Louis XII had also discovered an alternative to the marriage of Cesare with Carlotta, and one that should more surely draw the Pope into the alliance with Venice and himself.
Among the ladies of the Court of Queen Anne Louis had now been wedded a month there were, besides Carlotta, two other ladies either of whom might make Cesare a suitable duchess. One of these was a niece of the king's, the daughter of the Comte de Foix ; the other was Charlotte d'Albret, a daughter of Alain d'Albret, Duc de Guyenne, and sister to the King of Navarre. Between these two Cesare was now given to choose by Louis, and his choice fell upon Charlotte.
She was seventeen years of age and said to be the most beautiful maid in France, and she had been reared at the honourable and pious Court of Jeanne de Valois, whence she had passed into that of Anne of Brittany, which latter, says Hilarion de Coste,1 was " a school of virtue, an academy of honour."
Negotiations for her hand were opened with Alain, who, it is said, was at first unwilling, but in the end won over to consent. Navarre had need of the friendship of the King of France, that it might withstand the predatory humours of Castille; and so, for his son's sake, Alain could not long oppose the wishes of Louis. Considering closely the pecuniary difficulties under which this Alain d'Albret was labouring and his notorious avarice, one is tempted to conclude that such difficulties as he may have made were dictated by his reduced circumstances, his impossibility, or unwillingness, to supply his daughter with a dowry fitting her rank, and an unworthy desire to drive in the matter the best bargain possible. And this is abundantly confirmed by the obvious care and hard headed cunning with which the Sieur d'Albret investigated Cesare's circumstances and sources of revenue to verify their values to be what was alleged.
1 Eloges et vies des Reynes, Princesses, etc.
Eventually he consented to endow her with 30,000 livres Tournois (90,000 francs) to be paid as follows : 6,000 livres on the celebration of the marriage, and the balance by annual instalments of 1,500 livres until cleared off. This sum, as a matter of fact, represented her portion of the inheritance from her deceased mother, Francoise de Bretagne, and it was tendered subject to her renouncing all rights and succession in any property of her father's or her said deceased mother's.
Thus is it set forth in the contract drawn up by Alain at Castel-Jaloux on March 23, 1499, which contract empowers his son Gabriel and one Regnault de St. Chamans to treat and conclude the marriage urged by the king between the Duke of Valentinois and Alain's daughter, Charlotte d'Albret. But that was by no means all. Among other conditions imposed by Alain, he stipulated that the Pope should endow his daughter with 100,000 livres Tournois, and that for his son, Amanieu d'Albret, there should be a cardinal's hat for the fulfilment of both of which conditions Cesare took it upon himself to engage his father.
On April 15 the treaty between France and Venice was signed at Blois. It was a defensive and offensive alliance directed against all, with the sole exception of the reigning Pontiff, who should have the faculty to enter into it if he so elected. This was the first decisive step against the House of Sforza, and so secretly were the negotiations conducted that Lodovico Sforza's first intimation of them resulted from the capture in Milanese territory of a courier from the Pope with letters to Cesare in France. From these he learnt, to his dismay, not only of the existence of the league, but that the Pope had joined it. The immediate consequence of this positive assurance that Alexander had gone over to Sforza's enemies was Ascanio Sforza's hurried departure from Rome on July 13.
In the meantime Cesare's marriage had followed almost immediately upon the conclusion of the treaty. The nuptials were celebrated on May 12, and on the 19th he received at the hands of the King of France the knightly Order of St. Michael, which was then the highest honour that France could confer. When the news of this reached the Pope he celebrated the event in Rome with public festivities and illuminations.
Of Cesare's courtship we have no information. The fact that the marriage was purely one of political expediency would tend to make us conceive it as invested with that sordid lovelessness which must so often attend the marriages of princes. But there exists a little data from which we may draw certain permissible inferences. This damsel of seventeen was said to be the loveliest in France, and there is more than a suggestion in Le Feron's De Gestis Regnum Gallorum, that Cesare was by no means indifferent to her charms. He tells us that the Duke of Valentinois entered into the marriage very heartily, not only for the sake of its expediency, but for " the beauty of the lady, which was equalled by her virtues and the sweetness of her nature."
Cesare, we have it on more than one authority, was the handsomest man of his day. The gallantry of his bearing merited the approval of so fastidious a critic in such matters as Baldassare Castiglione, who mentions it in his Il Cortigtano. Of his personal charm there is also no lack of commendation from those who had his acquaintance at this time. Added to this, his Italian splendour and flamboyance may well have dazzled a maid who had been reared amid the grey and something stern tones of the Court of Jeanne de Valois.
And so it may well be that they loved, and that they were blessed in their love for the little space allotted them in each other's company. The sequel justifies in a measure the assumption. Just one little summer out of the span of their lives brief though those lives were did they spend together, and it is good to find some little evidence that, during that brief season at least, they inhabited life's rose garden.
In September just four short months after the wedding bells had pealed above them the trumpets of war blared out their call to arms. Louis's preparations for the invasion of Milan were complete, and he poured his troops through Piedmont under i the command of Giangiacomo Trivulzio.
Cesare was to accompany Louis into Italy. He appointed his seventeen year old duchess governor and administrator of his lands and lordships in France and Dauphiny under a deed dated September 8, and he made her heiress to all his moveable possessions in the event of his death. Surely this bears some witness, not only to the prevailing of a good understanding between them, but to his esteem of her and the confidence he reposed in her mental qualities. The rest her later mourning of him shows.
Thus did Cesare take leave of the young wife whom he was never to see again. Their child born in the following spring he was never to see at all. The pity of it! Ambition driven, to fulfil the destiny expected of him, he turned his back upon that pleasant land of Dauphiny where the one calm little season of his manhood had been spent, where happiness and peace might have been his lifelong portion had he remained. He set his face towards Italy and the storm and stress before him, and in the train of King Louis he set out upon the turbulent meteoric course that was to sear so deep and indelible a brand across the scroll of history.