Book Six, Chapters 3-12; Glossary

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Here I go back to the war which the King was waging in Burgundy and tell how the country was eventually conquered and totally subjected to the King
ALL this while war continued in Burgundy and the King was unable to bring it to a conclusion because the Germans were giving some assistance to the prince of Orange, the lieutenant of the Duke Maximilian and my lady of Burgundy, although they did so for the money the prince of Orange gave them and not because they supported Duke Maximilian, for nobody supported him, at least at the time about which about which I am speaking. But the soldiers were companions-in-arms from the Swiss confederation and they had an eye on the main chance, for they are never friends or well-wishers of the house of Austria. Nevertheless there would have been much help for that country if payment had been forthcoming and no one could have done this better than Duke Sigismund of Austria, Duke Maximilian’s uncle, whose lands lay close by, particularly the county of Ferrette which he had sold a few years previously to Duke Charles of Burgundy for a hundred thousand Rhenish florins and which he had then taken back again without returning the money. He still holds the county today on this basis.11 He never had good judgement nor a strong sense of honour; and in such friends one finds little help. He was one of those princes whom I spoke about elsewhere, who want to know nothing about their affairs except what it pleases their servants to tell them and who always pay for this in their old age, as Sigismund did. His servants made him adhere to the side they favoured during these wars and almost all the time he supported the King against his nephew. Ultimately he wanted to give away his inheritance, which was very extensive, to another family and deprive his own, for he had no children, although he had been married twice. But eventually, three years ago, through a different group of his servants, he conveyed all his estates from that moment to his nephew, Duke Maximilian, the present king of the Romans, whom I have mentioned, retaining only a pension of about a third [of the annual revenue] and keeping no other authority or power over them. Several times he has repented of doing this, or so I have been told. Even if that is not true, it is very probably so because such is the end of princes who live foolishly, and what makes them so worthy of blame is the great responsibility and duty God has given them in this world. Those who are crazy should not be blamed for anything, but those who have intelligence and are quite capable and who spend their time doing nothing but stupid things and being lazy cannot complain when misfortune happens to them. But those who spend time, according to their age, sometimes in deliberation and council and sometimes at feasts and entertainments, are the ones to honour and their subjects are very fortunate to have such a prince.

This war in Burgundy lasted a considerable time because of the small amount of aid from the Germans. Nevertheless the King was too powerful for them, and the Burgundians ran out of money. Garrisons one by one changed sides through subversion. On one occasion the lord of Craon, who was the King’s lieutenant, besieged Dôle, the capital of the county of Burgundy. There were not many troops inside it and he had little respect for them; misfortune also befell him. For, when the defenders made a sally, he was taken by surprise and lost some of his guns and a few men. He was dishonoured by this and incurred the King’s displeasure. The King, angry at this setback, started taking steps to replace him by another governor of Burgundy, both for this reason and for the great pillaging to which he had subjected the country, which was indeed very excessive. Yet, before he was dismissed from office, he achieved some success against a company of Germans and Burgundians in which the lord of Châteauguion, the greatest lord of Burgundy, was captured. The results of the battle were not spectacular — I am speaking about it from hearsay — but the lord of Craon gained a fine reputation from it.

As I had begun to recount, the King decided, for the reasons mentioned above, to appoint a new governor in Burgundy without any way diminishing the profits and benefits which the lord of Craon enjoyed, apart from taking away from him all the soldiers, except for six men-at-arms and twelve archers, who were left to attend him. The lord of Craon was a very fat man and easy-going, so he returned to his home where he was well provided for. The King appointed in his place Sir Charles d’Amboise, lord of Chaumont, a very valiant, wise and hard-working man. The King began to scheme to get all the Germans who were waging war against him in Burgundy to withdraw and to take them into his pay, not so much because he valued their services but in order that he might conquer the rest of the country more easily. He also sent messages to the Swiss, whom he called ‘My lords of the Leagues’, and offered them handsome terms; first twenty thousand francs a year which he would give for their profit to four towns — Berne, Lucerne, Zurich, and, I believe, Fribourg had a share, and to their three cantons (that is the villages around their mountains) — Schwyz (whose name they all bore), Soleure12 and Unterwalden, which had its share also. He further offered to give twenty thousand francs a year to certain private individuals and those he had made use of in these negotiations. He asked to be made one of their citizens and to have it in writing, and also to become their chief ally. At this point they began to make difficulties because the duke of Savoy had always been their chief ally. Yet they agreed to his demands and also to send him six thousand men for his permanent use, which he was to pay at the rate of four and a half German florins a month, and this number was always in his service up to the time of his death. A poor king would not have known how to manage this affair. Everything turned out profitably for him, although I believe that in the end it will harm the Swiss, for they have become so accustomed to money, of which they had little experience previously, and especially to gold, that they have come very near to falling out among themselves. Otherwise one would not know how to harm them, for their lands are so rugged and poor and they are such good fighters that few men have tried to attack them. When these negotiations had been concluded and all the Germans who were in Burgundy had been drawn into the employment of the King, the power of the Burugndians was reduced everywhere. And, to cut this account short, after several new exploits, carried out by the lord of Chaumont, he besieged Rochefort, a castle close to Dôle where Sir Claude de Vauldrey was, and it capitulated to him. Afterwards he besieged Dôle from which his predecessor had been repulsed and took it by storm. It was said that some of the Germans who had recently changed sides had planned to enter the town to defend it, but they had in their company so many franc-archers (who did not intend to be treacherous but only wanted to obtain booty) that when they had entered the town everyone began to pillage and the town was burnt and destroyed.13 A short time after this capture he attacked Auxonne, a very strong town, but he had good contacts in the town, and he wrote to the King for offices for some whom he named before laying siege to it. These were willingly granted to him. Even though I was not on the spot where these things were done, I learnt about them from what was reported to the King and from the letters that were written about them to him, which I saw, and to which I often had to write the replies on the King’s orders.

There were few troops at Auxonne and their leaders agreed with the lord of Chaumont, the governor, to deliver the town to him after five or six days.14 So there was nothing more to do in Burgundy but to capture three or four castles, perched on rocks, like Joux, and to obtain the submission of Besançon, which is an Imperial town and owes nothing or very little to the county of Burgundy. But because it is an enclave in the county it obeys the ruler of the county. The governor entered the town on the King’s behalf and the citizens performed the homage they had been accustomed to do to the other princes who had possessed Burgundy and then he left it. So Burgundy, where the governor had performed his duties so well, was completely conquered. But the King kept a very strict watch on him and was afraid lest the governor might continue to find some rebellious place ot other in the country, so that there would be more for him to do and the King would not be able to recall him from there to serve somewhere else. For the land of Burgundy was fertile and he treated it like his own. Both the lord of Craon, whom I have spoke about, and the governor, the lord of Chaumont, made their fortunes there. For a while the country remained peaceful under the rule of the lord of Chaumont. Nevertheless some places, such as Beaune, Semur, Verdun15 and others rebelled afterwards, whilst I was there. (I was present there because the King had sent me with the pensioners of his household and ever since then this tradition has been continued up to the present time.) These places were recaptured through the governor’s good sense and conduct and through the difference there is between men, which derives from God, for He gives the wisest the cause He wants to support, or at least, He gives the ruler sense to choose them and He has clearly shown and demonstrated up to the present that in all matters He had wanted to support our King, both our late good master as well as the present one, although sometimes He has caused them difficulties.

The men who lost these places were sufficiently numerous [to resist] had they promptly placed themselves in the towns which had rebelled and revolted on their behalf, but they allowed the governor time to gather his troops, which they should not have done, for they knew well enough what his resources were, and what support the country would give them. They should have thrown themselves into Beaune, which is a strong town, and they could have guarded that, though not the others.

The very day the governor, fully informed of their position, took the field to lay siege to a troublesome little town called Verdun,16 they themselves entered it, hoping to go on to reinforce Beaune. In all they numbered about six hundred chosen men on horseback and on foot. They were Germans from the county of Ferrette under the leadership of some wise Burgundian gentlemen, of whom Simon de Quingey was one. They stopped just at the time when they should have pressed on to enter Beaune, which would have been impregnable if they had once entered it. Lacking good advice, they stayed a night too long. They were besieged there and overwhelmed by the attack. Afterwards Beaune was besieged and completely recovered. Ever since then the enemy has been unable to build up its strength in Burgundy.

At that time I was in Burgundy with the King’s pensioners, as I mentioned before, and the King made me leave because someone wrote a letter to him saying that I had spared some of the burgesses of Dijon in the billeting of the troops. That, and some other small suspicion, was the reason why he suddenly sent me to Florence. I obeyed, as it was right to do, and left as soon as I had received his letters.

  1. Duke Sigismund died on 4 March 1496.
  2. In fact, Uri.
  3. Dôle was taken in May 1479.
  4. 4 June 1479.
  5. Verdun added from MS. P.
  6. Verdun-sur-le-Doubs, arr. Châlon-sur-Saône, dép. Saône-et-Loire.

Here the author tells how he was sent to Florence by the King because of a dispute between the families of the Medici and the Pazzi
THE King sent me [to Florence] because there was a dispute between two very powerful and well-known families. One was the Medici family. The other, the Pazzi family, was supported by the Pope17 and King Ferrante of Naples, and had tried to kill Lorenzo dei Medici and all his followers. Nevertheless although they failed to kill Lorenzo, they did kill his brother, Guiliano dei Medici and Franceschino Nori, a servant of the Medici family, who threw himself in front of Guiliano, in Florence cathedral. Lorenzo was badly wounded and withdrew to the [north] sacristy of the church, the copper doors of which had been made on the orders of his father. A servant, whose release from prison he had obtained two days earlier, served him extremely well in this crisis, receiving several wounds from blows aimed at Lorenzo. And all this took place whilst High Mass was being sung. Those who had been ordered to do the killing had been given the signal to do so when the priest celebrating the High Mass sang the Sanctus.

Things did not turn out as the conspirators had intended. For thinking that they had succeeded completely, some of them ran to the Palazzo [Pubblico] hoping to kill all the members of the Signoria who were there. (These men, nine in all, are elected every three months and they control all the administration of the city.) But the conspirators were followed by a few others and when they were climbing the stairs of the Palazzo a door behind them was closed. When they reached the top they found they numbered only four or five and were in such a state that they were at a loss for words. The members of the Signoria who were up there, and who had already heard Mass together with their servants, looking out the windows, could see the disturbance in the town and Jacopo dei Pazzi and others shouting out in the square in front of the Palazzo, ‘Liberty, liberty’ and ‘People, people,’ which were the words they hoped would stir up the people to side with them. But the people refused to riot and kept calm. So Pazzi and his friends fled from the square, frustrated in their plans. When they saw this the magistrates or governors of the town, whom I have mentioned as being in the Palazzo, at that moment captured five or six who had come upstairs intending to kill them in order to take over the city’s government. Without leaving the building they immediately had the prisoners hung from the bars of the windows of the Palazzo and thereby strangled them. Among those hanged was the archbishop of Pisa [Francesco Salviati].

The members of the Signoria, seeing that all the town had declared for them and the Medici, sent orders straight away to the crossing places for the arrest and return to them of anyone found fleeing. Jacopo dei Pazzi was taken within the hour, together with a man who had been sent by Pope Sixtus to command a body of troops under Count Girolamo [Riario], who was also a party to the conspiracy. Pazzi was immediately hanged with the others from the windows. The other man, the papal servant, had his head cut off and several others, captured in the town, were hanged without delay, including Francesco dei Pazzi. I think that in all about fourteen important people were hanged and some insignificant servants were killed in the town.18

A few days after the event I arrived in Florence on the King’s bahelf. I had hardly stopped since leaving Burgundy until I got there, for I only stayed with my lady of Savoy (our King’s sister) for two or three days, despite the fine welcome that she gave me. From there I went to Milan where similarly I only stayed two or three days to ask them for soldiers to help the Florentines, who were their allies at the time. They generously agreed to do this, both at the King’s request and in order to fulfil their obligations. At that time they provided three hundred men-at-arms, and later they sent still more.

To bring this account to a conclusion, the Pope excommunicated the Florentines immediately after these events and also sent the biggest possible army that he and the king of Naples could muster. It was a magnificent and large army, containing many noble soldiers. They laid siege to La Castellina, close to Siena, and took it and several other places. It was only by a stroke of good luck that the Florentines were not completely defeated, because they had been at peace for a long time and did not fully realize their danger. Lorenzo dei Medici, who was the leading figure in the city, was a young man and ruled with young men, although his own opinion carried much weight. They had few leaders and their army was very small.

The duke of Urbino,19 a very wise man and good captain, was in charge of the forces of the Pope and the king of Naples. Also present were Lord Roberto [Malatesta] of Rimini (who has since become a powerful figure) and Constanzio [Sforza], lord of Pesaro, and several others, together with two of the king’s sons, the duke of Calabria and Don Federigo, both of whom are still alive, and a great number of noblemen. So they took all the places that they besieged, though not as quickly as we do in this country, because they are not so expert at laying out a camp and organizing it, although in turn, they know better how to provide food and other necessary supplies for keeping an army in the field.

The King’s support helped the Florentines a little, but not as much as I would have liked, because I had no army with which to help them, but only my retinue. I stayed at Florence, or in Florentine territory, for two months,20 and was so well treated by them at their own expense that I was receiving better treatment on the last day of my stay than on the first. I was then ordered to return by the King, and whilst passing through Milan I received from the present duke of Milan, Giangaleazzo [Maria Sforza],21 his homage for the duchy of Genoa. Or at least, my lady, his mother,22 did homage to me, as the King’s representative, on his behalf. And from there I returned to the King, who made me very welcome and took me more deeply into his confidence than ever before. I used to sleep with him, although I was not worthy to do so and there were many more worthy than I. But he was so clever that nobody could fail [to succeed], provided they obeyed his orders implicitly and did not try to add anything of their own to them.

  1. Sixtus IV, 1471-84.
  2. About eighty people, including the victims of mob violence, were killed.
  3. Federigo di Montefeltro, duke of Urbino 1444-82.
  4. All MSS. read ung an. Commynes stayed at Florence from the end of June till that last week in August 1478.
  5. Duke of Milan 1476-94.
  6. Bonna of Savoy, widow of Duke Galeazzo Maria of Milan, died 1503, cf. Introduction.

Louis XI and Maximilian of Austria

i Here I return to the affairs of the kingdom and the battle of Guinegatte

I FOUND our master had aged a little and was becoming prone to sickness. Yet this was not apparent immediately and he dispatched all this business with immennse prudence. The war in Picardy, which concerned him a great deal, was still going on. Also his enemies in the district were still set on it, if they could have got control of Picardy. The duke of Austria (the present king of the Romans), having the Flemings at his command that year, came to besiege Thêrouane. And my lord of Cordes, the King’s lieutenant in Picardy, collected all the forces the King had in that province from all the frontier posts and eight thousand franc-archers to go the assistance and defence of the town. As soon as the duke of Austria learnt of his approach, he raised the siege and marched towards him. They met each other at a place called Guinegatte. With the duke were a large number of men from Flanders, twenty thousand or more, as well as a few Germans and three hundred English under the leadership of Sir Thomas Aurigan, an English knight who had served Duke Charles of Burgundy.

The King’s cavalry, which was very much more numerous than the enemy’s, defeated the duke’s cavalry and pursued it and its commander, Philip, lord of Ravenstein, as far as Aire. The duke fought alongside his infantry. On the King’s side there were a good eleven or twelve hundred men-at-arms from the ordonnance companies of the army. Not everyone took part in the pursuit but both my lord of Cordes, who was the commander, and my lord of Torcy did. And altough it was a very gallant thing to do, it is not the place of commanders of the vanguard to pursue. Some withdrew on the excuse that they were going to guard their own towns, others simply fled with a clear conscience. The duke’s infantry did not take to flight at all, even though this got them into difficulties, but they had with them on foot two hundred noblemen of quality who led them; these included my lord of Romont,23 a member of the house of Savoy, and [Engilbert] count of Nassau, and several others who are still alive. The bravery of these men held the rest together, which was a remarkable feat, considering that they had seen their cavalry flee. The King’s franc-archers started pillaging the duke’s baggage wagons and those who followed them, the victuallers and suchlike. They, in turn, were attacked by some of the duke’s foot soldiers who killed some of them. On the duke’s side there were heavier losses, both among those slain and those captured, than on our side but he retained possession of the field. And I believe that had he been advised to return to Thêrouanne he would not have found a soul there, nor at Arras. Yet he did not dare to do so, which was his loss. But in such cases one is not always well informed about essential matters and the duke, for his part, also had some grounds for fear. I speak only from hearsay for I was not present, but in order to continue my narrative I must say a little more.

I was with the King when the news arrived and he was very grieved at it; he was not used to losing but had been so fortunate in his affairs that he thought things always went according to his wishes. Indeed his good sense had helped him to achieve success because he never risked anything and never hankered after battles — nor was this one waged at his command. He made his armies so big that there were few princes who could fight them and he supplied them with better artillery than any previous King of France. He also tried to take places by surprise, especially those which he knew to be badly provided for, and when he had captured them he placed in them so many troops and guns that it was impossible to recapture them from him. If they had in them some captain or other who would be prepared to deliver the place in return for money and would bargain with him, he could be sure that he had found a merchant and no one should have been afraid to demand a large sum from the King because he would generously agree to24 what was demanded, or most of it.

He was alarmed to begin with by news of this battle, thinking that he had not been told the truth and that it was a complete disaster, for he knew well that if it was he would have lost everything he had conquered from the house of Burgundy, in those marches and the rest would hang in the balance. Yet, when he knew the truth, he calmed down and decided to arrange things in such a way that in future such exploits would not be undertaken without his knowledge. And he was very pleased with my lord of Cordes.

ii How after the battle of Guinegatte the King decided to make peace with the archduke of Austria and the princess of Burgundy, his wife, and the means he used to begin to negotiate the marriage of the Dauphin and my lady Marguerite, their daughter

From the moment he decided to treat with the duke of Austria, provided he could make it to his own advantage and that in doing so he could curb the duke so well by means of his own subjects (whom he knew to be favourable to what he was seeking) that he would never be able to harm him.

During this period the King had a very strong personal desire, on which his heart was set, to bring about great reforms in this kingdom, especially with regard to the length of legal processes and, on this point, to limit the powers of the court of Parlement, though not to diminish its authority or numbers, but he had in mind several matters which made him hate it. He also very much desired that one law and one system of measures should be used throughout the kingdom and that all local customs should be translated into French in one large book in order to avoid the sharp practices and frauds on the part of lawyers which were more excessive in this kingdom than in any other, as the nobles know to their cost. If God had allowed him to live for another five or six years, without suffering too much from sickness, he would have done much to benefit his kingdom. He had also taxed his subjects more than any of his predecessors. No one, no matter what his position or influence, would have known how to persuade the King to lighten this, so it was necessary that he himself should take this step, as he would have done had God saved him from illness. For this reason it is better to do good whilst one has the opportunity and God grants health.

The agreement which the King wanted to make with the duke of Austria, his wife25and their lands, was, through the mediation of the men of Ghent, to arrange a marriage between my lord the Dauphin, his son, the present King, and the daughter of the duke and duchess and, by this means, to get them to leave him the counties of Burgundy, Auxerre, Mâcon and Charolais, whilst giving them Artois, yet retaining the citadel of Arras in the condition he had established it (for the town was worth nothing now that the citadel had been enclosed and there were deep ditches and high walls between them). So the citadel was fully enclosed and held for the King by the bishop. But the princes of the house of Burgundy had always (or at least for the last hundred years) nominated a bishop and a captain of the citadel who suited them. The King did the opposite to increase his authority, knocking down the town walls and building up those of the citadel, for the citadel was closed against the town and there were huge ditches between the two. In this way the King gave away nothing [in the treaty].

No mention was made of either the duchy of Burgundy or the county of Boulogne or, similarly, of the towns along the river Somme and the castelanies of Péronne, Roye and Montdidier. So the proposals were made and the men of Ghent were very favourably inclined to them and acted most disrespectfully towards their duke and his wife, the duchess. And some of the other towns of Flanders and Brabant also favoured their way of thinking, in particular, Brussels, which is a remarkable thing seeing that Dukes Philip and Charles of Burgundy had always lived there and the duke and duchess of Austria were still keeping their court there. But the easy and pleasurable lives they had led under the rule of these princes had made them forget God and their master and had brought down on them the misfortunes which have since befallen them, as you have seen.

  1. Jacques de Savoie, count of Romont, d. 1486.
  2. Following phrase added from MS. P.
  3. ‘his wife’ added from MS. P.

[The illness of Louis XI and the death of the duchess of Burgundy]

i How the King fell extremely ill, losing the powers of speech and recognition for a while

IN March 1479 truces between the two parties were arranged and the King wanted peace, especially in this region I have been talking about, as long as this was entirely to his advantage, as I explained. Already he was beginning to grow old and become sick and whilst he was at Forges near Chinon, eating his dinner, he had a stroke and he lost the power of speech. He was carried from the table and placed close to the fire and the windows were shut. Although he tried to reach them he was prevented from doing so by those who thought it for the best. It was in March 147926 that he became ill. He entirely lost his powers of speech, recognition and memory.

Within an hour you, my lord of Vienne, arrived, since at that time you were his doctor. And straight away he was given a purgative and you ordered the windows to be opened and air to be given to him. Immediately he recovered his powers of speech and reason a little. Then he got on horseback and returned to Forges, for this illness came upon him while he was in a small parish a quarter of a league from there where he had gone to hear Mass. The King was well looked after and he indicated what he wanted to say by signs. Among other things he asked for the official of Tours to receive his confession and made signs that I should be sent for, because I had gone to Argenton which was some ten leagues from there. When I arrived I found him sititng at a table with Master Adam Fumée, who had previously been King Charles’s doctor and was at this time a maître des requêtes.27 Another doctor was also present — Master Claude [de Molins]. The King understood very little of what was said to him, but he did not feel any pain. He made signs to me that I should sleep in his room; he could scarcely say anything. I helped him for fifteen days both at table and about his person as a chamber valet, which I considered a great honour, and I was highly respected for this.

After two or three days, his powers of speech and reason began to come back and he considered that no one could understand him as well as I could, for which reason he always wanted to keep me close to him. He confessed to the official in my presence because otherwise they could not have understood each other. He did not have anything of importance to say since he had been confessed a few days before. Whenever the kings of France wish to touch sufferers from scrofula28 they confess, and our King never failed to do this once a week. If other princes do not do it they act wrongly because there are always many sick.29 When he felt a little better he began to inquire who had held him down by force and prevented him from reaching the window. He was told. Immediately he dismissed them all from his household. He took away the positions of some of them and refused to see them again. From others, like [Jacques d’Espinay] my lord of Segré, and Gilbert de Grassay, lord of Chapéeroux, he did not take anything but he banished them.

Many were amazed by this strange behaviour. They condemned his conduct and said that they had done this for the best, and they spoke the truth. But the imaginations of princes are strange and not all those who talk about them can understand them. There was nothing which Louis, a powerful man, feared more than losing control so that no one would obey him in anything.

On the other hand, his father King Charles, when he caught the illness which killed him, imagined that someone was trying to poison him at his son’s request and became so suspicious that he would no longer eat. For this reason his doctors and his greatest and closest councillors advised that he should be forced to eat. So this was done through the careful deliberation and planning of those who served him, and broth was forced into his mouth. A short time after this outrage King Charles died. King Louis, who all the while had condemned the course of action, took it very much to heart because he had been held down by force, although he made more fuss about it then he really felt. His principal reason for doing so was his fear that he might be overruled, amongst other things in the direction of his government, on the excuse that his reason was not sound.

When he had treated all those people I mentioned in this remarkable fashion, he inquired about the council’s activities and the dispatches which had been sent during the ten or twelve days when the bishop of Albi, his brother, the governor of Burgundy,30 Marshal Gié and the lord of Lude had been in charge. For these men were present when he was taken ill and were all accommodated in two small rooms which were under his chamber. He wanted the letters which had arrived and those which were arriving all the time. He was shown the principal ones and I read them to him. He pretended to understand them, picking them up and making a show of reading them, although he had no idea what was in them, and in reply he spoke a few words or signified what he wanted to be done.

We did little to speed business whilst we waited for his illness to end, because he was master for whom one had to plough a straight furrow. He was ill for about a fortnight and then he fully recovered his previous powers of speech and reason, though he remained weak and was afraid of becoming ill again, for, naturally, he was reluctant to believe his doctor’s opinions.

As soon as he was well he released Cardinal Balue, whom he had held a prisoner for fourteen years, as he had been asked to do on many occasions by the apostolic see and others, and in the end he requested and obtained a writ of absolution for this, sent from our holy father the Pope. When this illness struck him, those who were with him at the time thought that he was dead and they authorized several mandates cancelling a very excessive and cruel tax, which he had just levied on the advice of my lord of Cordes, his lieutenant in Picardy, for the maintenance of a force of twenty thousand paid infantry and two thousand five hundred pioneers (these men were called ‘men of the camp’). He had also ordered fifteen hundred men-at-arms from his ordonnance companies to fight on foot with them whenever it was necessary, and had had a large number of carts constructed to enclose them, together with tents of all sizes. He got this idea from the duke of Burgundy’s army. And this camp [at Famechon, near Arras] was costing a million and a half francs a year. When the force was ready he went to review it, drawn up on a fine plain close to Pont-de-l’Arche in Normandy. The six thousand Swiss whom I mentioned were there too. He only ever inspected them once and then returned to Tours, where his illness struck him again. Once more he lost his speech and for a good two hours he was thought to be dead. He was in a gallery, lying on a straw bed, and there were several people with him.

My lord of Bouchage and I prayed to Saint-Claude on his behalf, as did all the others who were present. Straight away his speech came back and within an hour he was walking up and down in the house, but he was very weak. This second attack occurred in 1481 but he still went round the country as before. He stayed with me at Argenton for a month and he was very seriously ill there and then went to Thouars where he was similarly sick. He then undertook a journey to Saint-Claude [in the Jura], to whom he had been commended as you heard.

He sent me to Savoy, when he left Thouars, to oppose the lords of La Chambre, Miolans and Bresse, although secretly he favoured them because they had captured the lord of Illins in Dauphiné who he had sent to control his nephew, Duke Philibert. He dispatched after me a troop of men-at-arms which I led to Mâcon against my lord of Bresse. Nevertheless he and I came to a secret accord and he captured the lord of La Chambre, whilst he was sleeping with the duke, who was in Turin in Piedmont, and then let let me know. Immediately I made the men-at-arms withdraw, for he brought the duke of Savoy to Grenoble where my lord, the Marshal of Burgundy, the marquis of Rothelin and myself went to receive him. I was astonished to see him looking so thin and worn and I was amazed that he could still travel around the country. But his great spirit bore him up.

ii How the King, on his way to Saint-Claude, received the news of the death of the princess of Burgundy, wife of the archduke of Austria, and how he continued to negotiate the marriage between my lord the Dauphin and my lady Margeuerite of Flanders

At Beaujeu the King received letters saying that the duchess of Austria had died as the result of a fall, for she used to ride a fiery little horse. He had thrown her and she had fallen on a large log. Some said it was not the fall but a fever [that killed her]. But whatever it may have been she died a few days after the fall and it was a bitter blow to her subjects and friends because never since then have they enjoyed good fortune or peace. For the people of Ghent and other towns respected her far more than they did her husband because she was the lady of the country. This happened in 1482. The King, who was overjoyed by it, told me this news and also that her two children remained under the control of the men of Ghent, whom the King knew to be inclined towards causing troubles and disturbances against the house of Burgundy. The King thought the time was ripe, since the duke of Austria was young and because his father, the Emperor, was still alive. He, a foreigner, was involved in war on all sides and the Emperor was extremely mean. From that moment the King began to intrigue with the leading men of Ghent through my lord of Cordes and to negotiate for the marriage of his son, my lord the Dauphin, with Marguerite, the daughter of the duke, our present Queen.31 Approaches were made, above all, to a pensioner of the town called Guillaume Rim, a crafty and malicious man, and to another called [Jan van] Coppenhole, clerk to the aldermen, who was a hosier and had a great reputation among the townspeople, for there are plenty of such men when the citizens are so unruly.

iii How the King, on returning from Saint-Calude, went to Tours and stayed at Plessis where his illness became more severe and where few people saw him, and about the suspicions and fears which he entertained during his last days when he saw he was prone to sickness, and how he lived at Plessis

The King returned to Tours and so shut himself away that few people ever saw him. He became remarkably suspicious and fearful of everybody, in case anyone should take away or seek to diminish his authority. He drove away all his usual servants, even those who had been closest to him, though he took nothing away from them so that they went to fulfil their offices and duties or to their homes. But this state of affairs did not last long, for he died shortly afterwards. He did many strange things which those who did understand him considered devoid of reason, but they did not know him. As for being suspicious, all powerful princes are, especially wise ones and those who have numerous enemies and have offended many as he had. Moreover he knew well enough that he was not loved by the leading figures in the kingdom, nor, indeed by many of the common people, and that he had taxed his subjects more heavily than any previous king, even though he wanted to lighten the burden, as I said. But he should have begun to do so sooner.

King Charles VII was the first (through the assistance of several good and wise knights who had helped him and served him in his conquest of Normandy and Guyenne which the English had held) who gained the right to impose taxes on his country at will, without the consent of the Estates of his kingdom. And at that time there was good reason for this, both for the garrisoning of the reconquered districts and for ridding the realm of the companies of soldiers who were pillaging it. The lords of France agreed to this in return for certain pensions which they were promised in exchange for the money which was raised on their lands. If the King had continued to live and those who were then in his council had remained there, this scheme [for diminishing taxation] would have been far advanced by now. But considering what has already happened and will, in all likelihood, occur, the King had heavily charged his own soul and those of his successors and inflicted a cruel wound on his kingdom which will long bleed, by establishing, after the manner of the Italian lords, this terrible burden of a standing army.

Charles VII, at the time of his death, used to raise in all 1,800,00 francs from his kingdom. His soldiers consisted of about seventeen hundred men-at-arms in the ordonnance companies who maintained order by guarding the provinces of his kingdom, yet for a long time before his death they had not ridden around the country, which was a great relief to the people. At the time of our master’s death he was receiving 4,700,000 francs and he had some four or five thousand men-at-arms and more than twenty-five thousand infantry, either in camp or mortes-payes.32 Thus it is no wonder he had several worries and fantasies and that he thought he was not well liked. Although, among those whom he had brought up and who had received favours from him, he would have found a great number who would have died before betraying him.

At first hardly anyone entered Plessis-du-Parc, which was the place where he stayed, apart from domestic servants and archers of whom he had four hundred, who in good numbers mounted the watch each day, patrolled round the place and guarded the gate. No lord or important person stayed inside, nor did many lords ever enter it. Nobody came except my lord of Beuajeu, the present duke of Bourbon, who was his son-in-law. All round Plessis he had a trellis of great iron bars set up and many-pointed spikes were planted in the walls at places where one could have got in from the moat. He also had four movable iron sentry boxes, called friars, made. They were pierced with holes through which one could shoot at leisure. This was a notable achievement which cost more than twenty thousand francs. And finally he positioned forty crossbowmen, both day and night, in the moat with orders to shoot anyone who approached at night before the gate had been opened in the morning. He thought, moreover, that his subjects were anxious to take over control as soon as they saw that the right moment had come. Indeed, some had discussed entering Plessis and expediting matters as they saw fit, because nothing was being attended to, but they dared not do so and they acted wisely, for he had taken good precautions. He changed his chamber valets and all the other officers often saying that fear of him and his reputation would be enhanced by doing these extraordinary things.33 One or two men stayed close to him in there in the hope of gaining influence, but they were men of low estate with poor reputations who, if they had been wiser, would have seen that as soon as he was dead the least that would happen to them would be dismissal from their positions, and that is what happened. They told him nothing of whatever was written or reported to them, unless it concerned the preservation of the state and the defence of the kingdom for nothing else bothered him. He was at this time at peace or at truce with everybody. He gave ten thousand crowns every month to his doctor, who received fifty-four thousand crowns in five months.

He34 committed his hopes for life to God and the saints, recognizing that without a miracle he could scarcely continue to live. And, remembering that our Lord extended the lives of some kings because of their own humility and repentance and because of the prayers of certain holy prophets, our King, who in humility surpassed all other princes of the world, sought out a religious or man of good life who lived austerely, so that he might mediate between God and Louis to lengthen his days. Everywhere such men were pointed out and he contacted several of them. Some came to speak with him and he talked only about prolonging his life. The majority of them wisely answered that they did not possess the power to do this. He offered great gifts [to the Church]; too large, according to the archbishop of Tours,35 a Franciscan and cardinal of holy and good life. He wrote to the King and told him, among other things, that it would be better if he took away the money from the canons of the churches to which he gave his great gifts and gave it to the poor labourers and others who paid these heavy taxes, rather than raising it from them to give to these rich churches and canons. In the course of a year donations from his vows, his offerings, his reliquaries and his shrines easily exceeded seven hundred thousand francs. They included the silver grille at St. Martin’s at Tours, which weighed nearly eighteen thousand silver marks, the shrine of Saint Eutropius at Saintes and other reliquaries which he gave to the Three Kings at Cologne, to Our Lady of Aix [la-Chapelle] in Germany, to Saint Servius at Utrecht, and to the shrine of San Bernadino at Aquila in the kingdom of Naples, and the golden chalices sent to St. John Lateran at Rome as well as several other presents, both gold and silver, given to churches in his kingdom. He also gave extensive lands to the Church but these gifts were not permanent; the Church already had too much.

  1. MS. reads 1480. Kendall, Louis XI, p. 383, argues for 1481.
  2. Maître des requêtes: see Glossary.
  3. Popularly known as the King’s Evil.
  4. This sentence from MSS. B., P. and M.
  5. Louis and Charles d’Amboise.
  6. Introduction Footnote 5, Chapter 6, Part ii, and Book 6, Chapter 11.
  7. Mortes-payes: companies of troops, less well armed and paid at lower rates then the regular ordonnance companies (see Glossary).
  8. MS. P. reads ‘saying that nature rejoices in novelites’.
  9. This paragraph, apart from the last sentence, from MS. P.
  10. Hélie de Bourdeille, archbishop of Tours, 1468-84.

[The visit of Francesco de Paulo to Louis XI]
AMONG the men renowned for their holiness, he sent for a man who lived in Calabria called Brother Francis.36 The King called him ‘the Holy Man’ because of his holy life and the present King built, in his honour, a monastery at Plessis-du-Parc, in exchange for the chapel close to Plessis at the end of the bridge. This hermit had lived in a cave from the age of twelve until he was forty-three years old37 or thereabouts, when the King sent a steward of his household [Guy de Lauzi&232;res] in the company of the prince of Taranto, son of the king of Naples, to fetch him, because he did not want to leave without permission from the Pope or his king, which was a sign of wisdom in this simple man who had built two churches in the land of the Moors. From the start of this austere life and ever since he has never eaten meat or fish, eggs, milk or any fat. I do not think I have ever seen a man living such a holy life nor one through whom he Holy Spirit seemed to speak more clearly, for he was literate although he had never been to school; though it is true his Italian tongue helped him. The hermit passed through Naples where he was fêted and visited as much as a great apostolic legate, both by the king of Naples and by his children, and he talked with them like a natural-born courtier. From there he went to Rome where he was visited by all the caardinals. He had three audiences alone with the Pope, sitting next to him on a beautiful throne for three or four hours each time, which was a great honour for such an unimportant man. He answered so wisely that everyone was astonished. Our Holy Father allowed him to found an order called the Hermits of St. Francis. From there he came to the King who honoured him as much as if he had been the Pope himself, going down on his knees before him and beseeching38 him to pray to God on his behalf that it might please Him to prolong his life. He replied as a wise man should reply. I have often heard him preaching to the present King [Charles VIII] and all the great men of the kingdom and even as recently as two months ago. He appeared to be inspired by God in what he said and advised; otherwise he could never have known about the things of which he talked. He is still alive and he could therefore change for the better or worse, so I will say no more. Several joked about the arrival of this hermit whom they called the Holy Man, but they were not informed about this wise King’s thoughts nor did they know the reasons which induced him to do it.

The King was at Plessis with few companions, except archers, where he entertained the suspicions I have mentioned, against which he had taken good precautions, for he left no one in the town of Tours or in the countryside around of whom he had any suspicion, but he made them withdraw a long way from him and sent his archers to accompany them and conduct them away. No one spoke to him except about the really important matters which concerned him. Looking at him he seemed more dead than alive, and nobody would have believed how thin he was. He dressed more sumputuously than ever before and he wore only crimson satin robes trimmed with fine martens’ fur, quite a few of which he gave away without being asked to do so, for nobody would have dared to ask him for them. In order to be feared he ordered harsh punishments because he was afraid of losing people’s obedience, for he told me so himself. He replaced officers and disbanded troops, he cut down pensions or stopped them entirely, and he told me, a few days before his death, that he spent his time making and unmaking people. And he made himself more talked about in his kingdom than he had ever been; he did this for fear lest he be thought dead. For, as I have said several times, few people saw him. But when they heard what he was doing all were anxious and could scarcely believe he was sick. He sent men off in all directions outside the kingdom. To promote the marriage with England he promptly paid King Edward and the other Englishmen what he had granted them. In Spain it was friendship and fair words with presents for all. Everywhere he had good horses or mules bought, whatever the cost, or at least in those countries where he wanted them to think he was well, though not in this kingdom. At great expense he sent for dogs from every quarter; mastiffs from Spain, small greyhound bitches, greyhounds and spaniels from Brittany, small shaggy dogs from Valencia, all of which he bought more dearly than people usually like to sell them. He sent especailly to Sicily for a mule from a certain officer of the country and paid him double its value. In Naples he bought horses and strange animals from all over the place, such as kind of small wolf,39 called a jackel, from Barbary, which was larger than a small fox. To Denmark he sent for two kinds of animals, one called an elk which has the body of a stag, is as large as a wild ox and has thick short horns. The other was a reindeer, which is like a fallow deer in body and colour but had much larger antlers, for I have seen a reindeer with fifty-four points. For six each of these animals he paid the merchants four thousand five hundred German florins. When all these animals were brought to him he did not count the cost nor, in the majority of cases, did he even speak to those who had brought them. And so, in short, he did many similar things so that he was more feared by his neighbours and subjects than he had ever been, for that was his intention and he did it for that reason.

  1. All MSS. read Robert.
  2. In fact he was sixty-six.
  3. ‘beseeching…behalf’ added from other MSS.
  4. Some MSS. real lion.

How the marriage was arranged and concluded between my lord the Dauphin and my lady Marguerite of Flanders and how she was brought to France
TO return to our principal purpose and the chief conclusion of all these memoirs; it is necessary to deal with the conclusion of the marriage treaty made between the present King, at that time called my lord the Dauphin, and the daughter of the duke and duchess of Austria, through the mediation of the men of Ghent and to the great displeasure of King Edward of England, who found himself deluded in his hopes for a marriage between his daughter and the Dauphin; a marriage which he and his wife, the queen, had desired above everything else in this world and they had never wanted to believe anyone, whether their subject or not, who warned them to the contrary. For the English council had protested to him several times when the King was conquering Picardy, close to Calais, and told Edward that when he had conquered that he would capture Calais and Guines. The ambassadors, who were constantly in England representing the duke and duchess of Austria, the Bretons and others, told him the same thing, but he did not believe any of it. My opinion is that he acted thus not so much out of ignorance as out of avarice, so that he might not lose the fifty thousand crowns the King used to give him nor have to leave the pleasures and delights to which he was very addicted.

A council was held one day at Alost in Flanders about this marriage, at which the duke of Austria, the present king of the Romans, and deputies from the Three Estates of Flanders, Brabant and other lands belonging to the duke and his children, were present. The men of Ghent did several things contrary to the duke’s wishes, such as banishing certain people, dismissing men from his son’s entourage and then telling him they wished this marriage about which I have spoken, to take place so they might have peace. They made him agree to it whether he wanted to nor not. He was very young and poorly provided with men of great discretion, for all of them, except for an insignifcant few, in the house of Burgundy had either died or come over to us. I simply mean by that important figures who would have known how to advise and help him. For his part he had come [to Flanders] poorly accompanied and then after losing his wife, who was the country’s princess, he did not dare to speak as boldly as he had done on previous occasions. To cut this account short, the King was informed of all this by the lord of Cordes and it pleased him very much. A day was set aside for bringing the daughter to him at Hesdin.

A few days before this (this was in 148240 Aire had been delivered to the lord of Cordes by the lord of Cohen in the county of Artois for a sum of money. He had held the town, which was a very strong one in Artois, for the duke of Austria and his captain, the lord of B&232;vres, and its surrender helped the Flemings a great deal to carry out their plans because it was situated on the frontiers of their territory. And although they wanted to weaken their prince they did not want to do the same to the frontier nor have the King so close to them.

When these things were agreed, as I said, the ambassadors of Flanders and Brabant came to the King. But all depended on the men of Ghent because of their strength and because they held the children in their power, and also they were always prepared to be the first to begin a disturbance. Some knights representing the king of the Romans also came. They were young like him and poorly advised, seeking peace for their country; Sir Jean de Berghes [lord of Cohen] was one and Sir Baudouin de Lannoy another, as well as a secretary.

The King was already very weak and it was only with the greatest reluctance that he allowed himself to be seen. He made a considerable fuss about swearing to the treaty completed over this matter, though it was because he wanted to avoid being seen. Nevertheless he swore to the terms, which were very advantageous to him, since he had several times wanted this marriage, together with only the county of Artois or the county of Burgundy, and lords of Ghent (as he called them) delivered both of them to him as well as the counties of Charolais, Mâcon and Auxerre. And if they could have delivered to him those of Hainault and Namur and all the French-speaking subjects of this house they would have willingly done so to weaken their lord.

The King, our master, was very wise and understood well enough the position of a count of Flanders who did not hold the county of Artois. For this county was situated between the King of France and the Flemings and could act as a bridle for them, because he could draw from it good troops to help punish them when they committed foolish acts and, by taking the county of Artois away from the count of Flanders, he would leave him the poorest lord in the world without any authority, except what the men of Ghent were pleased to allow him. The principal members of the embassy I mentioned were Guillaume Rim and Coppenhole, the governor of Ghent, as I said before. After the return of the embassy, the daughter was brought to Hesdin and handed to my lord of Cordes. This was in 1483. My lady of Ravenstein, a bastard daughter of the late Duke Philip of Burgundy, brought her and she was received by the present lord and lady of Bourbon, the lord of Albret and other representatives of the King, and they brought her to Amboise where my lord the Dauphin was living.

If the duke of Austria could have taken her away from her escort he would willingly have done so before she left his territories, but the men of Ghent accompanied her in large numbers and he had also begun to lose all authority. Many people joined the Gantois simply because they held his son and they dismissed or appointed his servants as they liked. Among those who stayed with him was the lord of Ravenstein, brother of the duke of Clèves. He was the principal governor of the child, Duke Philip. He is still allive and expects a vast inheritance if God grants him a long life.41

Whoever else was pleased by this marriage, the king of England was bitterly upset, for he felt greatly disgraced and mocked by it and feared very much that he would lose his pension (or tribute as the English called it) from the King. He was also afraid that contempt for him in England would be so great that there would be a rebellion against him, especially because he had refused to believe his advisers. He saw our King very much strengthened and much closer to him. This grieved him so much that as soon as he received news of the marriage, he fell ill and died shortly afterwards, though some said it was of apoplexy. Whatever it was, the grief brought on by the marriage was the cause of the illness from which he died in a few days.

It is a cardinal fault in a prince to esteem his own opinion more than that of several others. This sometimes causes them great grief and loss from which they cannot recover. His death occurred in April 1483. As soon as Edward was dead our master, the King was informed. But he showed no signs of joy when he heard it. A few days afterwards he received letters from the duke of Gloucester. He had had himself made king of England. He signed his letters ‘Richard’ and he had the two sons of his brother, Edward, put to death.

King Richard asked for the King’s friendship, and I believe that he really wanted to have the pension mentioned above, but the King did not want to reply to his letters nor listen to his envoys and he considered him extremely cruel and evil. For, after the death of King Edward, the duke of Gloucester had done hoomage to his nephew as king and sovereign lord. Then immediately he had committed this murder and, in the full English Parliament, he had the two daughters of Edward degraded and declared illegitimate on the ground furnished by the bishop of Bath in England. The bishop had previously enjoyed great credit with King Edward, who had then dismissed and imprisoned him before ransoming him for a sum of money. The bishop said that King Edward had promised to marry an English lady (whom he named) because he was in love with her, in order to get his own way with her, and that he had made this promise in the bishop’s presence. And having done so he slept with her; and he made the promise only to deceive her. Nevertheless such games are very dangerous, as the consequences show. I have known many courtiers who, if such good fortune had befallen them, would not have lost it for want of a promise. This wicked bishop kept thoughts of revenge in his heart for, perhaps, twenty years. But it turned out unfortunately for him, for he had a son whom he loved a great deal whom King Richard wanted to endow with wide estates and to marry to one of those two daughters who had been degraded — the one who is the present queen of England and has beautiful children. This son was serving in a warship by command of his master, King Richard. He was captured on the coast of Normandy and, after a quarrel with those who captured him, he was brought to Parlement and imprisoned in the Petit Chàlet42 at Paris for so long in poverty that he died of hunger.

King Richard did not last long; nor did the duke of Buckingham,43 who had put the two children to death, for a few days later King Richard had Buckingham put to death.44 God suddenly raised up against King Richard an enemy who had neither money, nor rights, so I believe, to the crown of England, nor any reputation except what his own person and honesty brought him. He had suffered much, since for the best part of his life from the age of eighteen he had been a prisoner in Brittany in the hands of Duke Francis, although he had treated him well for a prisoner. He, with a little money from the King and some three thousand of the most unruly men that could be found and enlisted in Normany, crossed over to Wales where he was joined by his father-in-law, Lord Stanley, and a good twenty-five thousand Englishmen. After three or four days they encountered cruel King Richard. He was killed on the battlefield. Henry was crowned and he is still ruling today. I have talked about this before, but it still serves a purpose to mention it here, especially to show how God has punished such cruelties without delay in our times. Many others have been punished for like offences in our time as anyone who knows can recount.

  1. MS. reads 1481.
  2. He did not; Philip died in 1506, but his son, the future Emperor Charles V (1519-56), inherited Maximilian’s Austrian and Burgundian lands, together with Spain, from his mother.
  3. Petit Chàlet — the official residence of the Provost of Paris.
  4. This phrase from MS. P.
  5. ‘for a few…death’ from MS. P.

Here I return to speak about the King, who was at Plessis and was critically ill, and how he sent for my lord the Dauphin, his son, to see and speak to him, and how he sent for the Sainte Ampoulle from Reims
WHEN the Flemish marriage45 which the King had so desired had been completed he had the Flemings under his control. Brittany, for which he had a great hatred, was at peace with him, although he kept the Bretons in extreme trepidation and fear of him by stationing large number of troops on their borders. Spain was at peace with him and the king and queen of Spain wanted nothing except his friendship, though he caused them anxiety and expense over the county of Rousillon which he held from the house of Aragon. The county had been delivered to him by King Juan [II] of Aragon, father of the present king of Castile, as a pledge for certain conditions which have not yet been fulfilled. With regard to the Italian powers, they all wanted his friendship and some agreement or other with him and they often sent their ambassadors to him. In Germany the Swiss obeyed him like his own subjects. The kings of Scotland and Portugal were his allies and he did what he liked in part of Navarre. His subjects trembled before him and whatever orders he issued they were instantly executed without any hesitation or excuse.

The items which were thought necessary for his health were sent to him from all over the world. The late Pope Sixtus [IV], on hearing that the King wanted, for devotional purposes, to have the corporal46 which St. Peter had used when saying Mass, sent it to him straightway together with several other relics which were returned to him. The Sainte Ampoulle,47 which was kept at Reims and had never been removed from there, was brought to him in his chamber at Plessis and was standing on his cupboard at the time of his death. His intention was to be annointed with it as he had been at his coronation, although many thought that he wanted to be annointed all over. This was unlikely, for the Sainte Ampoulle was very small and there was not much [oil] in it. I myself saw it at the time I am speaking about and also when the King was buried at Notre Dame de Cléry.

The present Sultan48 sent him an ambassador who came as far as Rhive49 in Provence. But the King did not want either to receive him or for him to proceed further. The ambassador was bringing him a huge scroll of relics which were still in Turkish hands at Constantinople and he offered them to the King with a large sum of money, provided the King would keep strict watch over the Sultan’s brother [Djem], who was in the kingdom in the hands of the knights of Rhodes. At present he is at Rome in the Pope’s hands.

By all these things just mentioned one can recognize the wisdom and greatness of our King and how he was respected and honoured by all the world and how spiritual aids to devotion and religion as well as temporal aids were employed to prolong his life. Yet all of them achieved nothing and the time came for him to go where others have gone. God had granted him one particular favour for he had endowed him with more sagacity, liberality and virtue in all matters than any other prince who ruled at the same time as he did, whether they were his enemies or neighbours, and as he had surpassed them in all achievements so he exceeded them in length of life, although not by very much. For Charles, duke of Burgundy, his daughter, Mary, the duchess of Austria, King Edward, Duke Galeazzo of Milan, and King Juan of Aragon had all died a few years before, though about the deaths of the duchess of Austria, King Edward and him there is little more to say. In all of them there was good and bad, for they were all human. But without any exaggeration it may be said he possessed more of the qualities needed to be a king or a prince than any of the others. I have seen almost all of them and knew their abilities so I am not guessing.

  1. In fact, only the betrothal ceremony, see Introduction, Footnote 5.
  2. The cloth which held the consecrated host.
  3. The phial containing the oil which had, according to later tradition, been miraculously brought down from Heaven for the coronation of Clovis in the late fifth century A.D. and was subsequently used to annoint kings of France from the time of the Capetians until the Revolution.
  4. MS. reads Turq.
  5. MS. P. reads Nice over an erasure.

Louis XI’s last days

i Louis XI and the Dauphin

IN 1482 the King wished to see his son, my lord the Dauphin, whom he had not seen for several years because he was afraid to let him be seen by many people, both on account of the child’s health and for fear lest he be carried off and used to promote some rebellion in his kingdom. For certain lords of the kingdom had done this to him when he was only thirteen years old50 against his father, King Charles VII, in the war known as the Praguerie, though it did not last long and was only a court dispute. Above everything else he commended to his son, the Dauphin, certain of his servants and ordered him specifically not to change any officers. He told him that when King Charles VII died and he succeeded he dismissed all the good and notable knights of the kingdom who had served and helped his father to conquer Normandy and Guyenne and to drive the English out of the kingdom and restore it to peace, order and prosperity, for so he found it [at his accession], but that it caused him much harm for he had to fight the War of the Public Weal about which I have spoken elsewhere, which, as he realized, could have cost him his crown.

ii How the King was struck by the illness which killed him, what orders he gave whilst sick and how he died, together with several notable digressions which the author considers worthy of being read and understood

Soon after the King had spoken to the Dauphin, and the marriage about which I have spoken had taken place, he was struck by the illness which carried him off. It was on a Monday and it lasted until the following Saturday, 30 August 1483. I was present at the termination of this illness, so I want to say something about it. As soon as he became ill he lost the power of speech as he had done on previous occasions. When it returned he felt weaker than he had ever been, although even before he was so weak he could scarcely lift his hand to his mouth and was so thin and broken that all who saw him had pity on him. The King realized he was about to die and right away sent of my lord of Beaujeu, his daughter’s husband, the present duke of Bourbon, and ordered him to go to his son the King (as he called him) who was at Amboise, recommending him and those who served him to the King, his son, and giving him complete control and government over the King. He ordered him not to let certain people come near him and gave him several good reasons for this. And if the lord of Beaujeu had observed his orders to the letter, or most of them (for there were some extraordinary ones not to be followed), and kept to the majority of them, I believe that the realm would have benefited and he would in particular, considering the things which have happened since. Afterwards he sent the Chancellor and all his followers to carry the seals to his son, the King. He also sent the captain and some of the archers of his who came to see him he sent to Amboise to the King, begging them to serve him faithfully. By all and sundry he sent messages to him and especially Étienne de Vesc, who had brought up the new King and served him as first groom of his chamber. Our King had already made him bailli of Meaux.

His powers of speech did not fail after returning, nor did his intellect which had never been so good, for he kept evacuating51 continuously which cleared his head of vapours. He never complained throughout his illness, as all sorts of people do when they feel ill. At least I do and I know several others who do; anyway it is said that complaining alleviates pain.

  1. In fact he was sixteen at the time of the Praguerie in 1440 and was a willing tool in the hands of the dissident princes.
  2. The sense is ambiguous, it could mean vomiting.

[The death of Louis XI]
HE continued to say sensible things and his illness lasted, as I said, from Monday to Saturday evening. For this reason I want to draw a comparison between the ills and anguish which he caused many others to suffer and those which he suffered himself before dying, for I trust that they have borne him to paradise and will make up part of his time in purgatory. And if they were not so severe or long as those he inflicted on others he had a different and a greater office in this world than they did and had never been subject to anyone, but had always been obeyed so that it seemed that Europe had been created only in order to obey him. For this reason the little that he did suffer against his will and custom was more difficult for him to bear.

All the while he maintained his hopes in the good hermit who was at Plessis, whom I mentioned he brought from Calabria, and he incessantly sent messages to him, saying that if he wished he could easily prolong his life. For notwithstanding all the orders he had given to those whom he had sent to my lord the Dauphin, his son, his spirits revived a little and he had high hopes of escaping death. If this had happened he would have quickly dispersed the crowd he sent to the new King at Amboise. And because of his hopes in the hermit a certain theologian52 and others advised that he should be told he was making a mistake, that in his position there was nothing to hope for but the mercy of God and that when he was told his doctor, Master Jacques Coictier, in whom he placed his full confidence and to whom he gave ten thousand crowns a month, hoping he would prolong his life, should be present. This decision was taken by Master Olivier [le Dain] and Master Jacques the doctor so that the King should concentrate on examining his conscience and he should forget all other thoughts and the holy man whom he trusted. And just as he had raised these two up too suddenly and without reason to much higher positions than they deserved, so they in the same way took it upon themselves without any fear, to tell this prince something which it was not their place to say. Nor did they humbly respect the gravity of the situation as those whom he had long trained would have done, those whom a little time before he had driven away from him because of his fantasies. But just as he had treated two important men whom he had executed (the death of one of them preyed on his conscience though the other had not), that is the duke of Nemurs and the count of Saint-Pol, by sending them commissioners with instructions to inform them briefly that they were sentenced to die and giving them confessors to help them arrange their consciences in the few hours remaining to them, so similarly these three men [Olivier, Jacques and Philippe] told our King in brief and blunt words of his impending death. ‘Sire,’ they said, ‘we must do our duty. Don’t place any more hopes in this holy man nor in anything else, for your end is surely come. So search your conscience, for there’s no escape.’ And each of them added a few equally curt words to which he replied, ‘I trust that God will help me, for, perhaps, I’m not as ill as you think.’

What sorrow it was for him to hear this news and sentence! For never was there a man who feared death so much nor did so much in an attempt to prevent it. Throughout his life he had always begged his servants, me included, when we saw him near to death, not to tell him but only to persuade him to confess himself without mentioning to him this cruel word, death, for he did not think he was brave enough to hear such a terrible sentence. Yet he bore it and everything else more valiantly up to his death than anyone else I have ever seen die.

He sent several orders to his son whom he called the King. He confessed very devoutly and said several prayers in keeping with the sacraments which he received and for which he himself had asked. And, as I said, he spoke as clearly as if he had never been ill, about everything which might help his son, saying among other things that he did not want the lord of Cordes to leave his son, the King, for six months and he should be asked to attempt nothing against Calais or anywhere else. He said that he had agreed with him that he should undertake such expeditions for the good of the King and kingdom but that they were dangerous, especially the one against Calais for fear of stirring up the English. Above all he wanted the kingdom to remain at peace for five or six years after his death; something which he never considered while he was alive. And truthfully, the kingdom had need of it, for although it was large and extensive it had become weak and poor, especially because of the movement of soldiers from one province to another, as they have continued to do since to an even worse degree.

He ordered that no quarrel should be picked with Brittany and the Duke Francis should be allowed to live in peace without him being given cause for anxiety, and neighbouring countries should be treated similarly, so the that King, his son, and the kingdom could dwell in peace until the King was of age and old enough to dispose of things as he pleased.

In a previous paragraph I started to make a comparison between the sufferings which he inflicted on certain people, and several of those who lived under his rule and in his obedience, with those similar ones he suffered before he died (and if these were not so severe or long, as I said in that paragraph, they were very considerable in view of his temper which demanded more strict obedience than any other prince of his time. This obedience he received; so that the least word of opposition to his will constituted a very serious punishment for him to bear). I have mentioned how his impending death was announced to him with so little discretion. But some five or six months previously the King was very suspicious of everybody, particularly all those who were fit to exercise authority. He was afraid of his son and had him kept under strict watch. No one could see him or speak to him except with the King’s permission. In the end he was even frightened of his daughter and son-in-law, the present duke of Bourbon. He wanted to know who entered Plessis with them and, finally, he broke up a council which the duke of Bourbon was holding there on his orders. When his son-in-law and the count of Dunois returned from conducting the embassy, which had come to the marriage of the King, his son, and the Queen at Amboise, and they came back to Plessis and brought many people with them, the King, who had the gates heavily guarded, was in a gallery overlooking the court. He called one of the captains of his guard and ordered him to go and touch the followers of these lords to see if they were wearing brigandines under their clothes and to to this whilst talking to them and without appearing to do it. Just see! If he had made many men live in fear and suspicion under him, how amply he was repaid! Whom could he trust when he was suspicious of his own son, daughter and son-in-law! I say this not only about him but about all lords who desire to be feared; they are never aware of revenge until they are old and then, as a penance, they fear everybody. What torment it was for this King to have such fears and passions!

He had a doctor called Master Jacques Coictier. He gave him fifty-five thousand crowns in cash in five months at the rate of ten thousand crowns a month, and to his nephew he gave the bishopric of Amiens,53 as well as other offices and lands for him and his friends. This doctor was so extremely rude to him that one would not say to the meanest valet the outrageous and scandalous things he said to him. The King feared him so much that he dared not send him away. And although he complained to those around him about the doctor, he did not dare to change him as he had done all his other servants because the doctor had brazenly told him, ‘I know very well that one day you’ll dismiss me as you did the others but by…[and he swore a great oath] you won’t live another week longer.’ These words so shocked the King that afterwards he only humoured him or gave him gifts. This was extremely mortifying to him, considering the great respect which he had received from people, even powerful men.

It is true that the King, our master, had dreadful prisons made, including cages, some of iron and others of wood, fitted with iron bars54 inside and out and with terrible locks, about eight feet wide and a foot higher than a man. The original inventor of such prisons was the bishop of Verdun. He was immediately put in the first of them to be made where he spent fourteen years. Many others have cursed him since, myself included, because I did eight months in one of them during the reign of the present King. Previously the King had obtained horrible shackles from the Germans. These were very heavy and terrible and put on the feet, with one ring on each foot, and were very difficult to open, like a collar, having a thick, heavy chain with a huge iron ball on the end, much heavier then it need or ought to have been. They were called the King’s daughters. Yet I have seen many well-born prisoners wearing them on their feet; they have since been released and enjoyed great honour and happiness and even received great benefits from him. Among them was a son of my lord of Gruthuse of Flanders, who had been captured in battle. The King provided him with a wife, made him his chamberlain and seneschal of Anjou and gave him command of a hundred lances. The lord of Piennes, a prisoner of war, was another and so was the lord of Vergy. Both received soldiers from him and were chamberlains to him or his son and had other great offices. So did my lord of Richebourg, brother of the Constable [Saint-Pol], and a man called Rocaberti from Catalonia who had similarly been a prisoner of war, to whom the King gave great gifts, as well as to several others from various countries whom it would take too long to name.

But this is not our main concern, and to return to that it must be said that, as in his time these evil and various types of prison were invented, so before he died he found himself in similar or even greater fear than those he imprisoned in them. This I hold to be a matter of great favour for him and part of his time in purgatory. And I mention it to show that there is no one, whatever his rank, who does not suffer either privately or in public, particularly if he has made others suffer.

Towards the end of his life the King had his castle of Plessis-les-Tours entirely surrounded by iron bars in the form of a thick grille. At the four corners of the house were placed the four large, strong, pierced, iron sentry boxes. The grille rested against the wall on one side and on the edge of the moat on the other, for it had a flat bottom and steep sides. He had many iron spikes fastened to the wall, each with three or four points and they were placed very close to one another. Furthermore he ordered ten crossbowmen from each of the sentry boxes to stay in the moat to shoot those who approached before the gate was open. He wanted them to lie in the moat and withdraw to the iron sentry boxes when necessary.

He clearly understood that this fortification would not be strong enough to withstand a large number of men or an army but that did not worry him. He was simply afraid that one lord or a handful might attempt to take the place by night, partly in collusion with those inside and partly by force, and that they would take away his authority and force him to live like an insane man unfit to govern. The gate of Plessis did not open before eight o’clock in the morning, nor was the drawbridge lowered. Then the officers entered the castle and the captains of the guards placed the normal gatekeepers at their post and ordered pickets of archers, either to the gate or around the courtyard, as if it were a closely guarded frontier post. No one entered except by a wicket-gate, nor without the King’s knowledge, unless they were stewards of the household or people of this type who were not going into his presence. Is it possible to keep a king, in suitable state, in closer imprisonment than he kept himself? The cages where he had held other people were some eight feet square and he, who was such a king, had a small court of the castle in which to walk about. Even then he hardly went into it but stayed in the gallery, not leaving it except to go into the rooms. He went to Mass without going through that courtyard. Who would want to deny that the King was suffering when he shut himself up and had himself guarded, when he was afraid of his children and all his closest relatives, when he changed and removed his servants and those he had patronized from day to day, when they owed all their wealth and honour to him, and when he dared not trust any of them but shut himself up with such strange chain and barricades? It is true that the castle was larger than a common prison but he was greater than any common prisoner. One could say that others have been more suspicious than he but this was not in my time nor were they, perhaps, such wise kings with such loyal subjects. They were probably cruel tyrants anyway. But the King never harmed anybody unless he had offended him.

I have not said these things merely to record the suspicious nature of our King but to show the patience which he displayed in his sufferings which were similar to those he had inflicted on others. I consider that it was Our Lord’s punishment of him in this world so that he would have less in the next, both with regard to the things I have mentioned and to his illness which were great and sorrowful burdens to him. He feared them a great deal before they came upon him. I mentioned them, too, in order that those who follow might have a little more pity on people and be less keen to punish than he was, although I do not want to blame him nor say that I have ever seen a better prince. It is true that he oppressed his subjects but he would not allow anyone else, whether a friend or a stranger, do so.

After so many fears, suspicions and sorrows Our Lord performed a miracle and cured him in both mind and body, as He is accustomed to doing by His miracles. For He took him out of this miserable world in perfect health of mind, understanding and memory after he had received all the sacraments and without him suffering the pain that has been known but repeating a pater noster right up to the time of his death. He gave orders for his own burial, as to whom he wanted to accompany his body and as to what route was to be taken. He said that he did not expect to die until Saturday and Our Lady would obtain him that favour, for he always had great faith in her and prayed very devoutly to her. Also, on the following Saturday he was to be buried. And so it happened, for he died on Saturday 30 August 1483 at eight o’clock in the evening at Plessis where he had fallen sick the previous Monday. May Our Lord have received him into His kingdom of Paradise! Amen!

  1. Phillipe, the monk of St. Martin’s, Tours.
  2. Pierre Versé, elected bishop of Amiens 16 August 1482.
  3. MS. read plates.

THERE is little hope for poor and common people in this world when such a great King has suffered and borne so much and then left all, failing to add a single hour to his life, no matter how he tried. I knew him and had been his servant in the prime of his life and at the peak of his prosperity, though I never saw him free from cares and worries. Of all pleasures he loved hunting and hawking but nothing pleased him more than dogs. As for ladies, he never got involved with them whilst I was with him, for about the time of my arrival he lost a son which caused him great grief and he swore an oath to God, in my presence, to touch no other women but the Queen, his wife. And although this is no more than he ought to have done according to the laws of marriage, it was a considerable achievement, seeing he had so many at his command, to persevere in this resolution, since the Queen, though a good woman, was not one of those in whom men take great pleasure. Again, in hunting there was almost as much tedium as pleasure, for he took infinite trouble. He hunted the stag eagerly and used to get up very early, often riding long distances and not giving up whatever the weather. He frequently returned tired out and nearly always angry with someone, for hunting is a sport which does not always go according to the plans of those in charge. Yet in the opinion of some people he understood it better than any other man of his generation. This hunting continued unceasingly and he used to stay in villages until he received news of some war or other, for almost every summer there was some dispute between him and Duke Charles and they would make a truce every winter. He also had several disputes over the county of Roussillon with King Juan of Aragon, father of the present king of Spain. Although they were poor and much troubled by their subjects, like those of Barcelona and others, and the son possessed nothing (as he was waiting to succeed Don Enrique, king of Castile, his wife’s brother, as he has done since), yet they put up a stern resistance, for the inhabitants of Rousillon were devoted to them. This cost the King and kingdom dear for [the dispute was not settled] by the time of his death and many good men had died and much money had been spent. So that the time he used pursuing his pleasures was little in comparison with all the rest, and even then it was very wearing on his person, as I said. Even when he was resting his mind was active for he had business in a remarkable number of places and, on purpose, he was also as much involved in his neighbours’ affairs as his own and had placed men in their households to undermine their authority. When he was at war, he wanted peace or a truce; when he was at peace or truce he could scarcely endure it. He involved himself in many petty affairs in his kingdom, many of which he could have well ignored. But it was his nature and so he lived that way. His memory, also, was so good that he remembered everything and recognized everybody, both from his own country and from every other one. Indeed, he seemed better qualified to rule the world than a single kingdom.

I am saying nothing about his youth because I was not with him. But at eleven55years old he was involved by certain lords and others of the kingdom in a war against his father, King Charles VII. It lasted but a short time and was called the Prageurie. He was married to a daughter of [the king of] Scotland, much to his displeasure and as long as she lived he regretted it.56 Afterwards, through the factions and disputes in the household of his father, the King, he withdrew to Dauphiné, which belonged to him and where more gentlemen than he could support followed him. While he was there he married the duke of Savoy’s daughter57 and shortly after the marriage he was involved in a dispute and a very bitter war with his father-in-law.58 King Charles, seeing his son so well attended by noblemen and raising soldiers at will, decided to go to Dauphiné in person with a large force to expel him. While he was on his way he took pains to disperse them by issuing commands to them, as his subjects and on the usual threats of punishment, to come to meet him. Several obeyed, much to the great annoyance of our King, and when he saw his father’s anger, despite his own strength, he decided to go from Dauphiné and leave the country to him. From there, with a handful of followers, he went to Burugundy, to Duke Philip of Burgundy, who welcomed him most cordially, distributing his wealth among him and his principal servants such as the count of Comminges, the lord of Montauban and others, in the form of annual pensions.59And during the time that he was there, Philip gave gifts to his servants. Yet, because of his expenses and the large number of men he maintained, his money often ran out. This caused him great difficulties and worries and he was forced to look around and borrow money. Otherwise his men would have left him, and this was a great source of anguish for a prince who was not accustomed to it. And he was not without his problems with regard to the house of Burgundy. It was necessary for him to humour the prince and his principal advisers for fear lest they tired of the length of his stay there, as he was there six years.60 His father, the King, continually sent ambassadors to get him either expelled from there or returned to him. So you can see that he did not have an easy time free from great fears and worries. Indeed, could one say when he was happy and when he enjoyed himself, after hearing all this? I believe that from his childhood he had nothing but toil until he died and I am certain that if all the days he had of happiness in his life when joy and pleasure outweighed annoyance and work were totalled up, they would be found to be few indeed, and I believe that for every twenty of pain and work there was only one of pleasure and ease. He lived for about sixty-one years61although he had always thought that he would not reach sixty and said that no king of France had reached that age for a long time, and some said not since Charlemagne. Yet the King, our master, was well into his sixty-first year.

Could one say Duke Charles of Burgundy enjoyed more ease and pleasure than our King? In his youth, it is true, he had little to worry him since he did not try to do much until his was about thirty-two and until then he had lived quite safely without disturbance. Then he began to quarrel with the advisers supported by his father. So he absented himself from his court and went to stay in Holland, where he was well received, and he got in touch with the men of Ghent where he sometimes went. He received no allowance from his father but Holland is a very rich country and made him handsome gifts, as did several large cities in other territories, in the hope of obtaining his favour for the future. It is a general custom to always curry favour more with men whose power and authority one expects will increase in the future than with those who are already in such a position that they cannot become more powerful, and the affection of the former, especially among the common people, is always greater. And it was this that made Duke Philip reply, when he was told that the men of Ghent loved his son so much and they were handled by him so well, that they always loved their future master but when he succeeded they hated him. This proverb was true for, as soon as Duke Charles became their master, they stopped loving him; they made this abundantly clear to him, as I have described above. For his part, too, he did not love them, but they did more harm to his descendants than they managed to do to him.

But to get back to my account, after Duke Charles began war over the lands in Picardy which our King had bought back from his father, Duke Philip, and he and the other lords of the kingdom had plunged into the War of the Public Weal, what ease did he enjoy? It was all work and no play both in body and in mind, for the glory of it went to his head and spurred him on to acquire all that he set his mind on. Every summer he campaigned at great risk to himself. He took upon himself all the cares of attending to every detail of the army and he never had enough of it. He was first up and the last to bed, lying down fully clothed like the poorest soldier in his army. If he rested some winters, he did his best to raise money. For whom would working from six o’clock in the morning be pleasure? No one would do it unless there was some glory to be gained from this trouble and from welcoming and listening to a huge number of ambassadors. And in this labour and misery he ended his days, killed by the Swiss as you have heard. It could be said that he did not have a good day from the moment he began to scheme to aggrandize himself until his death. What did he achieve by it or why did he need to do it when he was such a rich lord with so many fine towns and lordships under his rule, where he could have been so contented if he had wanted to be?

After him we must mention King Edward of England who was a very great and powerful king of England. When he was very young he saw his father, the duke of York, beaten and killed in battle, and with him [the father of] the earl of Warwick. The earl of Warwick governed King Edward in his youth and directed his affairs. Indeed, to speak the truth, he made him king and was responsible for deposing King Henry, who had reigned in England and was (according to my judgement and that of the world) the true king. But in matters concerning kingdoms and great principalities Our Lord is in charge and He disposes of them as He likes, for all things proceed from Him. It was a factional dispute in the household of King Henry, who was hardly sane, which made the earl of Warwick serve the house of York against King Henry of Lancaster. The queen, his wife, who was a member of the house of Anjou, and daughter of King René of Sicily, supported the duke of Somerset against the earl of Warwick, for everyone had accepted King Henry, his father and grandfather, as kings. As it turned out that lady would have done much better if she had acted as a judge or mediator between the two parties instead of saying, ‘I will support this party,’ for there were many battles as a result and in the end almost everyone on both sides was killed. But princes are told that by means of such questions and disputes they will find out certain information and be able to hold both parties in fear. I would agree if a young king were to do this among the ladies for it will pass the time pleasantly and he might learn something from them, but there is nothing more dangerous than to do it among such men as princes and men of virtue and courage. It is like setting fire to one’s house for soon somebody will say, ‘The king is against us,’ and then take steps to protect himself and to get in touch with the king’s enemies. At least the Orlé’anists and Burgundians should have made people wise in this respect, for the war lasted sixty-two years and the English were involved in it, hoping thereby to gain possession of all the kingdom. But to return to King Edward, he was very young and the handsomest of the fine princes of his generation when he achieved a mastery of all his affairs. No man ever took more delight in his pleasures than he did, especially the ladies, feasts, banquets, and hunts. I think he spent sixteen years62 or thereabouts doing this until he began to fall out with the earl of Warwick. Although the king was exiled from his kingdom, the quarrel did not last long since he returned and obtained victory. Then afterwards he pursued his pleasures more than before, fearing nobody, and growing very fat and gross. And in he prime of his life he reached the limits of his excesses and died suddenly, as I said, of apoplexy, and his line died out shortly after him, as you have heard.

In our times other valiant and wise princes have also ruled, the king of Hungary, Matthias [Corvius]63 and [Mahomet] sultan of the Turks.64 King Matthias of Hungary was the son of a very courteous knight called the White Knight of Wallachia, a simple gentleman but one endowed with great sense and virtue, who had long governed the kingdom of Hungary and won many victories against the Turks, who were neighbours of that realm because of the lordships they had usurped in Greece, Slavonia and Bosnia. Soon after his death King Ladislas,65 to whom the kingdom belonged together with Bohemia and Poland, came of age. He was advised by certain men, so it is said, to take the two sons of the White Knight on the excuse that their father had exercised so much power and authority in the kingdom during his minority that his children, who were fine men, might well do the same. So King Ladislas decided to capture both of them, which he did. Immediately he had the eldest executed and the second one, Matthias, put in prison in Buda, the capital of Hungary.66 But he was not there long (and perhaps it was because Our Lord found his father’s services agreeable), for soon afterwards King Ladislas was poisoned at Prague in Bohemia by a woman of good family. I have seen the brother of the woman with whom he was in love. She was also in love with him, to such a degree that she was upset that he was going to France to marry the daughter of King Charles VII, the present princess of Viana, which was contrary to what he had promised her, that she poisoned him in the bath by giving him an apple to eat and putting poison on the knife handle.67 As soon as King Ladislas was dead, the barons of Hungary assembled at Buda to elect a king, following their custom and privilege to elect when their king died without heirs, and there was great hatred and rivalry among them for this office. The widow of the White Knight and mother of Matthias came to the town with a large retinue, for she was a rich woman and with all the ready money that her husband had left her she was able to raise a large body of troops quickly. And I certainly believe that she had good connections with some of the assembly and in the town, considering the credit and authority her husband had enjoyed in the kingdom. Some of the barons and prelates who were there at the assembly to elect their king fled in fear. The others elected Matthias as king;68 he ruled in that kingdom in great prosperity and has been more praised and esteemed than any king who has reigned for a long time. He was one of the most courageous men of his generation and he won great battles against the Turks. During his reign they did not harm his kingdom in any way but he increased its size, at their expense, in Bohemia, which he held for the most part, and also in his native Wallachia and in Slavonia. On the side of Germany, he took most of Austria from Emperor Frederick, who is still alive, and he held it until his death which occurred at Vienna, the capital of Austria, in 1491.69 He was a king who ruled as wisely in peace as in war. Towards the end of his life, when he found that his enemies no longer threatened him, he became very fond of pomp and ostentation in his household. He collected vast quantities of fine furniture, rings and plate for the decoration of his house. All business was done by him or at his command. He made himself much feared, since he became very cruel, and he then became incurably ill and died from the disease whilst still quite young, about fifty-three years old,70 having spent more of his life in toil and trouble than in pleasures.

The Sultan I mentioned was a wise and valiant prince who used more judgement and craftiness than courage or boldness. It is true that his father, who was a valiant prince, left him a very strong position. He took Adrianople, that is the city of Adrian. The one I am talking about captured Constantinople, that is the city of Constantine, when he was twenty-three. I have a seen a painting of him and it looked as though he was a man of great spirit. To allow Constantinople to be lost was a great disgrace to all Christian princes. He took it by assault and the Eastern Emperor, whom we call the Emperor of Constantinople, was killed in the breach. Many another fine man was killed and many women of great and noble families were raped. No cruelty was spared. It was his first exploit and he continued to do great things, so many indeed that once I heard a Venetian ambassador in the presence of Duke Charles of Burgundy say that he had conquered two empires, four kingdoms and two hundred cities. He meant the Empires of Constantinople and Trebizond and the kingdoms of Bosnia, Serbia and Armenia. I do not know if he counted Morea as the fourth one. He had conquered many beautiful islands in the area where the Venetians still hold some, as well as the islands of Negropont and Mitylene and almost all of Albania and Slavonia. And if his conquests from the Christians were extensive so were those from the followers of his own faith. He had destroyued many great lords including among others, the [Emir of] Caramania. He conducted most of his affairs himself and according to his own judgement, as did our King and the king of Hungary. They were the three greatest rulers of the last hundred years. But our King’s honesty, mode of life and the easy terms which he used with private individuals and foreigners were very different from and much superior to those of the other two. He was also the Most Christian King.

As for the pleasures of this world, the Turk had his fill and spent much of his time on them. Indeed he would have caused more harm if he had not done this and been so involved in fleshly vices. He was incredibly gluttonous. He also suffered all kinds of illnesses from an early age because of his way of life, as I have heard from those who have seen him, his legs swelled up. This used to happen at the beginning of the summer when they became thick as a man’s body, yet there was no opening and then they subsided and no surgeon ever knew what it was. But it was well said that his enormous gluttony was a factor in causing it, though it could have been God’s punishment. He died quite suddenly at the age of fifty-two or thereabouts.71 Yet he had made a will and I have seen it. If the will is correct, he experienced some remorse over a new tax which he had recently levied. So you can see what a Christian prince, who has no legal authority to impose taxes without the consent of the people, should do.

Thus you have heard about the death of so many great men in such a short space of time. Men who laboured so much to aggrandize themselves and to acquire glory, who suffered so much from passion and difficulties and whose lives were shortened. And, perhaps, their souls have suffered. Here I am not speaking about the Turk, for I think this is pointless as he has gone to join his predecessors. But I hope, as I said, that Our Lord has had mercy on our King and will have on all the rest if it pleases Him. But to speak freely as a man who has no education save a little experience, would it not have been better, both for them and all other princes and for men of middling rank who have lived under these great men and who will live under those who rule, to choose the middle course in all these events? That is, if they had worried less, striven less hard and undertaken fewer enterprises and they had been more afraid of offending God and of persecuting their subjects and neighbours by so many cruel methods, as I have explained sufficiently before, and they had taken things more easily and enjoyed honest pleasures, then their lives would have been longer, their illnesses would have struck them much later, their deaths, less desired, would have been mourned more sincerely and by more people and they would have had less reason to fear death. Could one have better examples to demonstrate how small a thing is man and how miserable and brief is life, and that once dead there is little difference between great or small, that all men despise and insult their [dead] bodies and that the soul must perforce immediately go to receive judgement? Yet already the sentence has been rendered according to the works and merits of the body.

  1. In fact sixteen, see above, Footnote 50.
  2. Margaret of Scotland, daughter of James I, married Louis on 25 June 1436. died 16 August 1445.
  3. Charlotte, married Louis on 9 March 1451.
  4. March-September 1454.
  5. Louis arrived in Burgundy in the summer of 1456.
  6. 1456-61.
  7. He was sixty years one month and twenty-seven days old at his death.
  8. Ten years at the most — Edward IV succeeded in 1461 and went into exile in 1470.
  9. King of Hungary 1458-90, son of John Hunyadi, voivode of Transylvania.
  10. MS. reads Octovien, emperour des Turqs. MS.P. reads Mehemet Ottavany and MSS.A., B., and M. read Ottoman. Mahomet II reigned 1451-81.
  11. Ladislas the Posthumous, born c. 1435, d. 23 November 1457. MS. reads Lancelot.
  12. Ladislas Hunyadi was executed for killing an uncle of King Ladislas after the arrest of the two brothers on 14 March 1457.
  13. ‘and putting…handle’ from MS.M. Madeleine de France, married Gaston, prince of Viana, 7 March 1462. She died in 1496.
  14. 24 January 1458.
  15. In fact, 4 April 1490.
  16. Age from MS.P. He was born in 1443 and was forty-seven at his death.
  17. 1430-3 May 1481.


  • Arrière-ban: The feudal levy of all vassals and freemen who owed military service to their lord.
  • Bailli (see also Seneschal): A royal official entrusted with the administration of justice and the royal demense.
  • Battle: Most later medieval armies were split up into three or four divisions — approximating roughly to the vanguard, the main force, the rearguard and the reserve — and these contingents were known as battles.
  • Brigandines: A canvas shirt on to which were fixed by rivets overlapping small plates of light steel which usually faced inwards, leaving the rivet heads (which were often gilded for decorative purposes) on the outside.
  • Coinage: Commynes usually mentions actual coins when talking about the value or cost of anything, although on a few occasions he refers to money of account, either the livre parisis or the livre tournois. The ratio between them was 1:1.25. These pounds each divided into the familiar shillings and pence in the ratio 1:20:240.

Crown (écu):

 A gold coin worth about 5s. Flemish in 1470s.


 A gold coin originally struck by Venice in 1284.


 A gold coin originally worth 20s. 


 and used for money of account in the fifteenth century, worth 3s. 4d. Flemish in 1488.

St. Andrew’s Florins, Rhenish Florins, German Florins:

 Gold coins current in Burgundian domains and worth 22s. 1d. 


 in 1471 and 25s. 10d. in 1475.

[Royal] Noble:

 An English gold coin worth 10s. sterling to 70s. 


 in 1475.


 A small silver coin.


 Silver by weight.
  • Culverin: A type of cannon (from Latin colubrinus — of the nature of a snake).
  • Franc-archers: A royal ordonnance of 1448 tried to establish an infantry force of archers by assigning to each bailliage and parish the responsibility for maintaining a specific number of archers, who would be quit of taxation, hence their name. After 1451 the levy was at the rate of one archer to every fifty hearths. These were to be mustered and inspected by royal officers and to be ready for service for which they were paid when required. The total of this force, which was divided into at least sixteen companies, reached perhaps eight thousand men in Charles VII’s reign. Louis XI made strenuous efforts to increase its size but despite doubling numbers he did not increase efficiency. The companies continued to exist and to enjoy their tax exemption into the reign of Charles VIII but by then they had ceased to be effective as weapons of war and French kings resorted more to hiring foreign infantry (especially the Swiss) on a large scale and ignored the franc-archers, who were difficult to mobilize quickly and were useful only as a defensive force.
  • League: A measure of distance, usually about three English miles. The standard French league was 2281 toises or 4445 metres, but provincial leagues (e.g. the Burgundian league) could be longer or shorter.
  • Maîtres des requêtes: Lawyers who formed a tribunal called the Requêtes de l’hôtel whose job it was to present the requests of individuals for favours and justice and to act as intermediaries between the King’s council and his subjects.
  • Ordonnance companies: By royal ordonnances in 1445 and 1446 Charles VII created the nucleus of a permanent cavalry force. Individual captains (fifteen in the first instance and an additional five in 1446) each had a hundred lances under their control. Each lance was a tactical unit of six men and horses — one man-at-arms, one coutiller (armed with a knife), one page, two archers, and another page, valet or third archer, of whom four or five were effective soldiers. These men were recruited by the captain but swore an oath to serve the King and abide by the disciplinary ordonnances he issued. All members of the lance had to be present for musters held under the supervision of royal marshals, when their names were enrolled. These units were known as the Compaignies de l’Ordonnace du Roi or more succinctly as Compaignies d’Ordonnance; their captaincies were eagerly sought after and they were distributed regionally through the provinces with special garrison duties when not actually engaged in expeditions. Created to meet a temporary need — to contol the soldiery made redundant by the truce of Tours 1444 — they soon became a permanent feature of French military life and by Louis XI’s reign formed a force of about sixteen thousand men.
  • Parlement: The Parlement of Paris primarily a royal court of justice, acting both as a court of first instance and also as the supreme appellate court, judging appeals from provincial parlements such as those at Toulouse and Bordeaux. It also played an important political role in French life, advising the King on a wide range of subjects, administering and registering his decrees and defending both the traditional rights of the crown and those of its subjects. On occasion it opposed the arbitrariness of individual kings, especially by obstruction and prevarication, although in the end a resourceful king like Louis XI could usually get his own way. It was staffed by professional lawyers.
  • Seneschal: Fulfilling the same function as a bailli (see above). In generalbaillis (and their districts, bailliages) are to be found in Northern France and seneschals (with their sénéchaussées) in Southern France.
  • Subvention: A subsidy levied by the state or a grant of money or other aid.

Text copyright © [1972], Michael Jones. This edition is still a work in progress. We are grateful to Professor Jones for permission to place this edition online while he completes a review of the text, and will correct any errors found by Professor Jones on completion of this review.