Contents 
Front Matter France Long Ago The Gauls In France The Priests of the Gauls Sailor Stories Conquests of the Gauls Two Great Battles Caesar in Gaul Gaul under the Romans First Christian Martyrs Patron Saint of France How the Franks Came to Gaul The First Kings Conquests of Clovis Clotaire and His Relatives Two Rival Queens Good King Dagobert The Saracens Checked End of the Merovingians Charlemagne's Wars Charlemagne's Manners Charlemagne, Emperor Feudalism Troublesome Sons The Strassburg Oath The Normans Besiege Paris Last of the Carolingians The Year One Thousand Robert's Two Wives The Wealth of the Clergy The First Crusade A Love Story The Second Crusade More Crusades The Battle of Bouvines Blanche of Castile The Sixth Crusade The Reign of Louis UX Effect of the Crusades The Battle of the Spurs End of the Knights Templar The Hundred Years' War The Siege of Calais The Battle of Poitiers Seven Years of Misery The Brave du Guesclin Achievements of Charles V. Charles VI. Misrule in France The Disgraceful Treaty Joan to the Rescue Orleans and Rheims Joan's Captivity and Martyrdom Charles's Successes The Crafty King Louis XI. Louis XI.'s Reign Achievements of Louis XI. Charles VIII. The Second Italian War Death of Louis XII. Francis I. Rivalry of Kings Achievements of Francis I. End of Francis I.'s Reign The Reign of Henry II. A Young King and Queen Catherine's Regency The Forced Wedding Massacre of the Huguenots Death of Charles IX. An Effeminate King The Battle of Courtras The Murder of the Guises Winning a Crown Conversion of Henry IV. Henry IV's Second Marriage Death of Henry IV. The Minority of Louis XIII. Rule of the Favorites Richelieu and Louis XIII. End of Louis XIII's Reign Beginning of a Great Reign Wars of the Fronde Death of Mazarin Versailles The Iron Mask Louis XIV's Campaigns Madame de Maintenon Later Wars of Louis XIV The Spanish Succession The Age of Louis XIV.

Story of Old France - Helene Guerber




Achievements of Louis XI

Disappointed in his plans to extend his territory on the French side, the Duke of Burgundy now fancied he might prove more successful in Germany, hoping also to obtain the title of king from the Emperor, to whom he did homage for part of his estates. But there, too, Charles the Bold was to fail. One of his governors having exasperated some Swiss people intrusted to his care, they rose in rebellion,—secretly encouraged and aided by funds supplied by Louis XI. Determined to subdue these rebels, the Duke of Burgundy set out with a brilliant army, only to be twice defeated with great loss by determined peasants (first at Granson and then at Morat, 1476).

These two battles mark the time when the Swiss threw off forever the Burgundian yoke; and they were most disastrous to the duke, who, besides losing many thousands of men, lost also immense treasures. Still, the plunder of his rich camp was of small benefit to the victors, who sold gold and silver plate for a few pence,—deeming it only pewter and copper,—and who valued some of the finest jewels in Christendom at only a few francs.

The humiliation of such defeats at the hands of untrained rustics almost drove the proud Duke of Burgundy insane. In his reckless rage he next attacked the Duke of Lorraine with only a handful of men, but there again came into contact with the Swiss, now allies of his foe. Thus the battle of Nancy, 1477, was lost, too, and when all was over, the duke's corpse was discovered by one of his servants, half caught in the ice of a frozen stream.

Hearing that his great rival and foe, Charles the Bold, was dead, Louis XI. immediately seized Burgundy and the duke's only daughter, Mary, a girl of about twenty. He then declared that Burgundy could be inherited only by males, although the young duchess claimed it as well as Flanders. Then, for a short time, hoping to keep both Burgundy and Flanders in the family, the crafty Louis detained the young Duchess Mary in France, meanwhile trying to win her consent to marry his sickly son, then only a little boy. But the absurdity of such a marriage was too great, so Louis was at last obliged to give up the plan, and to allow the duchess to go to Flanders, where the burghers soon induced her to marry Maximilian, son of the Emperor.

The story of Charles the Bold's death, of Louis's crafty schemes to secure both Burgundy and Flanders, and of Mary's escape from the French court, is told in a thrilling way in Sir Walter Scott's Quentin Durward  and in his Anne of Geierstein, where you will get the best idea of Louis XI.'s character, of his mode of living and surroundings, and of the famous people of his time.

The heiress of Burgundy having married a German prince, Louis hastened to confiscate all her estates in France; but what was left of her dowry proved enough to make her husband very wealthy. Maximilian, however, always claimed that Burgundy ought to be restored to his wife, and even invaded France and fought the battle of Guinegate, 1479 in hopes of forcing Louis XI. to relinquish all claim upon it. But Maximilian was no match for the astute French monarch, who not only retained possession of Burgundy, but when Mary of Burgundy died, leaving two young children, arranged that her little daughter, aged three, should be brought up at the French court as the future bride of his son, the Dauphin. This arrangement ended for some time the dispute in regard to the possession of Burgundy, which, however, was to be renewed later on.

Louis XI., "the wisest king that had ever borne rule in France, and the best obeyed," proved a great patron of letters, and welcomed to France many of the learned men who had escaped from Constantinople. He also had several printing presses established in his realm, and is known as the founder of the post office, for he arranged that couriers should carry dispatches from end to end of the country, with hitherto unknown speed and safety, by means of relays at stated intervals.

Louis XI. is the founder of the order of St. Michael, which he instituted to offset the Burgundian order of the Golden Fleece, devised by Philip the Good, father of Charles the Bold, as a token of great distinction.

The crown lands were greatly extended under Louis's wise rule. By conquest, purchase, and inheritance he added no less than eleven provinces to the royal domain, and, as we have seen, he further extended the royal power by holding the aristocracy in proper subjection.

But Louis XI., who reached his ends so cleverly, was anything but a happy man. He was so suspicious that he trusted no one. Constantly expecting the attack of some enemy, he surrounded himself with walls, traps, and all manner of safeguards, and lived more like a crazy prisoner than like a rational human being.

His intimates were his hangman, whom he called his "gossip," his barber, and several other people of low extraction and anything but noble character. For miles around the castles he occupied, one saw gallows with corpses swinging, pits, traps, and various devices for torture. His favorite mode of punishment was to lock a prisoner in an iron cage, so small that a man could neither stand upright in it, nor stretch out full length when lying down. Victims in these cages were often exposed at the top of some tower to all the rigors of wind and weather. The wretched inventor of this mode of torture, was himself, as we have seen, condemned to a ten years' trial of it; for Louis spared neither his foes nor his so-called friends.

Scarcely had the quarrel about Burgundy been settled, when the king, who had always been sickly, became seriously ill. As the fear of death now haunted him night and day, he sent to Italy for Francis of Paul, and implored this holy man to cure him, or at least to intercede with heaven so that his life might be prolonged, promising all manner of rewards in exchange for such a service.

But the holy man assured the king that he had no supernatural powers at all, and seriously advised him to make his peace with God, as his end was evidently very near. Convinced at last that he must die before long, Louis set his affairs in order, gave excellent advice to his son, and after showing such regret as he was capable of feeling for the many unjust and criminal deeds he had done, peacefully passed away.