Friday, 31 March 2017

The Universal Spider


Louis XI looms large in the history of the Touraine. He was the son of Charles VII and in his father's lifetime spent much of his energies on plotting to force his father to abdicate. He's also quite likely responsible for the death of his father's mistress, the lovely Agnès Sorel, whose tomb can be seen in Loches. He was present in 1429 when Joan of Arc came to Loches to see Charles VII after the lifting of the seige of Orléans, a major turning point in the Hundred Years War with the English.

A statue of Louis XI in Amboise, looking like he's waiting to catch a bus.

Louis was born in Bourges in 1423, but had to wait until he was 38 to get his backside on the throne. His mother was Marie, the daughter of the formidable Duchess of Anjou, Yolande of Aragon. During his youth he engaged in an uprising against his father and openly disrepected his father's mistress. As a thirteen year old he was married off to the eleven year old Margaret Stewart of Scotland. She died nine years later and when he married the eight year old Charlotte of Savoy against his father's wishes he thought it prudent to flee to his father's longtime enemy, the Duke of Burgundy, to escape the parental wrath. He never saw his father again.

A 19 century bronze statue of Louis XI in Bourges, making him look every inch the Universal Spider.

His endless intrigue and diplomatic manoeuvring gained him the nickname of 'the universal spider', the man spinning a web of spies, plots and deals throughout the kingdom and beyond. The nickname came about because of his creation of a network of postal roads and relays crisscrossing the country. Once king he enabled many reforms and freedoms which benefitted the rise of the bourgeoisie, and talent over birthright. As king he was famously miserly and fiscally prudent. When the Duke of Burgundy died, Louis seized much of his territory, including Burgundy itself and Picardie, effectively stealing Mary of Burgundy's inheritance. He meddled in English politics during the Wars of the Roses, aiding his relative Margaret of Anjou, the English queen, to form an alliance of convenience with the Earl of Warwick in order to restore the Lancastrian Henry VI to the English throne and remove the Yorkist Edward IV. The Hundred Years War ended when he paid the English to leave and France entered a period of peace and prosperity. He died in 1483, a recluse in his chateau of Plessis-lez-Tours, leaving his thirteen year old son Charles VIII to inherit a strong, stable kingdom. 

4 comments:

  1. Some people are just born rebellious. Sounds like all that energy benefited the people of France in the long run. He certainly had good-looking legs!

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    1. My impression is that he was a good king in a 'global' sense, but a nasty person and it would not have been very pleasant dealing with him as an individual. He was perfectly capable of imprisoning close associates.

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  2. The historian Barbara Tuchman says that Charles VII, aka the Universal Spider, didn't come to Joan of Arc's rescue because of embarrassment at having been aided to the throne by a village girl.

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    1. My feeling is that Charles didn't come to Joan's aid when she was captured because she had done her job by then. She wasn't the 'peasant' that she is often portrayed as these days. Her father owned property. Nevertheless, she was clearly a remarkable and charismatic person. The problem was that God had told her to save France and buck up the king. Who was to say that in the future God might tell her to oppose the king if he did something God thought was dodgy? Both Charles and Yolande sat on their hands with some relief, allowing the Burgundians and the English to remove Joan from the political sphere and leave the French guilt free but with morale boosted. The truth is that they were not in a very powerful position at that moment anyway, and likely would not have succeeding in rescuing her. I imagine Louis (the Universal Spider) was complicent. It would have suited him just as well.

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