The royal line of France is somewhat of a tangle because of their insistence on Salic Law, which said the crown could not be claimed through the line of female descent. (For more on why this was enforced, see this post: http://www.historynaked.com/tour-de-nesle-affair-medieval-soap-opera/ ) This did not stop French history from being full of powerful and strong women. They just remain ostensibly behind the scenes. Louise of Savoy was one such woman.
Born on September 11, 1476 at Pont-d’Ain, Louise was the daughter of Duke Philip II of Savoy and Princess Marguerite of Bourbon. Louise is described as vivacious and tall with light brown hair and blue eyes. Louise’s mother died of tuberculosis when she was seven. After this tragic event, Louise and her brother Philibert left Pont-d’Ain to be raised at the French court. They went into the household of Anne de Beaujeu, the formidable daughter of King Louis XI and the unofficial regent of her younger brother King Charles VIII. Louise was given an excellent education and was able to rub elbows with the court. Some notables included Margaret of Austria who was engaged to Charles although it was later repudiated and Diane de Poitier (see more about her in this post: http://www.historynaked.com/diane-de-poitiers/ ). Although she was a poor relation of “Madame la Grande”, as Anne of Beaujeu was called, she was receiving a bird’s eye view of how to run the country from an expert.
Louise was an eligible prospect and her marriage was soon arranged at the tender age of 12. She was to mary Charles, Count of Angoulême who was seventeen years older than she was. Louise was frightened of marrying such an older man, and expressed her fears to her father who later wrote of them to his second wife. He writes. “My daughter says she is still too narrow, and does not know whether she might die of it; so much so that she asks every day how big and how long his thing is, and whether it is as big and long as her arm.” Her father wrote this as a humorous anecdote, but how scary this business of marrying off young girls was. Poor little thing. The living situation was less than ideal as her husband had not one but two mistresses in his household. This was not unusual and the advice of the day was for a wise wife to ignore it, even befriend the mistresses. Eventually, his illegitimate children with these women were raised in the household along side his legitimate heirs. I would have made a terrible medieval wife. Moving on.
The marriage went on as planned, but when Louise was not pregnant two years later at the ripe old age of 14, she went on a pilgrimage to Plessis-lez-Tours, where the Italian hermit Francis of Paola lived. He was believed to work miracles especially those concerning childbirth. At their meeting, Francis of Paola prophesied Louise would give birth to a son who would be king. There was not a straight line from her child to the throne, but it was a hope Louise never gave up for her son born September 12, 1494. She named him after the hermit, and guiding Francis to the throne of France was her all consuming drive. She called him “her pacific Caesar”. When Charles of Angoulême died in 1495, Francis took his place in line for the throne. Weirdly, Charles VIII died after hitting his head on a low hanging doorway in 1498, which moved Francis one space closer.
Louis XII was the successor to the throne and married Anne of Brittany, making her Queen of France for the second time as she was Charles VIII’s widow. These family trees look like spider webs. However, they only had daughters. Louis doted on Francis, who became the heir presumptive and was betrothed to their oldest daughter, Claude. Louise and Anne of Brittany hated one another. Anne was determined to keep Francis from the throne and have a son of her own, but had miscarriage after stillbirth. Louise kept track of these birthing adventures in her journal with a cold calculations. Anne died in January 1514, and left her children in Louise’s care. Even though they had been bitter rivals in life, Anne knew Louise would put Claude on the throne just to get Francis on the throne.
It looked like there was a clear path to the crown, but old Louis decided to take a young bride, the beautiful Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII. She was eighteen, healthy and unbelievably gorgeous. If this young woman bore a son, Francis was out of luck. However, Louis tried much too hard to keep up with his vigorous young bride and “died of his pleasure” on January 1, 1515. Mary was put into seclusion as la Reine Blanche or “the White Queen”, ordered to wear white gowns and wait for a month to see if she was carrying the next heir to the throne of France. In her seclusion, Francis visited her and asked her frankly if she was pregnant. Mary assured him she was not, and Francis was proclaimed king. In gratitude or perhaps to deprive Henry VIII of a valuable pawn on the marriage market, he helped facilitate Mary’s secret marriage with Charles Brandon. (For more on this, please see post: http://www.historynaked.com/charles-brandon-part-i/ )
Francis was crowned king of France on January 1, 1515, and decided to take full advantage of being king. The country he left in his mother’s capable hands. More on that in the next post. (Part 2 of this post is here: http://www.historynaked.com/louise-savoy-kings-mother-part-ii/ )