Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

Dreams of Glory and Dominion
Charles VIII (the Affable) [1483-1498]

Louis XI was succeeded by his son Charles who was a boy, barely fourteen years old. Besides being naturally stupid he was also very ignorant for his years, for Louis did not like him, and had taken no trouble to have him taught. When he came to the throne he could not read, and all the Latin Louis had allowed him to learn was one sentence meaning "who does not know how to dissemble does not know how to reign." It was Louis's own guide in ruling.

Fourteen was by law the age at which the Kings of France came of age. Thus by law Charles had the right to rule in his own name. But of course he was really too young to rule. So, as might be expected, a struggle for the real power began at once. The struggle was between Princess Anne, Charles VIII's elder sister, and Louis Duke of Orleans, the husband of his younger sister.

This Duke of Orleans was the grandson of the Duke of Orleans who made so much trouble during the reign of Charles VI. He was therefore the King's cousin.

Anne was a clever woman. Even her father, Louis XI, acknowledged that. She was the least foolish woman in the kingdom he said, since clever women there were none. She succeeded in getting all the power, and she used it well. She set free many of the wretched prisoners shut up in iron cages by her father. She restored lands to many from whom they had been unjustly taken. She brought back others who were banished, and she caused to be hanged Louis's two evil advisers. She ruled so well that the people called her Madame la Grande, or The Great Lady. Thus once again a woman ruled in France. For it is strange that the French, who made such a point of the Salic Law should have been again and again ruled by women as regents.

Finding that Anne had all the power, the Duke of Orleans rose in revolt. He was helped by the Duke of Brittany and several lesser nobles. They were, however, defeated, and the Duke of Orleans was taken prisoner. Anne kept him prisoner for three years. She shut him up in a strong castle where at night he was made to sleep in an iron cage like a wild beast.

Soon after the Duke of Orleans was taken prisoner the Duke of Brittany died. Brittany was the last of all the great feudal lands to remain free. Ever since the days of Clovis the Dukes of Brittany had given trouble to the Kings of France. Now Anne of France saw a chance of making an end of that, and of joining Brittany to the crown of France. For the Duke had left only a daughter named Anne to succeed him.

Anne of Anne of Brittany was a young girl just the right age to marry the young King, so Anne of France made Charles claim the right of guardianship over her, and then demand her hand in marriage. You will remember that Charles was already betrothed to Marguerite of Flanders. But that did not seem to matter to Anne of France.

Anne of Brittany, however, did not want to be Queen of France. She was only a girl of fifteen, but she had a will of her own, and she refused to marry Charles. She was a great heiress, and many princes wished to marry her. Now she betrothed herself to Maximilian of Austria, who once before, you remember, had married an orphan Duchess and who, to make confusion still worse, was the father of the lady Charles ought to have married. Anne of France did all she could to stop this marriage, but Anne of Brittany would have her way.

She was married to Maximilian by proxy—that is, he did not come himself, but sent an ambassador, who took his place at the marriage ceremony.

This after all was not a real marriage, and it did not stop Anne of France or the young King Charles. He, seeing that he could not win Anne for his bride peacefully, made up his mind to win her by force, and he marched into Brittany with an army.

Brittany was in a state of utter misery, worn out by wars. Maximilian sent no help to his girl bride, and her ladies and advisers pressed her daily to yield to the King of France. So at length, wearied of the struggle, feeling herself friendless and forsaken, Anne of Brittany gave way. She promised to marry this lover who wooed her with cannon and with sword, by wasting her land and laying her castles in ruins.

Almost at once the marriage took place and little Marguerite of Flanders, who had been brought up in France with the idea of one day being Queen, was sent back to her father. Maximilian was furious. He had been robbed of his bride, and his daughter had been insulted. He "openly railed upon the King and vowed to destroy France with fire and sword." But soon after this Maximilian's father died and he became Emperor. Then, so that he might rule his empire quietly, Maximilian made peace with Charles.

Soon after the King was married, Anne of France gave up all the power and went away to live quietly on her own lands. She had ruled for eight years. Now she left the land at peace, the King and people better off than they had been for many a long day.

Charles, however, did not long remain at peace. He was a sickly little man, but his head was full of ideas of glory and battles. He loved to read and hear stories of knightly adventure. Above all he loved the stories of Charlemagne and his Paladins. He longed to be a great conqueror like Charlemagne, so he set out to conquer the Kingdom of Naples.

Long before this time a prince of Anjou had become King of Naples, and Charles now claimed to be the heir to the throne. Besides this, in all the states into which Italy was at this time divided there was misrule and disorder. They seemed an easy prey for any one who would take them. Charles resolved to be that one. So gathering a great army he marched into Italy.

Through all the north of Italy his march was a triumphal progress. Peoples and rulers welcomed him; towns threw open their gates to him. For at first the Italians looked upon him as a deliverer.

Now and again there was a little battle, now and again a town was taken. But for the most part the march was like a glittering pageant, the knights scarcely troubling to wear armor. To the sound of trumpet and drum the army moved along, men and horses clad in richly colored velvets and stuffs, gold and jewels gleaming in the sunlight, silken banners floating in the breeze. Under a canopy of cloth of gold, carried by pages clad in cloth of gold and velvet, rode the King upon a coal black horse. Over his glittering armor he wore a cloak of blue velvet richly embroidered with gold and pearls and precious stones. Upon his head he wore a white hat decked with long black feathers, and surrounded by a golden crown. So through the land he marched, proclaiming himself the "Friend of Freedom, the Enemy of Tyrants."

When he reached Naples the King fled, and the people greeted Charles with mad joy. They bowed to the ground before him, reverently touching his clothes and hands with their lips. As he passed through the streets the people showered flowers upon him and acclaimed him king.

Never had there been so easy a conquest. But Charles did nothing to make his conquest sure. He and his companions gave themselves up to riotous pleasures. All the chief posts were given to Frenchmen. Frenchmen were married to rich Italian ladies. The Italians were neglected and insulted. At first they had looked on Charles as a deliverer. Now that they saw Frenchmen robbing and plundering on every side they changed their minds.

So in feasting and rioting two months passed. Then one day the King received news that the states of Northern Italy were leaguing against him, helped by all the Kings of Europe. It was time, he felt, to turn homeward.

Before he went he caused himself to be crowned with gorgeous pomp King of Naples, King of Jerusalem, and Emperor of a make-believe empire of the East.

This done, and having received the homage of the people, he returned homeward, leaving about half his army to guard his new Kingdom of Naples.

With great difficulty he crossed the Apennines, and on reaching the farther side found his way barred by an army of the League, more than three times as large as his own. But he determined to cut his way through and thus reach France. So at Fornova a great battle was fought.

The Italians were not used to desperate fighting. Their battles were more like tournaments where men fought not to kill but to overthrow and take their enemies prisoner. They were unused to cannon also, and were quite unable to stand against the furious onslaught of the French. In an hour the great fight was over and the army of the League in flight, and for many a long day the "French Fury" was a proverb in Italy.

Charles then went on his way, feeling himself more than ever a great warrior and conqueror. But as soon as he had reached France he seemed to forget all about Italy and to care no more for his conquests. Meanwhile, the soldiers he had left in Naples had been driven out, and the people had welcomed their old King once more. Charles did nothing to help his soldiers, and after much wandering and suffering, a shattered remnant of the once fine army reached the shores of France. Of all the French King's famed conquests not a foot remained to him. His Empire was but an empire of dreams, his titles empty as bubbles.

Charles VIII reigned for about three years longer, doing little but amuse himself. Then one day, as he was going to watch a game of tennis, he passed through a low dark gallery and forgetting to stoop down enough he struck his head against the doorway. He paid no heed to the blow at the time, and watched the game, talking and laughing with those around. Then suddenly in the middle of a sentence he fell backward in a fit. A few hours later he died. He was only twenty-eight.

Charles VIII was an ugly little man, and his speech was slow and stuttering. But his ways were so pleasant, and his manners so kindly, that he earned for himself the name of the Affable. His reign was not a great one. He was too vain and pleasure-loving, his head was too full of dreams of empty glory to be a truly good King. But after the tyranny of Louis the rule of Charles was grateful to the people. They called him their "good little King," and wept for him when he died.