but were eventually at war over the terms of partition, and by the year 1504 France had lost its share of Naples.

Louis proved to be a popular king. At the end of his reign the crown deficit was no greater than it had been when he succeeded Charles VIII in 1498, despite several expensive military campaigns in Italy. His fiscal reforms of 1504 and 1508 tightened and improved procedures for the collection of taxes. He had duly earned the title of Father of the People ("Le Père du Peuple"), conferred upon him by the Estates in 1506.


In 1476, Louis was required to marry the pious Joan of France (1464–1505), the daughter of his second cousin, Louis XI, the middle-aged "Spider King" of France. After Louis XII's predecessor Charles VIII died childless, Louis' marriage was annulled in order to allow him to marry Charles’ widow, the former Queen-Consort, Anne of Brittany (1477–1514), who was the daughter and heiress of Francis II of Brittany, in a strategy meant to integrate the duchy of Brittany into the French monarchy.

The annulment was not simple, however. Described as "one of the seamiest lawsuits of the age", Louis did not, as might be expected, argue the marriage to be void due to consanguinity (the general allowance for the dissolution of a marriage at that time). Though he could produce witnesses to claim that the two were closely related due to various linking marriages, there was no documentary proof, merely the opinions of courtiers. Likewise, Louis could not argue that he had been below the legal age of consent (fourteen) to marry: no one was certain when he had been born, with Louis claiming to have been twelve at the time, and others ranging in their estimates between eleven and thirteen. As there was no real proof, however, he was forced to make other arguments.

Accordingly, Louis (much to the horror of his Queen) claimed that she was physically malformed, providing a rich variety of detail as to how she was malformed, and that he had therefore been unable to consummate the marriage. Joan, unsurprisingly, fought this uncertain charge fiercely, producing witnesses to Louis boasting of having "mounted my wife three or four times during the night." Louis also claimed that his sexual performance had been inhibited by witchcraft; Joan responded by asking how he was able to know what it was like to try to make love to her.

Had the Papacy been a neutral party, Jeanne would likely have won, for Louis's case was exceedingly weak. Unfortunately for the Queen, Pope Alexander VI (the former Roderic Borja) was committed, for political reasons to grant the divorce, and accordingly he ruled against Jeanne, granting the annulment. Outraged, she reluctantly stepped aside, saying that she would pray for her former husband, and Louis married the equally reluctant former Queen, Anne.

After the death of Anne, Louis then married Mary (1496–1533), the sister of Henry VIII, the King of England in Abbeville, France, on October 9, 1514, in an attempt to conceive an heir to his throne and perhaps to further establish a future claim for his descendants upon the English throne as well. He was ultimately unsuccessful. Despite two previous marriages, the king had no living sons and sought to produce an heir; but Louis died on January 1 1515, less than three months after he married Mary, reputedly worn out by his exertions in the bedchamber. Their union produced no children.


The only marriage of Louis's which produced any children was his second, with Anne of Brittany. By her he had two surviving daughters:

There were also two boys, who died shortly after birth:


Louis died on January 1 1515, and was interred in Saint Denis Basilica. Due to the tradition of Salic Law, which did not allow women to inherit the throne of France, he was succeeded by his first cousin's son Francis I Valois-Angoulême (who was also his son-in-law), who founded his own line of French kings.



By Anne of Brittany
Name Birth Death Notes
Claude of France 14 October 1499 20 July 1524 married Francis I of France on 18 May 1514; had issue
Renée of France 25 October 1500 12 June 1574 married Ercole II d'Este in April 1528; had issue
Unnamed son 21 January 1508 21 January 1508  
Unnamed son 21 January 1512 21 January 1512


  • Baumgartner, Frederic J., Louis XII, New York: St.Martin's Press, 1996. ISBN 0-312-12072-9
  • Hochner, Nicole, Louis XII: Les dérèglements de l’image royale, collection «Époques» Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 2006 http://www.champ-vallon.com/

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