Front Matter Gauls Defeat Romans Vercingetorix Saints of France Attila, Scourge of God Story of Clovis Sons of Clovis Mayors of the Palace Charles the Hammer Pepin the Short Charlemagne in Lombardy Defeat at Roncesvalles Emperor of the West Louis the Pious War of Three Brothers Louis the Stammerer Paris defies the Sea Kings Rollo the Viking Hugh Capet Becomes King Bishop Betrays the Duke Robert the Pious The Peace of God Harold Visits Duke William William Sails to England The Battle of Hastings Peter the Hermit First War of the Cross Louis the Fat and Laon King Fights his Vassal Second War of the Cross French Queen of England How Normandy Was Lost Albigenses War Battle of Bouvines Story of Hugh de La Marche Reign of St. Louis St. Louis's last Crusade Peter the Barber Knights vs. Weavers Pope vs. Philip the Fair Sons of Philip the Fair Philip VI vs. Flanders Battle and Plague King vs. Charles the Bad The Jacquerie Stephen Marcel Betrays Paris Charles V and du Guesclin Du Guesclin Fights for France The Madness of Charles VI The Battle of Agincourt The Maid of Orleans End of Hundred Years' War King vs. Charles the Bold Troubles of Duchess Mary Charles the Affable Knight Without Reproach Battle of the Spurs Francis I, Gentleman King King Taken Prisoner Duke of Guise Defends Metz Calais Returns to France The Riot of Amboise Huguenot and Catholic St. Bartholomew Massacre War of the Three Henries The Protestant King Edict of Nantes Reign of Favorites Taking of La Rochelle Power of the Cardinal-King Reign of Louis XIV The Man in the Iron Mask The Height of Power Edict of Nantes Revoked War of Spanish Succession

History of France - H. E. Marshall

How the King Fought with Charles the Bold
Louis XI (Spider King) 1461-1483]

Charles VII was succeeded by his son Louis XI, who was thirty-eight years old when he came to the throne. He was an ugly little man, with a wizened face, a nose much too big, and wonderful shining eyes.

His legs were thin and bent so that he shambled in his walk. Added to this, he dressed very badly. While the nobles around him were gorgeous in cloth of gold and sparkling with gems, Louis, as a writer of the time says, "wore apparel marvelous uncomely, and was clad in very coarse cloth."

He was so poorly dressed that the country people when they saw him were greatly disappointed. "Is that the King of France!" they would say; "the greatest King in all the world? Why, everything he has on, horse and all, isn't worth twenty francs!"

Yet for all his shabby clothes and mean little body no one could despise Louis. His piercing eyes and strange smile, of which no one could tell the meaning, yet which made every one uncomfortable, saved him from that. Few, if any, loved him. All feared him. "He was the most terrible of all the Kings of France," said one who knew him.

He was the most terrible and one of the greatest. He greatly enlarged the boundaries of France, he greatly increased the power of the King, lessened the power of the nobles, and left the kingdom at peace. Louis was a great statesman. He knew very well what he wanted and he liked better to gain his ends by wile than by open war. He never fought if he could avoid it, which was a good thing. But he never took the straight path if there was a crooked one, which was a bad thing. He was sly and subtle and false. He would promise anything to get his way, and then without a qualm break his promises when it suited him. He had spies everywhere. No one knew better than he how to make friends quarrel, and when to profit by these quarrels.

Louis had no pity. He loved revenge and he knew how to wait for it. He never hesitated to send to death or to some yet more fearful imprisonment those he hated. On the other hand, he loaded with money and honors those who served him well. He had no belief in faith or honor, but thought that every man could be bought. And if the price was high he was quite willing to pay it.

With all his cruelty and his treachery Louis was pious. But he treated God and heaven as he treated men. He believed of them as he believed of men, that they could be bought. He wanted to have heaven and all the powerful saints and angels on his side. So he loaded them with presents. He built new churches, he restored others. He presented splendid altars, golden vessels, jeweled vestments to many of the saints. He went upon pilgrimages, and he always wore a shabby old pilgrim's hat, which was stuck round with leaden images of saints, to which he would pray at any moment when he thought his schemes were going wrong.

But in spite of his cleverness when he first became King, Louis tried to get his way too quickly. And he had not been long upon the throne before he found that he had made enemies of every one. The nobles and the clergy and the townspeople were all angry with him. With some of the greatest nobles in the land at their head they joined together in what they called the League of the Public Good and declared war against the King.

Chief among Louis's enemies was Charles the Bold, the son of that Duke of Burgundy who had befriended Louis when he was Dauphin. Louis had made an enemy of Charles through persuading the Duke to give up a number of towns which Charles looked upon as his inheritance. Thus the words of King Charles VII came true and the Duke of Burgundy found that the fox had stolen his chickens.

Near Paris a battle took place between the League and the King. The victory was uncertain, but the King was able to get possession of Paris. And having possession of Paris he began to make terms with the leaders of the revolt. To each one Louis granted what he asked. Some got money, some got lands, some posts of honor. No one was refused. Thus Louis broke up the League of the Public Good. He did not mean to keep his promises. He only meant to bide his time and take back from each one in turn all that had been granted to him. It would be much easier to fight them one by one, he thought, than all at once.

The King's own brother had been among the rebels and he had received Normandy as his share of the spoil. Louis had no right to give away Normandy, as by a law of Charles V it could not be separated from the French crown. But Louis never meant his brother to keep it. Very soon he found a cause of quarrel with the Duke, marched into Normandy, and in a few weeks was master of the province.

When Charles the Bold heard of this he was furiously angry. He made the Duke's quarrel his own and demanded that Normandy should be restored to him.

Charles was a blustering soldier. Louis was a subtle, cunning statesman. He had no wish to fight, so he proposed instead that they should meet and talk matters over.

To this Charles the Bold consented and the King and Duke met at Peronne. The Duke received the King with every honor, and for a few days all went well. But meanwhile the King had forgotten that he had sent messengers to the people of Liege encouraging them to revolt against Charles their Duke.

Then one morning news was brought to Charles that the people of Liege had revolted against him. When Charles heard that he was very angry.

"Ah, this traitor King," he cried, "he has come then under a false pretense of peace merely to deceive me. By St. George! he and these wicked folk of Liege shall pay dearly for it."

He commanded that the gates of the town should be shut. The King found himself a prisoner. For three days Charles raged up and down. He was in such fury that at first he thought of nothing less than killing the King or shutting him up in prison for the rest of his life. But by degrees his anger cooled.

Meanwhile Louis was very much afraid. But he lost no chance of making friends among the servants of the Duke, and he scattered money and promises all around. The third night after the news came the Duke never undressed at all. He lay down on his bed in his clothes, and every now and again he got up and paced his room in angry thought. When morning came he seemed more angry than ever. But at length he allowed himself to be persuaded to more peaceful thoughts. He decided that the King should be set free on certain conditions. One was that he should give up a large part of France to his brother the Duke of Berry, another that he should go with Charles to quell the revolt of Liege which he had himself encouraged.

When the Duke came into the King's presence he bowed low and humbly. But his look was furious, and when he spoke his words were bitter, and his voice trembled so with rage that it seemed as if he would burst out again in fury.

Sharply he asked the King if he would swear to the treaty and keep it.

"Yes," replied Louis, "and I thank you for your good will."

"And you will come to Liege and help me to punish these traitors?'

"Yes, truly," said the King, "for I am astonished at their wickedness."

Then a holy relic which Louis always carried about with him and which he reverenced above all things was brought out. And upon this the treaty was sworn. Whereupon all the bells in the town rang for joy and all the people were right glad.

The next day the King and Duke set out for Liege. In a short time the revolt was put down and the Duke avenged himself with dreadful cruelty. Then the King took his leave with a great show of friendship and much flattery. "Next summer we must meet again," he said. "I will come to visit you in your duchy, and we will pass a week joyously together making good cheer."

But the King's words were a mockery. Nothing was farther from his thoughts than to place himself again in the power of the terrible Charles. There could be no real peace or friendship between the two. If there was peace to-day there was war to-morrow. Louis had many enemies and Charles sided against the King with each one of his enemies in turn. The League of the Public Good, the Duke of Berry, the Duke of Brittany, the King of England, all were the friends of Charles so long as they were the enemies of Louis.

But although the King was constantly at strife with Charles he had leisure enough to get rid of others of his enemies by craft and wile. These were means which he liked better to use than the sword. He was like a great spider, it was said, who spread his nets in the hope of catching flies. So in one way or another he got the better of all his enemies.