Charles was born at Amboise, France, on June 30 1470, and was the only son of King Louis XI and Charlotte of Savoy. After his father died in 1483, Charles took the crown at only 13 years old. However, since he was too young to rule, his older sister Anne de Beaujeu served as regent until 1491. During this time, the most important issue was the independence of the duchy of Brittany, which threatened the political stability of France. In 1488, Charles defeated the Duke of Brittany Francis II and married his daughter Anne in order to annex the duchy and keep it under control. Moreover, he also had to deal with several uprisings led by the Lords who opposed a centralized government. This conflict is known as the Mad War.
The Italian War (1494-1495)
When his sister’s regency was over in 1491, Charles was left alone to deal with several issues, such as the reformation of political institutions and the Church as well as the economic system. However, the King decided to focus on gaining more power by conquering the kingdom of Naples. In order to do so, he signed several treaties with Maximilian I of Austria and Henry VII of England to secure their neutrality. After this, he invested all of France’s resources in launching a large army in northern Italy.
In 1494, King Ferdinand I of Naples died unexpectedly and Charles proceeded to invade Italy. He crossed the peninsula without facing great difficulties and one year later took Naples and was crowned King. However, France’s presence in the Italian Peninsula made other rulers feel threatened and so the League of Venice was formed. This coalition, which included the northern Italian states and the Republic of Florence in addition to the Kingdom of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire, blocked Charles’ return to France. At the Battle of Fornovo in 1495 the King was able to retreat but all his remaining garrisons in Naples were subdued by the army sent by Ferdinand II of Aragon. Even though Charles tried to rebuild his army, his country’s debts made it impossible to resume the campaign. Still, his expedition had important international consequences, as Italy would become a rich prize for which Spain and France would fight for the next fifty years.
Death and Legacy
In 1498, Charles died as a result of a contusion against the lintel of a door while he was on his way to watch a tennis game. As all of his children died prematurely, he became the last ruler of the House of Valois and was succeeded by his brother in law Louis XII. Charles' wife Anne was then remarried to him to impede her attempts to regain Brittany's independence.
Charles’ neglect of France’s internal affairs had disastrous consequences for the economy, as the country was left in debt as a result of his expeditions to Italy. Still, his campaign strengthened French ties with Italy, which served as a positive influence on French art and literature during the last part of the Renaissance.
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