The History Of France

History Of Europe During The Middle Ages
Book: Book I:
Author: Hallam, Henry

Part Ten

It was not long before the new despotism exhibited itself in its harshest
character. Louis XI, son of Charles VII., who, during his father's reign, had
been connected with the discontented princes, came to the throne greatly
endowed with those virtues and vices which conspire to the success of a king.
[A.D. 1461.] Laborious vigilance in business, contempt of pomp, affability to
inferiors, were his excellences; qualities especially praiseworthy in an age
characterized by idleness, love of pageantry, and insolence. To these virtues
he added a perfect knowledge of all persons eminent for talents or influence
in the countries with which he was connected, and a well-judged bounty, that
thought no expense wasted to draw them into his service or interest. In the
fifteenth century this political art had hardly been known, except perhaps in
Italy; the princes of Europe had contended with each other by arms, sometimes
by treachery, but never with such complicated subtlety of intrigue. Of that
insidious cunning, which has since been brought to perfection, Louis XI. may
be deemed not absolutely the inventor, but the most eminent improver; and its
success has led, perhaps, to too high an estimate of his abilities. Like most
bad men, he sometimes fell into his own snare, and was betrayed by his
confidential ministers, because his confidence was generally reposed in the
wicked. And his dissimulation was so notorious, his tyranny so oppressive,
that he was naturally surrounded by enemies, and had occasion for all his
craft to elude those rebellions and confederacies which might perhaps not have
been raised against a more upright sovereign. ^b At one time the monarchy was
on the point of sinking before a combination which would have ended in
dismembering France. This was the league denominated of the Public Weal, in
which all the princes and great vassals of the French crown were concerned;
the dukes of Brittany, Burgundy, Alencon, Bourbon, the Count of Dunois, so
renowned for his valor in the English wars, the families of Foix and Armagnac;
and at the head of all, Charles Duke of Berry, the king's brother and
presumptive heir. [A.D. 1461.] So unanimous a combination was not formed
without a strong provocation from the king, or at least without weighty
grounds for distrusting his intentions; but the more remote cause of this
confederacy, as of those which had been raised against Charles VII., was the
critical position of the feudal aristocracy from the increasing power of the
crown. This was of the Public Weal was in fact, a struggle to preserve their
independence; and from the weak character of the Duke of Berry, whom they
would, if successful, have placed upon the throne, it is possible that France
might have been in a manner partitioned among them in the event of their
success, or, at least, that Burgundy and Brittany would have thrown off the
sovereignty that galled them. ^c

[Footnote b: Sismondi (vol. xiv. p. 312) and Michelet (vol. ix. p. 347) agree
in thinking Louis XI. no worse than other kings of his age; in fact, the
former seems rarely to make a distinction between one king and another. Louis
was just and even attentive towards the lower people, and spared the blood of
his soldiers. But he had imbibed a notion that treachery and cruelty could
not be carried too far against his enemies, and especially against his
rebellious subjects. Louis composed for his son's use, or caused to be
composed a political treatise entitled 'Le Rosier des Guerres,' which has
never been published. It is written in a spirit of public morality very
unlike his practice. (Sismondi, vol. xiv. p. 616.) Thus two royal
Anti-Machiavels have satirized themselves.]

[Footnote c: Sismondi has a just observation on the League of the Public Weal.
"Le nom seul du Bien Public, qui fut donne a cette ligue, etait un hommage au
progres des lumieres; c'etait la profession d'un principe qui n'avait point
encore ete proclame; c'est que le bien public doit etre le but du
gouvernement; mais les princes qui s'associaient pour l'obtenir etaient encore
bien peu en etat de connaitre sa nature" (xiv. 161).]

The strength of the confederates in this war much exceeded that of the
king; but it was not judiciously employed; and after an indecisive battle at
Montlhery they failed in the great object of reducing Paris, which would have
obliged Louis to fly from his dominions. It was his policy to promise
everything, in trust that fortune would afford some opening to repair his
losses and give scope to his superior prudence. Accordingly, by the treaty of
Conflans, he not only surrendered afresh the towns upon the Somme, which he
had lately redeemed from the Duke of Burgundy, but invested his brother with
the duchy of Normandy as his appanage.

The term appanage denotes the provision made for the younger children of
a king of France. This always consisted of lands and feudal superiorities
held of the crown by the tenure of peerage. It is evident that this usage, as
it produced a new class of powerful feudatories, was hostile to the interests
and policy of the sovereign, and retarded the subjugation of the ancient
aristocracy. But an usage coeval with the monarchy was not to be abrogated,
and the scarcity of money rendered it impossible to provide for the younger
branches of the royal family by any other means. It was restrained, however,
as far as circumstances would permit. Philip IV. declared that the county of
Poitiers, bestowed by him on his son, should revert to the crown on the
extinction of male heirs. But this, though an important precedent, was not, as
has often been asserted, a general law. Charles V. limited the appanages of
his own sons to twelve thousand livres of annual value in land. By means of
their appanages, and through the operation of the Salic law, which made their
inheritance of the crown a less remote contingency, the princes of the blood
royal in France were at all times (for the remark is applicable long after
Louis XI.) a distinct and formidable class of men, whose influence was always
disadvantageous to the reigning monarch, and, in general, to the people.

No appanage had ever been granted to France so enormous as the duchy of
Normandy. One-third of the whole national revenue, it is declared, was
derived from that rich province. Louis could not, therefore, sit down under
such terms as, with his usual insincerity, he had accepted at Conflans. In a
very short time he attacked Normandy, and easily compelled his brother to take
refuge in Brittany; nor were his enemies ever able to procure the restitution
of Charles' appanage. During the rest of his reign Louis had powerful
coalitions to withstand; but his prudence and compliance with circumstances,
joined to some mixture of good fortune, brought him safely through his perils.
The Duke of Brittany, a prince of moderate talents, was unable to make any
formidable impression, though generally leagued with the enemies of the king.
The less powerful vassals were successfully crushed by Louis with decisive
vigor; the duchy of Alencon was confiscated; the Count of Armagnac was
assassinated; the Duke of Nemours, and the Constable of St. Pol, a politician
as treacherous as Louis, who had long betrayed both him and the Duke of
Burgundy, suffered upon the scaffold. The king's brother Charles, after
disquieting him for many years, died suddenly in Guienne, which had finally
been granted as his appanage, with strong suspicions of having been poisoned
by the king's contrivance. ^d [A.D. 1472.] Edward IV. of England was too
dissipated and too indolent to be fond of war; and, though he once entered
France with an army more considerable than could have been expected after such
civil bloodshed as England had witnessed, he was induced, by the stipulation
of a large pension, to give up the enterprise. ^e So terrible was still in
France the apprehension of an English war, that Louis prided himself upon no
part of his policy so much as the warding this blow. Edward showed a desire
to visit Paris; but the king gave him no invitation, lest, he said, his
brother should find some handsome women there, who might tempt him to return
in a different manner. Hastings, Howard, and others of Edward's ministers,
were secured by bribes in the interest of Louis, which the first of these did
not scruple to receive at the same time from the Duke of Burgundy. ^f

[Footnote d: Sismondi, however, and Michelet do not believe that the Duke of
Guienne was poisoned by his brother; he had been ill for several months.]

[Footnote e: The army of Edward consisted of 1,500 men at arms and 14,000
archers; the whole very well appointed. Comines, t. xi. p. 238. There seems
to have been a great expectation of what the English would do, and great fears
entertained by Louis, who grudged no expense to get rid of them.]

[Footnote f: Comines, 1. vi. c. 2. Hastings had the mean cunning to refuse to
give his receipt for the pension he took from Louis XI. "This present, he
said to the king's agent, comes from your master's good pleasure, and not at
my request; and if you mean I should receive it, you may put it here into my
sleeve, but you shall have no discharge from me; for I will not have it said
that the Great Chamberlain of England is a pensioner of the King of France,
nor have my name appear in the books of the Chambres des Comptes." Ibid.]

This was the most powerful enemy whom the craft of Louis had to
counteract. In the last days of the feudal system, when the house of Capet
had almost achieved the subjugation of those proud vassals among whom it had
been originally numbered, a new antagonist sprung up to dispute the field
against the crown. John King of France granted the duchy of Burgundy, by way
of appanage, to his third son, Philip. By his marriage with Margaret, heiress
of Louis Count of Flanders, Philip acquired that province, Artois, the county
of Burgundy (or Franche-Comte), and the Nivernois. Philip the Good, his
grandson, who carried the prosperity of this family to its height, possessed
himself, by various titles, of the several other provinces which composed the
Netherlands. These were fiefs of the empire, but latterly not much dependent
upon it, and alienated by their owners without its consent. At the peace of
Arras the districts of Macon and Auxerre were absolutely ceded to Philip, and
great part of Picardy conditionally made over to him, redeemable on the
payment of four hundred thousand crowns. ^g These extensive, though not
compact dominions, were abundant in population and wealth, fertile in corn,
wine, and salt, and full of commercial activity. Thirty years of peace which
followed the treaty of Arras, with a mild and free government, raised the
subjects of Burgundy to a degree of prosperity quite unparalleled in these
times of disorder, and this was displayed in general sumptuousness of dress
and feasting. The court of Philip and of his son Charles was distinguished
for its pomp and riches, for pageants and tournaments; the trappings of
chivalry, perhaps without its spirit; for the military character of Burgundy
had been impaired by long tranquillity. ^h

[Footnote g: The Duke of Burgundy was personally excused from all homage and
service to Charles VII.; but, if either died, it was to be paid by the heir,
or to the heir. Accordingly, on Charles' death Philip did homage to Louis.
This exemption can hardly, therefore, have been inserted to gratify the pride
of Philip, as historians suppose. Is it not probable that, during his
resentment against Charles, he might have made some vow never to do him
homage; which this reservation in the treaty was intended to preserve?

It is remarkable that Villaret says the Duke of Burgundy was positively
excused by the 25th article of the peace of Arras from doing homage to
Charles, or his successors kings of France. t. xvi. p. 404. For this
assertion too he seems to quote the Tresor des Chartes, where, probably, the
original treaty is preserved. Nevertheless, it appears otherwise, as
published by Monstrelet at full length, who could have no motive to falsify
it; and Philip's conduct in doing homage to Louis is hardly compatible with
Villaret's assertion. Daniel copies Monstrelet without any observation. In
the same treaty Philip is entitled duke by the grace of God; which was
reckoned a mark of independence, and not usually permitted to a vassal.]

[Footnote h: P. de Comines, l. i. c. 2 and 3; l. v. c. 9. Du Clercq, in
Collection des Memoires, t. ix. p. 389. In the investiture granted by John to
the first Philip of Burgundy, a reservation is made that the royal taxes shall
be levied throughout that apanage. But during the long hostility between the
kingdom and duchy this could not have been enforced: and by the treaty of
Arras Charles surrendered all right to tax the duke's dominions. Monstrelet,
f. 114.]

During the lives of Philip and Charles VII. each understood the other's
rank, and their amity was little interrupted. But their successors, the most
opposite of human kind in character, had one common quality, ambition, to
render their antipathy more powerful. Louis was eminently timid and
suspicious in policy; Charles intrepid beyond all men, and blindly
presumptuous: Louis stooped to any humiliation to reach his aim; Charles was
too haughty to seek the fairest means of strengthening his party. An alliance
of his daughter with the Duke of Guienne, brother of Louis, was what the
malcontent French princes most desired and the king most dreaded; but Charles,
either averse to any French connection, or willing to keep his daughter's
suitors in dependence, would never directly accede to that or any other
proposition for her marriage. On Philip's death in 1467, he inherited a great
treasure, which he soon wasted in the prosecution of his schemes. These were
so numerous and vast, that he had not time to live, says Comines, to complete
them, nor would one-half of Europe have contented him. It was his intention
to assume the title of king; and the Emperor Frederic III. was at one time
actually on his road to confer this dignity, when some suspicion caused him to
retire, and the project was never renewed. ^i It is evident that, if Charles'
capacity had borne any proportion to his pride and courage, or if a prince
less politic than Louis XI. had been his contemporary in France, the province
of Burgundy must have been lost to the monarchy. For several years these
great rivals were engaged, sometimes in open hostility, sometimes in endeavors
to overreach each other; but Charles, though not much more scrupulous, was far
less an adept in these mysteries of politics than the king.

[Footnote i: Garnier, t. xviii. p. 62. It is observable that Comines says not
a word of this; for which Garnier seems to quote Belcarius, a writer of the
sixteenth age. But even Philip, when Morvilliers, Louis' chancellor, used
menaces towards him, interrupted the orator with these words: Je veux que
chacun seache que, si j'eusse voulu, je fusse roi. Villaret, t. xvii. p. 44.

Charles had a vague notion of history, and confounded the province or
duchy of Burgundy, which had always appertained to the French crown, with
Franche-Comte and other countries which had belonged to the kingdom of
Burgundy. Hence he talked at Dijon, in 1473, to the estates of the former,
about the kingdom of Burgundy, "que ceux de France ont longtems usurpe et
d'icelui fait duche; que tous les sujets doivent bien avoir a regret, et dit
qu'il avait en soi des choses qu'il n'appartenait de savoir a nul qu'a lui."
Michelet (ix. 162) is the first who has published this.]

Notwithstanding the power of Burgundy, there were some disadvantages in
its situation. It presented (I speak of all Charles' dominions under the
common name, Burgundy) a very exposed frontier on the side of Germany and
Switzerland, as well as France; and Louis exerted a considerable influence
over the adjacent princes of the empire as well as the United Cantons. The
people of Liege, a very populous city, had for a long time been continually
rebelling against their bishops, who were the allies of Burgundy; Louis was of
course not backward to foment their insurrections, which sometimes gave the
dukes a good deal of trouble. The Flemings, and especially the people of
Ghent, had been during a century noted for their republican spirit and
contumacious defiance of their sovereign. Liberty never wore a more unamiable
countenance than among these burghers, who abused the strength she gave them
by cruelty and insolence. Ghent, when Froissart wrote, about the year 1400,
was one of the strongest cities in Europe, and would have required, he says,
an army of two hundred thousand men to besiege it on every side, so as to shut
up all access by the Lys and Scheldt. It contained eighty thousand men of age
to bear arms; ^j a calculation which, although, as I presume, much
exaggerated, is evidence of great actual populousness. Such a city was
absolutely impregnable at a time when artillery was very imperfect both in its
construction and management. Hence, though the citizens of Ghent were
generally beaten in the field with great slaughter, they obtained tolerable
terms from their masters, who knew the danger of forcing them to a desperate
defence.

[Footnote j: Froissart, part ii. c. 67.]

No taxes were raised in Flanders, or indeed throughout the dominions of
Burgundy, without consent of the three estates. In the time of Philip not a
great deal of money was levied upon the people; but Charles obtained every
year a pretty large subsidy, which he expended in the hire of Italian and
English mercenaries. ^k An almost uninterrupted success had attended his
enterprises for a length of time, and rendered his disposition still more
overweening. His first failure was before Neuss, a little town near Cologne,
the possession of which would have made him nearly master of the whole course
of the Rhine, for he had already obtained the land-graviate of Alsace. [A.D.
1474.] Though compelled to raise the siege, he succeeded in occupying, next
year, the duchy of Lorraine. But his overthrow was reserved for an enemy whom
he despised, and whom none could have thought equal to the contest. The Swiss
had given him some slight provocation, for which they were ready to atone; but
Charles was unused to forbear; and perhaps Switzerland came within his
projects of conquest. At Granson, in the Pays de Vaud, he was entirely
routed, with more disgrace than slaughter. ^l [A.D. 1476.] But having
reassembled his troops, and met the confederate army of Swiss and Germans at
Morat, near Friburg, he was again defeated with vast loss. On this day the
power of Burgundy was dissipated: deserted by his allies, betrayed by his
mercenaries, he set his life upon another cast at Nancy, desperately giving
battle to the Duke of Lorraine with a small dispirited army, and perished in
the engagement. [A.D. 1477.]

[Footnote k: Comines, l. iv. c. 13. It was very reluctantly that the Flemings
granted any money. Philip once begged for a tax on salt, promising never to
ask anything more; but the people of Ghent, and, in imitation of them, the
whole country, refused it. Du Clercq, p. 389. Upon his pretence of taking the
cross, they granted him a subsidy, though less than he had requested, on
condition that it should not be levied if the crusade did not take place,
which put an end to the attempt. The states knew well that the duke would
employ any money they gave him in keeping up a body of gens-d'armes, like his
neighbor, the King of France; and though the want of such a force exposed
their country to pillage, they were too good patriots to place the means of
enslaving it in the hands of their sovereign. Grand doute faisoient les
sujets, et pour plusieurs raisons, de se mettre en cette sujetion ou ils
voyoient le royaume de France, a cause de ses gens d'armes. A la verite, leur
grand doute n'estoit pas sans cause; car quand il se trouva cinq cens hommes
d'armes, la volonte luy vint d'en avoir plus, et de plus hardiment
entreprendre contre tous ses voisins. Comines, l. iii. c. 4, 9.

Du Clercq, a contemporary writer of very good authority, mentioning the
story of a certain widow who had remarried the day after her husband's death,
says that she was in some degree excusable, because it was the practice of the
duke and his officers to force rich widows into marrying their soldiers or
other servants. t. ix. p. 418.]

[Footnote l: A famous diamond, belonging to Charles of Burgundy, was taken in
the plunder of his tent by the Swiss at Granson. After several changes of
owners, most of whom were ignorant of its value, it became the first jewel in
the French crown. Garnier, t. xviii. p.36i]

Now was the moment when Louis, who had held back while his enemy was
breaking his force against the rocks of Switzerland, came to gather a harvest
which his labor had not reaped. Charles left an only daughter, undoubted
heiress of Flanders and Artois, as well as of his dominions out of France, but
whose right of succession to the duchy of Burgundy was more questionable.
Originally the great fiefs of the crown descended to females, and this was the
case with respect to the two first mentioned. But John had granted Burgundy to
his son Philip by way of appanage; and it was contended that the appanages
reverted to the crown in default of male heirs. In the form of Philip's
investiture, the duchy was granted to him and his lawful heirs, without
designation of sex. The construction, therefore, must be left to the
established course of law. This, however, was by no means acknowledged by
Mary, Charles' daughter, who maintained both that no general law restricted
appanages to male heirs, and that Burgundy had always been considered as a
feminine fief, John himself having possessed it, not by reversion as king (for
descendants of the first dukes were then living), but by inheritance derived
through females. ^m Such was this question of succession between Louis XI. and
Mary of Burgundy, upon the merits of whose pretensions I will not pretend
altogether to decide, but shall only observe that, if Charles had conceived
his daughter to be excluded from this part of his inheritance, he would
probably, at Conflans or Peronne, where he treated upon the vantage-ground,
have attempted at least to obtain a renunciation of Louis' claim.

[Footnote m: It is advanced with too much confidence by several French
historians, either that the ordinances of Philip IV. and Charles V.
constituted a general law against the descent of appanages to female heirs, or
that this was a fundamental law of the monarchy. Du Clos, Hist. de Louis XI.
t. ii. p. 252. Garnier, Hist. de France, t. xviii. p. 258. The latter
position is refuted by frequent instances of female succession; thus Artois
had passed, by a daughter of Louis le Male, into the house of Burgundy. As to
the above-mentioned ordinances, the first applies only to the county of
Poitiers; the second does not contain a syllable that relates to succession.
(Ordonnances des Rois, t. vi. p. 54.) The doctrine of excluding female heirs
was more consonant to the pretended Salic Law, and the recent principles as to
inalienability of domain than to the analogy of feudal rules and precedents.
M. Gaillard, in his Observations sur l'Histoire de Velly, Villaret, et
Garnier, has a judicious note on this subjet, t. iii. p. 304.]

There was one obvious mode of preventing all further contest and of
aggrandizing the French monarchy far more than by the reunion of Burgundy.
This was the marriage of Mary with the dauphin, which was ardently wished in
France. Whatever obstacles might occur to this connection, it was natural to
expect on the opposite side - from Mary's repugnance to an infant husband, or
from the jealousy which her subjects were likely to entertain of being
incorporated with a country worse governed than their own. The arts of Louis
would have been well employed in smoothing these impediments. ^n But he chose
to seize upon as many towns as, in those critical circumstances, lay exposed
to him, and stripped the young duchess of Artois and Franche-Comte.
Expectations of the marriage he sometimes held out, but, as it seems, without
sincerity. Indeed he contrived irreconcilably to alienate Mary by a shameful
perfidy, betraying the ministers whom she had intrusted upon a secret mission
to the people of Ghent, who put them to the torture, and afterwards to death,
in the presence and amidst the tears and supplications of their mistress.
Thus the French alliance becoming odious in France, this princess married
Maximilian of Austria, son of the Emperor Frederic - a connection which Louis
strove to prevent, though it was impossible then to foresee that it was
ordained to retard the growth of France and to bias the fate of Europe during
three hundred years. [A.D. 1477.] This war lasted till after the death of
Mary, who left one son, Philip, and one daughter, Margaret. By a treaty of
peace concluded at Arras, in 1482, it was agreed that this daughter should
become the dauphin's wife, with Franche-Comte and Artois, which Louis held
already, for her dowry, to be restored in case the marriage should not take
effect. The homage of Flanders was reserved to the crown.

[Footnote n: Robertson, as well as some other moderns, have maintained, on the
authority of Comines, that Louis XI. ought in policy to have married the young
princess to the Count of Angouleme, father of Francis I., a connection which
she would not have disliked. But certainly nothing could have been more
adverse to the interests of the French monarchy than such a marriage, which
would have put a new house of Burgundy at the head of those princes whose
confederacies had so often endangered the crown. Comines is one of the most
judicious of historians; but his sincerity may be rather doubtful in the
opinion above mentioned; for he wrote in the reign of Charles VIII., when the
Count of Angouleme was engaged in the same faction as himself.]

Meanwhile Louis was lingering in disease and torments of mind, the
retribution of fraud and tyranny. Two years before his death he was struck
with an apoplexy, from which he never wholly recovered. As he felt his
disorder increasing, he shut himself up in a palace near Tours, to hide from
the world the knowledge of his decline. ^o His solitude was like that of
Tiberius at Capreae, full of terror and suspicion, and deep consciousness of
universal hatred. All ranks, he well knew, had their several injuries to
remember: the clergy, whose liberties he had sacrificed to the see of Rome, by
revoking the Pragmatic Sanction of Charles VII.; the princes, whose blood he
had poured upon the scaffold; the parliament, whose course of justice he had
turned aside; the commons, who groaned under his extortion, and were plundered
by his soldiery. ^p The palace, fenced with portcullises and spikes of iron,
was guarded by archers and cross-bow men, who shot at any that approached by
night. Few entered this den; but to them he showed himself in magnificent
apparel, contrary to his former custom, hoping thus to disguise the change of
his meagre body. He distrusted his friends and kindred, his daughter and his
son, the last of whom he had not suffered even to read or write, lest he
should too soon become his rival. No man ever so much feared death, to avert
which he stooped to every meanness and sought every remedy. His physician had
sworn that if he were dismissed the king would not survive a week; and Louis,
enfeebled by sickness and terror, bore the rudest usage from this man, and
endeavored to secure his services by vast rewards. Always credulous in relics,
though seldom restrained by superstition from any crime, ^q he eagerly bought
up treasures of this sort, and even procured a Calabrian hermit, of noted
sanctity, to journey as far as Tours in order to restore his health. Philip
de Comines, who attended him during his infirmity, draws a parallel between
the torments he then endured and those he had formerly inflicted on others.
Indeed the whole of his life was vexation of spirit. "I have known him," says
Comines, "and been his servant in the flower of his age, and in the time of
his greatest prosperity; but never did I see him without uneasiness and care.
Of all amusements he loved only the chase, and hawking in its season. And in
this he had almost as much uneasiness as pleasure: for he rode hard and got up
early, and sometimes went a great way, and regarded no weather; so that he
used to return very weary, and almost ever in wrath with someone. I think that
from his childhood he never had any respite of labor and trouble to his death.
And I am certain that, if all the happy days of his life, in which he had more
enjoyment than uneasiness, were numbered, they would be found very few; and at
least that they would be twenty of sorrow for every one of pleasure." ^r

[Footnote o: For Louis' illness and death see Comines, l. vi. c. 7-12 and
Garnier, ^Double Dagger xix. p. 112, &c. Plessis, his last residence, about
an English mile from Tours, is now a dilapidated farm-house, and can never
have been a very large building. The vestiges of royalty about it are few;
but the principal apartments have been destroyed, either in the course of ages
or at the revolution.]

[Footnote p: See a remarkable chapter in Philip de Comines, l. iv. c. 19,
wherein he tells us that Charles VII. had never raised more than 1,800,000
francs a year in taxes; but Louis XI., at the time of his death, raised
4,700,000, exclusive of some military impositions; et surement e'estoit
compassion de voir et scavoir la pauvrete' du peuple. In this chapter he
declares his opinion that no king can justly levy money on his subjects
without their consent, and repels all common arguments to the contrary.]

[Footnote q: An exception to this was when he swore by the cross of St. Lo,
after which he feared to violate his oath. The Constable of St. Pol, whom
Louis invited with many assurances to court, bethought himself of requiring
this oath before he trusted his promises, which the king refused; and St. Pol
prudently stayed away. Garn. t. xviii. p. 72. Some report that he had a
similar respect for a leaden image of the Virgin, which he wore in his hat; as
alluded to by Pope:

"A perjured prince a leaden saint revere."]

[Footnote r: Comines, l. vi. c. 13.]

Charles VIII. was about thirteen years old when he succeeded his father
Louis. [A.D. 1483.] Though the law of France fixed the majority of her kings
at that age, yet it seems not to have been strictly regarded on this occasion,
and at least Charles was a minor by nature, if not by law. A contest arose,
therefore, for the regency, which Louis had intrusted to his daughter Anne,
wife of the Lord de Beaujeu, one of the Bourbon family. The Duke of Orleans,
afterward Louis XII., claimed it as presumptive heir of the crown, and was
seconded by most of the princes. Anne, however, maintained her ground, and
ruled France for several years in her brother's name with singular spirit and
address, in spite of the rebellions which the Orleans party raised up against
her. These were supported by the Duke of Brittany, the last of the great
vassals of the crown, whose daughter, as he had no male issue, was the object
of as many suitors as Mary of Burgundy.

The duchy of Brittany was peculiarly circumstanced. The inhabitants,
whether sprung from the ancient republicans of Armorica, or, as some have
thought, from an emigration of Britons during the Saxon invasion, had not
originally belonged to the body of the French monarchy. They were governed by
their own princes and laws, though tributary, perhaps, as the weaker to the
stronger, to the Merovingian kings. ^s In the ninth century the dukes of
Brittany did homage to Charles the Bald, the right of which was transferred
afterward to the dukes of Normandy. This formality, at that time no token of
real subjection, led to consequences beyond the views of either party. For
when the feudal chains that had hung so loosely upon the shoulders of the
great vassals began to be straightened by the dexterity of the court, Brittany
found itself drawn among the rest to the same centre. The old privileges of
independence were treated as usurpation; the dukes were menaced with
confiscation of their fief, their right of coining money disputed, their
jurisdiction impaired by appeals to the parliament of Paris. However, they
stood boldly upon their right, and always refused to pay liege-homage, which
implied an obligation of service to the lord, in contradistinction to simple
homage, which was a mere symbol of feudal dependence. ^t

[Footnote s: Gregory of Tours says that the Bretons were subject to France
from the death of Clovis, and that their chiefs were styled counts, not kings,
l. iv. c. 4. Charlemagne subdued the whole of Brittany. Yet it seems clear
from Nigellus, author of a metrical Life of Louis the Debonair, that they were
again almost independent. There was even a march of the Britannic frontier,
which separated it from France. In the ensuing reign of Charles the Bald,
Hincmar tells us, regnum undique a Paganis, et falsis Christianis, scilicet
Britonibus circumscriptum est. Epist. c. 8. See, too, Capitularia Car. Calvi,
A.D. 877, tit. 23. At this time a certain Nomenoe had assumed the crown of
Brittany, and some others in succession bore the name of king. They seem,
however, to have been feudally subject to France. Charles the Simple ceded to
the Normans whatever right he possessed over Brittany; and the dukes of that
country (the name of king was now dropped) always did homage to Normandy. See
Daru, Hist. de Bretagne.]

[Footnote t: Villaret, t. xii. p. 82; t. xv. p. 19.]

About the time that Edward III. made pretension to the crown of France, a
controversy somewhat resembling it arose in the duchy of Brittany, between the
families of Blois and Montfort. This led to a long and obstinate war,
connected all along, as a sort of underplot, with the great drama of France
and England. At last Montfort, Edward's ally, by the defeat and death of his
antagonist, obtained the duchy, of which Charles V. soon after gave him the
investiture. This prince and his family were generally inclined to English
connections; but the Bretons would seldom permit them to be effectual. Two
cardinal feelings guided the conduct of this brave and faithful people; the
one, an attachment to the French nation and monarchy in opposition to foreign
enemies; the other, a zeal for their own privileges and the family of
Montfort, in opposition to the encroachments of the crown. In Francis II.,
the present duke, the male line of that family was about to be extinguished.
His daughter Anne was naturally the object of many suitors, among whom were
particularly distinguished the Duke of Orleans, who seems to have been
preferred by herself; the lord of Albret, a member of the Gascon family of
Foix, favored by the Breton nobility, as most likely to preserve the peace and
liberties of their country, but whose age rendered him not very acceptable to
a youthful princess; and Maximilian, king of the Romans. Brittany was rent by
factions and overrun by the armies of the regent of France, who did not lose
this opportunity of interfering with its domestic troubles, and of persecuting
her private enemy, the Duke of Orleans. Anne of Brittany, upon her father's
death, finding no other means of escaping the addresses of Albret, was married
by proxy to Maximilian. [A.D. 1489.] This, however, aggravated the evils of
the country, since France was resolved at all events to break off so dangerous
a connection. And as Maximilian himself was unable, or took not sufficient
pains, to relieve his betrothed wife from her embarrassments, she was
ultimately compelled to accept the hand of Charles VIII. ^u He had long been
engaged by the treaty of Arras to marry the daughter of Maximilian, and that
princess was educated at the French court. But this engagement had not
prevented several years of hostilities, and continual intrigues with the towns
of Flanders against Maximilian. The double injury which the latter sustained
in the marriage of Charles with the heiress of Brittany seemed likely to
excite a protracted contest; but the King of France, who had other objects in
view, and perhaps was conscious that he had not acted a fair part, soon came
to an accommodation, by which he restored Artois and Franche-Comte. Both these
provinces had revolted to Maximilian; so that Charles must have continued the
war at some disadvantage. ^v

[Footnote u: This is one of the coolest violations of ecclesiastical law in
comparatively modern times. Both contracts, especially that of Anne, were
obligatory, so far at least that they could not be dissolved without papal
dispensation. This was obtained; but it bears date eight days after the
ceremony between Charles and Anne. (Sismondi, xv. 106.)]

[Footnote v: Sismondi, xv. 135.]

 

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