Louis XI (king of France)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Louis XI (king of France)

Louis XI, 1423–83, king of France (1461–83), son and successor of Charles VII.

Early Life

As dauphin Louis was almost constantly in revolt against his father. He was pardoned after joining (1440) the Praguerie; after conspiring (1446) against Agnès Sorel and Pierre de Brézé, he was exiled to the Dauphiné, which he governed himself. His continued intrigues forced another exile (1456–61), this time to the court of Philip the Good of Burgundy.

Conflict with the Nobility

Louis began his reign by dismissing many of his father's best advisers; but he soon deserted his former allies of the Praguerie and began the task of centralizing all authority in the crown. His measures to curb the power of the great nobles aroused (1465) the League of the Public Weal, headed by Charles the Bold, son of Philip the Good; Francis II, duke of Brittany; Jean, comte du Dunois; Antoine de Chabannes; and the dukes of Alençon and Bourbon, under the nominal leadership of the king's brother Charles. The lesser nobility, the bourgeoisie, and the lower classes supported Louis, who also allied with the citizens of Liège, a Burgundian protectorate, against Charles the Bold. Louis successfully defended Paris, but in Oct., 1465, he granted the demands of the rebels in the treaties of Conflans and Saint-Maur-des-Fossés. He soon violated the treaties, taking Normandy from his brother Charles, to whom it had been granted.

In 1467 a new coalition against the king was formed by Charles the Bold, now duke of Burgundy, with Francis II; Charles also obtained the support of King Edward IV of England. When the duke of Brittany invaded Normandy, Louis arranged a truce with him. In 1468, at the expiration of the truce with Brittany, he subdued Normandy and forced Francis II to sign the Peace of Ancenis (1468). Having visited Péronne for an interview with Charles the Bold, Louis was made (1468) prisoner and forced to sign a treaty granting important concessions and compelling him to participate in suppressing the revolt of Liège, which he had helped instigate. After his release Henry involved himself in English affairs against Edward IV (see Roses, Wars of the), aiding the restoration of King Henry VI.

Conflict with the French nobles continued. The death (1472) of Louis's brother Charles removed one opponent, and after a brief campaign Louis signed truces with Francis II and Charles the Bold. Charles renewed his alliance with Edward IV, who had regained the English throne. Louis, however, succeeded in buying off Edward IV when he invaded (1475) France to aid Charles, and in uniting the enemies of Charles the Bold, among whom the Swiss were the strongest. The Swiss victories over Charles and his death (1477) at Nancy enabled Louis to take Burgundy, Picardy, Boulogne, Artois, and Franche-Comté from Charles's daughter, Mary of Burgundy. Mary's husband, Maximilian of Austria (later Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I), defeated (1479) Louis at Guinegate, but was ultimately forced to concede the Burgundian territories to Louis in the Treaty of Arras (see Arras, Treaty of). On the extinction of the house of Anjou, Louis acquired Anjou, Maine, Bar, and Provence.

Characteristics of Louis's Reign

A born diplomat, Louis skillfully checked his foreign and domestic enemies and set up an efficient central administration. He used commissions (and the one States-General he convoked) to give his acts the appearance of popular approval. He diminished the prestige of the courts. Despite his revocation (1461) of his father's pragmatic sanction of Bourges, he intervened freely in church affairs. He imposed heavy taxes, using much of the revenue to purchase support. He also encouraged industry and expanded domestic and foreign trade. Louis preferred men of humble origin, and among his advisers were Olivier Le Daim, Louis Tristan L'Hermite, and Cardinal Balue, whom he rewarded liberally, though he was niggardly in his own expenses. Fearing assassination, he spent his last years in virtual self-imprisonment near Tours. He was succeeded by his son, Charles VIII.

Bibliography

See writings of a contemporary, Comines; biographies by P. H. Champion (tr. 1929, repr. 1970), J. Cleugh (1970), and P. M. Kendall (1971).

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