Archduchess Anna of Austria, Charles II of Orleans, Duke of Orleans, François I of France, Henri II of France, Henry VIII of England, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Infanta Maria of Spain, Pope Clement VII
Charles II of Orléans (January 22, 1522 – September 9, 1545) was the third son of François I and Claude of France. Claude was a daughter of King Louis XII of France and his wife the Duchess Regnant Anne of Brittany.
From his birth until the death of his oldest brother François, Dauphin of France (François I’s eldest son), in 1536, Charles was known as the Duke of Angoulême. After his brother’s death, he became Duke of Orléans, a titled previously held by his surviving brother Henri, who had succeeded François as Dauphin and would later become King of France as Henri II.
By all accounts, he was the most handsome of François I’s sons. Smallpox made him blind in one eye, but it seems that it was not noticeable. He was known for his wild antics, his practical jokes and his extravagance and frivolousness, which his father approved of wholeheartedly.
He was, by far, his father’s favorite son. In addition, he was popular with everyone at his father’s court, and it was widely believed that the French nobility of the time would have much preferred to have him as the Dauphin as opposed to his downcast brother, Henri, who never seemed to recover from his years of captivity in Spain.
In 1540 he was granted the title of Count of Clermont.
In 1542, François I and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, again went to war against each other. Charles fought and captured Luxembourg, but then fearful that he would miss the glory of Perpignan, which was under siege by the Dauphin Henri, he headed south. Luxembourg was lost and retaken several times during the war.
In January 1535, Henry VIII offered a betrothal between the 1-year-old Princess Elizabeth and the 12-year-old Charles on the condition that François I would persuade Pope Paul to reverse Pope Clement VII’s ruling on his marriage to Anne Boleyn as illegitimate.
However, François was reluctant to recognize Henry’s marriage to Anne because that would force him to question the Pope’s ruling. More importantly, François was worried about Elizabeth’s legitimacy despite Henry’s assurance that she was his heiress presumptive.
François stated that he would agree to the match only if Henry would agree to discontinue the annual pensions that François paid to England under the Terms of the Treaty of Amiens as part of Elizabeth’s dowry.
Henry was offended, and he stated that he had been generous in offering an heiress “of most certain title, without remainder of querel to the contrary” to a younger son. English and French commissioners met at Calais to discuss the terms of the marriage treaty, but they failed to reach a consensus because Henry insisted that Charles come to England until his marriage.
François refused to send his son to be a hostage to England. By July, the marriage negotiations came to a halt. In May 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed and Elizabeth was declared illegitimate, permanently ending any prospects of a marriage to Charles.
On September 19, 1544, the Treaty of Crépy was signed. Charles had a choice to marry one either Charles V’s daughter or paternal niece. Infanta Maria of Spain was the daughter of Emperor Charles V and Isabella of Portugal, and she would bring the Netherlands or the Low Countries of Franche-Comté as her dowry.
Archduchess Anna of Austria was the daughter of Ferdinand I, King of Hungary and Bohemia and Anna of Bohemia and Hungary, and she would bring Milan as her dowry. As the groom’s father, François I agreed to endow Charles with Angoulême, Châtellerault, Bourbon and Orléans.
The Peace of Crépy deeply offended Charles’ elder brother, the Dauphin Henri, and his wife, Catherine de’ Medici. As the heir of Valentina Visconti, Henri considered Milan to be his birthright. More importantly, this settlement would make his brother Charles as powerful as a monarch and link him by marriage to Emperor Charles V, which would divide French interests and create a strategic nightmare.
Many historians believe that Charles V hoped to use Charles as an adversary against Henri. Henri wrote a secret denunciation of the pact because it gave away three inalienable Crown properties.
The rivalry between Charles and his brother, the Dauphin Henri, was potentially dangerous. However, it solved itself with the death of Charles. In the autumn of 1545, Charles was on his way (with his brother, the Dauphin) to Boulogne, which was under siege.
On September 6, they came across a cluster of houses that had been emptied and sealed off “from the plague”—probably a form of influenza. Stating that “no son of a King of France ever died of plague”, Charles entered some of the infected houses with his brother. Laughing, he slashed at bedding with his sword and started a pillow fight with some of his traveling companions.
Stories have also been told of him (on a dare) lying down on one of the infected beds and rolling around on the bedding. Later that evening, after dining with his father and brother, he took suddenly ill, suffering from pain, a high fever, vomiting and shaking limbs. Dauphin Henri rushed to his sickroom immediately, but was barred from entering, being physically restrained on three occasions.
Charles died on September 9, 1545. Some thought that he had been poisoned, but most agreed that it was the “plague” that killed him. He is buried next to his father, François I and his brother, the Dauphin François at the Abbey of Saint-Denis.
During his funeral, the new King Henri II wept for Charles even though his friend, François de Scépeaux, argued that Charles “never loved or esteemed you.”