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Guest Post by Rozsa Gaston: Passion and Politics in Early Renaissance France


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

France admired her but Brittany loved her. Just as Louis did.Anne, Duchess of Brittany, is the love of King Louis XII of France’s life. Too bad he’s already married.While his annulment proceedings create Europe’s most sensational scandal of 1498, Anne returns to Brittany to take back control of her duchy that her late husband, Charles VIII, King of France, had wrested from her.


France, 1498 

Charles VIII, King of France, has died in a freak accident at age twenty-seven. His queen, Anne of Brittany, is now sole sovereign ruler of Brittany as well as Europe’s most wealthy widow. When the new king, Louis XII of France, sues for her affections, she tells him he has one year to get an annulment or she will move on. The king’s annulment proceedings create Europe’s most sensational scandal of 1498, while Anne returns to Brittany to take back control of her duchy that her late husband had wrested from her. But can she maintain Brittany’s independence from France if she accepts Louis’ offer to make her queen of France once more?


Stained Glass Mosaic of Anne of Brittany and Louis XII, King of France
Hotel de Ville, Vannes, France
Photo courtesy of Thor Karlsen and ABP BZH Agence Bretagne Presse


Louis has admired Anne since meeting her as a young girl at the court of her father, Duke Francis II of Brittany. Even at the age of seven, the future duchess of Brittany held herself as the ruler she would one day become.

In return, Anne’s first girlish crush was on Louis d’Orléans, the twenty-one-year-old handsome and debonair friend of her father’s from the French royal house of Valois. The impression Anne and Louis made on each other was indelible, the threads of which were picked up many years later once Anne became the widow of Charles VIII and Louis ascended the French throne.


Anne of Brittany and Louis d’Orléans, 1491
Gravure from Secrets of History: Anne of Brittany
Courtesy of Stephane Bern


Louis must get an annulment to make Anne his bride. His wife resists, the hunchbacked, sterile Jeanne of France, whom he was forced to marry against his will as a youth of fourteen, by her father, known as the spider king for his devious machinations.


But Louis has an ace up his sleeve. He is aware that the most scandalous pope in the history of the Catholic church, Alexander VI, also known as Rodrigo Borgia, needs a title, land, and noble wife for his purported nephew, Cesare, whom everyone knows is his son.


While Louis offers a backroom deal to the pope in order to obtain his annulment, Anne returns to Brittany to make the Tro Breizh, a journey through her realm to reaffirm her political power as Brittany’s sovereign ruler. If the French king wants to marry her, he will have to come get her, but not without his annulment decree in hand.



Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons



Map of the Tro Breizh (Tour of Brittany)
from Editions Coop Breizh, courtesy of Google Images


Finally, the annulment is granted. The decree is delivered by Cesare Borgia himself, a cocky peacock from the streets of Rome who is laughed at behind his back by the French royal court.


Louis leaves for Brittany immediately, there to wed Anne in Nantes at her father’s castle where they first met. This time, Anne’s marriage to the king of France is on her terms. Her marriage contract states that she is to remain sole sovereign ruler of her own duchy of Brittany, unlike her marriage contract with Charles, in which she was forced to cede sole sovereignty.


Louis respects Anne’s right to administer her own duchy. He knows she is determined to retain Brittany’s independence from France. One day he believes Brittany will come into the kingdom of France, but not under his wife’s watch.



Chateau of the Dukes of Brittany

Birthplace and ancestral home of Anne of Brittany

Nantes, France



It is not Brittany that the king of France covets, but Italy, just as Charles VIII did before him. Louis stakes a claim to the duchy of Milan and then to the kingdom of Naples.





Portrait of Louis XII, King of France
Artist Unknown, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Anne would prefer Louis to mind France’s affairs and stay out of Italy’s, but the king has other ideas. Two months before the birth of their first child together, Louis leaves for Milan, where he enjoys initial success in claiming its ducal throne. But after several months, Louis begins to realize the morass he has gotten himself into in Italy. Allies change sides, then change sides again. The age of chivalry is dead and in its place the Borgias lead the pack in poisoning their enemies and seizing power by unscrupulous means.




Stained glass image of Louis XII, King of France
By Jean Perréal, c. 1500
Walters Art Musuem, Baltimore, Maryland
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Anne is concerned that her good-hearted husband is like a lamb led to slaughter in Italy. When, finally, he returns, they are visited by diplomatic envoys from Florence, the junior of whom is the young Niccolò Machiavelli. Instantly, Anne sees that Machiavelli is sizing up the king, to report back to Florence. She arranges for the young envoy to be sent back soon, distrusting his motives at the French court.





Beggar’s Meeting with Anne of Brittany and Louis XII
By Adrien Thibault
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Both Anne and Louis have high hopes that a dauphin for France will soon be born to Anne to join their daughter Claude. Meanwhile, Louis, confident that he still holds Milan, is determined to try to take the kingdom of Naples, to which he has a much more flimsy claim. Knowing that he lacks the resources to take and hold Naples alone, he enters into a secret alliance with Ferdinand of Spain. They decide to carve up southern Italy between France and Spain, with Louis getting Abruzzi and the Campania, including the city of Naples, and Ferdinand getting Apulia and Calabria in the south.   


All is harmonious between Anne and Louis, a couple temperamentally suited to each other and with deep affection planted between them from the days of Anne’s childhood. Where Anne is fierce, Louis loves a challenge. Anne is lavish in her tastes, but also in her care of her husband; Louis is somewhat parsimonious and relies on Anne to add splendor and lustre to the French court.


But when Anne proposes that their daughter Claude one day marry the heir to the Habsburg throne, Louis secretly wishes their daughter to marry the heir to the throne of France. Neither worry overmuch as Claude is just a babe of one. Besides, once Anne has a son, he will ascend the French throne and Claude will one day rule Brittany as her mother’s successor.


Yet no son arrives…



Close up of figures reputed to be Anne of Brittany and Louis XII
from The Unicorn Tapestries thought to be commissioned by Anne of Brittany for Louis XII, c. 1498-1505
The Met Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
 Photo by R. Gaston

ANNE AND LOUIS excerpt:


“Ma Brette, you know I must go. The moment is right. With the pope’s support I will sweep Milan clean of Sforza and claim my inheritance for France,” Louis reasoned to Anne. As usual, she was not having it.

            “Why must you fall into the same trap that Charles did? Do you really think there is something on the other side of the Alps so much better than what we have here?” Anne balled her fists at her side, containing the urge to beat some sense into her husband’s head. What was with these men and their harebrained dreams of conquest in foreign lands?

            “’Tis not the same trap at all. Milan is mine through my father’s mother. And Borgia has given his word that he will support me in sweeping Sforza from the city. His son will ride at my side as soon as I can wrap up his affairs here.” Louis looked frustrated. He was no matchmaker like his wife and without her support Cesare’s marriage aspirations were going nowhere.

            “Get rid of him as soon as possible, then stay here and wait for the birth of your child, husband. Is not your duty to manage the affairs of your country and not interfere in the affairs of another?”

            “This is an opportunity ripe for the picking. And you know the Borgia won’t leave unless I personally accompany him over the border.” Louis rolled his eyes. “We just need to get your princess to agree to marry him.”

            “She will never agree.”

            Louis looked closely at his wife. Usually Anne didn’t put too fine a point on whether her maids of honor agreed with her marriage choices for them or not. She just insisted on their obedience. What his Brette really meant was that she herself would never agree to handing over Charlotte of Naples to such a man.

            Louis sighed, wondering how he could get her to change her mind. His wife’s motto was ‘Non mudera, I will not change.’ Well did he know.





Cesare Borgia (1475-1507)
Portrait of a Gentleman Thought to be Cesare Borgia
by Meloni Altobello (1490-1543)
Museum Accademia Carrara, Italy
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


“I have arranged for Cesare to come to dinner tonight. Have Charlotte come, too, and we will excuse ourselves so that they may dine alone and get to know one another.” Louis tried to sound authoritative. He was king, but he had never arranged a private dinner for two unmarried people to meet. He had no idea how to manage it.

            “Why should a princess of Naples and Aragon get to know a man with no title and no lineage, other than one he cannot claim?” The accepted story was that Cesare was the pope’s nephew. Not a single soul in Europe believed it.

            “Wife, do you not understand that the Borgia’s support is vital for me to claim Milan?”

            “Husband, do you not understand that claiming Milan gains you and your kingdom nothing?”

            “Of course, it does. It would be a gem in the crown of France.”

            “A gem that will fall out at the first push. The moment you leave Milan you know what will happen, just as it did with Charles in Naples. The Italians will re-form their alliances and push you out. Do you not know them well enough by now after suffering so horribly at Fornovo?” Louis and his troops had endured terrible losses in 1495 at the battle of Fornovo, due to the treachery of Ludovico Sforza. Initially France’s ally, Milan’s powerful ruler had switched sides to the League of Venice at the last moment.

            “It was a terrible time, but this will be different.”

            “Men! When will any of you understand that war is never different? It always ends badly, and none of you ever learn that it is best not to go where one is not invited.”

            “And that is precisely the difference. The pope has made it clear that the people of Milan want Sforza out. They’ve had enough of him. With the pope’s help, and his son at my side, they will welcome the king of France, great grandson of Giangalezzo Visconti, their very first duke!” Louis pulled himself up, looking almost Italian for a moment, handsome and glowering.   

            “For how long do you think they will welcome you? You will be greeted in glory, welcomed for a month or two, then slowly resented and ultimately booted out. Has not recent history taught you this, husband?”

            “I know that if ever there was a chance to claim Milan for France, it is now. Bid the princess of Naples to join us for dinner, so that Cesare can work his magic and we can wrap up this marriage business so I can get to Milan.”

            “Husband, you are in a dream, and I would have you wake from it soon.”

            “Wife, I am in a hurry. Deliver the princess tonight and I will write to her father to request permission for Cesare to proceed with his suit.”

            “I will not deliver Charlotte into the hands of such a ruffian.”

            “This is dinner, m’amie. Not an engagement.”

            “I will never deliver her to such a man.”

            “Then he will never leave France.”

            Anne paused a moment, looking as if she had swallowed a bag of lemons. Finally, she spoke. “If her father says no, this cannot proceed.”

            “Of course, m’amie. Just dinner is all I ask.”





 Images of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany atop their tomb
Basilica of Saint-Denis
Saint-Denis, France

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons





For further reading, discover Anne of Brittany in the Anne of Brittany Series.

The gripping tale of a larger than life queen



Available for pre-order now is my new short story The Least Foolish Woman in France. Readers might be interested to learn the true tale of how Anne of Brittany’s second husband was sexually harassed in young adulthood by his sister-in-law Anne de Beaujeu, France’s most powerful woman at the time. This story is short but riveting, a surprising twist on the #MeToo movement.


On pre-order now, it comes out April 12, 2019. Post a short review on Amazon by the end of April and receive an eBook edition of any of my other books for free. 



Rozsa Gaston

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About the Author

Rozsa Gaston writes playful books on serious matters, including the struggles women face to get what they want out of life. She studied European history at Yale, and received her Master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University. She worked at Institutional Investor, then as a hedge funds marketer. Entirely unsuited to the world of finance, she was happy to give it up to become a full-time novelist. Gaston lives in Bronxville, New York with her family and is currently working on Anne and Louis: Middle Years, Book Three of the Anne of Brittany Series. If you read and enjoy Sense of Touch, please post a review at http://lrd.to/SENSEOFTOUCH to help others find this book. One sentence is enough to let readers know what you thought. Drop Rozsa Gaston a line on Facebook to let her know you posted a review and receive as thanks an eBook edition of any other of Gaston’s books: Anne and Charles, Anne and Louis, The Least Foolish Woman in France, Paris Adieu, or Black is Not a Color. Visit her at www.rozsagaston.com or at https://www.rozsagastonauthor.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rozsagastonauthor Instagram: rozsagastonauthor and on Twitter: @RozsaGaston

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