This series has three easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: France Versus Burgundy.
The Duchy of Burgundy was a major power in the Middle Ages. Laying between France and Germany, geography was against it. The 100 Years War allowed it to prosper but peace allowed the rising France to pounce.
From the planting of the Burgundian branch of the house of Valois, in 1364, arose a formidable rival of the royal power in France. During the next hundred years the dukes of Burgundy played prominent parts in French history, and then appeared one of the line who advanced his house to its loftiest eminence. This was Charles, surnamed the “Bold,” son of Philip, misnamed the “Good.” Charles was born in 1433, and became Duke of Burgundy in 1467. He “held the rank of one of the first princes in Europe without being a king, and without possessing an inch of ground for which he did not owe service to some superior lord.” Some of his territories were held of the Holy Roman Empire, and some of the French crown, and he was at once a vassal of France and of the Emperor. His dominions contained many prosperous and wealthy cities.
But the possessions of Charles lacked unity alike in territorial compactness, political distinction, and local rule, and in national characteristics, language, and laws. His peculiar position exposed him to the jealous rivalry of Louis XI of France. The King’s object was the consolidation of his monarchy, while Charles aimed to extend his duchy at the expense of Louis’ territories. Thus the two rivals became deadly enemies.
Charles conceived the design of restoring the old kingdom of Burgundy. In 1467, having secured alliances with Brittany and England, he prepared for a campaign of conquest. But Louis offered him advantageous terms of peace and invited him to a conference. While Charles hesitated, Louis stirred to revolt the Duke’s subjects in Liege, with whom Burgundy had lately been at war. The negotiations between Louis and Charles, and the events which followed, form the subject of Willert’s narrative.
This selection is from The Reign of Lewis XI by Paul Ferdinand Willert published in 1876. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Paul Ferdinand Willert held positions at Oxford and Eton.
Place: Péronne, France
Many messengers came and went, yet Charles hesitated to accept peace even on terms so greatly to his advantage. The King, if he could but see the Duke, felt sure he might end this uncertainty, perhaps even obtain more favorable concessions.
When once the idea of a personal interview had possessed him he was deaf to the warnings and entreaties of his more prudent or honest advisers.
Charles did not seem anxious to meet the King, and when at length he yielded to the representations of the King’s envoy, he sent a safe-conduct in the most explicit terms: “Sir, if it be your pleasure to visit this town of Péronne to confer with us, I swear to you and promise by my faith and on my honor that you may come, stay, and return at your good pleasure, without let or harm, notwithstanding any cause that may now be or hereafter may arise.”
After receiving this assurance, Louis might fairly suppose that he had nothing to fear. He had before trusted himself safely to Charles’ honor. Nor had he himself abused the chance which once delivered his rival into his hands unprotected by promise or oath. He therefore set out at once for Péronne, accompanied only by some eighty archers of his Scotch guard and by his personal attendants. He was met at the frontier by a Burgundian escort under Philip de Crèvecoeur, and he found Charles himself waiting to receive him at the banks of a little river not far from Péronne. The princes greeted each other with respect on the one side, and with hearty affection on the other. They entered the town side by side, the King’s arm resting on his kinsman’s shoulder. The castle of Péronne was small and inconvenient; the King was therefore lodged in the house of one of the richest citizens. He had scarcely reached his quarters when the Marshal of Burgundy joined Charles’ army with the forces he commanded. With him came Philip of Savoy and two of his brothers, Antony de Châteauneuf, and other men who had shared largely in the King’s favor, but who had fled from his resentment after betraying his confidence. These his enemies might consider the occasion favorable for a bold stroke. If they acted without the connivance of Charles he might be grateful to those who satisfied his enmity without irretrievably compromising his honor. Louis therefore asked to be allowed to move into the castle, where his archers could at any rate defend him against a surprise. On the next day the conference began; all that he could demand was offered to Charles if only he would abandon the alliance of Brittany and England. But he was determined not to give way, and was insensible to the blandishments of his guest, who may have been tormented by painful misgivings as he looked from his prison-like rooms at a gloomy tower in which Charles the Simple had been confined, and, it was said, murdered by a rebellious vassal.
At the first suggestion of the interview with the King, Charles had objected that he could scarcely believe in his sincere desire for peace while his envoys were encouraging rebels. Cardinal Balue replied that when the people of Liège learned that the King and Duke had met, they would not venture upon any hostile movement. But the French agents were not informed of their master’s intended visit to Péronne, and did not attempt to discourage a premature attack. It is indeed doubtful whether they could in any case have changed the course of events.
The first rumors of what had happened in a popular outbreak at Liège reached Péronne on the night of October 10th. As was natural, they were greatly exaggerated. Tongres had been sacked, the garrison put to the sword; Humbercourt, the Burgundian Governor, and the Bishop murdered; the King’s envoys had been seen leading and encouraging the assailants. Charles broke into cries of rage: “The traitor King! So he is only come to cheat me by a false pretence of peace! By St. George, he and those villains of Liège shall pay dearly for this!” He did not pause to consider whether it was likely that Louis had been simple enough to provoke a catastrophe fatal to his hopes and dangerous to his safety. If Comines, the Duke’s chamberlain, and another favorite attendant, who were with their master at the time, had not done their best to soothe him it is probable that the donjon of Péronne would once more have closed upon a captive king. Charles was at little pains to conceal his rage; and when Louis was told that the gates of town and castle were guarded to prevent the escape of a thief who had stolen a casket of jewels, he knew that he was a prisoner. Yet, however bitter his self-reproach, however gloomy his forebodings, he did not lose his presence of mind. His attendants were allowed free access to the castle; he had brought with him fifteen thousand gold crowns, and these he anxiously employed to secure the good offices of Charles’ advisers. For three nights the angry agitation and perplexity of Charles were so great that he did not undress. He would throw himself on his bed for a time and then start up and pace about his room, uttering threats and invectives against the King.
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