« ZurückWeiter »
1461. CHARACTER OF CHARLES VII. 115
an example followed by his successor. This rustication of king and court was attended with important consequences, and was not the least of the 'causes that contributed to render absolute the royal authority. Charles suffered from an abscess in the mouth at one of these retreats, Meung-surYevre: word was secretly brought to him that an attempt was to be made to carry him off by poison. Possessed by this idea, he refused all sustenance for several days; and when the physicians used force, the action. of the stomach could not be restored. He expired on the 22d of July, 1461.
Charles VII. is represented in history as a weak character, for whom fortune and friends did every thing. Yet, had the record of his youth been lost, we should esteem him the most politic, the most firm, the most valiant of princes. His chief weakness was, that he seemed willing to reconcile himself to adversity, and even to amuse himself under its pressure. He was not of a nature stubborn enough to straggle against a driving tide; but when it became somewhat favorable to him, he was alert and sagacious to take it at the turn, and it triumphantly bore him on to fortune. In no reign was such progress made by the kingdom in the acquisition of force, solidity, and order, though not of freedom. One enactment principally produced this effect: it was that which reorganized the army. Not only was a standing force created by this means, but a standing revenue also. The financial part of the regulation, though apparently subordinate, was by far the most important. The companies of ordonnance, or cavalry, were paid by a taille levied on towns. And this tax, from its evident utility, being universally submitted to, placed in the hands of the government a revenue, which was afterwards raised, increased, and applied at pleasure. Charles VIL, according to Comines, never levied more than 1,800,000 livres in the year. His successor increased it to 4,700,000. This tax, imposed bj the royal will, was the cause of the extinction of freedom in France. No votes of money being required, the states-general became useless: they were never summoned; a shade of their dignity was transferred to the parliament, which affected to represent them; and all their legislative functions were usurped and exercised by the monarch. No writer of the present age could express himself with more indignation on this subject, or with a fuller sense of its injustice and evil consequence^ than Philip de Comines, the historian of that day. The French nobles, says he, consented to this laille, for the sake of pensions granted to them out of the sums levied in their respective domains. Henceforward the French gentleman held and supported the maxim tliat the king alone had the right of levying taxes with^u
the consent of the subject; a principle the reverse of tha which was maintained in England by all the classes of the community. Here, then, did the two countries diverge intc different paths; the one towards despotism, the other to constitutional freedom.
CHAP. V. 1461—1515.
FROM THE ACCESSION OF LOUIS XI. TO THAT OF FRANCIS 1.
The rivalry between the French and the English formed the chief action of the period which we have just traversed. During that time the political regards of France were directed northwards. She had few relations with the kingdom separated from her by the Pyrenees. Italy was almost equally neglected; despite the claims of the house of Anjou upon Naples and Sicily, which were enforced neither by alliances nor by arms. The king, separated by Burgundy from the dominions of the emperor, seldom, if ever, extended his views beyond the Rhine. The monarchy was struggling on its own soil for its existence. Now, however, we enter upon another period, when, delivered from the hostile weight of England, increased and united in territory, its powers and resources placed at the disposal of an absolute sovereign, France began to seek conquests and enemies beyond her own limits. She turned her views south towards Italy, whither the French monarchs were carried by their private claims and passions, rather than by the interests or wishes of their people. It was during these wars that the great states of Europe found themselves, for the first time, interested in the same struggle, and in the immediate relations of either alliance or enmity with each other. During this ensuing period, therefore, was formed that European confederacy which still exists, and of which the republics of ancient Greece offer, on a diminutive scale, the only prototype.
Louis XL was at the court of Burgundy when he heard of his father's death. The duke, who had always afforded him hospitality and protection, now showed the submission of a subject; he did homage to the new king for his possessions, and proposed to accompany him to Rheims with his court and army. The suspicions of Louis made him dispense with the attendance of the latter. The duke and the Burgundian court alone were present at the coronation.
The new king was of an ungainly and ill-favored person with large head, small limbs, and an unprepossessing deport 1462. Louis xi. 117
ment. Consciousness of those defects made him contemn personal qualities in general, as well as those who prized them: thus he despised courts and courtiers, knights and tournaments; he shunned men of noble and princely rank— choosing in lieu of them, for his ministers and officers, people of low birth, who displayed talent, and who could be attached and submissive. His first acts showed more self-will than prudence: he felt great indignation against the counsellors of his father; they were all obliged to fly, and Louis carried his resentment so far as to annul the political acts of the late reign. Thus he repealed the pragmatic sanction, and sought to restore to the pope the right of nominating prelates; but his parliament resisted, and Louis soon after abandoning all his selfish resentments, the law against clerical usurpations remained in force. The same contrariety to his father's opinions and measures contributed to bind the king in gratitude to the duke of Burgundy, and in friendship to the duke's son the count of Charolois: but this soon gave way to the jealous and encroaching temper of Louis. He sought to levy the gabelle tax in Burgundy. The duke sent his ambassador, De Chimay, to protest. "Who is this duke of Burgundy V exclaimed the king; "is he of a different metal from the other nobles of my kingdom!" "Yes, sire," replied De Chimay, "he is of a very different metal; for he alone amongst them received and supported you, when you excited and fled from the anger of king Charles, your father." "How dared you use such language to the king]" exclaimed Dunois to Chimay. "Dared !" said the Burgundian; "I tell you, were I fifty leagues off, and thought the king had an idea of using to me the words he has used, I would have returned to answer him."
Duke Philip was now in years, and age had robbed him of his wonted firmness and sagacity. Louis found that in personal interviews he could soothe, persuade, and wheedle the old duke; the king, therefore, paid frequent visits to the court of Burgundy, during which he effected many of his schemes. One of them was the recovery of the towns on the Somme, Amiens, Abbeville, and St. Q,uentin, which had been mortgaged to the duke for a large sum. Louis paid it, and recovered possession. The son and heir of Burgundy, the count of Charolois, wTas highly enraged at these intrigues of the king and the weakness of his father, and great enmity sprang up between the prince and the king of France.
Almost all the great nobles were discontented with Louis. A despot from natural character as well as from policy, selfwilled, jealous alike of rivalry or con <-ol, his continued efforts had been directed to humble them. He had stripped them 3f til their influential offices, their commands, their pensions. The duke of Bourbon was deprived of the government of Guyenne; the count Dunois found himself a cipher at court, without place or power; other nobles were in prison. Louis intrigued against the duke of Britany, against the prince of Burgundy, and he even dispatched an emissary to seize and carry off' the latter. The nobility, universally malcontent, united against the king, who was alarmed when he saw the storm about to burst. Louis hurried off on a pilgrimage to some shrine, always his first resource when in difficulties; sought to intimidate the duke of Britany; and at length marched to crush the weakest of the leagued princes, the duke of Bourbon. In the mean time the king's brother, the duke of Berri, made his escape, and joined the army of the league. Proclamations were scattered, addressed to the people, complaining of the tyranny and faults of the government, and declaring that the nobles had taken up arms, "solely for the public good" Hence this war was called "the war of the public good." The king on his side issued counter-manifestoes; and this appeal, the first instance of the kind, made by both sides to the people, shows the growth of the commons in respectability and importance, although they were shut out from political power.
Whilst the king was in the Bourbonnais, the count of Charolois led his'army before Paris, and passed it, in order to intercept Louis, who was returning to the defence of his capital. The two armies met at Montlheri; a skirmish commenced; and aid coming to both parties, the action became general. The king defeated the wing of the Burgundians opposed to him; and Charles, equally successful on his side, was engaged in hot pursuit when he was recalled by the news of his partial defeat. The long peace had destroyed warlike habits and skill; and the generals knew as little how to command as the soldiers how to fight. The king succeeded in his purpose of entering Paris, and a treaty was concluded, in which he yielded to Burgundy the towns on the Homme for which he had paid so dearly. The government. o? Normandy was given by Louis to his younger brother the duke of Berri;- and towns, domains, in short all that they demanded, to the other princes. The count of St. Pol, genera] and friend of the count of Charolois, was created constable by Louis, not without some hopes of exciting' jealousy between him and Burgundy by so rich a boon. Thus, as Comines remarks, was the war of the public good turned and terminated to private advantage.
The king, however, had yielded solely to the pressure of circumstances. He ceded every thing; aware that, as soon as the 1468. LOUIS XI. AT PERONNE. 119
league was dissolved, he should find means of recovering all that had been wrested from him. Thus, in the following year, having won over the duke of Bourbon, Louis took Normandy from his brother, and deprived the duke of Britany of all his advantages. Duke Philip of Burgundy had died in the mean time; the count of Charolois, known in history as Charles the Bold, or the Rash, was his successor. The new duke was wroth against the king, on account of the non-execution of the treaty, and menaced war. Louis, who had a high opinion of his own address, and who remembered that he had always soothed and won the good-will of duke Philip in personal interviews, resolved to try the same means with duke Charles. The constable St. Pol, who negotiated between them, and was anxious for an accommodation, represented the duke's temper and demands as less extreme than they were. The king requested a safe-conduct, and galloped, with few followers, to Peronne, where the duke of Burgundy then held his court. He was received with all outward deference, yet had reason to suspect that the enmity of the duke was much deeper than had been represented to him. His enemies were numerous, and in favor at the duke's court; and some troops, under the command of the marshal of Burgundy, his declared foe, were encamped near Peronne. The king, beginning to be alarmed, demanded to have his headquarters removed to the castle. In the interview of the next day, Louis found that he had overrated the duke's flexibility, as well as his own address; it was impossible to bend him, or win a single concession. Meanwhile tidings arrived that the people of Liege, stirred up by the emissaries of the king, had rebelled; had seized their bishop and the duke's lieutenant, and had committed many atrocities; report added that the bishop had been slain: the truth, however, was that an archdeacon, who was the prelate's standard-bearer, was the principal person murdered. Charles flew into a rage at this news; he declared that the king had come thither to lull him into false security, whilst his intrigues excited rebellion in his dominions. The gates of both the town and the castle were instantly ordered by him to be closed. Shrinking, however, from the act of imprisoning his sovereign, the duke pretended that these measures were taken merely for discovering a casket of jewels that had been lost. Charles had now the fate of the kingdom in his power: the monarch was his prisoner; and such was the bad faith of Louis, as well as the general hatred borne to him, that to deprive him of his crown would have been an act neither unpopular nor wholly unjustifiable. The duke of Berri, the brother, whom Louis had just deprived of Normandy, mi?;ht ascend the throne: a messenger,