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Louis XI

Eldest son of Charles VII and Marie of Anjou, b. at Bourges July 3, 1423; d. at Plessis-les-Tours, August 30, 1483

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Louis XI, King of France, eldest son of Charles VII and Marie of Anjou, b. at Bourges July 3, 1423; d. at Plessis-les-Tours, August 30, 1483. Having married Margaret of Scotland in June, 1436, he took part in two intrigues against his father, Charles VII, the first in 1440, when he organized the revolt of the Praguerie, the second in 1446, when he withdrew into Dauphiny and later to the Court of the Duke of Burgundy. Succeeding to the throne, July 21, 1461, he had to make large concessions, by the Treaties of Conflans and Saint-Maur (1465), to the feudal lords, who had organized against him the League of the Public Weal (Ligue du Bien public). But his revenge was swift; he imposed a humiliating peace on the Duke of Brittany (1468). Louis looked upon Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, as the head of the feudal organization; he had to treat with him or subdue him. The Conference of Peronne (1468) ended with an act of treachery on the part of Charles, who retained Louis a prisoner, forced him to sign a disadvantageous treaty, and took the king with him on an expedition against the revolted burghers of Liege. But on the return of Louis to France preparations were begun for a decisive struggle between the king, who, in 1474, had formed an alliance with the Swiss cantons, and the duke, who was an ally of the King of England. Charles the Bold having fallen at Nancy, January 5, 1477, Louis took possession of the Duchy of Burgundy, of Artois, and of Hainaut. Margaret, daughter of Charles the Bold, married Maximilian of Austria, in August, 1477; the result of this marriage would have been to place Burgundy and Artois in the hands of Philip the Handsome, grandson of Charles and it was to provide against such an undesirable eventuality that Louis affianced his son Charles (afterwards Charles VIII) to the daughter of Margaret and Maximilian. (The marriage of Charles VIII to Anne of Brittany, in 1491, after Louis’s death, frustrated this precaution.) Louis passed his last years in his castle of Plessis-les-Tours, surrounded by persons of low estate, very suspicious, very irascible. His character was contemptible, though he was a clever politician; he was fond of pilgrimages and pious practices, but he had a narrow idea of God; his religion was based on morbid fear, his Christianity never displayed itself in kind deeds. His perfidy and cruelty were notorious; he kept Cardinal Balue (q.v.) a prisoner for eleven years in an iron cage.

The relations of Louis XI with the Holy See are worthy of special study, for they definitely shaped the religious policy of the French monarchy. From the beginning of his reign there were two questions that necessitated continued communication between Louis and the pope: the question of the Pragmatic Sanction and the Italian question. Pius II, at the Council of Mantua, in 1459, had protested once more against the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges, and the Bull “Execrabilis” (June 18, 1460), by which Pius II condemned appeals to future councils, was directed against it. Again, Louis was always anxious to form an offensive and defensive alliance with the smaller Italian States, to reduce the revolted Genoese, and bring the north of the peninsula under his sway by means of the possessions of the house of Orleans in Lombardy, to bring under his control the house of Anjou in Naples, to marry the Duke of Calabria to a daughter of Francis Sforza, and gradually to obtain a kind of hegemony in Italy.

He began his reign by suppressing the Pragmatic Sanction (November 27, 1461). In this way he set himself in opposition to the policy of his father—an attitude which he was anxious to emphasize—and at the same time he took away from the episcopal aristocracy, the feudalism of the Church, a weapon which they very much desired to keep. And thus the same measure which won him the favor of Rome also entered into the plan of his campaign against feudalism. He even restored the Duchies of Die and Valentinois to Pius II. But when he saw that the pope was unwilling to aid him in recapturing Genoa, and supported the Neapolitan claims of Ferrante, the candidate hostile to the House of Anjou, Louis changed his attitude, and, in 1463, began a religious war. It was marked by the ordinance of Paris (February 17, 1463) which forbade the giving of any of the property of deceased ecclesiastics to the pontifical collectors; by the ordinances of Muret (May 24, 1463) and Luxieu (June 19, 1464), by which the king claimed the disposal of all vacant benefices as a right of the Crown (regale) and revived the Pragmatic Sanction in Dauphiny by the ordinance of Dampierre (June, 1464), which prohibited the raising of “undue subsidies” established by Rome; by the ordinance of Rue (September 7, 1464), which suppressed the graces expectatives (reversionary rights to benefices). These ordinances were so displeasing to the Holy See that Pius II, a little before his death (August 15, 1464), threatened Louis with excommunication: Moreover, Louis, at the beginning of the reign of Paul II, refused to allow the collection of tithes for the crusades, and entertained the proposals of Podiebrad of Bohemia, for assembling an anti-papal council. But the discontent of the clergy with Louis helped to develop the League of the Public Weal (1465), the members of which asked Paul II to release them from their oath of fidelity to the king.

Louis then adopted, from 1465 to 1468, a more friendly policy towards Rome; he sent thither as his ambassador, Balue, Bishop of Angers, and by the ordinance of Etampes (July 24, 1467) revoked the edicts curtailing the papal authority. But when, in 1468, the king wished to try Cardinal Balue for treason, a conflict arose between Louis and Paul II, who did not wish the cardinal to be tried by civil judges. During the three years’ struggle, Louis could not induce the Holy See to recognize the supremacy of the lay magistracy. He imprisoned Balue and the other prelates, for whose liberty the Holy See was contending. There seemed to be no way of coming to terms, when, in 1471, Paul II was succeeded by Sixtus IV. The new pope sent Cardinal Bessarion to France to preach the crusade against the Turks. Louis sent Gerard de Crussol, Bishop of Valence, to Rome. This mission resulted in the Concordat of Amboise (October 31, 1472), by the terms of which the pope agreed that no priest should be raised to any dignity until he had first obtained royal letters attesting that he was persona grata to the king. The alternative system was to be adopted in bestowing benefices: the pope was to dispose of them only during six months of the year. Of the reversionary rights reserved to the pope, two out of six were to be at the disposal of the royal family and the parliamentary courts. The pope made other concessions in matters of taxation and jurisdiction. This concordat marks the first successful attempt on the part of the French kings to acquire the right of interfering in the nomination to ecclesiastical offices. Soon both parties were dissatisfied with the concordat. Moreover, the political sympathies of the pope and his legates with the cause of Charles the Bold irritated Louis, who revenged himself by occupying Avignon, by ordering (January 8, 1475) pontifical Bulls to be verified before being published in France, and by convoking a general council at Lyons.

Louis, however, did not wish to go the length of causing a schism; his policy from that time was directed against the pope as a temporal sovereign. The conspiracy of the Pazzi (1478) gave him an opportunity. Lorenzo de’ Medici asked his help; he intervened, and charged Commines with diplomatic missions to Florence and Rome. Soon he became the undisputed arbiter of Italy. The pope’s attempt to win the support of Austria was unsuccessful. On the other hand, as Louis needed the help of the pope to bring about peace with Maximilian he and Sixtus IV were reconciled, thanks to the diplomatic skill of the legate, Giuliano della Revere, later Julius II, who also obtained the release of Balue. A certain amount of coquetting between France and the papacy marked the last months of Louis’s life. Sixtus IV offered the Dauphin of France the investiture of Naples; and Louis, who acted as arbiter between the pope and Venice, decided in favor of the Holy See. The results of this reign were twofold: on the one hand, the moral hegemony which France had gained in Italy, and which made Louis XI in the words of the Florentine Government “the preserver of peace in Italy“, inaugurated the policy that gave rise to the wars of Italy; on the other hand, the manifold negotiations between the king and the pope, and the concordat of 1472, had prepared for the Church of France the coming of a regime in which the pope and the king, without consulting the bishops and the clergy, divided between them the government of the Church. This regime, begun by the Concordat of 1516, lasted till the Revolution. Louis XI died in the arms of St. Francis of Paula, and was buried in the church of Notre-Dame-de-Clery, near Orleans, whither he had frequently gone as a pilgrim.


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