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When Charles VII died, the Valois monarchy had been reconstructed, and the French were living at peace. The greater part of the population was under the orders of the king’s officials, and paid taxes in which they had no say but which were, however, not excessive. It was evident that the royal authority had recovered all its old strength. But there remained some questions of capital importance still in suspense. In spite of the great efforts made by the peasantry to put the land back into cultivation and by the merchants to revive their former connexions, France had recovered little from the disasters of the Hundred Years’ War. The towns, with their houses often deserted and their monuments in ruins, were yet less desolate than the countryside. The register of the archidiaconal visitations of Josas (1458-70) shows us the region to the south of Paris devastated and lying waste, the parishes often denuded of inhabitants, and a rural society everywhere scanty in numbers and being decimated besides by violent epidemics, in wretched state, sunk in barbarism. An Englishman, Sir John Fortescue, passed through the north of France about 1465 on his way to Paris; his witness, which lies in the pages of his Governance of England, agrees with that of the ecclesiastical visitor: the French peasants were ill clothed, ill fed, and lived in a state of utmost poverty. The country was exhausted, and there was plenty to occupy the time of an ambitious king who was anxious to have adequate resources for the great things he had to do.

There were other problems, too, to be faced in 1461. The domain of the Crown, vast and homogeneous though it was, yet comprised only half of the realm. The remainder belonged to great feudal houses. Some of these were of great antiquity—Brittany, Foix, Armagnac, Albret—and jealous of their old independence; others had been offshoots from the Capetian stem, and first and foremost came the powerful dynasty of Burgundy. A conflict was inevitable between the king and the Duke of Burgundy, who claimed complete independence and had in vision the formation of a kingdom lying between France and Germany. Besides Burgundy, there were the houses of Bourbon (Bourbonnais, Auvergne, Forex, Beaujeu, Clermont-en-Beauvaisis etc.), of Orleans, and of Anjou (Anjou and Maine, and, outside the kingdom, Provence, Lorraine, the duchy of Bar, and claims upon the Two Sicilies). These three dynasties, though less dangerous than that of Burgundy, were none the less a permanent obstacle to the development of the monarchy, and the time had come when it could no longer continue to expand unless they disappeared.

With England no peace had been concluded. Public opinion in England was hostile to France; neither the Lancastrians nor the Yorkists had renounced the title of  “King of France”. Edward IV, who was on the throne in 1461, was, it is true, the friend of Louis, by whom he had been helped to win his victory. But he was of too crafty and fickle a disposition to be relied upon.

The relations of Church and State in France were passing through a critical period. A great cleavage was already in process. The Pragmatic Sanction, arbitrarily enforced by the monarchy, had lowered the vitality of the French Church. The Holy See was pressing keenly for its abrogation.

The tension between king and Pope tended to lessen the role and the prestige of the Valois in Italy. The Holy See had entered into the league formed by Milan, Venice, Florence, and Alfonso of Aragon to counter the ambition of the French king and the Dukes of Orleans and Anjou. It was a question whether the era of French expansion in Italy had not come to an end.

Royal diplomacy had shown itself inert in Spain, where the Aragonese monarchy seemed threatened with dismemberment. Eastwards, however, it was fully alive; its efforts, directed against Burgundy, made war in this quarter inevitable, and dark clouds were beginning to gather over Liege and the Upper Rhine.

The power of Burgundy was asserted even in the domain of arts and letters. The Court of Philip the Good was more magnificent, and gave a warmer welcome to writers and artists, than that of Charles VII. There was a Burgundian literature, and the Flemish-Burgundian art had attained so splendid a position and exercised a hegemony so incontestable that native French art was almost stifled in its growth. The intellectual orientation of France seemed to depend on the fate of the Burgundian dynasty.


Louis XI resolved only a portion of these grave problems. But it is certainly to him, and to his personal initiative, that must be attributed the great advantages gained by the monarchy during the twenty-two years of his most eventful reign; it is similarly to him that must be assigned the responsibility for the faults that were committed. There is not a single king at the end of the Middle Ages who has impressed so strongly the stamp of his personality upon government and policy.

Louis XI, the son of Charles VII and Mary of Anjou, was born on 3 July 1423, at a time when the King of England was ruling over practically the whole of the north of France, from the valley of the Meuse to the bay of Mont-Saint-Michel. He had passed his childhood in Berry and Touraine, in circumstances of great anxiety and distress for the royal family, which sometimes found itself entirely unprovided with money. Brought up by a tutor of good sense, he received a solid education and at an early age acquired habits of simplicity and reflection which played their part in the formation of his individuality. From the age of sixteen he took a large share in affairs, and from 1439 to 1445 was employed on important missions; everywhere he showed himself active, courageous, and shrewd. But he was of an intriguing and unruly disposition, and in 1440 he took part in the Praguerie; the king’s counsellors and the king himself distrusted him. After the death of the Dauphine Margaret of Scotland, for whom Charles VII had a warm affection, the differences between them became accentuated. Louis, exiled to Dauphiné, governed there for ten years as an independent sovereign, married, in spite of his father, the daughter of the Duke of Savoy, countered the policy of Charles VII in every quarter, and intrigued with all the enemies of the French royal house; finally, believing that his father desired his death, he fled to the Duke of Burgundy, there to await the death of the king.

When this event, which he was not ashamed to desire quite openly and with a cynical impatience, gave him the throne of France, Louis was thirty-eight years old. He was furnished with a wide experience of life and of men, was accustomed to hard work, and scornful of the futilities of chivalry in which the princes then wasted their time; but he was devoured by endless ambitions and violent rancours, which he purposed immediately to gratify.

One of the people who hated him most, Bishop Thomas Basin, declared that it was very difficult to draw a character-sketch of Louis XI, since he abounded in contradictions. One reason for this complexity of character was certainly his physical constitution; it often played tricks with his judgment and his will. He was ill-favoured and of poor physique, suffered from frequent illness, and was plagued by a skin disease which was rendered more and more severe by his excesses at table. At the end of his life he imagined that he was a leper. It seems proved that he was epileptic and that, at any rate from 1467 onwards, he suffered from malaria and all the ailments which that disease brings in its train. Louis XI, therefore, was a neuropath. His nervous disorder found expression in idle chatter which spared nobody and often cost him dear, or again in a craving for movement, which sometimes launched him on long hunting expeditions, most exhausting for his entourage, and sometimes caused him to undertake at top speed a journey across his kingdom. He was on edge, suspicious, wished to manage everything, and interfered in even the most trifling matters. There was something unhealthy about the extraordinary restlessness of a character so fertile in combinations that his policy was often capricious and confused.

His countless projects were inspired by a high sense of his duties as king. But all means appeared to him to be legitimate. In short, he had no moral sense. Very scrupulous in religious observances, he imagined that his prayers and his gifts of piety were all that were required to put him right with Heaven, and that in order to have God and Our Lady and the Saints on his side it was only necessary to pay the price. To extract himself from a mistake or to confound his enemies, as also to overcome an internal ailment, he bought the intercession of the leading personages in Paradise by presents which were calculated by the rank and influence of the recipients as well as by the importance of the boon to be obtained.

The best way to obtain a real knowledge of Louis XI is to read the voluminous collection of his Letters, itself only a fragment of a vast correspondence, and the dispatches of the Milanese ambassadors. Commynes, shrewd and clear-sighted though he was, has concealed or omitted so much; Thomas Basin only played the part of a pamphleteer; Chastelain, for all his effort at impartiality, gives us only fragmentary information. But Louis’ letters and the ambassadors’ dispatches depict the whole man to us. Revealed in the light of his dealings with his correspondents and with the ambassadors of the Duke of Milan, he did not, nor did he wish to, hold people save by interest alone, and he judged them only by the profit he drew from them. He knew how to cajole, to jest familiarly, to play the “gossip”; but he was suspicious, crafty, cruel. There was in him a real baseness of soul, a disgusting delight in lying, tyranny, and vengeance. And yet, out of these documents, in spite of all the cynicism and the brutality so often displayed in them, there emerges one very forcible impression: the aims of this king were grand in their conception, remarkable for their originality, and usually well-judged, and he devoted to them the striking qualities of a true leader of men. He was wonderfully intelligent, alert, supple, and energetic. As a diplomat, he had assimilated the old methods of the “king’s servants”, and added to them the finesse and the craft which he had learnt in the school of his friends the Italians. As a soldier, he was fond of repeating that he had given proofs of courage and had risked his life, and that he had thus acquired the right of employing his imposing army only when he felt it to be necessary. As an administrator, he had his hand on every part of the machinery of monarchical government, and no person or thing escaped his searching gaze. His very faults, often as they compromised his position, served his ends. His craze to be on the move, to talk with everyone, gave him the opportunity of seeing everything, knowing everything, hearing everything. Never had king so direct a knowledge of his subjects.

So, then, in spite of his defects and his blemishes, he was well shaped to confront the great tasks that awaited him. He had, besides, the good fortune of having as his adversaries men of mediocre ability. Finally, circumstances worked in his favour: the French had had their fill of anarchy and for the most part put their trust in monarchy alone; the “good towns11 were devoted to his cause; and, lastly, the petty nobility had no thought of aiding their greater brethren against the king.

However, the first years of his reign were troubled years, and the king came within an ace of destruction. He owed his set-back to his own faults, to his thirst for vengeance, his passion for changing everything, his vexatious tyranny.

On his accession, he discharged a large number of officials, and caused some of the best counsellors of the preceding reign to be arrested, suspecting them of having prejudiced his father against him, though sooner or later he recognised their loyal devotion and used it to his advantage. Men like Pierre de Brézé and Antoine de Chabannes, heroes of the war with the English, were imprisoned for some time. Louis took away the chancery from the upright Guillaume Jouvenel des Ursins to entrust it to Pierre de Morvilliers, a former councillor in the Parlement who had been dismissed for corruption. He gave the office of admiral to Jean de Montauban, who had had to take flight to evade the Duke of Brittany’s justice. Louis’ former associate in Dauphiné, Jean de Lescun, bastard of Armagnac, became the principal adviser of the new king. He was held to be the “master” of the king, “a second king,” yet all the same a person “of great worth.” But to have betrayed Charles VII was often sufficient recommendation for Louis’ favour. John V of Armagnac and the Duke of Alençon were restored to the possession of their estates.

In every quarter Louis succeeded in creating distrust. Promises of financial reforms which he was unable to realise deceived the middle classes, and led to outbreaks which he savagely repressed. He “reduced to slavery” the clergy of France; this is the statement of Thomas Basin, and it is hardly an exaggeration. For reasons both domestic and foreign he abolished the Pragmatic Sanction on 27 November 1461, only to restore it in full working order again, when he had fallen out with Pope Pius II; but, whatever his relations with the Holy See, he never ceased to bully the clergy. As for the higher nobility, he offended it by his dictatorial manner and by the encroachments of his officials; he scandalised it by his exhibition of contempt for fashion, Court life, and the code of chivalry, and by his refusal to fritter away the royal revenue in idle munificence. He could be lavish with his money, if need be, but only to attain some particular object. Moreover, he detested magnificent festivities and ceremonial functions, and, in his rare moments of leisure and relaxation, he showed that his tastes were those of a middle-class citizen or country squire who found his chief delight in drinking deep and exchanging spicy anecdotes with his boon companions. So, he did away with costly entertainments, and even suppressed the payments which with Charles VII had been the means of creating a circle of courtiers. He offended the petty nobility by restricting its hunting rights; he even claimed to dispose of rich heiresses in order to provide advantageous marriages for his dependents, and this was naturally a cause of particularly bitter resentment against him.


The Dukes of Burgundy and Brittany

Among the princes, there was one who seemed to be insured against the designs of the king, both by his power and by the memory of his recent good offices. The Duke of Burgundy had but lately afforded Louis a refuge, and on his accession to the throne had escorted him with great pomp to Paris and there had given magnificent entertainments in his honour. But Louis XI, though capable of recognising most bounteously the services of those whose master he was, kept no account of kindnesses if they were likely to prove an embarrassment to his policy. He at once determined to wrest from the house of Burgundy the important strategic line of the Somme. Philip the Good was growing old, and in 1462 he all but died; the Lords of Croy, in whom he had a blind confidence, had embroiled him with his son Charles the Bold, Count of Charolais. The moment was a favourable one. Through the medium of the Croy lords, which he obtained at a high cost, Louis was enabled in 1463 to repurchase the Somme towns for the price of 400,000 gold crowns, the sum stipulated in the Treaty of Arras. At the same time, by promises of assistance he stirred into flame the smouldering ashes at Liege, where the national party was hostile to the Burgundian protectorate. In the Lorraine region, on which the house of Burgundy kept a covetous eye, he laid claim to the protectorate of Toul and Verdun, and tried to get possession of Metz. Clearly, when it should come to pass that the young Count of Charolais should be reconciled with his father and take the government into his own hands, the king would no longer find things so easy and would have to beware of an opponent who was thirsting for revenge.

At the other end of the kingdom, another feudal house was also asserting its independence. The Duke of Brittany, Francis II (1458-88), regarded himself as sovereign in his duchy and barred its entry to the king’s officials. This roused the wrath of Louis XI. King and duke each gave hospitality to refugees who inflamed their mutual hostility: Jean de Montauban, now the favourite of Louis XI, had his counterpart in Odet d’Aydie, who had lost his post as bailli after Charles VII’s death and had found an asylum in Brittany, and these two were largely responsible for the incidents which led eventually to war. The chief causes of the conflict between Louis XI and Francis II were the question of the English alliance and the assertion of regalian rights over the Church in Brittany. The king insisted on Francis II abandoning his alliance with England, and maintained his right to fill the bishoprics and abbeys of Brittany with his own nominees. Francis shewed no signs of yielding; he sent a procurator to the Roman Court in October 1462, who declared before the Pope and the Sacred College “that the duke was not a subject of the king, and that he would put Englishmen into his country rather than those who were servants and friends of the king.” This, indeed, was what he proposed to do.

The house of Bourbon enjoyed no such independence; it had to allow the royal officials to levy taxes within its territories. It had already shown that its chief object was to enrich itself by the acquisition of important and lucrative posts; and Louis XI alienated Duke John II, his brother-in-law, by depriving him of the government of Guienne.

With the houses of Orleans and Anjou, it would have been easy for Louis to maintain the relations established by Charles VII. The head of each was an old man, Charles of Orleans and King René, both of whom were engrossed in art and poetry rather than in politics; and Charles’ life came to a peaceful end on 5 January 1465. But Louis XI offended the most active members of these two houses, the Count of Dunois, bastard of Orleans, and Rene of Anjou’s son John, Duke of Calabria and Lorraine, by the policy which he pursued from 1463 onwards in Italy—a policy of friendship and close alliance with the Duke of Milan, Francesco Sforza, and of neutrality in the peninsula. To the able Milanese envoy, Alberigo Malleta, who was in no small measure responsible for his change of attitude, he declared in April 1464 that it was no longer proper for Frenchmen to have domains in Italy. He enfeoffed Sforza with Genoa and Savona (December 1463), tried to induce Charles of Orleans to sell Asti to the Duke of Milan, and gave no assistance to the Angevins for the reconquest of Naples. The dispatches of the Milanese ambassadors make it possible to assert that the discomfiture of John of Anjou, his intrigues against Louis XI, and their mutual hatred, form the principal reason for the coalition of 1465.

Louis took no account of the ill-feeling aroused by his abandonment of the traditions of his dynasty and by his arbitrary, abrupt, and changeable policy. Abroad as at home, his personality inspired both fear and dislike. Certainly he was right in refusing any longer to play the game of the houses of Orleans and Anjou in Italy, and in repudiating ambitions which diverted France from the true path whereon her security was assured. Very wisely his ambition was limited to the frontier of the Alps. Ever since his marriage with Charlotte of Savoy, he had kept a close watch upon Savoyard affairs, had intervened in them, striven to win over the nobles, and taken pains to strike terror into the hearts of the refractory, for instance his brother-in-law Philip of Bressé, whom he held prisoner for two years; however, he publicly announced that he had no intention of annexing Savoy—the time, he felt, was not ripe. In Spain on the other hand, he showed a lack of prudence. He thought the moment propitious for conquest on a grand scale, and he had a covetous eye on the succession, which might soon be expected, to the aged John II of Aragon. Roussillon and Cerdagne, Catalonia, Aragon, Navarre—all the territories accumulated by John II—seemed to him ready to fall into his hands. But here he was confronted with the King of Castile, who likewise aimed at despoiling John II, and in this way he compromised a traditional alliance. He was confronted, too, with the spirit of independence of the Catalans, and he attempted to coax them in vain. Above all, he was confronted with the ability and energy of John II, who revealed himself as a statesman of the first order. The audacious cynicism with which Louis employed in turn intimidation, violence, and cajolery, and shifted from one alliance to another, did, indeed, achieve the annexation, under the form of a pledge, of Roussillon and Cerdagne in 1463, but it ruined his influence in Spain. Towards England, too, he showed a similar lack of prudence. He tried to rekindle the Wars of the Roses. He made an enemy of his former friend, Edward IV, by supplying Margaret of Anjou with a small army. The expedition was a failure: he had hoped at least to recover Calais; his only harvest was a crop of animosities.

Such was the dangerous condition of affairs when the League of “the Public Weal” was formed against Louis XI. An Anglo-German coalition might well have come into being again and joined forces with the coalition of French feudatories, as at the time of the battle of Bouvines; and there was a new peril for France, the Spanish peril, already looming on the horizon. Fortunately, the indolent Edward IV, letting slip the opportunity both to strengthen his hold on the throne and to make conquests in France, granted Louis a truce until 1468; Charles the Bold’s alliances with the German princes only produced a few troops of mercenaries; John II of Aragon had his hands full with the Catalan revolt; and the Count of Foix, Gaston IV, heir-presumptive to Navarre, remained faithful to Louis XI and kept the whole of the South at peace. The only foreign prince to intervene effectively was Louis’ friend, Sforza; he lent Louis a small but efficient contingent under the command of his own son.

But all the same the League of the Public Weal was a formidable ordeal for the monarchy. The revolt, which lasted from March to October 1465, was, properly speaking, only the beginning of a long struggle which Louis had to maintain against the higher feudality, especially against the princes of the blood, until 1477. But the League of the Public Weal, which included a section of the clergy, of the bourgeoisie, and of the holders of office, was an event of particular significance; it is also rendered especially interesting to us, since light is thrown on it by a mass of documents, which enable us to obtain a clear picture of the attitude of the different classes within the nation.

On both sides appeal was made to public opinion. Manifestoes, letters, declarations of the princes, confessions of prisoners reveal the grievances alleged by the members of the League, their demands, and their political intentions. In the main, the responsibility for “the exactions, oppressions, wrongs, and other countless ills done to churches and nobles as well as to the poor and lowly folk” was attributed to five or six persons who had been in the king’s entourage since his accession, who were not acquainted, it was said, with the business of the kingdom, and who had no outlook other than their own personal interest; the people aimed at were those who had been at Louis’ side when he was dauphin and whom he had loaded with favours, such as the Bastard of Armagnac. But the king himself, though no one dared openly to say so, was the real object of the hatred of the feudality. He had not only frustrated their ambitions and galled their pride. He appeared to them as a traitor and an enemy to all that they held dear. It was at once both the spirit of regional independence and the spirit of feudalism, of chivalry, that were in revolt against him. Georges Chastellain, the honest and impartial historiographer of Philip the Good and Charles the Bold, declared himself to be “a good Frenchman,” but he held it as intolerable that the noble house of Burgundy should be threatened with ruin by the monarchy. This same Chastellain regarded Louis XI as a disloyal lord, who merited no longer the fidelity of his subjects; in ballads composed on the eve of the war by him and by Jean Meschinot, the king is depicted as a man treacherous and deceitful, who “loves silver better than the love of his subjects,” is full of vain promises, cannot endure a powerful neighbour, picks a quarrel with everyone, and respects no man’s right. The illustrious Dunois, in a speech he made to the Paris deputies in August 1465, openly accused the king of being a tyrant and of aiming at reducing the nobility to servitude: “he had made alliance with the Duke of Milan and other foreigners to destroy all the noble houses of France, especially the houses of Orleans, Brittany, Burgundy, and Bourbon. He caused numerous persons to be married into an estate unequal to their own, to the great dishonour and displeasure of the said persons”; he aimed at controlling everything by himself alone, and refused to convoke the Three Estates of the Realm. In the manifestoes he was charged with oppressing and molesting churchmen, with allowing the exactions and false judgments of the men of law, with levying intolerable taxes from the poor people. In consequence, it was proposed to prevent him from doing harm in future. The rumour was current that it was intended to crown the king’s brother Monsieur Charles, the Duke of Berry, at Rheims, that the king was to be kept in perpetual confinement and allowed to go out only to hunt from time to time; but the general opinion was that no more would be done than the putting of order into his government, “for that he was king and could not be displaced1.” Various projects were put forward. There was talk of making the Duke of Berry regent, as a figurehead for an oligarchic government. The dukes were to divide between them the government of the provinces in the royal domain. They were to receive large pensions. At the same time there was talk of the abolition of the taxes, though no explanation was given as to how these contradictions were to be reconciled. Dunois declared to the Paris deputies that the princes demanded to have “the receiving, the handling, and the control of all the finances of the realm, and to have in their power and governance all the army of the realm; item, they demanded to have the knowledge and the distribution of all the offices of the realm; item, they demanded to have the person of the king and the governance of the same; item, they demanded that the town of Paris should be handed over and delivered to them, and that all their demands should be adjudged to them by the Three Estates of the Realm.”

The grievances, the demands, the designs for an aristocratic government, the promises to restore its liberty to the Church and to lighten the burden of the poorer classes, recall the very similar attempts of the English nobles to seize power, notably in the time of Henry III. But what the Leaguers lacked in 1465 was a leader. They had not among them a Simon de Montfort or even a Gilbert de Clare. Monsieur Charles, whom they pushed to the front, was a feeble creature who was to die prematurely of syphilis. Francis II of Brittany and Charles the Bold were not anxious so much to share in the government as to be left independent in their own principalities; moreover, they were mediocre statesmen, and the same is true of John of Anjou and the Duke of Bourbon. The men of real ability were not princes and so could not direct the policy of the League: for instance Dunois, Antoine de Chabannes, and the ingenious Odet d’Aydie, whom Louis XI eventually took into his service, in the same year (1472) that he recruited Philippe de Commynes. But what constituted the chief difference between the English revolts in the thirteenth century and the French attempt in 1465 was the fact that the clergy took practically no part in the latter. They confined themselves in the main to organising processions on behalf of the re-establishment of peace. The application of the Pragmatic Sanction and the despotic regime which Louis XI substituted for it had filled the bishoprics with supporters of the monarchy. Only three bishops openly declared themselves against the king: the Bishop of Puy, a bastard of the house of Bourbon, and two bishops of a particularly intractable province, Normandy; the most famous of the two, Thomas Basin, had no pretensions to leadership; he was not a Stephen Langton. The nobility did not have the advantage of the lofty inspiration and the guiding counsels of a great Churchman, capable of a consistent policy and able to hold in check the selfish aims of individuals.

The figure of Thomas Basin, however, and his ideas deserve a brief consideration. He came from a bourgeois family of Caudebec. Made Bishop of Lisieux in the period of English domination, he was the first Norman bishop to hand over his town to the French. He was a counsellor of Charles VII. He composed a memoir for the rehabilitation of Joan of Arc, and another, after Louis1 accession, on the reforms that were most urgent, at the request of the king himself, who, however, had no liking for him. The high-handed treatment of the clergy and the arbitrary acts of the king drove him into opposition. There is nothing novel in the ideas expressed by him in his partisan Histoire du roi Louis XI and in his Apologia, but for that very reason they are thoroughly interesting, for they shew the continuity in the point of view of the Church. They are the same ideas that were formerly expressed by all the great prelates of the Middle Ages, and are imbued with the spirit of the Church’s attitude towards the secular power. Kings have no claim to obedience unless they govern in conformity with the divine law, take counsel of the clergy, respect the customs, and in particular the rights of the Church in matters judicial and financial. When Basin speaks of “liberty,” he means “privileges.” He was horrified by a prince who scoffed at all tradition and wished to have the clergy at his beck and call—in fact, a “tyrant.” Insurrection is justified against “a ruler who, so to say, is insane and does not govern by the advice of good and wise men, but destroys and brings all to ruin, despoils the citizens of their patrimony at his pleasure and without lawful judgment, and exiles men who have deserved well of the republic; suppresses the liberty of the Church and the honour due to ecclesiastics; forces women whether of noble birth or not, contrary to all right and against their will and that of their family, to marry the men that he wishes.” “It is said that the princes and their adherents are subjects and vassals, and have not the right to take arms against their lord and king. But to those who say this I ask: if they were in a ship the captain of which, through lack of skill or malicious design, was about to lose his ship and run it on a shoal, ought not those who are with him, even though they were his slaves, to remonstrate with him and, if he were so foolish as to scorn their exhortations, to restrain him? We think that, provided they were not themselves insane, they would have to let the crew take the helm from him, and if necessary, for the common safety, tie him up or treat him more rigorously still1.” Here we have the doctrine of regicide, the doctrine of John of Salisbury in the twelfth century and of Jean Petit in the fifteenth. It contains exaggerations common to speculative writers, it has the tricks of rhetoric and a touch of insincerity. But the murder of Louis of Orleans fifty years before had been justified by similar arguments. It was not quite without reason that Louis XI was all his life afraid of assassination. There would always have been people ready to assert that in the sight of God the act was just and reasonable.

In the ranks of the opposition, it was the holders of office, or some among them at any rate, whose views most nearly coincided with those expressed by Thomas Basin: for instance, François Halle, who was one of the most important members of the Council. The reign of Charles VII had been a reign of the king’s servants. They it was who governed then, and they did so not only in the gratification of their own pride and personal interests, but also with the feeling that they were bringing back the old prosperous traditions, which transcended their private inclinations, and were creating the liberties of the kingdom; they continued to work out a constitution which, uncodified though it was and dispersed among various Ordonnanc.es and decisions at law, was a living entity with binding powers. In their eyes Louis XI was a dangerous revolutionary. In the Parlement of Paris, the Châtelet, the Chambre des Comptes, the League found partisans. But the majority of those in office were afraid, and kept their opinions to themselves.

The petty nobility for the most part refused to withdraw their allegiance from the king. The workers in the towns saw that they would gain nothing from having several kings in place of one. The commercial bourgeoisie were not of one mind: Bordeaux, Lyons, and even Amiens, showed themselves loyalist; other towns, in fear, or perhaps with grudges of their own to settle, opened their gates to the rebels, especially in Normandy. Paris was divided in its sympathies; and it needed all the energy of the Provost of the Merchants, Henri de Livres, to prevent the popularity formerly enjoyed by the Dukes of Burgundy from coming to life once more. During the whole of Louis XI’s reign, there was ill-feeling between the king and the Parisians.

The whole issue in 1465 depended on whether the princes would act in unison, and would succeed in laying hands on the capital. They did not begin the war together, and Louis, at the head of a compact army of 30,000 men, was easily able to overwhelm the Duke of Bourbon, who had started too soon. But from July to September the situation became most critical for the king. The Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, restrained for a long time by his scruples as vassal, had grown old, worn out by a life of pleasure, and had abandoned power to his son Charles the Bold; and Charles was enraged at Louis’ alliance with the people of Liege and wished to bring matters to a head. The two armies met south of Paris, at Montlhéry, on 15 July. Louis failed to crush the Burgundian forces or to prevent their j unction with those of his brother, of the Duke of Brittany, and of John of Anjou. He retired back to Paris, where he passed some days in despair, as we learn from the dispatches of the Milanese ambassador Panigarola. He contemplated flight to Dauphiné, where the nobles were faithful to him. His counsellors, terrified, dared give him no advice; some of them turned traitor. Defections increased. At last, he decided to negotiate.

Peace was concluded at Conflans and at Saint-Maur-les-Fosses in October 1465. “Never was wedding-feast so grand,” says Philippe de Commynes, “but that some folk dined ill; some had all they wished, and others had nothing.” The Duke of Nemours gained practically nothing by his treason, save the hatred of his master. But the king’s brother Monsieur Charles and Charles the Bold were loaded with gains. Charles the Bold obtained the Somme towns and the counties of Guines, Péronne, Montdidier, Roye etc., while his friend, the treacherous Count of Saint-Pol, received the sword of Constable of France; the Liégeois, abandoned by the king, were forced to accept a humiliating peace. The king’s brother received, in place of his meagre duchy of Berry, the splendid duchy of Normandy, which, lying between Brittany and the Burgundian territories, now intercepted communications between the royal domain and the Channel; this made it possible for the English king, if occasion arose, to come to the aid of the princes against the King of France.

Louis XI was beaten. For a long time peace vanished from the kingdom. Bands of mercenaries remaining under arms were everywhere pillaging the countryside, while waiting for the inevitable re-opening of civil war.

Louis had, indeed, no intention of keeping his word. During the seven years that elapsed before the death of his brother, he strove hard to prevent Monsieur Charles from keeping any dangerous appanage, to wrest the Somme towns from Charles the Bold, and to make head against difficulties of every kind, with an energy and an ingenuity which were sometimes defeated by his excess of self-confidence. The events of this period are extraordinarily complex. Here it must suffice to give an impression of the perils the monarchy had to face and the policy which Louis XI adopted to meet them.

In the month of December 1465 Louis profited by a revival of the old enmity between Bretons and Normans to recover Normandy, “the chief jewel in the Crown”. He began to undermine on every side the power of the new Duke of Burgundy (for Philip the Good died on 15 June 1467). The “king's servants” resumed their practice of persistent provocation; they contested the right which the duke had arrogated to himself of judging without appeal and of raising taxes and troops in his domains. Finally, they persuaded the Liégeois to take up arms again. More important still was the question of alliance with the Duke of Brittany and of alliance with Edward IV; for both of these Louis XI and Charles the Bold competed with one another. It was the Duke of Burgundy who won: a Breton army invaded Normandy in 1467, and on 3 July 1468 Margaret, Edward IV's sister, married Charles the Bold. In this grave crisis a speedy stroke was necessary to get the better of the coalition. Louis adopted a principle of strategy which was thoroughly successful on this occasion and again at a later date: he directed his main effort to overwhelm at once the Duke of Brittany, who was easier to deal with, and forced him to accept the peace of Ancenis (10 September 1468). As for Charles the Bold, Louis decided to go himself with a small escort to the place where Charles then was, Péronne, relying simply on a safe conduct from his adversary.

The journey to Péronne is one of the most characteristic facts in the history of Louis XI, and shows clearly that he was not at all the man of unfailing prudence, who chose out every step with caution and calculation, that he has been made out to be in literature. He was of a feverish temperament, and had in him something of the gambler who trusts to his lucky star. He had complete confidence in his ability to submerge distrust in a flood of honeyed phrases, to cajole, and to seduce; was he not known as “the siren”? On the other hand, he despised Charles the Bold, and regarded him, not without reason, as a fool. He said to Malleta, mimicking the passionate gestures of Charles: “He is a man of little worth and little sense, arrogant and wrathful; he is only a brute (una bestia)”. He expected to win him over, if he could have a talk with him. But on his arrival at Péronne, on 9 October 1468, he learnt of the presence of several of his worst enemies, and he began to regret the step he had taken. Negotiations were opened on his behalf by Cardinal Balue, but they met with an obstacle at once in Charles’ refusal to recognise the recovery of Normandy. Louis decided that the game was lost, and on 11 October he made preparations to depart. But “the spider”, so clever at spinning a web, had made a slip this time. “The king,’’ says Commynes, “in coming to Péronne, had not considered that he had sent two ambassadors to the Liégeois to rouse them against the duke, which ambassadors had already shewn such diligence that they had done great business”. The Liégeois had forcibly brought their bishop back into the town, and had killed some of his adherents. The news of these events had been greatly exaggerated, and some distraught folk arrived at Péronne on the evening of 11 October, crying that the Bishop of Liege and the ducal governor had been massacred at the instigation of the emissaries of Louis XI. Charles the Bold, without pausing to verify the facts, caused the gates of the castle where Louis was lodging to be barred. Commynes, who was then in Charles’ personal service, was present, and has left us a famous description of what took place. What he does not tell us is whether Balue, who was directed by the king to divide 15,000 gold crowns among the Burgundians who “might be of aid to him”, did or did not forget him in the distribution. It is probable that Commynes received 1000 or 1500 crowns, and it is certain that 2000 went to the powerful Bastard of Burgundy, Antoine. The duke let himself be persuaded that he could not violate a safe conduct, and he consented to see the king. He adopted a humble attitude, but his voice trembled with rage. Louis accepted his conditions. The gravest clause in the treaty concluded at Péronne was the stipulation that the “four laws of Flanders,” the tribunals of Ghent, Ypres, Bruges, and the district of Bruges, should cease to be within the jurisdiction of the Parlement of Paris. The king made a verbal engagement to give Champagne, which was adjacent to the Burgundian State, to his brother, and he promised to assist the duke in punishing the Liegeois.

On 30 October the Burgundian troops entered Liege. Olivier de la Marche, an eye-witness, describes how Louis XI followed the duke and cried: “Long live Burgundy!” The town of Liege was kept burning for seven weeks; everything except the churches was destroyed. Louis returned to France affecting a calm air of satisfaction and of close attachment to the Duke of Burgundy. In reality, as Chastellain says, “he hated Duke Charles with a deadly venom.” Everywhere his humiliation and the triumph of the house of Burgundy were the common talk.

Louis was not discouraged; he immediately set to work to make the conventions of Péronne as null as the treaty of Conflans. Commynes says that he was the wisest man that he had known “at drawing himself out of a blunder in time of adversity Louis took as his model his dead friend Sforza, who, he said, “never retreated when he had missed his mark, and put forth all his energy when the flood was up to his chin”. For several years he was to exert the desperate efforts of a drowning man. He had enemies everywhere, even in his immediate circle. As he never gave preference to honesty, and willingly employed men with a stain or a crime on their character provided they were men of intelligence, no king was so often betrayed as he. He had to get rid of his friend, Cardinal Balue, and also of another intriguing bishop, Guillaume de Harancourt; an emissary of theirs chanced to be caught when on his way to the Duke of Burgundy. To avoid trouble with the Holy See, Louis did not bring them to trial, but he kept them in prison for several years. The Count of Armagnac, John V, and the Duke of Alencon, who had both of them won his regard by their betrayal of Charles VII, betrayed him also: John V, accused of “pro-Anglicism” and condemned by the King’s Council in 1469, was deprived of his estates and fled to Spain; his brother, Charles of Armagnac, was shut up in the Bastille (1471) and made to undergo a captivity atrocious in its severity; the Duke of Alençon was for a second time condemned to death (1474) without the sentence being carried out. Louis XI became more and more distrustful. “He thought,” writes Commynes, “he did not stand well with all his subjects...and, if I dared say all, he has told me many a time that he knew his subjects well, and that he would soon be made aware of it, if his business was faring ill.”

Louis succeeded, in 1469, in inducing his brother to accept the duchy of Guienne in place of Champagne; he also set to work to obtain the alliance of England. It was a question, in his mind, of nothing less than the restoration of the Lancastrian dynasty and of sharing with it the spoils of the Burgundian house. He profited by the persistent ambition of the dethroned queen, Margaret of Anjou, to reconcile her in July 1470 with Warwick the King-maker, who had recently heaped the vilest abuse upon her. Edward IV, surprised by a sudden invasion, fled to the Court of Charles the Bold. King Louis, says Chastellain, “was bathed in roses.” To the unhappy Henry VI, now restored to the throne, he proposed the dismemberment of the Burgundian territories. His troops invaded Picardy and Burgundy (1470-71). The end of the adventure is well known: Edward IV, furnished with ships and men by Charles the Bold, was victorious at Barnet and Tewkesbury; Warwick, Henry VPs son, and lastly Henry VI himself, perished in turn (April-May 1471). Edward IV  immediately planned vengeance on Louis. At the same time, the King of Aragon, enraged by the behaviour of Louis XI, who had supported the claims of the house of Anjou to Catalonia (1466-70), formed a coalition against him, and found allies for himself and for the Duke of Burgundy in Italy and in the South of France. Gaston IV, Count of Foix, whom Louis XI had alienated by trying to lay hands on Navarre, gave his daughter in marriage to the Duke of Brittany. John V of Armagnac returned to France, recovered his estates, raised an army, and invaded the Toulousain. Monsieur Charles, who had been warmly received in Guienne, was frightened by the threats of his brother, who surrounded him with spies, and he endeavoured to obtain the hand of the Duke of Burgundy’s daughter. Furthermore, a rising fomented by the King of Aragon broke out in Roussillon in April 1472 against French domination.

The death of Monsieur Charles (24 May 1472), the cleverness of Louis XI, who contrived to obtain a succession of overlapping truces from his adversaries, and the military incompetency of Charles the Bold, combined to save the king. The Burgundian campaign of 1472 was characteristic: the Duke of Burgundy was incapable of taking the small town of Beauvais; its inhabitants, women as well as men, defended themselves with fury, for they knew that the inhabitants of Nesle had just been massacred; a girl of the people, Jeanne Laisne, during an assault tore a banner from the Burgundians—at Beauvais they still talk of “Jeanne Hachette.” The duke had taken no care to provide himself with supplies, and he was forced to ask for a fresh truce (3 November 1472). The Duke of Brittany, against whom Louis had directed his own forces, was himself obliged to lay down his arms. In the South, the deaths of the Duke of Guienne and Gaston IV had disorganised the coalition. John V of Armagnac, who had entrenched himself at Lectoure, had to capitulate, and lost his life in a minor affray. His lordship was of considerable extent; in order to destroy it for ever, Louis partitioned it among some twenty of his vassals in 1473, retaining regalian rights over the whole. The people of Roussillon did not actually submit until two years later. But, on the whole, the year 1472 marked the end of the period of grave danger. Except for an abortive attempt in 1475, there were to be no more feudal coalitions against Louis XI; practically the issue was resolved into a duel between the monarchy and the house of Burgundy.

It will be told later on1 how Charles the Bold, particularly from 1472 onwards, strove to create for his house an independent kingdom between France and Germany, to join up the two portions of the Burgundian State, to lay hands on the possessions of Sigismund of Austria in Alsace and on the duchy of Lorraine. As for a crown, he expected to receive that from the Emperor Frederick III; his only child was a daughter, Mary of Burgundy, and he offered her hand to Maximilian, Frederick III’s son; pending the expected union of the two houses, he was himself to have the title of King of the Romans. As far as his relations with the King of France were concerned, his independence was an established fact; after Louis’ violation of the treaty of Péronne, Charles no longer acknowledged himself to be a vassal of the king.

To conjure the danger, and to dissolve bit by bit the megalomaniac schemes of the “Grand Duke of the West,” Louis XI, with a wealth of experience behind him and with his political genius at its height, adopted a system of playing with his victim, ringing him round, and setting traps for him which his brutish adversary was unable to counter or even to perceive. “He made greater war upon him by letting him go his own way and in secret creating enemies for him,” says Commynes, “than if he had openly declared against him.” Without compromising himself, he spied upon the relations of Charles with Germany, contracted friendships with the Rhine princes, and contributed to the failure of the conferences at Treves in 1473 which were designed to arrange for a royal crown for the duke. Finally, he succeeded in forming a coalition against Charles. He had learnt in his youth to appreciate the military value of the Swiss and had long had a pact of friendship with them. Now, though the people of Berne and Lucerne were uneasy at the progress of the house of Burgundy, this uneasiness was not shared by the six other cantons in the Swiss Confederation, who looked on Sigismund of Austria as their one and only enemy; it was Louis’ greatest achievement to reconcile them with Sigismund, and to unite the whole Confederation against the Duke of Burgundy. “It was one of the wisest things that he did,” says Commynes. In return for a pension from the king, Sigismund recognised the independence of the eight cantons, and they for their part promised him their assistance      of 30 March 1474). René II, Duke of Lorraine, the grandson of King Rene, signed a treaty with the King of France on 15 August 1474, and joined a coalition which included, besides the Swiss and Sigismund, the towns of the Upper Rhine. Louis persuaded the confederates, backed by his troops and above all by his money, to invade I he Burgundian territories.

Charles the Bold did not succeed in forming an effective coalition against his adversary. In Italy, Venice was only nominally his ally; Ferrante, King of Naples, and Galeazzo Sforza, two masters in cunning, tacked this way and that; the Duchess of Savoy, Louis XI’s sister, would gladly have been revenged on her brother for his treatment of her, but she had not the wherewithal. The King of Aragon, John II, and his son Ferdinand could give no help to the Duke of Burgundy, as they also had to protect themselves against Louis XI. It is true that they got the tatter of him. The tortuous policy of Louis XI in Spain resulted only in failure. He tried, but too late and without success, to prevent the dangerous marriage of the Infant of Aragon with Isabella sister and heiress of King Henry IV of Castile, in 1469. On the death of Henry IV in 1474, he hesitated, then recognised Ferdinand and Isabella, and finally gave his support to the Portuguese claimant, who failed (1475-76). The mistakes of his Spanish policy were only of indirect assistance to his Burgundian adversary, in that a part of his forces were absorbed by them. On the side of England, Louis won a great success. Edward IV and Charles had concluded an alliance for the dismemberment of France on 25 July 1474: the King of England was to leave Picardy and Champagne in full sovereignty to the duke, and he himself was to be crowned King of France at Rheims. Edward crossed the sea without interference, for Louis XI “did not understand the business of the sea so well as he did the business of the land,” and disembarked at Calais on 4 July 1475; he had a splendid army but no supplies, and he received no help from either Brittany or Burgundy. Louis made liberal offers to him, and did not forget to grease the palms of the English counsellors. For the sum of 75,000 crowns down, the pledge to pay an annual sum of 50,000 crowns, and the promise of a marriage between the dauphin and one of Edward’s daughters, he obtained a truce for seven years. The interview at Picquigny on 29 August 1475 was a pattern of suspicious friendship: the two kings embraced one another through the openings in a stout wooden grating, on the middle of a bridge.

For Louis XI the English danger was conjured for good, and Charles the Bold at once consented to a truce for nine years (13 September 1475). Louis took advantage of this to punish those of his vassals who had recently betrayed him or whose attitude of neutrality was suspect: the Duke of Brittany had first to renounce independence of action in his external relations, and was then made to swear that in future he would aid the king against his enemies (treaties of 29 September 1475 and 27 July 1477); the Constable of Saint-Pol was executed at Paris on 19 December 1475: the Duke of Nemours was put into a cage in the Bastille, was tortured, and finally executed in 1477; the Duke of Bourbon was forced to surrender the Beaujolais, which linked up his domain with Burgundy, to his brother the Sire de Beaujeu, the king’s son-in-law (April 1476). King Rene had entered into compromising negotiations with the Duke of Burgundy; he was summoned to appear before the Parlement of Paris, and Louis XI talked of having his counsellor, Gaspard Cossa, “thrown in a sack into the river.” To make his peace, the aged King of Sicily had to swear, in April 1476, never to ally himself with the Duke of Burgundy.

Louis had promised Charles the Bold that he would not assist the Swiss or the Duke of Lorraine if they made war on Burgundy. Actually, he never ceased to support them with his money and his backing. He prevented the Swiss from coming to terms with Charles, and he was at Lyons, all ready to intervene, at the time that they inflicted on the duke the disastrous defeats of Grandson and Morat. Lorraine had been conquered by the Duke of Burgundy; Louis provided Duke Ren6 II with money to enrol Swiss mercenaries, and thus contributed to the third great defeat of Charles the Bold, who on this occasion perished in the flight, at Nancy on 5 January 1477. On the news of this, Louis had such an outburst of joy that he “hardly knew how to restrain himself”.

The Burgundian State was exhausted of men and money. In vain did Charles’ daughter and heiress, Mary of Burgundy, the god-daughter of Louis XI, appeal to the “kindness and clemency” of her godfather. He was determined to annex to the royal domain all the French domains of the late duke, and in addition Hainault and Franche Comté, which were held from the Empire. The royal lawyers had long asserted that the Count of Hainault was a vassal of the King of France, and in respect of Franche Comté. Louis replied to the protests of Frederick III that Duke Charles had never done homage to the Emperor. Finally, he proposed to hand over Brabant and Holland to German princes who would be his allies. It all seemed quite simple for him. “If he had not thought his work so easy of accomplishment, and if he had relaxed somewhat his passion and the vengeance he desired against the house of Burgundy, without doubt he would today be holding all this lordship under his control”. This was the very just opinion of Commynes, and he advised the king to consent to a form of protectorate; he was not listened to, and was dismissed into exile in Poitou. Louis conducted the war without pity and with powerful forces at his disposal. Maximilian had assembled a large army, and the battle of Guinegate, near St Omer, on 7 August 1479 was indecisive. Louis raised the Compagnies d‘ordonnance to the total of 4000 lances, recruited 6000 mercenaries among his friends the Swiss, and organised troops of pikemen on the Swiss model. He created the most powerful artillery force yet known. He established great camps at Pont-de-Arche and Hesdin. His military expenses, which did not reach a million livres tournois in 1470, now almost exceeded three million. Resistance was overcome with atrocious brutality. The town of Dole was burnt to the ground. The inhabitants of Arras were all expelled, the town evacuated, and Louis took the step of forcing every town in France to send a contingent of artisans and merchants to people it again; this was one of the most striking examples of the senseless tyranny that he sometimes displayed.

His brutality had one unfortunate consequence for France: Mary of Burgundy, driven to desperation, had bestowed her hand upon the young Maximilian, Archduke of Austria, on 19 August 1477. This was the origin of the establishment of the house of Austria in the Low Countries. Mary died on 27 March 1482, and it was Maximilian who signed the peace of Arms with Louis XI on 23 December following. The Burgundian State was dismembered for good and all. Flemish and Walloon Flanders and the Low Countries reverted to Maximilian, though without any change in the frontiers of the kingdom, since Flanders as far as Ghent remained a fief of the French Crown and subject to the jurisdiction of the Parlement of Paris. The duchy of Burgundy was annexed to the royal domain. Louis also kept Franche Comté and Artois, though only as the dowry of his future daughter-in-law, Margaret of Austria, who was betrothed to the dauphin. Finally, he recovered Picardy and the Somme towns, and obtained the Boulonnais by exchange. To make sure that the English would not try to take Boulogne from him, he declared, with that mixture of cunning and superstition which was one of his characteristic traits, that he held Boulogne as a fief from Our Lady.

By the death of King René, followed by that of his nephew the Count of Maine (1480-81), the domain of the Crown was further enriched by the duchies of Anjou and Bar, the county of Maine, and finally the county of Provence with Marseilles and Toulon. So little by little the way was being paved for the advancing of the frontier to the Alps. The Holy See held Avignon and the Comtat; but in Louis XI’s day the protectorate exercised by the French kings over the Papal States in France had become more and more rigid. Savoy was not annexed, but Louis adopted the tone of a master there; he had overcome the feeble efforts at independence of his sister Yolande, the regent of the duchy.

The absorption of the newly annexed provinces was rapidly on the way to accomplishment by the time that Louis was nearing his end. Even Roussillon, thanks to the prudent administration of Boffille de Juges, made no further move. Louis had learnt wisdom from experience, and he retained in Burgundy most of the officials of Charles the Bold.

Except for the Duke of Brittany, who disregarded his oath and resumed his former attitude of hostility, all the great vassals bowed and trembled before Louis XI. Their pensions, usually of ten to twelve thousand livres, and their fear kept even the princes of the blood from a lapse. “There was no one so great in his kingdom,” wrote Jean de Roye, secretary to the Duke of Bourbon, “that could sleep or rest securely in his house.” René of Anjou, who in spite of his title of king and his vast domains was no better than a pensioned prince, said in 1476 of his formidable cousin: “the King of France can do all that he wills, and he has the habit of doing it.” Louis of Orleans (the future Louis XII) had been constrained by force to marry one of the king’s daughters, Joan of France, who was deformed and incapable of bearing children. Louis XI reckoned on the extinction of the house of Orleans and said cynically: “their children will not cost them much to keep.” The Duke of Bourbon was deprived of his judicial prerogatives; “Grands Jours” were instituted at Montferrand to try important cases. In the South, Alain the Great, Sire of Albret, a grim old fighter, had long ago been reduced to docility. One of the king’s sisters, Madeleine, who had married a son of Gaston of Foix, was regent of the county of Foix as well as of the kingdom of Navarre, and Cardinal Pierre de Foix, an agent of Louis, assisted her in the government. In the duchy of Alençon, the resistance of the ducal officials to the king's servants was overcome; Rene, the son of the traitor, was imprisoned in consequence of some youthful misdemeanour and endured a terrible captivity in an iron cage.

Abroad, Louis had surmounted his difficulties or postponed them. He had continued his annual payments to Edward IV and succeeded in keeping England neutral during the Burgundian wars. Neither the English merchants, however, nor the counsellors of Edward IV could look on unmoved when French troops were in occupation of the shores of the North Sea. Louis had, indeed, offered to share with Edward IV the spoils of Charles the Bold. But the offer was not a serious one. To gain time, he kept up the farce for several years. Even the treaty of Arras and Louis' breach of faith when, though he had promised a marriage between the Dauphin Charles and Edward’s daughter, he betrothed his son to Margaret of Austria, did not decide Edward to make war. It was, as Commynes maliciously remarks, “the greed for the fifty thousand crowns, paid every year into his castle at London, that deadened his heart”. And, later, Louis had caused the Scots once more to invade the Border. The early death of Edward IV on 2 April 1483 and the tragedies which followed made it possible for Louis even to save the expense of the annual payments.

In the east and over the Pyrenees clouds were hovering. Maximilian was only waiting for an opportunity to break the treaty of Arras. Louis started a quarrel with Rene II of Lorraine by laying hands on the duchy of Bar and by forcibly expelling the troops which the duke had sent to Provence to assert his claim to the succession after King René’s death. In Spain, Louis had made peace with Ferdinand and Isabella; but after the death of the aged John II in 1479, the union of Castile and Aragon under two vigorous princes had brought a powerful Spain into being; the question of Roussillon might be reopened; and Ferdinand and Isabella disputed with Louis the protectorate he had assumed over Navarre.

Throughout Christendom, however, the prestige of the King of France stood high. Nowhere was it better assured than in Italy, though it had only been established there by diplomatic measures, except in the case of Venice, which had drawn upon herself a disastrous maritime war (1468-78). The tangle of Italian politics excited a passionate interest in Louis XI, and all his life he enjoyed following its course and putting in his spoke. Since the assassination of the tyrant Galeazzo Sforza he had held the upper hand over the government of Milan. He had succeeded, without the dispatch of a single soldier, in saving the house of the Medici when it was threatened with ruin by Pope Sixtus IV and his ally the King of Naples; he was as practised at reconciling as at creating divisions, and he had reconciled Naples and Florence. The King of France, while abandoning all idea of territorial conquest and sacrificing the claims of his cousins of Anjou and Orleans, had succeeded in wresting from Venice the dominating role in Italy. He had become the arbiter and the pacifier of the country.

His policy with regard to the Holy See cannot be detailed in a few lines, so fluctuating was it and so precisely adapted to circumstances. Any account of it must be connected with the history of Louis’ general diplomacy and also with the history of the French Church. The king needed papal help to cope with his enemies, and he often found the Pope athwart his plans. Men like Pius II, Paul II, and Sixtus IV were not easy to manage. On the other side, Louis’ idea was to have a docile episcopate, to distribute benefices at his pleasure, to oppose the influx of Italian prelates and the outflow of French gold. Neither the Pragmatic Sanction, which he abolished (in 1461 and 1467) and restored by turns, nor an accommodation with the Pope, such as the illusory concordat with Sixtus IV in 1472, gave him complete security. So he constantly intervened in the appointment to benefices, without following any fixed principle. He treated the clergy despotically and used the threat of a General Council to check any move of the Holy See. At the end of his life, he managed to reach an agreement with Sixtus IV upon the collation to benefices; the one was as cynical as the other; they were just the pair to come to an understanding.


A Lancastrian writer, Sir John Fortescue, who wrote in 1468-70 his De Laudibus Legum Angliae for the Prince of Wales, then in exile in France, presented the government of Louis XI as a type of despotism. Louis XI, he wrote, oppresses and impoverishes his subjects; he has a standing army which devastates the countryside, he levies taxes at his will, he condemns without form of justice, he has people secretly executed, he commits all kinds of enormities under the guise of the ius regale.

Louis XI did, in fact, govern as a tyrant; he had the tyrant’s disdain for traditional forms and powers, his determination to be obeyed without question by his officials, his hatred of the aristocracy, his care to have servants under him ready to do anything, to have a docile middle class on which to depend, and finally to enrich it so as to become rich through it.

Innovator though he was, however, when it came to the justification of his authority he professed with sincerity the same ideas as his predecessors. “The Kings of France alone,” declared an ambassador whom he had sent to the Pope, “are anointed with a holy oil sent by the Father of Lights, and carry on their escutcheon the lilies, gifts from Heaven; alone they are resplendent with miracles manifest.” In consequence, said Louis XI, “because of our sovereignty and our royal majesty, to us alone belongs and is due the general government and administration of the realm.” In return, the king ought to sacrifice  himself for the good of all. In the Rosier des Guerres, written by Pierre Choisnet, the king’s doctor and astrologer, for the education of the dauphin, it is stated that the prince exists only for the public weal, that he ought to know everything and watch over everything himself. Commynes remarked that in fact, in the life of his master, “there would be found full twenty days of pain and toil to one of pleasure and ease”.

One who connected so closely his rights with his duties could not be disposed to isolate himself away from his subjects. It was only at the end of his life that Louis, a sick man, acquired a taste for solitude and for impulsive decisions. Till then he had been careful not to underestimate the force of public opinion or even the advantage of consulting it. When the League of the Public Weal was formed, he sent skilfully worded and most persuasive manifestoes to the provinces. All his life he kept up an active correspondence with such towns as Lyons; to preserve his popularity with them, he sent them “communiqués” on all the great events, the information being accommodated to his own desires. Like Charles V, he often called meetings of assemblies. He summoned the princes of the blood and a certain number of nobles in 1464, to expose to them his grievances against the Duke of Brittany. He did not negotiate with the Leaguers in 1466 until he had consulted “the great and wise men of all conditions”. It was by an assembly of the Three Estates in April 1468 at Tours that he had it decided that Normandy ought not to have been alienated in favour of Monsieur Charles, and that the concession was null and void. At Tours again, in 1470, an assembly released him from the treaty of Péronne. On several occasions he consulted assemblies of merchants and notables. In 1479, for example, deputies of “the good towns” debated at Paris the question of the circulation of foreign currency and the measures to prevent the flight of French money from the country. But the meeting of 1468 alone had the character of an assembly of the Three Estates. It was made up of nobles, of representatives of the clergy, and of laymen elected by sixty-four of the good towns; the official report mentions twenty-eight lords and 192 deputies. In 1470 there were only about sixty participants: a few nobles and loyal prelates, with a majority of counsellors and officials; it was a meeting similar to the Cours non generates under the Capetians. The competency of these assemblies was severely restricted to the object of their summons. It was not a question of providing money for the king, since he dispensed with the practice of consent in the raising of taxes. When, in 1468, some deputies wished to formulate their grievances and to speak of the judicial abuses and financial extravagance, Louis came in person to remind them “gently and kindly” that the subject of their conference was the alienation of Normandy. They obeyed, and asked the king to give a less important appanage to his brother, and for the future to proceed against the rebels without convoking the Estates, for it was very difficult for them to respond to the summons.

The provincial and local Estates, where they still existed, continued to vote taxes; but Louis XI, pushing to their extreme the arbitrary practices of his predecessors, often refrained from consulting them, on the pretext that it was necessary to save the province expense; anyhow, their deliberations were only a waste of time, for the king would not brook protests, and the increased rates and extraordinary subsidies which he demanded had to be voted. Sometimes, too, he levied sums above the amount to which consent had been given. Even the Estates of Dauphiné, which had for a long time been intractable, were completely subdued by the end of the reign.

In the main Louis did not interfere with the administrative machinery which had been gradually erected by the monarchy during the three preceding centuries. At the beginning of his reign he set out to make great changes. It was only a short flare up, however. He suppressed the Cour des aides at Paris and the élus, but he had to restore them. He even created a new Cour des aides in Languedoc, and restored the one at Montpellier. What was most characteristic of his attitude towards his subjects was not economy or the repression of abuses, but the aggravation of the bureaucratic system, the increased number of officials, and especially the arbitrary power of the king.

It is true that after the War of the Public Weal he allowed an Ordonnance (21 October 1467) to be wrung from him, in which he pledged himself not to appoint to an office 66 unless it was vacant by death, by voluntary resignation, or by forfeiture previously adjudged after sentence in court of law by a competent judger; and from this it has been concluded that he established fixity of tenure for office-holders. But he did not respect his pledges. He revoked appointments and arbitrarily dismissed officials if he mistrusted them, or even merely out of caprice; he told Commynes shortly before his death 16that he spent his time making and unmaking people, for fear that they should look on him as dead?*’ He was obliged constantly to require the collaboration of the great departments of State, Conseil, Parlements, Cours des aides, Cour des comptes, and in his Ordonnances he often spoke of their “great and ripe deliberations”. Sometimes he even put up with remonstrances or opposition from them, if they were justified in the interests of the Crown. But he was continually humiliating them by thrusting new colleagues upon them who had no qualifications other than that they had rendered a service to the king; a long distance had been travelled since Charles V and the system of election he preached and practised.

Louis exacted hard work from his Council; all kinds of matters were deliberated there. The king’s counsellors were very numerous, and great lords sometimes attended the sittings. But the real work was done by a few prelates and nobles of assured loyalty, such as Peter of Beaujeu, the king’s son-in-law, by newcomers of modest family like Commynes, and finally by legal and financial experts, among whom figured famous counsellors of Charles VII who had been retained by Louis XI at his accession or recalled later on, such as Etienne Chevalier. Further, the Council could be reconstituted in a limited number of sections for special purposes. Under Louis XI there was a Council of secret affairs, a Council of finance, and a Great Council dealing with religious and judicial matters.

Louis XI created royal Parlements in three newly acquired provinces, at Bordeaux, Perpignan, and Dijon. He often spoke of reforming the administration of justice, which was causing many complaints. But what he actually did hardly tended to improvement, since he took upon himself to demand from the judges the sentences that he desired. Affronted by the independent attitude of the Parlement of Paris, he removed from its cognisance most of the political suits, which were numerous throughout his reign, and he would not admit of the councillors in the Parlement, when sitting on extraordinary commissions, following their own inclinations; some of them were dismissed, some even imprisoned. He talked of “purging the Court.” To lessen its importance he gave greater weight to the judicial committee of the Council, giving it the competency in all suits in which the Crown had an interest. Finally, he often exercised his right of personal justice, for instance, by instructing his famous Provost of the Marshals of France, Tristan Lhermite, to interrupt a trial for treason and summarily execute the prisoner, or by a brutal repression of rioting.

During this reign, regional and local officials became increasingly numerous and powerful. Governors and deputy governors, seneschals, bailiffs, provosts, élus, receveurs des finances, and the like, were all formidable personages. The posts were much coveted, and Louis was besieged with applications. The characteristics of office under the Crown, as such offices continued to be up to the French Revolution, tended to become fixed: frequent purchase of offices, security of tenure, retention in the same family, profits made at the expense of the local population, and the privilege of exemption from taxation. The official was both greedy and aggressive; he laboured to ruin neighbouring powers, but he often went too far, with an eye mainly to his own interests; it was necessary to keep a check upon him, and punishments and dismissals were frequent. To keep in constant touch with his servants, “to have careful information from every quarter and to distribute information himself when it seemed good to him” (Ordonnance of 19 June 1464), Louis created the Poster on all the main roads in the kingdom were arranged, under the charge of maîtres de la poste, relays of four or five good horses, able to gallop. The relays were reserved, and still were so until 1507, for the king’s riders. Never had a king been kept so well-informed as Louis XI.

In spite of everything, Louis did not succeed in protecting the populace from the abuses of power, and the commissioners of reform sent to put a stop to the abuses often made them worse still. “If he pressed upon his subjects”, said Commynes, “yet he would not have suffered another to do so”. This is only half the truth.

One of the principal tasks of the local officials of the Crown was to reduce the powers of the municipal officers, to strengthen the king’s hold on the towns, and also to protect them from feudal violence. The ancient alliance of monarchy and towns still subsisted, but it had taken the form of a protectorate continually becoming more and more strict; it provided the king with a solid support against the schemes of the feudality, and the bourgeoisie with manifold material advantages. Of municipal liberties there could hardly be any question under such a master. He declared that he could “renew, create, and ordain at his good pleasure both mayoralty and shrievalty, without anyone having a say in it,” and he often imposed mayors of his own choosing. He infringed the constitutions of towns or altered them, reduced their financial or judicial privileges, and sometimes suppressed town-councils to replace them by royal commissioners. On the other hand, he assumed the right of granting political liberties to towns outside the domain, and of founding consulates in them, so as to be able to intervene there at will and to deprive bishop or lord of his part in the urban administration. Practically it can be said that the evolution, long ago begun, which transformed the municipalities into organs of royal authority, was completed in most towns during the reign of Louis XI.

The royal officials, with an activity never achieved before, pursued their rôle of termites in undermining the edifice of feudalism. Apart from the house of Brittany and that of Burgundy before its downfall, the nobility lost its prerogatives. The king no longer asked leave of the lords to raise taxes in their territories; at most, as an act of grace, he left them a share. On the other hand, they could not themselves raise taxes, or even set up a fair or market, without his permission. It was only in the years of disorder and as an exceptional circumstance that the lords possessed armed bands comparable with the retinues of the English lords; the king assumed as his own the privilege of raising an army and held the castles at his disposal. The exercise of seignorial justice was continually interfered with and disputed, and there was always an appeal to a royal tribunal. Finally, the towns escaped from seignorial authority. The nobility recognised that it was crushed.

This despotic government was a natural result of Louis’ temperament; but it was also dictated by circumstances, the political events of the time. Louis could not make head against his enemies and realise his ambitions, unless he had large sums at his disposal and could impose very heavy burdens upon his non-privileged subjects; for that he needed to make himself everywhere obeyed and feared. Never did a king spend so much on overcoming scruples, on recompensing the services rendered by his representatives oi' by his celestial protectors, on maintaining agents and spies in France and abroad, on diplomatic missions, on paying an excellent standing army, on building and repairing fortresses, and, finally, on carrying out such great operations as the repurchase of the Somme towns for 400,000 gold crowns, and the purchase of peace from the Duke of Brittany (for 120,000 crowns in 1466) and from the King of England. Even the household expenses of this so-called “miserly” king increased considerably. “He put nothing into his treasury,” says Commynes. “He took it all and spent it all.” The regular receipts, which amounted to 1,800,000 livres at his accession, had by his death risen to 4,655,000 livres. The revenue from the domain, seriously affected by the general insecurity of the countryside, was only 100,000 livres. It was the taille that provided the chief resources: from 1,055,000 livres in 1461 it rose to 4,600,000 in 1481, and in the year of his death (1483) was 3,900,000; under his successors, in spite of the Italian wars, it never exceeded 3,300,000 livres. Finally, the aides on articles of consumption and the gabelle supplied 655,000 livres. But the revenue was still insufficient. In this difficult situation all sorts of expedients were employed: investigation of fiefs acquired by non-nobles, the sale of offices or patents of nobility, grants of privileges to towns or merchants, fines imposed on Jews “for having practised excessive usury or spoken ill of His Majesty,” temporary suppression of the wages of officials, and finally subsidies and forced loans, to which churches, towns, and individuals had to submit. Towns above all, such as Tours and Lyons, were overwhelmed with demands. The financial officials were worn to the bone. When the Treasurer, Jean Bourré, received an order such as this: “Go tomorrow to Paris, and find money in the magic box, and let there be no lack,” it meant that Bourré was to bring pressure to bear on the wealthy citizens of Paris and was to dip into his own resources as well.

The taxes appeared the more burdensome in that they were unfairly apportioned and improperly collected. There was great indignation with the exactions of the élus, who sought to compensate themselves for the meagre salaries they received. The privileged classes (the clergy, the universities, nobles, royal officials, francs-archers etc.) aroused great jealousy. At Grenoble, more than half of the landed property in the town was exempt from taille. The question of this privilege was raised on several occasions. To the magistrates of Lyons the reply was made that nobles ought to be exempt, because they had to go to war and to expose themselves and their horses to protect townspeople and peasants. At Bordeaux the clergy argued that they offered up prayers and held processions for the welfare of king and country.

So the vices in the administration which three centuries later were to lead the monarchy of the ancien régime to its fall were already visible in the time of Louis XI; and he must bear his share of responsibility for the aggravation of them.

He had, however, too much sense not to understand that the “magic box” was not inexhaustible, and that in order to extract much money from a country it was necessary to provide means for it to grow rich. Louis was the first of his dynasty to have a reasoned economic policy on which to act, but his only thought was of industry and commerce; a long time was to pass before the government of France turned its attention to agriculture and the lot of the peasants.

Louis found time to give his personal attention to the organisation of labour, the protection of industries, the creation of markets and means of transport. Not only did he wish to increase the general wealth of the country, discover new sources of profit for his treasury, and facilitate the raising of the taxes; he also had the desire of strengthening the class of substantial citizens which provided his chief support against the nobility, and his natural bent led him to extend royal tutelage in all directions, and himself to impose a certain uniformity on the world of labour.

These tendencies, which are the key to his economic policy, were displayed above all by his interference with the organisation of corporate bodies and his participation in industrial development. He had no more interest in the artisan class than in the peasantry; he was not, as he has been very mistakenly described, “ the king of the small folk.” He mistrusted them, and looked on them as “people of evil mind.” Just as he detested democratic constitutions in towns and took steps to put the power in the hands of bourgeois oligarchies, so he concerted with the rich members of corporations to reserve admission to their freedom to the sons of members and to exclude the workers; he crushed independent artisans with fines, created new corporations, and gave the regulations an official character by the sanction of an ordonnance. An examination of texts, dates, and circumstances shows the policy underlying them. He recompensed services and strengthened the upper bourgeoisie wherever he had need of it. On the other hand, he followed his natural inclination to direct and to unify. Very characteristic is the Ordonnance of 1479; it was copied from the regulations laid down four years previously for the Paris cloth-trade, and it regulated the cloth-trade through the whole kingdom. That he also thought of getting profit for himself by the reforms which he introduced cannot be doubted: he reserved for himself a portion of the fines which he exacted, and of the dues for membership and apprenticeship. Further, as he was not hampered by any prejudices, he did away with the corporative system when he considered it to be disadvantageous for new industries, and he even favoured the immigration of foreigners, from Italy or Germany, to assist in the manufacture of silk or the development of the mines.

In his commercial policy he exhibited the same flexibility and the same breadth of view. He sought means to enrich his subjects and his treasury at the same time, and to prevent the flight of money out of France, sometimes by protectionist measures, at others by allowing freedom of trade. He had formerly been on intimate terms with Jacques Coeur, whose memory he in a way rehabilitated after his own accession by lavishing favours on his sons and on his partner Guillaume de Varye, who was one of the généraux des finances and Louis’ commercial adviser. The wide sweep of Jacques Coeur’s enterprises inspired the king in his commercial policy. His conception was on the grand scale. His achievement in the Mediterranean was as remarkable as Coeur’s work before had been. The harbours of Languedoc were in a ruined condition, and Aigues-Mortes, besides being difficult of access, was only of use to the Venetians, who monopolised the trade between the Levant and France. Louis was determined to defeat this monopoly and to find a good harbour. In 1468 he broke with the Venetians, who also stood in the way of his Italian policy, forced them to stop their convoy to Aigues-Mortes, and engaged in a privateering struggle with them lasting until 1478. The admiral Coulon attacked their merchantmen off the shores of Spain, in the Atlantic, and in the Channel. Royal galleys began trading as far east as Alexandria. In order to have a deep-water harbour, Louis, immediately after the conquest of Roussillon, caused work on a large scale to be begun at Collioure. At the end of his reign, in 1481, he at last got possession of Marseilles, and announced that it was to become the emporium at which the merchandise from the East would be unloaded, to be transported from there to all the countries of the West. To bring that about, it was necessary to build the Mediterranean fleet on which he had long set his heart, and first of all to found a great trading company, with a capital of 100,000 livres, in which all the merchants of the kingdom were to participate. This was the scheme he expounded to the deputies of the 46good towns” assembled at Tours in January 1482. It was too vast for the minds of his audience, and obtained a chilly reception. Louis died without having the opportunity of reviving his plan. But, at any rate, he had given a great impetus to French trade in the Mediterranean.

In the west, he revived the prosperity of La Rochelle and Bordeaux. But here foreign co-operation was necessary. He granted favours of all kinds to Spanish, Portuguese, and Hanseatic merchants and even to the subjects of the Duke of Burgundy; and into almost every political compact which he concluded he introduced commercial clauses. He was particularly anxious for the renewal of trade with England; this trade had been seriously affected by the recovery of Normandy and Guienne by the French Crown, and entirely ruined by the alliance of Edward IV with Charles the Bold. After the temporary restoration of Henry VI, Louis organised in 1470 a small exhibition of French products in England. But it was only by virtue of the truce of Picquigny that a commercial treaty could at last be concluded.

It was in matters of internal trade that the most marked effects of Louis1 despotic character were to be seen. Seventy-six of his ordonnances relate to fairs and markets, whether in the royal domain or outside its boundaries. He succeeded in ruining the fairs of Geneva to the advantage of those of Lyons, and he strictly prohibited French merchants from going to Geneva.

At the end of his life, when he had triumphed over his enemies, he became more and more obsessed by grandiose designs, which to his contemporaries appeared fantastic. He wished to empower members of the clergy and of the nobility, whom he looked on as mere idlers, to take part in trade. He announced his intention of abolishing internal tolls and the diversity of weights and measures. In 1480, impressed by the difficulties created in civil life by the diversity of laws, he gave instructions for a collection of customs, so that a new custom may be made.

Did this king, whose intelligence was so untrammelled and who was curious of everything, also desire to regiment the mind? He showed no signs of religious fanaticism; he stopped the persecution of the Vaudois. He also thwarted schemes for a crusade against the Turks. Did he think of giving a particular direction to the arts and to letters?

Not to mention the numerous orders he gave to architects and goldsmiths to win the graces of his celestial protectors, he shewed himself able to distinguish the best artists of his day, Jean Bourdichon, Michel Colombe, and Fouquet (to whom he gave the title of ·king’s painter”). In spite of his close associations with Italy, he gave to French painters and sculptors, especially those who belonged to the Loire region, the preference over transalpine artists. He was well-informed and, to judge from some bantering and satirical letters which he certainly dictated himself, had wit and could express himself neatly. His favours to universities, men of learning, and students are sufficient proof that he had no “scorn for the works of the mind.” He did not make use of the new art of printing1 for political purposes only; he appreciated its intellectual value, and expressed in excellent terms his recognition of “the advantage which can derive from it to the public good, as well for the increase of knowledge as otherwise”; his protection was not unimportant, for the hostility of the copyists and the booksellers was retarding the spread of printing in France. In that way Louis XI rendered good service to the cause of French humanism, then in its infancy, for it could only make progress by the aid of good texts of the classics. But the king’s part stopped there. If the age of great poetry was over, and if the cold and mordant literature of the day seems to be a reflection of the mind of Louis, he was not responsible for that; there was, however, something in common between his individual tendencies and the spirit of positivism, of disillusioned irony, which was characteristic of the age. He could not have had much personal influence unless he had played the part of a generous Maecenas. He spent his money in other ways, and it was outside his Court, which was given up wholly to politics and administration, that French humanism had its birth. The school of the “rhetoriqueurs” was developed at the Burgundian Court. Apart from Commynes—and he did not write until several years after Louis’ death—the best poets and historians of the age were hostile to the royalist cause. Similarly the king had no extensive influence over artistic production. Of this there were numerous centres. Besides the art of the Loire, there was a Flemish-Burgundian art, a Bourbon, a Provencal. We are only at the dawn of the absolute monarchy. The time had not yet come when it was to bring art and literature under its control, and to make them contributory to its greatness.

Louis XI, at the end of his life, said that he had “well looked after, defended and governed, augmented and increased all parts of his realm, by his great care, his solicitude, and his diligence.” Certainly he had defended and increased it. But he had not given France the order and the peace which the mass of the population craved. He had had unceasingly to make or prepare for war. The great disorders and the great miseries of the Hundred Years’ War still left their traces during his reign, in spite of energetic and rigorous action to repress them. In the southwest, the local squires continued their fighting with one another and their brigandage. From all sides came complaints of the pillaging and violence of the men-at-arms, who were irregularly paid by the king. The misery increased with the burden of the now heavy taxation. There were popular riots, which were always harshly repressed. Epidemics, famine, and the severe winter of 1481-82 took their toll of the population. The last years of the reign were gloomy years indeed.

After 1479 the king’s health grew rapidly worse. Though not sixty years old, he felt his life was ebbing. He became more and more irascible and suspicious. He abandoned his incessant journeys throughout the realm and stayed in the province of his choice, Touraine. From June 1482 onwards, he divided his time between his domain at Montils-les-Tours, where he had built the pleasant castle of Plessis-du-Parc, at Cléry-sur-Loire, where he had set up a noble church in honour of Our Lady, his patron, at Amboise, where he kept the young dauphin shut up, and lastly his “good town” of Tours. It became difficult to gain access to him; the approaches to his castle were lined with traps. He lived with his chief confidants around him, the Sire de Beaujeu, Commynes, the doctor Coitier, the barber Olivier le Daim, not to mention astrologers, charlatans, and even saintly characters like the hermit Francesco di Paola, whom he sent for from Italy that he might have the benefit of his prayers. Furthermore, he continued to receive embassies, and to give orders which were always obeyed at once. u His great heart bore him up.” On the day of his death, 30 August 1483, he was still talking distinctly and in his usual dry tone, “and was constantly saying something of sense.”

In conformity with his orders he was buried without pomp in the church of Cléry, that he might lie there under the protection of Our Lady. He had given instructions that he was to be depicted on his tomb, not by a recumbent statue, but “on his knees, with his dog by his side, dressed as a hunter.” Had he not all bis life been a hunter?

Much has been written upon Louis XI. He has become a figure in literature. He who complained once and again of his life of anguish and tribulation has still been plagued after death; he has become the victim of writers of romance. From reading them the popular imagination has created an absurd picture of Louis XI: he is represented as a miser, a silent man, a torturer, a poisoner who spared neither father nor brother. The most at fault was Casimir Delavigne: his Louis XI, which in spite of its platitudes and its ineptitudes still draws an audience, reduced this great king to the level of a villain of melodrama. Victor Hugo, with all his parade of learning, shewed no better judgment. Walter Scott, though his Quentin Durward is full of the mistakes of his romanticism, presented a picture with more light and shade and less incorrect, while Balzac (in Maitre Cornelius) came nearer still to the truth. Finally, there was Michelet, and he with the intuition of genius restored Louis to his place.

All the elements for a just appreciation are now before us in the admirable documents already mentioned and in the works of erudition published during the last half-century. It is now possible for anyone with o a desire for historical truth to form an exact idea of Louis XI. Not that this is easy, for he is one of the most complex figures in French history, and those who delight in forming moral judgments run the risk of falling into gross error in his case.

In conclusion, there remain two points which seem to deserve attention being called to them. This singular personage, who did not wish to be buried at St Denis among his ancestors, and who could dare to say “that he didn’t know whose son he was,” in the line of French kings was indeed an isolated figure. The only one who, from certain points of view, resembles him at all is Charles V, and this is one trait that deserves to be noted. Far more intelligent and industrious than the other Valois kings, Charles V and Louis XI each gave to his reign the stamp of a practical and matter-of-fact mind, of clear-sightedness and sagacity. Look at the few portraits that we possess of Louis XI, and then at the famous statue of Charles V in the Louvre: the profile is the same, there is the same unhealthy leanness, the same long inquisitive-looking nose, the same equivocal and foxy expression on a bland face. Both were fine talkers. Both disdained the practice of chivalry, and to the art of war preferred the art of outwitting the enemy and wearing him down. But what a contrast in their methods of government! Charles V was neither cruel nor devoid of scruple, and his inclination in administration was towards a limited monarchy. Louis XI was a tyrant in the full sense of the word, a tyrant like the Italian tyrants of his day. There lay his affinities, and there in truth was his moral parentage. His Machiavellism, before the days of Machiavelli, was of a fit kind to inspire the author of The Prince. The shrewd Malleta wrote: “One would say that he has always lived in Italy.”