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King Charles VIII Historical Profile
SEE ALSO Borgias Home | Borgias Historical Profiles | Borgias Characters: King Charles VIII | France
| ||Charles VIII, King of France||Historical Profile|
"all Italians are dirty dogs
and the Holy Father is as bad
as the worst of them!"
| Charles VIII(30 June 1470 - 7 April 1498) was a member of the House of Valois, a cadet branch of the ancient Capetian dynasty. He was born at Chateau d'Amboise son of King Louis XI and Charlotte of Savoy. He became king at the age of thirteen, but his rule was guided by his able sister, as Regent of France, Anne de Beaujei, Duchess of Bourbon. Firstly betrothed to Margaret of Austria, daughter of Maximilian I and Mary of Burgundy, he was instead wed to Anne, duchess of Brittany, who was forced to break her own marriage contract with Maximilian I, to whom she was herself was affianced. Anne and Charles were married in December of 1491. Their union produced four children, all of whom died in childhood.|
Observers described Charles as small, mis-shapen, ugly and not over-endowed with brains. When he took over the reins of power from his sister Anne in 1491, he was determined on military glory. Angevin barons exiled fromNaples urged him to invade that kingdom and to dispossess the illegitimate Aragonese kings. By 1494, others had added their persuasions - Ludovico il Moro wanted Charles's help to hold on to Milan in the face of his nephew's superior claims, andGuilana della Rovere Giuliano della Rovere implacable enemy of the Borgias, was anxious to undermine Pope Alexander VI's Neapolitan allies. Some Italians recognised the danger to the whole stability of Italy - one compared Ludovico to a man who 'set loose a lion in his house to catch a mouse'. Ultimately, Charles may have decided to invade Naples 'because he was young and silly and had bad counsellors', as contemporary writer Phillippe de Commynes stated.
But first, Charles had to buy off potential adversaries. He returned his jilted bride, Margaret of Burgundy, to her father Emperor Maximilian, along with her dowry and towns in Artois; he paid King Henry VII of England, then besieging Boulogne, a hefty pension; and he returned Roussillon and Cerdagne to Ferdinand of Aragon.
The French Conquest of Naples
The death ofKing Ferrante of Naples in 1494 and the succession of his brutal and unpopular son Alfonso, stirred the King into action. Charles entered Italy with little opposition. When his army reached Rome, Pope Alexander was unable to oppose him but was canny enough to refuse Charles the investiture of Naples, which was a papal fief. As a guarantee of Alexander's goodwill, Charles took Cesare Borgia with him as a hostage. However, two days after leaving Rome, Cesare escaped disguised as a groom, and made his way to the papal castle of Spoleto. The luggage that he had left behind was found to be empty. Suspecting, probably correctly, that the escape has been pre-arranged by the Pope, Charles flew into a rage and shouted that 'all Italians are dirty dogs and the Holy Father is as bad as the worst of them!'
Before Charles and his army got to Naples in February 1495, Alfonso abdicated in favour of his son Ferrante II and fled to Sicily. The French encountered few problems in taking over Naples but opposition was building. In Naples itself, the arrogance of the French aroused hostility. Foreign powers and the remaining Italian states were unwilling to see the French permanently installed in Naples.
The 'Holy League' - 1495
On 31st March 1495, Ferdinand of Aragon formed the 'Holy League or 'League of Venice', which united Spain, the Pope, the Empire, Venice and Milan (where Ludovico had repented of his previous pro-French attitude) in order to expel the French from the kingdom. When Henry VII joined in 1496, it was clear that this was a European-wide coalition against France.
Facing the prospect of being trapped in Naples, Charles took most of his army up through northern Italy. His army met that of the League, commanded byFrancesco II Gonzaga of Mantua, at theB Battle of Fornovo on 6th July 1495. The battle was a draw - Charles succeeded in retreating to France with his army but lost most of his booty from Naples to the opposing forces. He and many of his soldiers returned suffering from the common Italian malady of syphilis
In Naples, King Ferrante invaded from Sicily and with the help of a Spanish army under Gonsalvo de Cordoba, succeeded in reconquering the kingdom. On his death from malaria in September 1496 at the early age of 27, his uncle Frederick succeeded him as king.
Charles had not given up on his Neapolitan ambitions, and by 1497, he began to plan a new invasion. There were also rumours of secret negotiations with Spain. However, on 7th April 1498, Charles died, apparently of a brain haemorrhage, after striking his head against a lintel post at his beloved castle at Amboise. (juliana-angela)
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