“Yes, sire, so safe that if I saw a cross-bow pointed at you I would throw myself before you to shield you from the bolt.” Thus spoke Burgundy’s Duke to the King.
Continuing Burgundy’s Zenith,
our selection from The Reign of Lewis XI by Paul Ferdinand Willert published in 1876. The selection is presented in three easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Burgundy’s Zenith.
Place: Péronne, France
Nothing was done or decided on the first day, October 11, 1468. On the second a council was held which sat late into the night. A minority of the council, the enemies of Louis, or those who were only anxious to flatter the passions of their master, advised him to use to the full the opportunity which chance and the foolhardiness and duplicity of his adversary had placed in his hands. They urged him to keep the King in secure confinement after providing for the virtual partition of the kingdom among the great feudatories. The majority, those who had some regard for the honor of the house of Burgundy, the lawyers, who respected the letter, if not the spirit, of an agreement, perhaps also the more far-sighted politicians, were of a different opinion. The fame of the Duke would suffer irreparable injury by so flagrant a violation of his plighted word. The advantages, moreover, to be gained by the captivity, the deposition, perhaps the death of the King, were uncertain. The heir to the throne was entirely in the hands of the Bretons, and was not likely to be eager to advance the interests of Burgundy. A large and well-disciplined army, commanded by experienced captains, was assembled on the frontiers. If they could not rescue their master, they would at least endeavor to avenge him, while the new King could acquire an easy popularity by execrating a crime of which he and Francis of Brittany would reap all the advantage. It was a wiser course to accept the terms which the King in his alarm proffered–the settlement in favor of Burgundy of all the disputed questions which had arisen out of the treaties of Arras and Conflans–and it might be possible to humiliate and disgrace Louis by compelling him to take part in the punishment of his allies, the citizens of Liège, who by their trust in him had been lured to destruction.
Charles left the council apparently undecided, and passed the night in as great a storm of passion as the two preceding. The conflict within him doubtless fanned his wrath. Comines, who shared his room, endeavored to calm him, and to persuade him to embrace the course most consistent with his interests and the King’s safety; for so great a prince, if once a captive, might scarcely hope to leave his prison alive. Toward morning Charles determined to content himself with insisting that Louis should sign a peace on such terms as he should dictate, and accompany him against Liege. The King, says Comines, had a friend who informed him that he would be safe if he agreed to these conditions, but that otherwise his peril would be extreme. This friend was Comines himself, and Louis never forgot so timely a service. The two days during which his fate was being decided had been passed by him in the greatest agony of mind. Though he had been allowed to communicate freely with the French nobles and his own attendants, he had been ominously neglected by the Burgundian courtiers. As soon as the Duke had determined what conditions he intended to impose, he hastened to the castle to visit his captive. The memorable interview is described by two eye-witnesses–Comines and Olivier de la Marche. Charles entered the King’s presence with a lowly obeisance; but his gestures and his unsteady voice betrayed his suppressed passion. The King could not conceal his fear. “My brother,” he asked, “am I not safe in your dominions?”
“Yes, sire, so safe that if I saw a cross-bow pointed at you I would throw myself before you to shield you from the bolt.”
He then asked the King to swear a peace on the proposed basis: (1) The faithful execution of the treaty of Conflans; (2) the abolition of the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Paris over Flanders; (3) the surrender of all regalian rights in Picardy; (4) the release of the Duke from all fealty to the King if the treaty was in any way infringed or imperfectly executed. Louis agreed, and Charles requested his assistance in punishing the rebellion of Liège. The King expressed his perfect readiness. The princes then signed a draft of the treaty and swore to execute it faithfully on the cross of St. Laud. Charles had insisted that Louis should swear on the relic, a fragment of the true Cross once kept in the Church of St. Laud at Angers, which the King always carried with him, esteeming it highly, because he believed that whoever forswore himself on it would surely die within the year. The Duke at the same time promised to do homage for the fiefs he held of the crown of France, but the execution of this promise was evaded.
On the 15th the Duke, with an army of forty thousand men, and the King with his slender escort, and some three hundred men-at-arms who joined him by the way, began their march on Liège. Louis was not less anxious than his companion that Dammartin should not attempt a forcible rescue. Victory or defeat would have been alike dangerous to his safety. Twice at Charles’ request orders were sent to disband, or at least remove, the French army from the frontier. The King’s letters were delivered by his messenger in the persistent presence of a Burgundian who prevented the possibility of any private communication. Louis’ crafty old soldier, Dammartin, paid little attention to such orders. He sent word to the Duke that, unless his master soon returned, all France would come to fetch him.
The first divisions of the Burgundian army reached Liège October 22d. The citizens, whose walls had been destroyed and artillery confiscated, were in no position to resist an army which might have conquered an emperor. At the suggestion of the legate they released their bishop, begging him to intercede on their behalf, and offered to surrender their goods to the Duke’s discretion if only he would spare their lives. Charles would not listen to their overtures; he swore that he would have town and inhabitants at his discretion or that he and his army should perish in the attempt.
The townsmen, with the boldness of despair, sallied forth to meet the advance guard of their enemies; they were driven back with great loss. Four days later, the 26th, the Duke and main body of the army had not come up. The troops, who had repulsed the sally on the 22d, had as yet met with little resistance, and thought themselves strong enough to occupy an open town defended only by ill-armed traders and mechanics. The weather was cold and rainy, the temptation of securing comfortable quarters and the undivided profits of the sack irresistible. The assailants occupied one of the suburbs, but their advance was checked by some hastily constructed defenses. At nightfall the citizens came out through the breaches of their walls; they were enabled, by their knowledge of the rough and precipitous ground, to fall unobserved upon the rear of the enemy; eight hundred Burgundians were killed, and the rout would have been complete had not the Duke with the main body of his army pushed forward to the assistance of a division which was still holding its ground.
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