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 Franks Come 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 Normans Besiege Paris Last of the Carolingians The Year One Thousand Robert's Two Wives 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 IX Effect of the Crusades The Battle of the Spurs End of 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 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's Reign 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 he Battle of Coutras 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

The Crafty King Louis XI.

When Charles VII died, the rebellious Louis was still staying at the court of Burgundy, so he naturally insisted that the duke accompany him to Rheims to see him crowned. There, the new monarch, Louis XI, made all manner of fine promises to his former host,— promises which he never kept, for while this king was very lavish of them, he was always too mean to fulfill any which he could evade. Indeed, this king was a decidedly peculiar man, entirely devoid of heart or conscience, but very clever, and fully determined to make his authority absolute. A great historian of his time (Comines) says: "Of all the princes that I ever knew, the wisest and the most dexterous to extricate himself out of any danger or difficulty in time of adversity was our master, King Louis XI." Because this king is utterly unlike all the monarchs before and after him, he is a marked character in history, and, as he succeeded in many of his undertakings, his is a very important reign in the history of France.

Louis XI


This new king, who was a great hypocrite, affected extreme piety and simplicity, went about meanly clad, and ruled mostly by trickery. His favorite saying was that "he who does not know how to dissimulate does not know how to reign." He was secretive to the point that he once declared, "If I thought my own cap knew my secrets, I would throw it into the fire." This cap or hat, by the way, was a peculiar head covering of his, with leaden images of saints fastened all around the band. Louis XI, we are told, was wont to kiss and fondle these images, kneeling down before them to say his prayers, and begging their pardon whenever he had done anything specially outrageous.

Like his father, he was most ungrateful, dismissing or forgetting people as soon as he no longer needed their services. His physician, as clever and unscrupulous as he, being aware of this peculiarity,—as well as of the king's superstition and fear of death,—once remarked to him: "I know well that sometime or other you will dismiss me from court, as you have done the rest: but be sure (and he confirmed it with a great oath) that you shall not live eight days after you do so!" It was by this means that the crafty doctor retained his position as long as the king lived.

Here is another story illustrating Louis's extreme dread of death. It seems that, being so superstitious, he never failed to consult all the astrologers he could, although he sometimes amused himself by making their predictions fail if it lay in his power to do so. An astrologer once came to court and predicted things which so enraged the king that he angrily resolved to put this man to death. In his hypocritical way, however, he slyly remarked: "You pretend to be very clever, and to be able to foretell the fate of others. Now, tell me your own fate and how much longer you have to live."

The astrologer, perceiving his design, cleverly replied: "I shall die just three days before your Majesty." This shrewd answer actually saved the man's life, for after such a prediction the king was very careful not to do anything which, by shortening the astrologer's days, might perchance hasten his own end.

Louis XI's character was such that he could have no real friends and won no great affection, not even from his wife and children. He was married twice, his first wife dying before he came to the throne. He was so mistrustful of his second wife that she seldom occupied the same palace or town as he, and he spent very little time in her company. But as the queen was his opposite in almost every respect, it must have been a great relief for her to see as little as possible of her heartless spouse.

The king's eldest daughter, the Lady of Beaujeu, was as clever, cool, and calculating as he. The second, Joan, a gentle, deformed creature, was given in marriage to the Duke of Orleans, a dashing young nobleman, who, we are told, never loved this spouse, neglected her shamefully, and as soon as it was in his power to do so, gladly obtained a divorce from her. The king's third and last child, and only son, was the sickly, rather deformed Dauphin Charles, whose presence his father could not abide, partly because it irritated him to see his heir so feeble in body and mind, but mainly because the thought that he must die someday, and that this youth would succeed him, was simply unendurable. Instead of doing his best to strengthen his son bodily and mentally, Louis XI neglected him in every way. As a result, the Dauphin was so poorly educated that he scarcely knew how to read or write, and his head was filled with the romances read aloud to amuse him, instead of the knowledge which would have enabled him to become a good king.