King Slayers: Charles VIII Knocking on Death’s Door

220px-Charles_VIII_Ecole_Francaise_16th_century_Musee_de_Conde_Chantilly

He certainly does look “Affable”

It almost seems like it’s a prerequisite to be both a French King and histrionic in death. I mean, when hunting accidents, executions, and bizarre gangrene infected limbs make-up the brunt of the company, it seems a bit cliche to just up and die of natural causes.

Part of the reason I’ve been interested in focusing on this series is because I’m still baffled by the completely mundane or stupid way these Royal Dudes have gone so far. And that’s largely due to the idea that royalty is somehow above us, an assumption fostered by the Will of God in declaring a divine right to rule (or, of course, all the people in charge want you to believe). I have plans to get into the Divine Right of Kings or the Mandate of Heaven someday on this blog, but for the basics–as a concept, it was an idea that a King was granted earthly powers through God in the same way as religious prophets/leaders were. The idea existed in Western and Eastern civilizations and it wasn’t that hard to stomach since the tradition of a mortal being imbued with special powers was no stranger to mythology. The fact that you had some kind of godly figure sitting on the throne accepted by large swaths of the population isn’t that questionable either, since you could take a quick search on Twitter and learn that people will believe just about anything if it means their leader is infallible and preferential in some way…

800px-Karl_VIII._empfaengt_Franz_von_Paola_in_Amboise

See?!

But for this next king, Charles VIII, it’s really hard to reconcile how anyone could find this guy anything other than divinely stupid in the way in which he chose to leave his mortal coils. And as it was so lovingly put in indignant bafflement:

And so the greatest king of the world is dead to the most ugly and dirty place of his court. Admittedly, this filthy place was too unworthy of this great and illustrious king and his fortune.Pierre de Brantôme, 16th century French Historian [1]

If you’ve been following along with my blog, I’ve already turned the embarrassing way he met his end into a punchline. But for those who are new, come on in (but please, watch your head) and listen to the tale.

Charles VIII wasn’t exactly the first choice to take over France after his father’s death. The state of France was looking pretty solid up to this point. His father, Louis XI, had spent his reigning years as a cunning bastard, mopping up territory for France and putting an end to the Hundred Year’s War. To have a 13-year old take over in his place who was, by contemporary accounts, kinda dumb, all of the hard work of his reign could quickly come undone. Therefore, Louis XI wished for his daughter Anne to act as regent instead. [2]

Anne_Beaujeu

No kingdom is gonna mess with her!

Anne was kind of a badass. Since her father wasn’t exactly pleasant while conniving his plans, some of the kingdom was still a bit sore at his family and so Anne was forced to squish some open rebellion while in charge during what was known as the “Mad War”. She also positioned herself as an early Clarisse Renaldi (Queen of Genovia, come on you guys!) when it came to certain finesse in manners among the aristocracy, namely, that you should probably use a piece of fabric to wipe your nose instead of your hand. I’m also assuming she invented the princess wave but citation needed. All in all, France was in great shape under her leadership and if it wasn’t for her assistance in the Battle of Bosworth, Henry Tudor might not have managed to win England and Jonathan Ryes Meyers would have been out a job.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, however, and Charles VIII was finally ready to take his throne. After also taking his father-in-law’s wife Anne of Brittany as well (and pissing off those incestuous Hapsburg’s to boot), he soon sought to take Italian territories for added good measure and marched all up in the Papal States too. I detailed a bit of the politics of this in my post on the Borgia family, but needless to say, Charles VIII did find some comfort in overtaking Naples for awhile. This pissed off the Italian Papal States enough to league up like this was ancient Greece and Charles was some marauding Persian though, and after plenty of bloodshed, Charles was eventually forced to return back to France with nothing to show for it. Except a considerable amount of national debt, of course. [4]

Pietro_Perugino_painting_the_portrait_of_the_king_Charles_VIII_of_France_(circa_1496)

There’s a certain irony here that this painting is on a ceiling…

It was while residing at home and licking his wounds before undertaking another foray into campaigning in the Italian Peninsula, that Charles VIII’s story reaches its inevitable crescendo. Lumbering about in the throes of excitement over a game of proto-tennis out in his court, Charles VIII was so eager to catch the match that while running outside to go see it, he struck his head on the low archway of a gallery like a dolt. Possibly muttering an unfazed “herp derp”, he stumbled to the game as if he hadn’t just broke his skull and caused the internal bleeding that was about to give him a nasty stroke later that night. [3] Needless to say, he died an embarrassing death at the heir-less age of 27. Way to go, bruh.

Cause of Death: Tennis by Fatal Door Lintel

(Also, Charles VIII wasn’t even the first French King to die this way. Louis III did it first, chasing after a girl on horseback with the intent of raping her. Though you could say that Karma was the clear murderer in that scenario rather than lintels.)

Fact Check it, yo!

[1Germa-Romann, Hélène. “EXEMPLAIRE ET SINGULIÈRE, LA MORT DU ROI (DE CHARLES VIII À LOUIS XIII).” Bibliothèque D’Humanisme Et Renaissance, vol. 60, no. 3, 1998, pp. 673–706. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20678425.

[2] Joni M. Hand, Women, Manuscripts and Identity in Northern Europe, 1350-1550, (Ashgate Publishing, 2013), 24

[3] BÜHLER, CURT F., and ROBERT H. BOWERS. “A MEDICAL MANUSCRIPT PRESENTED TO CHARLES VIII OF FRANCE.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, vol. 11, no. 1, 1942, pp. 69–86. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/44440691.

[4Du Haut-Jussé, Barthélemy-A. Pocquet. “LES DÉBUTS DU GOUVERNEMENT DE CHARLES VIII EN BRETAGNE.” Bibliothèque De l’École Des Chartes, vol. 115, 1957, pp. 138–155. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/42959342.

[5Rorimer, James J. “The Glorification of Charles VIII.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 12, no. 10, 1954, pp. 281–299. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3257546.

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One thought on “King Slayers: Charles VIII Knocking on Death’s Door

  1. Pingback: King Slayers | Histastrophe!

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