Claude of France

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Claude de France (1499-1524).png
Contemporary image of Claude, c. 1520
Duchess of Brittany
Reign9 January 1514 – 20 July 1524
Predecessor Anne
Successor Francis III
Queen consort of France
Tenure1 January 1515 – 20 July 1524
Coronation10 May 1517
Born13 October 1499
Died20 July 1524(1524-07-20) (aged 24)
Château de Blois
(m. 1514)
among others...
House Valois-Orléans
Father Louis XII of France
Mother Anne, Duchess of Brittany

Claude of France (13 October 1499 – 20 July 1524) was a queen consort of France by marriage to Francis I. She was also ruling Duchess of Brittany from 1514. She was a daughter of the French king Louis XII of France and the duchess regnant Anne of Brittany.



Claude was born on 13 October 1499 in Romorantin-Lanthenay [1] as the eldest daughter of King Louis XII of France and Duchess Anne of Brittany. She 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.

Marriage negotiations

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. [2]

On 10 August 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 Philip 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 [3] and the territory of the Republic of Genoa, then occupied by France. [4] Thus, all the causes of the future rivalry between Charles V and Francis 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 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. [5] 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. [6]

Coat of arms of Queen Claude. COA french queen Claude de France.svg
Coat of arms of Queen Claude.

Duchess of Brittany

On 9 January 1514, when her mother died, Claude became Duchess of Brittany; and four months later, on 18 May, at the age of 14, she married her cousin Francis 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 9 October 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 1 January 1515, reputedly worn out by his exertions in the bedchamber. [7] Francis 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. [8]

Queen of France

Claude surrounded by her daughters (Charlotte, Madeleine and Marguerite), her sister Renee (or her deceased older daughter Louise) and her husband's second wife Eleanor of Austria, in the Livre d'heures de Catherine de Medicis, 1550. Currently in the Bibliotheque nationale de France. Claude de France (1499-1524).jpg
Claude surrounded by her daughters (Charlotte, Madeleine and Marguerite), her sister Renée (or her deceased older daughter Louise) and her husband's second wife Eleanor of Austria, in the Livre d'heures de Catherine de Medicis, 1550. Currently in the Bibliothèque nationale de 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 Forli, 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. [9]

After Francis became king in 1515, Anne Boleyn stayed as a member of Claude's household. It's assumed that Anne served as Claude's translator 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, Henry II.

Le Sacre de Claude de France (Description of the coronation of Claude of France at St. Denis in 1517), tapestry illuminated by Jean Coene IV, ca. 1517. Coronation of Claude of France 1517.jpg
Le Sacre de Claude de France (Description of the coronation of Claude of France at St. Denis in 1517), tapestry illuminated by Jean Coene IV, ca. 1517.

Claude was crowned Queen of France at St. Denis Basilica on 10 May 1517 by Cardinal Philippe de Luxembourg (also known as Cardinal du Mans), who "anointed her in the breast and forehead". [10]

She spent almost all her marriage in an endless round of annual pregnancies. Her husband had many mistresses, but was usually relatively discreet. Claude imposed a strict moral code on her own household, which only a few chose to flout.

About Claude, the historian Brantôme wrote:

I must speak about madame Claude of France, who was very good and very charitable, and very sweet to everyone and never showed displeasure to anybody in her court or of her domains. She was deeply loved by the King Louis and the Queen Anne, her father and mother, and she was always a good daughter to them; after the King took the peaceful Duke of Milan, he made him declare and proclaim her in the Parliament of Paris the Duchess of the two most beautiful Duchies of Christendom, Milan and Brittany, one from the father and the other from the mother. What an heiress! if you please. Both Duchies joined in all good deed to our beautiful kingdom. [11]

The pawn of so much dynastic maneuvering, Claude was short in stature and afflicted with scoliosis, which gave her a hunched back, while her husband was bigger and athletic. The successive pregnancies made her appear continuously plump, which drew mockeries at Court. Foreign ambassadors noted her "corpulence", claudication (tendency to limping), the strabismus affecting her left eye, her small size, and her ugliness, but they acknowledged her good qualities. [12] She was little loved at court after the death of her parents. Brantôme testified:

That the king, her husband gave her the pox, which shortened her days. And madame the Regent [Louise of Savoy] bullied her constantly (...).

The king's will imposed the omnipresence of his mistress, Françoise de Foix.


Tomb of Francis I and Claude of France at St. Denis Basilica. GrabFranz I Claude von Frankreich.jpg
Tomb of Francis I and Claude of France at St. Denis Basilica.

Claude died on 20 July 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, [13] 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. [14] [15] She was buried at St. Denis Basilica.

She was initially succeeded as ruler of Brittany by her eldest son, the Dauphin Francis, who became Duke Francis III, with Claude's widower King Francis I as guardian. After the Dauphin's death in 1536, Claude's second son, Henry, Duke of Orleans, became Dauphin and Duke of Brittany. He later became King of France as Henry II.

Claude's widowed husband himself remarried several years after Claude's death, to Eleanor of Austria, the sister of Emperor Charles V. The atmosphere at court became considerably more debauched, and there were rumours that King Francis's death in 1547 was due to syphilis.


Claude and Francis I had seven children, two of whom lived past the age of thirty:

"Reine Claude"

Claude is remembered in a classic small plum, the size of a walnut, pale green with a glaucous bloom. It is still called "Reine Claude" (literally, "Queen Claude") in France and is known in England as a "greengage".

Queen Claude of France is played by Gabriella Wright in season one of the Showtime series The Tudors .

"Kind Queen Claude" is a major character in Robin Maxwell's Mademoiselle Boleyn.

In the 2015-16 Spanish historical fiction television series Carlos, rey emperador (Charles, King Emperor), Queen Claude was played by Eva Rufo.


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  1. Jirí Louda and Michael MacLagan: Lines of Succession: Heraldry of the Royal Families of Europe, 2nd edition (London, U.K.: Little, Brown and Company, 1999), table 67.
  2. Joël Blanchard: Philippe de Commynes, Paris, Fayard, 2006, pp. 299-300.
  3. The County of Asti was a part of the dowry of Valentina Visconti (Louis XII's paternal grandmother) when she married Louis I, Duke of Orléans in 1389. Claude, as the eldest surviving child of her father, was not only the legitimate heiress of Asti but also of the Duchy of Milan, because was stipulated in Valentina's marriage contract, that in failure of male heirs, she would inherit the Visconti dominions.
  4. Yves Bottineau: Georges Ier d'Amboise (1460-1510): un prélat normand de la Renaissance, Rouen, PTC, pp. 67-68.
  5. Philippe Tourault: Anne de Bretagne, Perrin, Paris, 1990, p. 255: a declaration dated 30 April 1501 at Lyon and never publiced, declared null and void any marriage contract of Claude of France with other princes than the future Francis I.
  6. Joël Blanchard: Philippe de Commynes, Paris, Fayard, 2006, p. 299.
  7. Francesco Guicciardini: Storia d'Italia, Lib. XII, cap. 9.
  8. Henri Pigaillem: Claude de France : Première épouse de François Ier, mère d’Henri II. Pygmalion, 2006, 2756400386
  9. Ernest Wickersheimer, Danielle Jacquart: Dictionnaire biographique des médecins en France au Moyen Âge (1979), t. 1, pp. 161–162.
  10. Nicolas Menin: An Historical and Chronological Treatise of the Anointing and Coronation of the Kings and Queens of France, p. 249. [Retrieved 28 December 2014].
  11. Extract from: CORPUS HISTORIQUE ÉTAMPOIS: Brantôme - Vie de Claude de France -Vie des Dames illustres- entre 1590 et 1614 (in French) [Retrieved 28 December 2014].
  12. Michel Géoris: François Ier. Le Magnifique, Éditions France-Empire, 1998, p. 20.
  13. Some sources mentioned the existence of an eight child born from the marriage between Claude and Francis I: Philip (born 1524 - died 1525) and whose birth caused the death of his mother; however, this fact continues to be disputed among historians.
  14. Francis Hackett: Francois Ier, Payot, 1984, p. 510.
  15. Brantôme declared that Claude’s husband, Francis I, gave her "a disease that shortened her days", meaning syphilis, but it is not known for certain what she died of. 20 July 1524 – Death of Queen Claude of France in: [Retrieved 28 December 2014].
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 Anselme de Sainte-Marie, Père (1726). Histoire généalogique et chronologique de la maison royale de France [Genealogical and chronological history of the royal house of France] (in French). 1 (3rd ed.). Paris: La compagnie des libraires.
  17. 1 2 Ornato, Monique (2001). Répertoire de personnages apparentés à la couronne de France aux XIVe et XVe siècles[Directory of characters related to the crown of France in the 14th and 15th centuries]. Publications de la Sorbonne. p. 145.
  18. 1 2 Backhouse, Janet (1997). The illuminated page: ten centuries of manuscript painting in the British Library. p. 166.
  19. 1 2 Courteault, Henri (1895). Gaston IV, comte de Foix, vicomte souverain de Béarn, prince de Navarre, 1423–1472 [Gaston IV, count of Foix, sovereign viscount of Béarn, prince of Navarre] (in French). É. Privat. p. 23. Retrieved 8 August 2018.
  20. 1 2 Anthony, R. (1931). Identification et Étude des Ossements des Rois de Navarre inhumés dans la Cathédrale de Lescar [Identification and Study of the Bones of the Kings of Navarre buried in the Cathedral of Lescar](PDF). Archives du Muséum, 6e series (in French). VII. Masson et Cie. p. 9.
Claude of France
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty
Born: 13 October 1499 Died: 20 July 1524
French nobility
Preceded by
Duchess of Brittany
Succeeded by
Countess of Étampes
Title next held by
John V
French royalty
Preceded by
Queen consort of France
Title next held by
Eleanor of Austria