Charles de Bourbon, Duke de Vendôme, was born on the 2nd of June 1489. He was a French noblewoman ranked as prince du sang – a person legitimately descended in dynastic line from any of a realm’s hereditary monarchs. Born at the Château de Vendôme, his birth brought a profound joy to his parents – François de Bourbon, Count de Vendôme and Marie of Luxembourg. After all, Charles was born healthy and robust, and he was their first and eldest child.
His parents had 6 legitimate children. Unexpectedly, in 1495, François de Bourbon died at the age of 25 and was succeeded by his heir, Charles, at first as Count de Vendôme. For his excellent military service to the Crown in Italy, King Louis XII elevated the county to duchy, making Charles Duke de Vendôme. At the court of the ailing Louis XII, Charles befriended Louis’ cousin and heir – young François d’Angoulême. After François’ accession as King François I of France, Charles de Bourbon fought for his new liege lord at the Battle of Marignano, from where the French emerged triumphant in 1515, and France briefly restored the Duchy of Milan into her possession.
Duke Charles de Vendôme participated in other Habsburg-Valois campaigns in Italy. He was lucky to avoid capture after the devastating defeat of the French at Pavia in 1525. For his loyalty to the Crown and personally to François, Charles was appointed head of the Privy Council when Louise de Savoy, the monarch’s mother, became France’s regent in her son’s absence. Don’t confuse Duke Charles de Vendôme with the treacherous Constable Charles de Bourbon, also his relative, who betrayed France and conspired with Emperor Charles V to attack and partition the country.
The Duke de Vendôme married Françoise d’Alençon, who was daughter of René, Duke d’Alençon. They had 13 children, and 11 of them reached adulthood, which is a remarkable result for the time when mortality rates were high at any age, especially for infants. Their eldest daughter, Marie de Bourbon, was considered as a possible bride for King James V of Scotland in 1536, but James instead married the sickly Princess Madeleine de Valois; Maria died in 1538, while James was widowed soon. Three of the youngest Bourbon girls – Catherine, Renée, and Léonore – became abbesses either choosing their fates on their own, or they were forced to do so by their mother.
Unexpectedly, Charles de Vendôme became closer to the French throne than anticipated. The deaths of his cousins Charles IV, Duke d’Alençon in 1525, and of Charles, Duke of Bourbon in 1527 (the infamous treacherous Constable de Bourbon who passed away during the barbaric Sack of Rome of 1527). Yet, despite being for some time the 4th in the succession after the monarch’s sons with Queen Claude, the Duke de Vendôme breathed his last in 1537 because of unknown cause. It is documented that King François was distraught upon receiving the news of his friend’s demise.
The most important legacy of the House of Vendôme was realized in the marriage of Charles’ son, Antoine de Bourbon, to Jeanne d’Albert, Queen of Navarre, who was the only daughter of Marguerite d’Angoulême and King Henri II of Navarre. Years later, the son of Jeanne and Antoine, the brave and amorous Henri of Navarre, would marry Marguerite de Valois, daughter of King Henri II and his wife, Queen Catherine de’ Medici, would participate in the French Wars of Religion, and would eventually become King Henri IV of France, the first Bourbon monarch of the realm.
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Text © 2020 Olivia Longueville