BECK index

France and Wars in Italy 1453-1517

by Sanderson Beck

France under Louis XI 1461-70
France under Louis XI 1471-83
France under Anne and Beaujeu 1483-91
Charles VIII’s Invasion of Italy
France under Louis XII 1498-1515
France of François 1515-17
French Poetry, Villon and Theatre

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France’s Long War 1400-1453

The Hundred Years War did not end with a treaty, and skirmishes continued. Many lawsuits were settled in France over confiscated property and inheritances by 1460. The effect of the war on the land was described by the contemporary chronicler Thomas Basin as follows:

From the Loire to the Seine, and from there to the Somme,
nearly all the fields were left for a long time,
for many years, not merely untended
but without people capable of cultivating them,
except for rare patches of soil,
for the peasants had been killed or put to flight.1

Charles VII raised taxes to support his army and went after the Count Jean V of Armagnac, who had three children by his sister Isabella and was excommunicated by Pope Nicholas V. In June 1455 the King sent Jean of Bourbon to punish Jean V by taking seventeen of his castles and driving him across the Pyrenees. He sent Dunois to arrest the Duke of Alençon, who implicated Prince Louis. The Dauphin had prohibited private warfare in Dauphiné and had made a secret alliance with the Duke of Savoy in 1449, marrying Charlotte of Savoy on March 9, 1451 in spite of his father’s prohibition. Charles reacted by forming an alliance with Louis of Savoy in a treaty at Clappé on October 27, 1452. Louis then devastated the district of Bugey, and he created a Parlement at Grenoble in 1453. The next year the King accepted the Parlements of Toulouse, Grenoble, and Bordeaux. Learning that Charles was advancing in Lyons in 1456 and that his occupying army was led by his enemy, Count Antoine de Chabannes of Dammartin, Louis left Dauphiné on August 30 and fled to Burgundy’s court at Brussels. Charles took over the government of Dauphiné, annexing it in 1457. Louis informed his father he was joining Burgundy’s crusade against the Muslims. When Louis took the side of Philippe’s son, he alienated the Duke of Burgundy. Yet Louis lived near Brussels on the 2,500 livres per month that Philippe granted him.

By 1458 Charles VII had a cancerous leg wound and tuberculosis. When a captain told him that his doctor Adam Fumée had been persuaded to poison him, he put him in prison. The other royal physicians fled, and suspicious Charles refrained from eating. When he finally tried to eat, dental inflammation prevented him; he died on July 22, 1461. Though a weak personality, after being encouraged by Jeanne d’Arc, Charles became the “Well-Served” king who revived France and was called “Victorious” for defeating the English occupiers. He was the first French king to make good use of a royal council.

France under Louis XI 1461-70

When Charles VII died on July 22, 1461, France was still suffering poverty from the effects of the Hundred Years War. Brittany, Foix, Armagnac, and Albret claimed independence, and the houses of Burgundy, Bourbon, Orléans, and Anjou were powerful. Disliking his father and eager to become king, Dauphin Louis was living in Burgundy. He was a restless man who always seemed to be speaking or moving. Duke Philippe of Burgundy escorted his nephew Louis to Paris where they celebrated with lavish entertainment. He spent little on his father’s funeral and was crowned King Louis XI at Reims on August 15. He began by discharging many officials and replacing them with those who had been arrested in his father’s reign. He restored the estates of Jean V of Armagnac and the Duke of Alençon. Louis reduced royal luxuries and frugally ran an efficient government so that he could accomplish more of his ambitions.

Chronicler Bishop Thomas Basin of Lisieux complained that Louis reduced the clergy to slavery. The King abolished the Pragmatic Sanction on November 27, 1461 to improve his relations with Pope Pius II, but most of them were restored in 1463 and 1464. His restricting hunting rights alienated the petty nobility, and he married his dependents to rich heiresses. In 1462 Louis sent Philippe of Burgundy to negotiate peace in England, and in October 1463 the Yorkists agreed to a one-year truce.

The Croy lords helped Louis XI regain the Somme towns from Burgundy by paying 400,000 gold crowns in 1463. He aroused Liege against its Burgundy protectorate, and in Lorraine he claimed the protectorate of Toul and Verdun. When Duke François II (r. 1458-88) of Brittany denied France’s officials entry, Louis demanded that François renounce his alliance with England. He appointed his nominees to fill bishoprics and abbeys in Brittany. In October 1462 François sent to Rome a procurator who asserted Brittany’s independence from France. Louis also angered Duke Jean II of Bourbon by taking Guyenne from him. When Margaret of Anjou returned to France, Louis took up her cause. In 1463 he went to lower Navarre and made a treaty with Juan of Aragon. Duke René of Anjou and Lorraine lost the kingdom of Naples in the spring. In December 1463 Louis XI confirmed the alliance of Genappe he had made with Duke Francesco Sforza of Milan as Dauphin, but this offended the houses of Orléans and Anjou. He turned against his friend Edward IV in the English Wars of the Roses by providing an army for Margaret of Anjou, but they failed to take Calais.

Louis gave Juan II of Aragon military aid to subdue the Catalans, receiving Roussillon and Cerdagne as a pledge for 200,000 crowns which Juan could never pay, and Louis mollified Enrique IV of Castile by giving him some lands in arbitration that had been in dispute with Aragon.

On March 4, 1465 the King’s brother, Duke Charles of Berry, joined Odet d’Aydie and the Chancellor and Duke of Brittany at Nantes. The Count of Dunois was another leader of the Breton revolt. On March 8 Louis appointed Charles de Melun lieutenant-general in Paris, and he was assisted by Jean Balue. Duke Jean of Bourbon issued a manifesto proclaiming that nobles, clergy, and the poor had united for the public welfare to correct injustices and oppressive taxes. Their allies also included King René of Anjou, the dukes Jackes Nemours d’Armagnac and Duke Jean of Calabria, the counts Charolais, Armagnac, and St. Pol, and many barons. On March 16 King Louis issued his manifesto in response accusing the princes of selfish motives and calling for peace. He was supported by the towns of Amiens, Reims, Rouen, Paris, Orléans, Poitiers, Montpellier, and Bordeaux. The rebelling princes called themselves the League of Public Weal.

On March 26 Louis XI took King René’s town of Saumur on the Loire. René came to the King who won him over with 30,000 crowns. The aged Duke Philippe of Burgundy turned his government over to his rash son Charles, Count of Charolais. Louis left 13,000 men under the Count of Maine to pen up the King’s brother Charles of Berry and François II in the Breton peninsula while he himself led an army of 13,000 against Bourbon, who had begun the war prematurely. The royal army captured Bourbonnais, and Jean Pierre Panigarola commented on how disciplined they were in not taking anything without paying. On June 23 a treaty arranged with the Duke of Nemours established a truce until mid-August, but by July 3 it no longer functioned.

King Louis left Paris to go to Normandy to collect men, money, and food for Paris. The princes and their forces surrounded Paris, which held out until Louis returned with 12,000 troops on August 28. The Count of Dunois accused Louis of being a tyrant and trying to subjugate the nobility by his alliance with Milan against Orléans, Brittany, Burgundy, and Bourbon. He said he refused to summon the three estates, oppressed churchmen, and levied intolerable taxes on the peasants. Some wanted to crown the King’s brother Charles, but others believed he could not be displaced. The clergy did not support the League but held public processions for peace. Rouen was taken over by the rebels in late September.

Louis XI with his council’s approval bestowed Normandy on his brother Charles of Berry. In the treaty of Conflans published on October 5 he also gave grants to Charles of Charolais and appointed St. Pol as Constable of France. Five days later François II of Brittany came to terms and received ecclesiastical jurisdiction in his duchy. Others in the League of Public Weal signed the treaty of St. Maur-des-Fossés before the end of October. A Council of 36 was established to make reforms, but it became an instrument of the King. The Duke of Bourbon gained control over eastern France from the Loire to Lyons. Charolais was promised the King’s daughter Anne in marriage with a dowry of 1,200,000 gold crowns secured by the county of Champagne. On December 23 Louis and François agreed in the treaty of Caen not to support rebels against the other. By the time it was ratified Louis had regained all of Normandy, as Rouen surrendered on January 16, 1466.

Louis XI spent a year in the Loire, and he supported rebellious Catalans against Aragon’s Juan II along with King René and his son Jean. The King helped Lyons begin manufacturing silk cloth so that France would not lose money importing silk. The Count of Dunois became head of the Council of 36 which supervised inquiries and public policy. In the spring of 1466 Louis made a truce with England that lasted two years. Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, came to visit him, and Louis promised him an annual subsidy of £2,666, spoils from the Low Countries they shared, a proper bridegroom for Margaret of York, and greater opportunities for English merchants. However, Edward IV renewed his alliance with Duke Charles of Burgundy who was going to marry Margaret. England also confirmed its alliance with Brittany and prepared for war against France, but Louis extended his truces with Brittany and Burgundy until July 15, 1468. After Philippe of Burgundy’s death on June 15, 1467, a Breton army invaded Normandy. On October 21 Louis XI accepted an ordonnance prohibiting him from appointing anyone to an office unless it was vacated by death, resignation, or forfeiture by a competent judge in a court of law.

In April 1468 Louis convened the three estates meeting at Tours, and they decided that Normandy should not be given to the King’s brother, Monsieur Charles. On July 3 Charles the Bold of Burgundy married Margaret, sister of Edward IV. On July 16 three French armies invaded Brittany. In September the Duke of Brittany yielded to France, and François II renounced his alliances with England and Burgundy and accepted the peace of Ancenis on September 10. The King’s brother Charles renounced Normandy and received 60,000 livres a year while waiting for a new apanage.

Charles of Burgundy had defeated the forces of Liege in 1467. Louis offered Charles 100,000 crowns for his expenses, and the Duke of Burgundy gave him a security guarantee for a visit. Louis appointed his former enemy Count Antoine de Chabannes of Dammartin his lieutenant in Picardy and sent to Duke Charles for an escort. Louis trustingly dismissed all but fifty unarmed attendants and went to see Charles the Bold at Péronne. News came that Burgundy’s governor and the Bishop of Liege had been captured, and on October 11, 1469 Louis found himself locked inside the gates. He distributed 15,000 gold crowns, but most of it was embezzled by Cardinal Balue. The King finally persuaded Charles to honor the safe conduct, and they made a treaty. The tribunals of Ghent, Ypres, and Bruges were removed from the jurisdiction of the Paris Parlement. Louis promised to give Champagne and Brie to his brother Charles, and he also agreed to help Burgundy punish Liege which burned for seven weeks.

In April 1470 Louis XI persuaded his brother Charles to accept Guyenne instead of Champagne and Brie which bordered on Burgundy. On the same day Louis ordered the arrest of the intriguing Cardinal Balue and Bishop Guillaume de Harancourt, and he kept them in prison for several years. His Royal Council condemned Jean V of Armagnac, and he lost his estates and fled to Spain. The English had the Order of the Garter and the Duke of Burgundy the Order of the Golden Fleece. Louis began the Order of St. Michael because of his love of chivalry. He met his brother Charles on a bridge of boats on the Sevres River, and they were reconciled.

Louis XI sided with the Lancastrian house and reconciled Margaret with the Earl of Warwick in England to share the spoils with Burgundy while Edward IV fled to Burgundy. Charles of Burgundy accused Louis of violating the Péronne agreement, and he planned to attack Warwick and Clarence. Louis supported the restored Henry VI and urged him to dismember Burgundy, and his troops invaded Picardy and Burgundy. He persuaded Queen Margaret to approve the marriage of Henry VI’s 17-year-old son Edward to Warwick’s 10-year-old daughter Anne. On June 30 Queen Charlotte gave birth to the Dauphin Charles. Louis called together an assembly of Notables at Tours, and they accused Charles of Burgundy of treason for having forced Louis to make an agreement at Péronne and then breaking it by invading Normandy. Louis hoped the English would help him crush Burgundy. Also in 1470 Paris got its first printing press, followed by Lyons in 1473. By the end of the century Lyons had 53 printing houses.

France under Louis XI 1471-83

On February 3, 1471 King Louis XI learned that the citizens of Amiens in Picardy had welcomed France’s Grand Master of the Royal Household, Antoine de Chabannes. Louis sent trading goods to England, but London merchants resented the competition. Edward IV’s forces landed at Norfolk to challenge Henry VI and Warwick. Louis decided to fight Burgundy on his own, but he learned that France’s Constable, the Count of St. Pol, and the King’s brother Charles, now the Duke of Guyenne, were plotting with Charles of Burgundy. In April a three-week truce was declared in France while in England the Earl of Warwick was defeated and killed by Edward IV’s forces. Henry VI was captured and executed in May.

In April 1472 Roussillon rebelled against French domination and was supported by Aragon. King Louis XI’s brother Charles of Guyenne wanted to marry Marie of Burgundy, and Louis asked the Duke of Milan and Lorenzo de Medici to argue against a papal dispensation for that in Rome. He warned Lyons that the dukes of Guyenne, Brittany, and Burgundy were plotting against the French monarchy. However, on May 28 Charles of Guyenne died of tuberculosis perhaps made worse by venereal disease. Louis took over Guyenne and besieged Count Charles of Armagnac in Lectoure. After two weeks the Count yielded. Ancenis surrendered to siege after one day on July 7.

Meanwhile Duke Charles of Burgundy had massacred the garrison and archers of Nesle on June 11. Roye’s garrison had been provisioned but surrendered on June 16. Burgundy’s army reached Beauvais on June 27; but they withstood a siege, and frustrated Charles raised the siege and headed toward Normandy on July 22. Louis thanked Beauvais by exempting them from taxes and allowing them to form a municipal corporation. Charles of Burgundy could not besiege Rouen or even cross the Seine. He left devastation behind him as he crossed Picardy.

On August 13 Pope Sixtus IV issue a concordat that became an ordinance at Amboise on October 13, giving the Pope the ability to dispose of many more benefices. Lawsuits were first judged in France, but appeals went to the court of Rome. On May 7, 1473 the Pope promoted cardinals who supported René of Anjou and Charles of Burgundy.

On November 3, 1472 Charles of Burgundy accepted a truce to last until April 1473. He left France in 1472 and never returned. In August 1472 Philippe de Commynes left Burgundy’s court and three weeks later joined Louis XI, who made him a royal chamberlain and councilor with a salary of 2,000 livres. His penetrating Memoirs describe his first-hand observation of the years 1464-98. Commynes, who himself was put in an iron cage at Loches by Louis for eight months, wrote, “There is no man, no matter how great his dignity, who does not suffer either in secret or in public, particularly if he makes others suffer.”2 After Jean V of Armagnac was killed at Lectoure, Louis divided his lordship among twenty vassals in 1473.

Charles the Bold accused Louis XI of violating the treaty of Péronne and no longer considered himself his vassal. Louis extended his truce with Charles until April 1474. Duke René II inherited Lorraine in July 1473, but nobles forced him to sign a treaty with Charles of Burgundy who agreed to extend his truce with France to May 1475. On August 15, 1474 René signed a treaty with France. Three weeks earlier England’s Edward IV and Charles of Burgundy had agreed to attack France. Louis organized a coalition against Charles by persuading Sigismund of Austria to unite with the Swiss Confederation which signed a treaty with Louis to war against Burgundy. Louis promised to pay the cantons annual pensions of 2,000 crowns each and a subsidy of 20,000 crowns. Louis did not have to join the war but could pay 80,000 Rhine florins in support instead. On November 13 Swiss mountaineers defeated the Burgundy army at Héricourt. René of Lorraine swore allegiance to Louis while Neuss withstood Burgundy’s assaults by his army of 22,000 men, cannons and siege engines. Louis signed a treaty with Emperor Friedrich III at Andernach in late December.

On January 25, 1475 Duke Galeazzo-Maria Sforza of Milan deserted the French alliance of his father and made a treaty with Charles of Burgundy. Louis XI attacked Roussillon, and on March 10 Perpignan surrendered, forcing Aragon’s Juan II to accept a series of truces. As soon as his truce with Burgundy expired on May 1, Louis invaded Picardy, capturing Montdidier, Roye, and the Somme. People evacuated the towns which were then razed. Louis ordered towns that could not withstand a siege to be destroyed. In late May he led a force to the Norman coast. Edward IV landed at Calais on July 4 with 1,200 men-at-arms and 11,000 archers, but he lacked supplies and support from Brittany or Burgundy. France’s standing army had 4,000 lances and 24,000 men, mostly in Picardy and Normandy. In the treaty of Picquigny on August 29 Louis agreed to pay Edward 75,000 crowns and 50,000 annually for seven years and to marry the Dauphin to Edward’s daughter Elizabeth, Louis providing the dowry of 60,000 livres a year in exchange for a seven-year truce that finally ended the Hundred Years War. Louis and Edward agreed to help each other against rebellious subjects, but Edward insisted that he would defend Brittany. Edward’s army departed from Calais in early September.

Louis XI met with Charles the Bold who accepted a nine-year truce on September 13. Sixteen days later Louis forced the Duke of Brittany to be his ally against his enemies. He had the Constable of Saint-Pol executed for treason at Paris on December 19. Jacques d’Armagnac, the Duke of Nemours, was arrested on March 9, 1476 and was put into a cage, tortured, and finally condemned and executed on August 4, 1477. By the end of 1475 Charles of Burgundy had overrun Lorraine and controlled Savoy and the Vaud. The Medici working for Louis prevented Charles from being able to borrow money. Meanwhile Louis had been embargoing Burgundy from receiving wheat and wine for several years.

On January 8, 1476 Louis XI promulgated three ordinances related to the Church. He urged Pope Sixtus IV to convene his council, and he ordered absent archbishops, bishops, and abbots to take up residence within five months and reside without interruption. He ordered the Bishop of Amiens to examine all bulls from Rome to make sure they did not violate the rights and liberties of the French Church.

In April 1476 the Duke of Bourbon had to give Beaujolais to his brother, the Sire de Beaujeu, who had married a daughter of Louis. King René of Anjou had been negotiating with Burgundy, and he had to promise never to form an alliance with Charles. Louis aided the Swiss and Lorraine against Burgundy although he had promised he would not. The Swiss defeated the rash Charles at Grandson by Lake Neuchatel in March, and on June 22 he was defeated at Morat, losing Savoy. The Swiss and the Alsatians of the Basse Union led by Duke René II of Lorraine took over the garrison at Nancy from Burgundians on October 6. Sixteen days later Charles besieged Nancy, but the Swiss finally defeated and killed Charles the Bold on January 5, 1477.

Burgundy’s duchy became part of France, and the County of Burgundy eventually did so too. Louis offered to hand over Brabant and Hainault to German allies, but he occupied Franche-Comté and tried to take more, rejecting the advice of Commynes to accept a protectorate. Louis invaded Artois and besieged Hesdin which fell in two days. The King directed the siege of Bouchain and attacked the town of Avesnes that resisted. By the end of September he had put garrisons in Artois and Hainault. He went to war against Archduke Maximilian of Austria and ruthlessly raised a large army. In June he granted Maximilian and Marie a truce to negotiate peace, and in July they agreed on a truce for one year. After it ended, Louis invaded the County of Burgundy. Edward IV offered to arbitrate, but Louis refused. Edward threatened to support Maximilian, and Louis persuaded Scotland’s James III to invade England. Lorenzo de Medici kept Maximilian and Marie from borrowing money and withdrew his banking interests from England. Maximilian had a larger army at Guinegate on August 7, 1479, but France had the most powerful artillery ever assembled. The town of Arras was evacuated, and Louis forced people from all over France to repopulate it.

Marie of Burgundy had married Maximilian on August 18, 1477, and one year later Edward IV formed an alliance with them. Louis confirmed his truce with England on September 28, 1481, a year of famine in Europe. King René of Anjou had died in July 1480, and Louis inherited Anjou and claimed the duchy of Bar. After Count Charles of Maine died on March 27, 1482, France gained the counties of Maine and Provence, giving Louis the commercial port of Marseilles for the Mediterranean trade. Maximilian and Louis signed the treaty of Arras on December 23. Maximilian retained Flanders and the Low Countries, but Ghent became a fief of France subject to the Parlement of Paris. When Burgundy became part of France, Louis wisely retained most of their officials. He broke his promise to Edward by betrothing his son Charles to Maximilian’s daughter Margaret, but Edward was receiving the 50,000 crowns a year and did not make war. Louis made peace with Fernando and Isabel of Castile, but they disputed his claim to the protectorate of Navarre.

Louis XI employed an extensive system of spies and post-horses to keep informed, and he acted autocratically. He did not need permission to raise taxes, and towns could not set up a market or a fair without his permission. During his reign his regular annual revenues increased from 1,800,000 livres in 1461 to 3,900,000 in 1483. The taille was 1,055,000 livres in 1461 and reached a peak of 4,655,000 in 1481. Of course Louis had also greatly enlarged the territory of France. He nearly doubled the number of lances from 2,000 to 3,884 in 1483 when the standing army at Pont de l’Arche in Normandy reached 16,000 infantry including 6,000 Swiss. He promoted industry and commerce to increase the prosperity of the people and of his taxes. He allowed free trade but some protectionist measures to keep money in France. His ships engaged in a privateering struggle with Venice from 1468 until January 1478 when they signed a treaty. He ruined the fairs in Geneva to help those in Lyons.

The King’s health began declining in 1480. During the famine of 1481 Louis reduced the taille in the affected regions, annulled contracts of distressed tenants for perpetual rents, and ordered the free circulation of grain throughout the kingdom. Having learned from his experience, he urged his son Charles to listen to the advice of his captains and councilors. The abbot Jacques d’Amboise at Cluny continued the reforms started there twenty years earlier by Jean de Bourbon. In 1482 Louis invited the Italian hermit Francesco di Paola to come to France, and he built a monastery at Plessis-les-Tours for his new order of Minims who also observed perpetual Lent. Paola was a strict vegetarian. Louis XI died on August 20, 1483, but Paola stayed on there until his death at 91 on April 2, 1507.

France under Anne and Beaujeu 1483-91

When Louis XI died in 1483, his son Charles VIII was only 13 years old and not in good health. Though he was only ten months from being legally old enough to rule, his 22-year-old sister Anne of Beaujeu became regent. She was assisted by her 43-year-old husband, Pierre Beaujeu of Bourbon. The new King’s closest cousin, Duke Louis of Orléans, was appointed president of the royal council and lieutenant-general of the Ile-de-France. He was disappointed and demanded that the Estates General meet. The 287 deputies gathered at Tours on January 15, 1484, and for the first time their deliberations were recorded. They discussed complaints and how to curb royal power. On February 9 Philippe Pot of La Roche made an appeal for political equality with taxes agreed to by all those paying. The assembly urged a reduction of the armed forces and royal officials being paid salaries. The clergy demanded that the Pragmatic Sanction be revived. While Louis XI did not enforce it, Rome had gained more than 6,000 ducats from each of the 101 vacancies of bishoprics and more than 500 ducats from 300 priories and abbeys. The nobility regained hunting rights on their own land. The third estate (the first two being the clergy and nobles) demanded that taxes be reduced. The assembly agreed that tribunals should be independent, communication should be improved, and tolls should be reduced. However, they could not agree on any action against royal power, though Beaujeu made some concessions. They reduced the taille tax, and some of Louis XI’s counselors who had been appointed by favor rather than merit were removed.

The frustrated Louis of Orléans was given the lands of Louis XI’s barber, Olivier le Daim, in May. Louis wanted to divorce his deformed wife and marry Anne of Beaujeu, who rejected him. Charles VIII was crowned on May 30 and was impressed by his cousin, Louis of Orléans, who planned to abduct him; but the Beaujeus took the King from Paris to Montargis. Louis fled to Duke François II of Brittany, who was becoming senile but was allied with England’s Henry Tudor. In October the Breton exiles in France agreed at Montargis to recognize Charles as the successor of François II, who had no sons. Charles promised to find good marriages for the two daughters of Brittany. François recognized his daughters as his heirs, and on November 23 he made a treaty with Louis. They were joined by Dunois and other French malcontents. In January 1485 Dunois wrote a manifesto criticizing the royal finances. After Charles refused to return to Paris and join Orléans, the Duke began raising troops. Charles came back to Paris in February, and Orléans lost his governorship of Ile-de-France and Champagne while Dunois lost Dauphiné.

On August 30, 1485 Louis of Orléans issued his manifesto condemning the government’s financial policy, and he was joined by Beaujeu’s brother Jean, Constable of Bourbon, the counts of Dunois, Angouleme, and Etampes, Cardinal Pierre de Foix, and the sire of Albret. The Beaujeus had recently sent an army of 4,000 to help Henry Tudor in England, but Charles VIII still managed to besiege Orléans and Dunois in Beaugency in September. This second League for the Public Weal was defeated by Anne in the guerre folle (mad war) with an army of 12,000 men led by Louis de la Trémoille. Orléans had royal garrisons put in his apanage, and Chamberlain Dunois was fired and banished to Asti for a year. Bourbon and the other rebels accepted the Peace of Bourges on November 2.

In June 1486 Maximilian invaded northern France until his unpaid troops rebelled. The Parlement of Paris ratified the annexation of Provence, but the King of France and Duke René II of Lorraine still disputed the claim to Naples. In October the Beaujeus imposed an unpopular new taille of 300,000 livres, provoking a revolt. In January 1487 Orléans went to Brittany to be with Dunois while Charles and his sister Anne had their army suppress the rebels in Guyenne where Charles of Angouleme surrendered on March 19 and then married Louise of Savoy. That month Charles VIII signed a treaty with sixty Breton nobles led by Marshal de Rieux at Chateaubriant. The King promised them an army which would be withdrawn after the French rebels left Brittany, and they agreed to serve in the royal army. In May the Beaujeus brought a larger army into Brittany, forcing the dukes of Brittany and Orléans to flee by boat to Nantes. On June 19 Charles from Ancenis directed the siege of Nantes, but it was lifted on August 6.

Also in 1487 Pope Innocent VIII commissioned the abbot Jean de Cirey to reform the order at Citeaux. In August 1493 he revised the studies at the Cistercian college in Paris, and he initiated new rules for the order at a general chapter in February 1494.

Charles VIII returned to Paris, and on February 20, 1488 the Parlement ordered the confiscation of Orléans’ property and punishments for other rebels. Rieux and the Bretons regained most of the towns from the French rebels. On March 11 King Charles appointed Louis de la Trémoille his lieutenant-general in Brittany. On July 27 the French defeated the rebels at Saint-Aubin-du-Cormier, capturing Orléans and many Bretons. A peace treaty was signed at Le Verger on August 20. François II expelled all foreign troops and promised to get the King’s consent for the marriage of his daughters before he died a few days later. His 11-year-old daughter Anne rejected marriage plans that Rieux made for her and joined Dunois and German mercenaries in Rennes. Rieux captured the ducal treasury at Nantes.

Meanwhile in response to Maximilian’s attacks on northern France, the Beaujeus sent troops into Flanders, and in 1487 they captured Saint-Omer and Thérouanne. On July 27 they took the Count of Nassau and the Duke of Guelders prisoners. In 1488 Flanders revolted, and Ghent proclaimed themselves subjects of France. Bruges captured Maximilian and executed his Flemish advisors. French arbitration freed him in May.

France declared war on Brittany on December 11, 1488, and their troops soon occupied Brest, Concarneau, and Vannes. However, Brittany’s allies, Henry VII of England, Fernando of Aragon, and Maximilian, sent troops, and all of Lower Brittany except Brest returned the allegiance to Duchess Anne. Yet Rieux and other nobles were independent. Maximilian signed a peace treaty with France on July 22, 1489, making the Francophile papal legate Giuliano della Rovere the arbitrator. Fighting stopped during a truce from October 1490 to May 1, 1491. Meanwhile Rieux tried to marry Anne to Maximilian who sent four proxies to her in March 1490. The treaty with France was violated in the marriage ceremony held on December 19 at Rennes cathedral.

Captain Alain of Albret turned the keys of Nantes over to Charles VIII, and French troops entered the town on March 19, 1491. After the truce ended, the French resumed fighting and captured Vanne and Concarneau by June 6. French troops surrounded Rennes, and Anne accepted a settlement.

In 1491 the priest Jean Langlois during mass trampled on the consecrated “bread” and was burned for refusing to recant, and in 1503 Aymon Piscard did the same thing and was burned also.

Charles VIII’s Invasion of Italy

Charles was now ruling himself, and he had his cousin Louis of Orléans reconciled with the Beaujeus on September 4, 1491. Pierre de Beaujeu became Duke of Bourbon. Rennes capitulated on October 15, and twelve days later Anne of Brittany was advised to marry Charles VIII. He came to Rennes, and they were betrothed on November 17. Her marriage to Maximilian had never been consummated and was annulled by Pope Innocent VIII. On December 6 Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany were married, and both renounced Brittany; but if he died without male issue, she would regain it. The next month he disbanded his army in Brittany in order to save money.

On October 2, 1491 Henry VII landed at Calais with a large English army to assert his claim to France. They besieged Boulogne but accepted a treaty with Charles at Etaples on November 3. According to the pension that Louis XI had promised England, France owed 750,000 gold écus, and they agreed it would be paid off with bi-annual payments of 25,000 for fifteen years.

In 1492 the canons refused to accept the King’s nomination of Jean de Rely as bishop of Angers. They elected Gérard Gobaille, and he was challenged by Jean Simon, who was accepted by the King and Pope after Gobaille died in September 1494. A commission to reform the Church met at Tours in November 1493. Pope Alexander VI the next July authorized three abbots to reform the Benedictine houses in France. The Franciscan Olivier Maillard gave popular sermons on reform and criticized incompetent priests.

On November 3, 1492 Charles VIII announced he would give Roussillon and Cerdagne back to Aragon, and on January 19, 1493 they agreed to the Treaty of Barcelona. In March 1493 Charles asked them to promise neutrality if he invaded Naples, and in August they agreed. Maximilian negotiated the Treaty of Senlis with France that was published on May 23. Charles promised to return Margaret of Austria and most of her dowry, but he retained Auxonne, Hesdin, Aire, Bethune, and Arras, though he eventually returned Arras to Philippe on June 23, 1498. Philippe paid homage to France for Flanders in 1494.

Charles VIII wanted to assert his claim to Naples, and Marshal d’Esquerdes told him he would need two million écus. He asked great nobles for 50,000 ducats. Lyons promised 10,000 livres, but Paris gave nothing. The 3,000 livres from Amiens were only half what the King requested. He sold and mortgaged parts of the royal domain to raise 120,000 livres, and he delayed paying royal officials and pensioners. Charles increased the taille to 575,000 livres. After Ferrante of Naples died, Charles went to Lyon and proclaimed himself king of Sicily and Jerusalem on February 13, 1494. He sent an envoy to Rome to ask for the papal investiture of Naples, but Pope Alexander VI secretly conferred it on Ferrante’s son Alfonso on April 18.

On July 29 King Charles appointed Pierre de Bourbon lieutenant-general while he would be gone and gathered his army. In August he led an army of about 18,000 men across the Alps into Italy. The artillery was sent to Genoa by sea, and this may have been the first time that iron cannon balls were used in Italy instead of stones. From Piedmont the army marched to Asti, which already belonged to Louis of Orléans. After spending a month there, Charles moved on to Milan. When Giangaleazzo Sforza died on October 22, the citizens made Lodovico duke. Louis also tried to claim Milan, but Charles accepted Lodovico. The autocratic Piero de Medici had broken Florence’s alliance with France, but after little resistance to France’s army he surrendered his forts on October 30; he lost power on November 9. While Charles was in Pisa, he was visited by a delegation from Florence led by the apocalyptic Savonarola, who urged him to purify his mission and treat Florentines well. Charles entered Florence triumphantly on November 17. As he traveled through Italy, many people came out to cheer the French king. The fortress at Fivizzano had resisted, and the French had massacred the people there. Thus fear of their army caused many to submit.

On December 20 the French army at Ostia was joined by 2,000 infantry who had come from Genoa by sea. The French army entered Rome on December 31. On January 15, 1495 Pope Alexander VI and Charles VIII came to an agreement, and five days later the Pope celebrated mass for the King and 15,000 people. Alexander declined to invest Charles with Naples, but he was given free passage through the Papal States. The French attacked Monte San Giovanni on February 4. King Alfonso fled to Sicily, and the French army moved into Naples on February 19. Charles appointed eleven Frenchmen and one Neapolitan to their council.

In March 1495 Milan, Venice, the Papal States, and Mantua formed a league to expel the French from Italy. Maximilian criticized Charles for conquering instead of leading a crusade as promised, and Fernando of Aragon accused him of violating the Treaty of Barcelona. Charles appointed Gilbert de Montpensier viceroy in Naples and left half his army there as he left on May 20 with the others to go to Rome again. At this time Louis of Orléans was attacking the Milanese town of Novara. This was an imperial fief and gave Maximilian a legal pretext for intervening. King Charles marched his army north, going through Siena and Pisa in June and crossing the Appenines. An army of 35,000, most of them from Venice, led by the Marquis of Mantua fought about 6,000 in the French army in a major battle at Fornovo on July 6. Both sides suffered heavy casualties as 3,000 Venetians were left on the field. Charles moved on to Asti by July 15. In September he supported Louis, and at Vercelli on October 9 he negotiated a treaty with the league opposing him. Novara was given back to Milan; but Louis kept Asti while Genoa was declared neutral. When Lodovico withdrew from the league, it fell apart.

On October 15 Charles headed for home. Venetians attacked towns on the Adriatic coast. Charles sent a fleet to relieve Naples, but it was lost in a storm. Montpensier had agreed to a truce on October 5 and capitulated on December 2. King Charles still claimed his rights in Naples; but the death of his only son prevented him from leaving France again.

In early 1498 the King was reconciled with the Marquis of Mantua, but Charles VIII died on April 7. Italians had turned against him because he had failed to bring liberty or justice to Italy. He did not lead a crusade nor did he reform the Church. His invasion had caused famine and inflation. The terrible disease of syphilis, which was unknown in Europe before 1493, spread quickly in Italy. Charles disbanded the mercenaries in 1495, and they took the sexually transmitted disease back to their countries. By 1505 all of Europe was infected with the fatal venereal disease.

France under Louis XII 1498-1515

On April 7, 1498 Louis of Orléans succeeded his cousin as king of France. Charles VIII left such an empty treasury that Louis paid the 45,000 livres for the funeral of Charles with his own money. He also paid for the festivities as he entered Paris on July 2. He gained the loyalty of his former adversaries such as Louis de la Trémoille. The burghers of Orléans had disowned Louis when he had been out of favor; but he told them that as King he would not avenge any injury done to the Duke of Orléans. He had a small council, and his closest advisors were Archbishop Georges d’Amboise of Rouen and Florimond Robertet, who became his secretary of finances and treasurer of France. Louis wanted to annul his childless marriage to Jeanne and marry Charles VIII’s widow Anne of Brittany. Pope Alexander VI set up a tribunal on the marriage, and Louis made the Pope’s son Cesare Borgia duke of Valentinois. Jeanne testified that Louis slept with her many times, but he swore that he never had sexual intercourse with her. On December 17 the Cardinal of Luxemburg declared there was no marriage. Jeanne was given the duchy of Berry and founded the Annonciades nuns and a convent in Bourges. Louis persuaded Queen Anne to marry him on January 9, 1499. She gave birth to the girl Claude on October 13 but had no other children in the next eleven years.

Louis had ceded Asti to Charles VIII in 1496 but got it back as King. He claimed Milan, which was ruled by the house of Sforza, because his mother was Valentina Visconti. He let Venice annex Cremona, and they became neutral. England’s Henry VII renewed the Treaty of Etaples, and in July 1499 Philip of the Netherlands did homage to Louis for Flanders, Artois, and Charolais. Louis gave the Swiss a perpetual pension and an annual subsidy, and they let him raise troops in the cantons. Duke Philibert of Savoy let him have free passage in exchange for an annual pension of 22,000 livres and 3,000 gold écus a month during the campaign to conquer Lombardy.

Louis XII raised an army of 6,000 cavalry and 17,000 infantry and put the condottiere Trivulzio in command. The vanguard invaded Milanese territory on July 18, and in August more French from Asti entered the Milanese and spread terror. They occupied Arezzo, cutting off Milan from the south. Genoa and Venice supported Louis, and some Lombard towns rebelled. Lodovico Sforza fled to the imperial court in Austria on September 2, and the citizens of Milan quickly capitulated. Louis entered Milan through a triumphal arch on October 6 and spent two months there trying to win over the people. He gave important families the privileges and property they had lost under the Sforzas, but he raised indirect taxes that affected the poor.

Trivulzio became marshal of France and governed Milan. He was unpopular, and in January 1500 Lodovico Sforza returned with a force and was treated as a liberator. On the 25th the people of Milan expelled the French except a garrison in the castle, and they withdrew to Novara. La Trémoille led a French army that invaded Italy in March and approached Novara. Sforza’s Swiss soldiers refused to fight the Swiss hired by the French, and La Trémoille let them go back to Switzerland. Sforza tried to escape with them but was caught and put in prison in Berry where he died in 1508. Cardinal Georges d’Amboise governed Milan and pardoned the citizens, reducing their fines. In May he turned the government over to his nephew, Chaumont d’Amboise.

In the secret Treaty of Granada on November 11, 1500 Louis XII and Fernando of Aragon agreed to conquer and divide Naples. Louis raised an army and set out to cross the Appenines on May 25, 1501. Fernando’s army was led by Gonzalo da Cordoba and moved into Calabria on the coast of Apulia. The French used the same brutal tactics they had in Milan to conquer any resistance in the kingdom of Naples. Federigo III did not resist, and the French entered Naples on August 4. Federigo was given a pension and the county of Maine where he retired. Louis appointed Duke Louis d’Armagnac of Nemours as viceroy in Naples. The Spaniards occupied Calabria and Apulia given them by the Treaty of Granada. The territories of Capitanata and Tripalda had not been mentioned in the treaty, and the French and Spaniards fought over them for years. In December the Parlement registered Archbishop Georges d’Amboise as papal legate, and he made a speech on monastic reform in February 1502.

Louis went back to Italy in 1502 and raised the morale of his troops. In July he invaded Apulia and then Calabria. The army of Nemours had been reduced by disease, hunger, and desertion, and Gonzalo led a brilliant campaign reinforced by sea. In April his forces defeated d’Aubigny at Seminara and killed Nemours at Cerignola. La Trémoille led a relief army from Rome and stayed three months. Gonzalo entered Naples easily in July but could not capture Gaeta, which was defended by two French armies. They all suffered during the next winter, and the French accepted Gonzalo’s generous surrender terms. Angry Louis had twenty officers put on trial and executed two. Southern Italy had been a disaster for the French. Louis signed a 3-year truce with Fernando on March 31, 1504.

The nearest male heir to Louis XII was the child François d’Angouleme, who was being raised by his mother, Louise of Savoy, at Amboise. Marshal Pierre de Gié supervised them. On April 30, 1501 Louis declared that his daughter Claude must marry François; but Queen Anne and Georges d’Amboise wanted Claude to marry Charles of Ghent, and they were betrothed in August. While Louis was seriously ill in 1504, Gié got him to confirm his declaration about François. Louis recovered, and on September 22 he and Maximilian signed the Treaty of Blois that gave them a triple alliance with the Emperor’s son Philip. The treaty also called for the marriage of Claude to Charles of Ghent. On April 7, 1505 Emperor Maximilian conferred Milan on Louis and his male descendants.

When Isabel left Castile to Fernando in 1504, Philip, who was married to her daughter Juana, claimed Castile and accused Louis of betraying him. Anne’s prosecution of Gié was delayed, and in his will Louis ordered his daughter Claude to marry François and not to leave the kingdom. Anne withdrew to Brittany for five months and had Gié’s trial transferred to tougher Toulouse, but he was allowed to retire at Le Verger and died there in 1513.

Louis XII managed to keep the taille tax much lower than before until the end of his reign. His campaigns in Italy were paid for by the plunder gained. He reduced the annual expenditures on gifts and pensions to less than half by 1510. By using more efficient accounting he tripled the revenue from his domain to 231,000 livres annually. He listened to the Parlement and in the Ordinance of Blois in March 1499 he gave relief to the people by shortening trials while upholding justice. Judges had to have proper legal qualifications and not be absent without leave. Relatives were not allowed to serve in the same court, and the sale of offices was banned. Louis reorganized his council and added a permanent staff of legal experts.

Louis called the Assembly of Notables at Plessis-lez-Tours in May 1506 so that they would ask him to marry his daughter to François. He and Claude were betrothed on May 21, canceling the Treaty of Blois. François left Amboise and came to the French court. Louis was loved by the common people for his lowering their taille tax by a quarter, reducing gifts to the nobles, limiting abuses by soldiers, reforming laws, and appointing good judges. Their spokesman Thomas Briart called him “father of the people.” He increased the gabelle tax on salt and let official posts be sold again, but he used these revenues to improve roads. He encouraged mining and construction.

Also in 1506 a popular uprising against local aristocrats in Genoa became a revolt against the French, and they slaughtered Frenchmen who fled to the fort on March 12. Louis invaded Genoa with his army a year later. The doge fled as the city surrendered. Louis annexed Genoa, canceled its charters and executed sixty rebels, but later he reduced the large fine on the inhabitants. He ordered the new governor, Raoul de Lannoy, to be humane and fair. He kept most of his army out of the city to prevent destruction. Also in 1507 Louis met Fernando at Savona, and the King of Aragon and Castile agreed to marry his niece, Germaine de Foix. The Milanese were conspiring to put the son of the imprisoned Lodovico Sforza in power, but Louis and Fernando had order restored there. Emperor Maximilian reacted by trying to invade northern Italy, but Venice would not give his troops access. Louis sent Trivulzio to back up the Venetians, who seized Fiume, Trieste, and Gorz.

In December 1508 delegates from Emperor Maximilian, Pope Julius II, Fernando of Aragon, and Louis XII met at Cambrai to bring down Venice. Louis declared war on Venice on April 13, 1509 and led his army across the Alps. For the first time noblemen were put in charge of the infantry, which had increased in importance. Their 20,000 infantry included 8,000 Swiss, and they had 2,000 men-at-arms. The historian Guicciardini recorded that Venice’s army was a little larger and had 3,000 cavalry. The armies met at Agnadello on May 14. The French captured the cavalry of the Venetian vanguard while the Swiss and Gascons destroyed the outnumbered infantry of the vanguard. The French then captured Cremona, Crema, and Brescia. The papal army moved toward Ravenna, but Emperor Maximilian had not shown up in Italy before Louis celebrated his triumph in Milan and returned to France. Then the imperial forces took Treviso, Verona, and Padua, but in July the Venetians regained Padua. Maximilian appealed to Louis, who sent a force led by Marshal Jacques de Chabannes de la Palice. Maximilian led a larger army that besieged Padua in September, but at the end of the month they returned to Austria. Lapalice took his army back to Milan.

Archbishop d’Amboise had subjected the French Church to his supervision, but he died on May 25, 1510. Pope Julius II persuaded the Swiss to bar France from hiring mercenaries in their cantons. In the summer of 1510 the Pope attacked Ferrara, whose Duke Alfonso d’Este appealed to Louis. Chaumont led the French armies in Italy and returned to the Milanese, but he died on February 11, 1511. Louis and Maximilian persuaded five cardinals to call a General Council at Pisa, and they suspended Pope Julius. He responded by calling his own council in Rome the following year.

The French army led by Gaston de Foix invaded Romagna, captured Mirandola, and approached Bologna as the Pope’s army retreated to Ravenna. In October 1511 Pope Julius formed the Holy League with Venice and Fernando of Aragon. The religious Anne of Brittany released Breton bishops from loyalty to France, but most of the French clergy supported Louis. Bishops met at Tours and approved the war by declaring that Julius was acting as a temporal sovereign, not as head of the Church. In the battle of Ravenna on April 11, 1512 the French defeated the League, though Gaston de Foix was killed chasing the Spaniards. Many thousands were killed in this battle, and the French lost about 3,500 infantry, 80 men-at-arms, and several aristocrats.

On May 6 Cardinal Shiner led 18,000 Swiss troops into Italy and joined with the Venetian army. They marched on Milan, and La Palice led the French retreat that was turned into flight by desertion and disease. The French army returned to Dauphiné, and the garrisons left in Italy capitulated. Fernando occupied Navarre and proclaimed his sovereignty. Louis sent an army under François d’Angouleme with marshals La Palice and Lautrec that besieged Pamplona; but Aragon’s army came and forced them to withdraw. The French retained only a small portion of Navarre on their side of the Pyrenees. In March 1513 France and Venice agreed to partition northern Italy. Louis renewed France’s old alliance with Scotland, and he made a truce with Fernando, accepting the situation in Navarre.

Louis sent another army of 12,000 led by La Trémoille in April that took over Milan with help from those opposing Sforza. They besieged 4,000 Swiss in Novara but withdrew as a Swiss army was approaching. The French camped at Trecate but were surprised by a Swiss attack. Most of the German mercenaries were killed on June 6 at Novara, and the army returned to France. All the towns in Milan except those under Venetians submitted to Massimiliano Sforza.

Also in June a large English army led by the Earl of Shrewsbury and the Duke of Suffolk landed at Calais, joined the imperial army, and besieged Thérouanne. Louis quickly sent an army to Artois; but they were ordered to avoid a battle and soon retreated and fled. Thérouanne surrendered on August 23, and the English took Tournai. In September about 25,000 Swiss invaded Burgundy and besieged Dijon. La Trémoille signed a treaty that gave up Milan and Asti, and France had to pay the Swiss 400,000 écus. Louis refused to ratify the treaty and lost credibility with the Swiss. The war against the Pope’s league formed at Cambrai caused Louis to raise the taille from 2,000,000 livres in 1510 to 3,700,000 in 1514. These disasters also resulted in Louis adding a million and a half to the national debt.

Queen Anne gave birth to a daughter on October 25, 1510, but her son in 1512 died shortly after birth. Anne died on January 9, 1514, and her daughter Claude inherited Brittany. Louis was ill; but he recognized Pope Leo X’s Fifth Lateran Council, and in March he renewed his truce with Fernando. On May 18 Claude married François d’Angouleme. Louis made a treaty with England in August, and he married Henry VIII’s 18-year-old sister Mary on October 9. Louis XII died on January 1, 1515 and was succeeded by François.

France of François 1515-17

François I was 20 years old when he became king of France on the first day of 1515. He was known as a lover of women and probably had syphilis by 1524. His mother, Louise of Savoy, was especially influential. He let her handle the revenues from confirming office-holders. Her half-brother René was made governor of Provence. The King’s sister Marguerite was married to Duke Charles of Alençon, and he was appointed to govern Normandy. François was crowned at Reims on January 25 and entered a joyful Paris on February 15. In the Treaty of Paris signed on March 24 he promised the infant daughter Renée of the late Louis XII to 15-year-old Charles of Hapsburg. On April 5 François promised to honor the French treaty with England by paying one million gold écus over ten years. He raised an army of 23,000 Germans, but they were less reliable than the Swiss. He collected a large taille and asked for 2,900,000 livres to celebrate his accession. He approved the sale of new seats in the Parlement for 6,000 livres each. By April he had assembled 31,500 infantry and 6,000 cavalry near Lyon and Grenoble, plus sixty large cannons. He announced that his mother Louise would be regent while he went to Italy; but he took the Chancellor and the Great Seal with him, and he entered Lyon on July 12.

On July 17 Pope Leo X, Duke Massimiliano Sforza of Milan, King Fernando of Aragon, and Emperor Maximilian formed a league to defend Italy. To avoid the Swiss, the French crossed the Alps through the col of Larche used by peasants. The vanguard led by Bourbon reached the plain of Piedmont on August 11 and captured the papal commander Colonna and his men by surprise at Villafranca. The Swiss retreated, and François negotiated a treaty through his uncle René. The Swiss relinquished their Milanese territories for a subsidy of one million gold écus. Sforza was to give up Milan in exchange for Nemours. François could raise troops in Switzerland by paying subsidies to the cantons. He immediately sent the first payment of 150,000 écus. However, Cardinal Schiner made a speech in Milan on September 13 that aroused the Swiss. More than 20,000 Swiss pikemen attacked the French camp at Marignano. The next day the French counter-attacked, and the Swiss fled. As a result Milan capitulated on September 16. Sforza retired to France where he died in 1530. François entered Milan triumphantly on October 11, stayed a month, and turned the city over to Bourbon and Chancellor Antoine Duprat. The Senate initiated by Louis XII was revived. François sent an embassy to mollify the Swiss, and the Treaty of Geneva was signed by ten cantons on November 7; eight ratified it, but the others served the Emperor.

On August 18, 1516 Pope Leo X approved the Concordat of Bologna, and France was given six months to register it with the Parlement of Paris. Fernando died in February, and François decided to ask the Pope to help him recover Naples. He pleased the Pope by annulling the Pragmatic Sanction and by signing the Concordat. On August 13 François and Charles of Hapsburg signed the Treaty of Noyon. Naples was to be part of the dowry of the King’s infant daughter, and Charles was to pay François an annual tribute of 100,000 gold écus for Naples. On November 29 François agreed to the Perpetual Peace of Freiburg and promised to pay the Swiss cantons 700,000 écus. He promised them another 300,000 écus for fortresses in Lugano, Locarno, and Valtelline. Then on March 11, 1517 François, Maximilian, and Charles signed the Treaty of Cambrai, forming an alliance and agreeing to go on a crusade.

France and Foreign Wars 1517-1559

French Poetry, Villon and Theatre

French Theatre to 1400

Charles of Orléans wrote poetry during his quarter century as a prisoner in England including more than 6,000 lines in English. After returning to France in 1440 he retired at Blois, where he sponsored poetry and poets such as young François Villon in 1457 or 1458. Charles was known for his ballads and poems that were allegorical and romantic. He exchanged verses with his kinsman, René of Anjou.

King René of Anjou (1409-80) married Isabelle of Lorraine in 1420, and he inherited Bar in 1430 and Lorraine in 1431. He fought over Lorraine but was defeated and imprisoned for five years. When his older brother died in 1434, he inherited Anjou and the claim to Naples, which he lost to Alfonso of Aragon in 1442. His sister Marie married Charles VII, and he was influential at his court. His daughter Margaret married Henry VI of England. When Henry was killed in 1471, she was a prisoner until Louis XI ransomed her in 1476. René began the Order of the Crescent in 1448, and he wrote a treatise on tournament rules.

René of Anjou wrote Le Mortifiement de vaine plaisance (The Mortification of Empty Pleasure) about 1455 to encourage turning away from physical pleasures in order to develop Christian virtue. The process of the mortification is like the young woman who has to surrender her heart to be purified. He wrote to his friend, Archbishop Jean Bernard of Tours, that the best way to avoid secret habits and lazy negligence is to be occupied in good works. René dedicated his book to Charles VII but intended it for ordinary people. Divine Justice is portrayed as a young woman with a sword suspended over her head, and Contrition is undressed above the waist and holds a scourge. The Lady Fear-of-God tells three parables to help the soul find salvation. In the first a poor woman must cross a dangerous bridge over the rushing river of Divine Anger in order to take her wheat to a mill which represents Paradise. She gives her heart to Divine Justice and Contrition, and they take it to a garden where the well dressed ladies Supreme Love, True Hope, Firm Faith, and Divine Grace nail it to a cross. Her sins flow out of her heart as blood, and Divine Grace stabs her heart with the lance of Knowledge of Eternal Glory. She receives her heart back and accepts it with thankful prayer and praising.

René of Anjou spent about twenty years writing Le Livre du Cuer d'amours espris (The Book of the Love-Smitten Heart) which he completed in 1477. This and the previous book were beautifully illustrated by Barthélémy d’Eyck. This is a complicated allegory of love similar to The Romance of the Rose. René presided over a lavish court, and he sponsored numerous artists, writers, entertainers, and confessors. He protected Jews from persecution because of their financial value to his provinces. For his generosity he was called “Good King René.” He retired in Provence, and after his death his nephew Louis XI managed to take Bar and Anjou from him.

Jean Meschinot also criticized the current morals about 1460 in Les Lunettes des Princes.

François Villon was born into a poor family in Paris about 1431, but he was adopted by the chaplain and professor of canon law, Guillaume de Villon, in the Latin Quarter of Saint-Benoit-le-Bétourné. François studied at the University of Paris, earning his bachelor of arts in 1449 and his master of arts in 1452. Little is known of him in the next three years. On June 5, 1455 he got in a fight with a priest who had threatened and attacked him. The priest was stabbed and hit with a rock and died of his wounds. François fled and was banished. He used different last names. Charles VII received two petitions including a petition from the priest forgiving him, and the King pardoned him in January 1456. Villon lost his teaching position at the College of Navarre and sang at inns to survive. Later that year he was involved in the robbery of 500 gold écus from the College de Navarre. That year he wrote Les Lais (The Legacy) in Paris. He was beaten up in a fight over Catherine de Vaucelle before he went to Angers.

In 1458 the robber Guy Tabary was arrested and accused Villon of being the ringleader and of plotting burglaries in Angers. Villon was banished and wandered for four years. He wrote a poem to celebrate the birth of the King’s daughter Marie, declaring that he owed his life to her. In 1461 Bishop Thibaut d’Aussigny of Orléans put him in prison at Meung-sur-Loire. He and the other prisoners were freed when the new King Louis XI passed by there on October 2. That year he wrote Le Testament. He continued to hide but was arrested for the robbery in Paris in November 1462. He promised to pay 120 écus to the college, but another street brawl landed him in prison again the next year. Because of his past record he was sentenced to be hanged. On January 5, 1463 Parlement commuted his sentence to banishment for ten years. After that little is known of Villon.

In The Legacy Villon reflected on his life and wrote how he decided to break free of his “great love.” He considered himself a martyred lover and left her to go to Angers. Knowing he might die at any time, he drew up his legacy. In the name of the trinity he left his fame and his tents to Guillaume Villon. To the woman who spurned him he left his heart in a shrine. He bequeathed his sword to someone he hoped would pay his debt. In the poem he leaves various items to his friends and associates.

With 2,023 lines Le Testament is by far Villon’s longest extant poem. At the age of thirty he is a prisoner of Bishop Thibault, but he denies he is his bishop or lord. He asks God to treat the Bishop as he has treated him. He is grateful to the King for releasing him in 1461. He admits he is a sinner and believes that God’s grace forgives him. He does not want to do harm and notes that the poor can do little damage. When the great Alexander captured the pirate Diomedes, the latter said that he too could be an emperor if he was armed like Alexander, who agreed and changed his fortune.

Villon regretted the flings of his youth. He loved and wished he had studied and developed good habits. He wrote in a conversational tone whatever seemed to come into his head. He would rather be poor than live “under a fancy stone.” His father is dead, and he does not expect to outlive his mother by much. In a ballad he asks what happened to the beautiful women Héloise, Jeanne of Lorraine, and others. He wonders where past popes and kings are. He describes how the beautiful bodies of women change with age. He has known prostitutes. He wrote,

Mad love changes men into beasts,
It made an idolater of Solomon,
And through it Samson lost his orbs,
Lucky is he who has no part of it.3

Also in The Testament Villon renounces and despises love. He finds it hard to believe that “Dead people are made little gods.”4 He takes consolation in Lazarus faring well in the hereafter compared to the rich man. He prays and leaves his soul to the blessed Trinity and Our Lady. His body he gives to Earth, our mother. He gives his library to Guillaume Villon who was more than a father and mother to him. He writes a ballad that his mother can use to salute Our Lady. He writes another ballad for his “dear Rose,” though she never gave him much hope and made him suffer. Villon includes a lay to Death. Then again he leaves items to people he has known, and some of them are insulting. He found that women in Paris had the best tongues. He writes another ballad for Fat Margot. His epitaph describes himself as “a poor wretched scholar” who “never owned a furrow on earth.”5 He asks pardon from all people.

French theater in the fifteenth century still emphasized religion. The pageants of the passion plays would take days to be performed, but gradually more farcical elements were added to the allegories, scholarly debates, and lyrical elements. Most plays were written by clerics, the law clerks of the Basoche, and other students. In the 1430s the Passion of Arras was extended over four long days. Arnoul Greban wrote the most famous passion plays in mid-century, and he collaborated with his brother Simon Greban on Mystere des Actes des Apotres that depicts the lives of the apostles. Jean Michel wrote a significant passion play at the end of the century, and in 1496 André de La Vigne wrote Vie de saint Martin and other plays that were performed at Seurre in Burgundy. The farce Maitre Pierre Pathelin was the most popular and was printed in 1485 after being performed for about twenty years. In this play a poor lawyer gets away with not paying for cloth but ends up being taken for his legal work in helping a shepherd. Guillaume Coquillart wrote comedies and dramatic monologues about lovers and legalistic complications with bawdy language. Pierre Gringore satirized Pope Julius II in 1512 by showing someone impersonating him and trying to harm Louis XII.


1. Histoire de Charles VII ed. Samran I. 84-9 quoted in “The Devastation of Rural Areas during the Hundred Years War and the Agricultural Recovery of France” by Robert Boutruche in The Recovery of France in the Fifteenth Century ed. P. S. Lewis, tr. G. F. Martin, p. 26.
2. Mémoires de Philippe de Commynes ed. J. Calmette and G. Durville in Les Classiques de l’Histoire de France au Moyen Age, Volume I, p. 321-2 quoted in A Literary History of France: The Middle Ages by John Fox, p. 290.
3. Le Testament by François Villon tr. Galway Kinnell in The Poems of François Villon, p. 85.
4. Ibid., p. 97.
5. Ibid., p. 163.

Copyright © 2010 by Sanderson Beck

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EUROPE & Reform 1517-1588

Milan and Venice 1400-1517
Florence, the Medici and Machiavelli
Rome, Popes, and Naples 1400-1517
Italy and Humanism
Eastern Europe 1400-1517
German Empire 1400-1517
Scandinavia 1400-1517
Castile, Aragon, Granada, and Portugal 1400-1517
France’s Long War 1400-1453
France in the Renaissance 1453-1517
England of Henry IV, V, and VI 1399-1461
England 1461-1517
Scotland and Ireland 1400-1517
Erasmus and Spreading Humanism
Summary and Evaluation Europe 1400-1517

Chronology of Europe 1400-1588
World Chronology

BECK index