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Louis XII
Preceded by Charles VIII
Succeeded by Francis I
Personal details
Born (1462-06-27)27 June 1462
Château de Blois
Died 1 January 1515(1515-01-01) (aged 52)
Hôtel des Tournelles
Spouse(s) Joan of France
Anne, Duchess of Brittany
Mary of England
Religion Roman Catholicism

Louis XII (27 June 1462 – 1 January 1515) was a monarch of the House of Valois who ruled as King of France from 1498 to 1515 and King of Naples from 1501 to 1504. The son of Charles, Duke of Orléans, and Maria of Cleves, he succeeded his cousin Charles VIII, who died without a closer heir in 1498.

Before his accession to the throne of France, he was known as Louis of Orléans and was compelled to be married to his handicapped and sterile cousin Joan by his uncle, king Louis XI. By doing so, Louis XI hoped to extinguish the Orléans cadet branch of the House of Valois.

Louis of Orléans was one of the great feudal lords who opposed the French monarchy in the conflict known as the Mad War. At the royal victory in the Battle of Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier in 1488, Louis was captured, but Charles VIII pardoned him and released him. He subsequently took part in the Italian War of 1494–1498 as one of the French commanders.

When Louis XII became king in 1498, he had his marriage with Joan annulled by Pope Alexander VI and instead married Anne of Brittany, the widow of his cousin Charles VIII. This marriage allowed Louis to reinforce the personal Union of Brittany and France. Louis persevered in the Italian Wars, initiating a second Italian campaign for the control of the Kingdom of Naples. Louis conquered the Duchy of Milan in 1500 and pushed forward to the Kingdom of Naples, which fell to him in 1501. Proclaimed King of Naples, Louis faced a new coalition gathered by Ferdinand II of Aragon and was forced to cede Naples to Spain in 1504.

Louis XII did not encroach on the power of local governments or the privileges of the nobility, in opposition with the long tradition of the French kings to impose an absolute monarchy in France. A popular king, Louis was proclaimed "Father of the People" (French language: Le Père du Peuple) in 1506 by the Estates-General of Tours for his reduction of the tax known as taille, legal reforms, and civil peace within France.

Louis, who remained Duke of Milan after the second Italian War, was interested in further expansion in the Italian Peninsula and launched a third Italian War (1508–1516), which was marked by the military prowess of the Chevalier de Bayard.

Louis XII died in 1515 without a male heir. He was succeeded by his cousin Francis from the Angoulême cadet branch of the House of Valois.

Early life

Bronze cannon of Louis XII, with porcupine emblem. Caliber: 172mm, length: 305 cm, weight: 1870kg. Recovered in Algiers in 1830. Musée de l'Armée.

Louis XII leaving Alessandria to attack Genoa; by Jean Bourdichon

Louis was born on 27 June 1462 in the Château de Blois, Touraine (in the modern French department of Loir-et-Cher). The son of Charles, Duke of Orléans, and Marie of Cleves, he succeeded his father as Duke of Orléans in the year 1465.[1]

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 in 1488, but was defeated and captured.[2] Pardoned three years later, Louis joined his cousin King Charles VIII in campaigns in Italy.

All four of Charles VIII's children died in infancy. The French interpretation of the Salic Law permitted claims to the French throne only by male agnatic descendants of French kings. This made Louis, the great-grandson of King Charles V, the most senior claimant as heir of Charles VIII. Louis thus succeeded to the throne on the king's death.



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, by which he 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 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 paternal grandmother Valentina Visconti,[3] Louis embarked on the so-called Italian Wars. In the Italian War of 1499–1504, 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 the War of the League of Cambrai with Venice, which brought him a 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. 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 lost its share of Naples.

As Portrayed in Machiavelli's The Prince

Louis's failure to hold on to Naples prompted a commentary by Niccolò Machiavelli in his famous opus The Prince:

King Louis was brought into Italy by the ambition of the Venetians, who expected by his coming to get control of half the state of Lombardy. I don't mean to blame the king for his part in the scheme; he wanted a foothold in Italy, and not only had no friends in the province, but found all doors barred against him because of King Charles's behavior. Hence he had to take what friendships he could get; and if he had made no further mistakes in his other arrangements, he might have carried things off very successfully. By taking Lombardy, the king quickly regained the reputation lost by Charles. Genoa yielded, and the Florentines turned friendly, the Marquis of Mantua, the Duke of Ferrara, the Bentivogli (of Bologna), the countess Forlì, the lords of Faenza, Pesaro, Rimini, Camerino, Piombino, and the people of Lucca, Pisa, and Siena all sought him out with professions of friendship. At this point the Venetians began to see the folly of what they had done, since in order to gain for themselves a couple of districts in Lombardy, they had now made the king master of a third of Italy.

Consider how easy it would have been for the king to maintain his position in Italy if he had observed the rules [of not worrying about weaker powers, decreasing the strength of a major power, not introducing a very powerful foreigner in the midst of his new subjects and taking up residence among his new subjects and/or setting up colonies], and become the protector and defender of his new friends. They were many, they were weak, some of them were afraid of the Venetians, others of the Church, hence they were bound to stick by him; and with their help, he could easily have protected himself against the remaining great powers. But no sooner was he established in Milan than he took exactly the wrong tack, helping Pope Alexander to occupy the Romagna. And he never realized that by this decision he was weakening himself, driving away his friends and those who had flocked to him, while strengthening the Church by adding vast temporal power to the spiritual power which gives it so much authority. Having made this first mistake, he was forced into others. To limit the ambition of Alexander and keep him from becoming master of Tuscany, he was forced to come to Italy himself [in 1502]. Not satisfied with having made the Church powerful and deprived himself of his friends, he went after the kingdom of Naples and divided it with the king of Spain (Ferdinand II). And where before he alone had been the arbiter of Italy, he brought in a rival to whom everyone in the kingdom who was ambitious on his own account or dissatisfied with Louis could have recourse. He could have left in Naples a caretaker king of his own, but he threw him out, and substituted a man capable of driving out Louis himself.

If France could have taken Naples with her own power, she should have done so; if she could not, she should not have split the kingdom with the Spaniards. The division of Lombardy that she made with the Venetians was excusable, since it gave Louis a foothold in Italy; the division of Naples with Spain was an error, since there was no such necessity for it. [When Louis made the final mistake of] depriving the Venetians of their power (who never would have let anyone else into Lombardy unless they were in control), he thus lost Lombardy.

Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince[4] Chapter III


Louis XII on a coin of 1514

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. In spite of his military and diplomatic failures, Louis proved to be a popular king. He duly earned the title of Father of the People ("Le Père du Peuple") conferred upon him by the Estates in 1506.



Queen Joan of France

Queen Anne of Brittany

Mary Tudor during her brief period as Queen of France

In 1476, Louis XI forced Louis (his second cousin) to marry his daughter Joan of France. Louis XI was succeeded by Charles VIII, who died childless in 1498, the predecessor of Louis XII. Charles had been married to Anne, Duchess of Brittany in order to unite the quasi-sovereign Duchy of Brittany with the Kingdom of France. To sustain this union, Louis had his marriage to Joan annulled after he became king so that he could marry Anne, who was now a widow.

The annulment, described as "one of the seamiest lawsuits of the age", was not simple. 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, he was forced to make other arguments.

Accordingly, Louis (much to the horror of his wife) claimed that she was physically malformed, providing a rich variety of detail precisely how, and that he had therefore been unable to consummate the marriage. Joan, unsurprisingly, fought this uncertain charge fiercely, producing witnesses to Louis's boast 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, Joan would likely have won, for Louis's case was exceedingly weak. Pope Alexander VI, however, was committed for political reasons to grant the divorce, ruling against Joan accordingly. He granted the annulment on the grounds that Louis did not freely marry, but was forced to marry by Joan's father Louis XI. Outraged, Joan reluctantly submitted, saying that she would pray for her former husband. She became a nun and was canonized in 1950.

Louis married the reluctant queen dowager, Anne, in 1499. They had four stillborn sons, and two daughters. The elder daughter, Claude, was betrothed by her mother's arrangement to the future Emperor Charles V in 1501. But after Anne failed to produce a living son, Louis dissolved the betrothal and betrothed Claude to his heir presumptive, Francis of Angoulême, thereby insuring Brittany would remain united with France. Anne opposed this marriage, which took place only after her death in 1514. Claude succeeded her mother in Brittany and became queen consort to Francis. The younger daughter, Renée (1510–1575), married Duke Ercole II of Ferrara.

After the death of Anne, Louis married Mary Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII of England, in Abbeville, France, on 9 October 1514. This was a final attempt to produce an heir to his throne, for despite two previous marriages the king had no living sons. Louis died on 1 January 1515, less than three months after he married Mary, reputedly worn out by his exertions in the bedchamber. Their union produced no children.


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
Unnamed son 1500 1500 stillborn
Unnamed son 21 January 1503 21 January 1503 stillborn
miscarriage by the end of 1503 by the end on 1503 some sources cited
miscarriage 1505 1505
Unnamed son 21 January 1508 21 January 1508 stillborn; some sources cited this was a miscarriage
miscarriage 1509 1509 some sources cited
Renée of France 25 October 1510 12 June 1574 married Ercole II d'Este in April 1528; had issue
Unnamed son 21 January 1512 21 January 1512 stillborn

Louis XII had an illegitimate son, Michel Bucy, Archbishop of Bourges from 1505, who died in 1511 and was buried in Bourges.[5][6]


On 24 December 1514, Louis was reportedly suffering from a severe case of gout.[7] In the early hours of 1 January 1515, he had received the final sacraments and later died that evening.[8] Louis was interred in Saint Denis Basilica.[9]


The succession to the throne of France followed Salic Law, which did not allow women to inherit the throne. As a result Louis was succeeded by Francis I. Francis I was the son of his first cousin and would become his son-in-law upon Francis I's marriage to Claude of France. Louis' successor founded his own line of French kings.

The succession to the ducal crown of Brittany followed semi-Salic tradition, allowing women to inherit the crown in their own right (suo jure). Anne of Brittany had predeceased Louis XII; her eldest daughter, Claude of France had inherited the Duchy of Brittany directly in her own right (suo jure) before Louis' death. When Claude married Francis I became Duke of Brittany jure uxoris thereby assuring the maintained unity of the Kingdom.


  •  Kingdom of France : Grand Master of the Order of Saint Michael
  •  Kingdom of France – Duchy of Orléans : Last Grand Master and Knight of the Order of the Porcupine



  • 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


  1. Susan G. Bell, The Lost Tapestries of the City of Ladies, (University of California Press, 2004), 105.
  2. Malcolm Walsby, The Counts of Laval: Culture, Patronage and Religion in Fifteenth-and Sixteenth Century France, (Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2007), 37.
  3. Her marriage contract with Louis I, Duke of Orléans, stipulated that in failure of male heirs, she would inherit the Visconti dominions.
  4. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. Translated and edited by Robert M. Adamsdisambiguation needed. A Norton Critical Edition. New York: 1977. pp. 9–11.,
  5. Frederic J. Baumgartner, Louis XII, (St.Martin's Press, 1996), 175.
  6. (FR) Gabriel Peignot,De la maison royale de France, (Renouard, Libraire, rue-Saint-Andre-Des-arcs, 1815), 151.
  7. Frederic J. Baumgartner, Louis XII, 243.
  8. Frederic J. Baumgartner, Louis XII, 243.
  9. Frederic J. Baumgartner, Louis XII, 244.
Louis XII of France
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty
Born: 27 June 1462 Died: 1 January 1515
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Charles VIII
King of France
7 April 1498 – 1 January 1515
Succeeded by
Francis I
Preceded by
Frederick IV
King of Naples
August 1501–31 March 1504
Succeeded by
Ferdinand III
Preceded by
sole ruler (Duchess suo jure)
Duke of Brittany jure uxoris
8 January 1499 – 9 January 1514
with Anne (suo jure)
Succeeded by
as hereditary Duchess suo jure
Preceded by
Louis I
Duke of Milan
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Charles I
Duke of Orléans
5 January 1465 – 7 April 1498
Merged into royal domain
Title next held by
Duke of Valois
5 January 1465 – 7 April 1498
Merged into royal domain
Title next held by
Count of Blois
5 January 1465 – 7 April 1498
Merged into royal domain
Title next held by

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