Claude of France (October 13, 1499 – July 20, 1524) was Queen of France by marriage to King François I. She was also ruling Duchess of Brittany from 1514 until her death in 1524. She was a daughter of King Louis XII of France and his second wife, the duchess regnant Anne of Brittany.
Claude was born on October 13, 1499 in Romorantin-Lanthenay as the eldest daughter of King Louis XII of France and Duchess Anne of Brittany. Duchess Anne was a Duchess Regnant of Brittany.
Claude was named after Claudius of Besançon, a saint her mother had invoked during a pilgrimage so she could give birth to a living child: during her two marriages, Queen Anne had at least fourteen pregnancies, of whom, only two children survived to adulthood: Claude and her youngest sister Renée, born in 1510.
Because her mother had no surviving sons, Claude was heir presumptive to the Duchy of Brittany. The Crown of France, however, could pass only to and through male heirs, according to Salic Law. Eager to keep Brittany separated from the French crown, Queen Anne, with help of Cardinal Georges d’Amboise, promoted a solution for this problem, a marriage contract between Claude and the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
This sparked a dispute between the Cardinal and Pierre de Rohan-Gié [fr] (1451–1513), Lord of Rohan, known as the Marshal of Gié, who fervently supported the idea of a marriage between the princess and the Duke of Valois, the heir presumptive to the French throne, which would keep Brittany united to France.
On August 10, 1501 at Lyon the marriage contract between Claude and the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was signed by François de Busleyden, Archbishop of Besançon, William de Croÿ, Nicolas de Rutter and Pierre Lesseman, all ambassadors of Duke Philippe of Burgundy, Charles’ father. A part of the contract promised the inheritance of Brittany to the young prince, already the next in line to thrones of Castile and Aragon, Austria and the Burgundian Estates.
In addition, the first Treaty of Blois, signed in 1504, gave Claude a considerable dowry in the -likely- case of Louis XII’s death without male heirs: besides Brittany, Claude also received the Duchies of Milan and Burgundy, the Counties of Blois and Asti and the territory of the Republic of Genoa, then occupied by France. Thus, all the causes of the future rivalry between Emperor Charles V and King François I were decided even before the succession of the two princes.
In 1505, Louis XII, very sick, fearing for his life and not wishing to threaten the reign of his only heir, cancelled Claude’s engagement to Emperor Charles in the Estates Generals of Tours, in favor of his heir, the young Duke of Valois. Louise of Savoy had obtained from the king a secret promise that Claude would be married to her son. Queen Anne, furious to see the triumph of the Marshal of Gié, exerted all her influence to obtain his conviction for treason before the Parliament of Paris.
Duchess of Brittany
On January 9, 1514, when her mother died, Claude became Duchess of Brittany; and four months later, on May 14 at the age of 14, she married her cousin François at Saint-Germain-en-Laye. With this union, it was secured that Brittany would remain united to the French crown, if the third marriage of Louis XII with Mary of England (celebrated on October 9, 1514) would not produce the long-waited heir.
However, the union was short-lived and childless: Louis XII died less than three months later, on January 1, 1515, reputedly worn out by his exertions in the bedchamber. François and Claude became King and Queen, the third time in history that the Duchess of Brittany became Queen of France.
As Duchess of Brittany, Claude left all the affairs of the Duchy to her spouse on his request; she did, however, until her death refuse his repeated requests to have Brittany to be incorporated to France, and instead named her oldest son heir to it.
Queen of France
As Queen, Claude was eclipsed at court by her mother-in-law, Louise of Savoy, and her sister-in-law, the literary Navarrese Queen Margaret of Angoulême. She never ruled over Brittany; in 1515 she gave the government of her domains to her husband in perpetuity.
Unlike her younger sister Renée, she seems to have never showed any interest in her maternal inheritance nor had any disposition to politics, as she preferred to devote herself to religion under the influence, according to some sources, of Christopher Numar of Forlì, who was the confessor of her mother-in-law. Gabriel Miron repeated his functions under Anne of Brittany and remained as Chancellor of Queen Claude and first doctor; he wrote a book entitled de Regimine infantium tractatus tres.
After François became king in 1515, Anne Boleyn stayed as a member of Claude’s household. It is assumed that Anne served as Claude’s interpreter whenever there were English visitors, such as in 1520, at the Field of Cloth of Gold. Anne Boleyn returned to England in late 1521, where she eventually became Queen of England as the second wife of Henry VIII.
Diane de Poitiers, another of Claude’s ladies, was a principal inspiration of the School of Fontainebleau of the French Renaissance, and became the lifelong mistress of Claude’s son, King Henri II.
Claude died on July 20, 1524 at the Château de Blois, aged twenty-four. The exact cause of her death was disputed among sources and historians: while some alleged that she died in childbirth or after a miscarriage, others believed that she died for exhaustion after her many pregnancies or after suffering from bone tuberculosis (like her mother) and finally some believed that she died from syphilis caught from her husband. She was buried at St. Denis Basilica.
She was initially succeeded as ruler of Brittany by her eldest son, the Dauphin François, who became Duke François III of Brittany, with Claude’s widower King François I as guardian. After the Dauphin’s death in 1536, Claude’s second son, Henri, Duke of Orleans, became Dauphin and Duke of Brittany. He later became King of France as Henri II.
Claude’s widowed husband himself remarried several years after Claude’s death, to Archduchess Eleanor of Austria, the sister of Emperor Charles V. The atmosphere at court became considerably more debauched, and there were rumours that King François I’s death in 1547 was due to syphilis.