Front Matter France Long Ago The Gauls In France The Priests of the Gauls Sailor Stories Conquests of the Gauls Two Great Battles Caesar in Gaul Gaul under the Romans First Christian Martyrs Patron Saint of France Franks Come to Gaul The First Kings Conquests of Clovis Clotaire and His Relatives Two Rival Queens Good King Dagobert The Saracens Checked End of the Merovingians Charlemagne's Wars Charlemagne's Manners Charlemagne, Emperor Feudalism Troublesome Sons The Strassburg Oath Normans Besiege Paris Last of the Carolingians The Year One Thousand Robert's Two Wives Wealth of the Clergy The First Crusade A Love Story The Second Crusade More Crusades The Battle of Bouvines Blanche of Castile The Sixth Crusade The Reign of Louis IX Effect of the Crusades The Battle of the Spurs End of Knights Templar The Hundred Years' War The Siege of Calais The Battle of Poitiers Seven Years of Misery The Brave du Guesclin Achievements of Charles V Charles VI Misrule in France The Disgraceful Treaty Joan to the Rescue Orleans and Rheims Joan's Martyrdom Charles's Successes The Crafty King Louis XI Louis XI's Reign Achievements of Louis XI Charles VIII The Second Italian War Death of Louis XII Francis I Rivalry of Kings Achievements of Francis I End of Francis's Reign Reign of Henry II A Young King and Queen Catherine's Regency The Forced Wedding Massacre of the Huguenots Death of Charles IX An Effeminate King he Battle of Coutras The Murder of the Guises Winning a Crown Conversion of Henry IV Henry IV's Second Marriage Death of Henry IV The Minority of Louis XIII Rule of the Favorites Richelieu and Louis XIII End of Louis XIII's Reign Beginning of a Great Reign Wars of the Fronde Death of Mazarin Versailles The Iron Mask Louis XIV's Campaigns Madame de Maintenon Later Wars of Louis XIV The Spanish Succession The Age of Louis XIV

Story of Old France - Helene Guerber

Charles VIII

The heir to the crown, known in history as Charles VIII, was, as we have seen, puny in body and weak in intellect. His education had been so neglected that although thirteen years of age he was still a mere puppet in the hands of the nobles. But Louis XI had been so feared and hated, that his death was hailed as a great relief by the whole nation. The courtiers began by avenging some of their past injuries in ill-treating the favorites of the deceased monarch, one of whom was put to death, another imprisoned in one of the famous iron cages, and the doctor banished, after being obliged to surrender a large part of the fortune he had wrung from his late master.

The death of Louis XI was also the signal for Maximilian to claim Burgundy once more, while Ferdinand of Spain demanded the restoration of two provinces which he had ceded to France. The clergy, the nobles, and the peasants each had requests to make in the great meeting of the States-General at Tours (1484); and it was only by skillful management that Anne of Beaujeu, the late king's eldest daughter, maintained her position as regent for her young brother. Anne was nearly as clever as her father, who once said of her, "She is the least foolish woman in the world, for there is no such a thing as a wise one!" Although she was only twenty-two, her ascendency and authority proved such that she was known at court as "Madame la Grande," a title which she richly earned during her five or more years of regency.

Because of the state of mind of the aristocracy, and the miserable condition of the peasantry,—many of whom were obliged to draw their own plows because they were too poor to own or feed horses or oxen,—it required all her dexterity to manage the complicated affairs of the realm. Two revolts of the nobles were headed by her brother-in-law, the Duke of Orleans, and backed by Maximilian and Ferdinand, They resulted in the defeat and imprisonment of the Duke of Orleans, and in the triumph of the regent, who, pursuing her father's policy of extending the realm as much as possible, next planned to gain Brittany, which the death of the Duke of Brittany had left to a daughter.

The heiress of Brittany, Anne, was a spirited, well-educated damsel, who, although only fourteen, was already sought in marriage by many suitors, all, of course, anxious to become owners of her vast estates. The duchess, it is said, had seen the Duke of Orleans, and had been much impressed by this gay cavalier, although he was already married to the sickly and deformed sister of the king. At any rate, she was in no hurry to marry; but such was the eagerness of her suitors to gain possession of her rich inheritance, that some of them even prepared to carry her off by force.

Anne of Brittany


In her quandary, this young heiress therefore accepted the proposals of Maximilian, who, having already gained so much by his first marriage with Mary of Burgundy, was not at all loath to acquire still more, by taking as second wife the fair young Duchess of Brittany. Unfortunately, however, Maximilian was too busy just then with affairs in a remote part of his realm to do his wooing in person; so, when the duchess and her councilors accepted his proposals, he sent a German lord to act as his proxy in the marriage ceremony. Anne did not like this lord's German manners; and as Maximilian showed no anxiety to join her after the marriage, but left her exposed to all the trials and dangers of her position, just resentment was kindled in Anne's breast.

The French king, having meantime undertaken to reign by himself, first set his brother-in-law, the Duke of Orleans, free, and then, influenced by his ambitious sister, began to woo Anne of Brittany, whose nominal marriage to Maximilian was afterward annulled by the Pope. Charles VIII, who was very romantic, actually sought this lady in the guise of a pilgrim, to prevail upon her to favor his suit. He had also taken the precaution to send an army, which besieged the town where Anne was.

Yielding to the doubly fervent suit of the king, Anne was betrothed to him three days later,—and the little daughter of Maximilian, who was being educated at court to become the king's bride, was sent home! Anne of Brittany not only married the king, but promised that if Charles died before her, and they had no children, she would marry his successor, or the heir to the throne,—a provision which would prevent Brittany's ever passing into the hands of a foreigner.

Charles next made treaties with Ferdinand of Spain and Maximilian of Germany, conceding to them four of the provinces his father had won. He did this to secure the peace he needed while preparing to carry out the dream of his life; for, nourished as he had been on romances of chivalry, he longed to distinguish himself by brilliant conquests abroad. His plan was to make good his claims to Naples,—bequeathed by a relative,—and after having become master of all Italy, to conquer Constantinople and Palestine, thus rivaling Caesar and Alexander!

In 1494, therefore, the first Italian expedition set out with the French king at its head, and such brave men in the ranks as Bayard,—universally known as "the knight without fear and without reproach" (chevalier sans peur et sans reproche). As the Italian states were discontented just then, the French expedition resembled a triumphal progress, for town after town opened its gates to welcome Charles as a deliverer. Even Florence—then under the influence of Savonarola's religious reforms—hailed the French with delight. In five months' time, Charles entered Naples, "where one would have thought he was the founder of the city," such was the joyful reception given him!

As the ruler of this kingdom had fled at his approach, Charles took immediate possession, fancying that all his troubles were over. But, in spite of his first great successes, this Italian campaign was doomed to be an utter failure, for the French king himself had little idea of good government, and the rulers he appointed had even less. It soon came to pass, therefore, that the very cities which so gladly hailed Charles, were soon eager to renounce their brief allegiance to him.

The king's homeward journey, therefore, instead of being a triumphal march like his advance, gradually turned into a retreat before a powerful and indignant Italian League. In fact, when Charles arrived at Fornovo, he had to wage a terrible battle against it; but here he showed great personal bravery, and cleverly extricated his army from peril (1495).

Charles's situation, however, in the heart of an enemy's country, was so precarious that he was thankful to recross the Alps, virtually surrendering all his recent conquests. In fact, a few months later, the former King of Naples could reenter his realm, which turned traitor a second time, and basely deserted the unpopular French governor.

The sole result, therefore, of Charles VIII's romantic expedition into Italy, was a thirst for adventure and conquest which was to cost France dear, besides almost ruining Italy, in the course of what are known as the Italian Wars, which extended from 1494 to 1544.

Having returned from Italy much poorer in men and money, Charles VIII now seemed to repent of his rash venture. He was just beginning to turn his mind to home reforms, which promised great things for the country, when he was cut short by apoplexy at the age of twenty-eight. His last words were, "I hope never to commit another willful sin as long as I live."

The reign of Charles VIII, comparatively unimportant, nevertheless covers an eventful period in the world's history, for it was while he occupied the throne of France that Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic, that Cabot landed on the North American mainland, and that Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India by way of the Cape of Good Hope. These discoveries—changing as they did the whole aspect of the world's affairs and giving a new impetus to commerce—are therefore considered by some historians as the point where the Middle Ages end, and the Modern Times begin, especially the movement called the Renaissance, or New Birth of Science and Literature.