Friday, October 19, 2012

Charles the Bold, 1467

On the death of Philip the Good, in 1467, Charles the Bold succeeded to the duchy of Burgundy.

He pursued more ardently the plan of forming a new kingdom of Burgundy, and had even hopes of being chosen Emperor. First, however, he had to consolidate his dominions, by making himself master of the countries which parted Burgundy from the Netherlands. With this view he obtained Elsass in pledge from its owner, a needy son of the house of Austria, who was never likely to redeem it. Lorraine had been inherited by Yolande, the wife of René, Duke of Anjou and titular King of Sicily, and had passed from her to her daughter, who had married the nearest heir in the male line, the Count of Vaudémont; but Charles the Bold unjustly seized the dukedom, driving out the lawful heir, René de Vaudémont, son of this marriage. Louis, meantime, was on the watch for every error of Charles, and constantly sowing dangers in his path.

Sometimes his mines exploded too soon, as when he had actually put himself into Charles's power by visiting him at Peronne at the very moment when his emissaries had encouraged the city of Liège to rise in revolt against their bishop, an ally of the duke; and he only bought his freedom by profuse promises, and by aiding Charles in a most savage destruction of Liège.

But after this his caution prevailed. He gave secret support to the adherents of René de Vaudémont, and intrigued with the Swiss, who were often at issue with the Burgundian bailiffs and soldiery in Elsass—greedy, reckless men, from whom the men of Elsass revolted in favour of their former Austrian lord. Meantime Edward IV. of England, Charles's brother-in-law, had planned with him an invasion of France and division of the kingdom, and in 1475 actually crossed the sea with a splendid host; but while Charles was prevented from joining him by the siege of Neuss, a city in alliance with Sigismund of Austria, Louis met Edward on the bridge of Pecquigny, and by cajolery, bribery, and accusations of Charles, contrived to persuade him to carry home his army without striking a blow.

That meeting was a curious one. A wooden barrier, like a wild beast's cage, was erected in the middle of the bridge, through which the two kings kissed one another. Edward was the tallest and handsomest man present, and splendidly attired. Louis was small and mean-looking, and clad in an old blue suit, with a hat decorated with little leaden images of the saints, but his smooth tongue quite overcame the duller intellect of Edward; and in the mean time the English soldiers were feasted and allowed their full swing, the French being strictly watched to prevent all quarrels. So skilfully did Louis manage, that Edward consented to make peace and return home.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Louis XI's Policy

King Louis XI of France
Louis XI
Louis XI. succeeded his father Charles in 1461. He was a man of great skill and craft, with an iron will, and subtle though pitiless nature, who knew in what the greatness of a king consisted, and worked out his ends mercilessly and unscrupulously.

The old feudal dukes and counts had all passed away, except the Duke of Brittany; but the Dukes of Orleans, Burgundy, and Anjou held princely appanages, and there was a turbulent nobility who had grown up during the wars, foreign and civil, and been encouraged by the favouritism of Charles VI. All these, feeling that Louis was their natural foe, united against him in what was called the "League of the Public Good," with his own brother, the Duke of Berry, and Count Charles of Charolais, who was known as Charles the Bold, the son of Duke Philip of Burgundy, at their head. Louis was actually defeated by Charles of Charolais in the battle of Montlhéry; but he contrived so cleverly to break up the league, by promises to each member and by sowing dissension among them, that he ended by becoming more powerful than before.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Power of Burgundy, Late 1450s

After the Hundred Year's War, all the troubles of France, for the last 80 years, had gone to increase the strength of the Dukes of Burgundy. The county and duchy, of which Dijon was the capital, lay in the most fertile district of France, and had, as we have seen, been conferred on Philip the Bold. His marriage had given to him Flanders, with a gallant nobility, and with the chief manufacturing cities of Northern Europe. Philip's son, John the Fearless, had married a lady who ultimately brought into the family the great imperial counties of Holland and Zealand; and her son, Duke Philip the Good, by purchase or inheritance, obtained possession of all the adjoining little fiefs forming the country called the Netherlands, some belonging to the Empire, some to France.

Philip had turned the scale in the struggle between England and France, and, as his reward, had won the cities on the Somme. He had thus become the richest and most powerful prince in Europe, and seemed on the point of founding a middle state lying between France and Germany, his weak point being that the imperial fiefs in Lorraine and Elsass lay between his dukedom of Burgundy and his counties in the Netherlands.

No European court equalled in splendour that of Philip. The great cities of Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp, and the rest, though full of fierce and resolute men, paid him dues enough to make him the richest of princes, and the Flemish knights were among the boldest in Europe. All the arts of life, above all painting and domestic architecture, nourished at Brussels; and nowhere were troops so well equipped, burghers more prosperous, learning more widespread, than in his domains. Here, too, were the most ceremonious courtesy, the most splendid banquets, and the most wonderful display of jewels, plate, and cloth-of-gold.

Charles VII., a clever though a cold-hearted, indolent man, let Philip alone, already seeing how the game would go for the future; for when the dauphin had quarrelled with the reigning favourite, and was kindly received on his flight to Burgundy, the old king sneered, saying that the duke was fostering the fox who would steal his chickens.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Standing Army of the Hundred Year's War

As at the end of the first act in the Hundred Years' War, the great difficulty in time of peace was the presence of the bands of free companions, or mercenary soldiers, who, when war and plunder failed them, lived by violence and robbery of the peasants. Charles VII., who had awakened into vigour, thereupon took into regular pay all who would submit to discipline, and the rest were led off on two futile expeditions into Switzerland and Germany, and there left to their fate.

The princes and nobles were at first so much disgusted at the regulations which bound the soldiery to respect the magistracy, that they raised a rebellion, which was fostered by the Dauphin Louis, who was ready to do anything that could annoy his father. But he was soon detached from them; the Duke of Burgundy would not assist them, and the league fell to pieces. Charles VII. by thus retaining companies of hired troops in his pay laid the foundation of the  first standing army in Europe, and enabled the monarchy to tread down the feudal force of the nobles. His government was firm and wise; and with his reign began better times for France. But it was long before it recovered from the miseries of the long strife. The war had kept back much of progress.

There had been grievous havoc of buildings in the north and centre of France; much lawlessness and cruelty prevailed; and yet there was a certain advance in learning, and much love of romance and the theory of chivalry. Pages of noble birth were bred up in castles to be first squires and then knights. There was immense formality and stateliness, the order of precedence was most minute, and pomp and display were wonderful. Strange alternations took place. One month the streets of Paris would be a scene of horrible famine, where hungry dogs, and even wolves, put an end to the miseries of starving, homeless children of slaughtered parents; another, the people would be gazing at royal banquets, lasting a whole day, with allegorical "subtleties" of jelly on the table, and pageants coming between the courses, where all the Virtues harangued in turn, or where knights delivered maidens from giants and "salvage men."

In the south there was less misery and more progress. Jacques Cœur's house at Bourges is still a marvel of household architecture; and René, Duke of Anjou and Count of Provence, was an excellent painter on glass, and also a poet.