Childhood & Early Life
Charles was born on June 30, 1470, in Château d'Amboise, France. He was the son of King Louis XI and his second wife, Charlotte of Savoy. He had two surviving siblings, Anne and Joan, and a brother, Francis, who died soon after his birth.
On August 30, 1483, he succeeded his father to the throne when he was only 13 years of age. He had always been a sickly child, often falling ill. People often perceived him as a good-natured boy but lacking the qualities needed to rule a kingdom.
His father, Louis XI, also held the same view of him, and his sister Anne was appointed as a regent of the nation along with her husband, Peter of Bourbon. She remained the regent until 1491. Louis XI knew that his daughter would be fit to govern as she was incredibly intelligent and smart.
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Charles VIII was engaged to Margaret of Austria on July 22, 1483, when she was only three years old. She was the daughter of Archduke Maximilian of Austria and Mary, the Duchess of Burgundy.
To secure peace between France and Duchy of Burgundy, the Treaty of Arras was signed. As a part of the treaty, a marriage alliance was formed by Louis XI, Maximilian, and the Estates of the Low Countries in 1482.
Margaret of Austria was brought to the French court and raised there as the queen consort. The Counties of Artois and Burgundy were a part of her dowry, which was given to France.
In 1488, Francis II, the Duke of Brittany, died in a riding mishap, leaving his daughter Anne as the heir and successor.
Anne of Brittany understood France's ambition and wanted to secure the autonomy of her duchy. Thus, she arranged her marriage with Maximilian of Austria and became the stepmother to Margaret of Austria.
However, Anne of France and her husband Peter, the regents of France, refused to accept the marriage between Anne of Brittany and Maximilian of Austria.
Anne of France ordered her armies to march and seized Brittany, and while Frederick III and his son were occupied with the succession to Mathias Corvinus, King of Hungary.
Consequently, Anne of Brittany was asked to leave Maximilian and forced to marry Charles VIII of France. They were married in December 1491 at the 'Château de Langeais' in France. They held an extravagant ceremony. Duchess Anne was only 14 when she married Charles VIII and not thrilled with this arrangement.
After Charles VIII married Anne, he gained autonomy and started controlling the affairs of his kingdom instead of his regent sister. Queen Anne remained at Clos Lucé in Amboise after her marriage.
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Margaret of Austria, Charles' first betrothed, remained in the French court. Traditionally, when a betrothal was canceled, the woman was sent back to her family with her dowry. Still, Charles refused to send Margaret back, hoping to marry her profitably with someone else in France.
Margaret was desperate to leave and wrote letters to her father, stating she would run away to gain freedom. Finally, in 1493, she was allowed to return to her family. Her dowry except the Duchy of Burgundy was also returned; the duchy was retained by France in the Treaty of Senlis.
Charles VIII of France made several treaties with Austria and England to safeguard his nation against invasions and provided huge concessions to them. Henry VII, the English King, attacked Boulogne and forced Charles to abandon his support to Perkin Warbeck and also extorted a large sum of money to retreat.
Charles had a claim to the Kingdom of Naples, and Pope Innocent did not approve of Ferdinand I of Naples. Therefore in 1489, the pope gave Naples to Charles.
Pope Alexander VI succeeded Pope Innocent, and he continued to interfere with the politics of the Italian states. He even agreed to the idea of creating a new state in Italy.
Ferdinand I of Naples suddenly passed away on January 25, 1494, leaving Alfonso II as his successor. Alfonso II claimed Milan and also asked Charles to take over Milan by force. He was also egged on by courtier Étienne de Vesc to launch his expedition to Italy.
In September 1494, Charles marched into the Italian peninsula with a troop of 25,000 men without any resistance.
By October 21, 1494, he had already reached Pavia, and by November 8, 1494, he had gained access to Pisa. His troops had also taken over Florence and arrived in Naples on February 22, 1495. The French legion took Naples unopposed, and Charles became the King of Naples.
Friar Savonarola believed that Charles VIII of France was a godsend to relieve Florence of its sinners and re-establish Florence as a moral centre. He thought that Florence could be the perfect place to restructure the church.
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However, Pope Alexander VI did not agree with the friar, and he thought that having a king in Italy meant interference in the Papal States. Eventually, the conflict resulted in Savonarola being executed for heresy.
The Italian kings were appalled by the speed with which the French army was advancing. To tackle with Charles, they formed the League of Venice on March 31, 1495.
The league included the Republic of Venice, the Duchy of Mantua, Duchy of Milan, Kingdom of Spain, Kingdom of Naples, Republic of Florence, and the Holy Roman Empire.
The league trapped Charles and his armies in southern Italy and blocked his route to France. He would have to face at least one of the league members if he were to return to France.
In July 1495, the league vanquished Charles at Fornovo. However, this victory came at a significant loss for the league. They lost more than 2,000 men while Charles lost around 1,000, and even though Charles had lost all his loot, the league was unable to stop him from retreating to France.
Simultaneously, Alfonso had allied with Ferdinand II of Argon and taken back Naples by 6-7 July 1495.
By the time Charles VIII returned to France, he had lost everything that he had gained from his expedition to Italy.
Charles VIII of France tried to rebuild his army to complete his expedition; however, he had incurred significant amounts of debt which had adverse effects on the economic structure of France.
Family & Personal Life
Charles VIII of France was married to Anne of Brittany and had seven children, but none of them survived.
On April 7, 1498, Charles had a fatal accident that resulted in his death. Charles was on his way to watch a game of real tennis when he hit his head on a door lintel. Eventually, he was comatose and died within the next nine hours.
He did not leave a vast fortune behind as he had spent it all on his fruitless dream of invading Italy.
He did not have any heir to the throne and was the last to reign from the elder branch of House of Valois. His throne was succeeded by the Duke of Orléans, who ruled as King Louis XII.
Anne of Brittany returned home and worked towards the autonomy of her duchy from the French. On June 7, 1500, Charles' successor, Louis XII married Anne, to keep the Duchy of Brittany under the French crown.