Anne of Brittany: Life Story

Chapter 8 : Louis XII's Queen

The marriage contract and the wedding were both solemnised at Nantes on 8th January 1499, two weeks before Anne turned 22.  Anne took the opportunity to bestow gifts on the various churches and monastic orders she favoured.

It was not until April that the couple returned to France. Their preferred home was at the chateau of Blois, further east along the Loire from Amboise, where Anne had previously often resided with Charles VIII, and where her son had lived and died. She probably welcomed the change of scene. Blois was Louis’ own birthplace, and remained his favourite chateau.

The litany of childbirth began again for Anne. She obviously conceived easily, for she gave birth again on 15th October 1499,  a bare forty weeks after her marriage. This time she was lucky, in that her child, Claude, survived. Louis was unlucky, in that the baby was a girl, and thus unable to inherit the French throne, but Anne may privately have been pleased that her the baby was her undoubted heir to Brittany.

The birth took some 30 miles from Blois – Anne had been obliged to leave because of infectious disease. She was the guest of Louise of Savoy, Dower Countess of Angoulême, and mother of the boy who was currently Louis' heir, François of Angoulême.

Louis was not at Anne’s side. He, like the late Charles VIII, was eager to press his claims in Italy. In Louis’ case, it was the wealthy duchy of Milan that he sought, as a descendant of the Visconti family, who had ruled prior to the Sforzas. He crossed the Alps in August 1499, and quickly overcame opposition to be installed as Duke of Milan, entering the city on 6th October. Having more-or-less pacified Milan, Louis returned home in early 1500, to join Anne and Claude at Blois.

Either because she was now older, or because Louis was mindful of the marriage contract, Anne had considerably more control of events in Brittany than she had had whilst married to Charles. Louis did not prevent her managing her duchy, although he did not permit coinage to be issued in her name alone.

Louis followed up his triumph in Milan by a league with Ferdinand II of Aragon, in which the two men agreed to capture Naples from King Frederick, whom Ferdinand refused to recognise, because he was illegitimate, claiming to be the heir of Alphonse himself. Louis was to take the title of king of Naples, and the northern half, whilst Ferdinand was to reattach the southern half to his kingdom of Sicily.

Whilst Louis was busy expanding French power in Italy, Anne, although she enjoyed the prestige of being queen of France, remained eager to keep Brittany separate from France. The only way she could do this was by arranging Claude’s marriage to a ruler who could protect Brittany from its powerful neighbour. In 1501, negotiations were opened by Philip the Fair, Archduke of Burgundy, and son of the Emperor Maximilian for a match between Claude and his infant son, Charles, which Anne welcomed whole-heartedly.

Louis agreed the match and a grand reception was held by king and queen at Blois for the Burgundian ambassadors. The agreement was only that Anne and Louis would do all in their power to ensure Claude married Charles once she reached marriageable age – it was not a betrothal. Shortly afterwards Archduke Philip and his wife, Juana of Castile (sister of Katharine of Aragon) visited the French court, en route to Spain. Anne greeted Juana with an embrace, but two-year-old Claude was so overcome that she had to be carried out of the room, in tears.

Louis made another trip to Milan, but Anne did not accompany him. She continued to give birth at regular intervals, but none of the babies survived.

Meanwhile, in Naples, Louis’ French troops had besieged Naples. Part of Anne’s contribution to the war was the Breton warship, originally called La Nef de Morlaix, that had been laid down by her father in 1487, but renamed by Anne the Marie-la-Cordelière. With little support, King Frederick made terms, and was granted a handsome pension by Louis, and permitted to retire to France, where he remained in comfort until his death in 1504.

Not surprisingly, the French and Spanish soon fell out over Naples. According to Venetian sources, the native Neapolitans favoured the French, but, after a number of indecisive battles and skirmishes, the Spanish general, Gonzalo de Cordoba, won a resounding victory at the battle of Cerignola on 28th April 1503. In theory, the battle should not have taken place, as Louis had agreed terms for a peace with Philip of Burgundy, representing his parents-in-law, Ferdinand and Isabella, at Lyon on 3rd April.

This peace confirmed Claude’s marriage to Charles, with the couple to be endowed with both the French and Spanish portions of Naples. If the French commander, Nemours, received instructions to desist from battle, he ignored them, whilst Cordoba openly rejected the authority of Philip.

In fact, neither Louis nor Ferdinand and Isabella intended to be bound by the treaty. The Spanish kings declared that Philip had exceeded his instructions, whilst Louis, despite Anne’s views, had decided that Claude must marry his heir, François of Angoulême, to retain Brittany within France.

Over the following year, the French suffered a series of defeats in Naples, culminating in the battle of Garigliano on 29th December 1503, and, by 2nd January 1504, Naples was indisputably in the hands of Spain, where it would remain, excepting a brief period in the eighteenth century and under Napoleon, until the unification of Italy in the 1860s.