Louis II, Duke d’Anjou: unsuccessful quest for the throne of Naples

Louis II, Duke d’Anjou and Count de Provence from 1384 to 1417, was born on the 5th of October 1377.  The eldest son of Louis I of Anjou and Marie de Blois, Louis was a member of the House of Valois-Anjou, which was founded by his father.  Louis I of Anjou was a younger son of King Jean II of France known as the Good (le Bon).  Louis’ father was lucky to have been officially adopted by the childless Queen Joanna I of Naples as her son and heir in 1380 for political reasons – she needed French support against her rival, Charles of Durazzo (Carlo di Durazzo).

Portrait of Louis II of Anjou by unknown artist, c 1456-1465

Louis II’ father died in 1384 during his military campaign, and at the time, Louis was still a child.  Louis I appealed to Pope Clement VII, who had supported Joanna I of Naples during the Western Schism of 1378, to help his son regain the throne of Naples.  Joanna had acknowledged Clement VII as the lawful Pope against Urban VI in 1378.  She had aided Clement to depart for Avignon in May 1379 after he had been expelled from Rome.  Louis I conquered only parts of the kingdom, while the other territories were governed by Charles of Durazzo and his administrators.  Thus, Louis I had counted on Clement VII’s support of his son’s claim to Naples.

Louis II of Anjou as a child and his mother, Marie of Blois, illustrated Chroniques de Jean Froissart, Bruges, c 1475

During Louis II’s minority, most noblemen threw their lot with Charles of Durazzo and allied against Louis.  Louis’ mother, Marie, attempted to persuade her deceased husband’s relatives – Louis’ uncles Philippe II of Burgundy and Duke Jean de Berry – to finance other campaigns in Naples, but they refused, for Louis I had been largely unsuccessful.  Nevertheless, some nobles gave oaths of fealty to Louis in Marseille in 1385.  Providence interfered: Charles of Durazzo was killed while endeavoring to press his claim to Hungary in 1386, and he was succeeded by his 10-year-old son, Ladislaus of Naples, who became the ward of his mother – Margaret of Durazzo (Margherita di Durazzo).  Nonetheless, the situation worsened when Urban VI’s successor, Boniface IX, proclaimed Ladislaus’ right of suzerainty over Naples legitimate and valid.

Once Louis II of Anjou grew up, ambitions to govern Naples stirred in the young man.  His mother negotiated with Margaret of Durazzo to arrange Louis’ union with Margaret’s daughter, but Louis categorically refused to marry into the family of his dead father’s mortal adversary.  It was perhaps the moment when Louis finally stop relying upon his mother’s guidance, especially because he rejoiced when his supporters conquered the city of Naples, although his opponents managed to retain several important fortresses such as Castel Nuovo and Castel Sant’Elmo.  Louis II was fortunate that his cousin, King Charles VI of France known as the Mad (le Fou), did not suffer from mental illness at the time and resolved to support Louis’ bid for Naples in 1389.

King Charles VI publically demonstrated his love for his cousins from Anjou.  Louis and his younger brother, also Charles, were knighted at Saint-Denis Abbey in a lavish ceremony in Paris in 1389.  The celebrations lasted for weeks, which was carefully orchestrated propaganda of the might and strength of the House of Valois, although it seems that the monarch really took liking to his cousins.  The French ruler pledged to finance Louis’ war for Naples in the amount of 300,000 florins, while Clement VII promised to give even more money.  The King of France’s decision to support Louis was made public in Naples with all due rituals and ceremonies.  Moreover, Clement VII crowned Louis King of Naples in the chapel of the Popes’ Palace in Avignon in 1389 in the presence of Charles VI of France and his other relatives.  Soon, Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Lord of Milan, allied with the French, and it seemed that fortune was finally favoring Louis.

Duke Louis II d’Anjou and his mother, Marie de Blois, arrive in Paris and are met by Charles VI’s servants, illustrated miniature from Chroniques de Jean Froissart, Bruges, c 1475
Coronation of King Ladislaus of Naples in 1403

At first, everything really went well for Louis II of Anjou.  His large fleet sailed from France to Naples, and soon his armies captured Castel Sant’Elmo, Castel Nuovo, and other fortresses.  The papal legate of Clement VII accompanied Louis to Italy and often transferred his master’s money from Avignon to Louis for financial support.  An outstanding political match was secured for Louis: he was betrothed to Yolande of Aragon, a daughter of John I of Aragon and Yolande of Bar – the same Yolande of Aragon who decades later would help her son-in-law, King Charles VII of France, to win the Hundred Years’ War.  The French soldiers accomplished more victories, taking possession of Amalfi and Ravello in 1392, while most of Calabrian nobles paid homage to Louis.  At last, the kingdom of Naples was divided between Louis and Ladislaus.

After Charles VI of France began to exhibit the symptoms of insanity, his younger brother – Louis, Duke d’Orléans – and Louis II, Duke de Bourbon, were determined to continue wars in Naples for Louis’ crown.  Yet, each of these two men was driven by greed: Louis d’Orléans wanted to conquer part of the Papal States for himself, while Louis de Bourbon craved to have his own land in Italy.  However, the lack of financial resources and the protests of Charles VI’s wife, Isabeau of Bavaria, ensured that the French crown refused to finance any further projects.  When Clement VII died in 1394, the French tried to end the Western Schism: they asked Clement’s cardinals not to elect a new Pope, which was not done.  Louis of Anjou then supported Clement’s successor, Benedict XIII, and tensions escalated between France and him.

Seizing the chance, Ladislaus launched victorious campaigns against the French in Naples.  Ruthlessly, Ladislaus’ troops were conquering Louis’ former lands; eventually, only the city of Naples remained under Louis’ authority.  Another blow to Louis’ cause followed: southern lords switched sides and acknowledged the rule of Ladislaus.  As his madness was progressing, Charles VI of France was no longer capable to rule, which resulted in the betrayal of Louis when France signed a treaty with Florence, promising not to invade Naples.  Most likely, Isabeau of Bavaria was responsible for this treaty, for she had never wanted to spend the French money on wars in Naples.  The French laid siege to Avignon in 1398, and the French cardinals refused to recognize Benedict XIII as Pope, which undermined the legitimacy of Louis’ coronation and his rule in Naples.  After Benedict had lost his French revenues, Louis could no longer finance his campaigns.

Château d’Angers, Anjou, France

After Ladislaus had conquered the city of Naples, Louis fled for Provence, his hopes to rule Naples shattered.  Soon Louis married his cousin – Yolande of Aragon – at the St. Trophime Cathedral in Arles on the 2nd of December 1400.  In 1409, Louis continued his military exploits: he took possession of Rome, and in 1410, defeated Ladislaus at Roccasecca. Yet, Louis lost the support of Neapolitan nobles and escaped to France again.  Louis and Yolande had 5 surviving children, and Louis’ eldest son – Louis III of Anjou – inherited the claim to Naples, which was then passed on to his younger brother – René of Anjou, titular King of Naples and Duke d’Anjou.

Both Louis II of Anjou and Yolande of Aragon supported the Armagnac faction in the civil war between the Burgundians and the Armagnacs.  Louis and Yolande lavished their affection on young Dauphin Charles (later Charles VII of France), and their daughter; Marie d’Anjou, would marry Charles in 1422.  Louis was ill during the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, and providence saved him from being captured by the English.  Therefore, he did not spend long years in the enemy’s captivity, unlike some of his hapless cousins such as Charles, Duke d’Orléans, and Jean, Count d’Angoulême.  Louis died at Château d’Angers on the 29th of April 1417 at the age of 39.

All images are in the public domain.

Text © 2020 Olivia Longueville