Who's Who

Louis XII: Medieval King or Renaissance Monarch?

A ruler in transition - Howell Lloyd looks at the icons of power that masked the face of French kingship around 1500.

Early in the afternoon of April 7th, 1498, Charles VIII of France escorted his queen, Anne of Brittany, to an antiquated gallery at his chateau of Amboise, to watch a game of tennis. Entering the gallery through a low doorway, the king stumbled on a rotten floorboard and hit his head against the lintel. Shortly afterwards he collapsed. He was carried to a seedy chamber close at hand and laid upon a mattress where he mumbled prayers and drifted in and out of consciousness for some seven hours, and then died. His physicians diagnosed as the cause of death what would nowadays be termed a stroke or a seizure brought on by the accident. Rumours of poison circulated none the less: how could a trifling blow to the head have been enough to kill a man still in his twenty-eighth year? And who stood to profit by his premature demise?

One answer was obvious enough. The heir to the throne, as long as Charles remained without surviving male offspring, was Louis d'Orleans, first prince of the blood royal – a notorious trouble-maker throughout his cousin's reign and, according to scandal-mongers, of questionable parentage, given that his avowed father, the poet Charles d'Orleans, was a sexagenarian at the time of his conception and a most unlikely begetter of sons after twenty largely infertile years of marriage.

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