Charles VIII (June 30, 1470 – April 7, 1498), was King of France from 1483 to his death in 1498. He succeeded his father Louis XI at the age of 13. His elder sister Anne acted as regent jointly with her husband Pierre II, Duke of Bourbon until 1491 when the young king turned 21 years of age. During Anne’s regency, the great lords rebelled against royalcentralisation efforts in a conflict known as the Mad War (1485–1488), which resulted in a victory for the royal government.
Charles was born at the Château d’Amboise in France, the only surviving son of King Louis XI by his second wife Charlotte of Savoy. His godparents were Charles II, Duke of Bourbon (the godchild’s namesake), Joan of Valois, Duchess of Bourbon, and the teenage Edward of Westminster, the son of Henry VI of England who had been living in France since the deposition of his father by Edward IV.
Charles succeeded to the throne on August 30, 1483 at the age of 13. His health was poor. He was regarded by his contemporaries as possessing a pleasant disposition, but also as foolish and unsuited for the business of the state. In accordance with the wishes of Louis XI, the regency of the kingdom was granted to Charles’ elder sister Anne, a formidably intelligent and shrewd woman described by her father as “the least foolish woman in France.” She ruled as regent, together with her husband Peter of Bourbon, until 1491.
Charles was betrothed on July 22, 1483 to the 3-year-old Archduchess Margaret of Austria, daughter of the Archduke Maximilian of Austria (later Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I) and Mary, Duchess of Burgundy. The marriage was arranged by Louis XI, Maximilian, and the Estates of the Low Countries as part of the 1482 Peace of Arras between France and the Duchy of Burgundy. Margaret brought the counties of Artois and Burgundy to France as her dowry, and she was raised in the French court as a prospective queen.
In 1488, however, François II, Duke of Brittany, died in a riding accident, leaving his 11-year-old daughter Anne as his heir. Anne, who feared for the independence of her duchy against the ambitions of France, arranged a marriage in 1490 between herself and the widower Maximilian of Austria.
The regent Anne of France and her husband Pierre refused to countenance such a marriage, however, since it would place Maximilian and his family, the Habsburgs, on two French borders. The French army invaded Brittany, taking advantage of the preoccupation of Maximilian and his father, Emperor Friedrich III, with the disputed succession to Mathias Corvinus, King of Hungary.
Anne of Brittany had already been married by proxy to the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I in a ceremony of questionable validity. Preoccupied by the problematic succession in the Kingdom of Hungary, Maximilian failed to press his claim.
Anne of Brittany was forced to renounce Maximilian (whom she had only married by proxy) and agree to be married to Charles VIII instead.
Upon his marriage, Charles became administrator of Brittany and established a personal union that enabled France to avoid total encirclement by Habsburg territories.
To secure his rights to the Neapolitan throne that René of Anjou had left to his father, Charles made a series of concessions to neighbouring monarchs and conquered the Italian peninsula without much opposition. A coalition formed against the French invasion of 1494–98 attempted to stop Charles’ army at Fornovo, but failed and Charles marched his army back to France.
Charles VIII died in 1498 after accidentally striking his head on the lintel of a door at the Château d’Amboise, his place of birth. Since he had no male heir, he was succeeded by his 2nd cousin once removed, Louis XII from the Orléans cadet branch of the House of Valois.