Louis XII was king of France from June 1498 to January 1515. Louis was the cousin of Charles VIII and the nearest relative. He had been one of the rebel nobles but had been forgiven in 1491 probably because he was family. He married Anne of Brittany, the widow of Charles VIII.
Louis acquired a reputation for being kind, humane and popular. In 1506, the Estates of Tours gave him the title “Father of the People”. In his reign, France experienced internal peace (except in 1515), economic growth and a continuing growth of absolutist power for the crown.
The Royal Council and the great governmental departments (which were modernised in March 1499) continued their policy of “pushing out their tentacles into the provinces and localities” and more government controlled parléments were established in the provinces. What had been previously accepted as “customary” law (i.e. it had always been around so it should continue) was codified and clarified by centrally appointed legal experts. Local customs had invariably been created to undermine the king in terms of tax collection and Louis felt secure enough to start to destroy these.
His reign also witnessed the start of the spread of Humanism
However, his reign also saw his involvement in northern Italy – just like Charles. This was to prove costly both in financial terms and in the loss of status in western Europe.
Louis XII and foreign policy
Louis also got himself involved in Italy. He had a vague claim to Milan as his grandfather had married into the Visconti family and they had ruled Milan before the Sforza family had taken over.
Louis invaded Milan in 1499 and took the city in October. In 1500 the Sforza’s had re-taken the city but there was no decisive battle whereby one side comprehensively defeated the other. Both sides used Swiss mercenaries and at the Battle of Novara the mercenaries refused to fight one another !! At this ‘battle’ Sforza was taken prisoner.
In the Treaty of Blois signed in 1504, the Emperor recognised French rule in Milan. As a result of this deal, the daughter of Louis had to marry the grandson of the emperor thus tying both families together and diminishing the chances of a major dispute between France and the emperor.
After this success, Louis made claim to Naples. In the Treaty of Granada, Louis and Ferdinand of Aragon agreed to partition Naples. However, both fell out on where the border should be and war broke out between these two ‘allies’.
The French were defeated twice in 1503 at the battles of Cerignalo and River Garigliano. In 1505 he renounced his claim to Naples in favour of his niece Germaine de Foix. She was about to become the second wife of Ferdinand of Aragon.
Seemingly oblivious to these defeats, Louis next targeted Venice. He joined with the emperor to form the League of Cambrai in 1508. Within a year England, Savoy, the Papal states, Florence and Aragon had joined and in May 1509 Louis lead this formidable force to victory over the Venetians at Agnadello. It then became clear that Louis was targeting Milan once again and the alliance broke up in acrimony.
In 1511 the Holy League was formed with the sole purpose of driving Louis out of Italy once and for all. In 1512 France lost their leading general Gaston de Foix at the Battle of Ravenna and France was driven out of Milan. The Sforza family ruled Milan once again.
Incredibly, Louis tried his hand against Milan once again in 1513. This campaign again ended in defeat at the Battle of Novara when his army was defeated by the Swiss. In such a weakened state, Louis had to fear an actual invasion of France and al the problems that would bring. Louis tried to buy off his opponents in the Holy League. Regardless of this, Henry VII and Maximillian defeated Louis at the Battle of Spurs in Artois in 1513. Parts of France became temporarily overrun. The Swiss got as far as Dijon. Ferdinand had already taken Navarra. To end this, Louis agreed to marry Mary, the sister of Henry VII, thus tying him to England. The Italian campaigns had been a disaster for Louis. His army had been severely weakened, the financial cost of failure had been very high and the status of France in western Europe had taken a severe battering as a result of the obvious military incompetence of her leaders (Gaston excluded). Within Europe there was no obvious desire to have France as an ally.