Princess Claude of France was the eldest daughter of King Louis XII of France and his second wife, Anne of Brittany. She was born on October 13, 1499 in Romorantin-Lanthenay. Though her parents did not have a marriage of true romance, as their marital union had been the result of one of the terms on Anne’s marriage contract with her former spouse, King Charles VIII, they did respect one another. Since Claude’s mother was the Duchess of Brittany in her own right, the fate of her children, her heirs, would determine the future of the independent duchy.
Claude was named after a saint her pregnant mother had prayed to during a pilgrimage, Claudius of Besançon, in the hopes that she would finally be able to produce a healthy, living child. Her previous marriage with her husband’s predecessor, Charles VIII, had resulted in seven failed births. So, when Claude was born healthy and alive, her mother showed her thanks by naming her child after the saint she believed blessed her child with life. At the time of Claude’s birth, her father was away fighting in Italy but he returned a month later to attend her christening. After Claude, Anne would become pregnant eight more times but only one of these pregnancies in 1510 resulted in another healthy, living child – a daughter named Renée. So, between Anne’s last two marriages (she was actually married three times but she never became pregnant during her first marriage), she was with child a total of sixteen times and ultimately only had two daughters that lived past infancy. Claude had the typical, pampered lifestyle of a princess at the royal residence of the Château of Blois. Since she was her parent’s only child for some time, they cherished her above anything else, especially her father, who adored having her in his presence. Claude loved both of her parents and while she enjoyed being in her father’s company, especially when he took her hunting with him, she looked up to her mother as her own personal idol. Anne of Brittany was certainly an unconventional woman for her day; she was a strong, independent, pious, and obstinate Queen, as well as a successful ruler in her own right.
|Francis I, King of France|
(Jean Clouet, 1535)
|Claude, Queen of France|
(François Clouet, 1520)
Since both husband and wife were essentially strangers to each another, genuine love and affection was not present at the start of the marriage, as was typical with most royal matches. They saw their union as nothing more than their duty to their country. Francis was a young, handsome man (though he was known for having a rather large nose) and had a reputation as a notorious ladies’ man. The morning after the wedding, he left his new wife to go hunting and gallivant about with other women. Francis was most likely unimpressed with his bride’s features as well. Claude was described as resembling her mother in that she was small and thin with a sickly complexion, crossed-eyes, a slightly hunchbacked frame, and degenerative hips (the result of scoliosis and claudication). But the couple’s happiness was not a matter of importance to the King – what was important was the fact that the marriage secured the Duchy of Brittany’s fate of being tied to the Crown. Five months after the wedding, the aged Louis XII married for a third time to the young and attractive Princess Mary Tudor, the sister of King Henry VIII of England. The match between the fifty-two year old King and the eighteen-year-old English beauty was a last-ditch effort for the King to produce a male heir. But his effort was futile, for Louis died just short of three months after the wedding. Thus, on January 1, 1515, Francis I became the new King of France with Claude as his Queen.
|Claude, Queen of France|
Claude and Francis’s children:
- Louise (1515-1517) died in infancy
- Charlotte (1516-1524) died at the age of 7 from measles
- Francis III, Duke of Brittany (1518-1536) died unmarried and without issue
- Henry II, King of France (1519-1559) married: Catherine de’ Medici – had issue
- Madeline, Queen of Scots (1520-1537) married: James V, King of Scotland – no issue
- Charles II, Duke of Orléans (1522-1545) died unmarried and without issue
- Margaret, Duchess of Berry & Savoy (1523-1574) married: Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy – had issue
|Statue of Claude above her tomb|
|Henry II, King of France|
(François Clouet, 1559)
Claude’s last birth in 1523 of her daughter, Marguerite, caused her physical downfall. The effects of all her straining pregnancies, her naturally poor stature, and the fact that she was also probably ill with syphilis in her final years brought about her early death on July 20, 1524 at her home of the Château de Blois, the same place her mother had lived and died as well. Claude was only twenty-four years old at the time of her death and she left behind six young children (the eldest, Louise, had died years before), the oldest being seven years old and the youngest just a year old. Francis, despite the fact that he never loved his wife passionately, was moved by her death and gave her a grand funeral. She was buried in the Basilica of Saint Denis along with her late parents and other members of French royalty. Francis wrote to his mother after Claude’s death that he never thought that the sacred bond of marriage would be so hard to break (a rather astonishing thing for a man who was known for his infidelity to say). Francis would marry again but not until 1530, when he wed the sister of Emperor Charles V, Eleanor of Austria. The marriage produced no children and Francis, who preferred the company of his mistresses, largely ignored Eleanor. Francis I died on March 31, 1547 at the age of fifty-two, probably from syphilis, and was buried with his first wife.
Only two of Claude’s seven children survived past the age of thirty. Her first daughter, Louise, died in infancy while her second, Charlotte, died just three months after her mother at the age of seven from an attack of the measles. Upon Claude’s death, her duchy of Brittany passed to her eldest son, Francis. However, his term as Duke of Brittany didn’t last for long, as he died in 1536 at the age of eighteen under mysterious circumstances (it was said he was poisoned but the real cause of his death was almost certainly tuberculosis). So, the dukedom passed to Claude’s next child, her son Henry, who succeeded his father as king upon his death, thus finally uniting Brittany and the Crown permanently. Henry II would reign for a little more than a decade and married the Italian Catherine de’ Medici, who he had ten children with (which included three kings of France, a Queen Consort of Spain, and a Queen Consort of France).
|Claude's surviving daughters (left to right): Madeline of Valois, Queen of Scots |
and Margaret, Duchess of Berry and Savoy