by Emily McMahon
Louis was born on June 27, 1462, at the Chateau de Blois in Touraine, France, the only son and the second of the three children of Charles, Duke of Orléans and his third wife Marie of Cleves. Louis’ father Charles was the grandson of King Charles V of France through his second son, Louis, Duke of Orléans.
Louis had one half-sister from his father’s first marriage to Isabella of Valois, daughter of King Charles VI of France and widow of King Richard II of England. Isabella died in childbirth at the age of 19.
Louis had one full elder sister and one full younger sister:
- Marie of Orléans (1457 – 1493), married Jean of Foix, had two children including Germaine who was the second wife of King Ferdinand II of Aragon
- Anne of Orléans (1464 – 1491), Abbess of Fontevrault and Poitiers
Louis succeeded his father as Duke of Orléans at the age of three. Although his descent from the French ruling line was somewhat distant, Louis aware of his close proximity to the throne should the main Valois line become extinct.
On September 8, 1476, 14-year-old Louis married 12-year-old Jeanne of France, daughter of King Louis XI of France. This was a political union arranged by King Louis XI, possibly to secure the succession due to the ill health of his heir, the future King Charles VIII of France. The marriage was unhappy, the couple lived apart, and there were no children.
King Louis XI died in 1483, leaving his 13-year-old son Charles VIII as king. Louis of Orléans was eager to dissolve his marriage with Jeanne as it now lacked importance due to the presumption that Charles would provide his own heirs. Nevertheless, Louis unsuccessfully attempted to join Charles’ sister Anne de Beaujeu as regent in 1484, ending in Anne’s arrest of Louis. Louis’ request to divorce Jeanne (Anne de Beaujeu’s sister) and marry Anne of Brittany, the heiress of the Duchy of Brittany was declined by the pope.
Louis escaped and joined several nobles against royal forces. His comrades included Francis II, Duke of Brittany (his intended fiancee’s father), Prince Jean of Orange, and Rene, Duke of Lorraine. The nobles held on for three years, after which time Francis died and Louis was captured. During Louis’ captivity, Charles VIII married Francis’ daughter Anne, the new Duchess of Brittany, by force. Louis was pardoned by Charles in 1491 and joined the King on his failed Italian campaigns.
King Charles VIII died unexpectedly in 1498. Although he and Anne had had several children, none had survived him, allowing Louis’ succession as King Louis XII of France. Eager to gain control of Anne’s funds and territories, Louis again attempted to annul his marriage to Jeanne. Unable to prove with any documented evidence his close relation to Jeanne (they were distant cousins) or his young age at the time of their marriage, Louis claimed that the marriage was unconsummated due to witchcraft and a deformity on Jeanne’s part. Although Jeanne fought admirably to save her reputation, Pope Alexander VI ruled in favor of Louis and granted the annulment. After her marriage was annulled, Jeanne founded the monastic Order of the Sisters of the Annunciation of Mary and was canonized as a saint in 1950.
Louis XII married Anne of Brittany on January 7, 1499 in Nantes, France. They had four stillborn sons and three miscarriages. They did have two daughters who survived to adulthood:
- Claude of France (1499 – 1524), married François d’Angoulême, later King François I of France, had seven children including King Henri II of France and Madeleine of Valois, first wife of James V, King of Scots; only two of Claude’s children lived past the age of 30
- Renée of France (1510 – 1574), married Ercole II, Duke of Ferrara, had five children
Louis proved an able ruler, repairing the French treasury left in shambles by his predecessor through more efficient tax collection. He also pursued a claim to the Duchy of Milan (which he claimed through his Italian grandmother, Valentina Visconti), holding the territory for twelve years. Louis also worked successfully with the French nobility, possibly understanding the importance of their cooperation after his past as a rebel.
Although Queen Anne bore Louis several children, only daughters Claude and Renee were alive at the time of her death in 1514. Eager to provide himself a male heir, 52-year-old Louis quickly arranged a third marriage to Mary Tudor, the beautiful eighteen-year-old younger sister of King Henry VIII of England. There was a proxy marriage on August 19, 1514 at Greenwich Palace with Claude d’Orléans, Duke of Longueville standing in for Louis XII. Mary left for France on October 2, 1514. They married in person at Abbeville on October 9, 1514. However, the marriage did not last long. Louis XII died on January 1, 1515, just three months after the wedding. As he had no sons, he was succeeded by his son-in-law François d’Angoulême from the House of Valois -Angoulême as King François I of France.
Louis did become the ancestor of the new line of French rulers. Although his daughter Claude could not succeed him due to the Salic Law of the Kingdom, she was married to his successor. Their second son became King of France in 1547 as Henri II. King Louis XII is buried with his second wife Anne of Brittany in the Basilica of St. Denis, the traditional burial place for French monarchs.