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

The Troubles of the Duchess Mary
Louis XI (Spider King) 1461-1483]

King Edward IV was now on the English throne. He made up his mind once more to claim the crown of France. Both Charles of Burgundy and the Duke of Brittany promised to help him, and in 1475 Edward landed at Calais with a great army. But to his surprise and disgust, instead of finding a large army of Burgundians ready to join him he found only a very few. For Charles had been away fighting a useless war in Germany and had thus lost many of his men.

The King of England had already sent a letter of defiance to Louis in which he claimed his realm of France. But Louis did not greatly care for Edward's threats. He thought that the friendship between the Duke and the King would not last long. And he was right. Misunderstandings soon arose, the English murmured of treachery, and Charles marched away to his own land and was seen no more.

Almost as soon as Charles had gone a herald arrived from Louis. He offered to make peace and pay Edward a large sum of money to go away.

The English being already weary of the expedition were glad to accept Louis's offer.

Upon a bridge over the Somme the two kings met; right across the bridge there was placed a wooden grating such as one might put to separate wild beasts, This was done because Louis remembered how in his father's lifetime the Duke of Burgundy had been slain at the Bridge of Montereau.

To the one side of the grating came the little, clever, shabbily dressed King of France. To the other came the tall, handsome, splendidly dressed King of England.

When Edward came near the grate he took off his black velvet cap, wherein was set a splendid jewel made like the French fleur de lis, and bowed low. Louis too bowed low. "Cousin," he said, "you are heartily welcome. Praised be God that we be met here to such good purpose,"

The King of England answered in right good French. Then the two kings came close to the grating and kissed each other. The talk went pleasantly enough, although Edward called himself King of France and England and gave Louis merely the title of Prince. For Louis cared little for such empty forms. To get rid of the King of England was all he desired. "There is nothing in the world I would not do," he said, "to cast the King of England out of my realm except give him an inch of land."

So Louis promised to pay Edward a yearly sum of money, a seven years' peace was signed, and a marriage between the little Dauphin and Edward's eldest daughter was arranged to take place as soon as the children were old enough. Then after being feasted and flattered for a few days more Edward sailed home to England. "I love the King of England very much," said Louis, "when he is on the other side of the sea."

Seeing himself thus forsaken by his friend the King of England, Charles the Bold hastened also to make peace with Louis. This Louis was willing to do. But Charles must always be fighting. He wanted to conquer Switzerland and add it to his own lands. So he marched away to fight the Swiss.

After this the fortunes of Charles became always worse and worse, and less than two years later he was killed in battle.

When Louis heard the news he was delighted to be thus rid forever of his greatest enemy, and he at once began to scheme to add the whole of Burgundy to France. For Charles had left no son, but only a daughter named Mary.

An easy way would have been to marry the young duchess to the Dauphin. The Dauphin, you remember, was already engaged to the little English princess. Louis would have cared little for that. But unfortunately for his schemes, the Dauphin was only seven and Duchess Mary a grown-up lady of twenty.

Still Louis let it be known that he intended they should marry. Then he announced that as a woman could not inherit the duchy, Burgundy henceforth belonged to the Crown of France.

It was quite in vain for Duchess Mary to say that Burgundy did not belong to the Crown of France and that a woman could inherit it. The King took possession of it.

Mary had still all Flanders left to her. Then, while swearing that he would guard her rights as if they were his own, Louis deceived Mary and robbed her, stirred up strife among her people and plotted so that two of her wisest counsellors were put to death.

At length driven to distraction, wearied with struggling against so powerful and wily a foe, Mary married her marriage; Maximilian of Austria, son of the Emperor Frederick III.

Maximilian at once began to fight with Louis. But the sword was not the weapon with which the wily King liked to fight. He liked much better to fight with craft and wile. So after being defeated at Guinegate he made peace. And so clever was he that he managed to keep all the land he had seized.

Three years later Mary of Burgundy died, leaving two little children. As long as Mary lived the Flemish had looked upon Maximilian as their ruler. Now that she was dead they thought that he had no longer any right over them. So they appointed Regents to take care of the children and rule for them until they were old enough to rule themselves.

This made Maximilian very angry. He had no money and few soldiers, but he tried to force the Flemish to give him the power. The Flemish then turned to their old enemy, the King of France, for help. This Louis very gladly gave them, proposing that the little daughter of Mary and Maximilian should marry the Dauphin.

Little Margaret was not yet three, but the Flemish agreed that she should go to live in France until she was old enough to be married. And as a wedding gift Louis managed to get still more counties and towns which had belonged to the Duke of Burgundy. In return Louis gave up all claim to the rest of Flanders, and so there was peace once more.

But this peace nearly made another war. For the Dauphin was already promised in marriage to the Princess Elizabeth of England. But Louis did not care for that. He was less afraid of the English over the sea than of the Flemish on his borders. Besides, he wanted to make France larger. When, however, Edward IV heard that Louis had broken his word and insulted him he was very angry. He began to make ready to invade France, and only his sudden death prevented the war.

By this time Louis too was near death. He lived in daily terror of being killed by one or other of the many he had cruelly wronged and oppressed. So he shut himself up in a gloomy palace called Plessis-les-Tours. This was more a fortress and prison than a palace, and was surrounded by a deep ditch and thick strong walls. The entrance was guarded by bolts and bars and gates of iron. Night and day soldiers were ever on the lookout, and they had orders to shoot any one who, without express leave from the King, might come near after the gates were shut. The trees round the castle hung thick with the dead bodies of people who had been hanged because they were found near. The prisons were full of innocent prisoners.

No nobleman or any great person was allowed to live in the castle. Even the Queen and her children were sent away. The King often changed his servants, for he suspected every one, and his chief companions were two men of mean birth, scoundrels both, who had helped him often in his craft and wiles.

Thus in gloomy solitude the King dragged out his last days. His little form, wrapped in a rich robe of crimson silk edged with fur, he crouched in his chair, "seeming rather a dead body than a living creature, for he was leaner than a man would believe." There he sat thinking out schemes for making the world believe that he was still vigorous and dangerous. He caused himself to be more spoken of than ever king was, and all for fear lest men should think him dead. Few saw him, but when men heard of his doings they feared him and little thought that he was sick unto death.

He longed passionately to live. At times in weak and trembling tones he would pour out passionate prayers to the leaden saints upon his cap for longer life. Again he would drag his faltering steps along the dimlit gallery to the chapel beyond, there to implore the help of the holy Virgin. But all his prayers and tears were of no avail, and on the August 25, 1483, he died.

Louis was a terrible king, but he was a great king. He broke the power of the nobles, enlarged the borders of his work France, and left the country at peace and great among the countries of Europe.