Charles VIII of France

Charles VIII of France
Charles VIII
Charles VIII, Ecole Française, 16th century. Musée Condé, Chantilly.
King of France
Reign 30 August 1483 – 7 April 1498
(&1000000000000001400000014 years, &10000000000000220000000220 days)
Coronation 30 May 1484 (Reims)
Predecessor Louis XI
Successor Louis XII
Consort Anne, Duchess of Brittany
Charles Orlando, Dauphin of France
House House of Valois
Father Louis XI of France
Mother Charlotte of Savoy
Born 30 June 1470(1470-06-30)
Château d'Amboise, France
Died 7 April 1498(1498-04-07) (aged 27)
Château d'Amboise, France
Burial Saint Denis Basilica, France (body)
Notre-Dame de Cléry Basilica, Cléry-Saint-André, France (heart)
Religion Roman Catholicism
French Monarchy
Capetian Dynasty
(House of Valois)
Arms of the Kingdom of France (Ancien).svg

Philip VI
   John II
John II
   Charles V
   Louis I of Anjou
   John, Duke of Berry
   Philip the Bold
Charles V
   Charles VI
   Louis, Duke of Orléans
Charles VI
   Isabella of Valois
   Michelle of Valois
   Catherine of Valois
   Charles VII
Charles VII
   Louis XI
   Charles, Duke of Berry
Louis XI
   Charles VIII
Charles VIII

Charles VIII, called the Affable, French: l'Affable (30 June 1470 – 7 April 1498), was King of France from 1483 to his death in 1498. Charles was a member of the House of Valois. His invasion of Italy initiated the long series of Franco-Italian wars which characterized the first half of the 16th century.


Childhood and youth

Charles was born at the Château d'Amboise in France, the only surviving son of King Louis XI by his second wife Charlotte of Savoy. His godfather was Edward of Westminster the son of King Henry VI of England who had been living in France since the deposition of his father by King Edward IV. Charles succeeded to the throne on 30 August 1483, at age 13. His health was poor and he was regarded by his contemporaries as of pleasant disposition but foolish and unsuited for the business of the state. In accordance with Louis XI's wishes, the regency of the Kingdom was granted to Charles' elder sister, Anne, a formidably intelligent and shrewd woman described by her father as "the least insane woman in France." She would rule as regent, together with her husband Peter II, Duke of Bourbon, until 1491.


Charles was betrothed in 1483 (July, 22th) to Margaret of Austria, the daughter of Emperor Maximilian I and Mary, Duchess of Burgundy; the marriage had been arranged by Louis XI, Maximilian, and the Estates of the Low Countries, as part of the Peace of Arras between France and Burgundy. Margaret brought the Counties of Artois and Burgundy to France as her dowry, and she was raised in the French court as prospective Queen consort.

In 1488, however, Francis II, Duke of Brittany died in a riding accident, leaving his 11-year old daughter Anne as his heiress. Anne, who feared for her Duchy's independence against the ambitions of France, arranged a marriage in 1490 between herself and Maximilian, who had already married Mary of Burgundy in much the same circumstances in 1477-thus making Anne a stepmother to Margaret of Austria. The Beaujeus refused to countenance such a marriage, however, since it would place Maximilian and his family, the Habsburgs, on two French borders; Brittany was invaded by the French army, Maximilian was unable to help, and Anne of Brittany was forced to renounce Maximilian (whom she had only married by proxy), and agree to be married to Charles VIII instead.

Marriage to Anne of Brittany
at the Château de Langeais.

In December 1491, in an elaborate ceremony at the Château de Langeais, Charles and Anne of Brittany were married. The 14-year-old Duchess Anne, not happy with the arranged marriage, arrived for her wedding with her entourage carrying two beds. However, Charles's marriage brought him independence from his relatives, and thereafter he managed affairs according to his own inclinations. Queen Anne lived at the Clos Lucé in Amboise.

There still remained the matter of Charles' first intended, the young Margaret of Austria. Although the cancellation of her betrothal meant that she by rights should have been returned to her family, Charles did not initially do so, intending to marry her usefully elsewhere in France. It was an abominable situation for Margaret, who informed her father in her letters that she was so determined to escape her situation that she would even flee Paris in her nightgown if it gave her freedom. Eventually, in 1493, she was returned to her family, together with her dowry.

Around the king there was a circle of court poets, the most memorable being the Italian humanist Publio Fausto Andrelini from Forlì, who spread the New Learning in France.

The Italian War

Charles VIII.
Anne of Brittany as Queen.

To secure France against invasions, Charles made treaties with Austria and England, buying their neutrality with big concessions. He devoted France's resources to building up a large army, including one of Europe's first siege trains with artillery.

In 1489, Pope Innocent VIII, then being at odds with Ferdinand I of Naples, offered Naples to Charles, who had a vague claim to the Kingdom of Naples through his paternal grandmother, Marie of Anjou. In 1494, Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, was threatened by Ferdinand's successor Alfonso II, and urged Charles to go take Naples. Charles was also urged on by his favorite courtier, Étienne de Vesc. Thus encouraged, Charles imagined himself capable of actually taking Naples.

Charles entered Italy with 25,000 men (including 8,000 Swiss mercenaries) in 1494 and marched across the peninsula, reaching Naples on 22 February 1495.[1] The French army subdued Florence in passing and took Naples without a pitched battle or siege. Alfonso was expelled and Charles was crowned King of Naples.

There were those in the Republic of Florence who appreciated the presence of the King and his Army. The famous friar Savonarola believed that King Charles VIII was God's tool to purify the corruption of Florence. Once the King had ousted the evil sinners of Florence the city would become center of morality and thus the appropriate place to restructure the Church. This situation would eventually spill over into another conflict between Pope Alexander VI, who despised the King in Italy, and Savonarola, who called for the King's intervention. This conflict would eventually lead Savonarola to be suspected of heresy and executed by the State.

The speed and power of the French advance frightened the other Italian rulers, including the Pope and even Ludovico of Milan. They formed an anti-French coalition, the League of Venice. At Fornovo in July 1495, the League defeated Charles, despite losing 2,000 men to his 1,000. Charles lost nearly all the booty of the campaign and had to withdraw to France. His remaining garrisons in Naples were quickly subdued by Aragonese allies of Alfonso.

Over the next few years, Charles tried to rebuild his army, and resume the campaign. But he was hampered by the large debts incurred in 1494–95. He never succeeded in gaining anything substantive.


Charles died in 1498, two and a half years after his retreat from Italy, as the result of an accident. While playing jeu de paume (real tennis) in Amboise he struck his head on the lintel of a door.[2] A few hours later, he fell into a sudden coma, and then died.

The Coat of arms of Charles VIII.


Charles bequeathed a meagre legacy: he left France in debt and in disarray as a result of his ambition. However, his expedition did strengthen cultural ties to Italy, energising French art and letters in the latter part of the Renaissance.

Since his children predeceased him, Charles was the last of the elder branch of the House of Valois. Upon his death, the throne passed to his father's second cousin, the Duke of Orléans, who reigned as King Louis XII.


The marriage with Anne resulted in the birth of four children:

  • Charles-Orland, Dauphin of France (11 October 1492 – 16 December 1495).
  • Charles, Dauphin of France (8 September – 2 October 1496).
  • François, Dauphin of France (July 1497).
  • Princess Anne of France (1498).

Representations in Popular Culture

Charles VIII's invasion of Italy and his relations with Pope Alexander VI are depicted in the novel The Sultan's Helmsman.

In the 2011 Showtime series The Borgias, Charles VIII is portrayed by French actor Michel Muller.


See also

  • First Italian War


  1. ^ R. Ritchie, Historical Atlas of the Renaissance, 64.
  2. ^ Heiner Gillmeister, Tennis: A Cultural History (London: Leicester University Press, 1998) p. 21. (ISBN 978-0718501471)

Charles VIII of France
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty
Born: 30 June 1470 Died: 7 April 1498
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Louis XI
King of France
30 August 1483 – 7 April 1498
Succeeded by
Louis XII
Preceded by
Alphonse II
King of Naples
February 1495 – July 1495
Succeeded by
Ferdinand II
Preceded by
as sole ruler
Duke of Brittany
6 December 1491 – 7 April 1498
with Anne (jure uxoris)
Succeeded by
as sole ruler
French royalty
Title last held by
Dauphin of France
30 June 1470 – 30 August 1483
Title next held by
Charles Orlando

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