Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Young Louise de Savoie was important as part of Savoy Connection when she arrived in France in 1483. Still she was neither the first nor the last, simply the most famous. Why? Because through her talents, family, chance and timing she rose to the most powerful role a woman could achieve in France—Regent for the kingdom.
The Importance of Family for Women
Until recently, family was the most important element in a person’s future. Often 15th and 16th centuries noble families comprised 12 to 20 siblings. Since they married within the same social circle, it didn’t take long before everyone in one’s circle became family. Often related many times over.
Marriages were arranged to maximize inheritances or to solidify alliances. Yet political interests often collided or changed. And death stalked young children, playing havoc with parents’ the best laid plans. Because wealth, land and power were involved, frequently family relationships became strained. But they also created a network of connections through which diplomacy was conducted.
Since women were usually blocked from direct access to institutional power, family networks provided an informal information network that many used to great effect. So, the more extensive her family, the more effectively a woman could extend her informal political reach.
Dauphin Louis and the Savoy Connection
In the late 15th century, at the end of the One Hundred Years War, when France had finally forced England from its land, it had achieved a relative state of peace and prosperity. In around 1450, Dauphin Louis [later King Louis XI], fell out with his father, Charles VII, and went off to rule the Dauphiné which bordered Savoy.While in his lands, Louis rebelled against his father.
To seal his alliance with the Duke, Louis secretly married the duke’s nine-year-old daughter, Charlotte, by procuration in 1451. Later, the marriages of their three living children, Anne, Jeanne, and Charles, would strengthen the ties between the two ruling families.
But first, a passing note. Louis’s sister, Yolande, married Charlotte’s brother Duke Amadée XI. When he died young, Yolande then acted as regent for her sons, the next three dukes, who all died decidedly young. Two of her daughters married into the high nobility of France, the d’Orléans-Longueville and the de la Trémoïlle. A third married into the highest Breton nobility, the de Laval.
Another sister, Agnès, married into the de Longueville family, cousins to the d’Orléans-Longueville. And then, Louise’s father, a younger son, married Marguerite de Bourbon, a daughter of the very top-ranked French nobility, the Bourbon.
That is one generation in the Savoyard ducal family. Marrying into the highest nobility and the royal family France. Louise was related to all of these families as a first cousin or niece.
Chance & Family in Louise de Savoy’s Rise to Power
Louise de Savoie (b 1476), Duchess Louise d’Angoulême, was noted for her diplomatic successes. Yet in 1483, at seven, when her Bourbon mother died, she and her younger brother Philibert arrived as poor orphans at the French court. They were first cousins to Regent Anne de France for Anne’s mother and Louise’s father were sister and brother. Anne was also her aunt-in-law, since she was married to Pierre de Bourbon, brother to Louise’s late mother. Still Louise did not expect a great future, for her father, Count Philippe, was a poor younger son with a roving eye and many illegitimate children, who quickly remarried and had a second large family with his new wife.
In February 1488, Regent Anne arranged her marriage to the poor and discredited Count Charles d’Angoulême, Second Prince of the Blood. He was a failed rebel, whom the Regent pardoned, a condition being his marriage to the wellborn but dowerless 11-year-old Louise.
As a result of a series of a dozen or so fortuitous [for her] deaths, Louise’s only son became King François I of France in 1515. He was young, charming, spoiled and enamoured of the chivalric and the artistic. He also had the greatest respect for his mother. So, it suited them both that he should pursue military glory and cultivate the arts while she ran his kingdom. Between 1515 and 1531, when she died, she became highly respected as a diplomat and twice acted as Regent of France.
The treason of Duke Charles III de Bourbon in 1524 created one of the great crises of Louise’s son’s reign. The duchy de Bourbon was the largest and richest fief in France, and included the titles of comte de Clermont, comte de Forez, duc d’Auvergne, baron de Roannais, sire de Beaujeu, and prince de Dombes. Because of her Bourbon blood, Louise claimed this great Bourbon inheritance after the death of her cousin, Suzanne, daughter of Duke Pierre II. Her claim led directly to the treason, and all the events that resulted.
Louise and the Burgundy connection
From her mother’s Bourbon family she also had imperial ties. The most important were with the Dukes of Burgundy (Bourgogne). Her mother, Marguerite de Bourbon, and Duchess Isabelle of Burgundy were sisters. Isabelle’s daughter, Duchess Mary, who had married King Maximillian of the Romans, was Louise’s first cousin. When Louise arrived at the French court, she met Duchess Mary’s daughter, her cousin Marguerite, who was the young Queen of France and married to King Charles VIII. King Charles was also, like Regent Anne, Louise’s first cousin.
In 1491, King Charles repudiated Marguerite, the young Queen of France to marry Duchess Anne of Brittany. The Duchess of Brittany repudiated King Maximillian of the Romans to marry King Charles. And, if that isn’t complicated enough, Marguerite’s father, was King Maximillian of the Romans.
While living in Regent Anne’s court the young cousins, Marguerite and Louise, developed something more than friendship in common—an unsurprising and well-concealed aversion to their cousin the Regent, Duchess Anne de Beaujeu.
Savoy’s Location in France’s Strategic Geography
In the late 15th and 16th centuries, France shared a long border along the province of Dauphiné in the east close to Lyon. Savoy was extensive and controlled the mountain passes into Italy. Savoy included the Duchy of Savoy, the Principality of Piedmont, the Duchy of Aosta, and the County of Nice. It extended from above Lake Geneva to Milan. Yet Savoy was part of the Holy Roman Empire (HRE), France’s main rival.
On the Savoyard side, many of Louise’s father’s other sisters and brothers married into ducal families in the HRE including the Swiss and Imperial lands of Burgundy, Geneva, Luxembourg, Lorraine, Anjou, and in Savoy, naturally (which was an extensive territory at the time). Therefore Louise had an extensive family network among the royal and ducal families within the HRE.
To everyone’s surprise, Louise’s father Count Philippe succeeded in 1496 to become Duke of Savoy after the youthful accidental death of Duke Charles II of Savoy. Count Philippe had recently returned from accompanying King Charles VIII on the French conquest of Naples in 1494/95.
The duke’s son, and Louise’s brother, Philibert, became Duke of Savoy in 1497. And later, Marguerite of Austria married Philibert in 1501.
The Orléans Longueville Connection
Her involvement with her husband’s family is another fascinating story. That part of her story I cover in my second novel, The Importance of Sons, releasing on 24 June 2022.
This just scratches the surface of Louise’s connections. The following wikipedia links will provide you with probably more than you will want to know about her maternal and paternal relations.
I also include several sources that I think you will find useful about Louise herself.
Brioist, Pascal (dir.); Fagnart, Laure (dir.); et Michon, Cédric (dir.). Louise de Savoie (1476-1531). Nouvelle édition [en ligne]. Tours: Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2015. Disponible sur Internet: <http://books.openedition.org/pufr/8342>. ISBN: 9782869065413. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/books.pufr.8342.
Matarasso, Pauline. Queen’s Mate: Three women of power in France on the eve of the Renaissance. Ashgate, Vermont, 200l. [Out of print. I haven’t found for sale online second hand, but one of the best books ever on Anne of France, Anne of Brittany and Louise of Savoy. Worth looking for.]