Louise of Savoy- The King’s Mother Part II

Louise of Savoy symbolically taking over the “rudder” in 1525, and requesting the help of Suleiman the Magnificent, here shown lying at her feet enturbanned.

As we discussed in Part I, Louise of Savoy was a huge influence on her son and instrumental in bringing him to the throne of France.  (Please see here for this post:  http://www.historynaked.com/louise-savoy-kings-mother-part/ ).  So in 1515, Francis ascended the throne of France, but he went off to enjoy the pleasures of being king and left the governing in the capable hands of his mother.  Louise was prepared for the job as she watched Anne of Beaujeu run the country in her youth.  Ambassadors and other notables of the court knew to go to her and treated her as if she was the crowned queen.  However, she was always careful to defer to the actual queen- Claude, daughter of her old rival Anne of Brittany.  There are reports that Claude and Louise did not get along.  It would make sense as Louise and her mother were on terrible terms.  Pierre de Bourdeille Brantôme in his Book of the Ladies, claims Louise treated Claude very harshly.  Claude was extremely popular while Louise did not gain the love of the people, and was described as a “a most terrible woman” by the Venetian ambassador.  That probably didn’t help either.  Despite this, the two were in constant company for the most of their lives, even when Claude was a child.  In her journal, Louise referred to Claude as “my daughter”, which might have just been courtesy for the time or could hint at a closer relationship.  I imagine this relationship was much more complex than simple rivalry.

Francis had his mother elevated to the title of Duchess of Angoulême and later Duchess of Anjou.  She made a claim to the Duchy of Bourbon, which was disputed with Duke Charles III.  The easiest way out of the difficulty was for the two to marry.  Louise was still considered an attractive woman.  An Italian ambassador describes her by saying she looked young for her age and she was “an unusually tall woman, still finely complexioned, very rubicund and lively.”  However, Duke Charles did not agree and turned her down.  Well, that didn’t go over well.  Louise use every bit of influence she had, which by this time was considerable, to take him down.  Eventually, he was exiled, punished for rebellion and lost his titles and lands.  Guess who got them?  I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count.

Although Louise was only technically regent while Francis was off fighting in Italy, she appointed men to offices who followed her lead.  These men stayed in power even after Francis returned in 1516, and as such her influence was strong in the government.  In 1520, the young English king and the young French king met for the first time at the Field of the Cloth of Gold.  Louise did much of the planning of the display for Henry VIII.  Although she was not technically the queen, Louise arrived in splendor riding in a black velvet litter with a considerable number of ladies dressed in crimson velvet with sleeves slashed with gold.  Relations with England were always iffy at best.  Although she negotiated The Treaty of the Moor, worked out with the ever present Cardinal Wolsey  (more on him in this post:  http://www.historynaked.com/cardinal-thomas-wolsey/ ) to pay England to cease hostilities with France, relations were never very good.

Louise was in charge at this time because Francis had taken up fighting in Italy again, and at this time was captured by the Holy Roman Emperor.  He was imprisoned in Spain, and wrote a sorrowful letter to his mother saying “nothing is left but my honour and my life.” He begged her “not to lose heart,” but to “exercise” her “customary prudence.” He recommended to her his “little children,” who were, he reminded her, also hers. He signed himself her “humble and obedient son.”  Louise was distraught, but she mobilized her forces to free her son and protect his lands.  The Treaty of the Moor kept England off their backs for the time being, and undertook the tricky charge of raising the ransom to get Francis out of prison.  Parliaments are touchy about money and the Parlement of Paris tried to get a different regent installed.  They failed.  They didn’t know who they were dealing with.  Even the chancellor of France assured the captive king that the “said lady has managed so well that the rea[l]m is on its accustomed footing.”

Looking for allies, Louise thought outside the box and sent overtures to Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.  The Turks had long been a scourge on the borders of the Holy Roman Empire, and Louise was happy to make a deal with them to free her son.  Her first set of ambassadors were lost in Bosnia, but the second set arrived in Constantinople in December 1525.  This was the first steps in the Franco-Ottoman alliance, which held until the Napoleonic campaign in Ottoman Egypt in 1798.

The Treaty of Madrid in 1526 negotiated to free her son was punishing, but she signed it.  They had to relinquish the territory of Burgundy to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, renounce all claims to Italy and Francis was to marry the widowed sister of Charles V, Eleanor of Portugal.  The most heartbreaking condition of all was Francis’ two sons were to be held hostage for their father at the Holy Roman court.  The treaty was signed on January 20, 1526, but neither Francis or his mother intended to keep any of the promises made.  At first he played for time.  He was in mourning for his first wife, Claude, who had died while he was on campaign.  FInally, the matter was settled at the Treaty of Cambrai.  Louise negotiated for France and her son, and her old companion Margaret of Austria negotiated for her nephew Charles V and the Holy Roman Empire.  As such the treaty was called Paix des Dames or Peace of the Ladies.  In it Francis gave up claims to Italy, but claims to Burgundy were restored.  His sons were escorted back to France by Eleanor, who became Francis’ wife.

Legend has it, Louise felt a chill while watching a comet in Grez-sur-Loing.  She died shortly after on September 22, 1531.  She was entombed at Saint-Denis in Paris.  A just reward after a life of service to her country, king and son.

ER