A Legacy Shaped by Women and Kings

In 16th century France, the d’Orléans family emerged from its enforced obscurity to take central stage. It owed its success to several remarkable women and lucky marriage alliances. From navigating political turmoil to promoting cultural and religious reform, the d’Orléans family played a pivotal role in shaping France during this tumultuous period. The kings, and the women at their sides, left a legacy that shaped the following century.

The 1407 murder of Duke Louis I d’Orléans by the Burgundians weakened both France and the d’Orléans family and encouraged England to renew the Hundred Years War. Although the French eventually defeated the English, the two d’Orléans sons, Charles and Jean, spent more than 25-years in English captivity. When finally released in the 1440s but without the help of the royal branch, the rift between the d’Orléans and senior Valois branches could not be mended. Their relative poverty and strained relationships with the senior branch impaired their ability to make an advantageous marriage. The late age at which the brothers fathered their families resulted in their widows’ lack of ability to influence their children’s destinies in a paternalistic age.

Assassination of Duke Louis I d'Orleans
Assassination of Duke Louis I d’Orleans

The Disastrous 15th Century

Despite attempts by Valois kings to eliminate the cadet branch and reintegrate their appanage into the royal demesne, the d’Orléans family’s fortunate marriages and political maneuvering thwarted these efforts. Despite being seen as a threat by kings Charles VII and Louis XI, the d’Orléans family not only survived but thrived, leaving an indelible mark on French history.

The three families descended from Duke Louis I d’Orléans intermarried in the 16th century. [A table at the end of this post shows the marriages and their descendants from 1457 to 1594.]

Duke Louis d’Orléans (1462-1515)

Son of Duke Charles [d. 1465], Duke Louis was orphaned at three and brought up by the manipulative King Louis XI. The king forced him into marriage with the barren Jeanne de France. When Duke Louis became King Louis XII of France, he divorced her. Then he married Anne of Brittany, illustrating his family’s ability to navigate political pressures. Louis reduced taxes and consolidated laws within France, making him a popular monarch.

Count Charles d’Orléans (1459-1496):

The family of Count Charles d’Angoulême [son of Count Jean d’Angoulême] had the greatest impact on the 16th century. His widow, Louise de Savoie, managed to keep control of their children during their youth. To their good fortune, her son, François, became king. Their daughter Marguerite then made advantageous marriages that resulted in her becoming progenitor to Henri IV and the whole Bourbon line.

Countess Marguerite de Vertu (d’Orléans):

Countess Marguerite, like the other children, made an inconsequential marriage. Count Richard d’Étampes was the fourth son of the Duke of Brittany, and his mother was the duke’s third wife. So, no one expected that all his older brothers would die without male heirs. King Charles VII of France was both surprised and displeased when her son, François, became Duke of Brittany.

François II, born of Richard, Count d’Étampes, became a pivotal figure. His heiress, Anne, Duchess of Brittany, married kings Charles VIII and Louis XII. Her royal marriages solidified the family’s connection to the French crown and his granddaughter Claude of France married François I.

Cultural and Political Legacy

The 16th century showered France with several gifted descendants from the d’Orléans lineage. King Louis XII, the former Duke d’Orléans, called the Father of the People, was the first of the line. His marriage to Anne of Brittany brought back the line descended from his sister Countess Marie de Vertus. She had married into the Breton ruling family, and her granddaughter brought with her the duchy of Brittany. Louis continued the French wars in Italy that were critical to bringing their cultural influences north.

Their daughter, Claude, married King François I, [descended from Louis’s uncle Jean]. François, another Italian adventurer, is known for fostering the Renaissance in France, that shaped the nation’s cultural landscape. His mother, Regent Louise de Savoie, wielded political power behind her son’s throne. Queen Marguerite of Navarre, his sister , a poetess, writer, and religious reformer, left an indelible mark on French literature. His son, King Henri II, provided stability to France. Marguerite’s daughter, Queen Jeanne, brought the Huguenot reform to Navarre. Jeanne’s son, King Henri IV brought peace to war-torn France and ensured the Huguenot received decent treatment in France for 100 years.

These close interrelationships brought problems too. The last three Valois kings, who descended from King Henri II, were unable to produce male heirs. Moreover, they reigned during the disastrous French religious wars that lasted from 1562 to 1594. They ended when King Henri IV accepted Catholicism and was finally crowned.

A Legacy Shaped by Women and Kings: the d’Orléans Family in 16th-Century France

In the 15th Century. the senoir Valois line attempts to eliminate the d’Orléans male line. Despite the odds, the d’Orleans defied expectations to play a pivotal role in influencing 16th-century French history.

The d’Orléans family’s resilience in the face of political machinations, its dedication to intellectual reform, and its strategic and fortunate alliances reverberated through several generations. The intricate web of marriages left enduring cultural contributions and political influences. Direct descendants of Duke Louis I d’Orléans, from Anne of Brittany, Claude de France, Jeanne d’Albret, and Marguerite de Navarre, to kings like Louis XII, François I, Henri II, and Henri IV, affected the political, cultural, literary, and religious reforms that marked the century of the Renaissance and Reformation in France. The shape of 16th-century France is the legacy left by the d’Orléans women and kings.

Descendants of Duke Louis I d’Orléans’ Three Children

The Family of Duke Charles d’Orléans:
Married Marie de Cleves [1426–1487]The youngest child of Adolph I, German Duke of Cleves and his second wife, Mary of Burgundy.
Marie d’Orléans (1457–1493):Forced betrothal by Louis XI, to the younger son of the cadet branch of the Navarre royal family, Jean de Foix, Vicomte de Narbonne. (1450-1500)
 Descendants: Germaine (1488-1538), later (Queen d’Aragon) and Gaston de Foix (1489-1512) (Duke de Nemours).
Duke Louis d’Orléans (1462-1515): Became King Louis XII in 14981.Forced marriage to the barren daughter of Louis XI, Jeanne de France (1464- 1505). Divorced Jeanne.
 2.m Anne of Brittany (See below)
Anne d’Orléans (1464 – 1491):Became Abbess de Fontevrault, played a role in the reform of the religious order.
The Family of Count Jean d’Angoulême:
Jeanne (b 1462, m 1481, d ?)Charles-François de Coëtivy, Count of Taillebourg
Charles d’Angoulême (1459-1496):Rebelled against regent, Duchess Anne de Beaujeu, forced to marry Louise de Savoie (1476-1531) orphaned daughter of a younger son of the Duke of Savoy.
Children: both influential figures. 
*King François I (1494-1547)m Claude de France (1499-1524 – daughter of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany)
  Son: King Henri II de France (1519-1559)
* Marguerite, Queen of Navarre (1492-1549)Married King Henri II d’Albret King of Navarre (1503-1555)
 Daughter: Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre (1528-1572)
The Family of Countess Marguerite de Vertu (d’Orléans):
Marguerite d’Orléans (1406-1466):Married Richard of Montfort, Count of Étampes, 4th son of the Duke of Brittany. (1396-1438). Only two of their seven children had descendants.
 Devoted her later life to religious pursuits. Her eldest daughter, Marie of Brittany (1424 –1477), became Abbess de Fontevrault, and played a role in the reform of the religious order.
Daughter: Catherine of Brittany (1428–c. 1476)Married William VIII, Lord of Châlons-Arlay and prince of Orange. (1415-1475)
:Descendant: Jean IV le Bien, Prince d’Orange, Lord of Châlons-Arlay. (1443-1503)
Son: François II, Duke of Brittany (1433–1488):Married twice. Second wife, Marguerite de Foix (1458 -1486), sister to Vicomte Jean de Foix who married Countess Marie d’Orléans.
 Daughter: Anne, Duchess of Brittany, Queen of France (1476-1514) married 1. Charles VIII de France (1470-1498)
 2. Louis XII de France (see above)
 *Their daughter Claude de France married King François I, son of Count Charles d’Angoulême
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