With him the Valois dynasty came to an end. He was succeeded by his cousin, the Duke of Orleans, who, upon his coronation at Rheims, assumed the title of King of France and the Two Sicilies and Duke of Milan a matter which considerably perturbed Federigo of Aragon and Lodovico Sforza. Each of these rulers saw in that assumption of his own title by Louis XII a declaration of enmity, the prelude to a declaration of open war; wherefore, deeming it idle to send their ambassadors to represent them at the Court of France, they refrained from doing so.
Louis XII's claim upon the Duchy of Milan was based upon his being the grandson of Valentina Visconti, and, considering himself a Visconti, he naturally looked upon the Sforza dominion as no better than a usurpation which too long had been left undisturbed. To disturb it now was the first aim of his kingship. And to this end, as well as in another matter, the friendship of the Pope was very desirable to Louis.
The other matter concerned his matrimonial affairs. No sooner did he find himself King of France than he applied to Rome for the dissolution of his marriage with Jeanne de Valois, the daughter of Louis XI. The grounds he urged were threefold : Firstly, between himself and Jeanne there existed a relationship of the fourth degree and a spiritual affinity, resulting from the fact that her father, Louis XI, had held him at the baptismal font which before the Council of Trent did constitute an impediment to marriage. Secondly, he had not been a willing party to the union, but had entered into it as a consequence of intimidation from the terrible Louis XI, who had threatened his life and possessions if not obeyed in this. Thirdly, Jeanne laboured under physical difficulties which rendered her incapable of maternity.
Of such a nature was the appeal he made to Alexander, and Alexander responded by appointing a commission presided over by the Cardinal of Luxembourg, and composed of that same cardinal and the Bishops of Albi and Ceuta, assisted by five other bishops as assessors, to investigate the king's grievance. There appears to be no good reason for assuming that the inquiry was not conducted fairly and honourably or that the finding of the bishops and ultimate annulment of the marriage was not in accordance with their consciences. We are encouraged to assume that all this was indeed so, when we consider that Jeanne de Valois submitted without protest to the divorce, and that neither then nor subsequently at any time did she prefer any complaint, accepting the judgement, it is presumable, as a just and fitting measure.
She applied to the Pope for permission to found a religious order, whose special aim should be the adoration and the emulation of the perfections of the Blessed Virgin, a permission which Alexander very readily accorded her. He was, himself, imbued with a very special devotion for the Mother of the Saviour. We see the spur of this special devotion of his in the votive offering of a silver effigy to her famous altar of the Santissima Nunziata in Florence, which he had promised in the event of Rome being freed from Charles VIII. Again, after the accident of the collapse of a roof in the Vatican, in which he narrowly escaped death, it is to Santa Maria Nuova that we see him going in procession to hold a solemn thanksgiving service to Our Lady. In a dozen different ways did that devotion find expression during his pontificate; and be it remembered that Catholics owe it to Alexander VI that the Angelus bell is rung thrice daily in honour of the Blessed Virgin.
To us this devotion to the Mother of Chastity on the part of a churchman openly unchaste in flagrant subversion of his vows is a strange and incongruous spectacle. But the incongruity of it is illumining. It reveals Alexander's simple attitude towards the sins of the flesh, and shows how, in common with most churchmen of his day, he found no conscientious difficulty in combining fervid devotion with perfervid licence. Whatever it may seem by ours, by his lights by the light of the examples about him from his youth, by the light of the precedents afforded him by his predecessors in St. Peter's Chair his conduct was a normal enough affair, which can have afforded him little with which to reproach himself.
In the matter of the annulment of the marriage of Louis XII it is to be conceded that Alexander made the most of the opportunity it afforded him. He perceived that the moment was propitious for enlisting the services of the King of France to the achievement of his own ends, more particularly to further the matter of the marriage of Cesare Borgia with Carlotta of Aragon, who was being reared at the Court of France. Accordingly Alexander desired the Bishop of Ceuta to lay his wishes in the matter before the Christian King, and, to the end that Cesare might find a fitting secular estate awaiting him when eventually he emerged from the clergy, the Pope further suggested to Louis, through the bishop's agency, that Cesare should receive the investiture of the counties of Valentinois and Dyois in Dauphiny.
On the face of it this wears the look of inviting bribery. In reality it scarcely amounted to so much, although the opportunism that prompted the request is undeniable. Yet it is worthy of consideration that in what concerned the counties of Valentinois and Dyois, the Pope's suggestion constituted a wise political step. These territories had been in dispute between France and the Holy See for a matter of some two hundred years, during which the Popes had been claiming dominion over them. The claims had been admitted by Louis XI, who had relinquished the counties to the Church; but shortly after his death the Parliament of Dauphiny had restored them to the crown of France. Charles VIII and Innocent VIII had wrangled over them, and an arbitration was finally projected, but never held.
Alexander now perceived a way to solve the difficulty by a compromise which should enrich his son and give the latter a title to replace that of cardinal which he was to relinquish. So his proposal to Louis XII was that the Church should abandon its claim upon the territories, whilst the king, raising Valentinois to the dignity of a duchy, should so confer it upon Cesare Borgia.