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Charles VIII of France
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Charles VIII of France

Charles VIII (June 30, 1470 - April 7, 1498) was King of France from 1483 to 1498, a member of the Valois Dynasty. He achieved prominence by commencing the long series of Franco-Italian wars which so characterized Italian affairs in the first half of the 16th century. He was born at the Royal Chateau Amboise, France, the only son of King Louis XI of France. Charles succeeded to the throne upon his father's demise on August 30, 1483. In poor health and regarded by his contemporaries as of pleasant disposition but foolish and unsuited for the business of the state, the thirteen-year-old king reigned under a regency headed by his eldest sister, Princess Anne de Beaujeu, and her husband Pierre de Bourbon.

On December 6, 1491 Charles married Anne de Bretagne, heiress to the duchy of Brittany, in an elaborate ceremony at Chateau Langeais. The fifteen-year-old Duchesse Anne, not happy with the politically 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 would live at the Clos Lucé in Amboise.

Having inherited a vague claim to the kingdom of Naples through his paternal grandmother, Marie of Anjou (1404 - 1463), and encouraged by Ludovico Sforza of Milan, he imagined himself capable of seizing that realm, and he thereupon set France's resources toward that goal - starting the Italian Wars. He contracted several unfavourable treaties with Austria, England, and Aragon, in order to free himself of distractions, and then commenced a massive buildup of forces. He entered Italy in 1494, and marched across the peninsula, reaching Naples on February 22, 1495. Crowned king of Naples, he then found himself the subject of an opposing coalition from the League of Venice, involving that republic with Austria, the Papacy, and Ludovico Sforza of Milan. Defeated at Fornovo in July 1495, he escaped to France at the cost of the loss of most of his forces. He attempted in the next few years to rebuild his army, but was hampered by the serious debts incurred by the previous one - he never succeeded in recouping anything substantive. He died two-and-a-half years after his retreat, of an accident - striking himself on the head while passing through a doorway, he succumbed to a sudden coma several hours later.

Charles bequeathed a meagre legacy - he left France in debt and in disarray as a result of an ambition most charitably characterized as unrealistic. On a more positive side, his expedition did broach contacts between French and Italian humanists, energizing French art and letters in the latter Renaissance.

Charles proved the last of the elder branch of the House of Valois, and upon his death at Amboise the throne passed to a cousin, the duc d'Orleans, who reigned as King Louis XII of France.

Preceded by:
Louis XI
King of France Succeeded by:
Louis XII