Friday, January 11, 2013

King Louis' Home Government

Louis's system of repression of the nobles went on all this time. His counsellors were of low birth (Oliver le Daim, his barber, was the man he most trusted), his habits frugal, his manners reserved and ironical; he was dreaded, hated, and distrusted, and he became constantly more bitter, suspicious, and merciless. Those who fell under his displeasure were imprisoned in iron cages, or put to death; and the more turbulent families, such as the house of Armagnac, were treated with frightful severity. But his was not wanton violence.

He acted on a regular system of depressing the lawless nobility and increasing the royal authority, by bringing the power of the cities forward, by trusting for protection to the standing army, chiefly of hired Scots, Swiss, and Italians, and by saving money. By this means he was able to purchase the counties of Roussillon and Perpignan from the King of Aragon, thus making the Pyrenees his frontier, and on several occasions he made his treasury fight his battles instead of the swords of his knights. He lived in the castle of Plessis les Tours, guarded by the utmost art of fortification, and filled with hired Scottish archers of his guard, whom he preferred as defenders to his own nobles.

He was exceedingly unpopular with his nobles; but the statesman and historian, Philip de Comines, who had gone over to him from Charles of Burgundy, viewed him as the best and ablest of kings. He did much to promote trade and manufacture, improved the cities, fostered the university, and was in truth the first king since Philip Augustus who had any real sense of statesmanship. But though the burghers throve under him, and the lawless nobles were depressed, the state of the peasants was not improved; feudal rights pressed heavily on them, and they were little better than savages, ground down by burdens imposed by their lords.

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