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MADAME LA GRANDE
 THE Dauphin Charles was only thirteen years old when
his father, Louis XI., died,
yet according to the law of the land he could have
begun to reign at once. But the
prince was delicate and ignorant, so for eight years
his sister Anne ruled the
kingdom of France for her young brother.
In 1483, when Anne began to govern France for the young
king, Charles VIII., she was
only twenty-two years of age. She was known as Madame
la Grande, and soon showed
that she was a wise and capable ruler as well as a true
and noble lady.
The young king writhed under his sister's firm control,
but he was unable to throw
it aside. The nobles combined against her, but she went
steadfastly on her way,
reducing the taxes and giving offices of state to many
of the great nobles, until
they forgot their dislike to the government of Madame
la Grande. She also set free
many whom Louis had left in prison, and pleased every
one by getting rid of the late
king's favourites, among whom was the hated barber
Olivier le Daim.
Anne had also an enemy in her sister's husband, Louis
of Orleans. Being the next
heir to the throne, he thought that he, rather than his
cousin Anne, should be
Annoyed by his boastful ways, and thinking, too, that
Louis was more powerful than
she liked, Madame la Grande tried to take him prisoner
while he was staying in
Paris. The duke, however, escaped, and joining Duke
Francis of Brittany, began to
 Anne, nowise dismayed, sent a large army against
the invaders. In July 1488 a
great battle was fought, in which the troops of the
regent were victorious. The Duke
of Orleans was captured and shut up in the tower of
Bourges. To make him doubly
secure the poor duke was locked up at night, in a cage.
About a month later Francis of Brittany died, leaving
his duchy to his two
daughters. The younger daughter died soon after her
father, and Anne, the elder, was
then left alone with her great inheritance.
Madame la Grande at once made up her mind that Charles
should wed Anne, and thus
unite Brittany to France.
But the dauphin, you remember, already had a little
bride waiting for him. Princess
Margaret, daughter of Maximilian and Mary of Burgundy,
had been sent to France while
Louis XI. was alive, that when she was old enough she
might marry Charles.
Madame la Grande, however, meaning to have her own way,
sent Princess Margaret back
to Burgundy. Then in 1491 she had the joy of seeing her
brother married to Anne of
Brittany, and the greater joy of knowing that Brittany
would no longer be a thorn in
the crown of the French king
This was the last act of Madame la Grande as regent
Charles was now more than ever
restive under his sister's control, so, wise as ever,
Anne laid aside the power she
had used so well, and left the king to rule alone.
The king, without Madame la Grande to restrain him soon
began to listen to those who
urged him to go to war with Italy, to win back Naples,
which the Spaniards had taken
from the French.
Florence, too, distracted by the feuds among her
princes turned to Charles for help,
saying that if he would defend the liberties of the
city God would uphold him.
It was a rash undertaking. Anne warned Charles not to
go; his counsellors, for the
most part, also foretold the danger of the expedition.
 But the king had already found it pleasant to
take his own way, and he made up
his mind that he would go to Italy. "There was none
save himself and two lesser folk
who found it good," says an old writer.
In the summer of 1494 Charles set out with a gallant
army for Italy.
Among all his troops there was no one who had been less
educated than the king
himself. His appearance, too, was against him, for he
was "short and misshapen," while his face was so plain that the Italians were
shocked at his ugliness.
Meanwhile the princes of Italy, quarrelling among
themselves, were all unprepared
for war with a foreign foe.
When they reached Italy, therefore, Charles and his
army simply rode through the
cities, meeting with little or no resistance.
The Pope looked on and remarked with scorn that the
French king came "not with arms
to conquer so much as with chalk to mark up his
lodgings " in the different towns at
which he stopped.
But wherever Charles went he had the proud air of a
conqueror. His troops, too, were
allowed to pillage the towns and be insolent to the
citizens, so that the Italians
Thus in every village and town through which he passed
Charles, all unconsciously,
left behind him enemies.
As the French king approached the town of Pisa he was
hailed with joy, for the
citizens were tired of being ruled by Florence, and
Charles had promised to deliver
them from the yoke they hated.
While Charles stayed at Pisa, a deputation headed by
the great friar Savonarola,
whose story you must some day read, came to the king
and greeted him as God's
messenger to Florence.
Charles did not understand Savonarola's words, although
he promised that Florence
should enjoy his goodwill.
 But after the French king had entered the
beautiful city, imagine the dismay
of the inhabitants when he proposed to recall the
Medici, the very family the
Florentines had banished from the city as traitors. He
even wished to tax the city
for having banished the tyrants.
The magistrates of Florence, however, compelled Charles
to give up his plan of
restoring the Medici, and not only so, but they forced
him to say that he would
restore the towns which he had taken from them.
As the Florentines promised to pay the king a large sum
of money if he agreed to
their demands, Charles did not hesitate. Pisa, whose
liberties he had promised to
guard, he then faithlessly forsook and gave back to the
On New Year's Eve, 1494, Charles at length reached
Rome, entering the city at night,
by torchlight. Here as elsewhere the king behaved as
though he had conquered-the
city. But he was anxious to reach Naples, so he
hastened on, to find that the King
of Naples had fled on hearing of his approach, leaving
the defence of his kingdom to
his son Ferdinand II.
Ferdinand was the only prince who opposed Charles on
this expedition. He was,
however, defeated, and early in 1495 Naples hailed the
French king, as so many
Italian cities had already done, as a deliverer.
But Charles was yet to suffer for his foolish way of
treating the Italians in the
cities and villages through which he had passed. For
the Italians now rose to fight
under their princes against the king who had treated
them as a conquered people, and
whose troops had plundered their homes.
Blessed by the Pope and aided by Spain and the Emperor
Maximilian, whose daughter
Margaret Charles had refused to marry, the Italian
princes joined together to cut
off the French army if it attempted to retreat to its
Charles was in grave peril, and as soon as he heard of
 the force that was
marching against him, he left Naples, and prepared to
go home as quickly as
Passing Rome, Charles reached Florence, to find the
gates of the city shut against
him by the great preacher Savonarola.
Onward still he marched, ordering all those soldiers
who had been left to garrison
the conquered towns again to join the army.
The Apennines were crossed in safety, but at Fomovo, in
July 1495, Charles found the
enemy who hoped to stay his homeward march.
But the French fought bravely and gained a great
victory. It was at the battle of
Fornovo that the famous knight Bayard, "sans peur et
sans reproche," or, as we say,
"without fear and without reproach," gained the notice
of the king by his bravery.
In the thick of the fight two horses were killed
beneath him, and although he was
but twenty, he captured one of the enemy's banners, and
presented it to Charles, who
gave him five hundred crowns as a reward.
After the battle of Fornovo the Italian princes and
their allies made peace with
Charles, and he was able to hasten back to France,
which he reached after the
absence of little more than a year.
Naples had been left with only a small French garrison,
so it was soon retaken by
Ferdinand II. Thus the great expedition to Italy had
Charles, however, was not greatly troubled. He spent
his days going from town to
town holding merry jousts, tilting in tournaments, and
the history of the times
tells us that he "thought of nothing else."
But after a time Charles grew strangely different, and
a year or two before his
death he began to "visit his realm up and down,
leading a good and holy life and
doing justice, so much so that his subjects were
One day in April 1498 the king went to watch a game
 of tennis. As he passed
through a low archway which led to the tennis-court, he
struck his head against it,
but seemed little hurt.
A few minutes later, however, he fell suddenly to the
ground. Nine hours afterwards
he died, being only twenty-eight years of age.
His people, touched by the kindness he had shown to
them during the last two years
of his life, mourned for him as for a friend.
Philip Comines, who was the great historian of his day,
and whom Charles had had
reason to treat with great severity, yet wrote of the
king, "No man was ever so
humane and gentle of speech. I think he never said a
word to hurt any man's