Anne of Brittany: Life Story

Chapter 10 : The League of Cambrai

Louis’ journey to Milan in 1507 had two purposes – to meet the Pope, Julius II, who hoped to promote an alliance against the Venetians, and to suppress a revolt in Genoa (the port was subject to the duchy of Milan). Louis’ forces overcame the Genovese, and entered the town in triumph on 29th April 1507, dressed in full armour, atop a black horse, and accompanied by a gaggle of cardinals and Italian princelings. Louis did not permit the sacking of Genoa, but he exacted harsh financial penalties.

The king was also in discussion with Ferdinand of Aragon and Maximilian about a treaty to punish the Venetians for various gripes that the rulers had against the Republic – fundamentally, they were envious of its wealth, and irritated by the Venetians’ conspicuous lack of deference towards themselves. The league against Venice became known as the League of Cambrai.

Louis returned victorious from Genoa to meet Anne at Grenoble in July.  Anne was again pregnant, and, after a few weeks passed between Grenoble and Lyon, the royal couple returned to Blois for her confinement. Anne was to suffer more heart-break, delivering another still-born son on 21st January 1508.  Louise of Savoy noted the event with some satisfaction ‘Anne, Queen of France, had a son on St. Agnes Day at Blois, but he cannot prevent the exaltation of my Caesar [her name for her son], for he had no life.’ (NOTE: Some sources date this remark to 1512.]

Perhaps the loss of another child prompted Anne to think of her parents – it was in 1508 that the monument to them was created in the cathedral of Nantes.

Anne visited Nantes, and then joined Louis in Rouen, where they spent the winter of 1508 – 09, before returning to Blois. He was bound, once again, for Italy. According to Jean Marot, one of Anne’s secretaries who accompanied the king, Anne was deeply depressed at her husband’s departure. She and her ladies spent their time visiting various shrines to pray for his safe return – and were rewarded by the news of Agnadello on 14th May 1509.

The battle of Agnadello saw a major redrawing of territories and alliances in northern Italy, as Venice lost almost all its mainland possessions. The Republic hastily placated Ferdinand and Pope Julius, who were satisfied, and disinclined to follow up with attacks on the city of Venice itself. A further, humiliating, defeat at sea, led to a surrender to Julius of privileges the Venetians had maintained in the papal state of Ferrara. This acceptance of reality was compensated by Julius lifting the ban of excommunication from the Republic in 1510.

The Pope now realised that the greatest threat to Papal temporal power in Italy was Louis. He suddenly announced that it was God’s Will that the French be driven from Italy, and struck up an alliance with Venetians to effect this eradication. Soon after, the Holy League was formed – consisting of Julius, the Venetians and Ferdinand. It was also sold to Ferdinand’s son-in-law, Henry VIII of England, as an opportunity for England to reclaim its ancient hold on France.

To be at war with the Pope created problems for European monarchs, even though the Pope was acting as a secular prince. Anne was reported as being deeply distressed by her husband being excommunicated by Julius, and apparently begged him to reconcile himself to the Pope.  Louis hoped to circumvent the sentence by calling for a General Council (always a popular cry when a monarch disagreed with the Pontiff).

A smattering of clergy were collected at Pisa, but the scheme never got off the ground. Anne would not permit Breton clergy to attend. There is no record of how Louis took this prohibition, or their presence at the rival Lateran Council convoked by Julius.

Anne’s sad record of infant deaths was slightly ameliorated in October 1510 with the birth of a second daughter, named Renée in gratitude to St René, whose shrine at Angers Anne had visited in hopes of more children. This little girl survived, although her life was no happier than that of her sister.

The birth may have been traumatic – Anne was only thirty-two, but had had numerous pregnancies. In March 1511, she was reported as being grievously ill, and was given the Last Sacrament. However, she eventually recovered.